The pre-dawn air is warm and humid,
A foreteller of the hot day ahead.
An occasional breeze from the sea,
Not cooling, just moving and salty.
The flight line slowly comes alive,
Crewchiefs checking logbooks inside.
Flashlights flicker as pilots preflight,
And gunners check weapons in the dawning light.
"Slicks," so named, because lightly armed,
Only two M-60’s between them and harm.
The real workhorses of this cursed war,
Carrying supplies, "Grunts," and wounded near and far.
Gunships resembling huge prehistoric beasts,
Complete with red mouths and sharp white teeth.
While not so obvious, until in a fight,
Their rockets and miniguns, protectors of the flight.
Suddenly, a starter whines and an ignitor clicks,
Turbine engines spring to life so quick.
Rotor blades slowly begin to spin,
Until they are just a blurry disk so thin.
The still of the morning has quickly went,
As choppers noisily hover out revetments.
One by one they find their position and alight,
Ready for "Lead" to say "Up Flight."
The rotor wash slowly becomes a 100 Knot roar,
Whipping about my perch in the open door.
I "Lock and load." as we clear the wire,
And begin searching for signs of hostile fire.
This country as beautiful as anything can be,
White sand beaches and an emerald sea.
Shimmering rice patties fill the land,
Until the jungles and mountains make their stand.
This view from above so calm and clear.
You can almost forget why you are here.
Listening to "Rock and Roll" music on the ADF,
While the pilots argue who’s technique is the best.
Gradually the flight starts to descend,
A cue to check weapons and the "CA" begins.
"Receiving fire, receiving fire!" and unknown voice laments,
A quick glance confirms "Chalk Two" taking hits!
The intercom comes alive with chatter,
Gunships roll in to make the real estate flatter.
We turn on short final to a "Hot LZ!",
Cool veteran pilots making it look so easy.
Bright red streams of steel jacketed lead,
Tear the luscious green jungle ahead.
As my "60" probes the brush to our left,
I wonder how we hadn’t been hit yet!
Too slowly we come to a three foot hover,
As the "Grunts" jump and run for cover.
I quickly call "Up left!" and my gunner "Up right!",
The "AC" pulls pitch to get us out of the fight.
As the last of my tracers rake the tree line,
I begin to think of the men we left behind.
My world mostly clean, fresh, and clear,
Theirs always dirty, filled with misery and fear.
This ol’Huey and her crew of four,
Cheated the "Grim Reaper" once more.
We faced uncertainty and death every time we flew,
Yet, we climbed dutifully into that sky so true.
The reasons were many and to some, hollow and empty,
But to have quit would have tarnished the memory,
Of all those sons, brothers, and fathers, and friends,
Who will never smile or shake our hands again.
I can still see his silly four-beer grin,
And his upturned "Boonie hat" with all the pins.
I’ll never forget those, with whom I served,
I just hope you grant them the dignity, they deserve.
There are many who say to remember is too painful,
But they were the first, to make us feel so shameful.
I have always been proud to be a "Vietnam Vet",
Most of you were just never willing to accept it.
By: Mel Lutgring
174th Assault Helicopter Company
Chu Lai, Vietnam, 1971