Into the 192nd
The 192nd AHC was one of our
sister companies and was 10th Battalion's
southern most outfit. The 192nd was based on the high ground that
was to the immediate south of the city of Phan Thiet. Because the
entire unit had come to Vietnam by ship they all had the same DEROS (go
home) date. When this fact finally dawned on the powers that be, a
scramble was made to swap personnel out with other units in order to scatter
the dates so that they would not have all the personal leave at the same
time. And I went from a 281st "Intruder" to a 192nd "Pole Cat". Three
days later I was an AC again and rightly so.
When I was signing into the 192nd,
with another 281st pilot whose name I can not recall, 2 jets just happened
to low level up the runway. Since we were signing in inside the OPS
tent we could not see the jets, only hear them. Both of us yelled out
"In Coming" and hit the floor with our hands over our heads. The laughter
signaled the all clear and we got up and dusted off. Apparently the
192nd had never come under 122mm rocket fire. How fortunate for them.
Being with the 192nd had
it's immediate good points and it's bad points. The good points were
that the unit was just as close nit as the 281st was and that, except for
the deep jungle insertions which wasn't their mission, they were just as
professional as the 281st. The bad points were that they lived in tents
and had to eat Swiss Steak for supper 7 days a week. Just now, more
than 30 years later, can I stomach Swiss Steak.
In order to combat the Swiss Steak
problem, an arrangement was made between all members of our tent called,
"The Womb". Each pilot would have their folks or wife send, on a weekly
basis, a survival package (5 lb. was the limit). We would pool our
resources and cook our own supper. My folks supplied the Kraft Macaroni
and Cheese and packets of dry soup. Smally's folks ran a cannery in
the North West and they supplied us with various unlabeled dented cans
of salmon & tuna. I believe Tweedy was the 3rd member of the
tent and he had the Jiffy Pop popcorn and some other things. Chad
Gilbert was the last member of the tent but I don't remember what
he had to supply. So between the C-rations
we could come up with and the packages from home and the swapping we did
with the other tents, none of us lost any weight. There may have been
a 5th man in the tent and his name may have been Gibson, its been a long
time for the old memory.
Each of the guys had their own
distinct personalities. Smally was pretty quite while Gilbert was very
outgoing. Gilbert's approach to things was the same as old "One Lung"
and his light-hearted comments about the days fowl ups or whatever would bring
a smile to almost any face. Tweedy was also a quiet one but his appearance
demanded respect from even the RLOs for Tweedy sported one of the finest
and largest handlebar mustaches I have ever seen. When he had to shave
it off a month or two later nobody recognized him and he was treated as a
FNG (new guy) for a few days until he figured out what was wrong and began
telling people that he was Tweedy, just without the mustache.
I thought he was a new guy too.
The main mission of the 192nd
was to support the ARVN and U.S. Troops in the area with combat assaults.
They also did a lot of ash & trash runs. The 281st didn't do a
whole lot with the ARVN troops but the 192nd sure did. They were not
very good soldiers and more often than not, when loading up for an assault,
I would see several of them hiding in the bushes so they would not
have to go into battle. Countless times we pulled them out of supposedly
hot skirmishes and some of them would still have the dust tape on the end
of their rifle barrels. They were just not very effective soldiers.
The 192nd had come over with all
H-model Hueys I believe and they were all in pretty good shape. It
sure was a pleasure to fly a ship with a good strong engine in it. Over to
the side though were 2 real dog choppers that probably had the original L-1
engines in them instead of the L-11 engines. There was no such thing
as an L-1 engine but it gives the other pilots reading this an idea just how
weak those ships were. I think the radios were salvaged from Noah's
Ark. Seats were comfortable though so they did have a good point.
Flying those two ships was where
I found my "niche" with the 192nd. They were much too under powered
for combat and it was kind of like an insult or punishment to get assigned
to fly them. Nobody wanted to fly either of them until I came along.
With the 281st I had a lot of time in
the older "D" model Hueys and was use to flying under powered ships so I
didn't mind as much to fly them as the others did. Besides that, flying
them meant I'd get to see more of the country and I'd much rather do that
then be bored to death flying the ARVN all over the place. The OPS officer
saw the perfect use for those ships and, what was once a real sore spot in
the unit, became a blessing for all future ACs in the unit. I became
the unofficial "Left Seat" transition officer for the 192nd. It became
my job to take the unit's senior PPs and let them fly left seat on the
many various ash & trash missions that we had. You couldn't get
any better training than that for those new ACs to be. As I recall
it only took about 1-2 weeks of flying those ships before they had a real
appreciation of what the word "precision" meant. It sure got their
heads outside the cockpit in a hurry and forced them to plan ahead for virtually
everything that had anything to do with being an AC. As I said, I
found my niche.
The 192nd had a certain mission they did quite often.
In the above picture and the one to your right, four ships would land
surrounding a small community and their VN troops would go in and inspect
hands. If your hands were smooth they took you away for interrogation.
Rice farmers have weathered hands, the bad guys didn't.
I only stayed 3 months with the 192nd
before I DEROSed out. I made a lot of friends and felt good inside
about having a hand in shaping the many pilots that I did. A lot
of stories came out of my time there and the day I left I was given one
of the highest honors possible. As I was boarding the "Freedom Chopper"
for home, the young crew chief that had flown so many missions with me
on his "dog" chopper ran up to me and yelled out "Sir". He then snapped
to attention and gave me a "Stateside" salute, something you just didn't
do over there. He said he would miss me. To me, that was the
equivalent of my peers giving me "The Medal of Honor". That put a
lump in my throat, just as the memory of it is doing now as I am typing this
in. He had thought of himself as the bottom of the barrel crew chief
wise because of the ship that he had. His attitude soon changed when
he saw just how important that ship was to the training of all those ACs
to be. It was still a dog as far as choppers went but by God it was
the best kept dog chopper around. I am glad that I had a hand in shaping
that young man's character.