174th Assault
Helicopter Company


Biography of

Fred Thompson
Shark 7

A Vietnam Retrospective

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I made no more entries to my day-date diary until Thursday, February 18th. Partially, as I recall, due to restrictive weather. The few times we didn't have missions, or the weather was hosed, we holed up in the tent and wrote letters and listened to one of the guy's transistor radios.

On one particularly heavy rain day, we got the entire "Thrilla From Manilla" on AFVN. It was one of the big fights between Mohammed Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier. It was one of the few things that transported us emotionally out of madness and terror, if only for the moment.

Another tension easer was walking over to the (north) end of the Quang Tri active and listening for the giant C-130's as they would land or take off through the fog. We'd stand there in the fogged darkness and we'd hear the incredible roar of their engines as they'd reverse their props and screamed directly at us. Their landing lights would light up the fog and when it seemed they were about to run us over, they'd come rolling to a sudden halt out of the fog and turn west, just feet from where we would be standing.

On the morning of the 18th, Sappers blew up the Quang Tri ammo dump to the south of our location (photo below) There were almost continual explosions from 4:30 AM to 7:30 AM.

On Friday, February 19th, Captain Mike Ackerman and CW2 Dennis McCabe left Quang Tri to go home. As replacements, 1Lt Bennie Holmes was assigned to the Sharks, as was WO P.J. Roths. Bennie was a newly arrived 2nd tour pilot that had flown his first tour as a Warrant Officer. P.J. came directly from flight school and wasn't necessarily thrilled about going to the guns.

Above (with Shark UH-1C 65-09470): At tail boom left- WO1 P.J. Roths.
At the A/C door right- 1LT Bennie Holmes. (March 1971)

When he voiced his displeasure, Jarvis "Sugar Bear" Gambrill (pictured at left) almost crawled out of his skin and made a big stink, yelling and screaming: "It's an honor to fly with the Sharks! If he don't want to be here, we sure as shit ain't gonna put up with him cluttering up our space..." etc., etc. I pulled P.J. aside and explained the benefits in regards to just what our slick pilots were being confronted with as opposed to what was expected of us, in the gun platoon. Things quieted down, but I don't think P.J. and Sugar Bear ever spoke a word to each other after that first day. P.J. would fly with us.

In addition to Bennie and P.J., we were assigned a new Shark 6. Rather than one of the 174th commissioned officers, a captain named McGaffick came to us. He had been a front seat Cobra jock on either his first tour or from a different unit on his current tour. I never heard anything good or bad about him and had no contact with the guy. We became so short of personnel that he showed up and went out immediately on a mission.

We were out at Khe Sahn when we got word that one of our aircraft had gone down at Vandergrif. Apparently, Captain McGaffick had tried a Cobra type take off in a loaded Charlie-model. He was flying 507 which at one time had been the "Have Guns, Will Travel" aircraft, crewed by Ralph Carty and Bob Jansen. Gary Harter had painted up the panels in Duc Pho as a stately looking warrior woman, holding a sword with one breast bared. His inspiration had, in fact, been one of his favorite Beatle songs, "Lady Madonna," but the aircraft soon had the nickname of the "Battlin' Bitch."

Above is UH-1C 65-09507 “Have Gun Will Travel” at Duc Pho. That’s C/E SP4 Bob Jansen seated inside (I think). Though I was an A/C (Aircraft Commander) by now, I was Co-Piloting this day ( I forget the circumstance and who was the A/C). This was a very fine gunship (a "Master of Disaster"). I took this photo very late in 1970 (just before our Unit move to Quang Tri).

Both above photos are of Harter’s artwork change to “Battlin’ Bitch” Jan. 1971.

Above: Shark #507 at Vandy just prior to “accidental” loss.

Anyway, Shark #507 had a 40mm grenade launcher mounted on the nose. The McGaffick take-off dug the barrel into the deck and broke all the hardpoints in the ship. We'd lost a reliable aircraft and we never saw or heard from McGaffick again. He would be replaced by another unknown captain (to us) named Jeff Weller.

I don't recall how long he was with us, but it couldn't have been much more than a week before Captain Greg Smith of maintenance replaced him.


End of Part 14 of 20 Parts.
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