On the plane over to Viet Nam, there was a stewardess that was reading Look Magazine with the 154 dead American troops with their Military graduation pictures in it. She was quite distraught at the fact that she was a part of bringing so many people into harms way. Her muffled sobs could be heard for some distance. As I tried to console her, the tears came more. At 18 I couldn't understand her grief. It was a "Conflict" and in the military people died in "conflict". Little did I know that these people could be friends of mine. Even more that I would almost be one of them many times. Sitting like a big target to be knocked down at every insertion, extraction, Siffer mission, maintenance problems, pilot problems, and even the resupply missions. I've heard some number I don't know how close there to being correct they were; one in twenty didn't make it back the same way they got there. On arrival to Cam Ron Bay The heat and humid hit me like a blast. We grabbed our gear and headed for a bus with wire screens on every window. I asked the driver what that was about? He coolly stated that was so the Gooks couldn't' throw explosives in to the bus. That's when it first hit me that this was not Kansas any more.
The driver dropped us off at the in-processing center for assignment. My orders stated that I would be going to the DMZ area. Thankfully when they originate these orders they have no idea where they need people at the time. We were all in jungle uniforms that had no patches or strips on anything. In the morning formation they would ask for all the E-5's and above to stand in front of the formation. after roll call they would get every one to count off in number representing the number of NCO there were. I always seeking an opportunity to usurp the system, went up with the NCO's although I was at the time a PFC and been busted once already in my short military career. After being assigned eight people to do SLOJ (shity little odd jobs) duties. I would march them around the corner and out of sight, stop them and tell them to scatter and don't get caught! Over the next few days I guess the word got out and it was funny to see the troops shuffling around in formation to be the one's in my squad.
Growing up and then enlisting from San Francisco In the 60's I had some very good survival skills already. These would be tested and honed to the maximum the next year.
I arrived at my new home, the 129th Assault Helicopter Company two weeks later, while in-processing I was told that I would be assigned to the 394th Maintenance group I had a 67N20 MOS and also a 67N40 for the new Cobras AH1G's. I was assured that I would be a Tech Inspector on them on arrival. I had been working on them for a year that I was to young to be sent to Viet Nam. Unfortunately the 129th AHC had old fitted, B model gunships. It was very sad to see them try to get to transitional lift. Bouncing and dragging down the PSP flight line. Trying to time the bounces to clear the six-foot fence at the end of the runway. After working with the Cobras which just powered up and nosed over cranked in a bunch of collective and were gone. I was finally issued more gear including the M-14, which I dearly wanted, as I had been defenseless since my arrival. As I was unpacking putting thing away I locked my wall locker with my trusty combo lock. Laying back in my new digs, when all of the sudden I heard the loudest Boom Boom Boom it was deafening. I jumped up got to my wall locker to get my M-14 out so I could fight the "little man". It was then that I realized that a combination lock perhaps was not the best form of security available. After fumbling around with it finely opened. I grabbed the thing and was sliding around the corner with it. When to my surprise there were a bunch of guys sitting around playing cards. They hadn't moved. They were however now laughing a lot. I turned and asked the question that was burning in my mind. That's not the war? Now they're rolling on the floor in hysterics. I must have looked very stupid, in my shorts steel pot and flack jacket. Well I guess they took pity on the FNG (F****** New Guy) and told me the story about how the Commanders got together to play poker. It seem that later in the night they run out of money they would bet Tanks Helicopters what ever they were in charge of. So our Commander won a tank for a Month. It would roll up on the hill and blast everything, set the mountainside on fire. Then when it ran out of ammo, back it would go until the next night.
Things in Maintenance were starting to be very mundane. The Crew Chiefs would bring their ship in for one hundred hour inspections. It would be their job to pull all the inspection panels before they left. They started to realize that we had no access to "C" Rations. So it was a bargain to us to pull the panels for a case of C's. I would offer to fly for certain Crew Chief so that they could get a break. Once the big scare of being shot at was over it could be quite relaxing. So the next thing I knew I was getting a flight physical. I was a proud member of the 2nd flight platoon, call sign "Frenchie". I was assigned a ship of my own and was a proud puppy. Especially when I found out that I was in charge of the ship when it was on the ground. When the pilot picked it up it was his. I already had a bunch of experience in maintenance so I felt better qualified than most to be a Crew Chief.
We got the word from our superiors (?) that we couldn't fire until we were fired upon. Now there you are flying along, you see Sir Chuck out in the middle of the rice paddy with an AK-47 strapped to his back. He looks up and sees you, next thing he does is try to head fore the tree line, rice paddy dike, or anything else he can hide behind. He is not going to turn around and fire on you until he has some cover. His superiors probably told him, that we couldn't fire on him unless he shoots at us first. Who knows? They had some very good Intelligence. We Crew Chiefs always carried on the rack right by us a very large screwdriver. You were always using it to convince things to either open or close. Then a new use came to mind. I would rap real hard on the fuselage with it and then say "RECIVING FIRE". Then I could return fire before they dug in.
The only problem with this plan was that the pilot could never find any bullet holes, and after a while all around where the Crew Chief and Door Gunner (GIB's = Guys in Back) sat there were all these unexplainable dents. The Pilots (GIF's = Guys in Front) were not fools they knew how things really worked.
One day we were having a particularly bad time. Seems that we were flying a little light. Some where over the jungle Sir Charles decided he need a tail rotor. If he would have asked me I would have gave him one. He decided not to ask but to shoot the dam thing off. To add insult to injury he also put a couple of other holes in key operating systems. There was one thing I wished he wouldn't have hit was the hydraulic lines. Now for those of you that do not understand about the aerodynamics of a helicopter. It really doesn't fly in the true sense of the word. It more like beats the air into submission. Fighting you every step of the way. The tail rotor is a invaluable piece of the puzzle. At speeds less than sixty knots it acts as a counter acting resistance to the main rotor. So that the hole thing doesn't screw it's self into the ground. Now if you have misplaced your tail rotor and you have no hydraulics, this is one of the times that you might say a lot of different things I can't print here. After saying those it was time to act. This undertaking is called a sliding landing. It is not something that Pilots practice while in training. That I know of anyway and for sure they don't do it at all with out the aid of hydraulics. So we were all on unknown ground (forgive the pun). Ground is where we wanted to be, not ground as in pulverized. As we were making our controlled crash at Que Non airport. We let the people in the tower that it might get ugly. The pilot says to me that he wants me to come up front with the GIF and stand on the collective with my shoulders to the roof and slowly push down. Both of the pilots were manning the cyclic, and there was no one doing anything about the foot pedals because they weren't attached to anything. Inn my minds eye I had envisioned that we were going to crash. Beyond that when the main rotor hit the ground it would most likely rip the transmission out just about where I was. I hurriedly made a plan for a hasty exit. I being the smartest Bear in these woods would live. The second the skids hit the ground and the main rotor was getting close to the ground I split. Out the door I was gone, tumbling and sliding. My ship was also sliding, but not tumbling, righting it self just before stopping. I was both saddened and elated as I picked my tattered body up of the ground. The moral is "panic in haste recuperate slowly".
Beware of Pilots that wear white scarves. OK we were young and did some things that were not on the list of the smartest things. One of them was flying under this railroad trestle then having to pull up sharply to avoid the footpath just beyond. When you try to do the opposite it is a lot harder. In this case it is harder to go down before you go up. When you start to go down things speed up a bunch. So when you have a Pilot that thinks that he can really fly combined with the fact that he is an Idiot, bad things happen. It just so happens that on that day I found out that he was going to be my pilot. I did something I now wonder about. I refused to fly with him. As a flight member you can do that, they can't make you fly, it's a volunteer thing. As I now understand it He asked the Ranking pilot in the other ship if he wanted to join him in doing the over under thing. The ranking pilot said that he was to short and that he didn't think it was a good idea either. The Crew Chief happened to agree, and told him that if he wanted to do this thing that he should put down and let the Gunner and him off. Do it and come back to get them afterwards. Being an Ace Pilot that he was, and not wanting to be embarrassed by his Crew not having any faith in him. He was going to do it. Everyone but Ace turned out to be right. He was way to hot going over the footpath and by the time he realized it was too late for every body. He tried in vain to flare it out of the way. They hit the center of the railroad trestle. Rupturing the fuel blatter and sending everyone to a fiery death. Moral: Trust your intuition
My Pilot is flying along having a good day listing to armed forces radio. When all of the sudden there is a explosion in front of him. An AK-47 round came through the fuselage through his helmet visor and hit him between his eyes, then dropped into his lap. I'm not sure but I think he still wears it around his neck.
Flying along we usually kept the mike switch in the GIB position. I here my Gunner call me and I can hardly hear him. He wants me to bring him some matches. Lighting a cigarette with the doors open at 150 knots is a trick. Using up a pack of "C" rations matches for one cigarette is not a big deal. I go over to his side with matches in hand, and low and behold his seat is empty. (expletive deleted) I'm looking around there is not a place to hide, I follow his mike jack and it's going out the door. Oh my God he has fallen out... We didn't have the Monkey straps that some wore that would only let you fall so far out. I look out and there he is hanging on the skid flapping around with the 120-knot wind beating head to toes with one arm and one leg he is hanging on. With the other arm he is trying to reach for the
We were going to be doing this dog and pony show for a bunch of Korean big brass. When it came to our turn, we were to pick up 2 ROC Green Berates and carry them on the bottom of a 200 ft rope, 15 miles. Seem like a good idea. We had never done it before and I dont think they had either. We got to the PZ and let them strap in. They had full Battle Rattle, and their Carbines. We slowly picked them up and started to gain some speed. I was looking back at then and they were looking like they were having a good time. Steering with one hand and holding their weapon with the other. Every now and again they would bump into each other. I really dont know how fast we were going, but I thought if they were having such a good time , maybe be could help a little. I told the AC to speed it up. Well I still dont know if the pilot thought that they had some how asked for more speed, but he did it. As a matter of fact he over did it. I thought for a while that the dam rope was going to get caught in the tail rotor. Those guys were now banging each other with a great deal of force. They were making kind of a big C, hitting each other at the top and the bottom of each others circle. We started slowing down and I noticed that they were not trying to steer anymore. As a matter of fact I guess they knocked each other out. This was confirmed by the fact that as we let them down onto the ground they just kind of crumpled to the dirt around where the Big Brass was. Just trying to help? Moral : If its worth doing, its worth over doing...
My ship was in for the old 100 hr PE. I wasnt doing any thing when they asked for some volunteers to help out on this humgus Air assault. What they needed was some drivers to haul all the ammo and fuel out to a LZ . I dont even remember the name of it , or if it even had a name. I would have named it Hell. I guess Sir Charles either had some good Intel or we had used this spot before. Fore those of you that have never had the pleasure of driving a large BOMM. Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl. I would much rather be in the air with all that JP4 fore some reason. On the ground with a deuce and a half full of ammo and rockets, was I guess different because I could only go left or right. At least in the air I could have two more directions to go. This thing was the biggest Air Assault I have ever seen. The sky was darkened with Choppers. It was a full blown 1st Aviation Brigade Assault. Before we even get set up good the shit hit the fan. The all to familiar sound of the AK47s started the coarse followed by the base drums. I got my trusty M-14 jumped under the truck and started to fire. All of the sudden I had a intelligent thought, as rounds were hitting the truck. Im lying under a Big Boom. I low- crawled to the next truck, when I realized that that one was the JP4 tanker. DUH...
Copyright © 2001 by William French, All Rights Reserved