BOOM BOOM ©
by Jim Morgan
As a helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne Division during the summer and fall of 1968 it seemed that we spent an inordinate amount of time in an area of Viet Nam called the A Shau Valley. We had two basic missions: we were either performing combat assaults or we were resupplying the troops in the field. The days following a Combat Assault were known as Log Days; logistics missions where the helicopters of A Co, Helicopter Assault Battalion, 101st Airborne Division resupplied the troops in the field. We carried out all the essentials needed to conduct a war. During these resupply missions we also brought back the wounded or the dead.
The first thing we did on Log Day was land at the logistics point and load the aircraft with the material to be taken to the field positions. One memorable day, as we were being loaded, a small dog jumped into the back of the helicopter and settled among the boxes and bags as if he owned the place. I asked the officer in charge of the loading detail, “What’s with the dog?” He explained that the dog was the mascot of the unit I was assigned to and he always took the first log bird that went out to the troops in the field. He did, however, always manage to return on the last flight from the field to the base camp. Apparently he didn’t want to spend his evenings in the A Shau Valley. I thought to myself that this dog had more sense than a lot of people. I asked the logistics officer what the dog’s name was, and he replied, “BOOM BOOM”.
As soon as we landed at our first site in the A Shau Valley, the dog immediately leaped from the aircraft and was treated like a celebrity. There were smiles all around from the troops and it seemed that I had really done these people a favor. The dog was a definite morale boost.
As it was getting on towards evening, we received a call from one of our units that they had a trooper that was injured in an explosion and resulting fire. Obviously, this man needed an immediate medical evacuation. We proceeded to the location at our best speed to make the pick up. After nearly a year of doing this sort of mission, you learn not to get too involved emotionally with the wounded. As a pilot, my job was to get the injured soldiers to medical help as soon as possible and not be distracted by their distress.
Since the injuries this young soldier had incurred were quite severe, I had to take him to a nearby location where he could receive immediate treatment. It was thought that if he did not get this immediate medical attention, he might not survive the 30-minute trip to the nearest hospital. The nearest medic was in a forward base in the mountains, which bordered the A Shau Valley. This forward base, Berchesgarten, was a difficult place to get into, mainly because of the updrafts and windy conditions.
Just as we were getting our patient loaded, in jumped Boom Boom for the trip back to the rear area. I can’t say that I paid any attention to the dog since my thoughts were elsewhere. The cargo bay of the helicopter was empty, except for the wounded soldier and the dog.
Just prior to initiating the approach into Berchtesgaden, I looked back at our patient. The man was burned quite badly and his arms and chest were blackened from either the explosion or fire. He was conscious so I motioned back at him to grab onto something, knowing that the trip was about to get very rough. He grabbed onto a support in the rear of the helicopter and I started our descent. I was having a very tough time controlling the aircraft and at one time had the cyclic control bottomed out, which should have had us dropping like a rock, but instead of descending we were climbing at 500 feet per minute. I took a quick look at our patient. The burned trooper seemed to be doing OK, but this little dog with his claws frantically trying to dig into the metal floor of the helicopter was sliding towards the open cargo door.
The only thing that I could think of was that this would probably be the straw that broke the camel’s back. After nearly a year of missions where I was hearing the cries of the wounded and looking into the unseeing eyes of the dead, I was going to be emotionally destroyed by a little dog that was going to go out the door of my helicopter and fall about 500 feet to the jungle below. Instead of flying my aircraft with total concentration, I was staring at this little dog about to fall to his death - this dog that has done nothing but make people happy. I thought of the joy I saw this morning on the faces of the men when I brought their dog out for a visit, How could I face these people again? Just as the dog was about to go flying out the cargo door, I saw this blackened arm reach out and grab the dog. The dog was pulled into a blackened chest for the remainder of this roller coaster ride that we are experiencing. As soon as we land the young trooper received medical attention from at least three people. I was informed that our patient would be remaining at the forward base until the next day. Apparently he needed a lot of attention before being stable enough for the ride back to a hospital. The dog also left the aircraft; again I didn’t blame him.
I wish I knew if our young patient made it back home. I might have saved his life, but he also saved me, along with Boom Boom.
James R. Morgan
A/101 AVN Eagle 22, 12/67 - 12/68
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