JACK W. SERIG, Sr.
"Rat Pack 16" 10/66-3/67
IV Corps, South Vietnam, early 1967.
As our Huey ‘slick’ approached the newly constructed
MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) camp there were about two-hundred
Vietnamese civilians between the camp gate and the new
PSP (pierced steel planking) airstrip outside of the camp perimeter.
It was unusual to see so many civilians at such a small, ordinary camp
appearing as if they were waiting for a ride to somewhere.
As soon as we delivered supplies and mail to the American
infantry lieutenant in charge, the large group ran, enmasse, as if on cue,
surrounding our aircraft and seemingly all trying to board at once.
As they surged closer it was clear that they were experiencing mass
hysteria. They were all either
talking hysterically, or screaming
in some instances, faces agonizingly twisted and the enlarged eyes of all
expressing extreme fear. Bodies
pressed hard against bodies pushing the uncontrolled masses toward the two
rear compartment openings.
I had never experienced anything like it!
Before or since!
We had been on a normal milk run, on a beautiful VFR day,
carrying passengers and supplies having originated out of Bien Hoa. We were one aircraft of a two-chopper detachment
operationally assigned to the 5th S.F. camp co-located at the large
Bien Hoa complex. Our 281st
AHC (Assault Helicopter Company) headquarters was located at Nha Trang adjacent
to the 5th Special Forces Headquarters where we supported the Mike
Force operations throughout Vietnam. Also, we provided aircraft for the S.F.
detachments in each of the Corps’ areas.
This is why we were so far from home base.
I was a ‘slick’ Platoon Commander of the 281st and traveled to all of the four Corps areas to relieve our pilots from their daily flight routines so they could enjoy an occasional local break .
That’s why I was flying this mission while one of our
overworked pilots was taking a rest.
After realizing that a number of the unruly mob had forced
their way on board, I advised our two doorgunners
to clear their rear compartment of the intruders, advised the other pilot. WO
Walter Wrobleski, to take over the controls, as we were hot, and I entered the
rear compartment to help remove the unwanted, out-of-control passengers.
The American lieutenant, observing the turmoil, came back
to help, issued a couple of orders to his people and the mob moved reluctantly
back toward the camp gate when some
limited force was applied. But they
continued to rant and rave in uncontrollable fear.
Strapping back in and after a 180-degree hovering turn I
lifted off , empty, except for crew, following the direction of the airstrip
toward the north. As we cleared the
airstrip boundary I noticed a movement and something black in the sawgrass just
ahead and brought the ship to a hover alerting the crew that we would check out
the movement. I advised the right
door gunner to lock and load; that he would be in a position to fire, if
I hovered sideways toward the location where I had seen the
movement. Suddenly, a young boy,
probably mid-teens, arose out of the sawgrass about 50 feet away.
He wore a conical straw hat and black pajamas.
He didn’t appear to be armed. I
directed the left doorgunner to retrieve his own personal weapon, insure a round
was in the chamber and bring the suspect, under guard, into the chopper, after a
thorough body search. This was
done. During the time this was
happening my ‘thinking’ was racing overtime wondering if his hiding in the
sawgrass, as a probable enemy lookout, could have anything to do with the mob
reaction we had just observed. Was
the camp going to be attacked ? Was
that why so many civilians simultaneously went berserk and tried to get on our
aircraft? Well then, let’s take
our potential enemy spy back to the camp and let them try to find out.
I had heard the Vietnamese Army intelligence types had ways of
gleaning secrets from the enemy.
Dropping off our suspect to the American MAAG lieutenant, I
suggested that the kid might have been a Viet Cong lookout, as he had tried to
hide from us. We proceeded on our
mission, finally returning to Bien Hoa after a long day of flying.
The next day we got the word that the new camp WAS attacked
the night before and the camp cadre had held off the enemy forces successfully.
Our crew all hoped that the actions we took the day before
had wetted the resolve of the camp’s soldiers to fight hard as they had their
civilian families to protect as well. Those
same hysterical civilians that we were unable to evacuate.
We may very well have helped save the camp!
Never realizing then, that it would ultimately be in vain.