A NewB Writes Home
July - December 1970
While all of your TINS are much better stories, here's a couple I thought you might enjoy.
23 July 1970
The wopwop sounds of Hueys filled the air as the flight line and revetments began to fill up when the rest of the company stared to arrive at Nha Trang. Pilots and crews poured out onto the tarmac with hoots and hollers as they slung their weapons over their shoulders and headed to quarters to shower up and either crash or head to the club. Over the next day or two, many introductions were made on the flight line and in the club. A bunch of the guys who left for the 281st before me were all there to say Hi and besides them and a few of the other pilots, Sid Hardeman and I were treated like newbies…low-lifes…FNGs… people that hadn’t seen or survived combat. One of the crew chiefs gave me the low down on who was who in the pilot ranks, and I were told to be careful with Frank Welch and David Dean. Both were good guys, great pilots but could get a little testy or crazy at times. After coming back from dinner and a fairly long session in the bar one night, we were sitting in our bunks getting ready for the next day’s adventures when we heard a bunch of commotion, yelling and screaming coming down the hallway.
"Where are the newbies? Where are those effin’ Newbs?"
The next thing I remember seeing is an ax head splintering our door and in walks CW2 Dean! He walked up to me (and I think Sid), smiles and said,
"Newb, you try to kill me out there flying and you ain’t coming back! I’m too short for any effin’ newbie crap!"
Well now. Nice to meet you to Dave.
26 July 1970
Hi. Hope all’s well. Today I flew my first actual mission with the RatPack. After meeting that guy named Dean I told you about a few days ago, I met this guy from Boston named Frank Welch and we seemed to hit it off pretty well. We were scheduled to fly a basic resupply and pickup mission at a base near Cambodia called (I think) Duc Lap, so he let me fly as soon as we got outside of the Nha Trang airspace. I listened intently as he went through the who’s who, what’s what, and does & don’ts within the Company. We were almost at Duc Lap when a call for help call came up on guard. Frank let everyone know where we were. Someone identified themselves as local airspace controller and said we were the closest aircraft in the air, so he would be vectoring us in to see if we could help. He said a gunship team was being scrambled to join up with us. Frank had taken control of the a/c again and as we approached the vector point, we saw smoke rising from the downed helicopter in a small clearing and were told the crew was in the tree line on the south end of the LZ. The gunships pulled up about the same time we did and made a steep turn pattern and decent over the LZ. Frank told me to remain calm, sit low in the seat, monitor the gauges, and keep my hands ‘almost’ on the controls so I’d be ready to take control if he got shot. What? Frank, that wasn’t too comforting. Within minutes, the gunner and crew chief started firing their 60s and Frank yelled over telling me to sit lower in the seat and not to get scared if I started hearing pings and whizzing sounds. Casually Frank says:
“Intruder taking fire, taking fire”.
Pinging or whizzing doesn’t describe the sound of a bullet piercing the helicopter’s thin skin. We got into the LZ with both the gunner and crew chief blasting away with their machine guns, momentarily touched ground as the other crew ran out of the woods and jumped into our helo. Frank pushed the nose over and took off low level just over the tops of the trees. After checking with the crew to make sure they were all OK and talking to control, Frank lit up a cigarette and said:
“Looks like were all still in one piece. You’ve got it, Newb. Fly us home.”
I was surprised I hadn’t pissed my pants during the recovery, and I sure needed to hit the head. When we got back to Nha Trang, Frank and SP5 Carter, our crew chief, post-flighted the a/c, smiled and casually said:
“Welcome to Nam, magnet ass. We took 27 rounds on your first mission. Might be a record.”
I only faintly remember hearing their voices in the background and couldn’t care if what they said was true or not. (I’m sure it probably wasn’t but I’ll never know.) I was totally focused on the bullet holes right behind my seat. I really had to go find a bathroom.
281st AHC Intruders: Jul 70 - Dec 70
Until this morning reading your emails, I had never realized that you arrived at the 281st the very same day that Curtis Moore and I went down in #076 West of Lane AHP and North of Hwy 19 in the foothills. We ended up at the bottom of a 200+ foot hover hole and were extracted by BMT Dustoff on a jungle penetrator, 2 of us at a time. No one hurt really, but the A/C was a wreck, and lifted by Chinook back to the Maintenance depot at Qui Nhon that evening. The Dustoff ship got another call with us all on board and dropped the 4 of us on a paddy dike to wait for one of our ships. It turned out to be a Bandit ship that Jay Rush was flying who arrived after a couple of lonely moments and brought our sorry behinds back to the company area. 23 July 1970. The CE was Andy Simon, and the DG was Andy Plummer.
Mr Dean is one of the great characters of 281st that never came to a reunion as far as I know. I am sure many in unit can think of other, more descriptive words.....I think(not sure) I spoke with him in early 2000 about coming to a reunion...again, think(?) he felt might not be welcomed.....came from Upstate NY. I vaguely recall making a flight with him, up the coast to various PX looking for a small refrigerator.....Is anyone in touch with Dave Dean???