WO1 - CW2
October 1968 - 1969
I arrived in Vietnam in October, 1968. I had just turned 19. I got in-country a little behind my flight class, as after graduation from Ft. Rucker I was given special permission to travel behind the Iron Curtain (remember the "Cold War?") to visit my father in the American Embassy in Moscow, USSR, where he was serving as the Military Attaché. I had quite a trip back from there to Vietnam (the only direct flights available in Moscow were to Hanoi! No Thanks). I took a different and rather longer route.
I was assigned to the 11th Light Infantry Brigade's Aviation Section and, as I had trained in the OH-23 Ravens at Ft. Wolters, I became a "PRIMO" in Duc Pho. We had 3 or 4 OH-23's, one UH-1D Huey, and one UH-1H. We later got a couple of OH-6's. We flew Command and Control (C&C) for the Brigade Commanding Officer (CO), the Engineers (during their minesweeping duties on Highway 1), and artillery spotting (nothing quite as lonely as being single-ship out in the mountains with only an FM radio!) One of our other missions was last-light recon. Two OH-23's with the pilot in the center and two door gunners on either side of you with an M-60 on a bungee cord, with their legs dangling outside the "bubble."
Also unique was the practice of the Brigade CO, Col. Donaldson, going "hunting" for "suspicious" Vietnamese. The C&C ship was already loaded with a large multi-radio console, along with various members of his staff. We would fly low level and swoop in on anybody he deemed "suspicious," and pick them up for questioning. Sometimes we got so overloaded that he would have to choose among the "suspects," and drop some off. Sometimes we'd drop off one we'd picked up earlier, often miles away from where we had picked him up! ("Honey, you won't believe what happened to me today on my way home from the rice paddy.")
We got shot up a lot during these exercises. Unfortunately, as John O'Sullivan can attest to, a few of the Battalion CO's adopted the same practice, and some paid the price for it.
After 4 months at Primo, in Feb '69, I was transferred to the 174th and flew with the Dolphins. In Jun '69 I became "Shark 2."
I left the 174th and Vietnam in Oct '69 and flew Medevac out of Ft. Meade, Maryland (just outside of Washington, DC). We were the only Army Medevac unit on the East coast. The duty at Ft. Meade included regular flights (usually 2-3 days a week with 2-3 aircraft) to McGuire AFB in New Jersey to off-load the Vietnam wounded from C-141's and fly them up to Valley Forge Army Hospital. We also had to standby almost every weekend to evacuate any casualties from the weekly anti-war demonstrations in Washington. The War stayed in our face!
I got out of the Army in 1971 after turning down a direct commission to 1LT (and a return trip to Vietnam!) I went to college at Penn State. While there I flew with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard (104th Armored Cav Regiment) out of Harrisburg, PA. They were happy to have us Vietnam vets when Hurricane Agnes hit the US with torrential rains and flooding. We were called up to active duty and flew rescue operations. We didn't mind the weather - it reminded us of the monsoons - and we didn't mind some of the tight places we had to land in, as they were better than most of the LZs in Vietnam!
I graduated from Penn State in 1976 with a degree in Architecture, I left the Guard, and have been an Architect specializing in Hospital design, mostly in the Washington area (Alexandria, Virginia), ever since.
Some Specific Memories of the 174th
MPC Conversion Officer
Upon arriving at the 174th, WO1 Jim Ackels (a classmate) and I were given orders making us official MPC Conversion Officers. Problem was, nobody knew what the job was! That was great because we didn't have to do anything... that is until they recalled me from a mission one day and told me that they had "frozen" the Military Payment Certificates currency (so THAT's what MPC is!) in order to crack down on the Black Market. Jim and I had to collect ALL the cash (MPC) from the members of the 174th. Remember that everything was paper including nickels, dimes, and quarters! I think it took us three days to collect around $60,000 in MPC paper and get it exchanged for the new stuff. In the meantime, nobody had any money! Everybody had to run a tab at the Club!
Ed and I shared a bunk in Pre-Flight at Ft. Wolters. I was in his wedding to his second wife at Ft. Rucker. I think she had four children from a previous marriage and he had three. They went for EIGHT! He died before seeing his new child. I was assigned to inventory his belongings. Probably one of the worst days of my life.
I slept through the entire attack! When I got up the next morning (I wasn't scheduled to fly) I walked outside the hootch (right across the "street") and saw the destruction. A bunch of us flew up to Chu Lai to visit him. He seemed fine, was sitting up and chatting with us. A short time later we were told that he died.
...low level through the mountains in a UH-1C on a "People Sniffer" mission. "Hot Spot!" "Hot Spot!" MAN, that mission SUCKED!
I was scheduled for my annual check
ride with WO Scott. We were in a Dolphin and were just going to be in the pattern at Duc Pho.
No crewchief or door gunner. We only had our pistols. When we cranked-up and turned on the radios,
we heard the Mayday call from WO Harry Reed, a Primo OH-6 pilot. His recon team had been the bait.
They had been shot at and the Sharks were scrambled. Both Sharks were shot down. Well, off WE went, well-armed with
TWO pistols! When we reached the area we saw Dolphins WO Bell and Garcia picking up the Shark crews.
I think they both were given the Silver Star for evacuating them under fire without gunship cover.
Long Range Recon Patrols -- AKA "the whispering lurps" -- due to their radio habits. Unless they were in trouble and you had a hot extraction facing you, THEN they were much louder! I was landing a group of LRRPs one evening when out of the woods walks a small VC patrol. They were as surprised as we were. They also must have been a group of the deafest VC in-country -- not to hear us. Everybody started shooting at each other and I got us (and the LRRPs) the hell out of there! The Shark escort, not expecting opposition and not seeing the patrol, asked what the hell was going on!
...in the Horseshoe during which my peter pilot (I think it was WO Morgan) inadvertently jettisoned my rocket pods when I told him to arm me. So much for the safety wire on the red cover.
...with Agent Orange, and then having to clean the tail boom! Same thing with "Smokey" missions. I did both as well as later having to cover them as a Shark.
When my rocket hit one of them the explosion threw up a wall of water that engulfed us and nearly brought us down into the water.
...and NOT having the damn thing jam!
I think Clyde was with Tom Dana when Clyde was hit in his visor by a round that followed the curve of his head and blew out the top of his helmet (amazingly similar to Fred Thompson's head-shot in 1971). Clyde came back after a week or so.
I flew as his pilot a lot. The one time that I didn't, he was hit near Quang Ngai and evacuated. That should teach him who to fly with!
I flew with him once on a Battalion C&C. As usual we got shot up. Landed with a big hole in one of the main rotor blades. Set up a nice 1:1 vertical! Whenever you were in formation on a CA and someone announced "Taking Fire," it usually turned out to be O'Sullivan.
I don't think that he flew that much as he was always out "trading" for stuff. At one time he had his own jeep with armor plate and a .50 CAL mounted on it. He would go off on "trading" missions with the convoys on Highway 1. One night he flew in with a walk-in refrigerator unit that was installed in the operations bunker. That place became the coldest room in Vietnam! Suddenly everybody was volunteering for Duty Officer!
I don't know how it got started, but suddenly people started carrying exotic pistols. I had a long barrel 38, someone else had a snub nosed 38, Frank Kazaitis had a .357 magnum. Our flight surgeon had a bunt-line (sp? -- like Wyatt Earp) special. Someone had a Luger. When someone accidentally shot himself with the Luger, they were all banned. The old .45 was a better crotch protector anyway.
Yep! And so were the troops! Somebody had the brilliant idea to prep the LZ with CS gas (teargas)! Probably the Chemical Corp guys, the same ones who dreamed up the "People Sniffer." Both worked equally poorly. Because of the masks, we all sounded like F-4 pilots on the radio (imagine an F-4 pilot with a 1:1 vertical?).
What had occasionally been an isolated prank, someone throwing a colored smoke grenade into a hootch, got out of control one night and resulted in platoon vs. platoon warfare! I don't remember how many were eventually set off, but the company area was covered. The next morning the CO called for a formation and chewed us out. What a scene, the ground littered with expended smoke canisters and green, purple, red, and yellow stains everywhere, including on our flight suits. I think that he had calculated the cost, and somehow we all chipped in to pay for them.
The firebase CO's hootch, a metal cab of some sort, had taken a direct hit with an RPG. I was with Primo then and flew the Brigade CO out with a replacement. After we landed on the "Shelf," as they called the landing area, we heard on the radio, "Be advised that there are unexploded grenades on the pad." Oh just Great! We then spent the rest of the night evacuating the dead and wounded.
Almost hovering in a loaded UH-1C (an accomplishment in itself), over a downed aircraft that had come down literally on top of the enemy on a mountain top, we saw an NVA in a spider hole very close to the downed bird. I don't remember what unit the downed helicopter was from. Some crewmen were still inside the bird, and friendly troops were nearby -- too close to use the miniguns or rockets. We circled the foxhole while the Shark crew chief, I think it was Bell (from Texas), tried to get the NVA in the spider hole with his M-60. When his M-60 jammed, this guy stitched us up the left side of the aircraft with his AK-47, setting some rocket motors on fire. When both the electrical and manual jettison systems failed, crewchief Bell climbed out on the rigging and managed to release the weapons pod. Good thing, as they were 17-pound flachette rockets! Makes NASTY shrapnal.
I remember that we were all standing around on top of the hootches watching the Sharks work out, REAL close in, and cheering. Occasionally a stray round would whiz by. I remember that one NCO was yelling at us idiots to get down. "What, Me Worry?"
I was summoned back from a mission and told to report to the CO (MAJ Goodin at the time). I walked in and he immediately asked if I had been writing to my parents! Uh-oh. He had a Colonel waiting on the phone from Division! I got on the phone and was asked the same question. He then read me a communication asking if I was dead or wounded. The final line he read was "Tell him to please write." He said that the communication was signed by GENERAL William C. Westmoreland! Another uh-oh! When I asked him if it said to whom I should write, he replied, "Mister, If I were you, I'd write to everybody you know!" Turns out that my girlfriend, who's father was a classmate of my father at West Point, had contacted another classmate of my father, MAJ GEN William Knowlton who worked on Westmoreland's staff, and asked if he could find out how I was doing as she had not heard from me in awhile! Arghhhh!
I was close to DEROS. I was on the "first-up" Shark Team so we were sitting around late one night. Remember the manual crank field phone used to scramble us (sounded like a cricket on steroids)? I don't know how it got started, but I think that it was when WO Steve Davis called us from Chu Lai. Steve was one of the Sharks that had survived the Mar '69 shoot down and had transferred to operations at the 176th in Chu Lai. He had Duty Officer that night and called just to pass the time. We noticed that the phone lines were unusually clear of static that night. Since several of us were short, we decided to try to call other friends. Remember that all the calls had to be patched thru various operators (NOTHING was automated). Somebody decided to call a friend down south and one of the operators in the patch answered, "Saigon Overseas." We figured that this was the guy who could patch us to the US! It had to be back to a Military base though. I volunteered to call MAJ GEN Knowlton at the Pentagon. However, when we tried, we were told that we had to give our alphanumeric code. Our what?!. We tried guessing at it several times, always with the same operator. No Luck. One of us tried to call the Brigade Signal Officer, an LTC, who told him to go to hell! It was getting to be 2 or 3 a.m. Finally the Spec-5 in our Orderly Room who was operating our switchboard contacted a Captain that he knew in the Signal Corps, and we were told how to figure it out. The last try - from our field phone in the Shark hootch to our switch in Duc Pho, to a switch in Chu Lai, to a switch in Pleiku, to a switch in -- who know where? -- and finally to the switch in Saigon. When I gave him the alphanameric code he was amazed, but put me through by way of Hawaii. Next thing I know the General's secretary answers and puts me through to GEN Knowlton. We chat a bit and then, as a bonus, he hands the phone over to two high school classmates of mine (one was his son) who just happened to be visiting him in his office! The word the next day, "Spahr talked to a General in the Pentagon last night!"
My father was the Military Attaché in the American Embassy in Moscow, USSR, when I was in Flight School and Vietnam. One night when I was in Pre-Flight in Ft. Wolters, bunking with ED Harris, I came into the barracks and another WOC asked, "Is you father William J. Spahr?" I was shocked. He told me that he had just heard on the radio that this Spahr guy had been involved in an international incident with the Russians. (Turns out that my father and the British Attaché had been drugged and then roughed-up by the KGB). I didn't know whom to call, but the Pentagon sounded like a good bet. You can imagine the reaction I got from the Spec-4 at our Orderly Room when I walked in and announced that I needed to call the Pentagon. I got the same reaction from the Post Duty Officer. After telling my story, he authorized me to call. But whom? I got hold of a Pentagon telephone operator and told her my story. She said stay on the line and she would make some calls. After some time the next voice I heard was that of the Inspector General of the Army! I told him my story. He said to wait by the phone and he would make some calls. About an hour later he called back, telling me that he had located my father's liaison officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was gathering the facts, and would call me in the morning. The next morning I go to the First Sergeant and tell him what's going on. He puts me at the phone in the CO's office. I'm sitting at the CO's desk talking to the DIA when the Company CO walks into his office, and there I sit (a WOC PRE-FLIGHT Candidate) using HIS phone (at least I didn't have my feet up on his desk!) He's about to explode when I hear the First Sergeant say, "Sir, He's on the phone with the Pentagon," and gently leads him away.