Rattler/Firebird Association


CO. A/501 AVIATION BN., 71st ASSAULT HELICOPTER COMPANY NEWSLETTER

VOL. XXVI NUMBER 2 ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER NOVEMBER 2020

A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to and including my life.”

“Like the book said, we may be through with the past but the past is not through with us!”

ODDS and ENDS

On the daily forms filled out in our aircraft there were spaces for the four crewmembers. The listings were for: AC, PP, CE and G. The AC is obliviously aircraft commander. The CE is for crew engineer or crew chief. The G is for gunner. Now I know for sure that PP did not stand for “peter pilot”, even though it could have. Can any of you tell me what the PP actually stood for?

There is a place in Washington State called Controller Aircraft that sells all types of aircraft. If you go to their website, and in the search box on the top right you enter Huey, three aircraft will come up. The third one down served in the 71st AHC from 1968 to 1971. The tail number is 67-17364. It has been completely gone through and repainted as a Rattler. You can purchase it for a mere $695,000. It’s cool to see that paint job though.

Also on sale at this same site are a Harrier jet, A-4s and an F-4 Phantom for a mere $3.25 million.

Once again, because there has been no reunion I have inserted a couple of old stories in this newsletter.

Your next newsletter will not be printed until after the May reunion.

No one has ever become poor by giving. Quote by Anne Frank.

TAPS

Jerry Meader
Jerry Meader
  • Mike Aker (EM 67-68) died on 18 March 2020 of unknown causes.
  • Jerry Ericsson (WO 68-69) died on September 4, 2020 from pancreatic cancer.
  • Rick L. French (EM 70-71) died on 27 September 2015 from ALS.
  • Jerry Meader (OF 66) died on 28 August 2020 of natural causes.*
  • Jimmy Lee Medley (EM 64-65) died on 2 October 2020 from pancreatic cancer
  • John D. Trull (EM 70-71) died on 17 July 2020 from respiratory failure.

*Jerry Meader was our 2nd Platoon leader in late 1966. He was also our last WWII veteran.

RATTLER-FIREBIRD REUNION

Mobile Marriott
Mobile Marriott

Our reunion has been rescheduled at the same hotel, the Mobile Marriott in Mobile, AL for Wednesday, May 19th to Sunday, May 23rd of 2021. Forms for this reunion are included in this newsletter. Be advised that there is a $10 per person charge for making telephone reservations with Military Reunion Planners. If you call the hotel for room reservations (at 251-476-6400) be sure and ask for in-house reservations. Otherwise they will connect you with a remote reservations location that may or may not show the Rattler-Firebird Reunion.

Our room block needs to be filled up as soon as possible because it is a small block of rooms. This contract was purposely kept small so as to be able to meet our “numbers” because of the unknowns of the Covid 19 as they apply to next May.

You can always cancel your reservation but if you wait to make a reservation, rooms may not be available.

Our banquet speaker for next year is Chad Robichaux of the Mighty Oaks Foundation. Chad was a Force Recon Marine in Afghanistan, has worked multiple tours in Afghanistan with the Department of Defense, has served in the U.S. Federal Air Marshall service, has been awarded a Medal of Valor for his law enforcement service, he holds a third-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he is a former professional Mixed Martial Arts Champion with a lifetime record of 13-2 in cage fighting. He is also a certified PTSD counselor. The guy is small, but I would not try pushing him around!

A late addition to our tours will be a murder mystery show at the hotel on Friday night for those interested. This show will not displace the people from our hospitality room during the show.

None of us know what the future holds with the “Covid 19” lurking. Please know that our Association will not endanger the health of our men in any way. If we have to delay the reunion again, so be it. With our youngest members being almost 70 years of age it puts all of us in an “endangered” age.

MIDAIR

by Jesse James, the 1st Rattler 26

Cpt Jessie James
Cpt Jessie James

There are a lot of radio calls that you do not want to hear when you are an aviator and you are up in the air. Probably the worst in a combat situation is, “I’m hit and going down!” the other worst radio call that you can ever hear is, “Midair, going in!”

More than likely in a midair situation, you send out the medivac and lots of body bags because these types of crashes are usually not survivable. Well, we had a midair in the company in which everyone walked away. I know because I was part of the collision.

It was one of those hot bumpy days during the dry season. I was flying lead and my two favorite wingmen were flying right side in a staggered right formation. We were going up Highway One to airlift a group of ARVNs back south. We had made one load and were enroute to finish up the second load. As was the Rattlers way of doing business, we flew very tight formations for self-preservation and especially in the area in which we were flying on the particular mission. Our normal distances were one rotor disc separation and stepped up five to seven feet. Really not much room for error, but we had found out that this was a good distance for protection.

While in flight on this second lift, we were encountering quite a bit of turbulence from the dry weather heat. My wingman caught a small gust that didn’t affect me. He was thrown into me at 2500 feet. We locked rotor blades. I immediately broke left to get away and he broke right. Fortunately for both of us, we were over open land and not triple canopy jungle. Both the copilot and I were on the controls trying to control this beast. We had a vertical vibration that was indescribable. I yelled at Fritz Hengy, my crew chief, to help us push the collective down. With the strength of three men, we were able to get on the ground in an upright position. In the meantime, the other crew was experiencing the same problems that we were, but they managed to get on the ground safely about 1/4 of a mile away.

When I got the bird down, I realized that I had lost about six to ten inches off both blades. My wingman had suffered about the same losses. Bell makes a pretty good product in the UH-1 in that both crews were able to walk away without even a scratch. The good old Snake Doctor, Billy T, came in, took a look, and decided to hurry back to Bien Hoa to pick up two sets of blades. Maintenance replaced the two sets of blades in the rice paddies and we flew the birds back home. Upon a complete disassembly of the engines and transmissions very little damage was found on either aircraft.

None of my stories are complete without further side stories. This midair falls into this category. I have not identified the other crew. If they want to step forward and be known, then so be it, but I do not want to embarrass any of my cohorts. The first upshot of this story is that Fritz had just returned from a well-deserved rest in Saigon. He had picked up a baby duck for a pet. The duck was in the pocket of his shirt when the midair happened. He is probably the only duck in the world that has ridden out a midair. Ducks don’t have midairs.

The second part of this is probably just as hard to grasp as a non-fatal midair. About three or four days after this incident, we were doing a combat assault in the Parrot’s Beak. Duke was leading and I was playing tail end Charlie. My illustrious wingmen were right in front of me in a vee of three formation. The LZ was a hot potato in that we flew right into a trap. The ground erupted with little men climbing out of spider holes. The fire was intense to say the least. As we were clearing the LZ, their aircraft radioed that they had taken hits and the AC had been hit. They were enroute to Saigon to drop the wounded at the hospital. The AC had taken a round in the upper muscle of his arm. It was painful but not life threatening. In fact, he was back with the company in a couple of days with his arm bandaged and lolling around the Villa. The wound was in the right arm. About the time it had healed, Lew Henderson got a call from the Saigon warriors that the individual was being called to Saigon to face an inquiry as to why he had caused the midair collision. It was a bunch of BS and CYA action. I told him to wear his sling to the meeting, salute with his left hand and be prepared to explain why he was bandaged up. It worked like a charm. All he got was a “Don’t fly so close next time; and we are real sorry that you got shot!”

Lew was happy, I was happy; my young pilot got away scot-free and then got his Purple Heart to boot. The Rattlers lived a charmed life in the Oriental calendar YEAR OF THE SNAKE.

Editors note one: The midair collision story has been fully confirmed by two other sources. Note two: That duck ain’t a pet, that duck was snake food. Hengy confirmed my suspicions when I asked him about it. I fully remember the ‘pet’ python we had in the company area and Hengy had his photo in the Stars and Stripes with the snake! rs

SNAKE DOCTOR WORK

by J.T. Johnson (EM Oct 68 - Dec 69)

When I arrived in the company my first work assignment was hauling water to the bladders every night. I did this job for 4 or 5 months. Someone on the Snake Doctor crew derosed and the guys in my hooch asked me if I wanted to join the crew. I said, “Sure”. I flew for the next 4 to 6 months.

On the Snake Doctor crew I recall being called out one day to inspect a ship, which had been shot down on the side of a mountain. We couldn't land so we hovered about 10 or 12 feet off the ground and dropped in from the skid. There was nothing to save. All this time I had assumed that the infantry had stripped the ship to keep Charley from getting anything. There was some infantry around us and they had cleared the small area that we dropped into. We cleared out a little more area and WO Isley was able to hover in low enough for us to grab the skids and fly out.

One story I have not seen and would like to know if anyone else remembers concerns a combat assault on which the Snake Doctor was used as the recovery ship. I recall that day we were flying at 1500 feet watching the action below as our ships and some other company ships were inserting troops into an area north and west of Chu Lai. We got the call that a ship was shot down and they wanted us to rig her up with sling gear and they would bring in Chinooks to take her out. We made a quick descent and pulled up on top of a rice paddy dike, grabbed our gear and ran to the downed ship. We had practiced the rigging procedure many times. John Duncan was the Crew Chief, with Wally Smith, Rodney Zacher, and myself classified as gunners. We were all trained mechanics but you could have only one Crew Chief. My job was the tying down the blade to the nose. Zacher tied down to the tail. Smith and Duncan climbed on the roof to assemble the gear for slinging. Everything was going well until one of the grunts around us stood up and started firing bursts from his M16 into the bush. The next thing I knew the other guys were yelling at me. I then realized they had flipped the blade to me but I was so busy watching the action I had to come to my senses. I did and we got the ship rigged. We were supposed to wait on the ground and hook up the sling when the Chinook arrived. Upon looking at our own ship sitting on the ground our Pilot was waving at us to come back. I still remember clearing that 4-foot high dike in one leap. When we got back on our ship and assumed our normal positions, Mr. Isley picked up the ship and climbed out of the area. Only then did we realize he did this because even though we had taken our rigging gear we had forgotten to take any of our guns! He thought we might have a hard time on the ground without them.

After we were in the air for a short time we were told they would have an infantryman hook up the sling. Two Chinooks came in for that ship. Each of these Chinooks had an engine shot out when they tried the recovery. The decision was made to blow the ship up. We were told to return, pick up the infantry and move them a few clicks to where the main battle had moved. We picked up the grunts and were given directions from the command helicopter on inserting them. Once on the ground the command ship started yelling at us to “get the hell out of there now” as we were beginning to hover. It seemed we were in between two hedgerows. One side was bad guys and one side was our guys. Needless to say Isley pulled up sharply and we flew quickly to the our guys side of the tree line. After we had dropped off the grunts we were told another ship had been shot down close to the action and we needed to pick up the crew. We pretty much hovered over to the other ship, landed, and picked up the crew. Isley then asked the pilot what was wrong with the ship. The pilot said he had lost all instrumentation and couldn't fly it that way. Isley said he could tell from the whine etc. if he could fly it without instruments. He jumped in, started it and gave us the thumbs up. He took off and we took off. As he was leaving he took fire through the doors and out through the roof with only superficial damage. All that time on the ground and we still hadn't taken a single round. We hadn't fired any either because we were told not to fire unless we were sure it was enemy. There were friendlies all over the valley. Once we became airborne our co-pilot assumed he would take control of our ship. He was a Lieutenant and the pilot we picked up was a Captain. Well the Captain took charge. I can't remember the Lieutenants name but I still recall he was pissed. We flew somewhere over towards the beach where Isley was and switched back to our original crew. We got back to the action in time to watch two Cobras make passes over the downed chopper and miss with their rockets. They finally allowed the Firebirds a chance and they hit that ship on the first pass. We were very proud of our gunships.

Later, on one of the combat assaults, I saw puffs of smoke in the air. When we landed I asked what this was. I was told it was anti-aircraft gunfire. I decided right then that I would rather work on Hueys than fly in them. I was too short for AA gunfire. At the end of my tour I was the crew leader of the night shift PE (periodic inspection) crew. I extended an additional two months to get a 5-month early out.

Sometimes I'm not sure if my memory is right or if I'm still trying to bury memories. I would be interested to know if anyone else remembers the mission I just described to see if I got all of the facts correct. It's been too many years and too many bottles of wine.

OPERATION SEAWOLF

Received from Tom Griffith (OF 65-66)

Seawolf
Firebird during Operation Seawolf

I believe that picture was taken during Operation Seawolf. In April '66 A/501st was tasked to provide one gunship to deploy to Vung Tau along with two gunships from other 145th Combat Aviation Battalion units. Our mission was to provide armed helicopter support for Operation Game Warden, the US Navy’s Riverine Force (or “Brown Water Navy”).

As soon as Bill Burgner and I arrived at Tuy Hoa, the Navy LtCmdr OIC came over and told us our first mission was in 30 minutes to take a sailor, mail and spare parts out to one of the LSTs which were part of the task force. I thought about it for a minute, then, told the LtCmdr that we were not checked out in landing on ships. He replied that I might as well pack up and go back to Bien Hoa. I called back to Bien Hoa to tell our platoon leader, Major Don Farnham that the Navy was tasking us to go out and land on boats. Maj Farnham asked me what my problem was. So, off we went to the LST. We found it out in the South China Sea, circled a couple of times and made a safe landing. We then had the best meal that we had since arriving in Vietnam.

It looks like that picture is of Bill Burgner and me flying that mission. Notice, we did not have rocket pods mounted to lighten the load. We were on a “milk run” not going on a fire support mission.

Seawolf Plaque

Later, a couple of gunships were stationed on board one of the LSTs. One of those was lost taking off at night on a scramble to support some PBRs. In a reenactment of that mission, during the Accident Investigation Board, we lost another chopper.

Our missions varied from supporting the PBRs and Coast Guard Swift Boats to supporting SEALS, UDT and US Marines in assault landings. It was a great, rewarding mission.

The Army provided that armed helicopter support for four months. Then, A/501st was tasked to train six or eight Navy pilots in the UH-1B. When that training was completed, we (145th CAB) turned over several UH-1Bs to the Navy and they continued the mission. If you research the history of Operation Game Warden and Operation Seawolf today, you will never see any mention of US Army helicopter support involved. All that is ever mentioned is US Navy helicopter support.

Attached is the plaque I received at our “going away party.”

BRIDGE MISSION

10 MARCH 1966 By John Mateyko (OF 65-66)

At Bien Hoa, our mission board was in the short hall way by the pool table and barber chair. This hallway was between the main hall way and the doors to the dining room. The afternoon of March 9, 1966 my name was posted as A/C for 565 with a ‘See Me’ note. I found Jack Horton (26) and he asked me which two slick drivers I would like with me on a three slick, two gunships mission the next day. I asked for Jim Moore and Jerry Withers. Their names were posted for two slicks and a takeoff time was added. We were to be at Tay Ninh about 1000 hours along with two gunships and four USAF A-1s(ADs). The weather was for a front to pass through III Corps about 0900.

I set 0900 for the takeoff time and proceeded to our new bar. The next morning, my head was throbbing when I got on the truck for the trip through town to the Snake Pit. We must have had some kind of briefing and unfortunately I cannot remember the names of the co-pilots or gunship pilots. The three slicks led the way off the Snake Pit with the gunships behind us. I went back and laid across the canvas seat to sleep during the trip to Tay Ninh. When we arrived at the Special Forces camp, I woke and exited 565. I could see the ADs above and the Special Forces captain asked me where the gunships were. They arrived a few minutes later.

The SF captain briefed us on the mission which was to blow a bridge the bad guys were using. The slicks would transport the SF men and Nungs to the bridge, unload them and wait about one click to the west with rotors turning and monitoring the radio frequency. The ADs would circle overhead until needed or released.

Let’s recap the tactical situation. Rattler 21, 22 and 28 are on the ground with rotors turning, the Ads are circling at probably 5,000’ and the Special Forces men and Nungs are under the bridge placing explosives.

On the FM radio (39.7) – “Rattler 21 this is 7A Steamed Concert”.
“This is 21, Go.”
“21, would you like a Japanese sword?”
“7 alpha, sure, how many?“

Here is the mistake. I should have immediately cranked in flight RPMS and flown to the bridge, picked up as many cases as they found and returned to our staging area, but I didn’t.

With that the gunships pilots and the AD pilots piped in, ‘Sure, I'd like one’.

The Special Forces captain didn't need that. They set the charges and blew everything including cases of Japanese swords which must have been under that bridge for at least twenty-one years. Our three slicks picked up the team, took them to Tay Ninh, released the ADs, fueled and released the gunships, ate and went on our merry little way.

I kept the tactical map used during the mission. Along with winds, frequencies, call signs it has Captain Carson, Rattler 21, 22 & 28 along with F/Bird 93 & 94. 93 was Charlie Bogle. The map is marked with escape and evasion pick up points if needed.

Many years later at a VHPA chapter meeting Jim Moore and I talked about this mission and agreed we had no idea who the other pilots were. At the Rattler Reunion in Denver, Jerry Withers and his son Mark were in the seat in front of us on the bus to the Coor’s Brewery when Jerry turned around and asked, “John, do you remember the ‘bridge mission?’ I smiled and replied that of course I did.

I have contacted the Special Forces Association and they have posted a recap of this mission asking for Captain Carson or any member of his team contact us. To date, no response has been received.

A VERY TRUE SUMMATION! AUTHOR UNKNOWN

For my fellow Crew Members, submitted by John Mateyko (OF 65-66)

Once the wings go on, they never come off whether they can be seen or not. It fuses to the soul through adversity, fear and adrenaline and no one who has ever worn them with pride, integrity and guts can ever sleep through the “call of the wild” that wafts through the bedroom windows in the deep of the night. When a good aircrewman leaves the “job” and retires, many are jealous, some are pleased and yet others, who may have already retired, wonder. We wonder if he knows what he is leaving behind, because we already know. We know, for example, that after a lifetime of camaraderie that few experience, it will remain as a longing for those past times. We know in the world of flying, there is a fellowship which lasts long after the flight suits are hung up in the back of the closet. We know even if he throws them away, they will be on him with every step and breath that remains in his life. We also know how the very bearing of a man speaks of what he was and in his heart still is.

Because we flew, we envy no man on earth.

This year one of our own, Ron Markiewicz, the last Firebird 97 was inducted into the US Army Officer Candidate Hall of Fame located at Ft. Benning, GA. After his military career Ron continued his strong relationship with veteran’s affairs. He was instrumental in the erection of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot and Crew Members Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery petitioning Congress three times over three and a half years and then managing the actual erection of monument at ANC. Ron is currently completing docent training at the soon to open Museum of the United States Army as soon as the quarantine is over. He is a lifetime member of the 71st AHC Association, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association and the Vietnam Veterans of America. Additionally he is a member of both Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. He lives right outside Washington DC with his wife Emily.

HUMOR

THE OLD HELICOPTER GUNSHIP PILOT:

Mr. Peabody, the local banker, saw his old friend Tom, a 76-year-old former Helicopter Gunship Pilot, in town. Tom had retired from the Army and bought a small horse ranch. Tom had lost his wife the year before. Rumor had it he was marrying a 'mail order' bride.

Mr. Peabody asked ole’ Tom if the rumor was true.

Tom replied, “Yes, it is true.”

Mr. Peabody asked, “May I ask the age of your new bride to be?”

Tom replied, “She'll be 21 in November.”

Mr. Peabody, being a wise man, knew the sexual appetite of a young woman could not be satisfied by a 76-year-old man, and Mr. Peabody wanted Tom's remaining years to be happy. So he tactfully suggested that Tom should consider getting a hired hand to help him out on the small ranch, knowing nature would take its own course.

Tom thought this was a good idea and said he would look for a hired hand that very afternoon.

Four months later, Mr. Peabody saw Tom in town again. Mr. Peabody asked, “How is your new wife?”

Tom replied, “Good. She's pregnant.”

Mr. Peabody was pleased his sage advice had worked out so well. He asked, “And how's the hired hand?”

Without hesitating, Tom said, “She's pregnant too!”

Never underestimate old Gunship pilots.


“Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” ~ Albert Einstein


Tonight I'm gonna have possum soup made from Himalayan possum, because I found himalayan on the road!


Wife: 'Do you want dinner?'

Husband: 'Sure! What are my choices?'

Wife: 'Yes or no.'

Blue Angels - Firebirds
Blue Angels - Firebirds

Cao  Dai Temple
Cao Dai Temple

71 AHC Rattler Jay DiDomizio via Bernie Weisz 1-2-20
71 AHC Rattler Jay DiDomizio via Bernie Weisz 1-2-20

Jerry Ericsson
Jerry Ericsson

In Memory of LTC LaRue Keller US Army (Ret)
In Memory of LTC LaRue Keller US Army (Ret)