Crew Chief & Maintenance Platoon
I was the Crew Chief on 227, when it was shot down on March 29,1968, killing CWO
McCoig at an LZ in the Ashau Valley.
I had only been in country a couple of months when we were called up to Phu Bai
to replace the Rat Pack in support of Project Delta. I don’t remember
being there more than 2 or 3 day before we were shot down. One afternoon
right after we got there, while working on my aircraft, I saw rockets being
walked in toward us. Not knowing exactly what was going on, Sergeant
Seaton, who had a whole lot more experience in the country, informed me that it
was not friendly fire and led the way to the bunker.
remember flying a recon mission the day prior to the incident whereby the LZ’s
to be used that day were determined and saw the area where the Air Force had
blown the canopy off the top of a trail used by Charlie and there was a convoy
of trucks down there that had quad 50’s on them and green tracers the size, to
me, of basketballs were being fired at the aircraft.
The day of the incident was hot and sunny. We left the FOB around mid day
after the officers got a briefing. We were assigned Recovery (Medical) and
would fly behind the Command and Control Ship. Our job was to pick up
wounded or downed members when C & C told us to.
for the flight that day as I remember it was to insert a company of ARVN Rangers
and some Nungs along with their American advisors in a combat assault in
reaction to intelligence gathered by Delta in previous days. This was not a
typical Delta mission and was my first hot combat assault.
WO Robin Hicks was the Aircraft Commander, a maintenance warrant officer,
Wendell Allen was the co-pilot and Lionel Wesley was the Gunner. We also
had an SF medic called “Doc” with us. In addition to our normal equipment,
we had a McGuire Rig and a winch with litter basket.
The combat assault got underway with 3 slicks from the 281st pulling
the initial insertion. For some reason, aircraft 135 went down in the LZ amidst
heavy enemy small arms fire. The other two came out and a Marine CH46 came in
smoking from around the pylon. It was able to make it out of the LZ but I
understand, didn’t make it back to safety. The 2nd Marine 46 came in
and made a hard landing. We were at altitude and fairly far away and sometimes I
was on the wrong side of the ship so I am not able to describe everything that
went on in the LZ up to that time, but did know that two ships were down in the
LZ, aircraft 135 and the Marine 47. I remember lots of discussion over the
radios and I think that aircraft 127 went down and picked up the crew from 135.
Any way, we were all about out of fuel and flew back to the FOB.
McCoig who along with Norm Kaufman were the pilots on 135 were at the FOB before
we took off again after refueling. Kaufman was wounded in the foot and
went to the hospital. There had been some discussion on whether or not there was
the possibility of flying 135 out so McCoig volunteered to take the maintenance
officer’s place on 227 and for some reason flew left seat while Robin Hicks
moved over to the right seat. We also took on 6 to 8-5 gallon canisters of smoke in the
aircraft. We returned to the LZ.
When we got
back to the AO, the guns set up a pattern and we went in with C & C and kicked off
the smoke. By that time the remainder of the flight caught up with us, went into
the LZ to drop off the recovery and maintenance people for both 135 and the
Marine 46 and to pick up wounded from the ground element. All aircraft including
the guns were reporting ground fire. About that time someone decided that the LZ
wasn’t secure enough to conduct recovery operations on the downed aircraft, so
the hole ships were ordered to start picking up the recovery and maintenance
crews. Aircraft 127 made it out but Aircraft 228 apparently received fire and
returned to the LZ and shut it down. 113 and 129 recovered the crews of 228 and
maintenance personnel and some wounded. Then another Marine 46 crashed hard in
the LZ. We were then directed to move into the LZ to pick up the crew of the 46.
I was on the left side and McCoig had me go hot with my M60 real early in that
that was where all the ground fire was coming from. Wesley on the other side of
the ship couldn’t fire because that was where the friendlies were. I think
McCoig flew into the LZ and we quickly loaded the downed crewmembers from the
46, which with Doc who was already on board made 7 or 8 passengers, a full load.
I think the crew chief from 46 had made it into the perimeter of the ground
element. Upon departure from the LZ we received ground fire and McCoig was hit
with the first bullet directly in the forehead. Then all hell broke loose. I was
out of M60 ammo by this time and grabbed my M14 and was trying to get a clip
into it. Fuel was flying all over my face. In the meanwhile, Hicks jumped on the
controls as the aircraft went into a nose high attitude and with a tremendous
yaw to the right. He kept screaming for me to come up and get McCoig off the
controls but centrifugal force was trying to throw me out and I was holding on
to anything I could grab just to stay in the aircraft and could not make it
forward no matter how hard I tried. Finally McCoig relaxed enough to allow Hicks
to regain control and somehow, got us back into the LZ.
Once on the
ground, we continued receiving fire from the tree line but this time I was on
the friendly side. Hicks couldn’t exit out the right door because they had us
zeroed in and every time he moved his armor plate they would hit it. He
eventually crawled out over the console and came out the left cargo door. Wesley
had made it out somehow and came crawling under the nose cone with both his and
my M60 and all the ammo that he had left. There was a bomb crater about 20 feet
from where the aircraft landed and using our downed ship to serve as cover, we
eventually made it to the bomb crater. After the fire died down a little, due in
large part to Air Force fighters working the tree line, we recovered McCoig’s
body and moved it inside the perimeter of a defensive position that a small
Ranger Team had established next to the LZ. By this time darkness and bad
weather forced us to remain on the ground that night. We received steady mortar,
B40, and small arms fire all night.
the next morning we were told that a large NVA force was headed our way, and
that we needed to find an LZ which could be used to recover our dead and
wounded. We headed out with first me and Wesley and then Hicks and a Marine LT
carrying McCoig’s body. There were several dead and wounded in our group. One
Ranger had taken a direct hit from a mortar and didn’t take a very big poncho to
carry his remains. The gunner from the 46 was real unlucky. He had been hit in
the left side when we loaded him, then he took another round in his lower gut
when we came back in the LZ. He died after we got him in the perimeter. One
Special Forces guy had two bullets in the chest and was white as a sheet from
the loss of blood but walked out of that mess.
toward the river and with all that water around us, we had nothing to drink. Man
I was thirsty. At the time, I was carrying a wounded Special Forces Captain web
gear. It had a canteen with some purifying tablets taped to it so I filled it
with that nasty river water, threw in a handful of tablets, shook it a couple
times and drank it down.
all morning, then all afternoon. The terrain, once we got out of the river, was
real dense bush. I can remember seeing aircraft of all makes and services in the
air and the artillery from Firebase Bastogne was pounding the mountains
surrounding us. The weather had lifted and it was hot and muggy in the jungle
and my mouth was dry as a bone. The SF guy with the two holes in his chest gave
me some hard candy but I couldn’t develop enough spit to swallow it. Sometime in
the late afternoon of that day, we located a clearing that could be used as a
pickup point. We watched the guns work over the sides of the PZ and between the
napalm and other work, the PZ was secure. Just before dusk, we got out of that
place. Marine 46’s picked up the dead and wounded first and even 281st
aircraft were there. Some people were sent to Bastogne (where I heard they got
attacked that night) in order to get a shorter turn around time but I was one of
the last out and got a ride all the way back to the FOB.
remember how many days we stayed at the FOB before we went back to Nha Trang but
it wasn’t long. Once back, I was assigned another ship but got real deep in to
the bottle and eventually asked to be reassigned to Maintenance Platoon where I
stayed the remainder of my tour. Most everything after that day is blurred in my
memory due either to the alcohol or my mind giving me some relief from the guilt
fear, and other emotions I felt at the time.