174th Assault
Helicopter Company


Biography of

Fred Thompson
Shark 7

A Vietnam Retrospective

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Once Mo arrived, he found what we had. You can't fly through bamboo. He couldn't get close to them, so he had to hover over the top and try the winch.

Bruce had been hit twice with .51 cal rounds. His left femur was shattered into three pieces and the leg had swollen up nearly twice its size. Another round had gone through his lower left leg. Souders had a chunk of metal through the back of one of his legs.

Jansen and Adams moved Marshall to the winch and I believe Adams carried him and held his leg together, up into the dustoff ship. I probably imagined it, but I thought I could hear his screams from above the turbines as we circled close by.

Souders went up next, and finally Jansen. It was while Jansen was loading that the winch jammed, and there was Bob, just dangling. They yelled to him to hold on tight and Mo kinda lifted out, dragging Jansen through about twenty yards of brush.

We followed them back to Khe Sahn, all the time hearing this eerie whistling sound from our blades. When we shut down, we found that a .51 tracer had nearly cut our leading blade spar in half, about four feet from the end of the blade. The top of the blade, where the round went through, was burned about six inches towards the middle of the blade. We left the aircraft at Khe Sahn where it was hooked back to Quang Tri for new blades and patchwork.

Shark 161 was our first gunship lost. Higher-ups determined it was just too hot to attempt to lift it out. According to Gary Harter, it was blown up by an Arc Light, within days. And once again, according to Congress, Wilder and I were outlaw trespassers. (Six of Fred's photos below, but see account and Fred's several photos on 1971 History Page: "Medevac Rescue of Surfer's Crew").

Above left: Modjesk "Dust-off 13" above downed Shark UH-1C 66-15161 "Surfer". Right: Marshall at Quang Tri Surgical. Souder is seated at the end of Bruce’s bed.

Clockwise from top l-r: Bruce Marshall, Jim Souders, Bob Jansen and Bert Adams

I guess it was around this time in my life that I first noted my vocabulary begin to deteriorate, and I think I began drinking more than I was used to. And smoking, I went from maybe half a pack a day to three packs. I'd have one lit in the ashtray, one in my mouth and be looking for another. It was nuts.

I guess we all checked in to visit Bruce that night but he'd be in surgery for a long time and drugged unconscious for days to come. Souders had a portion of the aluminum runner that his chair had been attached to from the floor, taken out of his butt. The piece had a screw through it and it had been blown right to his femur bone. Jansen managed to get a pound of thorns out of his ass and that night, mortars and rockets rained all over Quang Tri until far into the morning.

* Note: The following photos at Vandergrift were provided by Fred along with captions. The captions are from old email and phone conversation (1997-2001). So if there are gaps in the info or it is misrepresented, please let us know at the website.

This two photo sequence is of a slick (left photo) on the the ground is at PLO for a quick refuel. That's a 174th AHC bird, "American Woman". Can anyone provide further info? Maybe tail no. and Crew (We think maybe Neal Varner "Dolphin 19" was AC)? You can see ( in both photos) Shark Gunship support waiting on the slick's lift-off and the CH-47 Chinook to go into Laos for more ARVN drops.

Left and right are the same time period. The 174th Slick (at left), also at the PLO, is "De Judge". Again, anybody know the tail no.? We know that SP4 Abe Gomes was the C/E.

Left and right is Vandy re-armament for "Guns" (note rocket and ammo crates). The "Charlie Model" in the right photo is Shark UH-1C 64-14140 "Cobra".

Both photos above of Sharks waiting to support the next lift. Left : UH-1C 66-15161 "Surfer". Right: UH-1C 65-09507 "Battlin' Bitch"

Above left: Chinook hook of damaged Cobra Gunship...bringing her back to Vandy. This was a common sight everyday at Vandy and/or Khe Sanh. Right: A mass of pilots and crews trying to tally possible aircraft damage or wear and tear- and "supplying up".

Left: Lift ship Pilots and Crews discussing the "hell" of the day and prepping for another "go". Right: A fire team from the 71st AHC "Firebirds"on stand-by. Notice the gunship crews helping out with the "Grunts" packs.

Above left: "Why I went to Flight School"- Fred's exact words. Above right: Shark UH-1C 66-15161 "Surfer".

Above left and right: Army "packs" (this should be 4/3 Americal on 11 Feb 1971) readying for a battalion size lift/CA into "The Rockpile".

On 9 Feb 1971, I had flown about four-and-half-hours of CAs into Laos. We took 2 hits from .30 cal and did some shooting of or own to return the favor. Both above photos of UH-1C 64-14170 “Ace of Spades” at Vandy showing her wounds.

I wrote that we spent a good portion of time in a bunker, but for the life of me, I can't remember where it was or what route was taken to get there. Probably, because we never went there in the daylight. With Bruce in the hospital, and Souders wounded, Operations promoted me to aircraft commander and fire team lead. We'd always been top heavy with AC's and aircraft, and few pilots. Now our supply of aircraft was down to six and we only enough pilots for two, maybe three aircraft.

On Wednesday, February 24th, we left Quang Tri early in Shark 470 again, and flew out to Vandergrif. Shark 470 had come from another unit in January. It was old as hell and had a zinc chromate tail boom. It looked like shit, but it flew OK, because Wilder was working miracles with it. It was also missing it's pilots doors due to the fact that we "dropped" them when attempting to get to "Surfer's" Crew eight days earlier (21 Feb 71).

We fueled and re-armed and sat around waiting for the fog to clear at Khe Sahn. I was with 1Lt Bob Hackett who had arrived in Vietnam about the time I had gone to the Sharks. We had gone through the same stuff and had gotten along pretty well, even though he'd taken a lot of shit for stuff I was probably responsible for. None of us were real excited about the continual missions into Laos after everything we'd seen thus far. As the temperatures went up, the performance of our aircraft went down.

While at Vandy, I ran into John Gale who was a 101st pilot. John and I were in basic training and flight school together. We took some pictures of each other and exchanged notes on what had happened-to-whom from our class. When the weather at Khe Sahn was clear, we headed up and got our missions. More dustoff cover.

We did a couple out by Ranger again and the Medevacs were still fighting off the deserters--and they were still falling to their deaths from the skids. We picked up another mission and headed west, out QL-9 below and just behind the Medivac. When he made a slow turn to the south, my heart sunk. We were taking the same route that the Surfer had been on. I contacted the dustoff and requested that he circumnavigate the area.

It was too late.

We were already over the area when the cockpit exploded with flying plastic and metal. It felt as though someone had slapped me as hard as they could with an open hand. The small round that got me came through the door jam, smashed into my shaded helmet visor, cut the helmet sweatband in half, grazed my skull, and exited the helmet just above and behind my right ear.

I yelled that I was hit, and Bob immediately got on the controls and pulled in a little too much power to begin to fly evasively. I heard the blade rpm drop and I recall pushing the collective down slightly until I felt the rpm recover. Bob yelled at me: "I got it!"

I could only see out of my left eye. When I tried to see out my right eye, I could see only bright white. No images. I thought I'd been blinded. Through my good eye, I could see my white fiberglass covered chicken plate begin to turn red with my blood.

Wilder was yelling at me from the back to take off my helmet. I refused. I put my gloved right hand up under the front of the shattered visor to feel for soft spots on my forehead. It was just wet with blood.

Wilder lost patience and cut the mosquito netting that separated him from the cabin with his knife. He pulled the two emergency handles on the chair and pulled me ass-over-tea kettle into the back of the aircraft. He first tried to pull the helmet off but the chinstrap only choked me. I still wasn't in any hurry to get the helmet off to survey the damage, as it felt as though I had a hand full of chopped glass under my eyelid.

I did.

My fear was looking into the helmet and seeing portions of my head and eye. Shit, I was in pain. What was his rush? Bob told dustoff we were breaking off as his pilot was shot in the head. Oh shit, I thought.

Then... Hey, I'm gonna be going home.

Within minutes, Bob landed at the aid station near the border and these guys in white shirts and fatigue pants forced me onto a stretcher. They carried me down this steep slope into a dirt-walled cave. It was a complete emergency room setup but with dirt walls and a dirt floor. I'm left there on this gurney for about ten minutes when this guy comes over to me and shaves the side of my head. He does this squinty-eyed observation of my wound and declares: "Oh, you're all right!" as if I was a whining kid trying to fake being sick to get out of going to school.


I told him my eye felt like it was on fire, so he covers it with gauges and a bandage and tells me: "They'll sew you up in Quang Tri. Just don't move your eye. It's covered with bits of broken glass!" Well no shit Sherlock. Fine observation.

My eyelid turned out to be nearly nailed to the eyeball with little shards of splintered plastic. Half my eyebrow was gone, and above that it looked like hamburger the way the scalp had been opened up.

It just can't get any closer than that. I didn't have to be told how really lucky I was. I'd always felt that someone, possibly my Father's spirit, was always there, riding along with me. This only confirmed it.

Like the saying goes: "You ain't lived until you've almost died."

Above and left below: “Wednesday, 29 Feb 1971 at Vandy. Bob Wilder, 1LT Bob Hackett (taking the photo) and I are prepping UH-1C 65-09470 ‘Charlie Tuna’ to head out west to cover some lifts near Ranger. Shark #470 was a replacement aircraft (Jan. 1971) from another Unit, due the fact that we we're losing 174th gunships rapidly. Notice there are no pilot doors. Those doors actually provided very little protection for a pilot. However, an open compartment allows an excellent target. The doors had actually been ejected during our attempt to rescue 'Surfer's' Crew eight days earlier (21 Feb 1971). We fueled up at Khe Sanh and moments later- I would be taking a NVA small round to my helmet/head."

Above right is where the round entered the cockpit (notice my blood on the white chicken plate on my side of the aircraft).

Above left: Another round hit the filter cowling. The next four photos show the rounds entry and exit to my helmet. I was truly lucky.

Above right: Here I am as a guest at Quang Ngai Hospital. Ironically, I wound up in a bed next to Bruce Marshall (Who, of course, had arrived on Feb 21).

Both above photos are of me showing off my "Mandarin Buddah haircut" (just after discharge from the hospital).


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