BY: Jack Serig, Sr.

    The 18th (Otter)* Aviation Company’s mission in South Vietnam, after our arrival in early 1962, was simple.  We were to provide Otter support to each of the then three ARVN (Army of Vietnam) Corps’ U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Groups. Company headquarters was established at the Nha Trang airfield and provided logistics support to the three detachments located at Da Nang (I Corps), Pleiku (II Corps) and Saigon (III Corps).  Each detachment commander was responsible for establishing daily scheduled flights within their respective Corps area of responsibility.
One such scheduled flight departed the Saigon-Tan Son Nhut airfield on a VFR (Visual flight rules) morning heading, eventually, deep into the Mekong Delta.  An Army chaplain from one of the isolated delta camps had signed on as a passenger.  Several stops at delta airstrips were scheduled before the chaplain would reach his destination. It was common in those first months of our U.S. military buildup for members of isolated units to make grocery purchases wherever groceries could be found.  The chaplain had made such a purchase, for his unit’s compliment, at the Saigon commissary.  Our Otter crew had assisted the chaplain with the loading of his groceries.  The seat across from where the Padre sat was empty and several bags of his precious commodities were placed in that seat.

    After several uneventful landings and takeoffs, the Otter lifted off from a small strip and established a new heading on climbout.  Suddenly, an unfamiliar “crack” was heard by all on board, instantly followed by a small explosion within the aircraft’s passenger compartment. Minds were working furiously to determine the cause of the unexplained interruption.  It was immediately obvious to all on board that the “good father” was the victim of whatever it was that had occurred. The pilot looked back over his shoulder and was astounded to see the chaplain’s face and upper body covered with blood.  The crew chief was at the chaplain’s side in an instant, ready to provide first aid and assist with the bleeding “father’s” wounds.  No one else appeared injured so all eyes and thoughts of crew and passengers were riveted on our wounded “Man of God.”  The crew chief took a few moments to check the bloody face and torso.

    All on board were rooting for the chaplain’s well being.  You could sense the silent, well-meant prayers of these suddenly religious souls. The pilot looked back again and activated his intercom.  “How is he?” “How bad is it?”  The aviator’s mind-set was running through the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) he would follow for a wounded passenger.  After a few more moments the pilot could see a smile emerging from his crew chief’s face.  He also observed the chaplain smiling through the bloody morass that distorted his facial features.  The crew chief was ebullient in his response. “Sir, he’s covered with ketchup!”  There was a short moment of silence as the new, positive piece of information registered in the minds of these concerned soldiers.  Then smiles, then clapping, acknowledging the relief each person felt. Then, hard, belly-deep laughter when the realization hit each one that they had a great, funny story, which had just occurred in their presence.  A story to be remembered a lifetime.

    A Vietcong round had penetrated through the belly of the aircraft, upward into the seat holding the chaplain’s groceries.  Of all the grocery items, the round picked an isolated bottle of ketchup.  No one had been injured by fragmented, flying glass.  The other groceries surrounding the ketchup bottle had successfully contained the glass. But the liquid ketchup sought out an unsuspecting adversary, our “Padre.”

    In the thirty-plus years since this incident occurred, I have often pondered:  “What if......the crew had placed the groceries on the opposite seat and the chaplain had been in the seat that took the round?” Somewhere it is said: “The Good Lord works in mysterious ways!"

This article was published in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association, in the March, 1992 edition.