174th Assault
Helicopter Company


Biography of

Melvyn (Mel) J. Lutgring
Witchdoctor Crewchief

June-November 1971, Chu Lai

I was born December 20, 1950 in Hallettsville, Tex. to James H. Lutgring and Irma Mae Frederick. James was raised in Abbeville, La. and Irma in Lafayette, La. Dad was a WWII Veteran having served 38 months in the Pacific Theater as an aviation mechanic in the 5th AAF from Australia to New Guinea. He was a Crew Chief on C-47's for a short while and it was during this time his best friend, Melvin Mollberg was killed in a crash while taking my father's place. They were together for 34 months. I was named after him, but the "i" was changed to a "y." My parents had both passed away before I found out this little difference and will never know the reason why! In the photo at right, the P-47 Thunderboldt was named after him, "Molly." My Dad is the one holding onto the barrel of the .50 cal. (enlargement below). I have since been in touch with the sister of Melvin Mollberg and plan to attend their family Reunion. The Lutgring's are originally from the Tell City area, Indiana, having settled there in the 1860's after emigrating from the Netherlands. The original spelling is thought to be Lottering.

Dad was employed by The Superior Oil Co. on a seismograph crew starting in South Texas and moving to South Louisiana in the mid 50's were I attended no less than seven schools before I graduated from High School in Franklin, La. in 1968. Like so many others of the mid to late "60's," I didn't know what I wanted to do except avoid being a "Grunt" in "Nam." I attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) for two semesters in Engineering. It just wasn't what I wanted to do, despite the Draft, so I went to work with my Dad in the marshes of South Louisiana on a seismograph crew.

After a year, I finally won the "Lottery"! Uncle Richard sent me a personal greeting to join Uncle Sam's Army. Knowing the possible outcome, I enlisted in the Army to get Aviation Mechanics Training on 17 May 1970. I attended Basic at Ft. Polk during the hot summer of 70 and then on to Ft. Rucker in late August. I completed the UH-1 Repairman course in Oct. and was promoted to E-3, then for achieving Distinguished Graduate of my Class I was promoted to SP-4.

Ft. Rucker was short of support personnel, so I was held over and assigned to the 1st Aviation Co. I spent the winter at TAC X and TAC Runckle performing various jobs, the most memorable, ground guiding helicopters and fixed wing aircraft at night. Especially when the Students would inadvertly turn off the landing and navigation lights, prompting one to eat grass and dirt. I suspect it was actually the Instructors having a good laugh at my expense. I eventually got into Supply driving the Duce and a half, then as jeep driver for the Re-enlistment NCO. He passed up a chance to go to the "Prep" school for West Point and spent a great deal of time trying to talk me into attending. It took an interview with a Bird Colonel to get him off my back. So much for my UH-1 Repairman skills. My best friend, James Walker and I decided the only way we would work on Hueys and maybe crew one was to volunteer for the levy for Vietnam. I left Ft Rucker late April 1971 and arrived "In Country" 7 June.

I was sent up to Chu Lai and assigned to the 174th AHC on 17 Jun 71. A couple of weeks later Walker showed up at Chu Lai and was assigned to D Troop 1/7 Cav, who shared the 174th Hanger, and his hooch was just across to road from us. So we were together again.

Short of Aircraft Electricians, I was assigned to Electric Shop with a Hawaiian fellow who was a "Short-timer." I mainly took care of the batteries and changed out instruments and control panels and worked on the 100 hr Inspections for about a couple of months until I managed to get the Crew chief's position on the Maintenance Bird. I also worked with the Unscheduled Maintenance Team when I wasn't flying.

In the next three months, before the Unit Stood Down, I acquired enough combat assault (CA) time to get a meager 3 Air Medals. When the "Witch Doctor" (UH-1H #69-16650) eased into flight formations, a quick glance into the left rear well affirmed that a "R.E.M.P." was sticking his neck out with the rest of the Dolphin Flight Platoons.

About the time typhoon Hester was knocking down the hanger at Chu Lai, I was at the Air Force Base in Phu Cat, weathered in (spent a lot of time flushing the "real" toilets in the Transit Barracks). I helped take five birds to Pleiku to turn in to a direct support (DS) unit. I made the trip twice before turning in the Witchbitch, #16650. She and I departed the Unit and Chu Lai seperately on 7 Nov 71. See the photos below for the results of Typhoon Hester on our helicopters.

I was sent to MACV in Saigon to be assigned to the 344th Transportation Company up at Red Beach along with Jonathan Olsen and Rick Christopher. I was assigned to a Maintenance Team working mainly on VNAF transfers. Soon I was a Team Leader and went up before the Promotion Board for E-5. The photo at right that's labeled "Louisi and Ana" is of Tom Harper of the 344th Trans. and me. The two down in front are Jonathan Olsen and Rick Christopher, both 174th Vets. Rick is in the nomex and was Gunner on the Witch Bitch before going to the Sharks. Jonathan was in Maint. The three of us were assigned to the 344th at Camp Viking "Red Beach" after the 174th stood down.

Shortly after, however, I managed to get on "Top's" bad side in the process of keeping Rick from getting an undeserved Courts-Martial, so I volunteered to be the Chaplain's Driver. He was Protestant and I was Roman Catholic, but we got a long swell. I somehow managed to get promoted to SP-5. The 344th stood down in mid-March 72 and we went over to Marble Mountain Airfield where I had another Reunion with Walker. He had been there the five months I had been up at Red Beach.

Some Results of Typhoon Hester on 174th Helicopters

We spent the next two weeks drinking a lot of beer, celebrating my brush with the Grim Reaper the first night I was at Marble Mountain. It seems a disgruntled troop tried to "frag" his commanding officer (CO) and I had just left Walkers hooch, walked past the CO's hooch, and turned the corner around the next hooch.

A grenade went off on the walkway!

The concussion knocked down a returning occupant of Walker's hooch and peppered the upper portions of the surrounding hooches. Had I been a few steps slower, I wouldn't be telling this story. Being somewhat inebriated, I thought it was the beginning of the normal mortar attacks we got at Red Beach and when nothing else happened I continued on my merry staggering way, oblivious to what had actually happen until Walker found me the next day. They found a finger print on the spoon of the grenade and arrested the culprit.

I left for home on April Fool's Day 1972 on the last Freedom Bird Flights to leave from Da Nang, arriving home Easter Sunday, April 2. I definitely felt resurrected.

That was the last time I saw James R. Walker. He returned to Tennessee and we lost contact.

When I contacted his parents in 1981, they informed me he had drowned in a boating accident in 1974. Life plays cruel tricks of fate upon its participants, as we all well know.

However, it was at this same time I was reunited with Mike Gunnels who flew as my Gunner quite a few times. We spent a lot of time together before the unit stood down, and of course we lost contact after a few years back in the "World". We have maintained a friendship over the years and I treasure it as only veterans could understand. He is also the God Father to my son.

I was then assigned to Ft. Riley Kansas and the Big Red One. I was supposed to become a tank mechanic, since there were 67N's everywhere, but I assured them I could type. After a short test I became Orders Clerk in Division Personnel for all enlisted PCS'ing.

After a couple of months I managed to get a Special Duty Assignment to the Flying Club. I helped work on Cessna 150's, a 177, and an old 310. We also had a couple of Bird Dogs for a short while.

I left the Army on 20 Feb 1973 after attending the first, last, and only Company formation of the Unit I had been assigned to for the Special Duty Assignment, during which I was presented with the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service in RVN.

I returned home to Lafayette, La. after serving 2 years, 9 months and 3 days of active duty. I went to work for Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI) in March 1973 as an apprentice mechanic, working in the main hanger in Lafayette. They utilized my Huey experience by putting me with two other mechanics and we built two Bell 47 G's from the skids up! Then we progressed to striping paint off Bell 206 B's to prepare them for offshore service in the Gulf of Mexico.

I worked about five months before going to work for a smaller company, Air Marine. I worked for them for two years maintaining Bell 206 B's and BO-105's. In May 75 I went to work for Uncle Sam again as a Department of the Army (DAC) mechanic in New Iberia, La. at an AMSA shop supporting three Army Reserve Units. We had 10 UH-1H's, a 1957 Cessna 310, and an OH-58 A. I joined the 872nd Medical Detachment as a crew chief. The Med Det acquired six brand new UH-1H models. I spent the next 6-1/2 years enjoying the flying and getting a lot of "stick time." For the last 3 years the 872nd was in the M.A.S.T. Program and I flew a lot of Medevac missions in support of the civilian hospitals and local Ambulance Companies before they obtained their own Medevac helicopters. By the early 80's the bureaucracy was taking the fun out of flying in the Reserves, and I moved on.

I next went to work in the oil industry, this time in the support of drilling for oil instead of trying to find it. For two years I worked about 28 days a month, and decided to try the production end of the business. They worked a 12-hr day, seven days on, and seven days off! Sounded good to me! It was offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, but to be off two weeks out of the month was too good to be true. That was in 1984 and I'm still offshore working as a Platform Operator for Chevron USA.

During the past 18 years I have used my aviation training on several occasions, helping out pilot-mechanics at night or coaxing a stuck linear actuator on a fuel control to 100%. We also do a lot of loading, unloading, and hot refueling.

Chevron operates it own fleet of aircraft, consisting of the S-76, Bell 430, 206L, and BO-105.

I married Geraldine (Dee) Menard on Aug 7, 1976 and have two children: James, named

after my Father, born 24 Jan 79; and Melodee, named after me and Dee, born 20 Dec 82 which is also my Birthday. We enjoy tent camping in Central Louisiana in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area, which requires hiking in a mile or so to set up camp.

Below is a photo of my favorite campsite in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area.

We also have a small pop-up Camper we use during summer vacations to Arkansas and Florida. I have an extensive plastic model aircraft kit collection, 99 % of which are not built! I use the excuse it is my retirement fund. I can open up a Hobby Shop and will already have an inventory for a year. I also have acquired 100 plus aviation related patches, most of which are on a 5'x 5' orange and white Airfield flag. I enjoy going to Airshows, but not as much now as in the late 70's and 80's. I have a lot of pictures of WW II aircraft and the modern stuff, mainly for reference material when I start building models again. I love going to Aviation Museums, especially the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola and the Lone Star Aviation Museum in Galveston. I have yet to get up to Dayton, Ohio and the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson. I was fortunate to get rides in WW II's finest fighter and bomber, the P-51 Mustang and B-17 Flying Fortress. That was back in "74" and "79", but I can still remember the thrill. I put down those experiences as well as a few others in the form of some poems ( Poems of a Crewchief), which Jim put on the Web Page, much to my surprise. (Assistant Webmaster note: Check out the last nine Lutgring photo contributions listed on the 174th AHC 1971 History Page.)

I was glad to find out in 96 about the 174th AHC Association and made the Reunions in 97, 98, 99, 01, & 02. When I attended my first Reunion, like everyone else, I was apprehensive but the feeling quickly disappeared and was replaced with the warmth and security only found in close knit families. The bond we share is unique to the combat veteran and unexplainable to those who have not experienced rigors of war. Our individual experiences vary greatly, but the common thread we all have woven in our lives is being a part of the 174th A.H.C. I guess I fit in pretty good, because when I missed the 2000 Reunion I found myself elected to Vice President of the Assn. I have enjoyed helping make the past two Reunions a little more memorable.

Mel at the 174th AHC Reunion 2001 at Ft. Walton Beach, FL.

I look forward to the Reunions each year and it's great to see old friends, and I enjoy making new ones every year. The look on a "first timer's" face when he realizes he is "home" is priceless! Welcome home! See you at next year's 174th AHC Reunion.

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