REUNION - LAS VEGAS
The Rattler/Firebird reunion for 2000 is history. 144 men who served with us in Vietnam attended this gathering along with family members of three of our deceased brothers. Carey Kirby, son of Capt. Rance Kirby, KIA 26 March 1967, and John Rankin, Sr., father of SP/4 John Rankin, KIA 15 November 1969, along with Ed Albrick, Sr., the father of Ed Albrick (WO 70-71) who died in an auto accident in 1973, were in attendance. Carey Kirby and John Rankin were able to learn much about their loved ones from the men who served with them. Many details of their life and death could only come from the men who served with them in Vietnam. All three of these men helped make this reunion very successful. It was an honor to be present with these family members when their loved one's names were called during our roll call of KIAs, and to answer with them..... "here".
Jim Pfister (EM 67-68) attended his first Rattler/Firebird reunion in Las Vegas. Jim was one of our three men who were captured in 1968 and released in 1973 after 63 months as a POW. This Association is very proud of these men and considers them bonafide heros. This was evident when Jim was introduced and received not only a standing ovation, but a rousing three cheers. It was one of those "lump in the throat" moments for this editor.
Our Memorial Service was performed wonderfully by Al Ruter (EM 67-69), LTG Tom Griffith (OF 65-66) and Eric Kilmer (WO 69-70). This service is not something that is easy to do. It is something that must be done with reverence and honor to remember our fallen comrades and to acknowledge that their memory will never be forgotten by those of us who served with them, and by their family members. This tradition was established in 1993 in Memphis, TN. and continues. Our thanks goes out to the men who gladly accepted this Memorial Service duty.
Some others deserving of mention that contributed to this reunion are: Mike Beaumont (OF 70-71) who was responsible for our "Rattler" and "Firebird" name tags. Jaak Sepp spent numerous hours in procuring and transporting the striking golf shirts we had for sale. David O'Quinn was very instrumental in setting up the reunion at the Frontier Hotel. Much behind the scenes work must be done before one reservation is ever made. Vic Bandini was the host for our golf tournament at the reunion. I don't know if they ever figured out who actually won, but they were all winners after playing a round of golf on the links at Nellis AFB and getting to witness an hour and a half of the Thunderbirds practicing for their show the next day. If you attended our Memorial Service, you were given a small metal lapel pin that was inscribed with the words "Brothers Forever". These pins were donated by one of our men who chooses to remain anonymous. This gesture was just one of the instances of love shown by our men for each other. This editor has been very privileged to witness many such displays over the last few years. My personal thanks goes out to these men who touch lives in ways we will never completely know.
There were two former company commanders, at this reunion, Rattler 6, Gordon Carey (OF 66) and Rattler 6, Ed Fraiser (OF 70-71). Ed Fraiser also served as our XO, Rattler 5. Also attending was our former 1SGT, John Howell (EM 66).
The Association would like to thank the twelve men who took the time to tell a war story to our hand held recorder. This was as easy a way to get war stories as we could think of. Now if you are one of the men who promised to write your story down and send it in, now is the time. All of those stories received in Vegas are in this newsletter.
Chuck Carlock is about to finish his second book. This book concerns the unit one of his great grand parents fought in during the Civil War. Chuck has stated that as soon as this book is finished, he intends to start on a Rattler/Firebird book containing your war stories. Think of what it might mean to your grandkids to be able to pick up a book about Vietnam and actually read about something you did, witnessed or were aware of. The basis for this book will be the stories you have read in this newsletter. They will probably be arranged chronologically which means we need more Co. A 501st AVN. BN. stories. This will not be a history book. It will be a people book. 100% of any profit from this book will go to this Association.
Among the awards given at this reunion were a chrome plated "Jesus nut", given to the man from our unit who traveled the longest distance to attend this reunion. Randy Billings (WO 66-67) traveled 2976 miles from East Eddington, ME to be in Vegas with us. Randy was standing tall (from atop a chair) as he accepted this award from Ron Seabolt. Billings may not have been the biggest pilot we had in the 1st platoon in 66-67, but he was for sure one of the best and a pleasure to fly with!
The Association board of directors election was conducted after our memorial service. Ron Seabolt was re-elected as National Director and Chuck Carlock was re-elected as Secretary/Treasurer. Hal Bowen stepped down and did not run as Deputy National Director to (as Hal put it) make room for some "new blood" in his position. Johnnie Hitt (OF 69-70) was elected as Deputy National Director after serving two terms as a member-at-large. The officer positions have no term limits, but the member-at-large positions are limited to two terms. The three member-at-large positions elected were: Jim Miller (WO 67-68), Jaak Sepp (EM 67-68) and R.J. Williams (EM 66-68). This is R.J. Williams' 2nd term.
Our 2002 reunion will be held in St. Louis, MO. We will have a Saturday night banquet at St. Louis and payment for this banquet will be required in advance in order to determine an exact number for the hotel. Vic Bandini is the chairman of the 2002 reunion committee.
In private (by mistake, because they were hidden), plaques were given to Hal Bowen and David O'Quinn for their outstanding service on the board of directors of this Association since its inception. These two men (and their wives, Kathy and Paula) have done everything they could to promote our Association and deserve our thanks!
Several prizes were given away in a drawing held after our business meeting. Bob Falk (EM 67-68) won a "Huey" belt buckle. Steve Brown (EM 69-70) and Greg Palazzo (EM 67-68) both won T-shirts. Mike Acker (EM 67-68) won a framed Vietnam "Wall" print. Ron Barron (EM 68-69) won a set of ceramic eagle book ends. Gene Champe (OF 68) and Donnie Profitt (EM 66-67) both won two round trip tickets for two to anywhere AirTrans Airline flys to. This airline ticket prize was obtained through the efforts of David and Paula O'Quinn. Greg Palazzo also got married while in Vegas.
Joe Kline, an aviation artist, donated one print and two certificates for prints for this reunion. These prizes were won by: Larry Lackey (EM 66-69), Tom McAuley (OF 67-68) and Pat Boltinghouse (OF 66-67). Joe Kline has sold more prints to the Rattlers and Firebirds than to any other single group. These prints can be personalized in many ways. A standard print sells for $80.00 and a personalized print sells for $100.00. Joe offers these personalized prints to our men for the standard price of $80.00 (If an armament change is required on the gunships, the $100.00 price applies). These prints can really light up a room when matted and framed. Many have been purchased by family members as gifts for our men. Maybe if you drop a hint (highlight this paragraph) and hand your spouse this newsletter, she just might respond to your gift idea. Joe Kline can be contacted at: 6420 Hastings Pl., Gilroy, CA 95020. Phone: 408-842-6979. Please consider patronizing Joe!
Thanks are also due to Chuck Carlock, Jim Miller, Richard Parr, Daniel Patterson, Bart Collins and this editor, Ron Seabolt, for driving in from Ft. Worth with a truck load of display material plus two helicopters. About 95% of this display material has been accumulated by Chuck Carlock.
Ron Seabolt's family, his wife Kay, daughter and grandson, Dawn and Dylan Pumphrey, sister and brother-in-law Sandy and Wilkie Boyd and niece and nephew, Tracie and Kenny Hibbs also helped insure the success of this reunion by working wherever needed.
Paul Bartlett, (WO 67-68) had an OD flight helmet bag with all his Vietnam memorabilia inside that was in our display room on one of the tables. Paul was staying over at the Circus Circus Hotel in his RV. When Paul came to pick up the bag on Sunday, it was not there. We are hoping that maybe someone thought Paul had left it accidentally and so they picked it up for him. If you have any knowledge about this item, please contact Ron Seabolt at: 972-524-9033.
A new item offered at the Vegas reunion was some very sharp looking golf shirts. These shirts have a collar and are three button open neck. The most attractive feature is the embroidered Rattler or Firebird insignias. The Rattler patch, in full color, is 2 and 1/2 inches tall. The Firebird emblem used was the red and white "flying Firebird" that is 3 and 1/2 inches wide with the word Firebird below it. There were 276 shirts taken to the reunion and we have 56 left, only 10 of which are Rattler. Now the bad news (if you haven't nearly doubled your weight since 'Nam). Most of the shirts we have left are in XXL size, in gray color. We do have a few navy blue shirts. If you wish to order a shirt, at $20.00 each, please check to see if your size, type and color are in stock by calling the Association between 6 PM and 9 PM CDT before sending any money. That way, your name can be put on an item to insure your order being filled.
The group photo taken at the reunion will either be in 8 X 10 or 8 X 12. As we go to print with this newsletter this has not been determined. The price will be $12.00
ODDS and ENDS
Please remember to pay your association dues no later than June 15th. The new address directories will be mailed out around July 1st to dues paying members only. Look on the address label of this newsletter to determine your dues status. If there is nothing to the right of your last name, or if it says 2000, this means your dues are not paid for this coming year. It must have either 2001 (or higher) or say "Life" in order to receive our directory.
We are still offering the tail rotor pitch change chain bracelet with each new, fully paid, life membership. [Note: bracelets are no longer available] We no longer offer the life membership payment plan.
More and more of you are getting on the internet and have e-mail addresses. If you want your internet address in our directory, e-mail the Association your e-mail address. Please be sure and include your full name with this info (duh). Mail to: email@example.com
We are losing many phone numbers because of area code changes. If you have a new area code or address, please pass this info to the Association. You just never know when your best friend may want to call you at a holiday or some other time.
Remember also, please do not die without permission. Seriously, if you have some Vietnam memorabilia that would probably mean nothing to your family, consider donating it to the Association for the enjoyment of our membership at our reunions.
WATCH MY BACK (DOOR), PLEASE!
On Friday night of our reunion, we had a visitor to the helicopter display and the memorabilia room. A Vietnamese man and his family came in to look over everything and he seemed to be especially interested in the VC/NVA items. When asked about his presence, he admitted that he wanted to show the display to his grandchildren and that he fought against the Americans, so he thought it best if he came late when only a few people were around.
This man probably made a wise decision, although many of us who fought in this war had much more respect for the enemy than we did the ARVN soldiers we encountered.
Christmas Eve, 1964 - The Bob Hope Show. Everyone was at the show. About half way through, I had fallen in love with Jill St. John. Suddenly I felt a tap tap on my shoulder and my platoon leader, Marvin Schwem (OF 64-65) said, "Come on, we gotta go". He rounded up all the pilots and crew members and we went to practice a "gas run". Higher higher intended to recover a couple of POWs from out near Tay Ninh. We were to be the gas platoon.
We had six ships rigged with foggers and four cases of CS and CN powdered gas on each ship. We were going to fog an area with gas and another lift was going to come along loaded with ARVN troops with gas masks on.
Lo and behold, Christmas Day dawned and who was my fellow pilot? Major Henderson, Rattler 6, who didn't fly very often and always flew with a warrant officer. The only gas masks we had were the old type. Because these masks did not have a microphone in them, we had to tape the mic onto the mask so you could talk. It sounded a lot like....hmump..hmump. No one could understand anybody.
The mission proceeded out to Tay Ninh where we did our gassing. We then landed at Tay Ninh City and finally got our gas masks off after about an hour and a half. We were about dead.
Command decided we were going to refill the foggers in case we had to make another gas run. There were two open 55 gallon barrels of CS gas powder sitting there when a VNAF CH-34 came in and hovered right over the top of them.
We gassed the whole city of Tay Ninh. Tear gas went everywhere. People were running around, trying to get their gas masks back on. What a time. It looked like a Chinese fire drill.
We ended up not doing another run and we were cleared back to Saigon to get rid of the gassing materials.
Half way back, Major Henderson said, "I think we can take these masks off". The crew chief and gunner were in good shape for this, because they could hang their heads out the side doors. When we took ours off, the powder was swirling up out of the chin bubbles and floor and we started crying.
For the next two weeks, the aircraft were washed out every day, trying to get rid of all the powder residue. This is the way we spent Christmas Day, 1964.
At the end of the moonson season, shortly before I joined the 71st and was still a peter pilot, we had a terrible flood and had been evacuating flooded villages all day, working sorties in loose trail formation. There were 6 or 8 aircraft involved in this mission. The AC was ready to get back to the officers club because a new show was due in that night.
My crew chief asked that we make one last pass around this village to make sure we had everyone out of there. Darkness was fast approaching and we were getting low on fuel.
Sure enough, as I whipped the ship around, we saw a fire off in the distance. We could see a bunch of kids and a couple of mamasans up on a roof of what turned out to be an orphanage. It was sitting away from the village we had been working.
There were about 30 kids and the two women down there screaming and crying about their situation. Well, in we went and loaded up. Kids were sitting on my shoulders, on the console, back in the cubby holes and everywhere in between that they could get. Forget trying to close the doors. As we lifted off, all of a sudden, everyone quit crying as they realized they were saved. We landed them on higher ground where some Vietnamese families came out and got them from us.
This one little girl climbed over everything, so she could to get to me. Just as I turned to face her, she grabbed me by the neck and she placed a big kiss square on my lips. I will never forget how wonderful that felt.
On September 12, 1967, I was flying with Robert Garcia on a combat assault northwest of Chu Lai. We went into an LZ that had been mined. The initial explosion had knocked down an aircraft next to us that had a crew of Bill Holgerson (WO 67-68), aircraft commander, Bill Paxton (WO 67) peter pilot, Jim Morrison (EM 66-67) crew chief, and Efrain Robledo (EM 67), as gunner. Morrison was dazed and Robledo was assisting him toward us. It was on my side of our ship and we could see they needed help. Garcia came across the ship and went out to help. He approached the downed ship and turned to lead the injured crew to our ship.
With me watching in horror, either Morrison or Robeldo stepped on a mine. All three men went down immediately.
I jumped out to go help and saw Garcia raise his head and look at me. When I reached him, I attempted to pick him up at first, but could not. Garcia had the presence of mind to tell me to just drag him back to our ship. I did this, not realizing that the second mine blast had downed our ship also. The engine cowling about two feet from me had been shredded by shrapnel, while I had taken one piece in my hand.
My pilots got out and gave Garcia what first aid that they could. It seems like it was between one or two hours before we got out of there.
The next day, a bunch of us loaded on a truck and went to see Garcia in the hospital at Chu Lai. As we talked to him, we did not realize he was going to die the next day. Morrison and Robeldo had been killed instantly and Mr. Paxton had severe shrapnel damage to his right arm.
Editor's note: This was the last mission flown by Ron Seabolt. After 10 and 1/2 months, he felt as if his luck had ran out. Everyone that flew as part of a crew on the Hueys had to reach this decision sooner or later. Jim Morrison had been one of Seabolt's first acquaintances in our unit nearly a year earlier when they both raised their hand to volunteer to be a crew chief during a maintenance formation in early October, 1966. Morrison loved flying. He just pushed the envelope too far when he extended his tour. Morrison's original DEROS was 12 September 1967.
At Bien Hoa, before we moved to Chu Lai, the enlisted men lived in tent city, having lost our barracks in Bailey Compound to ARVN officers. This was not the greatest place to be, but we did have a battalion shower area that was bricked and nice.
I went downtown on a drinking binge one night and got so drunk I couldn't get back to the base. So I decided to just spend the night down there.
The next morning, I hitched a ride back to base and went straight to the shower. Naturally I took all my clothes off, took a shower and came out without any clean clothes to put on. The Vietnamese workers were coming to work on base at this time and I noticed one of their bicycles leaning against a wall. I saw this as a sign that I should ride back to the company area.
Our company was in the process of holding a formation on one of the roads running between the rows of tents with three platoons of men, platoon sergeants in front and 1st Sergeant Hillhouse in command.
Everyone was at attention as I came down the road, naked, on a "borrowed" Vietnamese bicycle and rode between the platoons and Top Hillhouse, straight into the first tent I came to. Right through the tent flap I went and crashed into the first bunk I came to.
The formation just broke up, laughing so hard. Sgt. Hillhouse threw his hat into the dirt and started cursing me for all he was worth.
This story was verified by Larry Smith (EM 66-68) who was in the formation that morning.
Editor's note: R.J. Williams was just about the most "free spirit" our unit ever had. He considered making "rank" as just one big roller coaster ride as evidenced by the fact he made E-5 three times. If anyone in our unit wanted to write a book of antics, R.J. is the man to talk to. At Chu Lai a new crew chief was assigned to our unit that had the misfortune to look like a twin to R.J. Walt Mitchell was walking by the orderly room when Sgt Hillhouse screamed at him to get his ass in here. Hillhouse asked Mitchell, "What in the hell are you doing here, you are supposed to be in Vung Tau". As fate would have it, Mitchell and Williams became a 2nd platoon crew together. They saw each other in Vegas for the first time in 32 years. Yes, we can now tell them apart.
I flew slicks with our unit. We had been working all day with a unit on a mission to an area out near LZ Baldy. Toward the end of the day we were to take some resupply out to one of the ground elements we were supporting along with four of their personnel. Counting the crew, there were eight of us aboard plus supplies.
As we approached the ground unit, we received fire from the right side. We descended and tried to evade the fire but they were successful in knocking out my engine, which caused us to crash and roll on our right side. We stopped about 30 meters from where the enemy fire was coming from. At this time we started receiving fire from two sides preventing us from exiting the aircraft. Finally we were able to get behind the ship. My crew chief, John Rankin was facing upward as a result of the crash and was the first one out of the aircraft. As he came out, John was hit by ground fire and lived about 30 minutes before he expired. While we were under fire, one guy threw a hand grenade that landed near me, wounding me with shrapnel. Soon after this, the Firebirds came in to suppress the enemy fire and our infantry maneuvered to a position causing the enemy to withdraw.
A Rattler slick came in to medivac our wounded. After this, my co-pilot, Lt. David Romero, who had not been injured, got into an OH-6 Loach that came in. My understanding of what happened next was that as he turned his head, he broke the cord to his lungs, stopped breathing and died without a scratch on him. The other six of us made it out OK.
One morning in 1970, we were awaken at Chu Lai East by incoming rockets exploding all around in a giant cresendo. Many men were running to the bunkers. After the attack ended, the all clear siren sounded. We were all standing around looking north to where the POL area was burning.
After a few minutes, Steve Israel (WO 70) came walking out of his hootch in his underwear, scratching his head. Steve looked at us and said, "What the heck is going on?" You can just imagine the nervous laughter of everyone as they realized what Steve had just slept through.
On my very first flight in Vietnam, a day or two after being assigned to the unit in Bien Hoa in 1966, I was flying right seat in a slick on a mission to put some ARVNs into a rice paddy area just south of Bien Hoa.
We received heavy fire along the tree lines and the only aircraft shot down was the one I was in. A round had went through a high pressure transmission oil line and we had red lights flashing everywhere.
The experienced AC set the ship down in a rice paddy that was under several feet of water. Water was coming into the helicopter from everywhere. Everyone on the ship froze as if they didn't know what to do. I was amazed. Here I was, brand new, green as could be, just out of flight school and surrounded by men who were acting like they did not know what to do. I knew we needed to get out of the ship and take cover.
I stepped out of the aircraft, right into neck deep water and was picked up by someone else.
I couldn't help but think, "What a way to start a tour of combat".
In early 1968, I was the second platoon leader, Rattler 26 and I was flying a C & C mission out at LZ Ross. The people we were assigned to didn't have much going on and did not want to go anywhere. As we sat there biding our time, I couldn't help but notice how much work other aircraft were doing. Jim Miller (WO 67-68) was working for these same people on an ass and trash misssion, moving food, ammo, people and everything else that wasn't tied down. Miller would fly in and out, in and out and everytime he would see us just sitting there watching him.
After a while, Jim got tired of this and when he shut down to eat lunch, he sneaked over to my ship and threw a smoke grenade expecting only to envelope us in a purple haze. He was very successful with this. However, he also managed to start a grass fire.
It does not take long to figure out that the same wind that blows smoke toward you also blows flames. A mad dash was now on to see how fast we could get my ship out of danger. We got up to RPM and off the ground just as the infantry came up with fire fighting equipment and stopped the flames.
We hovered over to a safe area and shut back down. Two quivering pilots, Miller and myself had thoughts about having to buy a quarter of a million dollars worth of burnt aircraft, or go visit Ft. Leavenworth. I don't believe this tale has ever been told about how close we came to losing an aircraft due to a purple smoke grenade
My last mission took place the first week of October, 1967. I don't remember the exact date, but my DEROS was October 22nd and I was ready to quit flying. Wally Dunning (WO 66-67), Rattler 15 was my regular AC and Bob Falk was my crew chief. I don't know where Bob was that day because we were scheduled for a day off, but Wally volunteered us for a new type of mission, a SNIFFER mission. We couldn't find Bob, so we grabbed a brand new crew chief (his first mission I believe) and a brand new peter pilot (quite possibly his first mission). We all know now what a sniffer mission is, but I believe it was the first of it's kind for our company at the time. There was a major, captain and a sergeant on board with the sniffer box all hooked up and head sets for everyone. Extra time was spent going over the maps with the entire crew as we were going way west along the Laotian border. We would be low-leveling over triple canopy in and out of various valleys. A light fire team of Firebirds accompanied us, along with a bird dog spotter plane that was marking our position at all times. There was a particular village on the map that we were supposed to avoid as it was all VC. Other than that, it was supposed to be a cake mission.
We headed west at 2000 feet until we got on station. At this point, I pulled the pin on a yellow smoke grenade and we went low level. Wally was doing the flying and the peter pilot was doing the navigating. We received "hot spots" from the sniffer box from time to time and I would throw the yellow smoke to mark the position. I even fired my M-60 a few times just to make me feel better. I must have dropped 8 to 10 yellow smoke grenades and each time the Firebirds would put down some fire, which always made me feel better.
We went into this one valley and were having a hard time climbing out. Wally was doing all of his pilot shit and it wasn't working. We kept losing power everytime we got close to getting over the mountains. Finally, Wally got up enough speed to get over the lowest part of the mountain and the major monitoring the sniffer box started yelling, "Hot spot, hot spot", as we ascended over the mountain. Suddenly Wally said, "Holy shit, it's the village". I started shooting immediately and saw two machine gun bunkers with two guys diving into them. It was quite obvious that it was as much a surprise for them as it was for us. There were people everywhere and we started receiving fire from all directions. Here we were going down main street, three feet off the ground. There was no need to notify the Firebirds as they came over the hill right behind us. I could hear their mini-guns and see the rockets going off all over the place. Wally banked left and I kept spraying the area as we climbed out. At this time I heard a bang as we took a hit, then another bang. I knew if I heard two hits, there were probably more. When we reached 1000 feet, I told Wally that we needed to go back and check out the ship because I knew we had taken hits.
On the way back to the Snakepit, I swung around from my cubby hole to the cargo bay to inspect for damage. I found a hole in the floor of the cargo bay. I asked the major if he had been hit as the angle of the bullet path looked like it would have hit him in the leg. He assured me he was OK. As I kept looking for damage and looked at the major again, I noticed he was a little pale. He had been sitting in the middle of the ship and was holding an M-16 with his hand by the barrel with the butt of the rifle next to his leg. At this point I realized that he had not even fired a shot as we went through the village. I said, "Let me see your right leg". As he put it out, he moved the butt of the M-16 around and that's when I saw a hole the size of my fist in the stock of his weapon. I just couldn't believe that he didn't feel the bullet hit his rifle.
We got back to the Snakepit and found two holes in the tail and one through the belly of the ship. At this time I discovered my new crew chief had not fired a shot during the entire mission. When I asked him why he didn't fire when we went through the village, he said he didn't see anything. I turned to Mr. Dunning and said, "I'm too short for this shit, I quit".
Reading R.J. Williams account of his sniffer missions brought this mission back to my memory. If anyone else remembers this mission, either Rattler or Firebird, please let me (Tom Knapp) know.
During Lam Son 719, while we were TDY at Quang Tri, some of us decided to make an illegal PX run to Hue-Phu Bai. Four pilots and four crew chiefs took PX orders from everybody. We grabbed a ship and took off. When we got there, the crew chiefs decided to hit the steam and cream (bath/whorehouse). We then went to the PX and came out loaded with goodies and headed back to the aircraft.
The four pilots, with darkness approaching, had spooked and flew back without us.
Now we are trying to find a land line back to Quang Tri so they won't list us as deserters. The next day an aircraft was dispatched to pick us up and the CO found out about it. When we got back, we were extremely well reamed out about what we did while the pilots got a polite reprimand.
Ned Flecke (EM 66-67) had originally joined the Army to die in Vietnam. The Army needed door gunners, a very dangerous job, so Ned volunteered. His first wife had died of cancer and he did not feel like he had anything to live for. That is why he came to 'Nam, to get his butt killed.
On his first mission in the Firebirds, a real wild shoot-out, everybody was firing and the crew chief and pilot are screaming at Ned to shoot, shoot. Ned said all he could feel was warm water running down his leg. Along about this time, he decided maybe he really didn't want to die.
Ned recovered his composure and went on to become one of the best gunners who ever flew with the Firebirds and a real super guy.
Editor's note: In May of 1998, Ned took his own life after suffering years of back pain caused by a helicopter crash in Vietnam that the VA refused to recognize.
In the summer of '68, I was at LZ Center along with a Minuteman aircraft. We were hauling resupply into the valley out from there. Only one of us went out at a time. The other would sit on the hill, listening to the radio to cover the other ship.
On one of the flights, the Minuteman pilot started screaming that he was going down. We were cranked and on the way within a minute or so, to where we thought he was. Due to incoming fire, we had to fly low level and could not find them. He had went down in some trees. We could see the "little men" down there shooting at us.
After awhile, the crew chief spotted the downed ship which was laying on its side in the trees. The bad guys were closing in on the area.
We were able to land near the ship. Believe it or not, the two pilots were taking turns posing for "John Wayne" photos in front of the aircraft. We were screaming at them to get their butts on our ship with bad guys approaching from our other side. Either the crew chief or gunner had been killed when the ship rolled over on him.
We finally got the three men on board and flew them all the way to Minuteman Manor. As the pilot got out on my side, he just looked me in the eye and said, "Thanks!", which was all I needed.
In late '67, Mark Corker, one of our crew chiefs, wife had twins. He celebrated a little bit too much and there was some concern that he might get in trouble because he had duty that night back in Chu Lai. I was supposed to go home the next day on special leave but when myself and Jaak Sepp found out about it we volunteered to take his duty that night to prevent him from getting in trouble. We had to sleep on the flight line at the ready hootch. At approximately 2:30-3:00 o'clock in the morning, there was a call made to the flight line. Ken Wiegand was the commander and Frank Anton was the peter pilot . They were directed to fly south to Duc Pho where we were supposed to hook up with some gunships down there for a big combat assault.
We took off at about 3:00 o'clock and headed South. On the way down there, flying a single gunship, we started developing hydraulic problems, and on a charlie model that isn't very nice. Wiegand was flying and he managed to get the thing down. On the way down Jaak and I had already broke out beaucoup M-60 ammo because we had worked this thing out many times before. When we touched down it was in a real brush infested place near the coast. Jaak took off on the right hand side of the aircraft, and we did not open the pilot's doors and the sliding chicken plate. We felt that the gravity of the situation called for us to secure the aircraft and was more important than standing there like sitting ducks, opening doors and stuff for the aircraft commander and co-pilot. Jaak hurried out with his machine gun and several hundred rounds, and I did the same on my side. In the process of going out maybe 50 yards in the extreme darkness, I fell into a pretty deep hole. I came up out of the hole, placed my gun on the berm, or edge of the hole and starting lining up my ammo to the gun and getting everything ready in order to shoot anything that moved.
In the darkness, the form that I recognized as a person running low and leaning over from the waist forward was an enemy soldier. It looked like the guy was really moving fast and going into the bushes in front of me. I jerked the gun toward him and I thought about just blasting hell out of the bushes and hoping I would get him. But I had indecision about it. I thought if I shot first he would know where I am and how many of us are there. All of these thoughts went through my mind. While all that was going on, I heard this loud thumping and it was my own heart. It was racing to such a degree that I was concerned about it. I told myself...calm down, calm down. Seconds went by and I heard rustling in the bushes, and I believe he was going straight away from me. I think that he knew where I was. Several minutes went by and everything was pretty quite at that point, and then I heard commotion behind me. It was Frank Anton. He came out and whispered in the dark as he got down there with me. "We've got to get it running. There's movement. We're concerned...we've got to get the aircraft going."
In the process of us going down, I didn't know if a mayday was completed or what. We were all alone in this place, and it didn't look good. He said, "See if you can get the aircraft going." I went back to the aircraft. Knowing it was a hydraulic problem, I opened the transmission cowling on the right hand side. When I opened it up, I found two hydraulic lines that were chafing and they had worn a hole in them. I looked in the cargo hole and there was a case of hydraulic fluid in there...that 5606 stuff or whatever it was called. The one pilot suggested...I don't remember which one...that I tape up the line. I knew that with 1800 psi of hydraulic fluid, the tape was going to have a hard time holding it. I took the tape and taped the two lines together as tightly as I could hoping that they would sort of block a little bit of fluid in each other there. Then I dumped all of the hydraulic fluid into the reservoir. I secured the cowling in place and I went back out. I had left the machine gun with Frank and I got back in the hole. As Frank was about to return to the ship and he turned and told me, "When you hear the starter engage...Foley you better come running!" So he went in and they communicated with Jaak the same thing. There were bushes moving out away from us. We were very concerned, and when we heard that starter engage it didn't take me long to get the hell out of there and charge back to the ship.
At this point, I realized I had taken too much ammo with me. I had taken a hell of a load of ammo with me because I was expecting big stuff. When I reached the aircraft they were already in a hover. I jumped on board, and I had already told them...I didn't think we would make it very far with the hydraulics. We started climbing up and out of there and headed toward Duc Pho where our original destination was. When we were about a mile out and were using the accumulator hydraulics, we had that dirt strip lined up. We were coming straight at that strip. As I remember, the strip was East to West and we were in perfect alignment. At that point we adjusted with the accumulator and then all of a sudden I heard Wiegand say, "get on it with me, get on it with me", and I knew we didn't have anything left as far as the accumulator went. We were descending at a fast clip and coming straight at the strip with about 100 ft to go. With no altitude change at that point we went straight into the ground. The skids...they just went straight out and down on the belly. The skids stayed with the aircraft and we came to a squeaking halt, jumping out, and saying "Holy shit! Another day in Viet Nam."
A little while later Jaak Sepp recalled that we had to get on a ship that belonged to the Muskets, Sharks or somebody down there (174th AHC probably) to fly a combat assault on their ship. We then came back to Duc Pho where I found a hydraulic line on a damaged aircraft nearby. It probably belonged to the aviation company that had got mortared real bad. I think they disbanded that company. I removed the bad line off our Charlie model and installed the good one, and I found enough fluid to pump it back up. We took off out of there with a badly beat up set of skids and headed back to Chu Lai.
I had a girlfriend in who was anticipating my arrival in California in two days. When we got back to Chu Lai they had a big birthday bash going for me. At any rate they held me up a day there because of the hard landing and concern over back problems and all of that. I made it to California late on my leave. That's what you get for taking someone else's duty! One more day of flying in Viet Nam!