"Rat Pack 16"  10/66-3/67
Miami, FL

Red Bar Line

Fleeting Memories of Vietnam, 1966-67

Some fleeting memories come to mind as I'm in one of my pensive moods hovering over my trusty COMPAQ MV500 which is much more difficult to operate than a Huey slick. In fact, I checked out in the Huey much faster than on the COMPAQ.

On Sunday, 2 December, 1966 reporting to the 281st AHC operation's shack at the Nha Trang base to begin my second tour to learn that a slick (UH-D 65-10088) was lost in LAOS, all on board KIA. Crew members were WO Daniel Sulander and WO Donald Harrison, pilots, and SP-4 William Bodzick, CE and SP-4 Lee Boudreaux, Jr., Gunner. A six-man S.F. team was also lost in the crash.

The next day reporting to the Recon School to get checked out in how to lift others out on a McGuire rig, attached to a slick, to learn I would ride at the end of the rig before I could qualify to ride in the cockpit. Finding myself enjoying the ride dangling from a rope 500 feet over Nha Trang on the bottom of the rig with legs and arms wrapped around two husky Special Forces types. The three of us were dragged through mud on landing approach. Later learning that the Special Forces Master Sergeant attending the rigs in the rear compartment would cut the rig ropes with a machete if the engine failed in flight.

When sighting on a target with my newly issued rifle in a local free-fire zone having an inner voice tell me not to pull the trigger. Lucky I didn't, as a round was jammed inside the barrel.

On the ramp at Nha Trang when a crewman was extracting rockets from a gunship dropped a live one that went off inside of the ammo locker spewing phosphorous and the brave GI's who rushed in to help carry away the boxes of grenades and other munitions that started to catch fire. Running about 30-yards to the crash/rescue station, alerting the fire crew and watching them hurriedly dress in their fire-retardant gear, then rushing with them to the rocket fire with their heavy equipment bravely advancing with their hoses successfully putting out the fire. Tragedy averted!

Single ship mission approaching the Nha Trang Intruder pad west to east seeing a black pajama clad person with conical straw hat dive into the river about a mile west of the compound. His dive was instantaneous as he saw us. It was obvious he was trying to avoid being seen. He never came up as we circled. Team from the S.F. camp searched the area, couldn't find anything. I suspect they had tunnel entrances beneath the surface level of the river. Likely part of the sapper team that occasionally attacked the compound.

Recalling vividly the arrival and assignment of WO Walter Wrobleski because from the moment he arrived he hounded me to transfer him to the guns. Sent him to Bien Hoa to ride with some old hands on ash and trash missions. Shortly after he made it to guns he was shot down on May 21, 1967 with WO Don 'Corky' Corkran, and crewmen Craig Szwed and Gary Hall flying UH-lC 65-09480. Walter is the only one of the crew not to survive and is still carried as MIA.

Transferring an entire Montagnard village from the hills of II Corps to a safe relocation camp flying with WO Bill (Joe) Brennan. Having to go on instruments as the dust was so thick and having the crew chief call of distance in feet from ground. Women and children first to be evacuated giving them a few new thrills by increasing airspeed to max, pulling up the nose in a steep climb and watching the looks on their faces change from "scared with bulging eyes" to "big, broad toothy grins" when they saw our smiles. Returning to the Yard village many times carrying their crude arms such as spears and bows and arrows, furnishings for their huts and piles of bags of rice that never seemed to diminish. On this mission also saw another VC try to avoid us by diving into a jungle pond and never surfacing.

Again flying with Joe Brennan arriving at Ban Me Thuot after dark in a driving rainstorm with a full load on board from backcountry camps. Fortunately, I could just make out the dirt road that led to the S.F. compound. Joe never saw it until we were on short final. Hairy, but not extreme.

Flying a S.F. SOG team into Seven Hills in the Delta being offered pickled ears or fingers by the team commander. Ears or fingers to supplant actual "body count". Ugh! But uncovering huge caches of enemy supplies in the caves of the Hills.

Another single ship flight in the Delta surprising four persons dressed as civilians either putting in or taking out weapons from a canal dike. Didn't know whether they were "good guy" militia or "bad guy" VC. Didn't stay around to find out.

Nui Ba Dinh Mountain 1967, Jack flew the parked helicopter Another Delta mission we flew some paperwork and supplies into a new MAAG compound. About 200 VN civilians tried to board our single slick. They were stricken with fear. We had to bodily throw many of them out whom had managed to fight their way on board. Upon takeoff we spotted a person hiding in the grass outside of the camp perimeter. Our rightside gunner was directed to hold his weapon on the suspect. The leftside gunner made the capture with his personal weapon. We flew the suspect back to the camp turning him over to the young U.S. Army lst Lieutenant. We suspected that the person we captured was spying on the camp and that the people inside the camp knew some battle was imminent which caused their hysterical attitude. Sure enough, that night the camp was attacked but it held. Perhaps our captured suspect spilled the beans that allowed the camp's soldiers to insure their defenses were well defined. All of our crew thought we might have contributed to the victory.

While flying near Dong Ba Thin received an urgent call to pick up a wounded Viet Army soldier. Signals for colored smoke exchanged. Poor guy had stepped on a dung encrusted pungi stake, which was left intact through boot bottom, foot and boot top, until medical attention could be administered. We took him to Nha Trang for treatment.

A sapper attack occurred at a nearby villa in Nha Trang, which was occupied by fliers from an L-19 unit. The sapper threw a grenade into the villa. An alcohol-sedated pilot picked up the grenade throwing it into the nearby bathroom and falling on his drinking partner, knocking them both to the floor. The partner hit his head on the dining table enroute to the floor, the only villa injury. The grenade landed in the toilet which caused me to write a story about the incident titled: "The Saga of the Sapper's Crapper."

Being selected to fly General Westmoreland and party in a 281AHC slick to a remote location west of Nha Trang to visit a regiment of the South Korean White Horse Division. The regiment had seriously hurt the VC operation in their assigned area. We saw many, many captured weapons and equipment and a few VC prisoners in holding cells constructed with bamboo. The general personally complimented the unit for their successes. At the general's direction we could fly no higher than 500 feet because he had an ear infection. {When I saw the general in Miami, mid-70's as guest speaker at the Republican Club we reminisced about the event.}

Selected to fly Martha Raye and her guitarist to several S.F. camps. As soon as she entered the slick she dug in her purse, pulled out a can of scented aerosol and sprayed the interior exposing her ear-to-ear toothy smile. When we arrived at the camp at dinner time she was supposed to be the guest-of-honor at an elaborate table setting. However, she got in the mess line with our crew and insisted on eating with us. That's Martha! Ray Oksa, 281st X.O. and I, were her pilots.

The night before Major Wm. (Bill) Griffin was to turn over 281st command to Al Junko, sappers attacked our compound adjacent to 5th S.F. headquarters at Nha Trang. The sappers had set explosive charges beneath 12 Hueys totaling 4, causing 4 to be sent to Okinawa for overhaul and 4 that could be repaired locally. One of the sappers fired a 7.5 RPG rocket round at the pilots coming out of their 2nd floor barracks doorway to join the battle. Fortunately, it was a dark night and the sapper didn't notice a dark fence post that the rocket hit causing it to ricochet into the eave of the barracks wounding no one. One of our roving GI's on patrol fired at the sappers and was believed to have wounded at least one as blood splotches were found later on the getaway path the sappers took. Puff the Magic Dragon (C130) happened to be overhead but could not obtain permission from Viet Army Commander to fire on the sappers, which Puff had in his searchlight beam. So, they made their getaway by sampan on the river west of the compound. As unit investigating officer of the incident I came down hard on the 5th S.F. administration because they were supposed to protect our outer perimeter. They had failed to protect a wide opening between their compound and the adjacent South Viet compound leaving an open corridor of several feet between our helipad and the river. Al Junko let us know that he was fortunate that the incident didn't happen on his watch.

I spent a few days as X.O. of the 281st before being assigned to 10th CAB as Adjutant. During short X.O. tenure the 1st Sgt. advised me he had caught an EM crewman with marijuana. The crewman was scheduled for an immediate flight and the 1st Sgt. suggested that the man should be permitted to take the flight and we'd deal with him for his infraction when he returned. The Gunner, in a Huey, was killed on that flight firing John Wayne style with both his feet on the skid. He was the only crewmember killed in that action. His marijuana infraction went unreported. He was credited with pretty much single-handedly shooting up the VC patrol he had engaged. (I'd appreciate it if anyone can remember this crewman's name.)

Sometimes you wonder if you made the right/wrong choice. I was asked to participate in an administrative mission with three other members of the battalion staff using the C&C ship, with no guns. One of the battalion's companies had a Huey shot down which was only a ten-minute flight south from headquarters at Dong Ba Thin. The crew had been extracted. When arriving over the site the attention of the other three staff members was on the downed ship as we circled at about 300 feet. They were discussing whether we should order a recovery crew or have the Air Force destroy the ship. My concern was flying so low with no guns and our potential as a target from the same people who shot down the other craft. Therefore, my head was on a swivel when I observed yellow smoke beneath us and a little to the right as we were in a left turn. Personnel could not be observed in a relatively open area with some foliage. I pondered whether I should advise the other three on board. We had neither automatic weapons nor personal weapons. I elected to keep the information to myself and this is the first time I've ever repeated the story. Right or Wrong? Were we being led into a trap like the crashed Huey below? I'll never know.

As 1st Platoon (Rat Pack) Commander I flew to each of the four Corps' S.F. locations on a rotating basis to relieve the pilots at those camps for a little rest and recreation. We had no extra pilots to fly the seven day 10 to 15 hour of flight daily. I sat on an extra flak vest and over time, flying many hours, I wore a boil on each cheek of my buttocks. When they became infected I had to return to Nha Trang. The S.F. surgeon lanced them and today I still carry those two wounds, which I proudly show my children and grandchildren as "my war wounds."

Gemini II Hotel, Saigon 30 Apr 67, TDY My tenure with the 281st was interrupted for a 60-day assignment with General Westmoreland's headquarters to process backlogged U.S. Army aircraft combat loss and accident reports. The only thing of consequence that happened in Saigon was the worst illness I've ever had. Ate something at one of the well-recommended restaurants that had me using both means of ridding myself of my misery. I crawled around my room between bed and toilet for four days before I got enough strength to go to sick call. But I did process 144 reports for staffing and ultimately the general's signature.

I believe it was mid to late September, 1967, that I voluntarily joined Jack Mayhew and the 281st for about two weeks for a Project Delta operation at Khe Sahn. (Jack and I had served in 7th Army Aviation Staff together just before our second VN tours.) LTCOL Crooks, 10th CAB C.O., was vehemently against my volunteering stating that I had five children and I had served my time in the field. I argued that he had freed me from Battalion Adjutant's duties resulting from my replacement reporting early, and I had nothing better to do than to join my old unit. He finally relented. At Khe Sahn I participated in some insertions but we were never called to extract anyone for being on-the-run. I remember one burly S.F. master sergeant that we inserted as a loner. The elephant grass must have been 15-20 feet in height. When he jumped in we couldn't see him in the thick grass. It was such a long drop to the ground we were afraid he might have broken something. He finally radioed that he was O.K. What guts and dedication to our cause. All alone! One night, returning from an insertion, one of the gunners opened fire, without permission, on the Khe Sahn campsite which held civilians. Most all of the gunners and CE's began firing. I ordered, "Cease Fire!" And that was done. When we landed, the gunners who opened fire thought the civilian camp had opened up on them because they saw the flickering of lights coming up through the holes in the palm thatched roofs. And that's all it was. I was later advised that we had sent an 'emissary' to the head civilian at the camp to determine if anyone was hurt. They weren't. Thank God!

Please note: The above are summaries of events that occurred during my second tour in South Vietnam. More specific details relating to some of these events will be forthcoming in article format.