Webmaster note 2004: Above is an added photo- courtesy of 1LT Bob Hackett. That is "Big Al" Harris right
foreground, in the Shark Hootch, Chu Lai 1971. In the short time that all of the 174th AHC knew him, he
was very well respected and very well loved. His loss will never be forgotten.
*Webmaster note: The following is an e-mail message received from Mike Sloniker.
"On 29 August 1971, WO1 Big Al Harris, was 'bounced' with his crew in a UH-1M Shark from the 174th AHC ramp at Chu Lai. I was on standby, laying in my hammock in my Dolphin slick, and I watched him run by. He was going on R&R the next day to try to patch up marriage problems while in Hawaii.
An hour later I was helping wash his blood out of his gunship. He had been hit in the upper body by a .51 calibre anti-aircraft machine gun and bled to death before the crew could get him to the hospital at Chu Lai". - Mike
The following message is guestbook entry received on the 174th Home Page, from an Australian Infantry advisor on the ground that day.
Note of explanation: The Helix FAC (forward air controller) reference is to an OV-10 Bronco (fixed wing turboprop) out of Chu Lai East. Coys are companies (abbreviated in Australian and Brit military terms). Mdm Mort is an .81 MM mortar, or .82 MM for the NVA. RCL is recoilless rifle, usually 75 or 90mm (we had the 106mm).
This letter below is from a Mike McDermott:
"I am Mike McDermott of 1 Holt Avenue, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia. I was
the Adviser on the ground with the 2nd BN, 5th Regt., 2nd ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] Div. through the battle of 27-31 August 1971, during which SHARK helicopters attacked NVA [North Vietnamese Army] ground targets which dominated the ARVN position by observation and fire.
The 2nd ARVN BN of 3 rifle coys had a field strength of some 195 troops with which to engage the 31st NVA Regt. (two BNs supported by AA, RCL and MDM MORTAR elements of a HY WPNS COY) [Heavy Weapons Company]. The 31st NVA MISSION was to close on the provincial capital of TAM KY in order to disrupt the national elections of the Lower House of the national government, so intimidating the people, and preventing the democratic processes of government.
Throughout the battle, the ground fighting was fierce with attack followed by counterattack. On the 27/28 Aug 71, the ARVNs had 11 KIA and 14 WIA. The NVA maintained contact with the ARVNs to stay within the safety distance for fighter ground attack ordnance. So, on 29 AUG 71, with assistance from HELIX 01 FAC (an Australian serving with Americal Division) I brought 500-pound bombs to within 100 meters of our forward troops, causing the NVA to pull back.
On 29 Aug 71, the forward ARVN coys attacked NW towards the 31st NVA HQ location, where there was an NVA BN(-). To the east there were AA [anti-aircraft] positions with a number of NVA squad positions. To the south there were RCL and MDM MOR positions; however, it was the key NVA position to the west which most concerned the ARVN BN command, as both attacks on the position had been unsuccessful. As well, this position was key to the NVA.
After the SHARK had protected the extraction of the ARVN wounded, the SHARK was asked to attack the position to the west, in support of the coy assault. It was in this attack by the SHARK that the NVA engaged the SHARK with AA fire from VIC of the 31st NVA Regt HQ. The action by the SHARK enabled the ARVNs to capture the key objective.
On 29 Aug 71, I went forward again to assess the situation in the ARVN coys to the north. While there, the NVA attacked in less strength, then dug in without moving to consolidate the gain. Things were quiet.
On 30 Aug 71, the battle was the same--attacks over 30m, airstrikes, arty, gunships, ARVN cas, NVA cas. It is thought that the 31st NVA did not withdraw to the north due to the open ground of the HIEP DUC-QUE SON valley (DEATH VALLEY) and a belief that 1/1 CAV were blocking.
At 0409 hrs on 31 Aug 71, the NVA commenced a RCL attack from the south. At 0420 hrs an NVA BN(-) launched a ground attack from the W/NW onto the ARVN BN HQ position. About 75 NVA were in the first echelon, with only 30 in follow up. The ARVN BN commander launched the counterattack when the NVA were within 20m of the BN TOC [tactical operations center], using a Recon platoon assisted by cooks, carriers, and bottlewashers. I accompanied this counterattack to coordinate BASKETBALL (UH-1 Flareships), who were on station supported by two UH-1 gunships (SHARKS from the 174th).
The NVA withdrew W/SW with some 34 NVA KIA in the area. From 20 to 70m of the BN TOC, two groups of NVA WIA were seen by me moving SW. The NVA KIA as a result of the FGA, arty, and gunships over the 5 days was 81 NVA KIA as seen by and reported by the ARVN forward coys.
In this battle the air attack by the SHARK flown by Blake and Harris had a positive effect on the course of the battle. It unbalanced the NVA from a key position, it enabled the ARVN force to scramble up the slope to dislodge the enemy holding this key position, and this position had a significant impact later in the battle on 31 Aug 71.
The action of WO Harris was couragous. It was in the accepted tradition of the 174th, and what had come to be expected of the officers and soldiers of the 174th in Vietnam. By some, WO Harris' supreme sacrifice has been associated with terms like "senseless." However, this Australian Army officer must always relate it to courage and the bravery by one young officer to support another young officer in battle. It is, in part by WO Harris' action, that I lived life.
This battle, without a name in history, embodied the fundamentals of the Vietnam War, as it supported directly the strategic objectives of the American nation and its people to assist a people who chose to be free to conduct THEIR election, by THEIR democratic process, in THEIR national election, without fear.
That is what I thought when I visited the site of this battle in March 1997 [over 25 years after that battle]. I could still hear the ready acceptance of my request to provide air support to the attack, and still see the SHARK's attack path from the NE to SW, and then the green tracers from the NVA AA positions.
To visit this battle site, with my wife Jo, I dressed in local Vietnamese dress with conical hat, rode hired pushbikes some 60km from HOI AN-THANG BINH, west along HIEP DUC road, then on foot to the area of the battle. All this to avoid the scrutiny of the Vietnamese authorities who often restrict access to areas away from the main highway (HIGHWAY ONE).
I was 23 years old in August 1971, so the older body of March 1997 almost died from the effort. There was a reward, however, for although there was little evidence of the events of Aug 71, with all of the some 1,000,000+ small arms rounds collected for scrap metal, I found my fighting pit and, there under a rock, I found my Australian Army Brass Prismatic compass, where I had left it by mistake during a mortar attack on 31 Aug 71.
I served on in the Australian Army for 25 years.
*Assistant Webmaster note: The crew on the Shark #140 that day was: A/C CW3 Charles Blake, Co-Pilot WO1 Allan Harris, C/E SP5 5 Legault and Door Gunner SP4 Yates
See the note below for some additional information from a Kevin Crabtree e-mail:
"...I was not flying that day. I'm sorry to say that I spent the day at the beach. As soon as we got the word, we all went to the flight line and assisted in the clean up... As I've said before, the C/E (crewchief) was Spec. 5 Legault. I believe the gunner was Spec.4 Yates. The A/C (aircraft commander) was CW3 Blake, the best gunship pilot anywhere. No one who ever flew with him or on his wing will dispute this. It's the simple truth. He could make you think an M-model was an OH-6.
Also, he NEVER missed with his rockets. EVER! He accomplished this by punching them off at point blank range, and I mean PBR! When you flew with Blake, you knew you would be flying thru shrapnel. Your own! You could hear it hitting the underside of the bird. The Crews loved it.
The Aircraft was 'Woodstock", a 'Frog' (40mm grenade) ship. I remember this because, while I flew on all the Sharks at one time or another, I most often flew with Legault. And If I had been flying that day, I would probably have been the gunner on his ship.
I sincerely hope this helps. Youve done a great job with...the memory of Big Al. As for the info on the graphic/photos of Shark 140 'Woodstock.': I flew many hours as gunner on this bird. The CE was a Specialist Legault. He is the one who drew the woodstock logo on the side door in pencil. It was never painted in and remained in primer only until 'stand down'. It also had the words, 'Love, Peace, Music' over the logo. I believe this is why it was never finished, the rest of the platoon did not think it appropriate for a gunship. Also, you're probably already aware of this, but 140 was a Mike-model not a Charlie. And... I wanted to add one more bit of info on 140. It was the bird Big Al Harris was flying when he was killed in action. Big Al was the last Shark pilot to die in action in Vietnam.
Kevin Crabtree (Shark62) Gunner
C/2/503rd inf. 173rd. Abn. 1969
335thAHC Cowboys 1969 1970
174th AHC Shark plt.1971
A/158 AHB Ghostriders 1971 1972
A/229 AHB Black Bandits 1972
A Sketch and Photos of Shark 140 "Woodstock"
The first graphic below is the copyrighted (1996) property of Pete Harlem, a former
Vietnam helicopter crew chief with the Cav. Pete is the author of a very informative
and instructional book entitled "Crewchief 1, The UH-1C Huey." This is a book for those
who build plastic helicopter kits, and it focuses on detailing the MRC Huey Hog kit.
However, this book also provides a TON of information and history on the famous
"Charlie-model," and Pete features a Shark drawing on the cover. Below Pete's graphic of
Shark 140 is a scan of his book's cover. Pete has said his image may be downloaded and
used for personal use, but not for commercial purposes without his permission. Whenever
it is used, please credit Pete Harlem. Just below his sketch are two very rare B&W photos,
from his book, of Shark #140 sporting the "Woodstock" artwork. (*Assistant Webmaster note:
when UH-1M 64-14140 arrived to the Unit 9/70, Crew Chief Bud Vann painted "The Cobra" on the rear
quarter panel access doors. Sometime around 8/71, Bob LeGault painted the "Woodstock" emblem
on the rear access panels and a 40mm nose turret subsystem was added.) Email Pete at
email@example.com for more information. (*Assistant Webmaster
note: As of 10/2004 this email address does not work. We hope that Pete will see this and update
accordingly and we'll correct it here.)
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