Washington D.C. Reunion
One hundred and fifty two men from our unit met in D.C. along with friends and family for a notable reunion. There were many “first timers” in attendance that, to a man, echoed each other in saying it was one of the most wonderful weekends of their lives. The Doubletree Hotel Crystal City, across I-395 from the Pentagon, was the scene of this gathering. Fifteen men had came from west coast states including Kelly McHugh who won our “Jesus Nut” award for traveling the longest distance (see chart inside). One sight at the reunion out of the norm was the “Gender Neutral” group staying at the hotel for their meeting. Go figure? Another somewhat unsettling sight in D.C. is the men in black with automatic weapons in prominent view. The hotel security asked us at the start of the reunion to please remove the M-60s from our aircraft displays, especially with these aircraft sitting about ¼ mile from the Pentagon.
This reunion saw a number of men together for the first time since leaving Vietnam. Three men who had never been to a reunion before, Arnold Dietrich, Tom Pratt and Dick Sienkiewicz, met and were able to relive the action for which Dietrich was later awarded a Silver Star for his heroic rescue of downed aircrew.
Frank Anton, Frank Carson, and Jim Pfister were all together for the first time since they were shot down on 5 January 68. Carson was able to E & E while the others were captured.
Over 100 took the D.C. city tour offered by Armed Forces Reunions. Seven busloads of attendees were transported to the “Wall” Saturday for a very moving Memorial Service. Over 300 attended our Saturday night banquet. John Wiklanski was awarded the “Rattler Legend Award” by his best friend Kelly McHugh, whose life was saved by “Ski’s” action in combat.
Our Saturday night banquet began with the posting of colors by a local high school Junior ROTC Honor Guard followed by a very moving Pledge of Allegiance led by Buck Crouch (OF 64-65) our first Rattler 5 and XO.
Vic Bandini (WO 68-69), our reunion committee chairman, emceed the banquet and led the group in a toast to our current servicemen and women.
Before the evening meal, several men performed a skit “song” about the Firebirds for our amusement. Hang on to your day job men!
During the meal tickets were drawn for our five raffle prizes. Each winner was given his or her choice of all remaining prizes. The first winner was William Mancil (EM 69-70) and he chose the very beautiful Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bowie Knife and case, donated by Bill DiDio’s LZNam. The second winner was Mike Larson, brother of Gary Larson (EM 67-68), who choose a pair of round-trip airline tickets on AirTrans Airlines to anywhere in the USA that they fly. These tickets were furnished by the airline through David (WO 66-67) and Paula O’Quinn. Next, another pair of the same tickets was won by Dewayne Williams. Dewayne is a very close friend of Chuck Carlock and was one of our drivers in getting our gear to D.C. “Willie” also happens to currently be the chief test pilot for Bell Helicopter Textron. Willie was a flight school classmate of several of our pilots, two of whom were KIA. The next prize drawn went to John Bracken (EM 65-66) who choose the certificate for the Joe Kline print “God’s Own Lunatics”. Our final prize went to Bill Irby (WO 70-71) who won the certificate for the Joe Kline print “Have Guns Will Travel”. Joe Kline Aviation Art has been very generous in supporting our Association and I urge you to patronize his company through his web site www.joekline.com or e-mail Joe at email@example.com . Bill DiDio can be reached through his web site at www.lznam.com or e-mail Bill at LZNAM@aol.com . For those interested in the beautiful CHALLENGE COINS Bill DiDio brought to the reunion, he will have 50 for sale about June 10th. Price is $10 each including shipping with $1.50 from each coin sold donated to the Association.
Vic Bandini made a presentation to Frank Anton and Jim Pfister of a couple of D.C. area maps. The men got lost (again) going to the Firebird Freefire Golf event. The last time these two former POWs went out together they didn’t come back for over five years.
Ron Seabolt, Association National Director, read a letter of appreciation for service to the Association received from President George W. Bush and copies of this letter were given to each attendee.
Many men were singled out for their contributions to our Association and the banquet. Men like Eric Kilmer (WO 69-70) and Col. Whiz Broome (WO 69) for their Memorial Service and chaplain work. BG Larry Gillespie (USA Ret.)[OF 65-66] was noted for helping with the same service. Vic Bandini, our reunion committee chairman, had worked many many hours putting the reunion together and this was noted. Gary White (OF 68-69) runs our great web site and Doug Womack (WO 70-71) takes care of our reunion security. Two outgoing board of directors, Jim Miller (WO 67-68) and Jaak Sepp (EM 67-68) were noted for their contributions while two new board of directors, Vic Bandini and David O’Quinn, were welcomed aboard. Chuck Carlock (WO 67-68) was singled out for untold work and for amassing our display material that included a Rattler slick and a Firebird gunship. Ron Seabolt and his family were acknowledged for their Association work. Seabolt’s brother in law, Wilkie Boyd, is the official photographer and Ron’s wife Kay runs the “company store”. It should also be mentioned that Benny Goodman (WO 68-69) was very helpful to the staff before and during the reunion. Our drivers for moving the helicopters and displays were Carlock, Seabolt, Jim Miller, Bob Wright, Dewayne Williams and Daniel Patterson.
LTG Ellis D. (Don) Parker (USA Ret.) was our keynote speaker at the banquet. General Parker was a former Aviation School Commander and CG of Fort Rucker, AL. He delivered a forceful address on several subjects finalized by reading a letter to the Association from the current CG at Fort Rucker. Adrian Cronauer of “Good Morning Vietnam” fame spoke briefly of continuing work on the POW/MIA issue.
Your new Board of Directors consists of Ron Seabolt, National Director, Johnnie Hitt, Deputy National Director, Chuck Carlock, Secretary/Treasurer, Vic Bandini, Jim Jobson, and David O’Quinn, Members-At-Large.
CW4 Mike Harbin (WO 70-71), who was at the reunion, has recently gone back on active duty and is to be posted to Korea shortly.
Association Membership Dues
Look at the mailing label of this newsletter. To the right of your name is your dues status. The membership year runs from July 1st to June 31st. If there is nothing to the right of your name, or if the number is 2004, your membership expires on June 31st. In order to receive the Association address directory to be mailed in late June you must have C 2005, 2005 (or higher), C Life or Life to the right of your name, or pay the $12 yearly dues. Life membership fees are: age 50 and below-$200, 51 to 55-$175, 56 to 60-$150, 61 to 65-$125, 66 or older - $100. Make all checks to: 71st AHC Association. FYI, life member number 24 is the only “call sign” number not being used. If you were Rattler 24 you might want to consider buying a life membership in that number. At present we have 226 life members representing about 22% of our entire roster. Our address directory will be mailed around July 1st to all dues paying members.
Rattler Legend Award
As presented by Kelly McHugh (WO 68-69)
When Ron Seabolt called me 6 months ago and asked me if I would present this award I was both honored and appreciative for reasons I will discuss later.
This Legend was just 18 years old when he arrived in wonderful Chu Lai, South Vietnam and very quickly established himself as one of the top crew chiefs in the company. He spent 24 months keeping those Hueys flying. He was quiet, never bragged about himself or his work. He just let his results speak for him. He was crew chief of the month numerous times, and in essence set a standard for the crew chief’s and gunners of the firebirds. After 2 long years with the 71st and after those 2 life times of experiences he still wasn’t old enough to legally drink when he returned to the real world.
He was already a legend when I arrived in Chu Lai. I was fortunate to fly with him when I joined the firebirds as a new co-pilot. He was very patient with me, you know, like explaining the little things to me why it is OK to fly with an inch and a half separation between the cabin floor and the firewall (you guys explain that to your wives later). I still shudder when I think about that one. I think I learned as much about the Huey from him as I did in flight school. When I became an aircraft commander I asked him if he would like to fly with me. That is the respect I had for him then, and still do today. He could do things to that gunship to keep it flying that were tantamount to a surgeons work.
I am not up here to tell a bunch of war stories as I am sure all the women in the audience are tired of hearing them, (I will say however that most of them are true, at least to a point, and do you notice that they get a little better with time). Anyway, this crew chief and I went through a few harrowing times together, as all of us did. One day we had the misfortune of coming up against a Chi-Com quad 51. They opened up on us as we made our break and opened up the belly and the gas tank and we immediately burst into flames. About half way to the ground for a forced landing we started losing RPM’s and went into autorotation. I realized I could not jettison the nearly full rocket pods and we were dropping pretty fast now. That was when this incredibly brave young man, of his own volition, climbed out of the helicopter and onto the pylon to reach the manual jettison cable. Now mind you, this was into the fire that was swirling around everywhere. He pulled on the cable until the pod dropped. He then yelled to his compatriot back there to do the same. Fortunately it also came free and we were able to land and not make a large smoking hole in ground.
I am sure I would not be here today if he had not climbed out of the helicopter, and then told the door gunner to do the same. Have you have figured out who this is yet? If so, don’t say anything as I have a few more things to say about him. He knows who he is now, and he is probably getting a little embarrassed.
Let me digress for just a moment. It is very difficult to repay someone who I feel saved my life, as well as three other individuals, (himself included). By making this presentation I feel I am returning some of that favor, at least by letting all of you know about this person. This is why I am so appreciative of the opportunity to be up here speaking to all of you. This award is not about a few war stories. It is about an individual who acted and reacted in a professional and self-less manner nearly everyday for 2 years
One last war story and we’re finished. He and I were always getting involved with 50 calibers. On my last day in country I took a Chi-Com .51 cal in the shin bone; well, he just as quick, took off his belt and gave it to me for a tourniquet. He then resumed firing his machine gun out of the helicopter. The belt was a simple thing but this is just him – remains calm and has an instant solution for a problem, then back to work. I returned a new belt to him at the Orlando meeting. It was a small thing, but I felt better. I did note though – that the new belt I got him was 4-5 inches longer.
He came home from that god-forsaken place and put it behind him to become a successful human being. He has a beautiful wife, two lovely daughters and a new son-in-law.
He is someone we could always depend on, and still do to this day. He is a friend to many of us. He is a man of his word, and that, also makes him special. I am proud, after 35 years, to be able to call him friend.
I know many of you here tonight could also tell some great stories about this man, butI had best stop now as this is beginning to sound like a eulogy.
Will everyone please stand and honor this exceptional man.
John Wiklanski, -- or as we all called him then, and now, SKI. SKI come up here!
(Editor’s note: Chuck Carlock said that it should be pointed out that Wiklanski had a very bad habit of getting shot down in the same general area. He was shot down in flames with Shawn Hannah, Steve Buzzell and Robert Olson on Cinco De Mayo [May 5, 1968] in the same area. A LRRP team got to them just ahead of the bad guys.)
THE WHITE HOUSE
March 22, 2004
I send greetings to those gathered for the 2004 military reunion of the Rattlers and Firebirds of Company A/501st Aviation Battalion, 71st Assault Helicopter Company, 151st Transportation Detachment, and 94th Signal Detachment.
Our nation is strong because of the brave men and women who have assumed the duty of military life and built a great tradition of honor and patriotism. As we fight the global war on terrorism, we remember our Vietnam veterans who served and sacrificed to protect the democratic ideals that are the foundation of America.
I commend the Rattler/Firebird Association for providing fellowship and support to veterans and their families. I also join all Americans in expressing our gratitude for your selfless service to our country and the cause of liberty. As our Nation works to advance peace and opportunity, your courage and heroism continue to be an inspiration.
Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for a memorable reunion filled with renewed friendships and shared memories.
(signed) George W. Bush
(Editor’s note: This is the text of the message received from the President on a 6¾ by 9-inch piece of White House stationary.)
ASSOCIATION’S NEW BOOK – RATTLERS and FIREBIRDS
Combat Action With An Assault Helicopter Company In Vietnam
By Chuck Carlock and Ron Seabolt
Our new book has finally arrived and is on sale through the Association. This book is a compilation of war stories by our men from 1964 to 1971 told in chronological order. Some of these stories have appeared in our newsletters in the past and many are new stories. This trade book (a large, 9 x 6 inch slick cover) has 292 pages, 44 photos, three maps, and a listing of our KIAs.
This new book would make an excellent Christmas gift or a gift for your kids or grandkids. If you wait until the next newsletter you may not have time to order before the holidays. This is our history in a nutshell. You can go on the merchandise page of our web site and to the right of the new book click on the “book photos”and see whose photos are in the book.
Our Association spent more money on the D.C. reunion than ever before. The biggest single cost was $4240 for transportation from the hotel to the Wall. Our absorbing this cost insured that no one who wanted to attend our Memorial Service would be left out. Selling this book can help recover some of this expense.
All income from this book belongs to our Association. The cost of the book is $15 each plus postage. Postage for the book only is as follows: 1 book - $2.00. Add $.50 for each additional book for postage. This book is being mailed by “media mail” so only the book can be mailed at this rate. If you buy 10 books, we will send you 11 with no postage fees (total cost $150.00). Important: If you order other merchandise the regular rate will apply and this is now $6 per order. Order as many as you want, to be sent to as many different places as you want. However for each separate address, the $2.00 rate applies.
NEW BOOK RATTLER ONE-SEVEN
A Vietnam Helicopter Pilot’s War Story By Chuck Gross
Rattler One-Seven is at the printers and is officially dated for a summer release from The University of North Texas Press. Chuck said that both he and the press are taking preorders and will have books no later than June 1st for shipment. The book is a 6 X 9, 248pp, hardcover cloth, which includes 26 b&w photos, 2 maps, Glossary, Notes, Bibliography, and Index. The book retails for $27.95 but Association members will receive a ten percent discount at $25.16. There is a $5.00 shipping fee for the first book plus .75 cents for each additional book.
You can call Texas A&M University Press Consortium at 1-800-826-8911 to order. Please mention code 1A to get the Association discount. Discount from A&M expires July 31, 2004. If you want a personalized signed copy you can send a check or money order to Chuck Gross at 1020 Saint Blaise Trail, Gallatin Tn.37066. There is no discount expiration date if ordered from Chuck. Please include personalization instructions (nickname, call sign etc.) If you have any questions or want to contact Chuck, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 615-230-9655.
Many of you have read of Ron Seabolt’s claim attempting to get a disability for his hearing loss and the tinnitus (ear ringing). The claim was filed in August 2001 and was naturally denied. NEVER give up on these claims as long as it can be appealed. These people want you to get discouraged, say to hell with it and quit.
Seabolt went to the VA for a hearing exam, which showed a 30% hearing loss. Then went to a private ENT doctor and told her he needed a letter stating that, in her opinion, the hearing loss was probably, possibly or maybe due to the jet engines and/or machine guns. The doctor had to reexamine the hearing, which cost $120. The exam showed exactly the same as the VA exam and the doctor wrote the supporting letter. He then had 6 different pilots and his platoon sergeant write letters stating their opinions of the noise levels endured as crewmen. When all this was evaluated the VA doctor said “in his opinion” that nothing Seabolt had done in the service could have affected his hearing loss or ear ringing. It took 31 months for the appeal to go through. The ruling came back that the preponderance of evidence was in the veterans favor, thereby awarding a 10% service connected disability for the tinnitus. The hearing loss was also declared service connected but the award was 0%. This 0% service connected is not a bad thing because if deafness occurs later in life he has already proven that this started due to his service and could then apply for an increase. The award date was September 1, 2001 and all back pay was awarded, TAX FREE.
At the reunion one of the wives in attendance treats and advises veterans concerning PTSD. She said IF a veteran goes to a private doctor who will state that the veteran has PTSD, the VA would automatically award a 10% service connected award. PTSD is awarded in 0, 10, 30, 50, 70 or 100%. Once an initial award is given, then the appeals can help raise this.
Another point made at the reunion was that diabetes is also an automatic service connected disability. The information given was that if the diabetes can be treated by taking oral medicine the vet gets a 20% disability. If injections are necessary the award is 40%.
If you have not had an agent orange screening at the VA you need to do this. If they find some of the Agent Orange related problems, then you must file on it. YOU MUST DO THIS FILING YOURSELF or through an agent like the DAV, which is located at every major VA facility.
The Association has been informed of these deaths since our last printing:
William J. Gault (WO 64-65) died in June of 2001 of lung cancer.
David Henes (OF 71) died 7 Sept 03 of a broken neck.
Robert Armes (EM 67-68) died 22 Sept 03 of a heart attack.
Allie Campbell (WO 64-65) died 3 Jan 04 of cancer and diabetes. Over the years many of us were privileged to have known Allie from his attendance at our reunions. May they all Rest In Peace!
By Don Kleiber (OF 65-66)
We were on the way back from a mission we had performed in Ban Me Thuot and flying through a pass back toward Cam Ranh Bay. No enemy fire had been received in the week we had been there whatsoever.Suddenly I heard the loud bang of a weapon going off and could also smell the cordite from it. I immediately accused my gunner or crew chief of squeezing a round off. Both denied firing their weapons. Because I could smell the cordite I insisted that they tell me which one had done it.
One of them said, “Look at the cargo door!” There was a hole in the door about the size of a fifty-cent piece. The other one said, “Look over your head!” The round had come through the door on an upward angle and went through the greenhouse over my head.
I immediately reported, “Taking fire-taking fire!” No one believed me and all the guys started laughing about it. When we landed at Cam Ranh Bay to refuel some of the crews came over to see the damage. You could take a .45 automatic round of ammo, turn it sideways and put it through the holes.
It appeared to be a single shot from an elephant gun (12.7?) that went right out over my head. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
By George Bailey (WO 66-67)
I was Rattler 29 for most of my tour even though I flew with the Firebirds at one point.
The incident in this story took place northwest of Song Be. We were tasked to pick up two ARVN Recondo teams that had joined together and found a small clearing from which they wanted to be extracted after a couple of weeks in the boonies.
These teams consisted of four men each. They had been in a firefight and had one KIA, leaving seven to pick up.
I was flying with WO Ronald Rudolph but cannot recall the names of the other crewmembers.
The plan called for two aircraft to make the pickup using a rope ladder. We went in first with the ladder secured to the cargo floor. My ship had an interpreter on board to communicate with the teams.
The PZ was too small to land in and was surrounded by tall trees. As we got over the clearing I had the interpreter go down the ladder as far as he could to explain to the teams how this would be done and that no more than two at a time could get on the ladder. He came back up, gave me a thumbs up and said the Recondos know what to do.
We lowered the ladder as far as we could and immediately all seven jumped onto the ladder. As they started climbing we were coming down. We were getting lower and lower while my crew chief was frantically hacking at the rope ladder. Things just happened too fast for him to get us free. My RPM’s were going to drop too low so I had to continue lowering the aircraft as I hovered around the clearing until we had used all the room we had and the tail rotor hit the trees. ON the way down I called the other aircraft and reported, “Two-nine, going down!” We had no other options.
We went down pretty hard with one ARVN penned under a skid. Fortunately the ground was soft enough that we were able to dig him out quickly. Once this was completed I sent the Recondos out to form a perimeter of sorts.
It got very quiet in the jungle as we awaited our rescue. The crew chief had removed the radios as per SOP. There were some 118th AHC aircraft (Thunderbirds) working in the area and they happened to have some slings with loops on the ends for each side of their ships, which hang down about 25 feet below the aircraft. All you had to do was stick your arms and head through the slings and hold on. They picked up two of my crew plus the Recondos, two at a time and flew them back to Song Be.
My crew chief and I were the last two left. A maintenance person was brought in to rig the ship for slinging back to Bien Hoa. A Chinook arrived and pulled the bird out leaving the three of us standing there. As thoughts passed through my head asking myself, “What in the world are you doing here” a jolly green giant showed up and pulled us to safety.
(Editor’s note: George Bailey’s voice on his “going down” call never showed the slightest trace of the gravity of the situation. The man was cool under pressure and a highly respected aircraft commander)
By Duane Ginter (OF 64-65)
I was the original Firebird platoon leader but was flying with the Falcons on a day that Jesse James got lucky. We were called to assist in a pick-up of ARVN troops in the delta. Jesse was leading this flight. I was flying a “hog” gunship (48 rockets) with limited mobility.
As Jesse came out of the LZ, he made a right turn and started screaming about receiving fire. I was headed straight with the flight and missed the right turn. I jerked the ship around and punched off a pair of rockets. One hit under Jesse’s aircraft and the other blew a VC machine gunner out of a foxhole. This was reported to me later by one of the slick gunners and I did not see this because we were hauling tail through the area. Jesse still owes me for that rocket shot.
By Bill Irby (WO 70-71)
This story is about Capt. Don Lynam, my Platoon Leader, and myself. I was a brand new A/C when they came up with a spray mission I requested to be in on. Don did not want a junior A/C on this so he took the mission himself. I then asked to be his co-pilot.
We were down doing our spraying with things going smoothly when all of a sudden a little bit of dust fell down from our overhead. I looked at him and he looked at me and said, “I think we took a hit.” We called it in to the guns but told him everything was in the green. As I said green, the engine quit and I said, “Going Down.”
We hit okay but I thought I heard machine gunfire while going down. When I looked over, Capt. Lyman had dove out of the aircraft and was flat in the grass where he had taken cover. I followed immediately on my side, and crawled under the nose to where Lyman was. It was then that I found out he had hooked his foot on the collective and had fallen flat on his face. At the time it was funny. We were sitting there giggling while our high ship was trying to pick us up. Our downed aircraft was not very funny to them, but the pickup was made and we headed back toward Chu Lai. On the way back we were passing this place where we knew we could get a hamburger, so we landed, went in there and ate, then resumed our flight. When we arrived our aircraft was already sitting there with a half dozen people telling us we screwed up because the aircraft was not hit. As we were arguing this I told the maintenance officer to crank it up. I got in the left side and he got in the right. It would not crank. I had snagged my hand on a piece of sharp metal near the handhold when I climbed in. We then discovered the round had entered above the doorframe, went over Lynam’s head and went into the overhead circuit panel where it shorted out the fuel system and shut the engine down.
By Bill Irby (WO 70-71)
This story concerns myself and Lt. McMahon, Rattler 19.
His folks had ordered an air conditioner to be sent to him. It arrived in Saigon and there was no way to get it to Chu Lai through regular channels. He had to pick it up himself.
I had been taking new aircraft down to Qui Nhon to be retrofitted with the KY28 system. I had gotten well acquainted with the avonics shop people pretty well. I told Mac that if we could get together to take the next aircraft to Qui Nhon, then we could arrange to go on to Saigon while the maintenance work was being performed, then get back with the AC at the same time that the maintenance work was completed. Our plan was to make it to Saigon with one fuel stop. As we neared our refuel point with the fuel level getting low we discovered our old maps showed a place that no longer existed. We stumbled into Ban Me Thuot about 18 minutes into a 20 min fuel warning light.
We finally made it to Saigon and picked up the air conditioner after driving all the way across town in a Jeep to the docks. We safely returned and this is how Lt. McMahon’s room got an air conditioner.
By Benny Goodman (WO 68-69)
Over time my memory has faded as to people, places, and names involved in this unfortunate incident but the salient facts are still very clear. Charlie and I were both working in operations and had chosen the mission for this day as one of the safest and least likely to have much action associated with it. This isn’t the way things would normally have been done, but it was to have been Charlie’s last day to fly before standing down in preparation for going home. Such accommodations were normally made for “short timers”.
Charlie was one of my mentors and he was a person I had flown several missions with as co-pilot. He was also the last of the Senior Aircraft Commanders I needed to fly with before becoming AC. For this reason I flew left-seat all day, and Charlie flew right seat.
We were flying in support of an American company that had been making a sweep down a small valley. Up until the time Charlie was shot, it was a very uneventful day, just the usual ash and trash. A great deal of our flying that day had been low level up and down that valley. We had taken no fire and I don’t remember any reports of the ground troops taking fire either
Toward the end of the day, the battalion commander decided the troops needed to be lifted back to a safer night position. As I remember it, we were operating about half way between L.Z. Baldly and Chu Lai, and I believe South West of Hawk Hill. As often happens, the decision to move the troops was last minute and we ended up with ships from the Muskets in the group called in to make the extraction. I don’t remember exactly how many ships were involved, but I believe there were 4 slicks plus a light fire team.It was less than a ten-minute flight from the PZ to the LZ and it was to take four or five lifts to move all the troops. Our flight path was directly over the portion of the valley the troops had just swept through.
We were flying formation in and out of the PZ and LZ and we were “Tail End Charlie”. We completed the first lift without incident. I was doing the flying and Charlie was making radio calls, keeping an eye on the instruments, and listening to music on the Armed Forces Radio as time and circumstances permitted. Just before take off on the 2nd flight, I remember noticing Charlie very relaxed and leaning his head against the sliding armored plate on the right side of his seat. On the 2nd lift out, about 300 feet off the ground, I was flying with my eyes trained on the aircraft to my right. My total attention was focused on this ship in order to maintain our proper position in the flight. I heard the report of gunfire and knew the round had come close or had come through the cabin. It did not sound like an explosion but more like a loud crack. At the same time the controls became very stiff. The cyclic would not respond without great effort. Following my first impulse, I hit the intercom and told Charlie to “get on the controls with me, I think we’ve lost hydraulics”.
At this time I was still looking at the other aircraft to our right, but quickly fell out of formation. At this time I did not realize Charlie had been hit. I make a snap judgment to put the aircraft down in the only open space close, which happened to be a rice paddy right under us. As I am doing this, I broadcast to the rest of the flight that we have taken a round, that I am having difficulty keeping the aircraft in the air and am putting it on the ground. As I am going in I look over at Charlie to see why he hasn’t responded and see that he is slumped over as far forward in his seat as his safety harness would let him, and that he was laying on the cyclic. I was only seconds from touching down. Only at this time did I realize Charlie was hit and broadcast this fact to the rest of the flight. The gun ships and 30 cal. on the slicks opened up on every tree and bush in sight. The slicks all circled around and landed beside us. Keep in mind that elapsed time from the shot to this point is just seconds. I don’t know if Charlie grabbed at the cyclic after being hit, as an experienced Aircraft Commander might do or if he just slumped over so slowly that his inertia reel did not engage. As we touched down, I instructed the crew to off-load the troops and for the Crew Chief, Richard Bleecker, to come help me get Mr. Cotton out of his seat. We broke his seat over and pulled him out through the cargo area. As we were doing this, the remaining slicks had discharged their troops to set up a perimeter around the aircraft. We carried Mr. Cotton to the nearest aircraft, which I believe was a Musket slick, put him on board and climbed in behind him. The aircraft low leveled straight to Chu Lai hospital, red-lined all the way. What I did not know, but found out later after a severe tongue lashing from Snake Doctor, is that I had left a perfectly good aircraft in Indian country which he either had to fly out or had lifted out. During all the excitement, my first thought, that I had experienced a loss of hydraulics, stayed with me through the whole ordeal. It wasn’t until I found out there was nothing mechanically wrong with the aircraft, that I realized the only thing wrong was that Charlie was laying on the cyclic.
From all appearances, Charlie died instantly. His face was completely ashen and he was dead before I ever touched him. For years there has been much speculation about where the shot came from that killed Charlie. Some, who were not there, have speculated that it was friendly fire, possibly even coming from someone on board. For a long time I erroneously thought the bullet entered over the top of the side armor and hit Charlie’s helmet about where the grommet held his earmuff onto the helmet. This was a result of that earmuff falling off when we removed his helmet. I now believe this had to be from some other factor.
After 35 years I was privileged to be able to visit with the Crew Chief, Richard Bleecker at our 2004 reunion in Washington, DC. I asked him if he would mind relating to me what he remembered about the circumstances surrounding Charlie’ death. Amazingly, his recollection was almost exactly the same as mine, with the exception of where the bullet entered. He recalls that the bullet came through the chin bubble and entered Charlie’s head under his chin. He saw the aircraft after it was brought back to the Snake Pit and before it was repaired. I did not.
A couple of years ago, Ron Seabolt and Chuck Carlock were exhibiting the Hueys at a gun show when they were approached by someone claiming to be one of the troops on our ship that day. Ron was satisfied with the gentleman’s story and put me in touch with him. We had an in-depth phone conversation, and I believe he was there. Two things he was adamant about: 1) There was no firearms discharged from within the aircraft. 2) There were actually several shots fired at the aircraft. He is the only person I have ever heard who believes more than one shot was fired.
Was it friendly fire from the ground? Considering, the shot came from the front and below us and the PZ was to our rear, it seems highly unlikely.
I wish I could rationalize how it was that such a great guy and good friend could get killed in what was scheduled to be the last hour of his last day to fly in Viet Nam by what one can imagine was some bedraggled VC hiding in a spider hole with a rusty old SKS who managed to get off one good shot. I can’t, and neither can anyone else. While all deaths in this war were tragic, Charlie’s seemed a little more tragic than most, because of this irony. For the rest of our lives, those who had the privilege to know Charlie will be diminished, in some way, by his loss.
Jesus Nut Award Mileage
|RANK||NAME||HOMETOWN||MILES TO D.C.|
|1||McHugh, Kelly||San Ramon, CA||2410.7 miles|
|2||Dame, Jim||Cottonwood, CA||2382.6 miles|
|3||Farrell, Roger||Carmicheal, CA||2363.2 miles|
|4||Gardiner, Robert||Wilsonville, OR||2353.2 miles|
|5||Bleecker, Richard||Tacoma, WA||2327.8 miles|
|6||McDowell, Mark||Bellevue, WA||2315.6 miles|
|7||Hall, Roger||Bakersfield, CA||2311.5 miles|
|8||Hobbs, Roger||Long Beach, CA||2293.2 miles|
|9||Surwillo, Jim||Whittier, CA||2286.1 miles|
|10||May, John||Rosemead, CA||2285.7 miles|
|11||Kelly, Bruce||Fountain Valley, CA||2284.2 miles|
|12||Rodriguez, Richard||Santa Ana, CA||2283.3 miles|
|13||Lohman, Richard||Madras, OR||2277.9 miles|
|14||Sepp, Jaak||San Diego, CA||2268.6 miles|
|15||Calvacca, John||Victorville, CA||2231.9 miles|
Washington, D.C. Reunion Attendees
|Adams, Jim||OF 68-69||Gross, Chuck||WO 70-71||McDowell, Mark||OF 68-69|
|Anderson, Norman||EM 67-68||Guimond, Phil||EM 67-68||McHugh, Kelly||WO 68-69|
|Anton, Frank||WO 67-68||Hall, Roger||EM 67-68||McMahon, Kerry||WO 69-70|
|Arndt, Greg||EM 69-70||Hall, Will||OF 67-68||Meader, Jerry||OF 66|
|Bahlke, Howard||EM 67-68||Hansen, Michael||EM 71||Mietus, Michael||EM 69-71|
|Bailey, George||WO 66-67||Harbin, Mike||WO 70-71||Miller, Jim||WO 67-68|
|Bandini, Vic||WO 68-69||Hardeman, Jim||EM 69-70||Mills, Ed||EM 67-68|
|Bartlett, Paul||WO 67-68||Harrington, Vinnie||EM 65-66||Moore, James||WO 65-66|
|Beaumont, Michael||OF 70-71||Hennigan, Bill||OF 66-67||Morreall, Fred||WO 69-70|
|Benedict, David||EM 66-67||Hitt, Johnnie||OF 69-70||Nave, Spencer||EM 64-65|
|Benedict, Don||EM 66-67||Hobbs, Roger||EM 69||Nottingham, David||EM 69-70|
|Billings, Randy||WO 66-67||Holgerson, Bill||WO 67-68||Olson, Ron||WO 69-70|
|Birnbach, Dick||WO 65-66||Honda, Wally||WO 69-70||O’Quinn, David||WO 66-67|
|Bleecker, Richard||EM 67-68||Hunter, David||EM 69-70||Parcher, Dick||OF 69|
|Bowen, Hal||OF 67-68||Igoe, Terry||OF 68-69||Parks, Gary||EM 65-66|
|Bracken, John||EM 65-66||Irby, William||WO 70-71||Patrick, Bill||WO 67-68|
|Brooks, Stewart||EM 69||Jachim, Gary||EM 67-68||Pfister, Jim||EM 67-68|
|Broome, Whiz||WO 69-70||Jackson, George||OF 66-67||Pitts, Archie||WO 65-66|
|Budig, Woody||OF 67-68||Johanson, Wes||EM 67-68||Pratt, Tom||OF 69-70|
|Calvacca, John||EM 67||Kazmierowski, Lynn||WO 68-69||Profitt, Donnie||EM 66-67|
|Carlock, Chuck||WO 67-68||Kelly, Bruce||WO 67-68||Puls, Richard||EM 69|
|Carson, Frank||WO 67-68||Kilmer, Eric||WO 69-70||Ratliff, Bob||EM 64-65|
|Champe, Gene||OF 68||Kilpatrick, Everett||EM 66-67||Rennie, John||EM 66-67|
|Clements, Ronald||EM 70-71||Kleiber, Don||OF 65-66||Reynolds, Bill||EM 67-68|
|Cline, Bob||EM 70-71||Knapp, Tom||EM 66-67||Riley, Pat||WO 70-71|
|Collins, Hubert||WO 70-71||Kuhnert, Ralph||OF 66-67||Rodriguez, Richard||EM 66-67|
|Collins, Jim||WO 67-68||Lackey, Larry||EM 66-69||Rogers, Michael||EM 67-68|
|Conn, Danny||EM 70-71||Lane, Doug||WO 70||Schenke, Joe||OF 64-65|
|Coyne, Carl||WO 65-66||Larson, Gary||EM 67-68||Seabolt, Ron||EM 66-67|
|Cronin, Rick||EM 71||Lee, Franchot||EM 65||Sepp, Jaak||EM 67-68|
|Crouch, Buck||OF 64-65||Leopold, Mark||OF 67-68||Sienkinewicz, Richard||OF 70-71|
|Cylc, Stanley||EM 66-67||Linville, Kenneth||WO 64-65||Silva, Tom||EM 67-68|
|Dalferro, Paul||EM 70-71||Lively, Steve||EM 69-70||Smith, Larry||EM 66-68|
|Dame, Jim||EM 69-70||Lohman, Richard||OF 69-70||Spencer, Paul||OF 70-71|
|Day, Richard||OF 66-67||London, Bill||OF 68-69||Spudich, Robert||WO 69-70|
|Didio, Bill||EM 68-69||Lowery, Roy||WO 64-65||Starkey, Doug||EM 70-71|
|Dietrich, Arnold||EM 69-70||Lurvey, Bill||WO 66-67||Surwillo, Jim||EM 69-70|
|Drewry, Will||EM 68-71||Lynam, Don||OF 70-71||Sweeney, Charles||EM 68-70|
|Ehrich, Richard||OF 70||Lynch, John||EM 66-67||Taylor, R.P.||WO 67-68|
|Engel, Dale||WO 67-68||Mabe, Ken||WO 70-71||Teelin, Paul||WO 66-67|
|Esckilsen, Stanley||OF 68-69||Malek, Jim||WO 67-68||Thomas, Randall||EM 68-69|
|Evanson, James||WO 68-69||Malone, James||EM 71||Waddell, James||EM 67-68|
|Fairfield, Jerry||EM 66-68||Mancil, William||EM 69-70||Weber, David||EM 67-68|
|Farrell, Roger||EM 67-68||Mangum, Bob||OF 66-67||White, Gary||OF 68-69|
|Fischer, Gary||OF 64-65||Marcano, Chico||EM 69||Wiklanski. John||EM 68-70|
|Freeman, Wendell||WO 70-71||Markiewicz, Ronald||OF 71||Wilhelm, Jay||WO 66-67|
|Fulbrook, Jim||WO 70-71||Maryliw, Ed||EM 66-67||Williams, R.J.||EM 66-68|
|Gardiner, Robert||WO 68-69||Mateyko, John||OF 65-66||Wilondek, Nate||WO 68-71|
|Gillespie, Larry||OF 65-66||May, John||EM 69||Womack, Doug||WO 70-71|
|Ginter, Duane||OF 64-65||McAuley, Tom||WO 67-68||Wright, Bob||EM 68-69|
|Goodman, Benny||WO 68-69||McCarragher, James||WO 69-70|