174th Assault
Helicopter Company

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Thoughts of a Rattler on the Americal Division
and Troop Morale in 1970/71

The following e-mail exchange took place between Don Lynam, a platoon leader in the 71st AHC Rattlers in 1970/71, and Mike Sloniker, the 174th AHC Website's historian, in March 1998:

Don Lynam sent:

I served with the Americal from Sep 69 to May 71. I flew a LOH for the 196th Bde for 5 months, then extended to fly slicks for the 71st AHC. While assigned to the 196th Bde I flew a VR with an Engineer Cpt in mid Feb (70) to select the location for a firebase. That FSB was named - Mary Ann. While the hill we selected wasn't the highest in the area, it was relatively clear of trees and provided a good zone of fire to the west for the artillery. The CA to establish this FSB put a company from 1/46 and a combat Engineering section on the hilltop to start the digging-in process. The CA was cold and there was no reported VC / NVA activity in the area. However, the next morning as the Engineering Cpt bent over to wake one of his troops a mortar round exploded directly behind him. He lost both legs, one arm and an eye. There were several other casualties. Not a very good start for FSB Mary Ann.

In March (70) I transferred to the 71st AHC - the Rattlers and Firebirds supported all the battalions of the 196th Bde, so I flew into and around Mary Ann more times than I can remember. Another incident occurred (Aug 70) very near Mary Ann that claimed a lot of lives that was not mentioned in the book. In Jul / Aug 70 an operation to re-occupy the abandon Special Forces Camp at Kham Duc was conducted. At the close of the operations a CH-47 (178th ASHC - BOXCARS) carried troops from 1/46 and an internal load of 105mm rounds from Kham Duc to the vicinity of FSB Mary Ann. While at a high hover waiting to land the Chinook crashed, exploded and burned. At least 24 troops and crewmembers were KIA. The pilot survived. At the time we heard two very different stories about this incident. One story stated that the crash was due to a mechanical failure, while the second story reported a 51-cal tracer round was seen hitting the aircraft. No other aircraft reported taking fire or receiving hits that day flying in this area. The story found in the 1996 VHPA directory (pg. 257) tells the shot-down version.

The 71st was in northern I Corp, Lam Son 719, when FSB Mary Ann was overran. We were getting ready to return to Chu Lai when it happened. I was in Da Nang waiting to go on R&R when I head about them being hit. When I got back from R&R the 71st had moved back to Chu Lai. I spent my last month in country flying for the 196th Bde. I flew a couple of times for the 1/46 before DEROS - they were a completely defeated unit This once proud unit was nearly lifeless. I was really glad that my war was about over.

Mike Sloniker said:

It was a very different time in 67-68 than it was in 71, and the total complacency I saw rampant in the Americal, even after Mary Ann, was one of the lowest periods of my time in the Army. NO ONE cared. It was a real eye opener for me to be in the Americal in 1971.

Don Lynam continues:

When I got to the 196th Bde in Sep 69 most of the units I worked with were pretty good. I didnít have a good reference point such as a previous tour - but I didnít feel that everyone was complacent or that NO ONE cared Most of the units didnít go out of their way to avoid contact; in fact, they usually kicked ass on a regular basis. But things started to really change. I remember receiving a TWX saying that a CWO Thompson WAS NOT AUTHORIZED to use ANY air resources of the division. This didnít make any sense at all - until later, when I found out that CWO Thompson was the pilot who reported the My Lai incident. Soon we were up to our ears with reporters, investigators and visiting politicians although My Lai was not in the 196th Bde AO. The My Lai incident, investigation, cover-up attempts, buck passing etc., in my opinion, kicked the life out of the Americal Div. A lot of the good Battalion CO's got out of the Division as fast as they could, and they were replaced by less qualified men in many cases. The rules of engagement (ROE) also drastically changed as an indirect result of My Lai. Initially, the 196th AO had a lot of Free Fire Zones. After, My Lai it became almost impossible to get clearance to fire on NVA/VC troops unless you were in contact and sometimes the ARVN wouldnít give clearance regardless of the situation.

I remember the ROE for one CA into the Hiep Duc valley that I flew as C&C. The ROE was that we could return fire ONLY if we were receiving battle damage (taking hits). I could not get my backseat (LTC Bn CO) to prep the LZ with arty or let the Firebirds prep it. I decided that I would mark the LZ with smoke for the flight while they were on very long final. The guns flew escort and I all but landed in the LZ. My backseat got pissed but I felt he deserved to share some of the risk he was asking everyone else to take. My crew chief and gunner and the gunships kept saying that they had movement in the treeline. As the flight was on short final at least a platoon of NVA broke and ran away from the treeline line next to the LZ. My backseat would not let us go hot until Firebird lead claimed he was taking hits, probably self inflicted. The NVA didnít stand and fight on this occasion but took a beating from the Firebirds as they fled. After the CA the guns stayed on station as the grunt company moved out and mopped-up the area. Based on the conversation the Bn CO was having with his S-3(?) I decided that the CO was trying to figure out how he could claim the body count as all belonging to his unit. I never had to fly as C&C with this guy again, but I flew C&C with his S-3 (Maj) who did a good job and would listen to our recommendations.

Another very important factor that might explain the apparent complacency of the Americal was the announcements of troop withdrawals. How can you expect the troops or their leaders to be aggressive in combat if your government is saying were going to pull you out first chance we get? The game became how do I keep myself alive? The drugs, the race tension, the peace marches and the lack of effort from the ARVNs all took their toll on the soul of the Division. I think it died at FSB Mary Ann. The Division deserved better.

Don Lynam
Rattler 16

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