Have Gun…..Need A Light? by Jim Masencup

For May 5th, 1970 the Unit History mentions the Cambodian Operation. The actual name of this operation was “Checkerboard” or “Chessmen” or something like that. The name came from the tactics of the mission. The area of operation was cut up into a grid and each square was numbered and colored either black or white like a checkerboard. Each unit of the 4th Inf. Div. was assigned a square for the initial insertion but no two squares adjoining one another would be occupied. On the second day each unit was picked up and moved to a new square, again no adjoining two occupied. Black one day white the next. This went on for the five days we were there and continued the two days we stood down at Lane until every square had been covered.

This operation was the largest mission I ever flew on. Every Aviation unit in II Corps was represented plus some from I Corps and III Corps. As our history states we returned to Pleiku at night. We slept either in or under our aircraft. If you have never been to the Pleiku area you must envision a plateau of red dirt in the dry season and red mud in the wet season. When we returned to Lane after five days of no showers everyone was red, our hair, our clothes and our bodies. The red in my skivvies never washed out. And the smell! It reminded me of flight school and Tac-X when we flew to Eglen AFB to train with some Rangers who had been in the field for twelve days. Our instructor said, “Gentlemen, remember that smell. That’s what all of Vietnam smells like!”

After our much needed two-day stand-down we returned for the extraction. If I remember correctly my AC was “Duckbutter”. I’ll deal with him another time. The person I want to tell you about was our Crew Chief, “Casey”.

When on this operation I was literally still pissing stateside water. I had been in country less than three weeks. I was easily impressed and I was scared. Casey both impressed and scared me. Casey had been there for about seven months before I got there if I remember and knew what he was doing. I was new and didn’t know but there was something that impressed me even more. I was scared of the war and death before my time was due. I was scared of Casey but not because he was bigger or badder than I was. There was something else that scared me about Casey. Casey had a bigger gun!

My sidearm at the time was a S&W .38. Casey’s was a 40MM grenade launcher! He had cut the stock down into a pistol grip and made a holster, a holster that swiveled so he could shoot from the hip without drawing. My first impression was “Now Here Is One Sick Puppy!” But you can bet I never told him that! I wanted this guy on my side when we got to Dodge City.

For the extraction our AC was the Flight Leader and as such chose to lead from the trail position. We were removing a unit from a major NVA compound. This compound had living quarters, training areas, an out door theater and a hospital. The Air Force had a heavy team of F4s on station to Napalm the area after we pulled the last of our troops out.

On one of our first lifts in Casey asked the AC to confirm with the ground commander that buildings were empty. They were. After that on every lift out I heard a couple of “Thunks” from the rear of our aircraft. On each lift back in more and more of the buildings were burning. Casey was in the back pumping 40MM Willie Pete into the compound. On the last lift out we called the F4s and told them they were clear to go in hot. A few minutes later they called back and asked why they had been called in, the target was already torched.

Casey and I never made it to Dodge City but I made a point of flying with him whenever I could until he went home. I lost my fear of him but never my respect. It was people like Casey who taught me what I needed to know not to kill myself, and a lot of other people. Because of people like Casey I have since always tried to surround with the best, even if they were a “Sick Puppy!” and always the one with the biggest gun.

Copyright © 2001 by Jim Masencup, All Rights Reserved