Paul Nolan by Jim Masencup

Paul was in country when I arrived at the 129th in the third week of April 1970. Paul was a Door Gunner I came to know and like during my days as a PP. I think I remember him wearing stripes, but then Spec. 5 also comes to mind. I learned thru conversation he was from a West Virginia coal mining town, was on his second tour having first served as a grunt humping an M60 for the 4th Inf. Division, if I remember correctly. He had volunteered for his second tour if he could get out of the field and be assigned to the 129th. Paul was short when I first met him and I don’t remember how long after I arrived he DROSed but whatever the length of time he made an impression I would never forget, he was good at what he did.

Some months after I knew Paul had gone home I was pre-flighting early one morning when I heard my name called. I looked down from the rotor head and without thinking said “Morning Nolan” and returned to my pre-flight. It took a moment to sink in, Nolan went home, it can’t be Nolan! I climbed down and went eye-to-eye with this person. It was Nolan!

Paul explained he had gone home for his 30-day leave. The coal mine had closed and everyone in the town, including his entire family, was unemployed. He was heart broken but took consolation in being in the Army. After his leave he was stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash., where he explained they assigned him to paint garbage cans. After two weeks or so he couldn’t take it any longer and went to his Top and asked to be sent back to the 129th. So, there he was.

Paul was assigned as Platoon or Asst. Platoon Sgt.. He didn’t have to fly, but did quite often, when needed.

In March of 1971 we were flying Snoopy missions in the valleys west of Lane and east of the An Khe Pass. On one morning a young Door Gunner was hung over so Paul took his ride for him. His ship was to be Snoopy low. At some point during the mission Paul’s bird dropped over a ridge, into a valley and out of sight of his guns and the high ship. All hell broke loose. They had dropped into an estimated battalion sized unit of NVA. Paul’s M60 took a direct hit from what was believed to be a B40 or RPG of some size. If you knew Paul you knew he wouldn’t wear a Chicken Plate, he sat on it! He was more afraid of being shot in the ass.

The high ship got all the crew out (except the VNAF PP; that’s another story) and took Paul to the 67th Evac. I saw Paul every afternoon I was close to Qui Nhon on my way home. On one visit a nurse (if I remember correct it was “Pineapple’s” wife) told me Paul would not live, he did not have the will, he did not want to. Paul had told her the same story as he had told me, of what awaited him back in the States.

The day I left Lane for the last time, as I was awaiting the pre-flight, our Top walked up and told me Paul had died sometime during the day before. I think that was April 13, 1971.

Some twenty years ago I went back to Ft. Rucker and visited the Aviation Museum. Paul’s name was on the Wall. Please don’t forget Paul, I can’t.

Copyright © 2001 by Jim Masencup, All Rights Reserved