ã Recollections of Roger A. Nale
Company A, 101st Aviation Battalion,
101st Airborne Division - Soc Trang, Viet Nam
October 1965 through June 1966
By Roger A. Nale
Flight School to Soc Trang
I graduated from flight school on 31 August 1965 with class 65-9 RW. The "RW" denoted rotary wing because there was a companion class of "FW", fixed wing, which graduated as well. My class consisted of 52 aviators, of which about 25 received orders to Viet Nam and the others went to regular line units such as the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky, and units in Germany and Korea. I was one of the lucky 25 and went to Viet Nam after 30 days leave.
Upon reporting to the replacement depot in Saigon, I was asked to pick from among several units. I had heard others talking about various locations and they were saying that IV Corps was relatively quiet so I chose Co. A, 101st Aviation (Avn) Battalion (Bn). My orders are "Special Order (SO) 252" of the 13th Aviation Battalion dated 27 October 1965.
The unit's nickname was the "Winged Warriors". The 1st platoon had call signs in the 10's, the 2nd platoon call signs were in the 20's (both were slicks), and the 3rd platoon was the gun platoon with "Thunderbird" call signs. On SO 254 dated 29 Oct 1965, 2Lt James M. Reynolds and I were assigned to the 1st Airlift Section, 2nd Airlift Platoon. In November 1965 I was made Aircraft Commander (AC) and assigned to Warrior 22 (the first UH-1D to achieve 1,000 combat flying hours in Viet Nam - picture sent previously). The platoon leader was Cpt. Grignon and my crew chief was PFC Joseph Riviere (the best I ever had).
Soc Trang was also the home of the 121st Aviation Company, the "Soc Trang Tigers". Their two slick platoons were "Tigers" and their gun platoon was the "Vikings". They had been in country for some time before the 101st arrived. That's why the Officer's Club was the Tiger's Den and the tree line running south from the airfield was called the Tiger's Tail. The air strip was built by the Japanese during WWII (so I was told). Soc Trang housed both helicopters and fixed wing. There were Caribou's (twin engine, high tail, cargo carriers), Otters, Beavers (single engine, medium size, slow flying, utility aircraft), and Bird Dogs (single engine, high wing, light observation, tail draggers) based there until most fixed wing units were transferred to the Air Force. Occasionally Mohawks (twin turbine engine, variable pitch prop, reconnaissance) would land at Soc Trang to refuel since it was the southern most American run occupied strip in Viet Nam at the time.
the North at Soc Trang. The Caribou's are on the left and right. Also there is
a Beaver (OV-1) and a Bird dog
(L-19) on the right center. The helicopters for both the 101st and 121st were parked along the runway on the left, just north of the "Boo's".
My first mortar attack.
When I got to Soc Trang, everyone told me that we got a mortar attack once a month whether we needed it or not. Now, I was a pretty heavy sleeper at the time and it took quite a lot to wake me up.
In November 1965, around Thanksgiving, Charlie decided it was our time of the month and we got mortared. All I remember is that someone was shaking me and saying "Mortar Attack!" when I woke up. I remember thinking, "Yeah, right! Let's get the new guy!", when a round hit the far corner of the hooch and shrapnel was pinging everywhere through the corrugated metal. (The poor guy whose room was on the corner got his brand new, expensive, stereo trashed by shrapnel as was most of his room.) I jumped up and probably set a record running for the bunker and made it in when another round went off in the doorway of another bunker across the street. Several men were standing by the doorway watching the attack and one was killed and several others were wounded. Since mortar attacks usually focused on the flight line or hangar area, many guys would stand in the doors of bunkers that faced that way and watch. (See Chuck Slezak's letter home.)
I was too new and didn't know any of the killed or wounded. After that, I got so that the first round had me at a 3 foot hover and headed either for my aircraft (if I was on the alert, 2 minutes to be off the ground, reaction fire team when I was in guns) or to the bunker (while I was in slicks)! Sometimes you could even hear the rounds coming out of the tube and wake up!
One poor soul was in the latrine adjacent to the maintenance hangar taking a dump when a round hit the corner of the latrine right above his head! (See picture) Sort of lends new meaning to the phrase "Cut the s__t short".
A 60mm round hit the corner of a latrine right above the head of some poor soul!
Another round hit the cement in the maintenance hangar area almost under the tail boom of Warrior 25. The gray area is the power markings from the hit. Shrapnel hit the tail boom and horizontal stabilizer and peppered the shipping container on the right.
Damage done to the horizontal stabilizer by shrapnel.
Shrapnel damage to the shipping container on the right rear of Warrior 25.
Bill gets excited.
While I was in slicks I flew mostly with Frank Ovnick, Bill Hitch, Barry Billman, and Cpt. Grignon. Frank was very tall (the tallest you could be as a pilot), quiet and likable. Bill was so calm and laid back you had to look twice to see if he was awake when he wasn't flying. Barry was short and slender, talked a lot, and got quite nervous when we went into a hot LZ. Cpt. Grignon was a great platoon leader. He made sure new pilots got a good orientation and that they flew with many different pilots so the most could be gained from their experience.
One of my first flights into a hot LZ was with Bill Hitch. He was AC and was flying, giving me some tips on how to follow on the controls in case the person flying got shot, how to hold a steady stacked trail formation, and flare when the lead ship flared so we didn't get stacked up. Most of the way in on our approach he was very cool and calm. All of a sudden he yelled, "Take the aircraft! Take it!". I thought he had been shot!!! I took the controls and asked him if he was hit. He started turning all around in his seat and looking all around yelling "Where's my camera?". I said "What! I thought you were hit!". He said, "No, I'm not hit! I need my camera. I've never been mortared in the LZ before and I want to get some pictures!".
Just how tall is he?
Frank Ovnick was tall. He always flew with his seat all the way down and all the way back so his knees didn't get in the way of his flying. The whole company had gone up to Bien Hoa for some reason or another and while we were there some people from Saigon came up and asked if they could use Frank and his crew for a psychological warfare mission. The mission was to take some people up into the highlands to a Montanyard village to try to recruit them to fight the VC. They wanted Frank because he was tall and the "Yards" only respected people who were at least their height. They hated short people! Now I'm only 5'9" and not quiet as tall as the average "Yard".
Frank talked to the people from Saigon for a while before we went on the mission and he told the rest of us to just stay in the aircraft when we landed. The people from Saigon would tell us when we could get out. When we landed, Frank opened the door and stretched down with his left foot, right past the toe of the skid, to the ground and stepped out of the aircraft! All the Montanyards just OOHed and AAHed. Frank was easily a full head taller than the tallest "Yard". They really respected Frank, and since we were with him, we were OK too!
Barry vs. The Scud
Barry Billman was the nervous sort. When we would go into an LZ, he would unconsciously pump the cyclic fore and aft. This made for a very bumpy ride! Barry did other things which brought me to the conclusion that he was not one of the best pilots around. On a pre-dawn take off from Soc Trang, we were briefed that we would encounter a scud layer at about 200 to 300 feet but it was thin. We had an SOP for this which instructed each aircraft in the formation to make a standard rate turn to a specific heading (since the runway was laid out pretty much due South to due North), should we lose visual contact, and we were to continue a 500' per minute climb until we broke out. We were then to re-form our V formation and continue the mission.
Barry was AC and was flying. My job was to get on the instruments once we entered the scud. If we lost visual contact with the rest of the formation, I was to take the aircraft and stay on instruments until we broke out. We took off in a loose "V" formation and entered the scud. Barry apparently immediately lost visual and got vertigo. I said "Barry, were turning.", he said "No, were not.", and kept on flying. I said again "Barry, were turning!" but he said nothing. We were on the left of the formation and were turning left, but at more than a standard rate. He continued turning with the turn getting steeper. When we went past the designated heading, I said "I have it!." and took the controls. I brought us back to the appropriate heading and increased our rate of climb in case we were close to another aircraft. (I wanted to get above any other traffic!) When we broke out of the scud, we were slightly above and right next to the aircraft that was on our left. Barry looked over at them and said "Wow, I really did have vertigo!". It was close but at least we didn't have a mid-air!
Who was that GCA controller?
One type of mission we often flew was a single ship TWA (teeny weenie airlines) type mission to take an American advisor around to all his assigned posts. Often it was an artillery advisor who wanted to visit all his outposts which were in the old French style 5 sided star forts with only a few 105 mm howitzers in each. (See picture of fort) We would be at his beck and call all day and would only be released to return to base when he said. Most of the advisors were very appreciative to get a helicopter and not have to drive all over the Delta in a Jeep!
One day when we were flying this particular advisor around, Soc Trang tower contacted us to advise that severe weather was expected from about 4 p.m. until midnight. Return to base was advised prior to 1600. We told the Colonel (Bull Moose was his call sign) about the weather and requested that he cut his visits short so we wouldn't be caught in the weather. To make a long story short, he didn't and we did.
We dropped him off at My Tho (Mee Toe) about 1600, refueled and beat feet for Soc Trang. True to the forecast, Soc Trang was invisible in heavy rain. We could see the road which ran up the Tiger's Tail so we decided to try low leveling into the airfield. Once we penetrated the rain it became zero/zero. We immediately began a straight ahead climb and asked for vectors out of the weather. However, things had gotten worse where we came from. We were now IFR with no where to go but Soc Trang. We thought about trying to land in a rice paddy and wait for the rain to abate but the tower advised that was not likely to happen any time soon.
We dug out the approach plate for Soc Trang and tried an ADF approach. When we got to 300 feet we couldn't see anything so we made a missed approach. We went around and tried a VOR since it was pretty rough and the VOR needle is steadier. Again we had to make a missed approach. Tower advised that they had recently finished installing a full GCA radar system and hadn't used it much but knew it worked. We asked for the GCA frequency and were given it but told to go to the VOR and hold while they got the operator to the GCA bunker. The bunker was on the east side of the field, a few hundred feet south of and accross from where the control tower was.
It takes about an hour to fly from My Tho to Soc Trang and about ten minutes to execute an instrument approach. We were about one and a half hours into our two hour fuel load when we went into holding. After about ten minutes the GCA controller contacted us and gave us vectors to begin our approach. I told him we had only about fifteen minutes plus our twenty minute reserve for fuel. He assured us that fuel would not be a problem.
The GCA controller talked us through the approach and told us that we were at 100' over the end of the runway. My co-pilot looked around but we couldn't see anything. The door gunner looked down and said he could see the runway but the co-pilot couldn't. We executed another missed approach and went back to the VOR. The controller vectored us around for another approach and "guaranteed" there would not be another missed approach.
I was getting very tired by now since my co-pilot did not feel real comfortable flying on instruments and I had been flying ever since we tried to low level in. We were almost to the low fuel warning light when we began the approach. The controller said he was going to get us down and to do just as he said without acknowledging any further transmissions. The inside of the aircraft was totally silent while he talked us down. He kept giving the on glide slope, on glide path along with altitude. When we passed through 100' I got real nervous. We were down to 20 knots at 100' when he said to continue to decelerate and reduce the rate of descent. He kept talking with such professional verbiage as "keep coming down, forward a little, down a little" until he said "Look down!"
I was at about a 5' hover right in front of the bunker! The controller was in the door of the bunker with microphone in hand! (He could see us when we went over on the missed approach but we certainly couldn't see him!) The co-pilot took the aircraft and hovered over to the tower side of the field and set it down. We shut down and went to the tower to find out who the controller was and where we could find him. Tower didn't know anything except that he was Air Force and lived in a hooch on the north end of the compound with the 121st.
I never did find him to thank him in person. Just a thanks over the radio. Does anyone know who he was?
That little square building on the right is the place the GCA controller sat when directing a GCA approach. The GCA antennae were elsewhere but his screens where in here. When he talked me down, I landed just to the right of where the Huey in the center of the picture is setting.
Transfer to the Thunderbirds
I flew slicks with the Warriors from October 1965 until February 1966. When we would go into a hot LZ we weren't allowed to fire because the gun ships were providing cover on the sides of the formation and a ricochet might accidentally hit one of them. This got increasingly frustrating; being shot at and not being able to shoot back. One day we were going into a particularly hot LZ with lots of small arms and automatic weapons fire. One of the ARVNs got shot in the door of the aircraft and a round came through the right side pilots rear door post, hit the back of my helmet, and exited through the left side pilots front door post. As soon as we got back, I asked for a transfer to the gun platoon.
I was very fortunate during my tour. My aircraft took a total of 12 hits, and never more than one at a time. My first hit was at 3,000' in a slick and it was a single .30 cal. round in the fuel cell. I still have the round and it is nearly pristine. When I got shot down (after I transferred to Vinh Long), it was by a one shot Charlie over a district village. Only one member of my crew ever got wounded, and that was slight. My only wound came when I was running to my aircraft during a mortar attack but more on that later.
My request for transfer was granted immediately and I became a "Thunderbird" (T-Bird 2 after a couple of weeks training.) on 13 Feb 1966. While I was flying slicks we sometimes had to make the equivalent of a running take off out of an LZ because these were "D" models with the L-11 engine. (The "H" model with the L-13 only had to worry about an over torque.) When you pulled pitch, the rotor RPM would bleed off if you were too heavy. (Weight and Balance? What's that?) When I got my transition into the "B" model, the IP said "If you think the 'D' was under powered, wait till you get a fully loaded "B" on a really hot day!". The "B's" had L-9 and L-9A engines. Practically every take off was a running take off. We would drag out onto the runway and drag the skids along until we got to transitional lift. Thank God Soc Trang had a paved runway! (When I got back to Rucker, I found out about the "C" model with the L-11 engine and the 540 "door hinge" rotor system and just drooled! The Cobra was still in acceptance testing. The "M" model had the L-13 engine.)
Look, Ma! No skids!
Not long after I transferred to the T-Birds we got a new pilot. He was a former fixed wing driver who had transitioned to rotary wing. Not having any experience in country, let alone in guns, he tended to be a "hot shot". He would just grab a hand full of pitch, nose the aircraft over and peel off down the runway. Now that's not all that bad if you have cement or hard packed dirt since you can bounce the skids a couple of times, if it's a high density altitude day. On some of those really hot, humid days, you could pull pitch all day and never get off the ground. You'd just bleed off rotor RPM.
Well, one day he tried that stunt on a PSP (perforated strip planking) strip and hooked the skid shoe on one of the seams. By the time the AC recovered the ship (the tail was almost perpendicular with the ground) the PSP had been pulled up and the right skid and aft cross tube were ripped off. The left skid was barely hanging on by the front cross tube.
The AC flew the ship back to Soc Trang and hovered while a ground crew detached the cross tube and left skid. He then flew around while the ground maintenance crew figured out how he could land without any further damage to the aircraft. The AC hovered as low and as still as possible while the remaining crew got out.
The solution to getting him on the ground was to place two rotor blade shipping boxes parallel to each other, place mattresses on them for cushioning, and have him land on that. It took several tries before the proper positioning was determined but he finally got on the ground and shut down. (See pictures)
He ended up having to sit in the aircraft for quiet a while until they attached a crane to the Jesus nut because the balance wasn't that good. They were afraid that the ship would tip over on it's tail if he got out!
blade boxes were properly positioned, the ship landed and shut down. The crane
is being positioned so it can be hooked up and the pilot can get out of the
The crane is hooked up and the pilot safely out. I believe that if you look closely, you'll see a cool one in his right hand! Sorry the picture isn't good enough, and neither is my memory, to tell the pilot's name.
Co. A saves the day!
On the 21st of February we were sent to Tuy Hoa to help out the 101st Airborne Division. The whole Division had just come in country and had run into some serious trouble in the A Shau valley. We were told that they had left most of their aircraft in the LZ full of holes! All of Co. A flew up to Tuy Hoa and, for two weeks, provided full support for Division operations while they got their aircraft repaired.
One of our first missions was to insert a LRRP (Long Range Recon. Patrol) team into an LZ at dusk. We made the insertion with one slick and a heavy fire team. We hadn't gone very far when the Lt. in charge of the team started yelling into the radio for us to get back to the alternate PZ for an immediate extraction. We could hear the popping of small arms in the background. Seems that we had dropped them into the middle of an NVA battalion!
I remember, when we were at the mission briefing, that the Lt. said there was no way he would be a pilot! It was just too dangerous! I wandered at the time how he was feeling about being a pilot now!!! (But I digress.)
We turned around and got to the PZ as quickly as possible. There was very heavy fire all around the area so we just orbited the area, firing with everything we had including our personal weapons. The Lt. radioed for the slick and he just spiraled in. As soon as he was on the ground, the team came running out from the trees. The last one out was the Lt. and about half way to the aircraft he went down like a ton of bricks. The slick waited about 15 or 20 seconds with the LRRP team yelling, waving at the Lt. and firing into the tree line. Cpt. Knight was the platoon leader as well as the team leader on that mission and he told the slick to lift off. It looked like the Lt. was dead. We continued to orbit the PZ and fire into the trees while watching the Lt. for any movement. We soon expended all our ammunition so we had to leave.
About a week later, we were in a GP medium tent (our sleeping accommodations) playing poker when in walks this guy. He says "Where is Cpt. Knight?". Cpt. Knight stood up from our make shift poker table (a piece of plywood on a crate) and said "I'm Cpt. Knight, who are you?" The guy said "I'm the guy you left in the PZ!" and punched Cpt. Knight in the nose!! Cpt. Knight said "We thought you were dead. We saw you go down and you never moved!".
The Lt. wasn't shot when he went down. He had tripped over some grass or a root and fallen down. The fall dazed him and knocked the wind out of him. When he saw the slick lift off he figured he had better play dead. After we left, the NVA came out to check him out. He said he held his breath, went limp and tried to act like he was dead. At one point, one of the NVA put a rifle to his head and was about to shoot him to make sure he was really dead. The Lt. didn't know why he didn't pull the trigger!
Since the LRRP's are well trained in escape and evasion as well as survival, the Lt. did just that. He escaped, evaded, and survived for a week without so much as a compass. We didn't know how he did it but were very glad he did and let him know it. We had dug a pit in the sand (we were right on the beach), scrounged some 55 gallon drums, and gotten some ice from some where to chill our beer. He got totally drunk with us, apologized to Cpt. Knight, but still swore he would never be a pilot because it was too dangerous.
After I got back to Ft. Rucker and became an IP, I was in the briefing room when in walks this Lt. and says to me "I changed my mind!". At first I didn't know who he was. He then told me he was the Lt. we had left in the PZ. After a tour as a LRRP he had a change of heart and decided it was better to be in the air than on foot!!
Look! It's a tree! No it's a T-Bird!!
If we were at an outpost and had any down time, we dreaded having to land and take off again. On one mission, we had to land to refuel. The refueling area looked like a confined area at Ft. Rucker. It was surrounded by trees and was only about 200' long. Because of the size of the area, we could only land two ships at a time. Additionally, we had to hand pumped the fuel from 55-gallon drums off the back of a truck. My fire team was first in to refuel since I had a real gas hog. I was the second ship to land and thus the first to take off.
Like fools we topped the tanks off. When we tried to take off, the rotor RPM bled down too low to make it over the trees. I flared and turned around and went back to my starting point. Every one was giving me suggestions like "Make a cyclic climb" and "Just go on through the tree tops". The problem was I couldn't get any real airspeed and the treetops were above my main rotor when I aborted the first time. The second time I tried, my "Cyclic Climb" was more like a flare so I aborted again. We discussed sitting there until we burned off some fuel, but the other ships were low so we abandoned that idea. The third time, as the rotor RPM got to the low yellow, I bottomed the pitch and immediately pulled it back in. This gave me a few more RPM and feet of altitude. I did this several times before my skids went through the treetops. We cleared the trees and dove down the other side of the tree line to gain airspeed. We may have looked like a flying bush (tree branches in the toes of the skids cause that, you know) but we made it out. The second ship only had to pump the collective once and cleared the trees completely. The other ships went in one at a time and had little problem.
Burn, baby, burn!
Our gun ship tactics were pretty simple. We flew low level at 80 knots so we could see Charlie but be exposed to fire for the minimum amount of time. This worked really well most of the time. Once we identified a VC position, it was a simple matter to place an attack on a fixed position from anywhere we chose. The VC, as a rule, were bad shots. One day I was fire team leader flying across an open rice paddy. Suddenly a single VC popped up out of a camouflage fox hole. I was looking right down the barrel of the rifle when he fired. I knew I was dead and was just waiting for the bullet to hit. But (obviously) he missed! He not only missed me, he missed the entire aircraft!!! This really made me mad! I mean really, really pissed!!! I pulled up into what I can only describe as a crop dusting turn (which the UH-1 wasn't supposed to be able to take), kicked right pedal and fired a pair of rockets when I saw him in the sight. Now, it takes about 300 meters for a 2.75" rocket to get to enough velocity to arm. I was firing 6lb. war head rockets which look like long spears with a pointy tip. One of the rockets hit him in the back and pinned him to the ground with the rocket motor still burning (it looked like a roman candle). I presumed he was dead!
Jim's Purple Heart
Jim Flippin was fairly new in country, a good pilot, and a very good gunner. On one mission we over flew a machine gun and a round came through his chin bubble, through the Plexiglas chin bubble deflector, cut a groove in his left calf, hit right between his finger tips and thumb (thanks to finger tip control taught him by an instructor at Rucker) and shattered the throttle grip. In addition to the wound to his leg, he had shrapnel in his left hand, forearm, and stomach from the collective and throttle grip. Our fireteam landed so a Dust Off could pick him up and take him for medical treatment. The Dust Off crew took Jim in a fireman's carry over to their aircraft and were setting him in when he suddenly jumped off the Dust Off and ran back through the rice paddy to his aircraft. He said he had forgotten his camera!
As I mentioned earlier, I never got wounded during my tour. At least not enough to count! I was on the 2-minute alert fire team one night when we began to get mortared. Between the hooch's and the flight line was an open space that was being prepared for new parking pads for the 101st aircraft. There were surveying stakes with little red flags attached all over the area.
When the first round hit I grabbed my flak jacket, steel pot, and shower shoes and took off running for my aircraft. It was a fairly intense mortar attack and rounds were going off up and down the flight line. As I was running, a round went off fairly close to me and I went down, rolled once or twice, and came up running again. (I don't know whether the concussion from the mortar round knocked me down or I tripped over one of the surveyor's stakes.) When I got to the aircraft, the crew chief was already there and helped me get strapped in while the other two crew arrived and got in as well. We cranked, pulled pitch, and headed for where we saw the muzzle flashes of the mortars.
Shortly after we were airborne, the other ship came up and we put a strike on the mortar position. Charlie would get very close sometimes and just lob the rounds in. Other times, they would set up at nearly the maximum range and fire. They were near their maximum that night and we just went up to 500' and began our gun run. After the second ship made their pass we turned left and looked for more muzzle flashes. After flying around for about 10 minutes and seeing no further mortar fire, we returned to base.
As I was shutting down, the door gunner opened my door, looked at the floor and said "Sir, your wounded!". I said "Whose wounded?". He said "You are, Sir.". I said "No I'm not!". He said "Yes you are! There's blood on the floor!". I looked down and sure enough, there was blood on the floor, the left pedal, and on my left shower shoe. I looked at my foot and finally saw a small scratch on the bottom of my foot. Everyone on the crew said I should go to the dispensary and have it checked and get put in for the Purple Heart.
This happened shortly after Jim Flippen had been wounded. I felt that a scratch, which was no worse than one you get cutting yourself shaving, was not in the same league as Jim's wound. I never went to the dispensary but rather went to my hooch and put some hydrogen peroxide and a Band-Aid on the cut. When the round went off and I went down, either a piece of shrapnel cut my foot while I was rolling or I tripped over a survey stake at the same time the round went off! If that was the case, I sure didn't want to have to tell people that I got a Purple Heart for tripping over a surveyors stake!!
Cpt. Knight's Night
Cpt. Robert Knight was the T-Bird platoon leader. On a night mission in June 1966 (see Chuck Slezak's letters home) his ship took fire and a round hit the ammunition cans that fed the machine guns. Something supposedly caused a bright light inside the aircraft, they lost their night vision, and the aircraft flew into the ground at 80 knots. The nose of the aircraft was peeled away and both pilot seats ended up about 10' in front of the rest of the fuselage. Since Cpt. Knight was flying right seat and had the rocket sight down, the sight caught his helmet and tore it off. The sight also caught him right at the hairline and tore most of his scalp back. The other pilot was injured but not severely. When the aircraft hit, the transmission tore out of its mounts, came forward and to the left and pinned the crew chief face down. We heard later that his injuries were survivable if he hadn't been pinned under the transmission. He basically suffocated. The door gunner was pretty well banged up but nothing serious.
I flew out the day after it happened to provide gun cover for the recovery of the aircraft. The two pilot seats were perfectly aligned in front of the aircraft and right side by side. The nose, windshield, and console were under the rest of the fuselage. The skids were collapsed back behind their normal position and the tail boom looked undamaged. It is obvious they were flying straight ahead when they hit. The rotation of the blades probably caused the transmission to go forward and to the left.
Many of our missions were pre-dawn take off, so we could arrive at the mission area early. This particular mission involved the entire platoon. We flew to Rach Gia (Rock Jaw) and arrived before dawn. There was a small dirt patch they called an air strip. With the winds that day, our approach was out over the sea and a right 180 on to the strip.
We had made this approach before, so we thought it would be no problem. When we started out over the water we went to trail formation. I was either third or fourth since the Hog was always last and I wasn't in the Hog that day. As we began the approach we had to keep the position lights of the aircraft ahead just above the stringer between the windshield and chin bubble. I was flying when the co-pilot and crew chief both yelled, "Pull up! Turn Right!" I did just in time to see the aircraft in front of me fly into the water. We were only at about 20 or 30 knots and almost on land!
The pilot of the aircraft that crashed had gotten disoriented and began flying formation on the reflection of the position lights in the water! They crashed in about two to three feet of water and rolled onto their right side. Every one in the aircraft was fine, although a little shaken. Cpt. Alexis S. Perez (one of the T-Bird section leaders) was flying in the right seat of the aircraft that crashed and said that after the crash he saw his copy of "God is My Co-Pilot" floating right next to him.
Capt. Alexis Perez. He was in the T-Bird ship that flew into the water at Rach Gia (Rock Jaw).
Sorry Burt, but I have to tell this one (he was my next door neighbor in the hooch). I was flying with Burt Metcalf one day when we took fire. He was flying right seat. All of a sudden he said "Take the aircraft, I've been hit!". I grabbed the controls and asked where he was hit. He was sitting there staring straight ahead and said "In the foot.". I asked him how bad it was and he said "I don't know, I'm afraid to look!". The door gunner came up and looked over his shoulder but couldn't see anything. Burt slid his seat back and looked down. He said it must not be bad because he didn't see any blood but his foot really hurt!
It seems a bullet had come in through the chin bubble, hit the radio console, knocked one of the boot lace eyelets out, cut his boot laces, cut through most of the tongue of his boot, and exited through his door. Most of the radios were out as were some of the instruments. Burt had a really nasty welt across the top of his foot for days. I don't remember any blood but Burt will have to tell "The Rest of the Story."
My days as OD!
Since both the 101st and 121st were aviation companies, the Warrant Officers out numbered the RLO's (Real Live Officers). Also, since RLO's had other duties, the WO's got to be Officer of the Day (OD) quite often. Once, when it got a little drunk out, several of us were thrown into the swimming pool. I don't know about snakes, but it was real slimy and I got a severe ear infection. Since I was grounded for a week while the infection cleared up, I got to be OD a couple of extra times. I don't remember the chronology of the events, but these are some of the things that happened.
The infamous swimming pool.
One night I got a call from the guard tower on the northeast corner of the airfield. The soldier on guard was in tears and wanted to be relieved. I went out to the tower and talked to the soldier to try to calm him down. I thought he was just scared since he had just gotten in country. The problem was that he had an M-60 and an infrared scope but didn't know how to use them. I went back to the HQ, called the Sergeant of the Guard and told him to post a relief on the tower then come back to the HQ. I read him the riot act and told him to get the soldier and meet me at the firing range at 0700 so he could teach the new guy all about the weapons he would be using while at Soc Trang. The Sgt. was none too pleased but complied.
Another night, I got a call from an MP on K-9 patrol on the south end of the field. He said he had something I should see and to drive to the end of the runway but not to get out of the alert truck. Guard dogs need to be "introduced" to people! When I got there, the MP took me to a spot near the perimeter fence and poked a pole into the ground. It went down about 3 to 4' without effort. Seems that Charlie was trying to tunnel into the compound from the village in the "Tiger's Tail". The MP's took care of the tunnel the next day.
The last time I had OD was a memorable one. We got a few USO shows at Soc Trang and a few other "forms of entertainment". This night was one of the "other" shows at the EM club. When I went on duty, I was told that there was a group on base that was putting on a show at the club. I didn't know what kind of show it was until show time. I went to the club and found what was almost a riot. The MP's had their hands full, all of the extra guards were on hand and all of the senior NCO's (E-6 and above) were trying to help. The show was a bunch of strippers from Australia!!! Every one was going nuts trying to get to the girls. The MP's finally got in front of the small stage and stood almost shoulder to shoulder to keep the guys under control. This just made matters worse since they were blocking the view. I finally got hold of the sponsor and the man in charge of the girls and had the show stopped to let things calm down. I told every one there that the show would only continue if they kept at least 3' back from the stage. If they didn't, the show would be canceled. Every one reluctantly complied (with a few exceptions who were taken out by the MP's) and the show continued. I heard later that a few enterprising girls were taking on all comers (no pun intended) FREE! One of the MP's told me that had I gone up the street into the 121st hooch area I could have gotten in line!
Nerves, Nerves, Nerves!
One day not long after one of our monthly mortar attacks, I was heading up to the Officers Club when one of the EM yelled at me to come to his hooch quick. One of the ground maintenance crew had an M-14 and was threatening to shoot people. He kept saying he was tired of the mortar attacks and being shot at without being able to shoot back.
I ran to the hooch and when I went in he was ranting and raving and swinging the rifle around. Nobody could get near him. The platoon sergeant was there and he and I just talked to the guy, telling him he didn't want to shoot his buddies. I kept talking to him and inching closer until I was within arms reach. I held out my hand and told him to give me the rifle and we would see what we could do to ease his frustrations.
He looked like a deer caught in the headlights and was sweating profusely. I said again that he didn't want to shoot Americans, he wanted to shoot VC. He finally agreed and gave me the rifle. The platoon sergeant took him by the arm, talking calmly to him, and walked him up to the CO.
I heard later that he was transferred to an infantry unit up north, I think at his request.
Search and Rescue - In a Gunship?
As you all know, there are some times when you just can't wait for a slick or a Dust Off to extract people who are in trouble. If an American plane was down, you just reacted.
The first time I did a rescue there was a call put out on Guard that a single Huey was missing near the town of Can Tho. My fire team was returning to Soc Trang from north of Can Tho so we joined in the search. Someone on the other ship spotted a single Huey on the ground near an ARVAN artillery outpost. At about the same time we heard a transmission on the FM frequency the artillery posts used saying that they were being fired on, and the fire was coming from a Huey that had just landed out in the middle of a rice field!
We descended and asked the American advisor at the artillery post if he saw two Hueys coming down to his post. He confirmed that he had us in sight but warned us to be careful because the idiots from the first Huey were shooting everything they had.
We used Guard and established contact with the downed aircraft. They claimed they were under heavy VC fire! Just as we were about to land, we told them to hold fire and landed between them and the outpost.
Two of the crew from the downed aircraft got on each of our gun ships. My CE ran over to the downed Huey and found the COI (radio codebook), all of their radios, and both door guns. They were just going to leave them!! He also turned the battery on and discovered that the fuel was empty!
We later read that the Colonel and his pilot were awarded the DFC and Air Medal with V and the crew were awarded the Air Medal with V for their heroic action under intense enemy fire! Apparently no one read our after action report.
My second rescue happened during the rice harvest just North of Bien Hoa. Virtually every Helicopter Company in third and fourth corps was used to support the rice harvest each year. We would carry ARVN troops out at the beginning of each day and bring them back at night. There were so many aircraft that it looked like one continuous daisy chain from Bien Hoa to the LZ and back.
At the very end of the harvest, A/101 was the last Company to pick up troops. Some times the slicks had to land in the bottom of 2,000 lb bomb craters to pick up the troops. We had just left the PZ, it was almost dark out, when we heard someone on the radio saying they had been left!
We checked with Warrior 6 who said all the slicks were loaded and no one could go back. The heavy fire team I was with turned around and told the people who were left to shine a flash light so we could find them. They were in the bottom of a bomb crater! Not only that, they claimed they were under heavy VC fire! We never heard the first shot fired the entire time we supported the harvest.
The first ship went in and said there were only two people there. He took one and I went in and got the other. We had an Army Colonel and the other ship had an ARVN General! They said they were waiting for "their" ship, whereever that was!
About a week later, the CO told my crew and the other who had made the pick up to get a slick and go up to Saigon to represent the Company in receiving an award. A/101 was awarded a unit Cross of Galantry w/palm and each member of the two crews got the individual Cross of Galantry w/palm for their "heroic rescue while under intense enemy fire". Boy, those Colonels know how to write stories!
The last time was a real doozy! My fire team was supporting a resupply mission near the Ocean just North of the Saigon River. We knew there were jets in the area. Suddenly, we heard a Mayday over Guard from an Air Force F-105 or F-5 (whichever the two seater is).
They had over flown a .50 cal. position and were going to have to bail out. They were trying to make the Ocean but weren't sure they could make it. After they said they were punching out, we saw the smoke and fire ball from their aircraft hitting the ground. We saw their parachutes and flew as fast as we could (about 90 knots) to their position.
They were under heavy ground fire from a small VC unit (about 20 or 25) and were pinned down behind some sand dunes, almost on the beach. While my ship put an attack on the VC, the other flew down the river at 3 feet, made a hard left and landed on the beach to pick up one of the pilots. He came out at the same time I started in. He continued the attack on the VC while I picked up the other pilot.
We took them to the nearest base, which was Vinh Long, and they were taken back to Saigon. The pilots told us they were going to put us in for some sort of medal. Some time later, the CO called both crews in to his office and told us that we had been put in for the Silver Star! However, (isn't that always the case) as the recommendation made it's way through channels it got down graded to a Bronze Star, then Airmedal with V, then Airmedal. What we finally got was a real nice "Atta Boy" from the CO with the explanation that Saigon thought that A/101 was getting too many medals!!!
Some time between the 18th and 22nd of April 1966, there was a ceremony in front of the Co. HQ and the colors of Company A, 101st Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division were taken north to re-join the Division which had been in country for several months. (I think they came in during January but weren't operational until February.) The Soc Trang "Winged Warriors" then became the 336th Aviation Company. The orders for my 15th oak leaf cluster to the Air Medal show me in the 101st through the 18th of April, and my 16th oak leaf cluster shows the 336th on the 22nd of April, 1966.
Many nights either the 101st or 121st would put up a flare ship from about 11 pm to 3 am in case there was a mortar attack or an outpost got hit. This particular evening, as the flares were being loaded, one of the flares lit off. They were very touchy and if not handled carefully, the top would pop off, the chute deploy, and the flare ignite.
A time exposure is showing the tower to the left of the ship. Some of the small dots are .50 cal rounds cooking off.
What's left of Warrior 15's tail boom.
What was left of the engine.
Note the .50 cal machine gun and mount. The debris in the foreground is brass from rounds that exploded and a few un-exploded ones as well.
It's interesting that the nose radio compartment door and pilot's seat frames survived. Note that only part of one rotorblade survived as well.
The heat was so intense that it melted the transmission!
operation called Dan Chi 199 in January of 1966, the ARVN troops uncovered an
under ground cache of arms and ammunition. It took almost the whole company to
transport the cache. Some rifles were of WWII vintage and still wrapped in
Stacked WWII vintage French rifles with ammo cans and crates in the back ground.
A couple of .30 cal. machine guns also of French origin.
All photographs on this page provided by Roger A. Nale
All Stories are under copyright to the author, Roger A. Nale, and may not be copied or used in any matter without the permission of Author.
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