War Stories 11
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The View from the Back Seat
By Big Red Burke
While the helicopter drivers were having their fun, we EMs sat patiently
in the “hell hole” and waited for the chance to do our thing. It turns out
that with the advent of the Cambodia Operation, we got our chance…and then
some. With the increased number of missions, sleeping in or under the
aircraft at a field standby point became the rule instead of the exception.
Here in Phuoc Vinh the boys in Maintenance, under the gentle bull-whip of
the Maintenance Officer, Mr. Dyke, were pushing it around the clock trying
to keep helicopters un the crews. It seems every time they’d get a ship in
first-class condition, some enlightened follower of Ho Chi Minh would try to
see just how many bullet holes he could cram into an “H” model. The number
of ships lined up for repair resembled a traffic jam at rush hour. Never the
less, under the steady hand of SFC Frank Credle and SSG Jack Williamson, we
had enough helicopters to keep from handling the mission on foot.
The crew chiefs were especially hard pressed. It seemed as soon as they
would get a nickname painted on the nose of a bird, it would be shot to
pieces before the paint would dry. Plus, the CEs just couldn’t understand
how rotor blades seem to attract round, tree limbs, and all manner of solid
objects with the pull of a magnet. Needless to say, many cherries were lost;
both for the aircraft and the crews.
Our gunners got plenty of chance to earn their pay. Led by SGT Tim “Frito
Bandito” Kirwin, SGT (blurred word) (another blurred word) of Easy Company” Parsons, and SP5 Dewayne
“Sparky” Sparkman, the ranks included stalwarts like; SP4 Roger Miner, SP4
Roy Smith, SP5 Chuck Lynch, SP4 Ricky Goodson, and SP4 Bobby Coggins. The
above are getting very short and their loss will be keenly felt. Newbies
include SP4 John “Alphabet” Uebelacker, SP5 Bob Valencia (a transfer from
Cav AG at Bien Hoa who got tired of hanging the straps), SP4 Felix “Frank”
Aguilar, and PFC Larry Ash. Everyone will deeply feel the loss of these old
veterans but the NVA.
The medics had a sharp turnover in personnel with only six veterans to
teach the FNGs the ropes. They included; SP4 Dan “Doc Bra” Brady, SP4 Tom
Campbell, SP4 Chris Burgess, SP4 Jim “Mitch” Mitchell, SP5 Don Payne (the
Old Man), and PFC Harry Holton. The medics are the heart of Medevac, and
their skill and professionalism were the difference between life and death
for many soldiers.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, SGT Filiberto “Big Al”
Albino was holding down the commo device and insulting everyone with his
tongue-lashings. Al is the only man in the Army who can stay mad twenty-four
hours a day. And in the next room, Medevac’s one and only “Remington
Raider”, SP4 Mike “Big Red” Burke plowed through the paperwork and flight
records and somehow pulled Air Ops through the Annual General Inspection
Getting shot at and such wasn’t enough, it seems so, at the end of June,
they threw us out of our happy home! Gunners and medics were forced to take
up quarters in an old mess hall at HSC; and the resulting crowded conditions
were compared to a concentration camp (with the concentration camp getting
the nod). After destroying our old hooch, we were told to move back there
about three weeks later, and we still haven’t gotten the old place up to
One final note of interest: Medevac’s only enlisted acting LTC, one
Charles E. Dew, has gained the Purple Heart medal. Our simian (that’s a
monkey) mascot was wounded in action during some incoming and ended up being
the only casualty we had that night. “Charlie” is currently recuperating and
staying close to our bunker at all times.
All in all, we’re quite content to sit and ride in the back seat, but
when it gets down to business, Medevac EMs become “where it’s really at.”
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Two Unforgettable Missions to FSB Snuffy
By Baby Huey
While stationed at Song Be my crew and I received a mission to move
closer to Cambodia and wait at FSB Snuffy, about eight miles from the
Cambodian border. We flew up and since there wasn’t
any room to land inside the wire, I positioned our medevac outside the wire
on a small open area.
shutting down the aircraft we were just casually sitting in the bird; in
fact, the crewchief hadn’t even tied down the rotor blade. We were doing
what Medevac crews do when waiting for the next mission, just sorta-kinda
We were chatting casually about nothing in particular when one of the
crewmembers says, “Hey LT don’t you have an animal husbandry degree? Like
you know about animals, right? I told him he was correct and then the story
He had heard the NVA were training bees to seek out the smell of American
soldiers and swarm on them. After we all laughed a bit, I said that I
thought it might be possible, but really doubted it would be an effective
way to degrade the fighting strength of the American infantryman.
I was sitting in the left pilot’s seat, unstrapped and with my boots
against the inside of the windscreen – ya know…just cooling it. When
suddenly, a small black cloud appeared over the jungle and then swooped down
and engulfed our medevac. It was a huge swarm of bees!! It was pure
confusion for a minute until I had a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) and
yelled, “CLEAR” and pulled the trigger to start the aircraft engine. As the
blades picked up speed the fan effect kept the bees for being able to land
on use and sting. In a minute or two all the bees were gone – they had
slowly moved over to the FSB and started stinging the artillery guys.
Then, to our amazement, one of the artillery pieces fire a round and the
concussion/back blast knocked almost all the bees to the ground, dead. Until
today I still don’t know if we were attacked by a horde of NVA infantry bees
or what. And I don’t know if firing the artillery piece was planned, or if
someone had a BFO like I did when the bees attacked our medevac.
Strange as it seems, the Hanoi War Museum has a display dedicated to the art
of teaching wasps/bees to sting the enemy and cause confusion. (Read
The second memorable mission to FSB Snuffy was for a couple of wounded soldiers manning a bunker on the perimeter. Seems FSB Snuffy was being probed by an unknown force from the southwest. After departing Song Be and flying about half way to Snuffy I receive another mission from a US patrol being ambushed from the northeast of their location in the jungle. When I plotted the position of the patrol, they were only a click (or so) from FSB Snuffy. Could it be the patrol was returning fire from someone on FSB Snuffy? I immediately called both the patrol and the command bunker on FSB Snuffy and commanded a cease fire. Yup, it turned out the patrol was lost and came under fire from their own guys manning the perimeter of FSB Snuffy. As I recall we only had to medevac one or two wounded guys. I’m just glad it didn’t result in a friendly fire death.
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Covering MEDEVAC Maniacs
By Ronald L. Huber
I was an AC, though not a flight lead yet. Among the myriad things
I don't recall, I'm uncertain who flew lead, though I think it was Don
Wallace, Mad Dog 38. As I recall, we took off from Bearcat with the intent
to head south toward Rack Kien for a day of supporting the 9th in CA's. We
weren't too far when a MEDEVAC called for any gun cover for a cable
extraction of three WIA for a unit working north northeast of Bearcat about
15 clicks. The call had that disciplined urgency of dedicated warriors, in
this case those special gods of mercy who'd do what had to be done, gun
cover or not. We had an assignment, yet, as we slowed our airspeed and
listened, nobody responded to the call. The MEDEVAC pilot repeated his call
several times, finally saying that he was going to pick up the WIA's, but he
figured, due to the heavy ground fire (The unit was in a run 'n' gun.) that
he'd fail to get them out and end up with them. Lead cracked the send key.
"You monitoring this?"
"What d'ya say?"
"Somebody's gotta do it."
Lead advised the slicks and enroute of the situation, and 6 (Maj. Bill
Overholser) released us to tend the need.
38 rogered with assurance that we'd advise when we were clear and enroute
to join the flight at Rack Kien. We turned north as 38 answered the MEDEVAC.
Particulars exchanged regarding location and distance with ETA, and we
rolled the cyclics as far forward as those ol' C's would tolerate. Shit-far!
I betcha we wuz lickin' out 95 knots, sorta straight 'n' level! Har!
When we arrived on station, 38 and the MEDEVAC AC talked up the
situation. He'd been hit already having tried solo. A moment here. Note that
I wrote SOLO! This overendowed toter of watermelon gonads had been workin'
solo while taking lots of heat and hits. How on earth, one might wonder
(This one did.), where the hell did he place the cyclic in a cyclic
climb?!?! "Where do we get men such as these?" We worked up a plan to
provide cover, but it was a potential pisser. I'd never covered or seen
cable extractions, but I figured it would be slow work in a hot oven. I was
right. I remember our separate conversation between and within aircraft.
Odd, sorta. We didn't fly in a democracy, but, on this mission, 38 advised
that we ALL agree to do the mission. In fact, I recall this vividly, we
talked on my aircraft and between aircraft. Fast talk, of course, but this
was done with all eight crew committed to the chore to a man. 38 advised
that this MEDEVAC driver was certifiably insane, and we didn't HAVE to die
with him in his madness. Unanimously, we agreed that we did if that was
demanded of the event.
An impromptu strategy was arranged requiring the friendlies to pop lots
of different smokes as we worked. The idea was to prodigiously conserve ammo
while making as many passes as we could while the MEDEVAC held hi treetop
hover working the cable. The area was forested, reminding me of my time with
C Trp., 1/9th when we worked the Parrot's Beak, Fishhook and points east in
that phoucin' intimidating triple canopy chit. I shudder at the recall! I
digress. We figured/hoped that our passes would leave enough doubt combined
with intimidation that Mr. Charles' concentration on the MEDEVAC bird would
be distracted enough to give him a chance to string up his ambulatories.
This brilliant strategy was conceived by men under twenty-one with little to
no strategically IQ. Wingin' it? Youbetcher ass! Hope springs eternal.
We laid back while the MEDEVAC approached, waiting for him to call taking
fire. Amazingly, he got the first stringer on and nearly all the way to the
bird before the ground fire rose to him. I s'spect those glorious bastards
in whatever the grunt unit was were doing titanic and heroic deeds to
protect the flying hospital that offered their Mates the chance to survive.
"Where do we get such men as these?" The MED pilot held till the first PAC
was grasped. Then, he hauled all the collective he could muster in that
steroid (Compared to a C) H model, and he didi'd. We made two passes, I
think, lobbing a pair of rockets from each bird with a shitpot of mini and
lotsa .60. We impressed them lightly, at best.
The MED pilot chattered with 38 about his next route in while the grunt 6
advised that he'd be moving and popping new smoke. He didn't move too far.
The MED pilot headed in to purple smoke. As soon as he came to his high
hover the popcorn started. He, simply, stated, "Mad Dogs? Charley is makin'
a racket. I could use your noise for a bit."
38 rogered, and advised me to go left of the MED AC as he went right when
we got "close." We hosed the area with a couple pairs each and lotsa 7.62.
One of my minis locked, so we had a little less noise to make. Sumbitch!
Each of us broke to our respective sides and Wally had an idea on the fly.
"Do a 180 from your current heading, and make a run facing me. I'll do
GULP! "38? We'll be firing in the direction of each other!"
"Roger, 12. You make it as wide as you can and, still, hit the area. I'll
do likewise." (Sheeeeeeeeeeeet!!!!)
We rolled out, facing each other at a distance, and he went left of me as
I went right of him. I pooped of a couple pair, one mini and lotsa .60. I
hoped he'd be considerate enough to, just, make faces and curses at them,
so's to not shoot in my direction. ;-)
As we completed the opposing pass, the MED pilot yelped, "Way to go! We
got another one!" He pulled pitch, and flew to a distance.
One more to pick. We had a check-up conversation. All three AC had taken
hits. The MED ship had taken the most. What a F'n' surprise! We agreed that
we were flat outta unique strategies. The best we could muster was for the
MED ship to take a new route, and we'd make a bigger noise with what we had
left. Both our ships were set up with seven shot tubes and minis. Wally's
mini's worked; one of mine did.
By now, we were way low on 2.75's, 25% light on mini's and had our .60's,
which were good on my AC since the crew could link the dead mini's feed, or
so I thought. It gave me courage. Har!!!!
All three AC had gauges in the green, so away we went. By this time, Mr.
Charles was raggin.' He got more aggressive, if that were possible; we got
more aggressive in response. They were on the MED ship now. He was
chattering, "Taking fire!" as fast as a fat lady sweats at a polka. We
returned to what we knew. Two ships running the same direction, hard break
to a 180 and give 'em what we had. It got a bit radical WRT to angle of
attack for the blades 'n' all dat. I'm sure we were 110 degrees or more to
make a quick git' round, so we could return as fast as possible. I dunno how
we made it, particularly the MED ship, but the third WIA was up, and the MED
AC transmitted a "Thank you, kindly," and he didi'd, I presume to Hotel 3.
WTH do I know? I know this. Our last pass(es) were on empty. It was one of
those rare times I unholstered my sidearm, popping it off to "make an
impression. Har!!! Also. I shouted all the virulent curses I could muster.
That'll teach 'em!
I took the time to write this novel for a couple reasons. One? Frank? You
provoked me. Two? In all the forgotten memories of flying guns in Nam, I,
never, witnessed greater courage, dedication or commitment to one's Mates
than I witnessed when that MEDEVAC crew refused to be denied. I have no
freakin' idea what the end of this adventure was. I hope all three survived,
healed and returned to the land of the big PX, unfettered tits and
merriment. Finally, I scribe to advise you and all medical crew how much
reverence respect and awe I own for you, all of you. Most of us, I surmise,
me, certainly, were bent on killing as many and as often as possible. You
and yours dedicated your whole being to nursing our broken long enough to
recover, hopefully, and return, either to battle or home. "Where do we get
such men as these?"
Thank you, medics and MEDEVAC crew. Thanks over and again! Finally, I
certify that this TINS is, at least, 5%, no, 10% true. I hope it's more, but
WTH do I know? My memory's length is as long as . . .. Well, you know how it
is. This I know. It's worth what you paid to read it.
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