L Z Lolo, Lam Son 719, 03
By Gilbert Alvarado, CE, UH-1H 6816252
I met with Gary Boop last summer for a couple of
hours while he was transiting through Roswell. Gary and I spoke at length
about many things and remarkably, Gary wasn't aware of the Comanchero
Website. Therefore, I showed him the website, cruised through the photo
section, and reminiscence about our days together with the Comancheros. Gary
Boop saved my life during Lam Son 719. We talked about that. My helicopter,
252, went into maintenance while we were living at Khe Sanh and I didn't
accompany the bird back to Eagle, but remained with the unit, and was assigned
as Gary Boop's doorgunner on his bird (the helicopter that was photographed by
Gary burning on LZ Lolo). While flying with Boop, we flew through some of the
most dangerous situations I can recall. While attempting to resupply with
ammunition and water one of the South Vietnamese ARVN units that had
established a firebase and we attempted to evacuate the seriously
wounded. While attempting the medivac I was virtually pushed out of the
helicopter by ARVN soldiers as I also attempted to rescue two ARVN soldiers
who were clinging to the skids while we attempted to regain altitude in order
to depart the heavily besieged firebase. Let explain the circumstances.
While attempting the resupply and medivac mission,
as we were watching the ARVN soldiers quickly load on their seriously wounded
for evacuation while under direct enemy fire, our helicopter was
quickly overloaded with fleeing South Vietnamese soldiers who threw their
weapons down and climbed on board our helicopter as we briefly sat on the
ground. We literally could not lift or take off because of the excessive
weight of the fleeing and wounded ARVN soldiers. In fact, the pilot was
screaming over the intercom microphone for someone to help him because one of
the panicked soldiers had grabbed his seat belt from behind the seat and was
using it to hang on; thus the AC was pinned to the back of his seat unable to
grasp the flight controls. Gary and I had to stop firing our M60s and leave
our machineguns in order to deal with the panicked ARVN soldiers which was an
extremely dangerous thing to do because at the same time the NVA soldiers, who
were on the verge of overrunning the ARVN perimeter, were no more than several
hundred feet away blasting away with their small arms, RPGs, and mortars at
the besieged ARVN position and our helicopter. Gary and I physically punched,
kicked, and throw out several ARVN soldiers out of helicopter needed to obtain
the necessary lift. We were overloaded and overcome by scared and panicking
ARVNs. For safety reasons due to the heavy enemy fire, the pilots couldn't do
a forward departure, we had to slowly lift up and attempt to gain enough power
and try to fly off and out of that kill zone via a different route. While
gaining the lift I noticed two ARVNs clinging to skid below my side of the
bird. We had approximately 8 or 10 ARVNs (wounded, but mostly healthy)
already inside the bird. For whatever reason, I'll never understand why, I
attempted to secure their situation by reaching down and helping them stay on
the helicopter. At this point we were about 30-50 feet above the ground. As
I reached down I saw the battlefield - soldiers shooting, mortars exploding,
tracer rounds, and NVA soldiers trying to shot us down. Because of the number
of ARVNs on board, I couldn't get to my gun well. As I reached down to grab
one of the ARVN soldiers, one of them fell to the ground. I actually was able
to spread eagle myself over the bodies of the wounded and dying and I grabbed
the remaining clinging ARVN soldier by his wrist. He looked up at me, helmet
and all, and as we made eye contact he let go and fell to his death.
I then felt myself going overboard. No, I wasn't
tied or secured to the helicopter because I had taken off my seat belt in
order to beat the ARVN soldiers off, especially the one clinging to the
seatbelt. I recall I really delivered some blows to that sonofabitch because
he wouldn't let go. If I would have been authorized to carry a pistol, I
definitely would have used it at that time. A major lesson learned for later
situations. I couldn't reach my mike cord button and because of the
battlefield and helicopter noises my screams couldn't be heard. As for the
ARVN soldiers on board, not one of them made an attempt to rescue me. As I
was inching out of the bird, head first, screaming for help, I felt a firm
hand grab the waist line of my pants and pull me back to relative safety.
Simultaneously, I heard through my intercom headphones, "I gotcha ya buddy."
I quickly recognized the voice of Gary Boop. As he pulled back into the cargo
compartment of the HUEY, he and I were literally entangled with the dying,
wounded, and scared ARVN soldiers. I looked at Gary, thanked him and I
recalled he smiled - that goofy smile he always had. The rest is history. We
made it, obviously.
One of the reasons I can recall this moment as if
it were yesterday was because I wrote this down as soon as I returned back to
the states, and I have related the story to my children and wife (poor wife)
on more than several occasions. Later, I linked up with Gary while I was
stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington and he was living and working in Seattle.
At that time, I again retold the story. As Gary listened, he smiled and gave
out that crazy laugh. When we met again last summer with my wife present, I
introduced him to several fellow workers and told them that Gary was
responsible for me still being alive. They all looked at me as if I were
crazy. So as I watch the news on the current war in Iraq, I think about all
the Comancheros and what we endured. My little story is just one of hundreds
that is out there, but unfortunately won't ever be recorded or recounted
because our situation was Vietnam/Laos. So now I have passed on the story how
during one hellish moment, my friend and comrade, Gary Boop, saved my life.
One other thing, Gary and I graduated from the same high school. We knew each
other but we ran with different crowds. As most of you know, Gary Boop was
shot down on LZ Lolo on 3 March. Those photographs posted on the Comanchero
were taken by him. As we attempted to rescue Gary and the rest of group, my
helicopter with Steve Diehl (now deceased), Charlie Seawright, David Mosier,
and myself was heavily hit by NVA small arms fire resulting with David Mosier
being seriously wounded and 252 being put out of action for the rest of the
war. One of my recollections was that as we were going into the hot LZ, there
was a moment when I felt I wasn't going to make it. Yet, I instantaneously
remembered how Gary had saved my life. So we continued to put out rounds
and charged right into the fray with the intent of reaching our downed
comrades and extracting them. We didn't do it. Others did.
That what being an American was all about and
still is - as I watch this generation of warriors continue on with our
legacy. Later guys, I've got to go to work.
Gilbert Alvarado, CE, UH-1H 6816252
Gil's story gives a good description of some of the
things the guys in back had to handle while the pilots had their heads looking
out the front windows and missing so much stuff going on behind them.
I was lucky enough to survive the day on LZ Lolo on 3/3/71,
when John Gale came in right behind my ship and tried to evacuate my crew from
our disabled bird "Smokey 89er" (last three digits 189). We leaped aboard and
waited for John to pull pitch, but nothing happened. I lifted my face off the
floor of his ship and saw Gary Boop standing off to the left side, looking up
and shaking his head from side to side. We crawled back out and looked up at
the engine, where small flames were rising through the housing, and we knew
that we wouldn't be leaving on that ship. As Gil describes, he and the rest
of Steve Diehl's crew made a valiant attempt later on to pull a rescue, but
the amount of fire they drew was incredible, it sounded like an AK-47 shooting
gallery. We were all pleased to be able to be evacuated later in the day
without any Comanchero fatalities, although two other aircrew members from
another unit did not survive the ordeal. It's a treasure to have Gary's
photos to remember the event by, as it seems almost like a bad dream with the
passing of the years, but the pictures bring back the reality.
I recall one other episode that I think happened to Gary Boop
during Lam Son 719. One day on returning from a mission, there was an odd
liquid of sorts dripping from the area of his M60. An inspection revealed
that the C-ration can that was on the 60 as an ammo belt guide had a hole in
the side facing down, and there was beef stew gravy dripping out the hole.
When the can was opened, a bright shiny slug was found in the stew.
Apparently his ship had been flying near the magical altitude of 1500' AGL, so
the round had just enough energy left to pierce one side of the can. I wonder
if my memory is accurate, and that Gary is the one it happened to. And I
wonder if that souvenir slug is still in his possession.
There was no better place to serve than in A/101, and I think
the Comancheros of today feel the same way. When guys risk their lives to
come after you, you know what it means to be in a "Band of Brothers".
Bob Morris - Comanchero 30
I remember that LZ too. We went in with mortar fire all around and
was drug out of the sky by scared ARVN's and was teetering on crates
of ammo ect. while crammed too full to lift off. I had to kick several off &
thought some were gonna shoot me for it. When we finally slid
off the side of that LZ we barely pulled out of it with ARVN's dropping to
their death that was hanging on the skids. This is weird.
Gils experience is almost exactly as I remember it. Back to Lolo, ya we got
cross of gallantry too like Gil did. I have emailed Gil a few
weeks ago & his memory is a whole lot better than mine. He remembers my boa
constrictor snake & says he remembers me well. Wish I could remember as
Tom Jones Comanchero Gunner
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