"Rat Pack 16"  10/66-3/67
Miami, FL

Red Bar Line


It was May, 1967.  I was the 10th Aviation Battalion’s  Safety Officer.  One of our battalion’s Huey ‘slick’ helicopters had been shot down, the day before, about ten minutes flight time from our headquarter’s  at Dong Ba Thin, which was located on the mainland across the bay from the large Cam Rahn air and naval base.  

As the Safety Officer, I was invited to fly to the site of the downed aircraft to determine what disposition could be made of the helicopter, i.e., try to have it lifted out or destroy it in place by an airstrike.  Our Assistant S-3 (Operations) and our S-2 (Intelligence) climbed into the two pilot’s seats of the Battalion Commander’s ‘slick’ which was not armed with the usual two 7.62 cargo compartment  machine guns.  I sat in the left side by the cargo compartment door and another battalion officer sat on the right side.  There were no enlisted  crew  on board.  Our total weaponry were individual sidearms carried by the four of us.

The downed ship had crash-landed, upright, after being shot down,  in a large open area south of Dong Ba Thin.  I don’t recall if there were any injuries to the crashed ship’s crew but my shaded recollection is that the crewmembers were all recovered.  As we circled the crash site at 1,500 feet the intercom was busy  with the other three occupants exchanging banter about whether or not we could save the downed ship or destroy it.  All of us were hooked to the  intercom.  The officer across from me had positioned himself, standing, between the two cockpit seats.  He and the two pilots concentrated their conversation and their eyesight on the crash site below.

I was swivel-heading in all directions out both sides of our ‘chopper watching for potential enemy fire.  After all, we had lost the ship we were looking at just the day before.  As our pilot leveled our ship after a long turn in the southwest quadrant, their three sets of eyes still glued to the downed craft, yellow smoke popped below us on the right side from a dense, green thicket .  I went to the right doorway and watched the smoke for several seconds, mind racing , thinking, “A trap, perhaps how  we lost yesterday’s ship!   Should I share the information?”  I hesitated!  The other three had decided to call in an airstrike for reasoning I missed once I had concentrated on  the yellow smoke.

I didn’t share the information with my contemporaries.  Instinct told me it was a probable trap.  We were a single ship with no armament.  I’ve always prayed that my instinct was on target so we wouldn’t become one.  Then , again!-------------???