Rattler/Firebird Association

Rattler/Firebird History

Also see: Unit Awards, Call Signs, these articles from the Army Times, this Life Magazine article (article begins on page 30), or this article about the Firebird decals.

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This history page was compiled from various historical documents and unit histories. All information presented here is correct to the best of our knowledge. However, this document is meant to be a "living history" in that we would like to continue to update and add to it. Please send any additions or corrections to the Association.

Because of the rather large number of abbreviations and acronyms used in this document, we've included definitions of those abbreviations and acronums. An abbreviation or acronym with a definition can be identifed by the dotted underline, as in the case of abbr. used here. If you pause your mouse cursor over the abbreviation or acronym, the definition will be shown in a "tool tip" that will be displayed briefly.


The 71st Assault Helicopter Company was activated 15 October 1962 at Fort Kobbe, Canal Zone. The Company was activated by General Order Number 96, Headquarters United States Army Canal Zone, dated 4 October 1962.

The Company was organized under TOE 177 with its assignment to the 193rd Light Infantry Brigade, where it remained until 1 November 1963. The 71st operated with a strength of seven Officers, ten Warrant Officers, and forty three enlisted men. The unit, as organized, consisted of a Company Headquarters, two Lift Platoons, and one service Platoon.


On 1 November 1963, the 71st Aviation Company changed location from Ft. Kobbe to Ft. Clayton, Canal Zone with operational activities at Albrook Air Force Base.


On 6 August 1964, the Third Aviation Company (AML) was activated and assigned to the Third United States Army for eventual movement to Vietnam. The Company was attached, for logistical and administrative support, to the Eleventh Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. Major Lewis J. Henderson, Artillery, and Captain Curtis S. Crouch, Jr., Artillery, were assigned as CO and XO respectively. The Company received an equipment readiness date of 21 October, a personnel readiness date of 27 November and the APO of Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Pre-overseas leaves were given in early November. The Company departed Fort Benning on 27 November and arrived at Bien Hoa on 2 December 1964.

Upon arrival in Vietnam, Approximately 75% of the Company was infused with personnel from other companies of the 145th Aviation Battalion to equitably spread CONUS rotation dates. The Company was billeted in Bailey Compound at Bien Hoa with the 118th Assault Helicopter Company (The Thunderbirds). On 14 December, the Third Aviation Company (AML) was redesignated as Company A/501st Aviation Battalion. On 26 December, Lt. Col. Robert K. Cunningham, CO, 145th Aviation Battalion declared the Company operational.

Prior to CONUS departure the Company and platoons selected call signs for use in Vietnam. Thanks to Captain Cliff Ohlenburger and his Alma Mater, St. Marys University San Antonio, Texas (The Rattlers) the Rattler call sign for the Company was chosen. Major Henderson's wife, Ramona, gets credit for the Firebird call sign (from Stravinsky's ballet). Captain Ohlenburger designed the Rattler emblem/patch for the Company and the Firebird for the gunship platoon. Captain Marvin Schwem originated the Esquire patch for the 1st lift platoon, Captain Jesse James the Phantom patch for the 2nd, Captain Ray Young the Snake Doctor patch, and Major Thomas E. Connell/Captain Billy W. Taylor the patch for the 151st Transportation Detachment.

Also of interest, we have about four months of Captain Cliff Ohlenburger's journal, recorded from 27 November 1964 until 2 April 1965.


In the July 2, 1965 issue of Life Magazine, there was an article on the battle for Dong Xai, which took place in June, 1965. You can see the article in its entirety beginning on page 30 of the magazine. Horst Faas was the AP photgrapher that flew in with Cap Duke Schwim, platoon leader of the 1st Platoon.  The eight page spread won him a Pulitzer prize.  The article starts on Page 30 and goes to page 38.  Two men on the ground were awarded the MOH.  An infantry 2nd LT and the a Navy Seebee.


To begin the year 1966, Company "A", 501st Avn Bn (Rattlers), as a part of the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, was in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade as they began Operation Marauder.

During the month of April, the Rattlers gave support to the 1st Infantry Division in connection with Operation Birmingham. This Search and Destroy maneuver was conducted in the Tay Ninh area with the Rattlers working out of the Snake Pit at Bien Hoa Air Base.

The colors of the 71st were moved from Ft. Clayton to the Republic of Vietnam on 2 September 1966. At this time, "A" Company, 501st Aviation Battalion's personnel and equipment were transferred to the 71st. Company A, 501st Avn Bn. was deactivated from service in Vietnam and Reactivated as the 71st Aviation Company.

Although the name was changed from "A" Co, 501st Aviation Battalion to 71st Aviation Company, the nick-names, Rattlers (Lift Ships) and Firebirds (Gunships), remained in use as they had since the 501st came to Vietnam.

The Rattlers have flown many major operations with some of the most noteworthy including Operation Cedar Falls, Operation Attalboro, and Operation Junction City. The Rattlers have flown missions in such noteworthy areas as War Zone C, the Iron Triangle, and Hobo Woods.

On 14 October 1966, the 71st Aviation Company (Rattlers) participated in one of its most remembered operations. Flying into an area southwest of Saigon, the flights received heavy fire which resulted in ten aircraft being severely damaged. The Company had 1 KIA and 5 WIA reported. Because of the operation and the fine job by the Rattlers, members of the company received the Air Medal with "V" device and those doing outstanding jobs received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During the months of October, November, and December, the 71st Aviation Company supported the U.S. 25th Infantry Division in the Cu Chi, Tay Ninh, Deu Tieng, Ben Cat, and Iron Tringle areas. During this three month period, the 71st flew more than 7500 hours and lifted over 18,000 troops in support of the Free World Forces.

Throughout the year of 1966, the Rattlers amassed quite a record of accomplishment in the flying department. Total combat flying hours entered into the records were 24,578. The number of sorties performed were 55,437 while lifting 98,255 combat troops. When not lifting troops, the Rattlers hauled cargo for resupply and this amounted to 1,866 tons. The total number of aircraft damaged by enemy fire for the year was 130.


In early 1967, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade moved from Tay Ninh to participate in Task Force Oregon at Chu Lai in I Corps. On 18 April 1967, the 71st Aviation Company departed Bien Hoa for their new home at Chu Lai. The Rattlers came under the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion at this time and continued to give direct support to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

During the days following the Rattlers arrival, they found that the Chu Lai area was almost completely under the control of the Viet Cong. Whenever they flew, sniper fire was received.

In support of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade during the year 1967 the 71st compiled a record that any aviation company could be proud of.


1968 saw the well known Tet Offensive begin in January. On 5 January 1968, we had a light fire team of Firebirds called out late in the day to support Charlie Company, 3rd of the 21st of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. The wingman aircraft was shot down just as darkness was approaching. The next morning the aircraft commander, crew chief and gunner were captured. The pilot managed to escape and evade the enemy and make it back to friendly lines a day later. The three captured crewmen were held over five years before being released in March 1973.

The 71st Assault Helicopter Company continued to give outstanding support to the Americal Division and its subordinate units. At the completion of the monsoon season in the early part of 1968, the Rattlers gave helicopter support to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and attached units as they inserted into the western edges of the edges of the area of operations in search of a known North Vietnamese Army rear area and suspected POW camps.

Thanks to many unselfish hours of carrying troops and resupply and outstanding gun cover from the Firebirds the operation was highly successful.

From January 1 to December 31, 1968, the 71st supported the 196th Light Infantry Brigade with Command and Control aircraft for each Battalion and three resupply aircraft for the Brigade. In addition to this, the Rattlers also provided ships for combat assaults in the operations against the Viet Cong. The record above shows 29,530 aircraft hours for a total number of 129,799 sorties. In addition to this, 152,200 passengers and 8,777 tons of cargo were carried. The rattlers made 182 emergency medevacs and were credited with 387 VC KIA.


In 1969, the 71st Aviation Company continued to provide support for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade with its primary mission being to provide aviation support in the form of airlift of personnel, counter insurgency operations in the Republic of Vietnam in general support to the Americal Division as directed by the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion. On 1 April, the Rattlers were redesignated from the 71st Aviation Company (Air Mobile Light) to 71st Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter).

On 22 September 1969, the Rattlers participated in an operation that will be long remembered. Carrying the 3rd Battalion 21st Infantry on a routine combat assault, the flight landed in what turned out to be a large VC stronghold. The Rattlers conducted three combat assaults, one extraction, four dust off missions an one emergency resupply mission. In each of these the aviators received extremely heavy and effective enemy ground fire that resulted in two of their members being killed, eleven wounded, and fourteen helicopters damaged, two beyond recovery. In spite of these adverse conditions, the 71st Assault Helicopter Company performed heroically.

During the year 1969, the Viet Cong managed to damage 95 helicopters with total destruction to only 9. The Rattlers and Firebirds retaliated by destroying 204 structures and achieved a confirmed VC KIA of 115. Total sorties for the year were 88,638 during which time 135, 378 passengers and 6,295 tons of cargo were carried. 110 emergency medevacs were also completed. All this was accomplished with a total of 22,585 aircraft flight hours.


From 1 January 1970 to the beginning of July 1970, the Rattlers participated in three large operations and several smaller operations in the Americal month period. 59,445 Sorties have carried 85,201 passengers, 3,636 tons of cargo and 70 medevacs. The Firebirds have destroyed 253 structures in this period and received a confirmed 184 Viet Cong killed in action. It appears that the 71st Rattlers are heading for a record breaking year.

On 10 January 1970 one of our Firebird gunships disappeared while returning to Chu Lai from Tien Phouc in adverse weather conditions. The aircraft and crew were never located. [Editorial note: Wayne Clouse Allen's body was eventually recovered on 27 March 1991, Herbert Charles Crosby's remains were identified June 12, 2006, Francis George Graziosi's remains were identified June 12, 2006 and George Andrews Howes was finally identified in December 2010. You can read more about all of this in our section about Firebird 91]

From 30 April to 10 June 1970, the Rattlers of the 71st discovered that the war in Vietnam is not yet over. Called the Battle of Hiep Duc, it was one of those operations that just happen as a large force of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were discovered in their preparations to take several fire support bases in the Hiep Duc Valley. Many hours of courageous flying were accomplished as the Rattlers made emergency resupply, extraction, and medevac lifts. With the gun support of the Firebirds, the Rattlers completed all their missions with a loss of only three ships and minor wounds to a few aircrew personnel. An outstanding job considering enemy had many .51 Caliber and .30 Caliber anti-aircraft positions dug into the area.

On 15 August 1970, a Rattler slick making an extraction of a LRRP team under fire in Laos was shot down and crashed. The pilot and gunner were both presumed dead and had to be left because of approaching NVA soldiers. Neither body was ever recovered.


We have a number of articles about Lam Son 719 (or Lamson 719) that are gathered together here.

On 24 January 1971, the 71st received orders to get ready to move on the 29th of January. All Rattler birds began the first leg of the journey not knowing exactly where they were going. They returned to Chu Lai due to inclement weather. On the 30th, they were ordered to start the journey again. Until all aircraft were off the ground and the convoy was under way, no one was sure of their destination. Finally they were informed they were going to Quang Tri. Upon reaching Phu Bai, they again ran into IFR conditions, so they shut down and waited for conditions to improve. At 1400 they all departed again for Quang Tri. At 1500 the last bird landed; only to find no accommodations had been made for their arrival. The 71st again adapted rapidly to the situation and by the end of the next day were fairly well established at their new home.

At their initial briefing the 71st, with several other companies from the 16th Group and the 101st Airborne Division we were told they were going to support the largest operations in the history of Vietnam, Operation Dewey Canyon II and Lam Son 719.

During the month of February, the 71st worked mostly in the area of Khe Sanh on combat assaults, resupply, and aerial gunship support, learning their new A.O. while flying their missions.

On March 3, 1971, the 71st was involved in the first and largest assault in Laos. The LZ was known as LoLo. The aircraft received heavy fire on approach into the LZ, and while in the LZ. While on the ground NVA and VC soldiers jumped out of spider holes, only meters from the aircraft and began to fire, causing damage to most of the aircraft.

The 71st was extremely lucky in respect to their losses. No one was killed, only one medevac to the United States was necessary. The aircraft he was in was shot down coming out coming out of LoLo, went down in flames, over a cliff. All four crew members were presumed dead. Somehow they all managed to survive, and were rescued by an unknown medevac aircraft. During March the 71st was involved in several other assaults where they received extremely heavy fire.

During the entire Lam Son operation the Rattlers only had a total of one person medevaced to the States and seven aircraft lost. The 71st AHC was credited with outstanding achievement by all people concerned in operation Lam Son.

The 71st was the first assault into Laos, but fortunately was not in the last; every member of the 71st showed outstanding performance in the highest tradition of the 71st AHC and the United States Army. During these operations, the 71st received 3 Silver Stars, numerous Distinguished Flying Crosses and several other medals. The 14th Aviation Battalion along with assigned and attached units was supposed to have been submitted for the Valorous Unit award, but due to an oversight, the submission never took place. This error is hopefully being corrected. Read more about it here.

On March 28 1971, the 71st AHC was told it would be going back to Chu Lai. At 0600 on the2nd of April, all the aircraft departed at 5 minute intervals in flights of two. The last aircraft departed at 0830 due to maintenance. Three aircraft remained at Hue Phu Bai due to maintenance problems, and crews were left behind to ferry the aircraft back to Chu Lai. The convoy left at 0600 on the 2nd as well. The convoy was in two parts, the second half of the convoy was to remain, police up the area, and return to Chu Lai a day later. On the 3rd of April the 71st was back at Chu Lai resuming its normal missions, without even a break to get situated. However no complaints were made. It was a welcome relief to be back in the Chu Lai area again.

During the month of April, the 71st supported the 11th Brigade and 2nd Infantry Division (ARVN). With a total of 1,495 hours of flight, completed 5,520 sorties carrying 7,807 passengers and 192 tons of cargo, making a highly commendable month for the Rattlers and Firebirds.

From 4 May 1971 to 29 June 1971, the 71st participated in Operation Quyet Thang 208 with the 2nd Infantry Division (ARVN). Operation Quyet Thang was conducted in the Quang Tin, Quang Ngai, Kontum provinces and the Dak Silo area. Three infantry regiments participated in the opearation and achieved considerable results. During the period, the 71st flew 3,881 hours, completing 11,150 sorties, carrying 18,096 passengers and 410 tons of cargo. They also made 59 medical evacuations during this period of time. The Firebirds became familiar with the Helix people, Air Force FAC's. This enabled the Firebirds to be able to have an air strike at almost any time they deemed necessary. Consequently, they called in numerous air strikes after they had expended all their armament for assistance in destroying many enemy rear service structures and production areas, also making enemy personnel and weapon losses heavy.

On June 8 1971, the 71st received a Letter of Commendation from BG Nguyen Van Toan for the instrumental role they played in the successful completion of the operation.

During the month of July, the 71st experienced a very slow and restful month. They only accumulated 1,695 hours of flight, completing 3,993 sorties, transporting 6,545 passengers, and 177 tons of cargo. The Firebirds, however, did manage to kill 12 enemy soldiers and destroy 6 structures and 9 sampans.

The month of August was a record breaking month for the 71st. They accumulated 2,246 flight ours completing 6,261 sorties, transporting 9,691 passengers, 309 tons of cargo and 7 medevacs. The Firebirds managed to kill a confirmed 20 enemy soldiers and destroy 23 enemy structures.

On September 30, 1971 the 71st AHC received orders to move again. This move, however, will not be as a company. The 71st received orders to stand down. The high espirit de corps and sense of mission accomplishment of each member of the 71st will be an asset to the units receiving former personnel of the 71st.

Also see: Unit Awards, Call Signs and these articles from the Army Times.