Retirement of a Shark gun
Bob Jansen at Duc Pho in front of the Shark Hootch late December
Note that he is actually sitting on a can of flamable, oily rags smoking a cigarette.
(Photo courtesy of Fred Thompson)
Quang Tri, March 3, 1971 started out on the wrong foot. While
adjusting the Shark gunship's mini-guns, one of them had a bad safety catch. After
taking it off and spinning the barrels, it went off and one round went between my legs. Not a
The flight from Quang Tri to Khe Sanh was uneventful, therefore
somewhat enjoyable. After arriving at Khe Sahn, I think we flew one short mission
and watched some "Zippo" Tanks torching a hillside. Back at Khe Sanh we sat, and
sat... for hours. At 4:30 p.m. we were going to be released and sent "home" (back to Quang
Tri). But at 4:00 we got a gunship mission to escort two slicks with CBS
reporters into Laos. Mr. Gary Harter also had a bad feeling about this one.
We headed for Laos. It's funny how flying in Viet Nam seemed
like no big deal -- when you look back on it now. When
heading for Laos, and when you could see the river (that was on the border),
your legs started to shake, and by the time you crossed the border every nerve
in your body was alive. Your eyes and ears were put into overdrive, and your
actions came without thinking.
After escorting the CBS reporters into LZ Lolo,
where they would spend the night with the ARVNS, we flew around waiting for the
two slicks to come out. This is when I spotted black smoke coming out of the
jungle a ways off. I told my Pilot, Mr. Gary Harter, what I saw and he relayed
it to the lead Shark. At that time we didn't know it a burning helicopter -- it was Cpt. John Bishop's
ship that was down. the crew included Bishop, 1LT Carl Flemmer, C/E Larry Rhodes, and doorgunner
Gary Padilla. Padilla did not survive. (Note* You can check out a thorough
account of John Bishop and the crew's crash at John
The lead Gunship made a pass near the smoke and was
shot down that quick! They were able to set down in a small clearing where
somebody had been, because it was surrounded with foxholes. We made several
circles around them and all was quiet.
Then, all at once, it seemed like every
tree, bush and blade of grass had NVA behind them, and "all hell broke loose"
around us. It seemed like everything was in a fast, but slow motion. We were
about 50 feet up and in a right hand circling turn. Either P.J. Roths or Bennie
Holmes was our other pilot. I was flying left side and Pat Wade was right side.
Pat Wade at Duc Pho in 1970
(Photo courtesy of Fred Thompson)
I could see NVA everywhere I looked and it felt like our M-60s
were firing faster than they ever fired before, and on target. There were so
many NVA that no matter where you fired you would kill one, but two would take
his place. On the second circle, I was hit by a .51 Cal. bullet that came up through
the ship, hit me in the bottom of my back and came out by my shoulder. It definitely caused me
to take a minute and re-group. I could still function.
By the third time around, I had my M-60 back and
we flew over the .51 cal. again. This time they weren't as lucky as before.
I can vividly remember it -- like I was there again. One by one they knew their
time had come. Then it was my turn again.
I remember my M-60 getting shot out of my hands at the same time
I got hit again -- this time by an AK-47, and once again in the back, but that
bullet stayed with me and really knocked me over. Pat tried to help
me, but we were already going down from an unbelievable amount of hits to the
ship. Luckily, Mr. Harter was flying. He flew half of a chopper into the same
small LZ that the other Shark was in. Landing with a sort thump and a cloud of
dust. Mr. Harter remembers the story from here, because I was out of it for a
CW2 Gary Harter, Duc Pho 1970, involved in something a little
(Photo courtesy of Fred Thompson)
According to Gary, he and Pat pulled me out of the ship and were
carrying me. They kept dropping me because I was so slippery from all the blood
I was losing. The third time I was dropped, they say I got up and said, "Lets get
out of here." I took off running, and Pat tackled me and put me in a hole. He got
next to me and put his fingers in the bullet holes and tried to slow the
bleeding. I remember lying there and watching the NVA moving in on us. I could
hear mortars being dropped in those tubes, and coming in on us. Small arms fire kicked
dirt in my face a couple times.
My whole life seemed to re-run before me and and I saw everybody I
ever knew, and watched everything I ever did in a matter of seconds. Then, I had
complete contentment. I knew I was hit bad. I knew there were no Grunts to help
us this time. I layed there waiting, and knowing my turn to die had come. I looked
to Heaven and told my Grandpa to move over, I was on my way.
Somehow, on the second attempt, two slicks made it in and my buddies
got me on the first ship. All seven of the other Sharks got on the second ship,
and we all made it out of Hell that day. When the ship I was on took off, I could feel and hear
several hits the ship was taking as we were coming out.
The flight to the Aid
Station at Khe Sanh seemed to take forever. I was lying on my stomach on the
floor face down. I remember choking. I was breathing in my own blood that was in
a puddle around me.
When we landed at Khe Sanh, the Medics pulled me out of the
chopper so fast my feet never dragged the ground. We went underground and they
put me on an ice-cold slab. The temperature was hot outside, but I was freezing.
They cut all my clothes off, except my underwear and boots, looking for more
wounds. They put a board under each arm and filled me up with IVs. They ran a
gauze tube through the bullet holes to slow the bleeding. I had so many bags of
blood and clear stuff running in me that the Red Cross would have been jealous.
They shot me up with morphine, put me on a stretcher and took me out to be
medivac'ed to Quang Tri Hospital. Lying there waiting for Dust Off, CBS Reporters
were everywhere filming, and I felt so embarrassed. I could see that I was red
from my shoulders to my knees. I really looked stupid with red underwear and
black flight boots on.
By this time, the other Shark members I was with caught
up with me. I remember asking either Pat or Gary to take my boots off so it
wouldn't look so stupid. They did and I felt better. They put them under my head
and I was loaded onto the Dust Off. I made it almost to Quang Tri when the
morphine wore off. I remember thinking about John Wayne and all the times he got
shot. I thought, "Duke, you lied, this really hurts". I rolled over and bit the
toe out of my flight boot. The pain was more than I could take. It felt like
somebody took a garden claw and ripped me in half.
We landed at the Hospital
at Quang Tri and a lot of the Shark crews were there waiting for me. They pushed
the Medics away and it felt like they all took turns carrying me in. It was
their faces that I will never forget. It was like looking through a fog. I saw
images with faces I knew. I saw sadness and death on these faces. I knew I
wasn't going to walk away from this one. The Doctors X-rayed me on another
ice-cold slab. They found the AK round still in me and knocked me out and
started to cut.
When I woke up the next day, the first thing I remember seeing was Gary
Harter, my Pilot, standing over me. The look on his face was of deep concern,
but he told me I would be OK.
I looked around and the whole ward
was full of Sharks, and I knew I would be flying again (but that never did
happen).Bob Jansen Duc Pho 1970 (Photo property of Jansen)
After a day or so at the Hospital in Quang Tri, I was sent to Qui
Nhon Hospital. Tom Taggart was already there, and I was put in a bed right across
from him. (Note: You can check out Tom Taggart's own story at Tom's Individual Biography). I don't know who hurt the most,
but we had fun.
Tag would be reading and I would sneak out of bed, go over and
pull the hair on his bad leg causing him to bend it. Oh, he could scream.
Sometimes I would just tickle his foot, and in tone that only Tag could do, he
would laugh and cuss me at the same time.
But he would get even.
Tag was a
comedian. He could make the "dead" laugh. That's how he got back at me. I would
laugh so hard I would start bleeding. He called me "Pengy," because I could
barely walk and I looked like a penguin when I did. We would go for a walk
around the Hospital, Tag in the wheel chair and me pushing him. I think I'm the
worst wheel chair pusher, because I think we hit almost every door jam and
obstacle with his bad leg. But I would laugh and start bleeding again. It was
sure nice, having a friend even though we were both hurt. It was good
I didn't stay in Viet Nam hospitals very long. They cut me "from
hole to hole" and sewed me open for fear of infections. I was sent to Okinawa
Army Hospital for about a week.
I didn't know what was going on back home. My
folks got the telegram from the Army telling them what had happened to me.
Nobody knew where I was or even if I was still alive. It wasn't until March 25,
l971 (three weeks after I'd been shot) that I was able to get to a phone and
call home. It was my Mom's birthday. Everything was OK then.
I was sent to the hospital in Japan
for a few days and was able to watch cartoons in Japanese. I then left Japan heading
home. As soon as we were in the air, the nurses gave us all shots and we slept
until we landed in Alaska. They loaded us on buses and drove down the runway while
they refueled the plane. There were 20-foot snow banks around the runway and we
were in pajamas with a blanket over us. It was real cold.
Back on the plane we got another shot
and slept until I woke up in a ward at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois (about 50
miles from my home). At Scott, the Red Cross brought a phone to each bed and
you had three minutes no matter where you lived. I called home right at dinner
time and my Dad was ready to come see me no matter where I was. My Mom started
to put dinner back in the ice box and I could hear her yell at my brother Ben,
"Benny if you don't get out of my way, I will put you in the ice box too!"
My Mom, Dad, and three brothers (Bill, Ben, and Dan) got into our
Ford wagon and my
Dad burned the tires off heading for Scott. Once they got to Scott, my Dad said,
"This is a really wide road!" They'd somehow wound up on a RUNWAY!
They eventually found where I was and
had to be briefed on what they could and couldn't say to me. I was playing pool
with three other GIs when they got there. Out of the four of us, I was the only
one with both arms and legs. We played partners. A Nurse came in and said I had
I tried to look and walk like l was OK, but I had to hold onto every
bed I walked by. The last time they saw me I was 6'2", 175 lbs. Now I was 6'2",
130 lbs. They knew I was hurt. It showed on their faces. The evening went better
than you could imagine. The next day I was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood Army
Hospital. After about 5 1/2 more months, the Army said goodbye. I went home a
ONCE A SHARK, ALWAYS A SHARK
To the men who wore the Shark patch, there are none better.
for the pilots, There are none better.
As for the Gunners and Crew Chiefs, I take my hat off and salute each and every one
To be a Shark is to be somebody who proudly stands above all others.
I'm proud to be a part of the greatest Gun Platoon in Viet Nam.
Bob Jansen/Shark 61
"Scott Sparks and me during his 1970 DEROS party. My Mom sent
Sparks was going home, so we used it as a going away cake."
"Photo I took at re-armament at Duc Pho, 1970.
(l-r: Ralph Carty, Budd Vann and Greg Manuel)."
"Fellow Shark Crew Chief Yogi Reaves at Duc Pho, 1970.
He was shot down on March 5th, 1971.
He's doing great today."
Pilot Cliff Stepp, Duc Pho, 1970.
CW2 Greg Manuel at re-armament. Duc Pho, 1970
Bob Jansen at home, 1999, Sullivan, MO
(Photo courtesy of Fred Thompson)