The Hideout Hog's
When the company got orders to move to Chu Lai for tdy, in mid/late 1969 we were told that a few people would be left at The Hideout to "hold down the fort" for a while. Almost everybody had to go on the move but there was a small bit of democratic volunteerism as to who would go and who would be the minority that would stay in the company area. I was a CE at the time and for some reason I wanted, and got to "stay home." I remember the crazy day everybody loaded up for the move.
A lot of the mechanics & regular support folks, who never were on flight status got their first taste of the air from the cargo decks of the ships they had recently replaced rotor grips, blades, short shafts, cyclic servos, etc., on, and got a feeling of what it was like to have to fly on a ship they had twisted wrenches on recently. I bet a lot of them wondered if they had safety-wired nut heads good and sealed fuel filter o-rings. But I bet, since our maintenance had always been so good, they probably felt just like I did on my first flight in the flight platoon. The smell of burning JP-4. The whine of the L-13 engines, the edge of the rotor disk around you, the buzz of the tail rotor, the rotor wash through the open/missing doors, and the feeling like riding on a magic carpet as the deck lifted under you like a flying chair you were sitting in. We were all outside as the flight left The Hideout. After all, it was the largest flight any of us had ever seen from home. Sometimes two or even six ships would have a mission, but this was the whole company loaded with everything we had.
After the company was gone, the Hideout was kind of quiet for a day or so. Then, those of us who were left discovered a new kind of life. Those of us who were crew members had pretty much been exempt from guard duty and kp as long as we had been a full company but now that there were few of us left we had to feed ourselves and man the three or four perimeter bunkers in the Hideout AO. Life at the Hideout was dull for a bit for officers and enlisted alike. The army wouldn't let us lay around and do nothing, but there was nothing to do but hide as much as we could from "make work details."
Then the Charlie models arrived. I still don't know where they came from, but I remember two or three landed at the Hideout out of the clear blue one-day and I was told that the one with the rocket pods was mine. When I read the logbook for the first time it said the ship had taken a mortar strike in 1965 and had been rebuilt at the Bell Helicopter factory in Houston, Texas and sent back to service. I think it had been a marine ship before. Anyway, I red X'd it about ten times on my first inspection for loose swash plate, 45 degree gear box, 90 degree gear box, pillow bearings, sand/dust separator dzus fasteners, etc., and after working on an L-13 engine this L-9 wouldn't lift itself off the ground in my book. But we had to put these things back together, and in the next week more of them came in with different armament configurations and we found ourselves fixing the ships, test flying them, having strange experts come and show us how to put grease pencil X's on the windshield for sights, calibrate the scissors sights and learn to shoot a M-60 from a bunji cord without hitting the rotor disk or the floor deck & skids.
Then the monsoon was on us and the army pretty much pulled out of the Ashau and the Marines took over operations there. I think it was the 5th Marines. At least I remember they had a tiger patch. They would call in a Prairie Fire mission & we would leave the Hideout, sliding the skids on the "tarmac" with these overloaded C models until we got lift enough to get the air under us and fly to the West, up the valley, to the pass into the Ashau. Often we would have to land at a firebase and wait for the clouds to lift in the pass so we could get through to these guys. All this time we were in these underpowered C model Hogs & once we were in the valley we knew that if the ceiling dropped we might not get back out through the pass. But we always did somehow. We usually flew tandem ships on these missions. My ship was the rocket ship with only the two big side pods and the other ship was usually a twin M/60 ship with a 40 mm "blooper" belt- fed nose grenade launcher, or a twin minigun ship. I don't remember the slang for these ships. What I do remember was that on these missions it was very wet & cold in the back of these flights and the pilots would let me and the door gunner lean into their area to get some of the heat from the cockpit heaters and defrosters they had running up front.
I never got shot down, but just in case it ever happened I oiled my m-16 and left it in my footlocker. I traded a tank loader in Danang (on a gravy flight to pick up booze for the officer's club) out of an M-3 Greasegun like in the "Dirty Dozen." I used to shoot this backup gun when my M-60 barrel got hot. This old WW-II gun would cut tree limbs from altitude. It was always my first choice of an emergency "on the ground" weapon. I always carried two WP grenades to torch my ship if need be. We would locate the friendlies and try to scoot up to altitude like the fast movers and put our fire onto whatever direction and distance from the smoke they told us to. Man, it was cold and wet in those old ships, as the monsoon was one cloudy and rainy mess. But you must realize we were not trained gunship crews. We did well, I guess. They loved us on the ground for our support but we were flying crappy ships. (I say this from my opinion, but I don't remember any of these old Hogs ever quitting on us. I only remember having to repair everything from the sand-dust separator to the bellcrank on those old dogs.)
I remember one time we were rolling in on a rocket run on the valley floor and the left rocket pod didn't index to the next rocket after the right side had fired. We had been having trouble with the big cannon plug on the pod so I connected my monkey harness to one of the deck rings (although we were supposed to always wear them I seldom did), and laid on my belly out onto the pod and wiggled the plug a little bit. I had told the pilot and gunner what I was doing and they were clear of the fire switches but this old pig we were flying in had some power in the system, so when I messed with the plug the pod shot two 2.75 HE rockets under me in the windstream. That was the only time I was glad for Nomex and a helmet visor because the exhaust from those two rockets burned the dickens out of the whole right side of my helmet and suit. The other thing I remember was the pilot having to explain to the FAC why we were lobbing rockets into the obviously wrong place.
We did a good campaign while the company was gone and not only didn't lose one of these old ships, but pulled double duty until everybody came back. Sometimes the FACS would have us shoot a patch of thick vegetation on the valley floor just to use up our ordinance so we wouldn't have to unload back at the depot. This is semi-top secret, but sometimes we would do it anyway in a safe area. Remember the final dogleg approach with smoke streamers when the flight came home? I was sure glad to get rid of those hogs and take hot chow and mail to some firebases again, not to mention having a full compliment of personnel at the Hideout once more.
We homefolks heard all the stories from Chu Lia including the F-4 that shot up the company area. You guys who went down there took a lot more ground fire than we did at home and I think had a lot harder time than we did, but during the time you guys were gone I think the Comancheros closed the page on the era of the C-model gunship with the four man crew and the L-9 engine. It wasn't very long after you all got back that Mr. Rizzo went down. I remember he was always extra friendly to everybody. Even us EM's could ask him what a helicopter sounded like. WOP WOP WOP. I don't recall who of us stayed home for that couple of months or so, but it sure was something to be there and I'll never forget it as long as I'm alive.
Gary Lee Stamey
Feb.1969 - Feb. 1970
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