The following poem was written by Danny Smith|
Wolf Pack Crew Chief (11/1969-70)
(Posted 30 May 2005)
When I was a young man of twenty four,
I was sent to a place I try not to think of anymore.
While flying in Gunship over a place called DaLat,
When over the radio came, we were going up hot.
Machine gun fire fills the air,
As people were running every where.
With rockets blasting and homes blown apart,
And children screaming I forget it not.
And when 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.
I had five good friends that I once knew,
But they were all lost at a place called Pleiku.
And now that I left I just can't forget,
The things that had happened at a place called Phan Thiet.
And now 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" [now 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 Cam
Ranh (the feet wet route). Nothing going on, three lift ships, me as C&C, and a
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 frequency, 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
Bandit 22 (1967-68)
* Fred Mentzer, [deceased] former WolfPack platoon leader who built these pages of the first WolfPack website.
(Note: The following story by Fred Phillips was written for the
Winter Edition of the original 281st AHC Assn Newsletter in 1990.
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 up 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
So what happened to Fang? As near as anyone can tell, when Captain Jack
Dahill (Fang 6) DEROSed in November '66, the call sign went home with him. How
about Iroquois? That was the original name the Army gave to the UH-1 and the
145th Platoon had been the first unit in country to get them, sometime in '62 or
'63 I think. But let's face it, a UH-1 is a Huey, not an "Iroquois." After we
arrived in Nha Trang, no one, not even the 145th guys, wanted to keep that call
"Wolf Pack 32"
(Note: 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
(Note: 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
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)
Photo from Ed Michaud, WP CE July-Dec, 1968. Christmas Card 1968 by Joe Bilitzke, photographer unknown
Front, L-R: ?, Lee Wheeler Don Eliff, ?, ?, ?, George Dodd
Standing: Rick Galer, Bain Black left elbow in window, Joel Ferguson, ?, James
Murphy, ?, ?, Rich Hamlin, Frankie Esquilin
Mounted: ? (behind door w/ carbine, ?, Michael Schrumpf, ?, ?
Before the Army and during high school and college I worked as a darkroom technician for a daily newspaper and also in a retail camera store. I learned that Kodak made Xmas cards from a personal slide or negative. The card text was added during the printing of the card. Kodak had selection of card sizes and quantity costs in their order form. I wrote a letter (no email then, remember) to my former employer and he sent me the Kodak Xmas card catalogue and order form.
The Wolf Pack picture was taken in the fall of 1968. Unfortunately for me, I was on R&R and missed being in the picture. I'm not sure now who took the picture. Using the Kodak order form, I penned the text for the card and shipped the slide to Kodak for printing. The cards were produced, I paid for them, and received the finished batch in time for Xmas 1968 distribution. I sent one to the White House and received a thank you note signed (by machine) by President Lyndon Johnson. The signed note is lost to history.
You'll notice Bain Black in the photo. I believe he was Wolf Pack 36 by that time. That's the story of the Wolf Pack Xmas card.
Wolf Pack 34
My guess is this is December 1968 as I didn't join the 281st until October of '68. I am seated on the ground, front row 2nd from left next to Don (?) and Bain Black is standing behind me. Can't make out the faces and/or names of others in the photo.
-- Lee Brewer (WP32) (LeeB).
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 Hue/Phu Bai; ROKs were in
charge and they wouldn't let us go back to Nha 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 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 Da Nang
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 Da Nang. 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 they should 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
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, hit
by a FNG in a 2 and 1/2 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
He was with us when we were at the Big Red One'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 Shotgun 13, 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 HQ 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
creature 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 (Isaac)
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 lime 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 lime tree (knowing how long dips leash was).
Before I could turn Blue off Dip was screechin' and hollerin' 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 boonies'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 FNGs here, who knows
what?". Hurd, Ike and I went through the mahogany doors into a very large living
room, to see Hurd's 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, Isaac 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 gets 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 piled 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
hob-nobin' 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 before is Delta's list of OPs 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 ARVNs, 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
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 guys 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 trees. 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 sticks in my mind is
that every year in January, 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 [firstname.lastname@example.org] [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 went on the slicks, I went in the
gun platoon. I flew my first mission on June 28, 1967 The guns were the WOLF
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
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 [email@example.com]
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
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
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 impact
below 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
(Note*: 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 theater 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.
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.
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 Keith 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.
* Brent Gourley of the RatPack 66-67, webmaster after Fred Mentzer, and John Mayhew, commander, 67-68