"Rat Pack 16"  10/66-3/67
Miami, FL

Red Bar Line


IV Corps, South Vietnam, early 1967. 

As our Huey ‘slick’ approached the newly constructed MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) camp there were about two-hundred Vietnamese civilians between the camp gate and the new  PSP (pierced steel planking) airstrip outside of the camp perimeter.  It was unusual to see so many civilians at such a small, ordinary camp appearing as if they were waiting for a ride to somewhere.   

As soon as we delivered supplies and mail to the American infantry lieutenant in charge, the large group ran, enmasse, as if on cue, surrounding our aircraft and seemingly all trying to board at once.  As they surged closer it was clear that they were experiencing mass hysteria.  They were all either talking  hysterically, or screaming in some instances, faces agonizingly twisted and the enlarged eyes of all expressing extreme fear.  Bodies pressed hard against bodies pushing the uncontrolled masses toward the two  rear compartment openings. 

I had never experienced anything like it!  Before or since! 

We had been on a normal milk run, on a beautiful VFR day, carrying passengers and supplies having originated out of Bien Hoa.  We were one aircraft of a two-chopper detachment operationally assigned to the 5th S.F. camp co-located at the large Bien Hoa complex.  Our 281st AHC (Assault Helicopter Company) headquarters was located at Nha Trang adjacent to the 5th Special Forces Headquarters where we supported the Mike Force operations throughout Vietnam. Also, we provided aircraft for the S.F. detachments in each of the Corps’ areas.  This is why we were so far from home base. 

I was a ‘slick’ Platoon Commander  of the 281st and traveled to all of the four Corps areas to relieve our pilots from their daily flight routines so they could enjoy an occasional local break .

That’s why I was flying this mission while one of our overworked pilots was taking a rest. 

After realizing that a number of the unruly mob had forced their way on board, I advised our two  doorgunners to clear their rear compartment of the intruders, advised the other pilot. WO Walter Wrobleski, to take over the controls, as we were hot, and I entered the rear compartment to help remove the unwanted, out-of-control passengers. 

The American lieutenant, observing the turmoil, came back to help, issued a couple of orders to his people and the mob moved reluctantly back  toward the camp gate when some limited force was applied.  But they continued to rant and rave in uncontrollable fear. 

Strapping back in and after a 180-degree hovering turn I lifted off , empty, except for crew, following the direction of the airstrip toward the north.  As we cleared the airstrip boundary I noticed a movement and something black in the sawgrass just ahead and brought the ship to a hover alerting the crew that we would check out the movement.  I advised the right door gunner to lock and load; that he would be in a position to fire, if required. 

I hovered sideways toward the location where I had seen the movement.  Suddenly, a young boy, probably mid-teens, arose out of the sawgrass about 50 feet away.  He wore a conical straw hat and black pajamas.  He didn’t appear to be armed.  I directed the left doorgunner to retrieve his own personal weapon, insure a round was in the chamber and bring the suspect, under guard, into the chopper, after a thorough body search.  This was done.  During the time this was happening my ‘thinking’ was racing overtime wondering if his hiding in the sawgrass, as a probable enemy lookout, could have anything to do with the mob reaction we had just observed.  Was the camp going to be attacked ?  Was that why so many civilians simultaneously went berserk and tried to get on our aircraft?  Well then, let’s take our potential enemy spy back to the camp and let them try to find out.  I had heard the Vietnamese Army intelligence types had ways of  gleaning secrets from the enemy. 

Dropping off our suspect to the American MAAG lieutenant, I suggested that the kid might have been a Viet Cong lookout, as he had tried to hide from us.  We proceeded on our mission, finally returning to Bien Hoa after a long day of flying. 

The next day we got the word that the new camp WAS attacked the night before and the camp cadre had held off the enemy forces successfully.  

Our crew all hoped that the actions we took the day before had wetted the resolve of the camp’s soldiers to fight hard as they had their civilian families to protect as well.  Those same hysterical civilians that we were unable to evacuate. 

We may very well have helped save the camp!  Never realizing then, that it would ultimately be in vain.