Whoa Nelly by Jim Masencup

I arrived in Vietnam in the middle of April 1970 and within a week was with the 129th. After the initial check ride and orientation missions of ash and trash the first combat assault missions I remember were something I thought I would never see mentioned in print. During the months of May and June we were flying some Special Operation missions over the border into Cambodia. In the middle of June the press stateside found out about these missions and printed stories that caused an uproar. Nixon mandated that all over the border operations would cease by the end of June in hopes of calming the uproar.

The NVA had access to the news too and began pushing into the area to get revenge from the Montagnards who had been friendly in the AO. On the last two days we were “allowed” to go over we sent ships to extract as many as possible dependents of these Montagnards. This is mentioned in the unit history for June 1970.

I don’t remember for sure who was my AC on the last day of June. I do remember we were a flight of four that staged out of New Plei Djereng. We were to be one of if not the last lifts into an old Special Forces CP, fifteen or so clicks over the border.

When we arrived the dependents mobbed us. There were two Americans on the ground to control what must have been a hundred plus people, most of whom were women and children as most of the men left first. There was nothing we could do to keep them out of the aircraft short of shooting them. My biggest concern at that time was someone walking into a tail rotor. If that had happened none of us would have flown out.

When the aircraft in front of us pulled pitch we were full and were trying to keep people from standing on the skids. When we felt we were clear enough we pulled pitch. We had enough power to break ground but we were so far out of center of gravity limits we had no aft cyclic. At full aft we were doing about 50 knots forward. No real problem for flying as long as we had power but we still had to land.

The flight that had come out on the lift before ours reported taking AA fire on the way back to the border so we opted to go over the clouds and hope the AA guns weren’t radar guided. When we got on top I looked back to try to get a head count. If I remember correctly we had 36 plus the crew in an aircraft designed to carry a total of 12. Some of the women and children were bleeding from the ears. We were at over 10,000 ft. and these people had never left the ground before except maybe to climb a tree. They didn’t know how to clear ears and their eardrums had ruptured.

For the landing we chose Du Co because of it’s PSP strip. I remembered the red slash entry in the logbook for torn skid shoes but we had no choice. It was a running landing or nothing, we couldn’t come close to a hover.

As we came in low over the trees at the end of the strip the AC and I were both on the controls. It was a strange feeling to have a cyclic all the way back to your stomach, not to mention the feeling of still going forward at 50 knots while doing it. After touchdown, the more we slid and the more we slowed the less effective the pedals became and we had to roll the throttle off and on to keep the nose straight. If we had gotten sideways it would have been all over. This is not something you got to practice very much, if ever and never on PSP.

As the other end of the strip came closer the more the pucker factor increased. Just as we reached the far end we slid off into the mud, yawed about 90 degrees to the right and came to a stop.

The Montagnards got out and just walked into the jungle. I guess they thought that was the way it was supposed to happen. All I could think about was getting back to Lane where I had a clean set of skivvies. What was left of the ones I had on, that ass hadn’t eaten were real dirty.

I had been in country just over two months at this time. I hoped that what the Montagnards had assumed was not true.

Copyright © 2001 by Jim Masencup, All Rights Reserved