Closing the Books on the 129th, March 1973 by Bill Jeanes

For the faithful Bite and Strike, you might like to know about the unit’s last 60 days in Vietnam. As the last Service Platoon Leader, I had the distinct ‘pleasure’ of helping close the books and turning the fleet in at Saigon.

First off, let me say no wrench bender can ever say they “did it,” without acknowledging the maintenance techs and NCOs who made it happen. During this once-in-a-life time event, i.e., closing down an AHC in the waning days of Vietnam, CWO Cameron and Craig did the damn near impossible. And what they couldn’t do, SFC Smith did. With that said.

When we got the word to stand down, I immediately went to the property book officer, CPT Garrett (of Blue Max fame), and identified what we had to box up or transfer to the VNAF and Four-Power Force. Poor Garrett, he lost accountability for a duce and a half from all the way back from 1968 – one of those ‘trust me’ deals. (I found out later that a DA2404 for turn-in did mysteriously pop up, found stuck deep under a drawer with [fresh?] coffee stains.) Seriously, how would you like to be the last property book officer in a Nam unit?

As I walked back to the maintenance hut wondering where half of this stuff was, old Cameron put his hairy arm around my young “LT” shoulders and walked me over to a couple of conexs. Low and behold, there was all the stuff, packed, racked and ready to go. Had been for most of four months when a peace treaty had been first rumored. The company had been operating for months just on excess; the accumulation of slight of hand, imaginative bookkeeping and several years of in-country magic. We even had AIMI items like left-hand skid shoes and turbine engines. Needless to say having the South China Sea nearby was real handy. Even Big Windy (180th Medium Lift) had to help out.

We packed the Cobras and the likes of Bunker Bruce, Paye, and Wood up and off in December or early January. (It has been 25 years – give me a break). We also turned in our door guns and small arms as well. Most everyone had access to “private” weapons of some sort, so some of us remained under arms. I was instructed to turn a few UH-1s over to the VNAF at Phu Cat. I had a hard time with the VNAF on the first slick and couldn’t figure out why. It was our best bird. Well, Craig put his hairy arm over my other shoulder and asked if I had it in its complete configuration. I said ‘Yup,’ all the BELI gear and books were standing tall. He just shook his head and said, “Where is the air conditioner, the fridge, the fans?” What the VNAF wanted were American appliances and creature comforts. From that point on the transfers went smooth. (See what I mean about good help?) When we flew a bird in, the VNAF would drive up, grab the guns and the ‘auxiliary’ equipment, signed the dotted line and away they went. We would then grab a few items off of the bird to help us make up some shortages on the birds heading to Saigon.

We left Lane in early February 1973. I was the third-to-last bird to leave. There were two ship crews having a “verbal” discussion as who was going to be the last to leave Lane AHP. Never did find out who won, but my money was on MAJ Durham, the last company commander.

We moved to Camp Halloway (Plieku) to pull recon, recovery and resupply missions for about 3 weeks. Our tools, door guns and parts were long since turned in. All of the birds were well over 100 hour PEs. Each new day was a new circle red-X, fly and watch it. This was a tense time for all, but the birds held up.

We finally got the word to withdraw to Hotel Three in Saigon the last week of February 1973. That was a scary flight. We had to take a direct route over some very unfriendly countryside with some very tired birds. The refuel point was even unsecured! But by then the real threat were the ARVNs. It was a happy thing to see TaunSonut AFB (spelling?). You should have seen LT Wyatt’s face, the receiving officer, when I chunked the books on his desk. He asked me who was going to pull all of those PEs? I told him there was no one but my chief TI, SP5 Beebe, the CO and myself left. He said he was going to flag us and force us to stay until all the birds were ready for turnover to ‘whomever.’ Poor Jake. Before he could even try and make good on his promise, we were all on Freedom Birds by 5 March 1973.

I arrived at Long Binh on March 3, 1972 and pulled final pitch on March 5, 1973. During that time we lost one Snake and one Huey and four good men. SGT Thompson held the record for consecutive cases of clap. The XO, CPT Graham, got fragged for his poor attitude on drug use. CPT Ferguson held the record for most assignments to the 129th; first as a crewchief (around ’66), then a CWO (around ’69) and finally as a Captain (’72). The ROK CG shot one of his officers for sleeping on guard duty for LAHP. Mr. Richards was medevac for amebic dysentery (I think he was the only one who ate in the mess hall regularly). Places like Bong Song, Happy Valley, Sin City, An Khe Pass, Tiger Wagon, Plantation, Mang Yang Pass, the Steam and Cream and faces like Mamma San Tau, Rabbit and Dinky Dow were still a part of our AO.

I flew with the likes of Ron Paye, Woody Wood, Darcy Tatum, CPT Goodnight and a true character named Hartwick.

My new hooch is in Tampa. I have the landing beacons on and ya’ll are cleared for a direct approach. Come see us. We’re just a few hours from Miami and Key West. Monitoring the net, Bulldog / Cobra 52, out.

Copyright © 2001 by Bill Jeanes, All Rights Reserved