ODDS and ENDS
When we think we have problems, along comes something like hurricane Katrina. Jim Baragona, Larry Smith and Rick Webster are three of our men who lost their homes or they were so heavily damaged that they are now uninhabitable. There may have been more from our unit in this condition but these are the ones we are aware of.
The information received concerning the death of one of our men, Charlie Morehouse, certainly took the long way around to reach the Association. An email was received from a 35 year old major of the Swiss Armed Forces named Rolf Gerster. This person collects engraved Zippo lighters from the Vietnam era. He currently has over 800 of these lighters. Rolf had obtained a lighter engraved with Charles Morehouse, a UH-1 Huey and the words SNAKE DR on one side and Bien Hoa-Vietnam, 66-67 and flight wings on the other side. Rolf found reference to Snakedoctor on our web site and wrote wanting to know what a “Snakedoctor” was?
I explained that it was our maintenance aircraft and that Charlie Morehouse
flew this ship during my tour. I told him I would tell Charlie about
the lighter at the next reunion and that Charlie lived in Santa Maria, CA. Rolf
then told me he had purchased the lighter over the internet from a man who
bought it at an estate sale in Santa Maria.
At this point I tried to contact Charlie without any luck. I sent an email to our men that I knew had served with Charlie and learned nothing from them about his condition. My old platoon Sgt., Larry Lackey, started his own investigation and confirmed Charlie’s death by reaching Charlie’s daughter through a funeral home in Santa Maria. Around the world we went to receive this notification.
Denis Arndt (WO 65-66), the actor, works with a guy whose father was a flight instructor at Ft. Wolters from ‘65 to ’72. The instructor’s name was Jacque Elliott and is deceased. The son is Joel and would love to hear from anyone that remembers his dad. Email Joel at: email@example.com
At the back of this newsletter is a list of 31 of our 55 men killed in action. This is the list of men that we do not have photographs of on our “In Memoriam” page of our web site. Do you have a decent photo of any of these men? Many times the families of our KIAs have found our web site and looked at this page. It is only fitting and proper that we attempt to get a photo posted of each of these men for everyone to see and to better immortalize these brave men who died 10,000 miles from home. Send your photo(s) to our webmaster, Gary White, 10015 West 94th St, Overland Park, KS 66212. Your photo will be returned. Please help!
If you want copies (or more copies) of our book that was printed two years ago, Rattlers and Firebirds, you should consider ordering now. We have about 150 books left. Our offer is still available for you to pay $150 for 10 books, but receive 11 books with no postage. If this order is placed in conjunction with other items ordered, the normal postage and handling charge of $6 applies.
2006 Rattler/Firebird Reunion – San Antonio, Texas
Our seventh Rattler/Firebird Reunion is just around the corner. The dates for the reunion are Wednesday, April 19th to Sunday, April 23rd. Once again, Armed Forces Reunions are handling all the registration for everything except the Firebird Free-Fire Golf outing. There is mandatory per person registration fee of $5.00 each. This is noted on the Activity Form in this newsletter.
The Omni Hotel San Antonio is located in the northwest portion of the city on Interstate 10 at exit 561, which is Werzbach St. The hotel is off the service road on the north side of I-10, west of Werzbach St. The address is 9821 Colonnade Blvd. The room rate is $95.00 plus taxes. To make a reservation by phone, call 800-843-6664. Be sure to tell them you are with the Rattler-Firebird Association! REGISTRATION DEADLINE FOR THE HOTEL AND ARMED FORCES REUNIONS IS 3/17/06.
A city tour of San Antonio is being offered on Friday. The description of this tour is in this newsletter. This includes stops at the Alamo and the Riverwalk.
On Saturday morning our Memorial Service will again be observed followed by a business meeting and we also plan to follow the business meeting with an informational session on VA benefits.
An afternoon tour of the Riverwalk is offered on Saturday. This tour will not conflict with the VA benefits meeting.
Our banquet on Saturday night will feature noted war correspondent Joe Galloway as the keynote speaker. Joe and LTG Hal Moore co-wrote the best selling book, We Were Soldiers Once….And Young. This book became a major motion picture starring Mel Gibson as Hal Moore and Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway. If you are coming to the reunion and have not seen this movie, it is suggested that you watch it for a better appreciation of the battle portrayed and the characters involved.
The Firebird Free-Fire Golf outing is to be held on Friday morning at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course. Vic Bandini is in charge of the golf with the greens fee at $50.00 per person including lunch. Tee time is 0800, with the golfers meeting in the hotel lobby at 0630. Please contact Vic directly at 317-201-4800 or firstname.lastname@example.org
At our business meeting an election will be held for our Board of Directors. To be eligible to nominate a person, run for office and vote in the election, you must be a current dues paying member of our Association. If you wish to nominate anyone for our Board of Directors, you must do this before the reunion by contacting our Election Chairman Hal Bowen. Hal can be reached at 434-577-2608 or by writing to P.O. Box 57, Gasburg, VA 23857 or by email at: email@example.com
Check your dues status by looking at the mailing label of this newsletter. To be current at the reunion, to the right of your name it must have either 2006 (or higher), Life or C Life. Dues are $12 per year payable to: 71st AHC Association.
Veterans Affairs Benefits
The Association continues to receive word from our men concerning their successful attempts to receive service connection for various disabilities.
An award of a service connected disability is very hard to get without something to substantiate your claim. I am aware of our men now receiving awards, especially for PTSD, because of letters written on their behalf by men who were there with them.
One of the points the VA looks at very hard when evaluating a claim for PTSD is your “stressor” statement. This would concern an incident that you witnessed or were involved with during your service that has affected and still does affect your current life.
The letters are also beneficial for persons applying for hearing disabilities. The most helpful item for hearing loss is a letter from a civilian M.D. (ear, nose & throat specialist) stating in their opinion that your military service contributed (or caused) your hearing loss and/or ear ringing (Tinnitus). If you have ear ringing, it is not measurable is our understanding. Currently an award for Tinnitus is 10%. In a suit last year brought by a veteran against the VA, a judge has ruled that the vet who has ringing in both ears is entitled to 10% PER EAR. The VA is appealing this so they are not recognizing this ruling at this time.
We cannot underestimate the power of being mutually supportive in dealing with the VA. Men who have no records of events or Medals sorely need our assistance with hand written letters confirming their stressor event. By this effort YOU can be the difference maker in someone’s quality of life in their retirement years. Please help each other!
With over 1,000 men on our mailing list who served in Vietnam with us we are miles ahead of the average ex-GI who has no idea where anyone is that served with him and probably cannot remember anyone’s name either.
The recent cost of living increase voted by congress for recipients of VA disability, effective 1 December, was the largest in history. A married veteran rated at 100% disability receives $2,528 per month, tax free.
In Texas there are several extra benefits for disabled vets, such as free ($3 per year) license plates to disabled veterans (50% minimum), Former POWs, Purple Heart and Medal of Honor awardees. You can also park free at airports and city parking areas. There are tax exemptions on the appraised value of your property ranging from $5,000 to $12,000. Veterans rated at 60% or higher receive free drivers license, free hunting and fishing license and free park admission to Texas state parks. Check with your state for any perks due its veterans.
As you can see, there are more benefits to having a service connected disability than just the money.
The Association has been notified of the following deaths since our last newsletter.
- Barry C. Smith (EM 69-70) died on 3 June 2003 from liver cancer.
- Thomas J. Koenig (WO 65) died on 27 October 2004 from unknown causes.
- Charlie “Pappy” Morehouse (WO 66-67) died on 12 October 2005 from emphysema.
- Terry L. Cost (OF 67) died on 4 November 2005 from liver cancer.
Another person who was in the chain of command of almost all of us as either the MACV Commander or the Army Chief of Staff, General William C. Westmoreland died of natural causes on 18 July 2005.
Bob Mangum (OF 66-67) writes:
I knew Charlie Morehouse very well. As the 71st Assault Helicopter Company "Rattlers"maintenance officer,I was very fortunate to have Charlie work for me. We flew together often on maintenance test flights, parts runs, & recovery missions. For recovery missions and some of the other maintenance operations, we used the call sign "Snake Doctor."
On the "recovery mission" we would react from home base to downed aircraft and/or accompany the 71st on combat operations. When accompanying the company on an operation, Snake Doctor would normally fly behind & above the company formationready to react to any downed aircraft. Our job was to effect repair on helicopters that were damaged or experiencing component failure or malfunction. The Snake Doctor aircraft would carry a crew of 3 or 4 mechanics as well as some high failure rate, quickly replaceablecomponents which could be usedtoexpeditiously returnaircraft to flyable condition. Most of the repairs took place at staging areas. However, when, during the actual conduct of a mission, a helicopter went down for any reason -i.e. was shot down or forced to land for equipment malfunction or failure -Snake Doctorwould landas close as possible tothe downed ship, make repairsand fly the helicopter home or to a secure landing area. If the aircraft could not be made flyable quickly,our crew would rig theship for sling load evacuation by CH-47. On occasion, when neither of the above was feasible, we destroyed the downed aircraft in place. Normally, when an aircraft went down, the crew of the downedship would be evacuated immediately after the forced landing,leaving the Snake Doctor crew to take care of the problem, whatever it was. This often lead to tenseand exciting moments for the Snake Doctor crew. In this, and all other situations, Charlie was the essence of the "cool operator"...totally unflappable.
In WWII, Charlie was an Army Air Corps pilot. He flew P-38s, or as the Germanscalled it, "the doppelschwanze teufel"(double tail devil). After the war, he left the Army Air Corps as a major, I believe. During the Vietnam war, he returned to the Army as a warrant officer because it would allow him to fly again, unencumbered by the responsibilities& other duties of a commissioned officer.
His experience as an aviator & calmprofessionalism were invaluable to me. I have never known another like him. He loved flying more than anyone else I have ever known...a love we shared. Unfortunately, I lost contact with him a couple of years ago and have no personal knowledge of his whereabouts since.
I could not help but shed a tear over the passage of "Pappy".Though I did not have contact with him for some time, therealization that he is gone leaves a large vacuum. He is sorely missed. I thought he would live forever...and he will...in the hearts & minds of those of usfortunate enough to have known him. I can see him now, running through the elephant grass preparing to fly a downed Huey to safety...grinning all the while.
Joe Breton (WO 66-67) added:
Bob’s recollection of a great man is right on target. I never saw Charlie without that smile and the coolness he had in handling those shear moments of terror. He was a great aviator and one heck of a lovable person. I last saw Charlie and his wife at the St. Louis Rattler Reunion. He was still the same Charlie...a gentleman you could never forget. God Bless Him...
(editor’s note: David O’Quinn informed the Association of the death of Mrs. Morehouse a couple of years ago)
On 15 May 1967, the Rattlers were given a mission of lifting some Grunts out of the boonies to another location. As was normal in the 1st Platoon, SSgt Lackey woke me up dark and early and I went to wake up my gunner, Jerry Tippitt. Well, Jerry was not able to fly that day because of too much partying the previous night. When I informed SSgt Lackey of this he went and woke up SP/5 Stan Larson, a crew chief, to fly as my gunner. Needless to say, Stan was not too happy about this, but grabbed his flight gear and piled into the ¾ ton platoon truck with the rest of us.
I had been flying with Jerry Tippitt for about three months by this time and Jerry always told me, “Nothing will ever happen to you as long as I’m with you”! So far, Jerry had been right. It seemed like every time he had a day off, the “you know what” hit the fan out there without him!
Because of the friendly troops near the LZ, the flight crews were told there would be negative suppression (no firing the M-60s) during this lift. As I recall, there were 10 Rattler lift ships, a light fire team of Firebirds, the Snakedoctor and C&C aircraft involved in the mission. My crew consisted of WO1 Jerry Shirley, aircraft commander, a WO1 Robinson as peter pilot, myself and Larson as the “Guys in Back”. Our position in the flight was about 8 ships back in the formation.
Coming out of the PZ, very quickly I heard, “Alpha 2 (the #2 aircraft in the flight) receiving fire from 9 o’clock”! This was followed almost immediately with, “Bravo 2 (the #4 aircraft in the flight) receiving fire from 9 o’clock!” By this time the old sphincter muscle is starting to quiver slightly because I know I am nearing the spot from which the flight is receiving fire and it is on my side.
Immediately following Bravo 2’s call, our flight commander spoke up and said something to the effect of, “Rattler flight, I think that is just some ‘trigger happy’ gunners wanting to fire their M-60s.”
Bear in mind that the sequence of events I am relating in this story are occurring about one or two seconds apart. At the exact moment that our flight commander ended his remark with, “fire their M-60s”, I hear a VERY LOUD WHAM! One second later Jerry Shirley barks out (on our intercom), “What’s the master caution for?” Mr. Robinson right back at him says, “Negative transmission oil pressure!” Jerry Shirley then tells the whole world, “Lead, this is one zero, we’re hit and going down”!
So much for a bunch of trigger happy door gunners! Someone should have been a little embarrassed in doubting what the crew chiefs were telling them about the fire from the left side.
Larson and I both opened up with the M-60s all the way down, which was probably 400 meters from where the fire was taken. We went into a small rice paddy that had knee deep water in it. Larson and I popped out from behind the guns, opened the pilot’s doors and slid the armor plate back (to give the pilots an easier path to unass the aircraft). Next, both Larson and I went back to pull off the M-60s. At the exact same instance, we both grabbed the VERY hot barrels and blistered the palms of our left hands.
The Firebirds never looked any prettier than they did as they set up a circle around us, daring anyone to try and move in on us.
Snakedoctor, with Charlie Morehouse at the controls, landed and their expert crew immediately found a transmission oil cooler line that had been severed by the gunfire. The guys had with them a small, hand held radiator with quick disconnect hoses that they attached to the transmission, by-passing the oil cooler. They replaced the lost transmission oil and out we came. A Snakedoctor crewman held this small radiator outside the aircraft door, letting the rushing air cool the oil.
Jerry Tippitt had been correct again about nothing ever happening to me when he was flying.
Stan Larson came to his first Rattler/Firebird Reunion in 2002 at Las Vegas. I told him to listen to this war story and tell me if any of it was wrong. After hearing my story, Stan said the only thing I had wrong was that HE was the crew chief, not me. I said, “Which side of the aircraft were you sitting on“? That ended his objections because he knew he was on the right (gunners) side and that it was my ship.
GENERAL WILLIAM CHILDS WESTMORELAND
Retired Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded American troops in Vietnam – the nation’s longest, most divisive conflict – died Monday night, July 28, 2005. He was 91. Gen. Westmoreland died of natural causes at Bishop Gadsden retirement home, where he had lived with his wife for several years, said his son, James Ripley Westmoreland.
The silver-haired, jut-jawed officer, who rose through the ranks quickly in Europe during World War II and later became superintendent of West Point, said the United States did not lose the conflict in Southeast Asia.
“It’s more accurate to say our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam,” he said. “By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling.”
He would later say he did not know how history would deal with him.“Few people have a field command as long as I did,” he said. “They put me over there, and they forgot about me. But I was there seven days a week, working 14 to 16 hours a day. “I have no apologies, no regrets. I gave my very best efforts,” he said. “I’ve been hung in effigy. I’ve been spat upon. You just have to let those things bounce off.”
Later, after many of the wounds caused by the divisive conflict began to heal, Gen. Westmoreland led thousands of his comrades in the November 1982 veterans march in Washington to dedicate the Vietnam War Memorial. He called it “one of the most emotional and proudest experiences of my life.”
William Childs Westmoreland was born near Spartanburg, S.C., on March 26, 1914, into a banking and textile family. His love of uniforms began early. He was an Eagle Scout and attended The Citadel for a year before transferring to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1936 and, during his senior year, held the highest command position of the cadet corps.
He saw action in North Africa, Sicily and Europe during World War II, and he attained the rank of colonel by the time he was 30. As commander of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion fighting German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, he earned the loyalty and respect of his troops for joining in the thick of battle.
He was promoted to brigadier general during the Korean War and later served in the Pentagon under Army Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor.
Gen. Westmoreland became the superintendent of West Point in 1960 and by, 1964, was a three-star general commanding troops in Vietnam.
After his tour in Vietnam, Gen. Westmoreland was promoted to Army chief of staff. He retired from active duty in 1972.
In 1982, he filed a $120 million lawsuit against CBS over the documentary The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, which implied that he had deceived President Lyndon Johnson and the public about enemy troops. Gen. Westmoreland said the question “is not about whether the war in Vietnam was right or wrong, but whether in our land a television network can rob an honorable man of his reputation.” After an 18-week trial, the case was settled.
In later years, Gen. Westmoreland spoke to Vietnam veterans. “That became, in effect, his raison d’etre,” his son said. “He did have a point of view on Vietnam, but he did not speak about that. “He was not out there trying to justify anything. He was there looking at the veterans with his wonderful presence.”
RETIREMENT CEREMONY of LTC KIRK MARTIN - 26 MAY 2005
By Phil Wood
Recently I had the privilege and honor to attend the retirement ceremony of LTC Kirk Martin at Beale AFB, California. When I'd last seen Colonel Martin he was Rattler 12, my first AC on 685 in 1968. Like most of our pilots he was a Warrant Officer at the time. I remember him as being one of the best pilots I flew with during my tour. Even though he made LTC. I still think of him as Mr. Martin even though these many years have passed.
Colonel Martin started his military career in July 1963 as a Crew Chief on a CH-47 where he made Sergeant in early 1965. He subsequently entered Warrant Officer Flight School in 1966 and upon graduation in 1967 he was assigned to the 71st AHC. After his first tour in ‘Nam he returned to the states and was an Instructor Pilot until he was assigned to a second tour in Nam in our same old AO around Chu Lai, however he was not with the 71st during his second tour.
During his second tour he was downed by enemy ground fire three times, the last time resulting in him being medivaced back to the states.
Colonel Martin was commissioned a First Lieutenant and eventually made Captain as a Company Commander. He left active duty in 1973 to attend college while remaining in the reserve for an additional six years. Eventually he returned to the military by joining the National Guard as a Staff Sergeant where he was told he was too old to regain his commission.
By 1992 he had attained the rank of First Sergeant in a Tank outfit. In September of 1992 he joined the Air Force as a Captain in the mental health and clinical social work fields because of his college training. During his Air Force career he served at five different Air Force bases ending his career as the commander of the 9th MDG at Beale AFB.
During the retirement ceremony I was proud to present him with a letter of commendation from Ron Seabolt on behalf of the Company A/501st Avn Bn / 71st AHC Association.
Due to the extensive behind the scenes efforts of his staff, without his knowledge, it was made possible for me to attend the on base ceremony. I could tell by their efforts to make his send off a very memorable one that they all hold him in the highest esteem, as do I. CLEAR LEFT Mr. Martin!
MY BEST ADVICE IGNORED AGAIN by Bob Falk (EM 66-67)
Back in ancient history I got married to a pretty nice girl. But as we all know, we Vietnam vets did not have a whole lot of luck with first marriages.
My first wife and I had two children, both girls, before things fell apart and I bailed out.
My two girls grew up and decided to join the Wisconsin National Guard. Both of them have been in the “Guard” for a little over 12 years now. The youngest daughter, Brenda, is still in. My oldest daughter, Margaret, just got our after her last enlistment ran out. She has two young children and decided to spend some time with them instead of Uncle Sam. She intends to re-enlist after the kids get older.
When they told me they were going to join the Army National Guard I told them to find a nice safe job in administration or something. Did they pay any attention to what their old man said? No!
Their mom is an L.P.N. so both kids were always medically oriented. You can guess where they both ended up in the “Guard”.
They were and Brenda still is flight medics in the 832nd Medical Company “Dustoff” Air Ambulance based out of West Bend, WI, flying in of all things the “Huey”.
The newest ship they fly in is a ’72 model and the oldest one they have is a ’65 model. The aircraft have all been re-built and well maintained but Christ, when I was in ‘Nam, I had a ’64, ’65 and ’66 model and they were almost new then. I guess those “Hueys” are tougher than I thought I thank God that the pilots and maintenance personnel are top notch, just like they were in Vietnam.
Both girls were activated because of the war in Iraq. The 832nd was sent to Ft. Lewis, WA to take the place of the 54th Med. M.A.S.T. “Dustoff” which was sent to Iraq because they had Blackhawks. The girls’ unit took the place of the 54th while it is deployed overseas.
Margaret and Brenda are both sergeants and their “old man” is extremely proud of them, even though I told them to stay away from “Hueys”. I still think it’s pretty cool that father and daughters both got to fly in the Army in the same aircraft.
With the arrival of a/501st, I was infused from one of the armed helicopter companies out of Saigon in December ’64. At reporting for duty, Major Henderson (the 1st Rattler 6) gave my assignment to the 3rd Platoon (Armed) and told me the story of his wife’s appreciation of the name “Firebird”. The Pure Oil Company in Dothan, AL would furnish decals for this platoon. Major Henderson gave me the option of selecting a platoon name, but Firebird sounded great to me.
I began training as Firebird 36 and operations kicked off in late December. After a few months of missions and in an area North of Bear Cat, a radio call was heard, “36 receiving fire”! Warrant Officer Bill Gault, flying as my wing, did his outstanding job and placed fire to give me protection. When I looked around I saw a large convoy of friendly South Vietnamese military troops.
There was only one problem. I had not received any fire! No one was injured but the circumstances caused me to look for a solution. Several alternatives were considered but rejected. As an Armored Battalion scout leader in a European assignment earlier, I was given the number 96. I liked the sound of it and so from this came my new call sign, Firebird 96 along with all the Firebirds who started using signs in the 90s. The commo people said we could not do that. Lot of good that did!
During the first couple of weeks of 1967, I was sitting in my room at the motel like structure we called the Villa in Bien Hoa, after supper, probably listening to a tape from home, or making one, when a brief knock on my door followed by the brilliance of another shining dome lighting up the room, announced the arrival of our Operations Officer, Rance Kirby. He advised that I would be taking two UH-ID’s accompanied by Bill Keller with a light Firebird gun team, to Song Be the following day. Our mission was classified and would last about three or four days. The Special Forces B Team headquarters would brief us when we arrived. We were not to mention our destination to anyone before we left Bien Hoa.
WO Dave Richard flew with me, and WO George Bailey and WO Ronald Rudolph flew the second UH-ID. I cannot pin down our crew chiefs and gunners. George Bailey has already written about his most memorable moments on this foray. We lost Ron Rudolph and any light he could shed on our story, during his second tour in Vietnam, so I am indebted to any reader who remembers the names of those Rattler or Firebird crewmen whose names and faces have been buried beyond the reach of my recall.
The flight to Song Be was routine. It was a CAVU (clear and visibility unlimited) day and we were directed to the larger Song Be airfield where we found a platoon of Thunderbird Hueys (118th AHC), also from the 145th CAB, who had arrived ahead of us. The Thunderbird aircraft had been stripped of their guns and had outrigger assemblies for McGuire Rigs mounted just forward of the crew chief’s and gunners compartments.
We unloaded our gear and reported to the Special Forces compound where we found a GP tent already furnished with cots awaiting our arrival.
A briefing was scheduled for early afternoon at which we were advised that our mission was to insert and recover mercenary Recondo teams (Cambodian, Saigon dock workers [???], Laotians, etc.) in an area between Song Be and the Cambodian border. The 118th Thunderbirds would be performing a similar mission with the US MACV Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) teams to the south of our area.
Our mercenary Recondo teams, each composed of four men, would have 1:25,000 strip maps covering an area 10,000 meters in length and 2,000 meters in width. We were to insert each team at one end of their map and return to the opposite end of the map 24 hours later to retrieve them. That was the good news.
The bad news was that our teams would travel light – only personal weapons, minimum rations, and 2 cans of colored smoke, but no radios. The two cans of smoke would be ignited in a given sequence when we returned to pick them up. The first color would identify their exact location and the second color in the designated order would identify them as our Recondos. As we closed on the pickup point each of the Recondos would be wearing their teams three-colored banded scarf around their necks to further designate them as friendly personnel. A Special Forces NCO would ride in the lead gunship making the first pass over the pickup point to confirm a positive identification of the Recondo team. A thumbs down by the NCO would initiate a command to the trailing gunship to open fire on the ground party at which time the pickup aircraft following the second gunship would break out of the approach line and quickly clear the area. This abort pickup maneuver would happen in just a matter of seconds. Fortunately we never had to execute the drill. Occasionally I still wonder if this action was ever necessary at any time during the war, or if it just remained a planning precaution in case a team of Recondos were captured and replaced by VC to ambush the recovery force.
We would insert two Recondo teams the following morning and two additional teams that same afternoon. The Special Forces NCO advised that he would have rope ladders, and D rings to attach the ladders to floor of the helicopters, available at launch time the next day in case they were needed for insertion or retrieval of the teams.
After a question and answer session we retired to the bar for refreshment before supper. Probably the most quoted epitaph of my Vietnam days was the sign that hung over the door into the Song Be Special Forces Club – “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for I am the meanest bastard in the valley.” Beyond the door stretched a bar with a six-door mess hall refrigerator serving as its rear wall and suds cooler. The upper center door was decorated with a giant Purple Heart medal painted over and around a 50-caliber size bullet hole in the door.
The Song Be bar was not very large and as we strolled through the door I heard Bill Keller exclaim, “What are you doing here?” Thinking he had run into a old friend, I turned to see his wife LaRue responding with a similar question.
LaRue was an outstanding army nurse who was stationed at Long Binh when the 71st was at Bien Hoa. When she had a rare day off she visited the Villa to be with Bill. I remember one young Warrant Officer paraphrasing the artillery motto when LaRue was dining with us at the Villa mess hall, “LaRue adds class to what otherwise would be a sordid affair” and he wasn’t referring to Bill, but to all the Rattler pilots who were lucky enough to meet her in Bien Hoa. I don’t remember the name of the hospital ward LaRue worked in at Long Binh; perhaps it was the neuro ward because the patients all seemed to have serious head wounds. She commented one day that it was hard to get many of her patients to eat and especially to drink, but also stated that she was successful many times in getting them to drink Kool Aid when she could find it. Soon a cardboard box appeared outside Bill Keller’s door and Kool Aid packages were deposited almost daily after mail call when a lot of Rattler and Firebird families started including small Kool Aid packages wrapped in their letters from home. Whenever someone had a day off and decided to go to the PX at Long Binh they would deliver the Kool Aid to La Rue at the hospital. I made the Kool Aid run only once – it was not a visit I cared to make again – so many young men in such serious condition. My respect for all Army nurses and especially LaRue Keller was cemented for life in that few minutes. I hope the families of those young men who passed through that ward on their way home realize in some small way how lucky they were to have LaRue, and all the Army nurses she represented so well, present at that perilous time of their loved ones lives.
Back to Song Be – on this particular day LaRue had been sent to Song Be on TDY to assist visiting doctors and medical personnel at the Provincial Hospital. The bar was like home that evening.
The next morning the air was cool and brisk as we walked to the Song Be mess hall a little before sun up. A light fog wafted across the river in the valley below. It was the kind of morning that made a cup of mess hall coffee taste better than it really was. After a quick breakfast the crew chiefs and gunners left for the flight line and the pilots assembled with the SF Operations Officer where we received maps of the area of operations for the day. We would insert two Recondo teams in the morning and another two teams in the afternoon. Our area of operations would be North-Northwest of Song Be near the Cambodian border. Since most of our crews had not been in this area in a good while we marked the general area in which we hoped to find a good LZ corresponding to the strip maps being used by each of the Recondo teams. Each slick crew was issued a new fifty-foot rope ladder and “D” rings for attachment to tie down points of the cargo compartment floor. There were a few questions and we loaded up for the ride to the airfield.
The Recondo teams arrived at our ships shortly after we completed our preflight inspections. As the Special Forces NCO and the eight Recondos piled out of their truck I began to wonder what I really was getting myself into. I had never seen any Nungs that I knew of, but these fellows fit the general description of articles I had read. They were noticeably taller then most Vietnamese, dressed in black pajama type civilian clothing. Their equipment included AR-15 rifles, crossed bandoliers of ammunition hung over each shoulder Poncho Villa style. A belt around the waist supported one or two canteens, several antipersonnel grenades and/or smoke grenades, and a first aid bandage. Some carried flashlights and each of them carried personal knives of various shapes and descriptions somewhere, readily accessible on their body – on their backs behind their necks, or strapped at an angle on their chest, stuck in waistbands and/or attached to one of their boots. These knives definitely were not for whittling. What appeared to be a small can or two of rations was stuffed into a sock and tied to their waistbands. I did not notice any visible striped scarves as they boarded the aircraft. I remember thinking they definitely were not someone I’d bring home and introduce to my sister.
I believe a Special Force NCO (an interpreter) boarded each ship with the Recondo team and our grand little armada was off to seek “fun and adventure.”
The morning insertions were uneventful – the pilots got to pick accessible LZ’s. The UH-ID making the insertion went in low level while the second UH-ID stayed at altitude and vectored the insertion ship to the drop site. The gunships orbited at altitude within sight of the insertion ships but at enough distance, hopefully, to confuse any ground observers trying to identify the actual LZ.
In the afternoon George Bailey’s second Recondo team was deposited without incident, however the only open area Dave Richard and I could find for our drop was a sand bar below a curve in a riverbed. As we ducked down to tree top level we discovered the actual riverbed on the approach to the sand bar had steep banks about six feet tall with extremely large trees sheltering both sides of the river. The approach clearance was wide enough for us to drop down below the treetops and make a high hover over the river as we rounded the bend toward the sand bar, which at this point was out of our line of sight. George Bailey, in the high ship guided us down the river estimating the distance around the curve to the sand bar. Somewhere near the apex of the bend in the river I detected movement to the left of the ship. Glancing out of the door window I found myself looking eyeball to eyeball with a VC perched in the fork of a large tree on the river bank – black pajamas, conical hat hanging on his back, and a rifle aimed straight at us – everything happened extremely fast but it still remains as a vivid imprint in my mind to this day.
My sighting was almost instantaneous with the VC’s single shot accompanied by the thump of his muzzle blast. A rapid burst of about three rounds from the crew chief’s door gun responded.
Gunfire was still ringing in my ears as we rounded the bend in the river and the VC flashed out of sight. I asked if anyone was hit. The crew chief responded that he thought we both missed each other, and added he bet that fellow’s (he may have used something more descriptive such as “SOB”) britches were full of crap though! I had to assume he was only talking about the VC.
By this time we were approaching the sandbar and our Recondos were standing in each door ready to jump out. I looked back at the Special Forces NCO and he gave a thumbs up. We came to a six inch hover and the Recondos leaped out on the sandbar. By the time the crew chief gave the all clear and we were pulling pitch for take off, the last of the Recondo team had cleared the shallow water on the left side of the sandbar and were disappearing over the top of the river bank and into the jungle.
It didn’t seem like we were more than 100 yards from our exchange of fire with the VC lookout, however we were around the bend and out of direct sight. I remember thinking I was glad I wasn’t a Recondo that day.
Our second morning was again bright and clear, a little warmer, but still a beautiful day. We timed our lift-off to be at the morning pickup points exactly twenty four hours after inserting our respective teams the previous day.
The Special Forces NCO rode in the lead Firebird gunship. A second Special Forces SFC was at the airfield with our crew chiefs and gunners when the truck load of pilots arrived. He was assigned to the Song Be B Team Headquarters and he looked too clean cut to be a field advisor. From his conversation we finally came to the conclusion that he was a staff language specialist. He was carrying a brand new Bowie knife with the chrome blade still slick and shiny, looking like it just came out of a new box. He asked if he could ride on the morning mission with us and since I assumed he was an interpreter, I told him to hop aboard. While we were preflighting I noticed that he had the Bowie knife out of its sheath checking the blade, obviously very proud of his new possession.
Our four ships launched and as we approached the recovery area the Firebirds identified the first plume of smoke coming up – the right color. Keller lined up for a low pass with his wingman when the second correct color of smoke appeared from pickup point.
Dave Richard and I were flying the pickup ship for this team and we lined up at a reasonable distance behind the gunships. Dave had the controls while I handled the maps and radios. The Special Forces observer aboard Keller’s gunship confirmed the colors of the Recondo’s identity scarves and identified the Recondo team members as friendly. We came in low only to discover that the LZ was at the bottom of a giant hole stretching down through multiple layers of jungle, reminiscent of a large mine shaft. The floor of the hole probably looked very clean to the Recondos after being in the surrounding jungle, but all we could see were large bushes and scrub trees, definitely not a clear place to touch down on the Huey’s skids.
Dave came to hover at the top of the hole and began descending down the shaft. We slowly cleared the first canopy of trees, then the second canopy, and finally we were level with the third canopy.
The crew chief pushed the rope ladder out the door and told the Special Forces SFC to signal his men to come up one at a time. The ladder was at ground level and the first man made the long climb up fighting the downward rotor draft. The crew chief grabbed his hand and pulled him aboard. Both the crew chief and gunner were hanging out the doors checking main rotor and tail rotor clearances. I was watching forward and monitoring the RPM indicator. So far so good and then the RPM gauge started easing down below 6600. As I looked back at the crew chief he was staring down the ladder and waving his hand in a downward motion. He pulled his head back in the door and hit his mic button and said “The remaining three are all trying to come up the ladder at the same time.”
The Special Forces sergeant shouting down the ladder realized that the Recondos could not hear him over the turbine roar and wind. The RPM loss continued and Dave milked every control he could to keep us in a controlled RPM range. The RPM finally broke the 6000 mark and the ship began a slow counter clockwise spin.
I told the crew chief to get the Recondos off the ladder any way he could – which he relayed to the Special Forces SFC as “Cut the damn rope ladder!” Meanwhile I continued to read out the RPM while Dave maintained rotor clearance from limbs reaching out from the surrounding jungle. Bill Keller radioed “27 (or whatever my Rattler number was at the time) your mic’s hot!” I replied “Roger” as I flipped my radio switch to intercom. At a reunion 35 years later I admitted that I had left my mic switch on “transmit” intentionally in case we lost control while we were down in that jungle “mineshaft.” In theory, someone would know what had happened if we went down, it seemed logical then.
By this time the Special Forces SFC was on his hands and knees trying to saw one of the upright strands of the rope ladder with his new, but obviously dull, Bowie knife. At this point the crew chief’s patience ran out and in my peripheral vision I saw his body dive headfirst across the rear seat of the cargo compartment swinging a machete at the rope near one of its “D” ring connections on the cargo compartment deck. We could feel the impact of the machete blade as it smashed through the rope biting deeply into the cargo floor plate.
There was a slight bounce and the RPM stabilized momentarily. I could see the crew chief pulling a flailing rope ladder up into the cargo compartment. He glanced up and gave me a quick thumbs up indicating that the Recondos were now off the ladder. When he plugged his helmet back into the radio jack he told us that the three Recondos were still close to the ground when the ladder swung on its single remaining rope. They fell to the ground but didn’t appear to be injured.
Our horizontal rotation had almost ceased when suddenly there was a whopping thump in the rear of the aircraft followed by a metallic grinding noise trumpeting through the tailboom firewall into the cargo compartment.
Swinging back into his seat from hanging out the door to check the rear of the ship, the crew chief confirmed our initial suspicions – “Big limb sir! We got a tail rotor strike but I can’t tell how bad it is.”
Our RPM had just eased back into the green and we were beginning to inch up, out of the “mine shaft.”
What seemed like forever, but in reality was probably only a minute or less brought us to the top of the trees. Another flashback of that time is a memory of the intense look of concentration on Dave Richard’s face – reminiscent of a weight lifter physically picking that Huey up with two big mitts locked on the controls.
As we cleared the top of the trees and rolled the nose over to gain flying speed and more forward control from the tail boom, Keller who was now aware of our predicament radioed that Bu Dop looked like the nearest friendly area to land. One of the gunships fell in astern of us as we set a course for Bu Dop. The remaining gunship stayed on station to cover George Bailey as he maneuvered into position to retrieve the three Recondos we left on the ground.
Our short flight to the Bu Dop Special Forces fort was uneventful other than the four sets of now highly tuned ears listening intently to the steady loud grinding noise from the tailboom. We managed to relay a radio message to the Snake Doctor, our maintenance ship, at Bien Hoa, and they responded that they were on the way. Bu Dop was a Special Forces A Team / CIDG fort and encampment approximately 5 to 7 km from the Cambodian border. Approaching from a distance, the initial impression of the fort was like watching the introduction to a John Wayne western. In the middle of nowhere appears a large square log fort, reinforced by a high earthen parapet, inside of, and supporting the vertical logs which lined the outer perimeter. There is a large heavy gated entrance on one side of the fort and each corner is anchored by a circular mortar or machine gun emplacement.
The inside of the fort was a patchwork of small buildings and tents. The jungle had been bulldozed back to about a hundred yards surrounding the fort. A 2900 ft laterite runway paralleled the east side of the camp.
A C130 was running up on the end of the runway, while an older contraption that turned out to be an Australian road grader was smoothing the right shoulder of the runway at the opposite end of the airfield.
We were relieved when the C130 “Rogered” our call on guard frequency, advising that we were making a straight in-running landing over his present position. Dave made a perfect running touch down and we skidded down the left side of the runway slowly swerving to the left off the runway shoulder before coming to a rocking halt.
Everyone piled out of the ship – the crew to inspect the damage to the tail rotor and the Special Forces NCO with his single Recondo, obviously happy just to be on the ground.
Keller’s gunship continued down the runway on a low pass. As soon as he saw we were in good shape he climbed back to altitude to join Bailey and his Firebird wingman that were completing the morning Recondo pickups.
The C130 resumed his run up for a short field take off and was wheels up by the time he cleared our position along the runway boundary. Someone made the comment that he must be empty showing off like that.
As the dust cleared we were still standing below the tail boom looking at the tail rotor. The damage appeared light relative to the volume of noise we had experienced. An irregular 8 inch strip of the rotor covering had been peeled off the outside tip of one end of the tail rotor. No oil appeared to be leaking from the tail rotor transmission, however the grinding noise we heard sounded like more than an out of balance rotor.
A jeep departed the gate from the Bu Dop fort and came toward our ship. In addition to the driver and a Special Forces Captain in the front seats, four well armed natives which looked similar to our Nung Recondo team were arranged sitting, standing, and hanging off the back of the vehicle. The Captain was the A-Team commander and the Nungs were his personal body guards. It will suffice to say that none of our crew seemed eager to make any sudden moves in the presence of the Captain.
We exchanged greetings and were invited to come into the camp for lunch while we were waiting for Bob Treats’ Snake Doctor to arrive. The Nungs piled out of the jeep and we climbed aboard prepared to return to the fort. The Nungs positioned themselves with two on either side of the jeep ready to jog along as our escort. The A Team commander who personified all of the early movies and stories about the Green Berets took his seat in front. I was sorry to hear later in my first tour that he had been relieved of his command for some payroll discrepancy.
Before the jeep started to roll someone pointed out three helicopters approaching Bu Dop from the East. Something was hanging below the lead ship. The jeep stopped as we watched the formation come closer. A large white spot on the nose of the lead ship indicated that this was the rest of our Recondo armada. As the ships came closer we could see that a man was hanging on a rope ladder dangling below the leading slick. I remember feeling relieved that we had retrieved at least one more Recondo.
The tally was better than “one.” As George Bailey came to a high hover over the runway, his crew chief leaned out of his compartment checking the Recondos height above the ground and talked George down. We bailed out of the jeep and ran to help. It seemed to take an eternity to break the young Recondo’s grip from the rope ladder. We got him loose an helped him off the side of the runway. When the dust cleared, George had hovered forward and touched down with the remaining two Recondos of the team sitting on the floor of the cargo compartment. We helped the ladder rider stagger over to the right door of the ship to join his buddies. He sat down on the floor forward of the gunners seat with his feet hanging out the door and fainted, falling back into the cargo compartment. The Special Forces men worked over him for what seemed like a long time but was probably only a minute or two, before they revived him.
George Bailey left his three Recondos at Bu Dop with us and then left with Keller’s Firebirds to pick up the second Recondo team inserted the previous morning.
The local Army 0-1 Bird Dog driver from Song Be landed at Bu Dop after lunch and I took the opportunity to update my map of the nearby border while we were waiting for the Snake Doctor to arrive. The Bu Dop Special Forces Camp was approximately 5 to 7 km from the Cambodian border, which in this area was delineated by a stretch of a tributary to the Mekong River.
The previous day when we were inserting the Recondo teams I had been looking for the river as a reference point and had been unable to see it anywhere as we flew over the jungle area. I could see a sizable tin roofed building which the map indicated was just across the border in Cambodia, but I could not distinguish any landmark, especially the river, which would identify the actual border.
After trying to describe the river, the 0-1 pilot said, "Come on, I need to look over that area, I'll take you up and show you." We were still waiting on the arrival of the Snake Doctor and I had nothing better to do so once again I experienced the “togetherness” of being cramped in the backseat of a Bird Dog.
The 0-1 driver was making his rounds as we worked our way toward the border and I saw the sun reflecting off the tin roofed building before we arrived over the jungle area which concealed the border. The 0-1 banked, started a lazy circle and the pilot said, "Check out the hole at 10 o'clock, they're building a new bridge over the river." but I still didn't see it! He made another circle, and then leveled off and said, "9 o'clock –see it now?"- and there in a blink, I caught sight of newly cut lumber and a brief reflection of sunlight on a small green patch of water which blended into the surrounding green of the jungle canopy. The bridge was wide enough for both carts and vehicles to cross, with planks laid to reinforce two tread lanes on top of the spaced timber cross pieces. Obviously, there was more than a foot trail moving southeast beneath the jungle canopy. More important to me was the knowledge that I now had a fairly good idea of where the border was, along with a better appreciation of what else probably was resting under the trees in that part of the jungle –it was definitely not a place to go sight seeing and the Bird Dog drivers did it all the time!
As we approached Bu Dop I could see the Snake Doctor on the ground near our ship and its crew already examining or working on our tail rotor.
I believe that Bob Treat's maintenance crew installed a complete tail rotor assembly on our ship – I remember being impressed at how fast they completed the job and had us ready to launch again.
We bid farewell to our Bu Dop hosts and while Dave Richards was climbing to altitude over Bu Dop I tried to contact George Bailey on the radio. Bill Keller responded and advised that George and his crew were down, and the Firebirds were flying cover while waiting for the Thunderbirds to arrive from Song Be to pick up George's crew and seven Recondos on the ground. There appeared to be no major injuries. So far the crash site was quiet with no VC activity in the area. George Bailey described this episode in the May 2004 issue of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company Association Newsletter. I remember seven Recondos being at Georges pick-up location in the afternoon and in later discussions with the Special Forces B Team staff it was unclear how the two Recondo teams had managed to join up after being inserted at separate locations and supposedly conducting reconnaissance in different directions. The Special Forces version of the missing eighth Recondo was that his team members reported that they were near the village he was from and he decided to go AWOL and visit his family. Who knows!
Bailey's pickup point was in line with our flight path from Bu Dop to Song Be and we could see the circling Firebirds at a distance. Enroute we noticed one possible VC quickly crossing a small stream but he did not appear to be armed and was heading away from the crash site.
Circling the downed ship once, we left Bailey and his crew in the Firebirds' more capable care and continued toward Song Be, radioing ahead to request that the Special Forces meet us at the helipad with chain saws, axes, and rope to lower them to the crash party.
We touched down at the helipad and as fast as the Recondos exited one door of our ship the Special Forces team members were loading the requested equipment and possibly some bottled water in the opposite door.
As we departed the helipad the Thunderbirds were arriving in Song Be with two Recondos swinging below each of their ships in McGuire rigs.
We returned to the crash site and hovered off to one side while the crew
chief and gunner lowered the chain saws and axes by rope, and Bailey's crew
returned their radios,
door guns, ammunition and other loose equipment back up the same ropes to our aircraft. George's crew managed to cut some of the trees and taller brush close-in around the downed Huey to assist the CH-47 in lifting the aircraft when it arrived. George notes in his discussion of "Two-Nine Going Down" that a maintenance man was brought in to rig his ship for sling loading out by a Chinook that arrived from Tan Son Nhut. Here again my memory is dim but I believe Bob Treat's Snake Doctor was contacted en route back to Bien Hoa after replacing our tail rotor, and they arrived at the crash location before the Chinook arrived from Tan Son Nhut. I don't remember exactly how the rigger got down on the ground to assist the crew in preparing the downed ship for retrieval by the Ch-47.
The last two men to be lifted out by the Thunderbirds and their McGuire rigs were WO Ron Rudolph and his gunner. These two Rattler trapeze artists were flown to the Song Be City airstrip where after having their sweat dried at 60 plus knots they were lowered to the ground where they unassed their harness and quickly cleared the runway.
Their Thunderbird rescuer began slowly hovering down the runway while the crew chief and possibly the gunner began pulling the dragging McGuire straps and belts into the cargo compartment of the UH-1
It was at this point that the fickle finger of fate struck. In early 1967 the Air Force stationed an 0-1 Bird Dog and its crew, TDY to Song Be to serve as the close air support controller for jet fighter (and A-1) strikes in the area. An Air Force Major and his crew chief were attached to the Special Forces for billets and support. During the Major's stay in Song Be, he had been designated the "Airfield Commander" by the Special Forces B Team, complete with an office and NOTAM's bulletin board. Since the bulletin board was in the hallway leading to the Song Be mess hall I had stopped there several times to see if there was anything interesting as I went to and from the Special Forces B Team offices. The only official bulletin posted was a terse two line official directive signed by the Major as Airfield Commander which read, "There will be no buzzing of the Song Be (City) Airstrip by any aircraft."
As the Thunderbird Huey continued down the runway at a high hover collecting its McGuire rig straps, the Major's 0-1, with his crew chief aboard returned to Song Be from a mission and seeing all the helicopter traffic on the ground at the City strip, apparently decided to buzz the runway at low level to let the Special Forces or other air crews on the ground know that he was in the area and would be landing. I remember some discussion that his available radio frequencies to contact army units were limited.
Unfortunately he did not see the Thunderbird UH-1 slowly hovering along the runway collecting its McGuire lines and the two aircraft had a midair collision about 20 feet above the ground. The Huey's main rotor sliced through the 0-1's cockpit decapitating the Major and probably was the cause of death of the crew chief sitting in the rear seat of the Bird Dog.
Fortunately Ron Rudolph and his gunner had managed to clear the runway and were not struck by any of the debris from the crash. I believe the Thunderbird crew survived the crash although all of them were seriously injured and at least two of them were Med-Evaced to the States shortly after the crash.
After this debacle I was extremely relieved when a Jolly Green Giant (HH-3) appeared in the Rattler crash area and lifted George Bailey, his crew chief, and the rigger to safety after the Chinook picked up Bailey's down aircraft. I always wondered if the HH-3 was passing through the area, or just where he came from until this year (some 38 years later) when Bill Keller told me he had radioed Air Rescue in Saigon when he saw Georges aircraft pancake.
Late that afternoon I attended a debriefing at the Special Forces B Team headquarters where it was decided that enough information had been gathered by the American LRRP and Vietnamese Recondo teams to support current planning requirements, and both the Rattlers and the Thunderbird aircraft would be released to return to Bien Hoa. I thought to myself – they were kind enough not to say we had caused so much excitement over the area that their mission was probably compromised.
I suspect some of the information gathered was preparatory for planning Operations Cedar Falls and Junction City, which the 71st AHC participated in the following weeks and months.
OUR MEN KIA THAT WE NEED PHOTOS OF:
(send to Gary White, see Odds & Ends section)
Jerry Wayne Osborn KIA 1 April 65