A Vietnam Retrospective
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In mid July I flew on a couple of spray missions (defoliants) up in the mountains. The chemical
people would rig a large, semi-clear plastic barrel within the cargo bay, and it had two 10
or 15 foot long spray rods sticking out either side. The shit in the barrel looked like apple
juice. We flew way up in the mountains and would fly up these little valleys and there,
below, were these magnificent terraced rice paddies occupying every available piece of flat
ground. There would be ducks and water buffalo and the paddies had strips of white cloth to
scare away the birds but absolutely no evidence of human inhabitants. They would tend these
fields at night and disappear by daylight.
Above was my "spray ship" at
the time. "Satan" UH-1H 68-15463.
We'd fly right down the center and give the crop a good coating. It was explained to me that up in these "free-fire zones," the VC and NVA would grow as much food stuffs as possible to eliminate hauling food from the north. If you gave the paddy a heavy dose, the rice plant turned brown and fell over dead. If you gave it a light coat, the plant would continue to grow but upon harvest time, there would be no rice within. It was also explained that they would pretty much let you through the first day, but upon your return the following day, stand by! ---- Kham Duc ----
Apparently the word got around to the local "comrades" that we'd come calling and the next day, as we made the same route for our follow-up, the surrounding hillsides came alive with these little green tracers. We took about six hits but none where critical. It would be years later before I would hear of the impact of the use of defoliants.
Late July and early August 1970 were spent deep in Indian Country, doing the Kham Duc Operation just miles from Laos. Kham Duc, a Special Forces outpost and airfield, had been overrun in May of 1968 and a lot of U.S. troops had been lost and unaccounted for. Several 174th pilots and crews were decorated for heroism during the evacuation.
In late July the whole Battalion was used to insert troops, secure the airfield and, I was to find out later, attempt to locate American remains. I don't, to this day, know the final outcome, but I'm sure everyone who flew out there found it to be extremely hairy and almost ghost-like.
The photos above are Kham Duc 1970. Those are ammo dumps exploding.
The XO at this time was Captain Ken Parris who, at the direction of Major Blackburn (Dolphin 6), was to fly in the lead aircraft. The Major wanted him to have at least one good war story before he went home. According to the AC, CW2 Dennis Casey, Captain Parris entered the aircraft wearing full body armor, which he'd ordered just for such a mission. It was so heavy that Mr. Casey experienced difficulty in exiting the revetment.
Major Blackburn ordered Parris to remove the body anchors and get on with the mission. Upon Captain Parris's departure from the
unit, the Sharks gave him a Shark patch that read "Shithead 6" which Ken described to me recently
as his proudest possession (see a photo of Parris wearing his Shark Patch at the bottom of Part 2).
August 8, while flying as C&C on a combat assault, Captain Alvord and I got shot down over the
Battagan Peninsula in Major Fred Blackburn's brand new H-model #200. A total of ten pax
(passeners), including the crew, walked away uninjured. Dolphin 200 was a complete loss as
it burned totally. Bill Wilder was the crewchief and he was the only casualty emotionally as we
reassigned him a "dog" aircraft as a replacement bird. It was the first of three "shoot downs"
Wilder and I would survive together. We referred to each other as 'magnet ass' after that.
The six photos above are of our "shoot-down" of UH-1H 69-15200.
CPT Alvord is in the far-right bottom photo, watching the ship burn to the ground.
Soon after the 200 incident I got assigned as the Assistant Operations Officer.
I got a medal and got to stay up all night in the air conditioned OPS (Operations) hootch, matching
available crews to aircraft with blade time for the following days missions. The missions would be called in from the 11th LIB (Light Infantry Brigade), the 14th Aviation Battalion, or the 16th Aviation Group. The missions consisted of combat assaults, resupplying the field units of the 11th LIB LRRP insertion/extractions, and loans to other aviation units for CA's, etc. (LRRP stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols.)
In September, 1LT Gilchrist got shot doing resupply down in the Rice Bowl. He went home and wrote to the unit that a "DFC would really help his career." They posted the letter in the officers club. Ouch!
In the course of that summer, I got an opportunity to fly virtually every type of mission, in every type of terrain and weather condition, day and night. One of the most memorable was as peter-pilot to CW2 Floyd King on "Smokey" during a rainy day, combat assault at the base of the jungled mountains. I think it was Dolphin 503 that had the smoke outfit installed, to include a monster .50 caliber machine gun mounted in the cargo bay. You could only fire the thing out the left door, so you'd lay the smoke in the LZ in a clockwise rotation (breaking right). I may be wrong, but I think Sp/4 Dave Smalley was the crewchief at the time.
”Smokey” (UH-1H 67-17503) doing what she did best- over LZ Delta 1970
The C & C aircraft would make a low pass into the designated location and drop a colored smoke which marked the beginning of the excitement and identify the playing field. The Sharks followed almost immediately with rockets and mini-gun to loosen up the surrounding tree lines, and to keep Charlie's heads down. As the Sharks were doing this, Floyd would scream low-level up the left side of the LZ, trailing this noxious smelling fog layer. Simultaneously, Smalley fired these .50 caliber 'flaming basketballs' out the left side, and into the tree line that was less than twenty feet out the left side of the aircraft. At the end of the LZ, Floyd would break hard right and box the entire LZ with the smoke as we'd scream out almost from the direction that we'd gone in, leaving a large horseshoe appearing, dense smoke trail. ------------------------
As we left the LZ, the lead slick was generally on short final to drop his troops. I have never before witnessed or been part of anything as spectacular or terrifying as a well executed combat assault. Every half-second that .50 fired, the loud, thumping, staccato concussion jarred the aircraft to the right slightly, and with the sight and sounds of the Sharks rockets streaking overhead with almost immediate thunderous impacts, so close by, was just too incredible. The total combination of that big gun going off, the impacting of the Shark's rockets, the screaming 'brrrrr' of their mini-guns, with the constant wopping of the multitude of Huey blades, in such close proximity, made the ride in "Smokey" the ultimate in "E Coupon" experiences. I was convinced that Floyd King either had no nerve endings whatsoever, or testicles the size of grapefruits. No Hollywood production would ever come close to duplicating anything as adrenaline-producing as what I'd just experienced.
End of Part 4 of 20 Parts.
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