Working with the Koreans brought
to you the stark reality of war.
They were there to fight a "war" and we were there to pussyfoot around fighting
a "conflict". I'm sure glad they were on our side. As best I can recall,
these are my recollections of working with the Koreans. You must remember
though, my perspective of things was quite limited, akin to the story of the
4 blind men trying to describe an elephant.
The Korean White Horse division (one of two Korean divisions) was based out of Ninth Hoa just to the north of Nha Trang and was supported by one of our sister companies the 129th AHC I believe. Once a month or so we took over their missions in order to give them a break. As is my understanding the average Korean soldier earned about $3.00 a month but the U.S. gave him "combat pay" which was $65.00 a month. This meant that there was no shortage of Korean soldiers willing to fight in Vietnam. By their standards they were getting rich.
The only thing bad about flying the Koreans was their breath. It had to be the worst in the world. Their national food is a fermented cabbage/pepper based dish called Kim Chee. It seemed like it was all through their system and was rooted well within their bodies. At 20 ft away you knew a Korean was around. Heaven forbid if you had to use one of their latrines.
I can still remember landing for the very first time, in support of the Koreans, and the AC telling me get the missions stats from the Korean heading towards the ship. He then pointed to my side of the ship as the Korean approached. I thought I was finally being allowed to show that I could run the mission. Wrong! It was the breath the AC didn't want to put up with, with his head outside the window. I about died when it hit me. We were face to face and he was yelling and it was all I could do to act normally. After I got the mission stats a couple of Koreans got on board and the AC took off. I couldn't do it because my eyes were watering so badly. One of the distinct advantages of being an AC is making the PP do all the talking with the Koreans.
The Korean generals seemed to all be "Mongolian" Koreans. Where a normal Korean is about 5'8" and 150 lbs. the Mongolian Korean is well over 6' tall, weighs about 225 lbs. and is built like an NFL defensive back. They do not have any fat on them at all and they do not look very friendly. The Koreans did have choppers over there but as far as I know they were not used in combat. It was easy to tell a Korean chopper because it was waxed to the hilt. Ours were sort of kept dirty because it added to the camouflage. Korean generals rarely flew with Korean pilots. There was just something that didn't mix with Koreans and choppers.
One of my first missions with the Koreans was a real shocker. We picked up a Korean general and his aid along with a U.S. Major and a couple of others. We then flew them north to a Korean base and shut down the ship. A large formation was formed and a ceremony was begun. As I understood a Korean soldier and an American soldier were both being punished for sleeping on guard duty. The American went first and was demoted among several other things. The American major did the honors.
Next was the Koreans soldier's turn. I remember him holding his head down in apparent shame. Charges were read and a Korean, I don't remember who, then walked up to him and shot him once with a pistol. I sure didn't expect that. I then looked at the American enlisted man also charged with the same offense. He took a step back and the person (American) next to him put his arm in front of him as if to say your OK here. The Korean cadre then took turns stomping the body while the entire formation looked on. When the formation was finally dismissed what appeared to be apprising cadre came to kick the body as well. So much for military politics and brownie points.
Most of the combat missions we flew for the Koreans were without incident. It was as if Charlie really didn't want to mess with them. I can remember a rather large assault around a small set of hills. The Koreans surround the place and went in just after dawn. We pulled the troops out just before lunch and they had killed quite a few Charlie. Found among the bodies were headless corpses that were of very muscular build. Apparently they were North Korean advisers that had got caught up in the fight and paid the price. Their heads were cut off and taken by Charlie so no evidence of North Korean involvement could be made. Early that afternoon we put them right back in the same exact LZs and they caught Charlie with his pants down. They killed even more the second time around.
On one mission I can remember being behind "One Lung" as we were landing single ship to an "L" shaped LZ. His load of Koreans had just departed and I was on short final with a perfect view of things. One of the Koreans ran behind his ship and went right into the tail rotor. He was knocked back about 6' and his helmet was flung about 20' to the right. The helmet landed next to another soldier. That soldier picked up the helmet, ran over to the soldier still on the ground, pulled him up, pointed at the tail rotor, slapped him around a little then put the helmet back on him and went about his business. All this happened in about 10 seconds. Before I could get a radio call out to "One Lung" he had pulled pitch and was on his way out of there. The tail rotor stayed together and I guess it was checked out at the next landing area. Not many people walk into a tail rotor and live. And I had a front row seat on that one.
I don't remember how I got to see it but I remember reading a report that showed how many prisoners were captured by the various forces fighting there. The Koreans were at the bottom of the list with 3 live prisoners for the year. As I recall, virtually all the villages within several miles of every Korean compound were leveled. All you could see from the air was the old outline. Like I say, they were there for a war.
On one occasion our ship was held over after a day's worth of fighting and was later called in for a single ship night medivac. As it turned out we landed in a cemetery that we were familiar with from the days assaults and the Koreans promptly piled in 4 bodies and 2 walking wounded I believe. They worked fast. Just as the last walking wounded was getting on all hell broke lose to our left and the Koreans began firing into the tree line. Just then the top corner of a rather large tombstone to our immediate left front got blown off in our direction and the ground Korean in charge signaled us to get out of there fast. We did but left without being told where to take the wounded. The AC thought he knew of a small Korean hospital at one of the compounds so we took them there. He was right and when we landed Korean personal unloaded the ship from my side. The two wounded got off first then they started dragging off the bodies. Just as they pulled #3 off the ship #4 got up on his own and walked by himself, holding his side, into the hospital. I don't remember the exact conversation between the gunner on my side of the ship and I but it went sort of like, "Damn! Did you see that?" Like I say, the Koreans are tough troops.
As I mentioned before, there was just something about helicopters and Koreans that didn't mix well. I can remember waiting for a pickup at the Air America pad in Nha Trang when a Korean ship came in and tried to land to the heliport directly in front of us. Now this is flat ground we're speaking of with specific pads laid out for blade separation. The ship was waxed so well that you could hardly look at it for the sun's reflection. The pilots must have tried at least a dozen times to set her down but couldn't. They could hold it somewhat steady at a high hover (20 ft) but once they hit about 8 ft the ship took over and it definitely didn't want to land. We were getting a little concerned that they might back into us but not as concerned as the load of passengers they had. As they went up and down I got brave and went over to the side of the heliport and tried to get the attention of the door gunner. It was my intention to jump up to the skid when it got low enough, climb aboard, swap seats with the co-pilot and land that thing for them. The door gunner spotted me but not before the pilot decided to head back home. Guess the ground was softer there. As I look back on that little episode I'm glad I didn't jump on that skid. With my luck they would have taken off with me hanging there. As far as I know Walker (Texas Ranger movie star) is the only person that can hold on to a skid while in full flight.
Several months later, after I was transferred to the 192nd and because I had such an easy temperament, I was given one of two Korean Captains to train in combat procedures. I learned a lot about Korea from him and we did become friends even though he could not fly the ship worth beans. Even getting in and out of a revetment was beyond his level. I believe it was just plain poor flight training. What a shame. A year later, after 9 months in Germany, I asked for and received a tour in Korea. I have a lot of respect for the Korean people.