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Recollections and Memories
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The following poem was written by Danny Smith
Wolf Pack Crew Chief (11/1969-70)
(Posted 30 May 2005)
was a young man of twenty four,
I was sent to a place I try not to think of anymore.
flying in Gunship over a place called DaLat,
When over the radio came, we were going up hot.
gun fire fills the air,
As people were running every where.
rockets blasting and homes blown apart,
And children screaming I forget it not.
the mission was over and it was time to go,
My heart fills with sorrow as I glanced down below.
I lie in
my hooch and try not to cry,
Then rockets and mortars would light up the sky.
five good friends that I once knew,
But they were all lost at a place called Play Cu.
that I left I just can't forget,
The things that had happened at a place called Plan Thiet.
I am home, now trying my best,
But that place called Vietnam just won't let me rest.
Danny Smith - Wolf Pack 1970
Lt. Ned Heintz
"SITTING IN THE DOOR"
(Click the title above)
A poem pinned by Jim "Beetle" Bailey
Wolf Pack CE (1969-70)
(Note: The following are email messages written by Corky Corkran and Jack Serig in response to a message left on the "Virtual Wall" by Sheila Mann, the niece of Michael Gallagher who died in the heroic and tragic rescue of a downed Wolf Pack gunship crew 21 may 1967)
Michael Patrick Gallagher
Private First Class,
United States Army
Dearborn Heights, Michigan
February 12, 1943 to May 21, 1967
I was three when my Uncle Mike died so I don't remember him, but I feel he deserves to be remembered.
I would love to hear from anyone who knew him.
Michael's niece, Sheila Mann [email@example.com]
From: D. & K. Corkran [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Craig Szwed [email@example.com]
Date: Thursday, May 03, 2001
Craig: I was just at the the "Virtual Wall" and this was on the page memorials. Remember that Michael was killed by ground fire on the first pickup attempt with the hoist. I plan to write to the lady. I didn't know Patrick but I know he gave his life in attempting to save mine!!!!!!
Date: Fri, 4 May 2001
From: "Jack Serig" [firstname.lastname@example.org][deceased]
My Dear Sheila,
I received a copy of your message left at the Virtual Wall on the internet via Donald Corkran. Donald was one of the two pilots in a Huey helicopter gunship of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, that was shot down on May 21, 1967. Walter Wrobleski was the other pilot. Craig Szwed was an enlisted crew member/gunner on the same helicopter along with another gunner, Gary Hall. Donald, Craig and Gary were rescued over a four_day period. Walter was never seen again and is still carried as MIA. Your uncle, Michael, was on one of the helicopters involved in the rescue. His helicopter was not shot down, to my recollection, but he was killed in an exchange of fire with the enemy. He was a door gunner. I remember our company's First Sergeant advising me, after the action, how brave Michael had been standing out on the helicopter skids to better discover the enemy's hidden positions while firing his machine gun. I was Executive Officer of the company at the time but was not personally involved in the actions I've described.
Please be assured Sheila, that Michael Patrick has not been forgotten by those of us who served in his unit. You see, we have developed a non-profit association and web site which continues to allow us to remember the bravery of the forty-four crew members we lost between 1966 and 1971 in the 281st AHC. I encourage you to view our web page at http://281stahc-assn.org/. [now www.281st.com] Scroll down the "Personal Stories" and you will see that Michael is mentioned in the accounts of the action by both Donald and Craig. You may contact Donald and Craig by e-mail as their addresses appear in this e-mail. Gary Hall's last known address is 180 Beachwood Drive, Maybank, TX 75147-7878. I'm not sure who the other crew members were on Michael's helicopter. But this message goes to all our membership and I know when anyone who may have been involved receives this message they will certainly attempt to help fill in their part of the story for you. Please feel free to contact me if I may be of further help.
Most kind regards.
Jack Serig, Sr.
Lieutenant Colonel, Infantry, Retired
(Note: This story was sent me by Ed Young. A
memory of the Wolf Pack "in action")
Subject: Wolf Pack vs Navy
Date: Circa 1968
Fred, you probably don't remember me. Believe you left about half way through my tour with the unit. If you could get any of the Old Wolf Pack to admit it, this would make a great story about the day Wolf Pack almost sunk a navy vessel. I know Harry Wetmore was still with the unit. We were pulling a double team off a small area of beach under the point of high ground between Nha Trang and Can Rahn (the feet wet route). Nothing going on, three lift ships, me as C&C, and a fire team.
The Wolf Pack was using the whole deal as a live training/qualification to move someone up as a fire_team leader, and make another guy an AC (don't know who). No enemy fire at all, but Wolf Pack 36 wanted to blast away for effect. I did commo with the ground folks and everyone let go with everything, including the ground troops and slicks. Fireworks had no sooner started than a navy swift boat came screaming in and set broad side to the beach about 400 meters out. Had we known his freq. I would have explained and asked him to join in. About five minutes into the show, there was a shout "misfire, misfire." I was just completing an outbound turn and looked up in time to see two huge geysers of water go at least 100' in the air. Looked like a WW11 movie. One on each side of the swift boat.
No wonder they were called swift boats. You've never seen such rooster tail in the water as that boat made for Nha Trang. Bet they were wondering what the hell they had gotten into. Next call was from 36 saying he was headed for Nha Trang in a hurry. That he had some phone calls to make. I'm not sure of the date but think it was late summer 68 and that you had left. Might be worth digging up. I've always thought the new guy on the rockets punched off a pair on his call outbound.
Bandit 22 (1967-68)
(Note: The following story by Fred Phillips was written for the Winter Edition of the original 281st AHC Assn Newsletter in 1990. It clears up the origins of the name "Wolf Pack".
THE WILD BUNCH
by Fred Phillips
When I arrived in-country in November ’65, I was a 2nd Lieutenant fresh out of
flight school. I was assigned to the 6th Airlift Platoon (the Fangs), an
orphaned unit left over from the early days of the war. For a few years the
Fangs had operated as a separate gunship platoon out of Danang, having the only
Huey gunships in I Corps. When the Marines arrived to take over the war in I
Corps, the Army didn’t seem to know what to do with the Fangs, so the unit was
moved to Saigon and attached to the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion. They had
been there a few weeks when I arrived, but had already managed to piss off just
about everyone in town above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The Fangs were
combat flyers who let everyone know that they didn’t care for straphangers or,
for that matter, anyone else who flew VIPs or pushed paper. Saigon, of course,
was full of those guys.
About two days after I arrived, the 145th had an officers’ party at the
120th Aviation Company’s villa in Saigon. After a few rounds of drinks, some of
the Fangs took over the microphone and announced that the 145th pilots, and
particularly those in the 120th, were a bunch of pansies. Although that was
probably true, quite a few of the pansies were offended and a memorable brawl
ensued. By the time the MPs arrived to break things up, one major was sitting
unconscious in a corner with the remains of a guitar broken over his head. When
he came to, he swore that he would get revenge.
An official investigation failed to reveal the culprit and, naturally, no
one confessed. Still, the staff pukes suspected (probably correctly) that one of
the 6th Platoon pilots had laid the major low and decided to get even by sending
the entire unit to some place outside of Saigon where, they thought, we would
all be promptly killed by the VC. A week later we moved to Bien Hoa which, if
anything, was actually safer and more comfortable than Saigon.
Before long, the word got back that we actually liked Bien Hoa, so the
battalion started to look for some other way to get rid of us. When the 5th
Special Forces Group started looking for aviation support, the l45th staff were
only too happy to tell them that they happened to have an entire platoon to
spare. In February ‘66 we moved to Nha Trang.
Please don’t think that the 6th Platoon’s pilots were the only ones
causing problems. The enlisted Fangs had as much unit pride as anyone else, and
did their best to uphold our reputation. At about 0500 on the morning that we
were going to leave Bien Hoa, the CQ woke me up to take a phone call from some
MP captain. He was looking for several guys who had terrorized most of the
commercial establishments in the town the night before by entering with loaded
M-16s, chasing off all of the other customers, having the girls disrobe and then
painting FANG on strategic parts of their bodies with some sort of indelible ink
that wouldn’t wash off. Each time, however, they had paid the mama-san
handsomely before moving on. I told the captain that I would check into it and
that he could meet me at the airfield in an hour.
I borrowed a jeep and headed for
the EM hooch. When I arrived, I found several of our crew chiefs and gunners
passed out in and around the premises. The platoon sergeant, Mahlon Buckalew,
was slumped over the wheel of his jeep. It took a while to wake him up, but when
he finally came to his first words were “You should have been with us last
night, sir.” Sergeant Buck confirmed that the MP’s version of the evening’s
activities was more or less accurate, so we rounded up everybody that had been
involved and loaded them on a Huey that pulled pitch just as the MPs drove up. I
told the captain that I would bring everyone in to see him as soon as they
returned from the mission. I didn’t bother to tell him that we were leaving town
for good. We never heard about it after that.
So far, I haven’t really mentioned the 281st, but the unit wasn’t formed
by assigning individuals as was usually done and the two platoons that made up
the original core of the company brought long and colorful combat histories with
The 145th Aviation Platoon was another unit that had been around for
several years and had originally been part of the 145th Battalion. They had been
stationed in Nha Trang for about a year when we arrived, and had spent most of
that time flying for Project Delta. They had a lot of war stories to tell and
more than their share of Purple Hearts. The Fangs and the 145th (call sign
“Iroquois”) were happy to be together. Shortly afterward, the 281st was formally
activated although about 200 more guys were still en route from the states to
give us a full complement of officers and EM.
Naturally, the platoons needed to be
reorganized somewhat, since we had something like 13 gunships and only seven
slicks, which wasn’t exactly what Special Forces had in mind. We formed a gun
platoon and a slick platoon to fly for Project Delta, and another slick platoon
which flew mostly ash-and-trash for Special Forces camps all over the country,
as well as spook missions for the CIA.
I was assigned to the gun platoon, starting out as the copilot for the
platoon leader, Captain Joe Thurston. The other original 281st gunnies were Lt.
Vic Donnell from the 145th and WO Ron Palascak from the Fangs. Sgt. Buckalew was
the platoon sergeant and some of the original crew members were Perrin, Goff,
Agnew and Dave Bitle, who claimed to be the world’s ugliest man and was probably
right. At first, we used the 145th gunship call sign, “Husky,” which Ron and I
thought was a piece of crap. Of course, we wanted Fang but most of the guys from
the 6th Platoon were flying spook missions and still using their individual Fang
call signs. Within a few weeks, Donnell and Thurston both DEROSed and we had
picked up some new pilots, inducing Ed Carty and Jim Leach from the 1st Cav,
Gary O’Connor from the 145th and Captain Lynn Coleman from the states, who was
the new platoon leader. At last, it was time to pick a new call sign.
The pilots gathered in the bar at the Special Forces officers club,
knowing that it would not be possible to select a suitable call sign if we were
anywhere near sober. I don’t remember what the suggestions were (in fact. I
don’t remember much at all about that night after the first few rounds) but I do
know that we failed to come up with anything we liked. When we woke up the
following afternoon, some major was complaining that an enlisted man had painted
something on the side of a gunship and he wanted it removed right away, since we
were supposed to be a covert and sneaky kind of unit that didn’t have
identifying pictures on the helicopters. A few of us walked over to the flight
line where we found Dave Bitle, one of the crew chiefs, admiring his artwork. He
had painted a great cartoon wolf, smoking a cigar, on one of the doors and had
written “WOLFPACK” above it. The rest is history.
A couple of months passed, and the
company still didn’t have a ca1l sign. During that time, the non-Fang slicks
actually used those ridiculous call signs that the Army published in the SOI,
which had lots of Ls and Rs because the VC weren’t supposed to be able to
pronounce those very well. Believe it or not, they actually used “Level Chisel”
for one entire operation. The slick drivers hated those call signs, and weren’t
too happy about being snickered at by
the Wolfpack either. Naturally, the majors came is with a solution. They told
the Wolfpack to start using Army call signs also. We Just ignored that fine
piece of advice and after awhile they quit trying to enforce it. Finally, the CO
asked everyone to submit suggestions for a call sign in writing and, in the
grand tradition of field grade officers everywhere, formed a committee to pick a
name for the unit. I don’t know who was on that committee, but it must have had
some WOs and EM, because they picked “Intruders” and, as we all know, it was a
I don’t know how
“Bandit” and “Rat Pack” got started. That was after my time.
"Wolf Pack 32"
(Following is another tale of the adventures of the famed "Grumpy", canine hero
of the Wolf Pack and the 281st AHC)
2 February 2000
Submitted by Corky Corcoran, "Wolf Pack 33" (1966-67)
"Grumpy" circa early 1967
CRS (Can't Remember Shit) prevents me
from setting a date to this story. We had just "acquired" the pod
mini-guns from the air force. I will try to find a copy of a picture of
them on the aircraft later.
Any how. As usual Grumpy liked to ride on the gunship and had a great time barking at the old M-60s as they fired. This date we were going out to test fire the new guns installation. I was in the left seat. I don't remember who was flying. Bob Klarner's name rings a distant bell? Bob rolled in lined up on the target went hot and fired. Grumpy leaped on the console and into my lap leaving a trail of "water" across radios that were dying and doused me good! I could not get him out of my lap until we were back on the ground.
As I remember he did not come close to me and that aircraft again.
(The following is an email response from Fred
Phillips to a inquiry on the private 281st ONElist as to anyone remembering SGT
Mahlon Buckalew, Wolf Pack Platoon Sergeant, 1966)
Subject Re SGT Buckalew
John Hyatt asked if anyone remembers SGT Buckalew. I sure as hell do. He was the original Wolfpack platoon sergeant and an unforgettable character who saved my ass. He got the first Silver Star awarded in the 281st - for shooting a VC who had just emptied most of his AK-47 clip into our B-model, severing a hydraulic line and causing a cyclic hard-over. Nothing too remarkable about SGT Buck getting after the bad guy, except for the fact that he was outside straddling the gun pylon, at an altitude of less than 100 feet, and the aircraft was inverted. I'm still not too sure how he hung on or how we managed to avoid crashing right there, but it's amazing how hard you can yank a cyclic when the adrenaline's pumping. It happened on May 7, 1966, north of Tay Ninh. I was Joe Thurston's wingman that day. If you don't believe that anybody could have done what SGT Buckalew did, ask Joe. He was there.
Vietnam wasn't SGT Buckalew's first war. He also served during the Korean War and had a scar running up the side of his face - from a Chinese bayonet. Starting in about 1970, whenever I was in in an unfamiliar city, I would always check the phone book to see if I could find anyone I knew. Occasionally I succeeded. I always looked for SGT Buck, but without success. Then the Internet White Pages appeared and I figured that it would be easy to find a guy named Mahlon Buckalew, but again I was wrong. I finally found his name on the internet, in the Social Security Death Index.
He died in 1978, at age 47, but it didn't say where or why. I haven't forgotten him, and I won't. But for him, I wouldn't be here.
"Wolf Pack 32" (1966)
11 January 2000
StoryTime: Christmas 1967
Christmas "Wolf Pack" Story 1967
First of all my memory of 33 years ago might not be up to par. (If anyone remembers any part of this story please feel free to add to it).
We were in the field, can't remember where, maybe Huy Phu By" ROK's were in charge and they wouldn't let us go back to Na Trang for Christmas. So we planned and had our Christmas in the field.
Captain Mentzer had the guns removed from my ship to make it lighter. My gunner Creed, myself and two pilots flew back to Da Nang. (please, someone tell me who flew my ship that day?) When we landed we all went our separate directions. To get whatever we could scrounge up for our Christmas party. I remember talking a mess Sgt. out of a case of steaks. The pilots got Capt. Mentzer cognac just for him. Also, we brought back beer, ice etc. I think Creed midnight requisitioned a Christmas Tree including lights. When we got back the guys had taken the lids from rocket boxes and made a Merry Christmas sign. They used powder from our solid tracer rounds and burnt the writing into the wood. They also built a big chair for Capt Mentzer. We put the chair at one end of an Air Force Pallet that was built up on sand bags for our bunker. Then we put a line down both sides, two sands bags high, for each seat for the rest of the guys. On each side of Capt Mentzer’s chair we put three sand bags for the XO and the 'Ole Man. I folded brown paper bags for chef hats and we had a BIG PARTY!!! Some of the guys had taken tracer rounds and made homemade flares to shoot off at midnight. When they shot them off at midnight, needless to say, we got into BIG.........TROUBLE......! The 'ole man shut the party down, but we stuck around for awhile and drank some more brewskies. We all agreed he was mad because Capt Mentzer had the wooden chair flanked by the XO and the 'ole man.
After that night we weren't aloud to play cards with the officers any more. Also, they couldn't use our shower as they had in the past. BUT THAT'S ANOTHER STORY!!
Story continues with Captain Mentzer, "Drops Mini Guns in Rice Patty"
P.S.- You damn Yankees, I'm not GREEK I am full blooded "ITALIAN" ... Dago Dan!
It's been great.
"WolfPack" #172 CE
20 February 2000
Submitted by Dan DiGenova, "Wolf Pack" Crew Chief (1967-68)
Story time: Late 1967
Mini-Guns in Rice Paddy
An Loa Valley, west of DaNang
We were in the field (FOB) operating out of An Loa, west of Danang. Maybe it was on Samurai II for 3 MAF. We were going to get hit that night. The slicks and everyone had already gone to DaNang. As usual the guns were the last to leave. On the way out of An Loa we noticed a company of Marines in trouble, squads abreast, attacking a tree line. There were two marine gunships on station, but they wouldn't let us help. Finally they expended with no results. Capt. Mentzer talked to the FAC that was on station and got a ground radio frequency. He told them what color smoke to pop at each end of the unit. Wolf Pack rolled in with 3 or 4 guns. (I personally think that one of our guns had twice the fire power of the marine gunships). Needless to say we smoked that tree line. We hit everything outside the smoke and saved a bunch of marines. A Marine CH-46 came into to pick up the wounded but pulled out because they were receiving fire. Capt. Mentzer dropped the two mini-guns in the rice patty and went down and picked up the wounded marines.
Two days later we were on a hot mission and I caught shrapnel in the legs. Capt Mentzer and WO Lance Ham (I remember Lance unlocking his seat, pushing it over backwards and climbing back to stop the bleeding and bandage my leg) flew me to the Danang hospital pad and I ended up on the hospital ship "Sanctuary". I was there about three days and woke up one morning to a lot of loud noise and fighting. I looked down over the side of my bunk (as I was about 4 bunks high) and to my amazement marines were pulling tubes out of their arms, jumping out of their bunks, and fighting over whose outfit was the best. Then one marine spoke up loud and clear and everyone quieted down while he was telling his story about how a CH-46 wouldn't come in after him and his wounded buddies. He described the tree line, rice patty and how there were two marine gunships that didn't help and he couldn't believe it. Then this army unit came in with gunships blazing. The CH-46 tried to land again but pulled out because it received some small arms fire. Our guns rolled in again and one of them dropped external stores (pod minis), picked up the WIA's and saved their lives.
All these years I thought it was Capt. Boyd, but after talking to him it had to have been Capt. Mentzer. Again, 33 years is a long time. Someone help me with this story as I know it is true. Just some of the details are a bit hazy.
To this day I can still see the three wounded marines in that rice patty. Donny Johnson was one of those marines. He became a special friend on the hospital ship. I haven't found or heard from him since.
(9 January 2000 - A note from Fred Mentzer concerning the following. First is email from Dave Bitle to Peggy and Steve Matthews concerning Dave’s stories on the 281st ONElist email site. The second is a story that refers to previous ONElist email traffic about one "Grumpy", company mascot, who was rumored to have disgraced himself by "wetting" aircraft radios in combat. Dave’s story exonerates Grumpy and establishes the guilt of "DIP", spider monkey extraordinaire, and heroic member of the Wolf Pack.)
Peggy and Steve,
Peggy, I am glad you enjoy my recollection's. For some reason I seem to remember the funny and good time's. In fact I have recently found some thing's that are 180 degrees from what I had told myself and believed to be true for the last 30 yrs. The reason that I did not want my short stories published so to speak, at this time is that they will be out there for the Flight to read, in the sequence that theyshould be. If they are going to be included in a history of our unit, and enjoyed by all, they need to come out in their own turn. Also as I am sure you know Fred Mentzer and I are planning to get Wolf Pack's home page up and running in the near future. I feel that the homepage is going to need thing's like this. And frankly it's really about all I can contribute to our homepage. And then there is the fact that Steve is reaching the "maximum" of what he can do. In fact I don't see how he does it along with a job and family. I hope you and Steve can see and understand where I am coming from. And again I am glad you enjoy my War stories, and sincerely hope you continue to do so.
"Grumpy" and "DIP" (Dip Shit) - Heroes of the 281st Wolf Pack
I can't see the picture, but if the Dog is brown and white it is probably Grumpy, Wolf Pack's mascot, before he became everyone's. This is true if the picture is 1968 or before. Grump died a dog's death, hitby a FNG in a 2and1/2 ton while we were at FOB. He did have more hours flying than a lot of aviator's.
To clear his name, he was not the one that pissed all over the radio console. That was my spider monkey "DIP", short for Dip Shit. Every change of altitude he performed. His first Gun Run flight was down south of Nha Trang, where the ROK had their HHQ on the coast. I had him on an 8ft rope tied to a deck ring. We went into several gun run's, expended all rockets and mini-gun ammo. I sat back and started to relax and remembered DIP. Nowhere to be seen? I got ahold of the rope from the floor and followed it under my seat and out the door, over the mini-gun pylon and maybe another foot or so, and there was DIP, holding on to that rope and blowing in the wind. Apparently when the mini’s and rockets went off he bailed. Hanging out there through 5 or 6 gun runs at 120 knots +. It broke him from peeing on the radio's!
He was with us when we were at the Big Red 1's HHQ, and a female stole him away from us. Guess he figured that women were better than flying.
SSG David Bitle
"Wolf Pack 36 Yankee"
I was with Shotgun13, tdy from 25th Inf Div, attached to Project Delta in Sept '65. In Dec '65 Gen Weyand, 25th Div Commander, came to visit all 25th's tdy people. He told us that he would like for us to return to the 25th as it was coming to RVN in Jan '66 and needed experienced personnel. However, if we left our tdy assignments there was no one to replace us, so whoever wanted to stay would be transferred to what was their tdy position. All 25 of us were originally from the 25th Div Aviation Battalion and we all elected to stay with Delta Project. We were transferred to the 145th Avn Platoon Hg in Alaska.
The 281st was in the U.S. being built up and would absorb us some time in '66. Boy do I remember that day. We were out of Nha Trang at FOB, I think it was Dak-To, with Delta and we heard that the 281st had arrived in Nha-Trang and was REALLY a bunch of FNG's. About two weeks later we returned to Nha Trang ready for some cold beer and a weeks stand down. Upon landing at 5th SF's.Delta pad, there stood a 3up-3down, with a baseball diamond in the middle, standing there with his hands on his hips watching us land. The rotor blades hadn't even stopped turning and he was hollering "who was in charge" of the enlisted personnel. Being the ranking Spec 5, I stepped forward and his lower lip went all the way down and wrapped under his spit shined boot toe. He reminded me of a locomotive struggling to climb a hill. He was looking at a creacher that had just climbed out from under a rock, or bush, had not seen a razor in weeks. Also looking like a gunfighter out of some western, tiger stripes with the ass tore out them, no name or rank showing, and wearing a colt 44-40 six shooter in a quick draw rig. He had to have crapped his pants. The only thing he said was that there would be a formation in 30 minutes and we would be there. Myself and three other guys (Hurd was one) continued throwing our bags in a blue military jeep with VN numbers (only cost 50$) and as we were heading for our government rented villa in down town Nha-Trang, in passing ol' 3up-3down with a baseball diamond in the middle, standing with a cloud of dust encircling him, I just couldn't stop myself from raising my arm with a closed fist and pumping it a couple of times. For you non-military types, that is the signal to "Follow Me at the Double". As we exited the area, dust and all, Hurd was bitchin that from now on, "that 1st Sgt was really going to be in our shit". "Hurd, shut up!" "If that First Shirt could even find his way into Nha-Trang city, there was no way he'd be able to find our villa."
(to be continued)
SSG David Bittle
"Wolf Pack 36 Yankee"
9 March 2000 (continuation)
By Dave Bitle
"Wolf Pack 36 Yankee"
As we continued west out of the "Nung" compound, we immediately found ourselves in the country side, farmers with water buffalo plowing rice paddy's, other rice paddy's being harvested. A peaceful scene if you ever saw one. Hard to believe it could turn oh so quickly into a scene of mayhem and death!
Up ahead of us, I could see the clouds and a light shower glistening in the sunshine. And that was "good" cause it helped to cool off the 90 degree heat. In the rear seat of the jeep Hurd had shut up enough so that Koshi could get some sleep. Typical of him though, he would only appear to be sleeping. The typical "local boy" from Hawaii, calm , quiet, and unconcerned (supposedly)! Ike (Issac) was slouched down in the passengers seat, boonie hat pulled down low over his eye's, not missing a thing, and at the same time in deep thought.
We blasted through the light shower so fast that it didn’t bother anyone, not even the rainbow we drove through. Ten or fifteen minutes later we were in the "upper" residential section of Nha Trang. As I turned into our street I could see our villa on the left side of the road and it's eight foot tall varnished mahogany doors with a Lyme tree growing just off the steps.
I could see my spider monkey "Dip" in the tree, and as we got closer he recognized the sound of Blue and started jumping up and down and around. I said to myself; "Self, let's wake everybody up". I pulled up and stopped where the back seat was directly under the Lyme tree (knowing how long dips leash was). Before I could turn Blue off Dip was screech'n and holler’n and jumped down on Koshi, (who now was really asleep) grabbing him by the ear's and shaking his head. Koshi came up from that seat went over the top of Ike, who was in the front passenger seat, and was on the ground ready for a fight when he figured out what happened. Hurd went out the other side, which put him under the tree and closer to Dips territory. About that time the villa doors opened and out came Mama-san and her twelve year old grandson, great big smiles and a little moisture in the eyes. I could tell that she was happy to see us home safe and sound from the wars. By this time Hurd had Dip under control, holding him while I shortened his leash. Thing's seemed to be copasetic and all were happy to see us back home after a month or so in the Boonie's (had I only known).
Koshi, bag in hand said "I'm first in the shower" as he passed me. Going into the villa I told him "Don’t be in there all day, we gotta get back to Delta for a few with Recon and find out what the plan is for the stand-down (normally a week off for some fun in the sun), but what with those FNG's here, who knows what?".
Hurd, Ike and I went through the mahogany doors into a very large living room, to see Hurds live-in girl friend "Lady", coming down the hallway from their room, tears in her eyes. Hurd took her into their room and about that time Mama-san started trying to tell me something in her very limited English. Hurd and Lady appeared back from their room and started telling us what the problem was.
It seem's as though a couple days previous Lady’s sister was over telling her to move down to where she lived (Air America's villa) and that she could make some good money from them. Lady didn’t want to cause she wanted to stay with Hurd, whom she truly liked even though he didn’t pay her anything other than taking care of her with room, board and pocket money.
Hurd said his room was empty except for his clothes that were strewn about the floor and that his bed and wardrobe were gone! Seem's that Sister came the day before, moved everything down to Air America's villa and into the servants quarters in a back building. Hurd asked Lady what she wanted to do? Ladies answered was she wanted to live with Hurd!
We all said about the same time; "Let's go get the shit now"!
(to be continued)
31 March 2000 (continuation)
By Dave Bitle
"Wolf Pack 36 Yankee"
We dropped our gear, jumped in the jeep, and down the street we did go. Two corner's down, I made a right turn, at the next corner a left and stopped just outside the open gate of Air America's two story villa. As we walked down the driveway along side the big villa I asked Lady where her stuff was? She started to tell me in her broken English when I said; "Just lead the way".
She took us around to the back of the villa into an open air court yard shaded by a big mango tree under which were a couple of girl's doing laundry out of wash pans. I sat down in one of the many yard chair's and told Hurd to go with his lady and find out where their junk was. She took him across the courtyard to a one story building with maybe four door's and widows opening out to the courtyard. They disappeared into the second one from the left.
About that time I heard a noise behind me and when I turned to look I saw a women coming down the wide brick stairway from the villa's veranda,. running her mouth in Vietnamese. She scooted across the court yard and disappeared through the same door as Hurd and Lady did. Almost immediately Hurd came to the door and waved for us to come over to the room.
As Koshi, Issac and myself made our way across the courtyard we could hear the two women yammering away at each other. When we got to the doorway I asked Hurd; "So what's the scoop? Are we getting the junk or what"? He said; "Yeah". I took a look in the window to see a small cramped room, with a bed and wardrobe, that two people would find it hard to turn around in. I told Hurd to tell his women to get her sister outside so we could get in and start taking the bed apart and move the ward robe. As Hurd and I started on the bed, Ike and Koshi moved the wardrobe out into the courtyard. About that time sister came thru the doorway with one of the laundry pans about half full with water. As she started taking aim to throw the water, Hurd reached out and touched the edge, tilting the pan of water so it went all down the front of her. Man did she get "Pissed"!
She started crying, ran out of the room and up the stairway into the villa. I said to the guy's, "Let's get out of here, she's going for a gun!" So Koshi and I started up the driveway along side of the villa heading for the gate. Along the way we could hear Ike hollering,"Hey sister, I didn't do any (KA-POW!) thing!" " Hold it sister, I (POW!) didn't do anything!" About that time Koshi and I noticed the wrought iron gate was closed with a big padlock and chain securing it. We turned around to go back to the corner of the villa when I saw Hurd over at the other corner. Next I see Ike come round from the back, running as hard as he could; "Hold it lady"; and then sister shows up at the back of the drive way (POW!). I took a quick look towards Hurd and I saw Koshi climbing over the broken glass topped wall. Turning back for a peek around the corner, there comes Ike pounding up the drive toward's the gate. As he was passing I hollered, "Ike it's locked!" He hit that gate full blast, the gate gave a bit but sprang back and tossed Ike to the ground. I took a look to see where sister was and (BLAM!), Hurd was right then in the middle of following Koshi over the wall, and sister was helping him on his way!
The shoot’n stopped and as sister was reloading that 38 revolver Ike was getting up off the ground and making his way over to me saying; "Shit! That gate broke all my front teeth out"!
No time for commiserating I’m thinking so I told him; "Now’s the time to get our ass over that wall before she get's reloaded!" So over the wall to Blue we went, with Hurd and Koshi waiting for us.
Trouble was Blue wasn't running yet, and (POW!) sister was reloaded and coming up the drive with a direct line of fire at us through the gate. So we bailed out of Blue and found some cover. I don't recall where the rest of the guy's were at but I was across the street behind a power pole. Good thing I was skinny cause sister was popping off that 38, one at Blue, one at me, one at Blue, one at me. The next reload we all pilled our butts into Blue and disappeared down the street, moving out smartly. You better believe it!
(Email from Dave Bitle to Bob Mitchell, Webmaster "Bandit" Home Page)
Good work on the Homepage. Hope when Fred gets back from
hobnoben around, he and I (Fred mainly) can do as good a job. I already
told him that there was "No Cold Beer" until we did!
One of the things I noticed be4 is Delta's list of OP's in Jan 66. If memories serve me right, the SF 'A' team located in A Shau Valley was overrun in Jan '66, with one American survivor. When the nitty gritty hit the pan the Arvn's, seeing on which side of the fence the greener grass was located, climbed over said fence! Delta was told to go see what was going on, or had gone on. We, 145th I think, made our way from Nha-Trang to Hue, with a stop in or outside of Danang. We landed in a grassy field, in trail formation along side a border of trees. Everyone was told to stay in the aircraft, and be ready to crank.
Sitting in the chopper we could barely hear off in the distance the sound of some good American live music, with female voice's singing. Somehow word got to us that it was a USO show, Bob Hope I think. Naturally we wanted to go see, but were told no because we "May" or "May Not" be taking off shortly. I guess because of the USO show, there were correspondent people all around. One of them, seeing the choppers all lined up, decided to investigate. We had been told NOT to talk to any one about ANYTHING! Well as this one newsmen was making his way down the line of AC's. My aircraft Commander, a WO3, and the PP, were slouched down with their Boonie hats over their eyes, when this guy walked up and asked the WO3 if we were the guy's going into the A Shau Valley. No one moved or said anything for what seemed a very long time, but was in reality only a few second's (15), when the WO3 pushed his hat up, turned and looked out the window, making eye contact with said newsman, and said, "My God, I hope not", turned back and pulled his Boonie cap back down over his eyes. The reporter's mouth hung open like he was trying to catch some flies, and he turned and walked away toward the tree's. We, my gunner and I, had a very hard time keeping from cracking up long enough for said reporter to get out of ear range. (I found out later, that when I reported Black Puff's at 9 o'clock level at 10 thousand feet over the A Shau to the WO3, he looked and replied "My God, That's Flack"! The reason that he knew such thing's was that he had bombed that S.E. Asian territory during WW2)
Anyhow, to get to the point of this message. Delta's AAR says "cancelled" for that time period. And another thing that stick's in my mind is that every year in Jan, we were in A Shau. Well I will keep from making this too long. Seems as though when I get started on this web thing I get "carried away"! Is there anyone out there that can confirm this bit of recollection's? Sure wish I could remember that WO3's name.
WOLF PACK 36
To Fred Mentzer [email@example.com] [deceased]
(email from Trubee Krothe to Fred Mentzer)
Good to hear back from you. I am not sure what details you need, so here goes
After Jump School at Ft. Benning, I went to Nam on October 3, 1966 with the 101st Airborne and was stationed at Tuy Hoa. I came back to the states on a leave. Then on April 19, 1967 Alan Hawkins, a point man with our unit suggested we travel to Cam Rhan Bay to see a contact with the 1st AVN Bn. We did, and as the result we both began duty with 281st based at that time in NhaTrang and attached to project Delta, 5th SF Group. AL wwent on the slicks, I went in the gun platoon. I flew my first mission on June 28, 1967 The guns were the WOLF PACK. Our call sign at the time was " CHOCOLATE DEATH ON CALL"
Our ships were all named for participants in a funeral, " The Grave Digger,
The Pall Bearer, The Widow Maker, The Deacon, The Mortician." etc. My ship was
tail # 552 - "The Mortician". The Crew Chief for some time was Frankie Esquilin.
Here were some of the missions we were on and the Dates- courtesy of my father
who tracked my travels on a map of Nam. I have 14 Air Medals (one with a V
device) and an ARCOM with a (V) device as well as other miscellaneous stuff.
I am now a reservist with the Pennsylvania National
Guard. I got back in at age 44 and am now a Staff Sgt. with the 128th Chemical Company stationed in Philadelphia, PA Verification area code (215)560-6022.
In my civilian job I have worked for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority for the past (27) years. My position is Director Of Transportation. In other words, I run a Mass Transit District. I am Married with two Girls in College.
As I said, I have many color slide pictures taken of various events in Nam. I have a photo record of several of us attending a Montagnard funeral ceremony, pictures in-flight, pictures of all the guys - Enlisted and Pilots.
Here are some of the missions we were on. Sometimes the Guns supported other units, but we did a lot of insertions of LRRP teams, etc.
9/67 to 10/67 Dak-To
10/67 to 12/67 Pleiku
1/3/68 to 1/30/68 Plei Djerenj
1/30/68 to 2/5/68 Pleiku
2/25/68 to 2/28/68 Pleiku again
3/1/68 to 3/30/68 Ashau Valley
My service # was RA 13957727 - the attachment is a picture of some of our ships. I still have probably the only remaining original patch in my bedroom. I will send a picture of it soon as soon as I scan it again.
The attached picture is of Art Slater. I believe he was from Texas He is standing in front of WIDOW MAKER.
Trubee A. Krothe
228 Westbury Drive
Warminster Pa 18974
From John Galkiewicz [firstname.lastname@example.org]
StoryTime: January 1968
David Bitle asked us "slick" drivers for some interesting stories about the "Wolf Pack". Here is one that you should to like. I sent a copy to Steve so it can be put up in the "Personal Histories" section of the web site.
For those of you that haven't visited that section of the site, there are a lot of interesting stories there thanks to Steve.
John Galkiewicz (The Kid)
"Wolf Pack and the Miracle Rocket"
I believe it was in my second month with the 281st that I came the closest to dying, thanks partially in part to the Wolfpack. I am probably 95% sure what happened that day did in fact happen but I was very young and new and there is a slight chance that the guys were putting one over on Condry and me. Condry was my AC and on this one I never once touched the controls, I was just along for the ride. This is how I remember that day and I stand corrected if indeed the rocket part of this did not happen
It was around January of 68 and we were working Delta out of a tiny dirt airstrip west of Kontum called Play Zur Rang (English version), I think. It was just before dark and the insertion ship had just put in their team. I was flying peter pilot for Condry as "rescue one".
The team was put into an LZ that was about the size of a football field that was in a flat just under the crest of probably the highest mountain in the area. I though to myself, why would "Charlie" be way up here? It would have been one heck of a walk and there was nothing around except mountains.
We weren't more than a mile or two out when the team called in for an "emergency extraction". As it turned out they went in on top of a company size or larger force of NVA that were camped out in the tree line. All hell was breaking lose down there and time was very critical. Condry immediately dropped out of formation and set up to go right in as soon as the insertion ship picked up his half and cleared the trees. For you non-aviation types, a chopper can land with more of a load than it can take off with and that one could not takeoff from that spot with a full team. The team made it to the north end of the LZ and the insertion ship landed to the north but took off to the south. Condry's timing was perfect and just as they cleared the trees we went in. We picked up the last two guys as the guns opened up and began our takeoff to the south. Condry pulled in full power and with only two on board we were coming out of there like a bat-out-of-hell when we hear the insertion ship's warning. On their way out they saw a 50 cal. on a bunker hid in the tree line on the south side and Charlie had just got to it.
We were at full power and really hauling and just over half way out when both of us heard and then saw the bunker with the huge machine gun. Condry instantly yanked us into a super tight left turn that to this day is probably unmatched in aviation history. The "G" forces threw my head back hard against the seat and I found myself looking at ground out of my overhead window. Why I didn't black out from that I don't know. We had to have gone well over 90 degrees for me to see ground and choppers aren't supposed to be able to do that. Condry pulled her back around and we started out the other way. I could hear the Wolf Pack's rockets hitting all over the place. We beat-feet out there with a cyclic climb and were mighty glad to get out of that one.
We hadn't gone very far when the guns finished up and we got a call from one of them. I believe it was WO Rich. He asked us if we knew what had just happened. Condry came right back and said we were probably the first helicopter ever to have gone upside down and recovered. Rich said something to the effect, "Yeah that too, but do you guys know when you made that turn you turned into the path of a set of rockets that had already been fired and that while we were upside down one of the rockets went straight through our cargo compartment and blew up on the ground." Rich said it tore up his peter pilot, he couldn't believe his eyes. Rich then said that he wished he had his 8mm camera for that one.
Like I said prior, I never touched the controls and I do know for sure that I did indeed see ground out of that overhead window. As for the miracle rocket, that's up to the guns to verify. Though at that time I wasn't much in line with the Lord, I sure am glad he was on the controls for that one. If it did happen I'm sure the gun's version is out there some where. That story should have been passed around for a long time. I hope their version comes out someday.
115 Nevils St, POB-20,
Harrogate, TN 37752-0020
Tel/Fax: (423) 869-8138
From Don Ruskauff [PaMaBrs@aol.com]
StoryTime: January 1968
You may not have been too far off the mark with that story. Incidentally I think that our base for that operation was spelled Plei Djerang on the maps if for any reason someone wants to look it up. As I remember it was about 45 min - 1hr West of Kontum. I was flying C&C that day, above and to the West of you. When the insertion went haywire we moved over the area and saw the maneuver you describe. When I saw the rockets impactbelow you I remarked to the my co-pilot that there go the Wolf Pack again with superb fire suppression but I thought to my self "that's cutting it close". I can't confirm that a rocket went through your ship but I sure wouldn't argue with anyone who said it did. If my memory is correct (and I wouldn't swear to it) the SF team leader later reported that we had landed in in the NVA's mess area and interrupted their dinner. Tracers followed you out of the LZ until the Wolf Pack turned them off.
"Wrenchbender 6" (7/67-2/68)
483rd Maint Det
"Intruder 6" (2/68-7/68)
1039 Bench Ct
Anchorage, AK 99504
Brent: Col Nightingale gave us permission to publish this on the web and Fred was going to do so under their stories section. JM
The Sound that Binds
Unique to all that served in Vietnam is the UH1H helicopter. It was both devil and angel and it served as both extremely well. Whether a LRRP, US or RVN soldier or civilian, whether, NVA, VC, Allied or civilian, it provided a sound and sense that lives with us all today. It is the one sound that immediately clears the clouds of time and freshens the forgotten images within our mind. It will be the sound track of our last moments on earth. It was a simple machine-a single engine, a single blade and four man crew-yet like the Model T, it transformed us all and performed tasks the engineers and designers never imagined. For soldiers, it was the worst and best of friends but it was the one binding material in a tapestry of a war of many pieces.
The smell was always hot, filled with diesel fumes, sharp drafts accentuated by gritty sand, laterite and anxious vibrations. It always held the spell of the unknown and the anxiety of learning what was next and what might be. It was an unavoidable magnet for the heavily laden soldier who donkey-trotted to its squat shaking shape through the haze and blast of dirt, stepped on the OD skid, turned and dropped his ruck on the cool aluminum deck. Reaching inside with his rifle or machine gun, a soldier would grasp a floor ring with a finger as an extra precaution of physics for those moments when the now airborne bird would break into a sharp turn revealing all ground or all sky to the helpless riders all very mindful of the impeding weight on their backs. The relentless weight of the ruck combined with the stress of varying motion caused fingers and floor rings to bind almost as one. Constant was the vibration, smell of hydraulic fluid, flashes of visionary images and the occasional burst of a ground-fed odor-rotting fish, dank swampy heat, cordite or simply the continuous sinuous currents of Vietnam's weather-cold and driven mist in the Northern monsoon or the wall of heated humidity in the southern dry season. Blotting it out and shading the effect was the constant sound of the single rotating blade as it ate a piece of the air, struggling to overcome the momentary physics of the weather.
To divert anxiety, a soldier/piece of freight, might reflect on his home away from home. The door gunners were usually calm which was emotionally helpful. Each gun had a C ration fruit can at the ammo box clip entrance to the feed mechanism of the machine gun. The gun had a large circular aiming sight unlike the ground pounder version. That had the advantage of being able to fix on targets from the air considerably further than normal ground acquisition. Pears, Apricots, Apple Sauce or Fruit Cocktail, it all worked. Fruit cans had just the right width to smoothly feed the belt into the gun which was always a good thing. Some gunners carried a large oil can much like old locomotive engineers to squeeze on the barrel to keep it cool. Usually this was accompanied by a large OD towel or a khaki wound pack bandage to allow a rubdown without a burned hand. Under the gunners seat was usually a small dairy-box filled with extra ammo boxes, smoke grenades, water, flare pistol, C rats and a couple of well-worn paperbacks. The gun itself might be attached to the roof of the helicopter with a bungi cord and harness. This allowed the adventurous gunners to unattach the gun from the pintle and fire it manually while standing on the skid with only the thinnest of connectivity to the bird. These were people you wanted near you-particularly on extractions.
The pilots were more mysterious. You only saw parts of them as they labored behind the armored seats. An arm, a helmeted head and the occasional fingered hand as it moved across the dials and switches on the ceiling above. The armored side panels covered their outside legs-an advantage the passenger did not enjoy. Sometimes, a face, shielded behind helmeted sunshades, would turn around to impart a question with a glance or display a sense of anxiety with large white-circled eyes-this was not a welcoming look as the sounds of external issues fought to override the sounds of mechanics in flight. Yet, as a whole, the pilots got you there, took you back and kept you maintained. You never remembered names, if at all you knew them, but you always remembered the ride and the sound.
Behind each pilot seat usually ran a stretch of wire or silk attaching belt. It would have arrayed a variety of handy items for immediate use. Smoke grenades were the bulk of the attachment inventory-most colors and a couple of white phosphorous if a dramatic marking was needed. Sometimes, trip flares or hand grenades would be included depending on the location and mission. Hand grenades were a rare exception as even pilots knew they exploded-not always where intended. It was just a short arm motion for a door gunner to pluck an inventory item off the string, pull the pin and pitch it which was the point of the arrangement. You didn't want to be in a helicopter when such an act occurred as that usually meant there was an issue. Soldiers don't like issues that involve them. It usually means a long day or a very short one-neither of which is a good thing.
The bird lifts off in a slow, struggling and shaking manner. Dust clouds obscure any view a soldier may have. Quickly, with a few subtle swings, the bird is above the dust and a cool encompassing wind blows through. Sweat is quickly dried, eyes clear and a thousand feet of altitude show the world below. Colors are muted but objects clear. The rows of wooden hootches, the airfield, local villages, an old B52 strike, the mottled trail left by a Ranchhand spray mission and the open reflective water of a river or lake are crisp in sight. The initial anxiety of the flight or mission recede as the constantly moving and soothing motion picture and soundtrack unfolds. In time, one is aware of the mass of UH1H's coalescing in a line in front of and behind you. Other strings of birds may be left or right of you-all surging toward some small speck in the front lost to your view. Each is a mirror image of the other-two to three laden soldiers sitting on the edge looking at you and your accompanying passengers all going to the same place with the same sense of anxiety and uncertainty but borne on a similar steed and sound.
In time, one senses the birds coalescing as they approach the objective. Perhaps a furtive glance or sweeping arc of flight reveals the landing zone. Smoke erupts in columns-initially visible as blue grey against the sky. The location is clearly discernible as a trembling spot surrounded by a vast green carpet of flat jungle or a sharp point of a jutting ridge, As the bird gets closer, a soldier can now see the small FAC aircraft working well-below, the sudden sweeping curve of the bombing runs and the small puffs as artillery impacts. A sense of immense loneliness can begin to obscure one?s mind as the world's greatest theatre raises its curtain. Even closer now, with anxious eyes and short breath, a soldier can make out his destination. The smoke is now the dirty grey black of munitions with only the slightest hint of orange upon ignition. No Hollywood effect is at work. Here, the physics of explosions are clearly evident as pressure and mass over light.
The pilot turns around to give a thumbs up or simply ignores his load as he struggles to maintain position with multiple birds dropping power through smoke swirls, uplifting newly created debris, sparks and flaming ash. The soldiers instinctively grasp their weapons tighter, look furtively between the upcoming ground and the pilot and mentally strain to find some anchor point for the next few seconds of life. If this is the first lift in, the door gunners will be firing rapidly in sweeping motions of the gun but this will be largely unknown and unfelt to the soldiers. They will now be focused on the quickly approaching ground and the point where they might safely exit. Getting out is now very important. Suddenly, the gunners may rapidly point to the ground and shout “GO” or there may just be the jolt of the skids hitting the ground and the soldiers instinctively lurch out of the bird, slam into the ground and focus on the very small part of the world they now can see. The empty birds, under full power, squeeze massive amounts of air and debris down on the exited soldiers blinding them to the smallest view. Very quickly, there is a sudden shroud of silence as the birds retreat into the distance and the soldiers begin their recovery into a cohesive organization losing that sound.
On various occasions and weather dependent, the birds return. Some to provide necessary logistics, some command visits and some medevacs. On the rarest and best of occasions, they arrive to take you home. Always they have the same sweet sound which resonates with every soldier who ever heard it. It is the sound of life, hope for life and what may be. It is a sound that never will be forgotten. It is your and our sound.
Logistics is always a trial. Pilots don't like it, field soldiers need it and weather is indiscriminate. Log flights also mean mail and a connection to home and where real people live and live real lives. Here is an aberrant aspect of life that only that sound can relieve. Often there is no landing zone or the area is so hot that a pilot's sense of purpose may become blurred. Ground commander's beg and plead on the radio for support that is met with equivocations or insoluble issues. Rations are stretched from four to six days, cigarettes become serious barter items and soldiers begin to turn inward. In some cases, perhaps only minutes after landing, fire fights break out. The machine guns begin their carnivorous song. Rifle ammunition and grenades are expended with gargantuan appetites. The air is filled with an all-encompassing sound that shuts each soldier into his own small world-shooting, loading, shooting, loading, shooting, loading until he has to quickly reach into the depth of his ruck, past the extra rations, past the extra rain poncho, past the spare paperback, to the eight M16 magazines forming the bottom of the load-never thought he would need them. A resupply is desperately needed. In some time, a sound is heard over the din of battle. A steady whomp whomp whomp that says; The World is here. Help is on the way. Hang in there. The soldier turns back to the business at hand with a renewed confidence. Wind parts the canopy and things begin to crash through the tree tops. Some cases have smoke grenades attached-these are the really important stuff-medical supplies, codes and maybe mail. The sound drifts off in the distance and things are better for the moment. The sound brings both a psychological and a material relief.
Wounds are hard to manage. The body is all soft flesh, integrated parts and an emotional burden for those that have to watch its deterioration. If the body is an engine, blood is the gasoline.-when it runs out, so does life. It's important the parts get quickly fixed and the blood is restored to a useful level. If not, the soldier becomes another piece of battlefield detritus. A field medic has the ability to stop external blood flow-less internal. He can replace blood with fluid but it’s not blood. He can treat for shock but he can't always stop it. He is at the mercy of his ability and the nature of the wound. Bright red is surface bleeding he can manage but dark red, almost tar-colored, is deep, visceral and beyond his ability to manage. Dark is the essence of the casualty’s interior. He needs the help that only that sound can bring. If an LZ exists, its wonderful and easy. If not, difficult options remain. The bird weaves back and forth above the canopy as the pilot struggles to find the location of the casualty. He begins a steady hover as he lowers the litter on a cable. The gunner or helo medic looks down at the small figures below and tries to wiggle the litter and cable through the tall canopy to the small up-reaching figures below. In time, the litter is filled and the cable retreats -the helo crew still carefully managing the cable as it wends skyward. The cable hits its anchor, the litter is pulled in and the pilot pulls pitch and quickly disappears-but the retreating sound is heard by all and the silent universal thought-There but for the Grace of God go I-and it will be to that sound.
Cutting a landing zone is a standard soldier task. Often, to hear the helicopter's song, the impossible becomes a requirement and miracles abound. Sweat-filled eyes, blood blistered hands, energy-expended and with a breath of desperation and desire, soldiers attack a small space to carve out sufficient open air for the helicopter to land. Land to bring in what’s needed, take out what’s not and to remind them that someone out there cares. Perhaps some explosives are used-usually for the bigger trees but most often its soldiers and machetes or the side of an e-tool. Done under the pressure of an encroaching enemy, it’s a combination of high adrenalin rush and simple dumb luck-small bullet, big space. In time, an opening is made and the sky revealed. A sound encroaches before a vision. Eyes turn toward the newly created void and the bird appears. The blade tips seem so much larger than the newly-columned sky. Volumes of dirt, grass, leaves and twigs sweep upward and are then driven fiercely downward through the blades as the pilot struggles to do a completely vertical descent through the narrow column he has been provided. Below, the soldiers both cower and revel in the free-flowing air. The trash is blinding but the moving air feels so great. Somehow, the pilot lands in a space that seems smaller than his blade radius. In reverse, the sound builds and then recedes into the distance-always that sound. Bringing and taking away.
Extraction is an emotional highlight of any soldier’s journey. Regardless of the austerity and issues of the home base, for that moment, it is a highly desired location and the focus of thought. It will be provided by that familiar vehicle of sound. The Pickup Zone in the bush is relatively open or if on an established firebase or hilltop position, a marked fixed location. The soldiers awaiting extraction, close to the location undertake their assigned duties-security, formation alignment or LZ marking. Each is focused on the task at hand and tends to blot out other issues. As each soldier senses his moment of removal is about to arrive, his auditory sense becomes keen and his visceral instinct searches for that single sweet song that only one instrument can play. When registered, his eyes look up and he sees what his mind has imaged. He focuses on the sound and the sight and both become larger as they fill his body. He quickly steps unto the skid and up into the aluminum cocoon. Turning outward now, he grasps his weapon with one hand and with the other holds the cargo ring on the floor-as he did when he first arrived at this location. Reversing the flow of travel, he approaches what he temporarily calls home. Landing again in a swirl of dust, diesel and grinding sand, he offloads and trudges toward his assembly point. The sounds retreat in his ears but he knows he will hear them again. He always will.
About the Author
COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.
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