174th Assault
Helicopter Company

J.C. Pennington
Dolphin 14/Shark 4 1968- 69

Christmas Remembered 1968

(All the below 1968 photos property of Cpt. Mark Fisher)

J.C. Pennington at the 1996 VHPA Reunion in Baltimore (Photo by Jim McDaniel).

In an email over the 174th AHC listserver on 12/22/03, J. C. Pennington (Dolphin 14/Shark 4 1968-69) had this memory to share:

"Keeping in mind that I'm a victim of CRS (can't remember sh*t) disease, as I recall Christmas of 1968 and can't help but smile with what I CAN remember.

I was flying as a Dolphin AC (before I went to the Sharks after the first of the year). I seem to recall that there was a general stand down or cease fire for Christmas Day but they asked for volunteers to fly Christmas dinner out to the grunts still in the field. In what would be totally uncharacteristic of me, I apparently raised my hand and said, 'Sure, I'll fly even when I'm not on the schedule'.

The 174th supported the 11th LIB (of Calley and Medina infamy) and we must have had three or four ships take the battallion re-supply missions that day. Mermite cans with hot gravy, smashed 'taters and turkey. I don't remember what my mental state was, never good on the best day, but I must have thought something like, 'What the hell, I can fly the mission and still have time to get drunk before the sun goes down'. I sure didn't need to stay around the company area and gaze on the already brown Christmas tree that one of the crews had cut down about two weeks before.

They landed just off the beach, the gunner and crew chief took a saw and cut down a big pine tree while the ship sat at flight idle protecting the tree burglers. Some protection. While the crew is cutting down the tree, the M-60's on the ship were, of course, unmanned. Were we a bright group or what?

They got the tree back to the 174th, dug a hole for the trunk and planted that sorry evergreen right in the middle of the company area and proceeded to decorate it with empty beer cans. They WERE shiney...but smelled pretty bad...and the tree took up a list to port.

Not really enchanted with the tree, I guess we decided to fly. My volunteer co-pilot was a slightly overweight 1LT. Don't remember his name, other than Will (Will, if you are on the listserver, my apologies... but let's face it. You DID fill out that flight suit.)

Well, this large co-pilot begged for a Santa suit. Don't remember who came up with the idea, or the Santa suit, but Will wound-up looking like a large, fur trimmed blood blister in the right seat. I'm lauging out loud as I write and remember this. He was big to begin with, but with that armored chicken plate under the Santa suit, the boy was absolutely enormous...and lauging like hell at himself. I remember him, between giggles, saying, 'I can't beleive I'm really doing this.' My only concern was that, if we took fire and I got hit, I was not at all sure Will could even reach the controls if he suddenly needed to fly the ship.

Just before we took off, I remembered that my family had sent me a little battery operated Christmas tree that was about a foot high. Turn it on and the lights flashed. I brought it out to the ship and we taped it to the glare shield above the instrument panel right at the bottom of the windshield just to the left of the center post so I could reach up and turn it on. Will had no hope of reaching it, even if we had put it on the top of the cyclic.

Before we took off, we loaded up on extra sundry packs from the mess hall (I think that's what they were called). They had cigarettes, razors, stationery, pens and lots and lots of candy.

We cranked up and flew to the TOC of the batallion we were supporting and got the locations, frequencies and call signs of the units we would deliver hot chow to. I told Will that we needed to rehearse our 'act' so when I called the TOC the first time, something like, 'Lightening ops, this is Dolphin 14, about three minutes out with a VIP on board.'

There was a pause and then: 'Dolphin 14 we don't have any VIPs scheduled.' That's when Will keyed his foot switch and transmitted, 'Ho-Ho-Ho. Merry Christmas!'

The grunt ops guy said, 'Are you kidding me?' I responded with, 'Come on out to the re-supply pad and meet your VIP.' About that time we were circling the pad in a right-hand orbit, I had turned on the flashing Christmas tree lights and Will was flinging candy and sundries to the grunts guarding the perimeter. They were laughing and pointing, the gunner and crew chief were waving and throwing candy. Everyone was laughing like hell, me along with them.

We landed and a bunch of guys started loading up the hot chow in the mermite cans and many more just ran to the cockpit to shake our hands and thank us (mostly Will), taking pictures of 'that big Santa flying our re-supply bird' and just suddenly remembering that it was Christmas Day.

The rest of the day was more of the same, only more satisfying. When the grunts in the field saw us circling with Santa, who was tossing candy and goodies out of the cockpit, it was a sight to behold. We had guys run up just to touch Santa's sleeve, yell a huge 'Thank you' over the roar of the Huey and, believe it or not, scramble like crazy for the candy just like kids back home at the annual Christmas parade.

It was a memorable Christmas Day. In many ways, my most memorable. Will was the best Santa I've ever seen. He should have been awarded a red and green Air Medal that day."

Merry Christmas Everyone!
J.C. Pennington
174th AHC
Duc Pho 1968-69

After reviewing Fisher's above pic, J.C. wrote: "I'd bet almost anything that that is Will as Santa, especially the profile. Good photo Mark! Does anyone remember Will's last name? (Assistant Webmaster note: Will is identified in Steve Kennedy's comment below). I know he was a 1LT and must have been in the 1st Platoon since we were flying together...but maybe not. He must have been pretty new since I was a fairly senior Dolphin AC at the time."- J.C.

Steve Kennedy wrote: "I think Will was Will Hutto. His other claim to fame was on New Years, when we had a shakedown because the C.O. didn't want any fireworks. Will confiscated a flare, walked into the middle of the company street, and popped it, directly in front of Major Brown. I also remember that Will (I think that he was my Asst Platoon Leader when I was in the Dolphins) flew a USO group back up to Chu Lai and caused quite a ruckus when he landed and one of the USO guys, wearing paisley pants, got out of the Peter Pilots seat, right in front of the Division Aviation Officer!" [Assistant Webmaster note: Identified, so far, on the Shark porch are: Warren Smith (in red shirt). To Smith's right is Bill Walzer (white tee with camera around neck...Shark 4 at that time). In the right foreground of the shot, is Bob Gamber-Shark 6 (with nomex suit and hat).]

Assistant Webmaster Note: This is as large as I can get the photos without distorting. Identified, so far, in this photo; on porch is Bob Thomas (tall guy in OD behind Smith's left) and that's "Chick" Cichowski center foreground (white tee and camera).

"The guy in the blue shirt with leg bandages is Tom Dana." J.C. remembers Tom fell through a trap door to the bunker underneath the hootch (a few nights before- during a rocket attack).

Famous Santa sign on Shark Hootch entrance door. Caption reads: "HEY HO!".

"That is ABSOLUTELY the tree. Just as I remembered it...brown!"- J.C.

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