About 3/4 way through Viet Nam
I had to fill out a "Dream" sheet as to where I wished to be stationed
after my present tour. Virtually everyone was going right back to
the states and becoming flight school instructors. I wanted to see
the world, on Uncle Sam, so I put in for Germany and got it.
As soon as I got stateside I headed straight for Austin Texas to see my little Texan girl who had transferred from Texas Women's University to the University of Texas at Austin. I thought I was going to marry her and take her away to Germany with me. She had different ideas thought and wanted to finish college first so off to adventure I went, alone.
After a short time with Mom and Dad I headed for Germany. I was assigned to the 350th Aviation Company out of Hanau, which was about 1/2 hr drive east of Frankfort. I got there just before Christmas break and after signing in they told me to go away until after the holidays. I was given a small room the size of a prison cell that only had one light. It was on the 4th floor of a barracks that was empty. I had heat, too much of it, but that was it. No car, no radio, no magazines, no newspaper, no food and no people. I sure walked around a lot. Several prior members of the 281st were also in the 350th and a Captain I had known invited me and one other bachelor over for Christmas dinner with his family. I sure did enjoy the company but it was so short-lived.
After the holidays I began my transition into the Sikorsky CH-34 cargo helicopter. There is a saying that goes something like, "Once you fly a Sikorsky that's all you ever want to fly after that." It was that way with me too. Of my 7,000+ hours I only have less than 200 hrs in Sikorskys and I would rather fly a Sikorsky. There is just something about having all that machine under you and at your call.
I found the machine pretty easy to fly. It was very forgiving but did have its moments. Of all the ships that we had only 2 had workable rotor brakes. Most leaked which left a permanent stain on the shoulder of your flight jacket. I was co-pilot of one that went into ground resonance once and that was really scary. We were lucky to be in one of the ships that had a workable rotor brake. The wheels were bouncing off the ground and we were just about to flip over when the rotor brake took and believe me, I was pumping that thing for my life. One of the front wheel struts did not collapse normally during the night like it should have and when we started that rotor a turning she started dancing around.
Because of the large amount of down wash the chopper put out at a hover you had to taxi it around smaller aircraft. I think you made AC when you could taxi that thing straight. It took me a while to do it but do it I did and I got pretty good at it too.
The machines drank the oil and you always had to fly with at least one extra 5 gallon can of oil. We sometimes used the oil cans to hunt the huge German hares (rabbits) that were all over the airfield. They would hide in the tall grass but would rarely run and just lay there as the chopper hovered overhead and laid down the grass. The crew chief would then direct the pilot over the hare and drop the oil can on it. We would then land and pick up the hare, which was later taken to the enlisted men's mess hall and cooked up. The guys loved the change of menu.
We had to go to a big German/American day celebration someplace with the Army sky-dive team. After dropping them we were to stay there on static display and answer peoples questions. Kids were running all over the ship but we did not let them upstairs where the controls were. We had stopped several from trying to climb into the pilot's seat from the outside of the ship. When things quieted down a little I told the other pilot I was going to get us something to drink and eat and he said OK. I gave him a minute or two to settle in, then I slowly made my way up the outside of the ship to the pilot's window. When I hit that crank switch and that huge engine began to turn over he came out of there like a rocket yelling his head off for those darn kids to get out of there.
We had a bit of a startle lifting off from there at the end of the day. Unbeknownst to us, the jump guys had stowed all their gear in the very rear of the ship and sat down with it right there. The crew chief didn't catch it and that put us well past our aft center of gravity limit. At a hover or even in a forward hover we couldn't tell it. Lucky for us we were in a very large area. We had planned our takeoff over two of the larger barracks that were immediately in front of us. Just as we started going we ran out of cyclic and we were going much too fast to pull her back and slow her down. I hit the emergency bell and within seconds those sky-divers were up and at the door with their chutes. If there was any way that ship was going in and they could jump out with their chutes they were going to do it. When that happened, we got back into center of gravity limits and off she flew. Only one problem though and that was that we did not have enough altitude to make it over the buildings. So we did the only other thing we could and that was to fly between them. I wonder what the folks in those buildings thought as we flew by just feet from their windows? That was a close one but what the heck, things like that happen and we just laughed about it as we headed back home.
If we were not playing war games we were flying paratroopers. Our choppers could do almost 4 drops to that of an airplane. We also supported the Army's elite parachute team. The parachute club practiced every weekend and the ops guys would always put the bachelors on that one because the family guys needed the weekend for their families. We bachelors had a good argument for that one but they did not buy it.
I kind of enjoy flying the chute people because you got to pull in all that power then could autorotate all the way down and try to hit a spot right in front of the next group. It was a nice game to make of a boring chore. There was one time that stands out quite well while flying the chute people.
One of the other Warrants and his wife were members of the chute club. His name was Crowe and his wife was of Asian decent but born and raised in Detroit I believe. She (Vicki) was a little thing, only 90-lbs or so and had the kind of personality that you wish everyone had. Crowe ended up volunteering for the weekend flights so he and his wife could do some jumping. Both of them had brand new white jump suits but there was a problem. Vicki was so small that they had to jump her with 2 emergency chutes because the regular size was too large for her.
When it came time for Vicki to jump, her husband left the ship to me and jumped with her. We were dropping everyone from minimal altitude (1,500-ft I believe) via static lines. He made it down OK but Vicki didn't, she just floated and floated and floated. He got back in and all we could do was watch, we couldn't get close or we might collapse her chute. We had jumpers waiting so we picked up and jumped 3 more rounds before we saw that she was getting ready to touch down. Just as she hit we were right behind her. She was drug some 30 ft or so before the chute hung up in a tree line. Her husband got right out and gathered her and her chute up. He stayed below with her on the way back to help calm her crying. She had drifted 8 miles and all that time she thought we had not seen her. As I recall, that was her first and last jump.
About this time the big "Reforger-I" exercises were starting. We didn't have much to do because nobody wanted to fly in the big junker choppers when they had the Hueys they could fly in. They gave us a few cargo missions once in a while. We had to stay in the field and sleep in tents and an "aggressor" force was assigned to bother us. While flying solo back from one of the cargo flight I had to break off my landing approach so that another ship could take off. I had to stretch out my pattern and in doing so I spotted the "aggressor" force sun bathing in a field on a high ridge some 2 miles from the camp.
I know it was just war games but I couldn't resist myself. The old 281st training kicked in and immediately I knew what I had to do. Now you can't sneak up on anyone with a CH-34 because you can hear one of those things coming a day away but that can work to one's advantage. I got down low into the valley so my sound would echo throughout the entire valley then lined up perpendicular to the field they were asleep in. I then instructed my chew chief to get his rifle ready. He said he only had a few blank rounds. I told him that was enough and to get ready and fire them all when I tell him to. I pulled in all she would give and aimed straight for that hillside. At just the right moment I cyclic climbed up the ridge and popped right in on the aggressors. The timing was perfect and the crew chief opened up on them with all he had. Some of the aggressors ran into the woods and the others just lay there playing dead. We circled once and a few of the guys gave us bows in a sort of "you got me" gesture.
When we landed I told the ops guys where the aggressors were and got a little chew out because they were to do the attacking and not us. When I left the tent I noticed the crew chief standing among a group of other crew chiefs and he was deep into his story of what had just happened. Oh well! Such is war.
Come the day of the final big helicopter assault that was to take place in front of bleachers full of important people, Mother Nature said "NO". From what I heard, that didn't detour the Army any because they figured the weather would turn bad any way and planned for it. We didn't take part in it because we would have embarrassed the Army being junker choppers an all. It was foggy as all get out and raining to boot. Come time for the big assault the Hueys came in with their troops, dropped them off, and departed like flying in fog was an everyday thing for the Americans. It must have really impressed a lot of people. Little did they know that the day before, a chopper had flown the route and spray painted the top of the trees to and from the landing zone. The Hueys had just hovered in one big long line right to the landing zone and hovered back again. What the heck, it accomplished the mission.
On 2 different occasions they made me "Pay Officer". I had to go to a main payment center, with pistol and bodyguard, and sign for just over $40,000. I then had to pay all the enlisted troops in our unit. I wasn't relieved of the duty until everyone got paid. That meant driving all over Germany to pay the guys we had in various schools. The first time I did it in an Army jeep and a rifle for the bodyguard. The second time I did it in my little Fiat 850 Spider and a pistol for my bodyguard. Driving the highway system there (The Autobahn) was fun, no speed limits.
While in Germany I developed a taste for "white" wine. It seems that was the only kind of grape they could grow there for some reason. I loved to go to all the little fairs that were around and sample their foods. I even stayed in a "Guest House" or two and learned what a feather bed was like. Castle tours interest me a lot and I went on several. But if there was one place in Germany I would recommend to every traveler to go to it would be Saxsonhousen (probably spelled wrong). That is the "Apple wine" district of Germany and is the southern portion of the city of Frankfort that the Mine River cuts through. It is but a short walk from the main train station. The wine, the food, the beer, and the music are going 7 days a week there and makes for a life long memory.
I got to go to Belgium for a week. We were suppose to be there only 2 days to pick up a ship at the main major repair center there but we were held up for maintenance reasons. The head man there took us all out for dinner and then to a nightclub. I was surprised to see the mothers of every one of the girls that were dancing there. Apparently they were there to chaperone their daughters on their date. They did not mingle but sat alone, each to a table, and hardly blinked while staring straight at their daughter. If the fellow got too close, even for a slow dance, up would come the mother to intervene. It was a tough system.
While I was in Germany Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I had gone to the Officers Club a Rhine Mine Air Base and it just so happened that the big TV there was right next to a huge picture window that had the moon almost perfectly centered in it. With one glance you could see both the moon and the landing. What a memory.
A short time later I was sent to "Instrument" school at a German airfield called Swabish Hall. It was where the very first German Jet plane was test flown. One month later I had a standard ticket and walked a little taller because of it. One thing that stuck with me thought was something that one of the instructors said. He said that if worst came to worst you could always slow that thing down to 40 mph, which was the minimum speed for accurate instrument readings, and a 50 ft a minute decent. Chances are you would bump into the top of a tree or be able to pull back and hover over them until you found a place big enough to land. It just might work.
When it came time for the "Dream" sheet again I put in for Korea and Panama. I still wanted to see more of the world. When the people who read those things saw that I had asked for Korea they immediately cut orders for me to go before I changed my mind. And so, after only 9 months in Germany I was headed for Korea. I kind of hated to leave because there was so much to see and do.