ST. LOUIS REUNION May 2-5, 2002
Our reunion in St. Louis was a resounding success. Vic Bandini, our reunion committee chairman, spent countless hours working on the reunion and cannot be praised enough for his work. One hundred and eighty one men who served with us in Vietnam plus the families of two other men that are deceased attended this reunion making it the best attended reunion ever. The beautiful Crowne Plaza Hotel provided us with a wonderful location and everyone was very complimentary about the accommodations and the hotel food.
On Saturday morning "Whiz" Broome, Jim Surwillo, Tom Griffith and Eric Kilmer conducted our Memorial Service. These men did a first rate job. Vic Bandini had superimposed each of the names of our KIAs over a photo of the "Wall". Jim Surwillo recited the roll call of these names with friends and family answering "here" for each man. Mr. and Mrs. John M. Rankin, and Patricia and Neil Hayes, who are the immediate family of one of our KIAs, John Robert Rankin, honored us with their attendance at our Memorial Service. Echo Taps was played while we rendered a hand salute ordered by Major General Tom Griffith and was followed by Lee Greenwoods "God Bless The USA". Our thanks to all these men for their fine job and especially to Eric Kilmer for the beautiful printed programs.
A short business meeting was held in which the Board of Directors was elected. Hal Bowen, our reunion committee chairman, presented a slate of six persons for six positions on our Board of Directors. Tom Griffith made a motion that the slate of candidates be elected by acclimation. This motion passed and the following board was elected: Ron Seabolt, National Director; Johnnie Hitt, Deputy National Director; Chuck Carlock, Secretary/Treasurer; Jim Miller, Jim Jobson and Jaak Sepp were elected as Members-At-Large. For over one year announcements have been in place in this newsletter concerning the nomination of members for our Board of Directors. If you have a desire to serve in this capacity or would like to nominate someone, this nominating process will begin again in one year. To hold office and to nominate someone you must be current in your dues. Contact Hal Bowen for any questions you may have about this process at: P.O. Box 57, Gasburg, VA 23857, ph 434-577-2608. E-mail: email@example.com . R.J. Williams has served on our board for four years and his service is very appreciated. Vic Bandini has agreed to continue as our Reunion Committee Chairman and Doug Womack will continue to serve as our Sergeant At Arms and head of our security. It was also announced that the 2004 reunion is to be held in Washington, D.C. 310 people including family and friends attended our Saturday night banquet. We had to guarantee 150 meals to the hotel that had to be paid in advance. When you have never done something like this you do not know what to expect. Our thanks go out to you for your outstanding support at this reunion.
Vic Bandini had taken scores of photos from Vietnam and scanned them onto a CD. This CD was played during the cocktail hour preceding the banquet and shown on a 7 ½ X 10 foot screen. See below for info on ordering one of the CDs.
Adrian Cronauer, "Mr. Good Morning Vietnam", gave a wonderful and informative speech. Mike Murphy was Johnny on the spot in taking charge of Mr. Cronauers needs. We wish to thank American Airlines for furnishing round trip first-class transportation for Mr. Cronauer.
The Eagles Elite Drill Team posted the colors and entertained us with their rifle drill routines. Mike Hansen who was the Rattler escort introduced them to our POWs who answered many questions concerning our unit and their confinement. The Drill team performs for donations only and through the generosity of our Reunion diners the girls received $678.00 from the Rattlers and Firebirds. Thank you all who donated!!! (The girls performed the next morning at Branson, MO over five hours drive away).
Drawings were held for several door prizes. Paul Teelin won a certificate for a personalized Joe Kline helicopter print. Joe Kline has supported all our reunions and I urge you to support his artistry. Joe sells personalized prints (a $100 value) to Rattlers and Firebirds for $80 (no gun system changes for this price). Joe can be reached at 408-842-6979 or online at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Danny Conn and Bob Falk each won certificates for two round trip tickets to anywhere AirTrans Airlines flies which includes the Bahamas. Larry Galaske, Steve Isreal and Jim Surwillos daughter also won prizes. This is the second reunion in which AirTrans Airlines has donated tickets as prizes and Paula OQuinn was responsible for us having these certificates. Thank you, Paula!!!
The "Rattler Legend of Heroism and Courage Award" was initiated at this reunion presented to only one person. The first award was presented to our former company commander, Rattler 6 Tommie P. James. This man is the real deal. His exploits are truly legendary and too numerous to mention here, even though this newsletter has printed some of them in the past. Deputy National Director Col. Johnnie Hitt presented the award with a stirring synopsis of this mans courage.
A one-time exception was made in the award mentioned above. Our Three POWs, Frank Anton, Robert Lewis III, and Jim Pfister were also each awarded a plaque commemorating their heroism, courage and service to our unit and this country. The three
POWs had not all been together since being released in March of 1973 until this reunion. All four of these men are a precious part of our unit history that will never be forgotten.
Vic Bandini presented a blocked and framed original letter from General Norman Schwarzkopf to the Association. This was a "thank you for your service" letter from the hero of Desert Storm. The General spent many flights in Rattler aircraft while serving as a battalion commander in Vietnam. Duplicates of the letter were presented to the men who served in our company. Our "coveted" Jesus Nut award, given to the person that came the longest distance from their home to be at the reunion, was awarded to Steve Lively from Everett, Washington, a distance of 2175 miles. Previous winners were excluded which included Jim Arnout who had came from Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of 4075 miles.
Two former Firebird pilots who flew together in the 65-66 era were recognized for their distinguished military careers. Major General Tom Griffith and Brigadier General Larry Gillespie were among the scores of men who were reunited at this reunion. Let me put down a $1.00 bet in 1965 that we would have two Firebird pilots (who flew together) that would go on to become General Officers. That would be some long odds.
"Buck" Crouch, our first executive officer, gave the group some insight on the forming of our unit in 1964. Buck started his delivery with the stirring words, "Good evening Snakes and Fireflies"! Bucks group set the standard by which the unit had to measure itself throughout the rest of the war. Buck is truly one of a kind and could do stand-up comedy if need be! When given a smart remark about his age, Buck replied with, "Just because I catered The Last Supper doesnt mean Im old! You take old Allie Campbell sitting there. Hes so old he was the produce manager in The Garden of Eden!"
The display material kept at Chuck Carlocks in Ft. Worth is the largest privately held collection of Vietnam era memorabilia in the country. Our guys were truly marveling at the amount of material brought to the reunion including a Huey slick and gunship.
Over 30 persons took part in the 2nd Firebird FreeFire Golf Outing on Friday afternoon. Thanks for this successful event go to Tom Griffith and Don Vishy. The golfers enjoyed a warm day of sunshine, fun, and prizes galore! Lets do it again in D.C. 61 baseball fans attended the Braves / Cardinals baseball game on Friday night. Rick Cronin was finally able to satisfy the requests for tickets at the last minute. Our thanks go to Rick for taking charge of this outing.
People learn from their mistakes. Please bear with us. At our banquet we realized the need to shorten the program.
Many people helped make this reunion a success besides the ones already mentioned. People like Nate Wilondek, Larry Smith, Hal Bowen, David OQuinn, Sandy and Wilkie Boyd, Bart Collins, Scott and Donna Irby and Kay Seabolt.
This reunion was only the second one in which we have been able to bring in snacks and drinks. This was also done at Orlando in 1998. It is very difficult for persons to correctly estimate how much to buy. At Orlando for instance, 17 cases of beer and soda was not consumed. Ideally, you try to come a lot closer than that. This time I erred in the other direction and for that Ron Seabolt does apologize. Our snacks and drinks are meant to supplement what our people would ordinarily have to buy, not replace it completely. By the way, for you who are wondering, our red Firebird shirts were delivered to the hotel on Monday morning at 8:20 am, after the reunion (21 days AFTER the rest of the order). Of the sixty shirts mailed via FedEx, 59 arrived. Three with holes torn in them and seventeen with varying degrees of dirt stain. Thirty-nine good shirts out of sixty. Thank you FedEx!!! These shirts will not be offered for sale until our claim against FedEx is settled.
ODDS and ENDS
IMPORTANT: Our Association is changing our web site host. The NEW WEB SITE ADDRESS WILL BE: www.rattler-firebird.org PLEASE MAKE A NOTE OF THIS. ALSO, THE ASSOCIATION E-MAIL ADDRESS WILL BE: email@example.com If you desire to have your e-mail address reflect this name, Gary White is running our new site and will be glad to enter your address which directs your messages through the web site using the rattler-firebird name. Contact Gary at: firstname.lastname@example.org If we do not have your e-mail address and you desire the instant commo with us for important announcements, please send it to the above e-mail address. If you change addresses, please inform the Association. Charley Sparks has graciously run our site for years and his work is very appreciated.
Starting with this issue of our newsletter, we are accepting business card size advertisements. The price for a one-issue printing is $100. This puts your card in front of almost 1100 persons with ties to the Vietnam War. Bill DiDio, a former member of our unit, has purchased our first ad. Bills company, LZNAM, offers a wide variety of military items. A new item that Bill has undertaken with our approval is the minting of a full color, brass, unit "challenge coin" of silver dollar size. This item should be available by June 1st. The coins will sell for $9.95 each with $1.50 of that going to our Association. Bill also will wave the normal shipping and handling cost of $4.99 for the coin only to members of our unit listed in our directory (all, not just dues paying members). Go online and check out LZNAM at www.LZNAM.com
Memberships in our Association are $12 per year. Look at the mailing label of this newsletter. If there is a 2003 (or higher) or Life (a C refers to charter member) to the right of your name, you are current with your dues and WILL receive the new address directory to be mailed by July 1st. Anything else means you are not current with your dues. Please consider joining or renewing. Life memberships are as follows: age 50 and below-$200; age 51 to 55 -$175; age 56 to 60 -$150; age 61 to 65 -$125; 66 and up -$100. Make your check to: 71st AHC and mail to the address listed on the back of this newsletter. No membership form need be filled out. However you can download one from our web site and use it if you wish. At this printing, we have 197 life members. Thank you for supporting this Association!
Our Memorial Service and Reunion Cocktail Hour Presentations that were shown on the 7½ x 10 foot screen are available on CD from Vic Bandini for $10 for both on one CD. This is NOT a video of the evenings events. All proceeds from the sale of these CDs will be for the benefit of our Association. If you want a CD copy please send a check to Vic Bandini, P.O. Box 51441, Indianapolis, IN 46251. He will make your CD(s) as he receives your order and will return same to you by mail. Both presentations are Microsoft Power Point 97 format.
FYI: James Christof Becker was the peter pilot of an aircraft that was shot down while attempting to extract a LRRP team in Laos on 15 August 1970. The gunner, Peter Alden Schmidt, and Becker were presumed dead with the bodies not recovered. This past February, Beckers parents were officially notified that remains had been located at the crash site by our people. This info came to us from an associate member, Michael Parker.
Sandy and John Howell, the widow and son of our former 1SGT John Howell, attended all of our reunion. Sandy presented Ron Seabolt the plaque and miniature "A/501st" guideon (flag) that Top Howell was given at his DEROS in 1966. Top Howell was responsible for us having the original Company A/501st Aviation Battalion guideon which we have matted and framed.
It was a dark and stormy night. My wingman and I were over one of the bad valleys West of Chu Lai. Davy Ellingsworth was on R&R, making the time frame June/July 1967 (Seabolt aside, thats one good long R&R). The mission was "hot". I was flying right seat, braking right when I felt a "baseball bat" hit the back of my armored seat, pitching me forward and bolt upright. I looked over my right shoulder and saw the biggest pair of eyes looking back at me. The gunner either pulled his M-60 back into the aircraft and had a "cook off" or had target fixation and shot me in the back.
I dont think I pissed him off enough to shoot me. Anyway, there was a hole about the size of an outstretched hand and half way through the armor plating.
Nothing came of the incident. I lived to get drunk another day and the gunner changed his shorts so he could "carry on".
Is there ANYONE reading this who remembers this occurring? My flight crew or maybe some maintenance personnel would be great. If you do remember this, will you please take the time and write a "buddy letter" to me about this event. It could help me tremendously with a VA claim. The letter needs to be hand written and signed. Please mail to me at: Patrick Boltinghouse, 6344 33rd Ave, Sacramento, CA 95824. Phone: 916-454-5021. E-mail: Patboltinghouse@aol.com Do not send your info to the Association address.
The following men who served with us have died since our last newsletter.
Robert Ziehl (EM 67-68) died on January 25th of colon cancer. Robert was a 1st platoon crew chief.
John Howell (EM 66), our former 1SGT, died on January 29th of a heart attack.
Neil Foote (WO 65-66) died on April 6th of a heart attack.
We were informed at our reunion that James N. Smith (EM 69) died of an aneurysm in 1999.
Losses also suffered by our men were the loss of Bob Falks wife Kim, Gilbert Buss wife passed away and Allie Campbell lost his son Ron to cancer. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of all these persons.
A very distinctive memory in my mind involves Ed Albricks ship going down.
Ed was just leaving LZ Delta when he took some small arms fire and a few hits as a mortar round exploded just to the side and behind his helicopter. The blast kind of pushed him off the LZ. He was leaking fuel so I followed his ship and kept in contact. After about 4 or 5 minutes of low-level flight taking fire all the time, it seemed like we were going to make it back to Khe Son or a refueling point on the border.
Right about that time, I saw flames coming out around the exhaust and on to the tailboom. I radioed Ed and said he better find a place to put it down real soon. The next thing I saw was the gunner climb out on the skid to have a look. Real soon after that Ed got serious about finding a place to put it down. Since there were NVA all over the place, you really didnt know where it would be safe to set down.
Eds choices were becoming very limited as the flames were all over the tailboom and engine housing. Ed set up on a short final to an open area and almost immediately started taking fire from a tree line to his left front.
We were out of rockets so Firebird 97 (Mike Friel) and I set up a daisy chain and had the crew chiefs and gunners put out a steady stream of M-60 fire. Gary Arne was flying the recovery high ship, had been called, and was on his way.
Just about the time everyone was out of the burning helicopter, Arne was flaring in the LZ and set down behind and to the side of the stricken aircraft. It seemed like 10 minutes but it was only a matter of a couple of minutes and they were loaded and off.
We followed and low-leveled to Khe Son. This time with the unit was so intense that this rescue was something that was occurring every day.
We were at our third POW camp and my survival skills kicked in telling me that I should kill a chicken for food. What I would do is pull some of the fence out from around the compound and use it as a spear to attack the chickens owned by the enemy soldiers. I knew not to spear the chickens out in the open. One day I got Frank Antons goat really good.
We had a two-hole latrine where the prisoners would just squat and go. One day I saw a chicken go down one of the holes. They did this to get at the maggots. Chickens have survival skills too.
Frank decided that nature was calling and went down to the latrine, squatted over one of the holes and I, in my pursuit for a meaty dinner, started stabbing at the chicken through the other hole. As I did, the chicken started squawking and flapping its wings which flung you know what all over Frank as the chicken tried to come out of the hole that was occupied by him.
Seeing as how Frank held rank over me, he gave me a "Pfister, what the hell are you doing"? I said, "Dinner is served"!
As I recall, when the guard asked me what I was doing with the fence, I said, "Im pulling the fence out dummy"! You see, the fence was much needed for both spearing critters and for burning in a five-gallon bucket we had for heat. The mountains got extremely chilly, especially at night.
Things that made us laugh happened few and far between but when we did laugh, we were reminded that we were all brothers in this mess (no pun, Frank) together.
Another chicken story goes like this. One day I was sitting on our oh so comfortable bamboo beds talking to a fellow prisoner when I saw a flash outside our hooch. I said, "Well here goes me another chicken"! Off I went to track down another meaty meal.
I started down the trail in the direction of the chicken and as I made my way through the thick bamboo and inside the grove, I saw a small clearing. As I peeked into the clearing, low and behold, I was face to face with an 80-pound leopard.
I dont know who scared whom the worse, but in our startled amazement, both of us turned and laid a trail of smoke behind us.
When I got back to the hooch, which was in a much shorter time than the journey to catch the 80 pound chicken, I told Isiah McMillian, "If you dont move, youre gonna die because there is an 80 pound leopard on my heals. I know for a fact Isiah jumped six feet if he jumped one. My game hunting from then on would consist of snakes, rats, mice and whatever else (small) crawled or made noise.
Surviving in the jungle is a constant struggle. In order to get some food to supplement what little the Vietnamese gave us, we would go on 6-15 mile runs" just to gather enough roots (similar to a potato) to add to our diet. We were all sick every single day of our life in the jungle, but some were sicker and weaker than others. We tried to do their work for them.
One day I was feeling terribly ill and weak but we needed food so I volunteered for the food run. Believe me, when you have malaria, it is hard enough to stand up, let alone climbing up and down a mountain for miles.
I made it to the gathering place and on the way back I just fell over on the trail. The guard came up, stuck his bayonet to my chest with a good amount of force and said, "Di", which meant go. I said "Not today man, not today!" I was willing to die just to be able to lie there on the trail and not move.
To my surprise, he did not kill me. Not my day to die I guess. My fellow prisoners split up my load of root, each load weighed from 60 to 80 pounds, and they carried this sick little guy back to our camp. This was not a good day.
December 1965. Sunday morning. Easy mission. One ship with four ARVNs and one American Captain. Our mission is to deliver the payroll to ARVN garrisons in the eastern III Corp area.
Our first stop is no big deal. The payroll team gets off while we eat our Cs, read our paperbacks and nap. When the team returns, we press on.
On the second stop, HamTan, a coastal village about 30 clicks northeast of Vung Tau, the signal for our landing pad was green smoke. We were about four clicks out when the smoke went off. I said to my co-pilot Larry Gillespie, "This doesnt look right, theyre throwing that smoke way too early".
We went ahead and landed on a dirt road and the ARVN payroll team got off. The American Captain was standing on the skid, telling me when to expect the team to return, when my world explodes. Charlie knew we were coming and had set up command-detonated mines around the landing pad, which he now exploded.
I didnt even think, I just re-acted by wrapping the throttle around and pulling pitch to didi out of there. This action caused the Captain to fall off the skids in the process. There were a lot of holes in our Huey, but we are all still alive.
We flew to the nearest U.S. camp and I tell the commanding Colonel what happened. The Colonel says he will call Battalion HQ, but the payroll team will probably be extracted by sampan and we can go eat lunch. So we eat. The Colonel comes back and tells me that battalion says we have to fly back in to Ham Tan and do the extraction. I told the Colonel that was fine, but I wanted a fire team with me.
Battalion assigns a light fire team from the 118th and off we go. My plan is to fly up the beach as low and as fast as possible. I want green smoke at the pick-up site. We get the green smoke, we land, and the payroll team comes running, except for one "ARVN" who is draggin ass. I turned to Gillespie and told him there is something wrong here because this guy doesnt want to get on this helicopter.
Right then, my world explodes again. Some sort of explosive device goes off, right under the tail rotor. I have the American Captain and three ARVNs on board and Im gone.
As we haul ass up the beach, the pedals do not feel right and the Huey is yawing a lot. After what I consider a safe distance, I sit the Huey down to inspect for damage. While were doing this, Gillespie grabs the gunners M-60 and ammo and sprays the surrounding sand dunes with 7.62 fire. The crew chief assures me that there is no damage that will prevent us from flying and we fly un-eventfully back to the Snakepit.
A CLASS ACT
passed to us FYI (subject Richard is unknown)
My husband, Richard, never really talked a lot about his time in Vietnam other than that he had been shot by a sniper. However, he had a rather grainy, 8x10 black & white photo he had taken at a USO show of Ann Margaret with Bob Hope in the background. This was one of his treasures.
A few years ago, Ann Margaret was doing a book signing at a local bookstore. Richard wanted to see if he could get her to sign the photo. He arrived at the bookstore at 12 oclock for the 7:30 signing. When I got there after work, the line went all the way around the bookstore, circled the parking lot and disappeared behind a parking garage.
Before her appearance, bookstore employees announced that she would only sign her book and no memorabilia would be permitted. Richard was disappointed, but wanted to show her the photo and let her know how much those shows meant to lonely GIs so far from home.
Ann Margaret came out looking as beautiful as ever and, as second in line, it was soon my husbands turn. He presented the book for her signature and then took out the photo. When he did, there were many shouts from the employees that she would not sign it. Richard said, "I understand. I just wanted her to see it".
She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes and she said, "This is one of my gentlemen from Vietnam and I most certainly will sign this photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for "my gentlemen". With that, she pulled Richard across the table and planted a big kiss on him. She then made quite a to-do about the bravery of the young men she met over the years, how much she admired them, and how much she appreciated them. There werent too many dry eyes among those close enough to hear. She then posed for pictures and acted as if Richard was the only one there.
Later at dinner, Richard was very quiet. When I asked if hed like to talk about it, my big strong husband broke down in tears. "Thats the first time anyone ever thanked me for my time in the Army, " he said.
I will never forget Ann Margaret for her graciousness and how much that small act of kindness meant to my husband.
LOOKING FOR THE AVIATOR THAT SAVED ME
I am looking for anyone in aviation who was connected with the siege of Tien Phuoc Special Forces Camp, A-102 during 22 Feb 69 to 15 Jul 69. I also want to find the men who pulled me out of the jungle and flew me to the Chu Lai hospital on 15 May 69. In my opinion all of the crew should have received the DFC and Silver Star.
I was seriously wounded in the left thigh and had my femoral artery severed. The pilot had to fly no higher than 100 feet off the ground down the Valley of Death from Tien Phuoc to Chu Lai. We made it and I miraculously survived.
I want to thank those men and maybe somehow submit them for the awards I feel they deserve. I commanded the Special Forces Camp in 68 and 69 and was constantly supported by Americal air assets from Chu Lai. Signed: John E. Clecker Sr., Major, U.S. Army Special Forces, Ret. 3560 Dwayne Ct. Redding, CA 96001. Phone 503-243-2100. E-mail: email@example.com If this rings a bell with you, I urge you to contact Major Clecker. (the editor)
There are a lot of radio calls that you do not want to hear when you are an aviator and you are up in the air. Probably the worst in a combat situation is, "Im hit and going down!" the other worst radio call that you can ever hear is, "Midair, going in!"
More than likely in a midair situation, you send out the medivac and lots of body bags because these types of crashes are usually not survivable. Well, we had a midair in the company in which everyone walked away. I know because I was part of the collision.
It was one of those hot bumpy days during the dry season. I was flying lead and my two favorite wingmen were flying right side in a staggered right formation. We were going up Highway One to airlift a group of ARVNs back south. We had made one load and were enroute to finish up the second load. As was the Rattlers way of doing business, we flew very tight formations for self-preservation and especially in the area in which we were flying on the particular mission. Our normal distances were ½ rotor disc separation and stepped up five to seven feet. Really not much room for error, but we had found out that this was a good distance for protection.
While in flight on this second lift, we were encountering quite a bit of turbulence from the dry weather heat. My wingman caught a small gust that didnt affect me. He was thrown into me at 2500 feet. We locked rotor blades. I immediately broke left to get away and he broke right. Fortunately for both of us, we were over open land and not triple canopy jungle. Both the copilot and I were on the controls trying to control this beast. We had a vertical vibration that was indescribable. I yelled at Fritz Hengy, my crew chief, to help us push the collective down. With the strength of three men, we were able to get on the ground in an upright position. In the meantime, the other crew was experiencing the same problems that we were, but they managed to get on the ground safely about ¼ of a mile away.
When I got the bird down, I realized that I had lost about six to ten inches off both blades. My wingman had suffered about the same losses. Bell makes a pretty good product in the UH-1 in that both crews were able to walk away without even a scratch. The good old Snake Doctor, Billy T, came in, took a look, and decided to hurry back to Bien Hoa to pick up two sets of blades. Maintenance replaced the two sets of blades in the rice paddies and we flew the birds back home. Upon a complete disassembly of the engines and transmissions very little damage was found on either aircraft.
None of my stories are complete without further side stories. This midair falls into this category. I have not identified the other crew. If they want to step forward and be known, then so be it, but I do not want to embarrass any of my cohorts. The first upshot of this story is that Fritz had just returned from a well-deserved rest in Saigon. He had picked up a baby duck for a pet. The duck was in the pocket of his shirt when the midair happened. He is probably the only duck in the world that has ridden out a midair. Ducks dont have midairs.
The second part of this is probably just as hard to grasp as a non-fatal midair. About three or four days after this incident, we were doing a combat assault in the Parrots Beak. Duke was leading and I was playing tail end Charlie. My illustrious wingmen were right in front of me in a vee of three formation. The LZ was a hot potato in that we flew right into a trap. The ground erupted with little men climbing out of spider holes. The fire was intense to say the least. As we were clearing the LZ, their aircraft radioed that they had taken hits and the AC had been hit. They were enroute to Saigon to drop the wounded at the hospital. The AC had taken a round in the upper muscle of his arm. It was painful but not life threatening. In fact, he was back with the company in a couple of days with his arm bandaged and lolling around the Villa. The wound was in the right arm. About the time it had healed, Lew Henderson got a call from the Saigon warriors that the individual was being called to Saigon to face an inquiry as to why he had caused the midair collision. It was a bunch of BS and CYA action. I told him to wear his sling to the meeting, salute with his left hand and be prepared to explain why he was bandaged up. It worked like a charm. All he got was a "Dont fly so close next time; and we are real sorry that you got shot!"
Lew was happy, I was happy; my young pilot got away scot-free and then got his Purple Heart to boot. The Rattlers lived a charmed life in the Oriental calendar YEAR OF THE SNAKE.
Editors note one: The midair collision story has been fully confirmed by two other sources. Note two: That duck aint a pet, that duck was snake food. Hengy confirmed my suspicions when I asked him about it. I fully remember the pet python we had in the company area and Hengy had his photo in the Stars and Stripes with the snake! rs
One of the first pilots to welcome us to the unit, and play jokes on us, was CWO David Jackson of the 71st AHC, the Rattlers, in Chu Lai, Viet Nam. David was a true Southerner and loved to have a good time! As a new Peter Pilot, I flew with him on numerous occasions and witnessed his fun loving nature first hand. On one memorable flight we drag raced down the Chu Lai runway with another chopper, pulling a cyclic climb at the end and shooting straight up into the air until we started to lose lift and settle back. Laughing about how fast we went up, Jackson then pushed petal and did a hammerhead dive back down, straightening up about 10 feet off the ground. The crew thought this was great; I thought he was insane!! As we headed to Da Nang, once we climbed back up to altitude, we came upon a Sky Raider aircraft and decided to fly formation with him. The Sky Raider was much faster and we had a difficult time staying with him. This, of course, did not stop Jackson. He asked the pilot to pull back his canopy and put his wheels down to slow him up so we could photograph him and fly formation together. Needless to say, flying with Jackson was always a wild and memorable experience. He was one of the best pilots in the unit and I learned a tremendous amount about flying from him.
After the screw up of Black Monday, on 22 September 1969, we were all a bit nervous about going into that area of operation (AO) again, all of us except Jackson. I honestly dont remember if he was with us on Black Monday. On 25 September, I was assigned to be the copilot with CWO David Jackson and we headed out to do a routine mission of resupply and Command and Control (C&C). Our mission was with the 3/21st Infantry Battalion at LZ Center; at least this is what I remember. We flew missions all day to resupply the troops and to take the command around to see different Company Commanders in the field. Nothing much happened all day and we just joked and talked with other Rattlers in the area. WO Mike Curtis and I were always joking on the radio about Martha Farbocker, or something like that, and we were at it again on the 25th of September. There was still a lot of buzz on the radio about the fire flights of Black Monday and we looked out over the areas where it happened, wondering how in the world the NVA could have gotten so close to LZ Center and not been detected. Finally, the mission came to an end in late afternoon and we headed back home with visions of the nice cool Officers Club on the beach fixed in our minds. There were some grunts on board that were catching a ride back to the Americal Division rear in Chu Lai and everyone was enjoying the flight.
The flight path we took that day out of Center pointed us towards LZ East and then out of the hill country and across the rice paddies to the beach and the Snake Pit. It was a clear day, beautiful blue sky and we were having a good time flying and laughing on the way home. Mike Curtis and I were on the radio again talking about the cool ones we would drink back at the club that night when suddenly the front of the helicopter seemed to explode. The instrument panel just blew up as smoke and sparks shot through a jagged hole made by the armor piercing .51 Cal bullet that hit the ship. In fact, my immediate thoughts focused on the fact that the front of the helicopter might be gone. For several seconds, smoke and sparks filled the cockpit and made it impossible to see anything. The horrifying thought of a rocket-propelled grenade or large shell blowing off the whole nose seemed very real because the chopper immediately went out of trim and began to take a nose up attitude. Jackson was on the controls at the time and when the round hit him he slumped over the controls and pulled the cyclic back. This action caused a great blast of air to come in through the windows and open doors making me believe it was coming from the front of the ship. As the smoke cleared, I fully expected to look out and see open air in place of the front bubble structure of the Huey. Our altitude was about 2500 feet when this happened and, except for the big ones, I thought we were out of range of most weapons. Instinct took over and I was at once flying the helicopter and trying to understand what had just happened to us. Before I even realized that David was injured, I was asking the crew chief if the ship was still flyable. All the instruments were out and the only thing I had to fly with was the turn and ball indicator. The crew chief, I dont remember his name now, told me he thought everything sounded good and that we were OK. It was then that I realized Jackson had been hit. There was blood everywhere, so much that I thought I must have been hit as well, my left arm and leg were splattered in blood. Other pilots told stories of getting shot and not feeling it right away, so I thought this must have just happened to me. But, my arm and hand worked well as did my leg and foot. David began to slump even more over the controls and I asked the gunner and crew chief to release the ACs seat and pull him into the back section and determine the extent of his wounds. The aircraft was difficult to fly with his body over the controls and I wanted to get Jackson to medical attention as quickly as I could.
Instead to heading to Chu Lai, I decided to go straight to LZ Baldy and the aid station there because it was much closer at the time. Baldy was located North of Chu Lai and Southwest of Da Nang. The radios were all shot up and the only one that worked was the FM. The only station I could get was the one for the last ground unit we resupplied that day. As I tried to get the tower at Baldy on the radio, the soldier I coordinated with earlier on a resupply answered me and asked if he could help. Since I was going into Baldy as fast as the chopper would fly, I told him to radio the tower and tell them I was going to streak across the end of the runway and needed a priority clearance with wounded on board. A Dust Off helicopter that was on its way to Da Nang also monitored the FM frequency and asked if they needed to turn around and come back to Baldy to pick up our wounded. When I told them the AC was hurt bad, they instantly turned around and said they would be there in a few minutes. By the time I reached the pad, I was about 10 feet off the ground and moving as fast as the ship would fly. Thinking back, I do not know how I made the turn into the aid station. Baldy was famous for the dangerous approach to the aid station. It was located in the mist of several buildings and when you made an approach there you had to make an almost 180 degree turn to avoid everything. Determined to get David there as quickly as humanly possible, I decided to punch the ship up just enough to clear the blades while turning at speed into the medical building. This put the right side of the ship in a perpendicular angle to the ground with nothing but dirt for the view out my window. Once in the turn, I cranked back on the cyclic and pushed down the collective to flare and stop the ship in one motion without a hover, causing us to land the chopper in one very fast motion. Medics were standing by with a stretcher and rushed to the ship as I approached. This was the first time I actually took a good look at Jackson. He was laying on his back with no expression of any type on his face and his eyes staring up into space. I knew in my heart he would not make it. He never said a thing and appeared to be in no pain. It is my understanding that David died in route to the hospital in Da Nang. The inside and outside of the ship, on the ACs side, were covered in blood. That smell is still stamped somewhere on my brain and becomes fresh and horrifying when triggered. Once in 1986 while stationed in Darmstadt, Germany I was running through the woods on a damp fall afternoon. A Huey was approaching the Post there and the sound of the blades popping was very loud and strong, to the point of actually feeling it. The popping sound seemed to last forever and as the ship approached I began to run faster and faster, overcome with fear. Unexpectedly, the smell of blood was so strong in my mind that I looked around to see if something was on the ground causing it. By the time I got back to the Battalion, I was visibly shaken and confused. There was no way I could go back to work and counsel others as the battalion chaplain, so I just headed home, keeping the disturbing event to myself for years to come.
After the medics took David out of our ship and loaded him into the waiting Medivac chopper, I pulled pitch and just lifted the bird up over the buildings and onto the landing area for the Firebirds. Somehow, I shut down the ship and found myself standing outside with my hands on my face sobbing uncontrollably as someone put his hand on my shoulder. I think it was one of the Firebird pilots asking what had happened. We looked at the bullet hole in the nose of the ship and then opened the ACs door to see where it came through. There was a large hole with protruding serrated edges on the left side of the instrument panel. But was really amazed us was the hole in the green house Plexiglas above where Jackson was seated. This meant that the bullet went through Davids head, through his helmet and out through the blades without a blade strike. The .51Cal bullet is the Chinese equivalent of our .50 Cal bullet. The difference being that they could use our ammo in their guns, but we couldnt use theirs in our guns. This particular weapon was shooting armor piercing shells that caused the copper outer sleeve of the bullet to expand on contact with the metal center driving through, creating a very large hole. A bullet of this size would have caused major damage to the soft rotor blades of a helicopter. This is one of the bizarre mysteries of war. Why do some die while others escape seemingly certain death? After looking over the ship I told the other pilots there that my radios were shot up and we needed to call in what happened. As they made the call on the radios, I went to wash off the blood from my face and hand. It was then I saw the small cuts on my face and hand caused from the metal and glass exploding off the instrument panel. Once again I began to sob and shake as I reached out to stabilize myself upon the realization of what had just happened, and what else could have happened. Bullets fired from such a weapon come out at a blinding speed in large numbers. In this case, only one of the myriad of bullets fired from that weapon impacted the ship. As I look back now, it is as though a dark, miraculous, phenomenon was set in motion. An unexplainable decision about who would live and who would die was rationed out to us on that flight. Was Jacksons number up or were the rest of us given another chance at life; perhaps neither. Even now, as an Army Chaplain on active duty, I cannot explain the mysteries of life and death that visit every soldier in combat. Perhaps the best we can do is pray for the day when war and hate will be replaced with peace and love in a world made new.
It was night by the time someone came up from Chu Lai to check the ship and take me back. That flight back to the 71st felt very cold and lonely. Word of a death spreads quickly in combat units and this is especially true in aviation units. Every time a pilot is wounded or killed, the other crewmembers feel a deep personal loss and trepidation. Our invincibility and vulnerability are suddenly exposed and the thought that the next one could be me takes over for a time. Once I got back to the hooch area I decided to just go the room and talk to a few select friends rather than recount the whole episode at the Officers Club. As I opened the door to the hooch I was reminded again that Barry Alexander was also gone and this deepened my depression and profound sadness that evening. The first thing I did was change clothes and take a shower, trying to wash away the war, the blood and the smell of death that was clinging to me. Back in the room, I talked to Eric Kilmer and Harold Jackson about what had happened that day. "Weird" Harold even said he drank a beer for me because he knew how upset I was. This may not seem too unusual unless you know that Harold Jackson was a strict Latter Day Saint and didnt even drink coffee! We sat and talked about the war, God, death, purpose, and anything else to help us keep our sanity that night. Friendships take on a deeper meaning in combat and the loss of a friend through hostile fire snatches away yet another piece of your heart and life force.
My life was irreversibly changed that night. My courage was gone, my will to fight on was lost and replaced with a dread of flying and a fear of death that seemed to consume me. Every time I flew after that day, I was obsessed with the thought of a bullet coming up through the floor of the helicopter, killing someone else yet again. My flight records indicate that I flew only eleven more days after the 25th of September 1969. There have never been any nightmares about Jackson or the war, in fact any dreams at all about anything in Viet Nam. It is as though my mind closed off that section of horror in my memory and I was left with only the anger, the depression, and the fears to follow me forever. To this day, I feel as though I am a failure, a coward and a freak that does not deserve the life I have. No matter how well I do, what awards or praise I receive, or what promotion or position I am given, it is not enough to erase that hurt and doubt inside. God in His goodness has used me to help others in this same situation by allowing me to become an Army Chaplain. Through this office I have helped countless vets, soldiers, and family members with all kinds of problems and therapy. My MS in Marriage and Family Therapy, which the Army paid for, has allowed me to understand the process of PTSD that most vets and trauma victims face in their lives. But, no amount of therapy, explanation, self-examination, shame, anger, or fear has healed me in my deepest regions. My dear wife, Alexa, has often said that the carefree boy, who went to Viet Nam, never came home. Currently I am working at the highest office in my branch as the Assignment Officer in the Chief of Chaplains Office at the Pentagon. On my good days I know I do my job well, but on the bad days I still wonder if someone will walk up to me and tell me I am fired because I have no worth or value. Through the many years since Viet Nam I have tried to stop the dread and ache with drugs, alcohol, and life on the edge. My decision to become a chaplain was due in part to my experiences with the 71st and my desire to seek resolution and forgiveness for my actions when I stopped flying. Some pilots in our unit agreed with me while others told me I would get over it and should keep flying. Every one looked at me with that look of incomprehension that translated into disapproval and distaste in my thinking. No matter how many times I have replayed the scenes of that decision to stop flying, I would still do the same thing today. Therefore, the answer lies within me. This I finally understand and accept. Even now, those individuals appointed over me can cause my anger to flash when they misuse their power and authority on those under their command. This is often just perceived in my mind, yet it is so strong and so real that I view them as a threat and actually want to hurt them physically. The angry outbursts have gotten better over the years and thanks to a loving wife and a forgiving and nurturing God, I am happier and more secure that I have been in a very long time.
It took me 30 years to contact the Rattler/Firebird Association, and even longer to make the decision to write down these stories. I apologize to the Jackson family for ignoring their requests for information about how David died. It was impossible to open those locked doors in my life until recently and I hope this account will help heal some old wounds for those who knew and loved CWO Jackson. In May 2002 I plan to attend the Rattler/Firebird reunion in St Louis. That affair has been canceled and attended a thousand times in my mind, but I know I must go and finish the healing process I have begun. Thank you Eric, Wally, Ron and Lenny for your phone calls, emails and your friendships. You will never know how much I need your support and love. Mine is not the only story of pain and confusion to come out of Viet Nam, far from it. When I attend events like Rolling Thunder in Washington, DC and the many motorcycle rallies I love so much, I stop and talk to vets of all wars and listen to the stories and the pain they reveal. Only another vet can understand fully what happens inside when the horrors of war are experienced first hand. The tonic of healing is the unspoken, unconditional acceptance that vets have for one another. That love and acceptance is absolutely needed before healing can take place. Loneliness, anger, depression, and fear are the residual elements of combat, and each vet sees himself as suffering alone. Even when therapy and healing takes place, there will always be that hollow, dark, and broken being somewhere inside, waiting to take control again on a bad day or in a weak moment. This I accept and vow to resolve as I continue to write about our experiences, our pain, and our growth.
Editors note: LTC "Whiz" Broome has been selected for O-6. The colonels eagle is to be pinned on later this year.
OBSERVATIONS BY BOB FALK (EM 66-67)
Some things I have learned or wondered about when I became a crew chief contributed to my desire to consume large quantities of alcohol:
I had serious doubts that a few peter pilots actually graduated from flight school.
Look out when the pilots look like they have a worse hangover than me.
What would happen if you took a hit while carrying 1000 lbs of C-4?
What did Saigon tea taste like? I know I paid for a lot of them.
ARVN troops bore a remarkable resemblance to the enemy.
When barfing out the left side of the aircraft due to alcohol poisoning, always have the good sense to rotate the mike away from you mouth first.
When hauling trash cans full of iced beer from a base camp to the troops in the field, it is possible to slam three beers during the ten-minute flight with only minimal foam coming out your nose.
Clarence, the demented monkey, could not handle his liquor and got real ugly when he drank. This was probably due in part to having to hang around the officers club and never going on R and R to get properly laid.
The low RPM warning light on the instrument panel was only there to scare the crap out of you.
A family sized bar of Ex-Lax given to a hooch maid who was constantly begging for chocolate will discourage further begging.
When the LRRP on the radio you are trying to extract is whispering into his handset, its just about dark, and you have no gun cover, flying was not near as much fun as low-leveling down a sunny beach.
The Firebirds were a surly bunch but they were nice to have around when the above situation occurred.
The infantrys definition of a full load was usually different than mine. They loaded too many Chinooks.
Dont piss off Momma Son in a brothel.
If some of the girls in the bars looked like they were 15 years old, they probably were.
Warm beer is better than no beer.
Twelve drunken GIs can fit in a Lambretta, but it really pisses off Papa Son.
Tracers going down at night look really cool. Tracers coming up anytime really suck.
The difference between a peter pilot and a turbine engine is the turbine engine quits whining when you land and shut down.
Given half a chance, the man in the left front seat will get you home.