Our Orlando reunion was a very successful gathering of old comrades, many of whom had not seen one another for 27 to 35 years. We had 157 men register and from comments received, everyone had a great visit. Snacks and drinks were provided from money received on the royalties of Chuck Carlock's book, Firebirds. Sixty cases of beer were consumed among other beverages. A large volume of materials related to the Vietnam War were on display, with the two helicopters brought in from Texas drawing the biggest attention. The Slick and Firebird aircraft displays mixed with a tape recording of a Huey cranking brings chill bumps and a deja vu sensation. Old photographs, slides, and VCR tapes cause the years to melt away as we once again remember "the way we were".
Our Memorial Service honoring our 55 KIAs was led by Col. (ret.) Johnnie Hitt, followed by a hand salute ordered by the original Rattler 6, Col. (ret.) Lewis Henderson and directed to a display of all 55 men's names appearing in photos taken from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Benediction was given by Reverend Eric Kilmer (WO 69-70). Our thanks go out to the great job delivered by Johnnie, Lewis and Eric! Many of our men carry guilt for a thousand different reasons. One of the reasons for the existence of this Association is to help heal old wounds by letting our men communicate and reunion together as well as bade farewell to our lost fellow soldiers. Reaching your DEROS date was a highlight of our lives, but leaving your friends behind to an uncertain fate was painful.
Ron Seabolt welcomed everyone and made the following special introductions: Our first Company Commander, Lewis Henderson; Frank Anton, who was a POW for over five years; LaRue Keller, wife of Bill Keller and Anne Flecke, wife of Ned Flecke were recognized for their service as nurses in Vietnam; our Association Board of Directors were introduced, Ron Seabolt, National Director, Harold Bowen, Deputy National Director, Chuck Carlock, Secretary-Treasurer, and Members-at-Large, Johnnie Hitt, and David O'Quinn. Doug Womack was recognized for his efforts in obtaining past due awards for actions in 1971 and for seeing that Ed Albrick's dad, Ed Albrick, Sr. receive his son's awards. Ed Albrick, Jr. died in an auto accident after his tour in 'Nam. Mr. Albrick attended our reunion and was a delightful addition to our meeting.
The golf outing hosted by Frank Anton resulted in everyone enjoying themselves. Nancy Conway and Ray Foley were the top players.
Two amendment changes to our by-laws were presented and passed by the membership. These included an Association name change from: Company A 501st Battalion, to read: Company A 501st Aviation Battalion. The word Aviation had been inadvertently omitted originally. The 71st AHC name remains as before. The second amendment regarded Doug Womack being appointed to fill the spot of Sergeant-At-Arms. Both amendments passed.
Harold Bowen, Deputy National Director, took the stand and addressed the members with comments concerning our year 2000 and 2002 reunions. These comments referred to contacting your old buddies to attend the next reunion and to volunteer your services to ensure the success of future reunions. A committee of five persons will be selected from our volunteers to work toward the 2000 reunion that will be held at either Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ. A second committee will be selected to gather information for the 2002 reunion to be held at either St. Louis, MO or Kansas City, MO. Survey forms were provided to everyone along with the volunteer form to get a better feel for exactly what our membership would like to have at future reunions.
Harold Bowen then presented a Founders Award, which was a beautiful plaque, to Ron and Kay Seabolt. It was a moving tribute that is greatly appreciated by Ron. A facsimile of the plaque will be placed in a museum at a future date.
A vote was held for the officers of our board of directors. There were no new nominees for these positions, so the present officers will continue in their current position. There were five nominees for the three positions of members-at-large. These were: Steven Donnelly, Johnnie Hitt, David O'Quinn, R.J. Williams and Doug Womack. The top three votes were received by Johnnie Hitt, David O'Quinn and R.J. Williams.
Roy Lowery (WO 64-65) asked for an explanation of where the money came from that we have to spend at the reunions. The answer was that when Chuck Carlock gave the rights to Firebirds to our Association, he requested that the funds go to providing food and drinks at future reunions.
Our "Jesus Nut" award, which goes to the person coming the farthest to attend the reunion, was awarded to Jerry Shirley (WO 66-67) who came from Okinawa, Japan to be with us. The Jesus Nut had been chrome plated and engraved with the words "Rattler / Firebird Reunion, Orlando, FL 1998".
The drawing for door prizes went as follows: Frank Anton (WO 67-68) of all people, won a metal replica of an Uncle Sam, US Army recruiting poster; J.R. Gann (EM 68-69) won a T-shirt that stated "The Older I Get, The Better I Was"; Chuck Sweeney (EM 68-70) won a red night shirt that had the words "Remove Before Flight" on it; Bill Patrick (WO 67-68) won a ceramic Eagle / Flag figurine; Dave Hunter (EM 69-70) won a 1 oz. Silver Vietnam War Commemorative Coin; Gift Certificates for two nights lodging (each) at our Holiday Inn were won by Gary Bouma (EM 68-69) and Oly Olson (EM 67-68); Two Certificates for personalized copies of the Joe Kline prints, "Riders On The Storm" or "Have Guns Will Travel" were won by Shelton Foles (WO 64-65) and Chico Marcano (EM 69). Joe Kline has sold more of these prints depicted as Rattlers or Firebirds than to anyone else. He offers the personalized version to our men at the reduced rate of $80.00. If you are interested in obtaining one of these prints, contact Joe Kline at: 6420 Hastings Place, Gilroy, CA 95020. Phone 408-842-6979. (Spouses, they make beautiful Christmas presents for your aviator!)
Bob Ziehl (EM 67-68) reminded everyone of the need for volunteers at your local VA hospital.
Our meeting adjourned to form up for our group photo. The Joe Kline prints were displayed in front of this photo.
Several men donated personal items from Vietnam to our Association. Among these included the original A 501st Guidon donated by former 1st Sergeant, John Howell (EM 66); Allie Campbell (WO 64-65) gave us a Montagnard axe; Ned Flecke (EM 66-67) donated his Firebird helmet, a survival axe, a Chieu Hoi paper and a blood chit; Ron Markiewicz gave us a Huey foot pedal with a bullet hole through it; Bill Patrick donated a Huey instrument inverter with a bullet hole in it and a sign taken at Khe Sanh on his second tour; Jim Moore (WO 65-66) donated the mallet from the Officers Club used to hit the gong when someone entered the club without removing his headgear. This resulted in a round on the house by the forgetful soul; Mike Mietus (EM 69-70) donated an assortment of items to R.J. Williams who brought them to the reunion. There were other items given but identities were not obtained at the time.
As this newsletter goes to print, we have 81 men who have purchased lifetime memberships. We can use all the memberships we can get, regardless of what type you purchase. Only dues paying members receive our address directory that will be mailed July 1st. Look at the mailing label of this newsletter. In order to receive the directory, the number to the right of your name must be 99 or higher, or say Life. The '98 memberships expire on 30 June. (a C before the number denotes 'charter member')
The following book review by Laura Ricard and Alan J. Fry, appeared in the April edition of VIETNAM MAGAZINE. This review followed the review in the previous edition of VIETNAM MAGAZINE of Frank Anton's book, Why Didn't You Get Me Out? Our Association readers need to be informed of the fallacy and deception contained in this book, Spite House. Just ask our men who lived in the camp with Bobby Garwood!
A thoughtful reader of Monika Jensen-Stevenson's Spite House: The last Secret of the War in Vietnam (W.W. Norton, New York, 1997, $25) might believe that Bobby Garwood - the Marine private who, after 14 years as a supposed POW in Vietnam, returned home in 1979 to be court-martialed and found guilty of collaborating with the enemy - is innocent. He might, that is, unless he also reads Frank Anton's Why Didn't You Get Me Out: Betrayal in the Viet Cong Death Camps (reviewed in the February 1998 VIETNAM MAGAZINE). Although flawed by some extraordinary omissions, Spite House is a compelling book. It will instantly appeal to readers inclined to believe that the government and the military are eager to crucify innocent victims for political reasons and are disposed to conspiracy, cover-up, bureaucratic stupidity and negligence. But seductive as her defense of Bobby Garwood may be, the author omitted critical evidence so damning that she has undermined her credibility and, as a consequence, that of Garwood.
The reader cannot help but wonder why the author did not include the testimony of any POWs (American or South Vietnamese) who lived with Garwood day in and day out in the camps and survived to testify to his guilt. POW Frank Anton, a downed gunship pilot who was in the same camp with Garwood and who was the prosecution's chief witness, observed Garwood's activities and demeanor for 18 "brutal months." He suffered terrible consequences from Garwood's spying, watched Garwood wander freely through the camp carrying a rifle and fraternizing with the guards and sat through Garwood's propaganda classes (Garwood was "dressed in...fresh new silk pajamas"). Anton heard Garwood scream at an American Marine: "You have come to Vietnam...to commit crimes against these innocent people....I spit on you!"
In a book wherein a staggering array of complex evidence is examined so meticulously, could the omission of such damning evidence have been an oversight? Hardly. The reader is forced to conclude that either Jensen-Stevenson felt that every one of the men who lived with Garwood and testified under oath that Garwood had crossed over to the enemy could not be believed, or she knew that if she included their testimony, it could have rendered her case patently absurd. The former is ludicrous, so the latter must have been her rationale. Thus, to a significant degree, Spite House appears to be built on a lie by omission. In a telephone interview, Anton observed, "All of us who can tell about him (Garwood) - it's as if we're all wrong."
Like first-rate trial lawyers, however, the most skillful authors know that if they want to make a guilty man look innocent, they've got to make their case with flair. Jensen-Stevenson appears to understand this, for her story is certainly sensational. Anton's is emphatically not. In contrast to the inflammatory tone of Spite House, Anton tells his story in a manner that is down-to-earth, matter-of-fact and dispassionate.
Consider Anton's account of the death of a fellow prisoner, Marine Denny Hammond: "His body had all but shut down from the diarrhea, and he was fading fast. He turned to me, looked straight into my eyes and asked me to do him two favors. The first was to tell his mom and dad what had happened to him. The other was: 'Make sure you get Garwood'....If [Garwood] had come home admitting his mistakes and professing sorrow for his actions, I probably never would have testified against him. I had promised Hammond in the jungle that I would do all I could to make sure that the world learned the truth about [Garwood], but I didn't harbor any hate....To tell the truth, I really pitied him....I know what the difference was between him and the rest of us....Garwood failed the test of keeping the faith."
But it is the '90s, and Anton's evenhanded, straightforward narrative is simply not going to compete with Jensen-Stevenson's pyrotechnics. There is no doubt that her tale will be swallowed whole by a public eager to be told "the last secret of the Vietnam war," for Columbia Pictures just bought the movie rights to Spite House for an undisclosed, seven-figure sum. The truth, which is often less glamorous and exciting than half-truths, will be buried under an avalanche of Hollywood theatrics. And as a result, as Anton perceptively observed, ultimately "only Garwood [will be able to] answer the question about what happened to him during all those years."
Editor's note: You can still purchase autographed copies of Anton's book, Why Didn't You Get Me Out, by mailing a check or money order for $20.00 made out to Frank Anton at: 730 Palm Dr., Satellite Beach, FL. 32937. Phone # 407-773-0059. Frank sold every book he brought to our reunion (he has more at home) and donated $5.00 per book to our Association.
OLD SOLDIER'S HOME
Do you remember a small portion of your monthly pay (about 25 cents) going to the Old Soldiers Home? This home does exist in the Washington, D.C. area and one of our men has been working there for years. His name is Benny Goodman (WO 67-68). If you have any questions about this, you can reach Benny Goodman at: 3700 North Capitol NW # 704, Washington, D.C. 20317. Phone: 202-882-3899.
Johnnie Hitt writes a "legislative" column for the local Retired Officer Assoc. in Dallas, TX and sent us this info:
Service in Vietnam and Prostate Cancer: If a military member served anywhere in Vietnam, all prostate cancers are considered service-connected. Attention: Widows and Wives. If your husband died or dies of prostate cancer, you are entitled to dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) from the VA ($833 a month). Attention: retirees and Vets. If you have or had prostate cancer, you are entitled to a service connected disability. All claims should be made at your nearest VA office.
VA To Accept Non-VA Physician's Statement: A change in VA regulations will permit claims processors to rate veteran's compensation and pension claims based on private physician's statements. According to VA, this acceptance of private physician examination should speed up the average processing time by as much as 35 days and should make it easier for veterans to file for and receive benefits.
At the Orlando reunion, David Bascle's wife, Erin, became ill with a suspected heart attack and was hospitalized. The Association has received word from David that his wife is home in Louisiana now and doing fine.
Randy Billings (WO 66-67) came down with pneumonia in January, followed by a collapsed lung. The oxygen deprivation has left Randy with lost feeling in his left foot. It was touch and go for awhile but Randy seems to be on the road to recovery now and is already planning on being at the next reunion.
A lady that visited us at the reunion, Bethany Nugent, is the physical therapist for Rick Spradlin (EM 71) a second platoon gunner. Rick is a quadriplegic as a result of an auto accident four years ago. Bethany was trying to locate anyone that might remember Rick in order to get photos of them to show Rick and provide an emotional lift. If you would like to send a card to Rick, the address is: Rick Spradlin, Rt. 1 Box 307, Woodland, AL 36280 or you can e-mail a message to him through Bethany at: firstname.lastname@example.org
WAKE UP GUYS!
Letter received from Dave Shaw (EM 67-68)
I remember a couple of unusual Rattler stories during my tour in Chu Lai in 67' and 68'. When one of us was promoted to specialist 5 we also came up on the duty roster for "Sergeant of the Guard." One night while standing guard at the entrance to our compound, Marlin "John" Johnson was setting in a chair by the road when the duty officer drove up and said something to Marlin. He didn't respond right away so the D.O. assumed he was asleep on guard duty. Johnson had flew missions all day with me and we were both exhausted. I asked the officer if Marlin's eyes were open or not? The "L.T." admitted that Johnson's eyes were actually open so the charges were dropped. None of us in his hooch ever told the officers that Marlin always slept with his eyes wide open! We forgave Marlin for his faults due to his abilities to also hear mortars and rockets coming long before they ever landed. He would jump out of bed and crash through the screen door with the rest of us close behind.
Our old buddy 1st Sergeant Hillhouse watched us like a hawk and insisted that I wake the company with a shiny chrome whistle in the morning before I went off shift. After trying that whistle out next to the officers hooch's one morning, I was threatened with great bodily harm and my name taken in vain too!. Being a loyal soldier I compromised by only blowing that whistle up close to the screen outside Hillhouse's hooch. Repeatedly! After a few loud blasts, Hillhouse was cuss a blue streak. I'd then go from hooch to hooch turning on the lights and waking someone quietly. Even that was a little risky when the electrical wiring was dangerous. I got shocked a few times. The switch in our hooch was wired directly to a stereo system that blared to life at full volume if you turned the light switch on. That treat was reserved for a couple of sergeants who needed their hearts started in the morning!
I also remember a few times when the Company would go on alert and we had to stand guard all around our compound. Those of us who had a little more experience flying missions and handling a M-60 knew enough to stay well down inside the bunkers or guard posts. We knew if anyone, friendly or not, fired off a round all hell would break loose and a green troop might accidentally shoot somebody! Maybe me!
In a previous newsletter you mentioned how R. J. Williams was wrongly accused of shooting a fly. He may not have done that one but.....I remember some holes in the tin roof of a hooch that were about the size of the bullets his .45 cal Thompson he used. Nah, it couldn't have been him. His grandmother carried it on her Harley.
I DON'T WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU DO IT, JUST DO IT!
By Dan Garren
Before I started flying I worked in the motor pool as a mechanic, and the Motor Officer was a WO. This was in early '69. He used to give me orders something like this, "I need a water pump and I don't care where you get it!" Get the idea? Anyway, he told me that he needed a carburetor for the old man's jeep one day so me and one of the other mechanics took a deuce and a half and went looking down the beach. Well, we found a brand new jeep, unlocked, sitting on the beach. We took it down to the south perimeter of Chu Lai and removed the carb and left the rest. My brother was a medic at Battalion aid and he told me two days later that someone had stolen the Americal Division Flight Surgeon's Jeep two days before while him and some nurse were swimming!! Can you believe that? I just find it hard to believe that any one would steal a high ranking officers jeep. I always did have trouble remembering what "6" stood for on bumpers and who had "6" for a call sign!! I once gave a water pump to the motor officer that was still steaming!! Do you think he cared?
If you should ever find out who the motor officer was between April and July of 69, let me know. I would like to say hi.
Editor's note: Please notify the association if you have info on this motor officer. He would probably have been called "Truck 6" in the officer's club!
ZAPPED BY A FIREBIRD
"Pure Oil Company's crimson Firebird decal is turning
up everywhere in Vietnam
It soon may rival "Kilroy" of World War II"
By James H. Pickerell, Saigon, Vietnam (1966)
FIREBIRDS is a well-known name around Vietnam. Here it belongs to a small but elite group of men who fly armed helicopters--which, without questions, is one of the most dangerous jobs in this war. The Firebirds' base is Bien Hoa, a suburb north of Saigon, but their home is over the treetops of the Bo Loi forest, the Iron Triangle, Ben Cat, and other places you read about in your newspapers almost every day.
The Firebirds, a platoon of eight armed helicopters, belong to Company A , 501st Aviation Battalion. They have been operational in Vietnam since Christmas of 1964--two days later they were in the thick of airmobile operations around Binh Gia, one of the toughest battles of the war. The Firebirds, with their rockets and machine guns, provide protective fires in support of airmobile operations. Company A has twenty-five UH-1 (Huey) helicopters, each carrying a four man crew. The company is divided into three platoons of eight aircraft each. The Esquires and Phantoms, both troop and cargo carriers, and the Firebirds are the names of the three platoons of the company. The twenty-fifth helicopter, the maintenance ship, is present on all company size operations and on call at other times to deal with maintenance problems and recover downed helicopters. It is flown by the maintenance officer and appropriately called "Snake Doctor".
One measure of the Firebirds success in protecting their comrades is that the entire company has lost only one man in combat since they arrived in Vietnam. Nevertheless, before you conclude this is a easy task, consider that a helicopter is hit by ground fire on an average of one out of three missions and Company A has had 20 helicopters shot down in the last year. Of these, 18 were recovered in repairable condition; the other two were destroyed. The commander of the Firebirds, Capt. Donald W. Farnham, of Wilmington, Mass., has been recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his action on November 8, 1965 in saving the crew in one of these downed aircraft. Capt. Farnham, incidentally, is on his second tour of duty in Vietnam; earlier in 1961, he was with the Okinawa based outfit that developed the helicopter tactics now being used in Vietnam.
The Firebirds title was suggested by Ramona Henderson, the wife of Maj. Lewis J. Henderson, prior to unit deployment from Ft. Benning, GA. The idea came to her while playing the Firebird Suite. Mrs. Henderson's father, who lives in Ozark, Ala. described the choice of names to Jess Sheffield, the Pure Oil distributor in Ozark, who immediately thought of sending some Pure Oil Company firebird decals to the unit. After a flurry of letters between Ozark and division sales office in Palatine, Ill. a supply of Firebird decals and patches were winging their way to Bien Hoa, where they were eagerly plastered on the helicopters and uniforms of the Firebird Platoon.
Like in World War II and Korea, US Forces developed a wartime jargon peculiar to Vietnam. For example the "honcho" or boss of the Korean war has become "dye wee" which is Vietnamese for captain or anyone in charge. "Number One" (the best) and "Number Ten" (the worst) seems destined for eternal fame. The cynicism of Korea expressed in the phrase "That's the way the ball bounces" has been replaced by a new professionalism, as in the description of Hanoi as Dodge City where jets dodge rockets known as "telephone poles". Today, when airmen attack in the face of ground fire, it is known as a "shoot-out". To be shot down in World War II and Korea was to "buy the farm". Today, it is to be "waxed" or, more frequently, to be "zapped."
There are a wide variety of colorful call signs in Vietnam: Tigers, Playboys, Razorbacks, Bandits, and Aloft, for instance. But none have gained country wide notoriety as quickly as the Firebirds. The first use of the Firebird decals was to identify unit aircraft. But, as the Company ranged outside its III Corps area to support maximum lift operations elsewhere, the Firebird decal began appearing over the unit insignia of other unit's aircraft. In time almost every type of aircraft in Vietnam including US and Australian Air Force aircraft has been "zapped" by a Firebird. People who leave their gear lying around are in danger of finding a Firebird stuck on it when they return. In fact, it is becoming a sort of status symbol. Several months ago I joined the Firebirds to cover an operation in the Iron Triangle. When I got back to Bien Hoa, my camera bag had been "zapped" by a Firebird. Even the brass weren't exempt from the presence of the ubiquitous Firebird. The aircraft of Lt. Col. Honour, CO of the 145th Avn. Bn. was so "honored." The Firebirds greatest coup, however, occurred during Gen. Westmoreland's inspection of an operation out of Nha Trang. He stopped in front of a Firebird aircraft for an interview with CBS-TV. The interview was successfully filmed and so was the General's vehicle as it departed with a large crimson Firebird affixed to its trunk.
Editor's note: Being "zapped" by a Firebird lasted a long time after this story was written. In photos of the ship referred to in the following story, the "Firebird" decal can be plainly seen on the ship's hull.
ARMY AVIATORS ENJOY VICTORY AT SEA
(reprinted from the VHPA) by Mel Canon
It was July, 1967 and a small storm was brewing. It would bring together an assortment of forces, all focused on the same unlikely objective. For some, it would be routine, while others would consider it bizarre. To some, it would seem small, yet others would find it the largest, most unusual objective of their Vietnam experience.
On the evening of July 15, a fire team from the 71st Assault Helicopter Company was on standby at Chu Lai airbase, a mission the unit drew routinely. Two gunships and a C&C slick were set up near the highspeed taxiway and standing by in support of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. This promised to be something other than a normal night of standby duty for the three crews.
The lead Firebird was piloted by WO1 Kenneth Wiegand, the aircraft commander was WO1 David Ellingsworth. Ellingsworth's wingman was Capt. Joseph Daugherty and pilot, WO1 Ager Davis. The C&C ship was loaded with a full complement of flares and piloted by WO1 Conrad Howard and aircraft commander Maj. George Jackson.
There was a tinge of excitement and anticipation in the air that night. There were rumors the Navy was tracking a North Vietnamese trawler that had departed Hai Phong Harbor and was moving southerly down the coast. It was suspected of carrying a cargo of arms and materials to NVA/VC elements at an unknown location in South Vietnam.
The evening started out relatively normal. The 71st AHC's fireteam had heard the rumors about the trawler earlier. Their interests were stimulated somewhat, but they settled in for what they hoped would be a quite night. There had been talk of the possibility of a night combat assault if the trawler attempted to seek port in their area. Night combat assaults were not the missions of choice in the 71st.
The trawler remained far enough offshore to be in international waters precluding interdiction from the U.S. Navy. At near midnight, however, it made a turn toward the coast and headed toward the mouth of the Quang Nhai river south of Chu Lai. Navy Swift boats moved in to keep track of the trawler's activities and when it became apparent the ship was going to enter the mouth of the river, it was engaged by the Swift Boats. At the same time, a call went out to Chu Lai for assistance from the Army.
The fireteam from the 71st AHC was scrambled and given information to proceed toward the mouth of the Quang Nhai river and given radio frequencies to contact the Navy. Talk of a night combat assault escalated. As WO1 Ellingsworth and his team reached their objective, they were surprised to see the trawler. It appeared ominous and sinister in the eerie illumination of flares fired from a navel destroyer that lay somewhere offshore.
Maj. Jackson, aircraft commander of the C&C ship, was on station above the gun team and ready to take over the flare duties from the Navy. Jackson recalls, "It's a wonder we weren't all blown out of the sky." A ROK (Korean) Marine unit ashore had been given a fire mission by someone and it was putting 105 ordinance in the area of the trawler. No one told the team about the artillery and Jackson had to get it turned off quickly. The gunships were in real danger from that artillery for those first few minutes.
Tracers were coming from the trawler as it appeared to be in a firefight with the Swift boats. Naval gunfire from the destroyer had failed to hit the target and the swift boats had taken over. At this time, Ellingsworth made contact with the Navy and asked for instructions. He was instructed to engage the vessel.
"I was nervous," Ellingsworth recalls. "I was really shaking in anticipation of engaging that ship. I'd never had a ship for a target before and I was so engrossed in the target that I don't think I said anything to my wingman before rolling in to punch off the first pair of rockets. (this aircraft was the "hog", 48 rocket system) My nervousness came through pretty clear as my feet were jumping up and down on the pedals in anticipation of the contact."
Ellingsworth's first pair of rockets hit the vessel broadside. "My pilot, Ken Wiegand, was so excited. He hit me on the left leg while yelling, You got it, Dave...you got the S.O.B.! In fact, he hit my left leg so hard, I had bruises on it for days afterwards," says Ellingsworth.
Tracers from a 12.7mm gun left the ship, trying desperately to knock out the aerial threat. "It was easy to keep track of our helicopter," reflects Ellingsworth, "All you had to do was look at the end of that tracer stream. I have no idea why we weren't hit."
Ellingsworth and his wingmen Capt. Joe Daugherty and WO1 Ager Davis continued to engage the trawler. Ellingsworth believes he scored a good hit when he got a secondary explosion. It was determined later he had hit an area that contained some mortar shells in the area of the wheelhouse.
Both aircraft expended their ordinance and returned to Chu Lai. They were replaced by a fire team from the 161st AHC led by Capt. Rod Bither.
"The trawler appeared to be dead in the water when we arrived on station," remembers Bither. "It looked as though it might have run aground and was unable to move. We were taking some small arms fire from the shore near the mouth of the river but had a hard time pinpointing the exact area it was coming from."
Korean ground forces were inserted onto the shore area around the mouth of the river and the 161st fire team withdrew to Chu Lai for rearming and to take on more fuel.
Later, Capt. Bither recalls, "the trawler was fitted with air bags by the Navy. It was raised from the river bottom and floated to DaNang the next day." After being boarded by ROK Marine forces, it was discovered the vessel had been rigged with enough C4 explosive to blow it to pieces. The detonator was located in the engine room. An NVA crewman was attempting to reach it when he was killed and wedged into the ladder leading to the engine room.
Had he been able to reach the detonator, the ship and cargo would have been destroyed and there surely would have been considerable American casualties.
It also was discovered later there was enough ammunition and explosives aboard the trawler to support two regiments for a year of fighting.
Other interesting discoveries aboard the vessel included more than 1,200 individual weapons and two large 12.7mm anti-aircraft guns. Arms and explosive containers bore the marking of the Soviet Union, Romania, Czechoslovakia and China.
The trawler was actually stopped in the ROK tactical area and Korean forces took possession of most of the weapons and explosives found on the vessel.
Naval officers said the long and carefully tracked voyage of the trawler was permitted because it stayed in international waters and couldn't be touched there.
Ironically, none of the helicopter crews were awarded citations for this action.
Editor's note: The story above was forwarded to the Association by Ken Wiegand. Ken added a "postscript, tongue-in-cheek" note stating his version of what actually happened that night. Remember, they were flying a "Hog". From an editor's view, Ken missed his calling. With a story like this, he should be working for the President of the United States!
Ken's note: "There we were at 1,000 feet in total darkness and flying on instruments over the South China Sea. We were in radio contact with a Navy swift boat that, along with a second boat were stalking a trawler suspected of hauling munitions to the enemy.
Suddenly, the blackness of the night was illuminated by a 2,000,000 candle-power flare dropped from a Rattler aircraft and below us, stretched out like a battleship, was the heavily armed vessel. We immediately began taking quad-fifty and small arms fire from the ship's fantail. Yellow and green tracers were coming directly at us. Dave Ellingsworth unbuckled his seat belt and jumped to the rear of the aircraft to hide between the gunner and crew chief. I was left to complete the task at hand! I immediately swung the aircraft into a dive and, reaching across the empty cockpit, grabbed the mini-gun control handle and poured withering fire onto the enemy. Realizing that 7.62 alone would not do the job, I fired seven volleys of 2.75 inch HE rockets into the wheelhouse. I looked over my shoulder to check on my crew and noticed that Davy was passed out. I knew that my actions could have ignited the munitions in the ship's hold and blow us out of the sky, but I didn't care. I also knew that I was saving the lives of those innocent civilians standing on the beach with rifles in their hands watching me single-handedly defend their native land.
After completely expending the aircraft armaments, I swooped down on the ship and finished the dink captain off with my .45 caliber service revolver. (actually, I shot him between the eyes with one well placed shot.)"
When we returned to Chu Lai, Davy came to and I took him to the club for a few drinks. I drank Jack Daniels, straight, Davy drank Freska.
Well that's the way I recall it. Remember, Davey was unconscious throughout the evening, so his story may be a little off. Hope you enjoy the story (smile).
CHU LAI tower this is RATTLER ONE ZERO over: CHU LAI, Rattler go ahead: request permission to taxi from the snake pit for a north bound heading, Roger Rattler you're cleared north bound. Radar said, "Clear Right", and I said, "Clear Left", and we headed out to Dragon Valley in search of a H-23 helicopter with two men aboard that never reached it's destination. Our job was to drop illumination flares as our two gun ships that accompanied us tried to locate the missing helicopter. Passing through 700 feet our aircraft commander Warrant Officer Jerry Shirley suddenly pulled back on the cyclic lurching our aircraft almost nose up vertically, instantly a F-4 Phantom came directly underneath us, couldn't have missed us by more than 10 feet. Shirley said "Damn, did you see that?" I said, "See it, I could count the rivets on that S.O.B." The Phantom was on his way back to CHU LAI from a mission up north and was running with no lights on. Mr. Shirley said that the full moon that just happened to be out that night, glared off the Phantoms canopy, he caught it out of the corner of his eye and luckily jerked the stick back in time. That's how the evening started, Sunday, June 18, 1967, little did we realize that the near mid-air collision wouldn't be the last of our problems.
Warrant Officer Jerry Shirley was the aircraft commander, Warrant Officer Andrew Sutton was co-pilot, Specialist 4th Class Ron (Radar) Seabolt was Crew Chief, Private First Class John Cervinski, and me, Private First Class Tom Knapp were gunners aboard helicopter Rattler One Zero, assigned that night to fly flare standby.
I had been in 'Nam for eight months flying as a gunner on Slicks, (UH1D-Hueys), with the 71st Assault Helicopter Company stationed at CHU LAI. I had flown well over 800 hours, many combat assaults and many night missions, however, I had never for some reason been assigned to fly a flare standby mission. Cervinski was familiar with the flares and we began arming and loading them aboard our chopper about six o'clock in the evening. The flares are about a three feet long in metal canisters and about six inches in diameter. They had a two stage firing system which was preset as they were loaded. A small wire cable extended from the firing system and was attached by a steel ring to the floor of the aircraft. We loaded these canisters pyramid style on the floor of the aircraft, eight on the bottom, then seven, then six, and so on till we had thirty six all together. All the wires from each canister were hooked to the same steel ring on the floor of the aircraft. This didn't seem like a problem while we were on the ground, however, having flown at night before with the wind blowing and it being dark, it occurred to me that all the empty wires from the flares that would be released, would be still dangling from the same ring, and could cause a problem to the remaining flares, i.e. one getting hooked by mistake. For this reason, I went down to maintenance and borrowed a wire cutter, and hooked it on a bar next to my seat so I could reach it if needed.
To ignite the flare, I would reach just outside the ship and pull the safety pin, Cervinski would pick up and toss the flare out the cargo door, as the attached cable jerked free, the first stage would be activated and a parachute would blow out and extend from the flare. Approximately ten seconds later the flare would ignite (two million candlewatt power of magnesium burning) and one flare from a thousand feet would light up a valley three miles square.
We reached Dragon Valley and proceeded to start dropping flares from about a fifteen hundred feet, as our gun ships Firebird NINE FIVE and Firebird NINE FOUR searched the valley below. When they circled a small village they started taking small arms fire, and when they returned fire, the VIET CONG started returning automatic weapons fire. Cervinski, Radar and I had the best seats in the house as the Firebirds started to rock and roll. The Firebirds were all of a sudden engaged in a major fire fight. Tracer bullets lit up the sky, the red ones going down fired by the Firebirds, and the green ones coming up fired by the VC. Fourth of July hell, this was the greatest display of fireworks I had ever seen. MINI-GUNS and ROCKETS, explosion after explosion, even we started receiving fire at 1500 feet.
Meantime, Cervinski was getting tired of lifting up the flares and tossing them out, so we switched, and I started tossing them out. We had probably released about half of our flares when all of a sudden we had a parachute inside the cargo bay. I realized immediately that one of the flares was not released and hooked some way to one of the loose wires, and within a matter of seconds the flare would ignite. I immediately started pushing all the remaining flares out the door as Cervinski did the same. Then it happened, the flare ignited, blinding everyone instantly. Radar swung into the cargo bay from his right side gunner positions, only to find Cervinski and me entangled in the large parachute, we all tried to get to the ring on the floor to release all the wires but the parachute encompassed the entire cargo bay and was entangled with the wires. Within a few seconds I got back my night vision, and could see the lit flare hung up on one of the thirty six wires hanging out back behind my gunner position. The problem was it was hanging out down by the skids and was within a few feet of our fuselage. I knew that if it touched the fuselage we could explode. I grabbed my wire cutters and jumped back over the metal bar to get to my gunners position where I might be able to cut the wire. Upon doing this my helmet mic cord that allowed me to talk to the crew came unhooked, and the last thing I heard was Mr. Shirley saying, "FIREBIRD NINE FIVE this is RATTLER ONE ZERO on fire going down." I would now clearly see the hooked flare as it swung back and forth getting nearer to the fuselage. The only way that I could possibly reach the wires was to hang out of the ship, I hooked my foot around a small bar in the ship (just like when your were a kid and hung from a jungle jim without holding on) and grabbed a hold of the skid with one hand, holding the wire cutters in the other. I tired to cut the wires, all 36 of them, but because we were descending so fast the wires kept moving back and forth, I was going to have to let go of the skid and hang with only my foot holding me to the helicopter. I let go and grabbed the wires, noticing the lit flare was only about five feet away from me, the only thing keeping me from getting burnt was the air flow outside the ship was pushing the flame towards the back of the ship. I made the first cut and the flare did not release, the wire cutters were a little sticky and as I opened them back up to make another cut I almost dropped them, I then made another cut and the flare finally released. I then dropped the wire cutters and grabbed ahold of the skids with both hands, hanging on for dear life. By the time I released the flare we were probably about 500 feet above the ground, and Mr. Shirley realizing the flare was released started gaining altitude as we started receiving tremendous fire from the VC. My problem was I couldn't get back in the ship, so I just hung on until Radar grabbed me by the belt and pulled me back up. He started shaking me asking if I was all right, and I said I was okay. I re-hooked my mic cord to tell Mr. Shirley that everything was fine, and he said were going back to the snake pit to re-fuel and get some more flares. I said, "Mr. Shirley, I've had about all the fun that I can handle for one night, how about calling PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON and let him drop flares for awhile." Mr. Shirley said, "Good idea, lets go home."
The Army awarded me the DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS for my actions that night, but it was a simple pair of wire cutters that really saved our lives. To this day, Radar Seabolt remains one of my closest friends, and is National Director of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company Association.
Editor's note: Ron Seabolt, the crew chief, was flying right seat gunner for this mission because the Flares were staged on the left side. Also, there was a blackout curtain separating the crew from the pilots, hence the pilots could not tell what was going on behind them and in the panic of the moment, they were not advised of exactly what was transpiring in the cargo area of the ship.
TROUBLE SHOOTERS IN THE SKY...DOOR GUNNERS
Reprinted from AMERICAL
"It looked as if the ground was coming up to meet us," began the chubby, bespeckeled door gunner, "and for a couple of seconds there I thought it was all over."
SP4 Roger D. Marley (Denver, CO), a one-time medic and former liberal arts major at Casper Jr. College, Casper, WY, was relating one of the more exciting moments in what many consider the Americal Division's most glamorous job.
"Then the voice on the intercom said that we had lost tail-rotor power, and I was certain that was it," he continued, "but I noticed that the pilot hadn't lost his cool. I just hung in there, hoping and praying for the best."
The best was good enough as the "Firebird" gunship from the 71st Avn. Co., 14th Combat Avn. BN., landed with "a hell of a jolt," but landed safely with no one seriously injured. They had once again bailed the infantry out of a tight spot by their superior firepower and maneuverability.
This was by no means the first time in Marley's 28 months as an aerial gunner in Vietnam that his ship was hit by hostile ground fire. "We've been hit often, but each time the skippers brought us back home with only a minimum of difficulty. You've got to trust the chopper pilots...they're good."
And the confidence is mutual. WO1 Alfred Adamitis (Birmingham, Ala.), a veteran pilot who has flown "Firebird" gunships for more than eight months, said, "Before coming over here it was impossible to imagine how good these gunners are. It's a nice feeling to know that your right and left flanks, as well as your rear, are protected by men who are competent in their trade. As soon as the action begins, they jump into the fight with guns blazing."
Volunteers come from all branches of the Army to serve as aerial gunners; many from the non-combat jobs such as bakers, truck drivers, clerks and machine repairmen. They have got to be tough, quick, and sharp-witted. It is not a job that can be done by the easily shaken or those with queasy stomachs.
They must learn the complex weaponry of the gunship, which carries a minimum of 14 rockets and 6,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition for its two miniguns. It is not because they fire them, since that's the pilot's or copilot's task, however the care, maintenance, and arming is the gunner's responsibility.
The M-60 machine-guns, one on the left and one on the right side, which are used for pinpoint firing, are his "babies." The "Firebird" gunners do not fire from fixed post assemblies as is done on other ships, rather they shoot free-hand or from a strap hanging in the doorway in order to increase their mobility and effectiveness.
"It is more difficult to fire this way," said WO2 James Dean (Tampa, Fla.), "but the greater freedom of motion allows the gunner to cover more territory quickly. Timing is the greatest factor in success."
Besides using his skills as a gunner to protect the chopper or in support of ground troops, the gunners are responsible for refueling the ship and giving the pilots oral guidance during the take-off and landing.
Although he is obliged to assist the other enlisted member of the ship, the crew chief, in the maintenance of the helicopter, the assistance is reciprocal. While in flight, the crew chief acts as one of the gunners, and together they form a team capable of devastating an area the size of a football field on a single pass.
But regardless of how good a shot he is or how vast his knowledge of the chopper's ordnance, the man at the trigger must display some mechanical ability to keep his guns firing, and help keep the ship in the air.
"It would be impossible for the crew chief to maintain the chopper in such a state of combat readiness without the cooperation of these enthusiastic workers. Every hour in the air requires at least one hour of ground maintenance," stated one of the pilots.
Though these tedious hours are essential, the core of the job is the few minutes when he is at his gun, making life miserable for the enemy.
The love of flying and the excitement of the chase is shared by SP4 David L. Winter (Superior, Wis.) He has been with the 71st Avn. Co. for more than two years and has logged nearly 750 combat hours. During this time, along with the glamour, there was plenty of danger, and close calls were a common occurrence.
"During a mission about 18 months ago," Winter recalled, "our ship was receiving pretty heavy ground fire, yet in spite of it the situation seemed pretty routine. Then a .30 caliber round slammed into the receiver group of my M-60, shattering it. It was a real errie feeling having the weapon shot out of my hands. Except for temporarily putting my weapon out of action, no harm was done."
Five months later, while flying a contact mission over the Que Son Valley, the tall, sandy-haired ex-mechanic was shot down and had to "hump all the way back" through hostile territory. "I never realized how the 'grunties' have it until then. They sure have a tough case going," noted Winters, who is the holder of two Purple Hearts and two dozen Air Medals.
"There's no hiding place up there," added a former company clerk, SP5 Michael J. Murphy (Missoula, Mont.). "You're vulnerable and present one hell of a target. The enemy knows the amount of damage we can do, and they'll willingly expend beaucoup ammunition trying to get us. Often, he'll even give away his position in the attempt, and that's when we can really sock it to him."
Murphy, who was a graduate student at the University of Montana prior to being drafted, holds degrees in both psychology and sociology. He has been in Vietnam for more than 20 months, 15 of which have been served with gunships.
He, too, has had his hairy experiences as a aerial gunner, the most memorable of which occurred last July near Antenna Valley. "We were low-level flying near LZ, O'Connor," the twice-wounded soldier reminisced, "when a .50 cal. hit us with a thunk. It traveled through the seat and demolished the handle of my .38 pistol...which I was wearing at the time."
This was particularly harrowing since three previous choppers on which Murphy had served as door gunner had been shot down. Two of them one month before this incident.
Why do they keep flying? What makes them extend over here in Vietnam? Murphy replied, "It's really hard to say. I know it isn't for the extra pay we get ($55 monthly), so it's got to be partly for the excitement of flying, and for a new scene every day.
"But mostly we stay for the satisfaction we get from doing an important job. It's hard to explain, "Murphy continued, "the nice feeling you get when we come in to pull the ground troopers out of a tight spot, and they call just after your guns have taken the pressure off...and they say 'Thanks a lot, guys.'
Editors note: Roger Marley and Michael Murphy have been located recently and added to our mailing list. It was especially rewarding to inform Murphy of the existence of the book "Firebirds" and to inform him that his photo was included in the book. (even if he was incorrectly identified as Rick Webster. This publisher's error was corrected for the paper back version).
Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association (VHCMA), June 24-28, 1998 at Marriott Hotel at DFW Airport, Dallas, TX. Call the hotel directly for reservations at: 800-228-9290 or 972-929-8800. ($70 per night)
Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA), July 2-4, 1998 at the Worthington Hotel, Ft. Worth, TX. Call 800-505-VHPA for details.
Our Association plans to furnish some display items for both of the above reunions.
Americal Division Veterans Association, June 25-28, 1998 at Delta Orlando Resort, Orlando, FL. Call 407-351-3340 or 800-634-4763 for reservations
178th ASHC (Boxcars), July 30th-Aug 1st, 1998 at Comfort Inn, Dothan/Fort Rucker, AL. Call hotel at 800-474-7298 for reservations.