Recollections of Lam Son 719

My personal recollections are vague and are out of contents with
everything that went on during Lam Son 719.  I recall the morning at
first staging area.  I had been in country about half a year, long
enough to be a crew chief and to have been on a number of CCN
missions.  The lessons we learned on CCN would become life saving
reactions to what was to come.  We landed shortly after dawn near
Dong Ha, RSVN.  I had never seen so many helicopters in one place
before.  I thought that every unit in Vietnam had to have at least
half their birds here.   There were the customary problems with a
large number of helicopters and WO pilots being told to move closer
to the helicopter in front of them.  I heard one tail rotor being
damaged as I was visiting other units inquiring about any of the guys
I had gone to helicopter repairman school with.  I had thought that
with this many units there I was surely going to connect with my old
friends.  I only heard that one of the guys was flying and that he
had crashed on a nighthawk mission and was in a hospital.  I don't
recall much more at Dong Ha, but as I recall The Comancheros were the
lead chalk in the assault on Khe Sahn.

The Comancheros had been flying over Khe Sahn the previous month or
two on almost a daily bases.  On one of the better days one crew
landed on the airstrip and painted a big A/101 sign on the runway. 
The clearance to pick up the troops and head to Khe Sahn came.  It's
a little fuzzy, but I remember my pilot was a captain that day and I
think we were the first or second chalk into Khe Sahn.  What I do
remember is that my pilot saw the big A/101 sign on the runway and
used it to land on.  Well there were 99 other helicopters behind us
and only 1/3 of the runway.  The rest of the Comancheros followed
their lead and landed behind us, but the next flight over flew us and
landed at the far end where we should have landed.  There were
problems with the ground units not being where they should have been
and other problems, but my pilot made the distinction of landing on
our letters! 

I don't remember how long it was before Khe Sahn became our home away
from home.
We were supposed to sleep in tents with sand bags around for
protection.  I slept on my bird like most of the crew chiefs.

More Lam Son 719

I hope I don't insult anyone that did get a purple heart, but this is
as close to getting one that I had evidence for.  During one of the
days at Lam Son my bird was hit pretty hard and often and was out of
commission.  I flew as Ron Kuhn's door gunner one evening.  I'm not
sure where we started out at, but I think it was up the trail a
ways.  We were flying back to Khe Sahn at 3000ag and it was getting
dark.  I had my feet up resting on the edge of the ammo can and
watching the world go by.  I had let my guard down cause it was late
and I was tried.  Ron comes up on the intercom with "taking fire,
we've been hit".  Then he opens up with his 60 and the whole ground
opens up on us.   The pilot starts evasive turns and I try to talk
Ron out of firing back and giving our position away.  His reply is
something like "They hit my bird, I'm going to get `em."  I don't
think I ever did shoot. 
We landed at POL and being the gunner I jump out, un-strap my ammo
can slide it on to the cargo deck.  I hear this sound like a pop can
being torn in two.  Ron runs over and we both stare at this 2" to 3"
rip in the cargo deck right under the ammo can.  I tilt the can over
and the steel part of the round is stuck all the way into the bottom
of the can.  It won't come out either.  The steel projectile had
lodged into one of the 7.62 rounds and burned up the power.  Ron
looks under bird and sees that the round entered the skin directly
under my chicken (butt) plate and angled out to just short of the
edge of the deck.  It had hit a couple of bulkheads and aux. fuel
fittings.  If it had come up the hell-hole I might have gotten a
purple heart and a big pain in the ass.
This could have happened just about at any time during my tour, but
it was Lam Son.  Just one shot and another bird was out for a couple
of days.

Gil Jones, Comanchero CE 6/70 to 4/71

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Revised: 09/27/03.

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