While we were working out of
the Hue area in the northern part of the
country, one of the ships flying in from Nha Trang was apparently low leveling
up the coast and was raked by machine gun fire just south of Da Nang.
One of the rounds went through the AC’s door and slammed into the cyclic
control. The resulting force numbed the AC’s hand. A call
was made to Da Nang tower asking directions to any local hospital.
They were told that the U.S.S. hospital ship "Sanctuary" was in the harbor.
So there they went.
As I'm told, the chopper landed on the ship's rear heliport but the ship's tower told them they weren't allowed to shut down. The AC got off and went downstairs while the PP kept the ship running. A quick look by the doctor resulted in the AC being told he would be remaining overnight for observation. The PP then departed and finished the last leg of their flight to the Hue base camp.
The next day the ship I was PP in was chosen to go down to Da Nang and, among other things, pick up the stray pilot. About half way to Da Nang we spotted a huge shark on the surface, just outside the surf, and went in for a closer look. The shark was about 3’- 4’ wide and looked about 15 feet long. It didn't seem afraid of us, so except for the pilots, everyone shot at it. The water was white with foam from all the rounds we were throwing at it but when things cleared the shark was gone. With our plaything gone we headed on towards Da Nang.
Now landing to a ship is something Army pilots do not do every day and you have to remember, even at anchor, the ship is still rolling with the waves. We terminated at a low hover then “planted it” as some would say. The extra officer we had onboard got out and was shown the way downstairs where he hoped to find our stray pilot. Just as he cleared the doorway here comes a cook's helper with a small brown bag. He gave it to one of the crew and we took off. Landing to a ship was something new to all of us so the AC decided to get a little practice in while we were waiting on our people.
It didn't take long before we found that the bag we were given contained a small treasure. Inside were 4 small cartons of REAL milk, not the powdered stuff we were limited to, and 4 small cartons of ice cream. They even gave us plastic spoons. Don't have to tell you that stuff didn't last very long once it got passed around. That was sure nice of the Navy.
After all was gone, the AC made another landing to the ship and once again one of the cook's helpers came out with another bag for us. This was too good to be true. Yep, 4 more milks and 4 more ice creams. We gladly accepted them but said nothing about already going through some. Off we went and this time I got a try at landing. I sure enjoyed the chance to land on a moving deck, even though it was only moving a little. Yep, you guessed it, another landing, another bag. I took off and we were going to practice one more landing when we saw our man down there come out the door.
We made our final landing to the ship and got a 4th bag of milk and ice cream. The officer got on board and told us to takeoff even though we didn't have the pilot we came for. It seems he had found the stray pilot and he was OK but that he had met a nice nurse and asked if he could stay one more night. “Round eyes” were quite rare in Vietnam so our guy said what the heck, we'll pick him up tomorrow.
We departed the ship and said “thanks” to the ship's tower for the goody bags. Since we were all bloated from the milk and ice cream we gave the last bag to the officer. He couldn't believe his eyes, especially when we told him it was all his. I believe he ate 3 portions and was going to save the rest for someone back at camp. That didn't last very long. His excuse was that it would melt or turn sour before we got there. The flight back was a quiet one as we savored our full bellies. We looked for the shark again but he was not to be found.
The next day the officer was back again along with a few others. It seems the word about the milk and ice cream was too good to pass up. I was looking forward to more approaches and of course the goody bags.
As we headed down the coast we spotted a small fishing boat in the area where we had shot at the shark earlier. We went over for a look see and found it just about washed up on shore. There were about a half dozen men on board and all were busy pulling in their net. Inside the net was the shark.
The AC got the ship in close and made turns such that we all could eyeball the situation. The shark didn't look dead to us and if it got loose it was ours and we all were ready. As the fishermen got the shark right up next to the boat the shark came to life and with one flip of it's tail hit the boat knocking 1 man over the back side of the ship and 2 into the water right on top of that shark. What a sight seeing those two scrambling to get out of that water. I don't think I've ever seen arms and legs move that fast before. It only took a few seconds for them to be pulled up on board when the shark hit them again, this time destroying the net.
When the shark was about 20 feet from the boat we opened up on it with everything we had. I don't see how it could have lived but it went down and we never saw it again. When we left the area the fisherman were busy unbeaching their ship and gathering their net buoys. With the fun over, the focus of our attention was on the feast we were about to indulge in.
As we got close to Da Nang harbor, something was wrong, no ship. A quick call to Da Nang tower was made and we were informed that the U.S.S. Sanctuary had left for Japan the night before and that the U.S.S. Hope was going to take her place. Now what?
We began the trip back to base with empty bellies and, to make matters worse, we didn't see the shark again either. I know the crew was feeling pretty low because we sure were looking forward to that milk and ice cream. I'm surprise the engine didn't quit on us just to add to our grief.
We found out later that “combat rules” state any Army personal removed from a combat area via a hospital ship would be declared ineligible to return to combat duty and would be reassigned. Boy, did that guy ever luck out.