"Just say it was the Comancheros"


Here is the account of what happened prior, during, and after the rescue of the journalists from Delta 1 on March 3rd that led to the article in Newsweek magazine March 15th, 1971.

    Day two March 3rd Lom Son 719, Khe San. After three trips into FSB Lolo the previous day that resulted in 1 huey downed, a round (7.62) through the chin bubble, what seemed like a simple emergency re-supply of ammo to a fire base that resulted in being charged by what looked like hundreds of NVA up one side of the base while the ARVN ran down the other side and then being over loaded with ARVN in full retreat, I wondered how much worse it could get?
  It didn't take long to find out. Another insertion was ordered into FSB Lolo that morning. A/101 lost a bird on the first run just off the LZ but the crew had survived. Every bird that went in after that wanted to extract the crew but the stumps were so tall you couldn't land to pick them up. We went back to Khe San and re-loaded with fuel and ammo and were ordered back to our AO for a briefing and Maj. Clewell took over as one of our pilots because he wanted to see first hand what was going on.
  We circled for a few minutes before we started into the LZ and while I was staring out the right door I saw a mortar rd. go bye just beyond the rotor blades that was so close I could see
Chinese writing on it! I couldn't figure out if they were trying for us, or aiming at Lolo. On our final approach Ron Kuhn and I were pouring in the rounds when I saw 3 NVA next to some boulders with rifles in the air. I burned them. After unloading in the LZ, Clewell did a 360 in the LZ looking for our crew with no success and asked if we were clear to depart the LZ. I then noticed we still had one ARVN I reached over to shove him off and discovered he had been shot. I then pulled him back from the edge of the door and said we were clear up with one wounded, Man was he bleeding. He had more blood coming out of him than I thought people had! I started working on him to try and stop it Ron had to come and help he had an entry and exit wound and we put a strap on his leg and both of us kept pressure on the wounds and an artery and finally stopped the flow then the bastards started on us with the 37mm over the horseshoe in the river below just like always. I wanted to shoot back but was afraid the ARVN would start bleeding again. We finally dropped him off at a field hospital and returned to the AO  where we were going to change pilot's again.
  After another refueling and ammo, we picked up some more ARVN's and went back to Lolo. On that insertion, we dropped off the ARVN's and were still trying to get info on the status of our crew with no luck but we heard they were in contact with one of the crew on a PRC 25 and a med-evac was trying to get to them. What a pair they had! to go in that LZ with no 60's was insanity as far as I was concerned, but they got them out!
  Our next mission was a re-supply to a FB I don't remember. after dropping off the supplies, the pilot asked "clear up?" Ron said clear and I said wait, an ARVN was waiving at us to move over and make a pick up. It turned out to be ARVN body bags that had sat out in the sun for a couple of days. They were translucent bags and the sight was horrible and the smell was worse
everyone but me hurled I hadn't eaten the morning but got the heaves pretty bad.
  After dropping them off at some ARVN camp we returned to the AO and secured the bird for the day. I was finally over that body bag thing and started to feel hungry and told Ron I was going to get something to eat and headed to our mess/briefing tent and he said he would be over in a few minutes. About 10 or 15 minutes I wondered where he was and went back to the bird to find out what was taking him and found him trying to wash the blood off the floor with his canteen, I then grabbed mine and together we did the best we could with what we had and then went to the tent together to find something to eat.
  It wasn't five minutes and two bites into a can of C's when Maj. Clewell walked into the tent and said "listen up!, command says we have some journalists stranded on a firebase in Laos and I volunteered the Comancheros. Any body interested?" We were all thinking HUH? (too long)
Clewell then said OK, I'm going how about you Federovich? he said yes. Then Clewell looked out of the tent and asked, what bird is that? and pointed outside at our bird and Ron said 103 sir! Is it ready to go? Clewell asked and Ron said yes sir! Clewell said ok, lets go. I turned to Ron and asked, are you going? Ron replied "it's my bird" I said aw shit! here we go again!
  So, off we flew into the wild blue sunset and I'm thinking to myself, man, it's going to be dark by the time we get there, and we ain't coming back from this one! After circling around over the border waiting for a couple of cobra's for support who never showed for some reason, Clewell contacted command that we had no gunship support and command said we were clear to return to Khe San. Clewell stated that we hadn't come this far to turn back now and proceeded to fly into Laos. At this point I figured we were screwed!
  So, off we went to Laos and after it seemed like forever, we arrived in the vicinity and called for a flare and spotted the base and immediately started on final approach. Clewell and Federovich decided our best chance was to land just outside the perimeter figuring that charles had the base zeroed in  . (good call) Federovich took over the stick and came in fast. We hit hard and bounced off the ground hard and back into the air and down again. I thought DAM! that had to screw up the landing skids. So we sat there looking around asking where the hell is everybody?
Then from the perimeter a lone person came running down the hill towards the bird and stopped to take off all his camera's before climbing in. This was taking entirely too dam long for me and I jumped out onto the ground and looked up the hill towards the base and six others were crouched down as if to see if the first guy would make it I waved at them to get their asses down there now. We had already been there too long as far as I was concerned and mortars were already starting to come in on the base. They all ran down then and started to climb in as if they were going to hurt themselves and I proceeded to assist them in (with dignity) yelling go, go, go, we cleared up and pulled pitch and I looked up towards the base to see someone get blowed off the top of a bunker and rounds were starting to walk down the hill right where we were at a moment before. Maj. Clewell yelled I can't see shit! can you guy's? Ron and I leaned out and all I saw was trees coming at us and yelled "pull it up! pull it up! You could hear tree tops hitting the bottom of the aircraft and then clear them. all of this time you could hear small arms fire but no hits. We flew low for a little bit to gain airspeed and try to avoid small arms before ascending because we were a little heavy. After gaining a few thousand feet I swear it sounded like everyone exhaled at the same time and I thought dam, we got away wit it!
  So, Back to Khe San we went and it seemed almost quiet I remember flying into some clouds and how pretty it was that it was all green from the light on my side of the bird with a flash of red from the beacon. At that point the journalists wanted to go to Quang Tri so Clewell radioed in and that's where we headed. About half way there, Clewell said Hey! Is this fuel gauge working?
and starts taping on it (like that's going to fix it!) and asks Ron when was the last time you refueled? Neither of us could remember at that point so we figured we were running out. By the time we got to Quang Tri it was socked in to a couple hundred feet and tried to spot a couple of flares from the tower with no luck. We knew we were somewhere over the landing strip and Clewell said that's it, we cant wait any longer and started a spiral decent I was thinking oh great! now we're going to crash in the fog. What seemed like eternity, fuel low, and all, we popped out of the clouds with a couple of hundred feet to spare and taxied to a fuel point and set her down. I jumped out, opened Clewell's door, shut mine and proceeded to start fueling up and looked back towards Clewell and saw what appeared to be one of the journalists trying to kiss Clewell's boots while Clewell was pointing at the hole in the chin bubble.
  So there it is, the story behind "Just say it was the Comancheros"    

Glenn Nichol, Comanchero Door Gunner 11/1970-5/1971

See Newsweek story is published on the Lam Son 719 page

Photo's are the hole through the nose and chin bubble and the wounded ARVN's mess on the floor, Glenn

© All Stories are under copyright to the authors and may not be copied and/or Used in any matter without the permission of Author. All Rights Reserved.


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