War Stories 12

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Fergs and Beans

By Baby huey

October 1970 was a month for a change in South Vietnam, with rainfall declining, especially towards the end of the month as the region moved toward its dry, sizzling summer months. Back home, the cover of Life magazine touted articles about Agnew on the Warpath and cassette recorders. By the end of the month, 374 US soldiers would lose their lives.

For the Medevac crew of the 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division stationed with the clearing station (aid station with a physician) at Fire Support Base (FSB) Mace, thirty-six miles east of the big Bein Hoa airbase and a short twenty-eight miles inland from the East Sea, the day started with an overcast sky. The focus for this week was seeing if Ron Huether, known as Baby Huey with callsign Medevac 2, was ready to become an Aircraft Commander. If he could successfully conduct helicopter ambulance missions while doing most of the decision-making, his status would change from Pilot to Aircraft Commander. The pilot responsible for this week-long evaluation was Hank Tuel, known to all as Little Okie with the callsign Medevac 1. Okie was a much-decorated Medevac pilot and always had a tobacco chew in his mouth and an empty Coke can for the brown slimy spit. These two pilots had flown together many times, making up a One-Two-Punch. Little Okie was within a week of going back to the States and harbored thoughts that Baby Huey would pass this checkride come hell or high water. Baby Huey passing his checkride would allow Okie to leave the unit without a shortage of combat-ready aircraft commanders.

The crew on the aircraft named Super Kong was Jim Ferguson (Fergie), the crewchief, Dan Brady, the flight medic, and Don Tegethoff (Tiny T), the right-side M-60 machine gunner. The GIBs (Guys in the Back) often worked together and functioned as a formidable life-saving crew. Fergie was the best helicopter crewchief in the unit and revered for his knowledge and standards. Brady was a consummate soldier lifesaver that could stick an IV needle in a bleeding-out patient as the helicopter hammered up and down at maximum speed without even breaking a sweat. Enemy shooting at their Medevac didn't know it, but Tiny T could shoot a cigarette out of their hand at nine hundred feet. When he had you in his sight, you had nowhere to run.
October 16, 1970, was just another day for this crew. Nothing happened in the morning other than Baby Huey performing a preflight inspection of the aircraft. Fergie did his regular daily inspection and took a fresh fuel sample. At the same time, Brady and Tiny T made sure they had everything ready for the inevitable first mission of the day. They knew a mission would come in because Medevac standby at FSB Mace was beginning to gain a reputation as the most dangerous field standby.

Sure enough, a call came in for some priority patients due to a 1st Cav Div. unit springing an ambush on enemy soldiers. There was one US casualty and one Viet Cong (VC) casualty resulting in one of the little-known missions of US medical soldiers – that of them tending to any patient on any side of the conflict. By Geneva Conventions, medical service members are neutral in any hostile conflict. There was no distinction about what side the injured soldier was on because the mantra for Medevac was, "So That Others May Live."

It had been quite a while since the 1st Cav soldiers sprung the ambush, and there was no further enemy contact. So, the Medevac crew of Okie, Baby Huey, Fergie, Brady, and Tiny T bounced on the mission without assistance from armed Cobra attack helicopters. They would conduct this mission only with the defensive aid of the two M-60 machine guns mounted toward the rear of the cargo compartment, more lovingly called the hellhole.

The mission went routinely well, with the crew picking up one wounded US soldier and one VC soldier. Both soldiers were sporting brand new gunshot wounds. There was profuse bleeding from both soldiers, causing some pools of blood on the cargo floor for a time. But Brady had no trouble assessing the injuries and providing life-saving procedures.

The return flight promised to be a routine flight. The pilots listened to songs on the aircraft's radio that received AM radio stations. The Top 10 Hits for the third week of October 1970 presented an accurate description of surviving a year in Vietnam. RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ON MY HEAD by B.J. Thomas was an oft-heard chant in "the bush," and every soldier dreamed of LEAVING ON A JET PLANE. SOMEDAY WE'LL BE TOGETHER as sung by the talented Diana Ross and the Supremes putting the soldier DOWN ON THE CORNER and the Jackson 5 wailing out, I WANT YOU BACK.

Halfway back to FSB Mace, just coming up on the French train (an incapacitated old train from the French occupation), this routine mission changed abruptly. While in flight, a radio call came in from the 2/8 Cav unit that had heavy enemy contact resulting in a soldier with a sucking chest wound. Sucking chest wounds are critical situations caused when a bullet pierces the chest cavity. This wound allows air into the cavity between the rib cage and the lungs, eventually collapsing the soldier's lung – the soldier slowly suffocates.

Baby Huey talked over the radio to the young medic on the ground and let him know it would be about 20 minutes before he could return. He first had to drop off the two patients on the aircraft, get a couple of JP-4 aviation fuel squirts, team up with two Blue Max Cobra attack aircraft, and return for the ground medic's patient.

With the aircraft slicing through the air slightly above the maximum allowable speed of 124 knots, their Medevac sped toward the clearing station landing pad at FSB Mace. Okie was on the radio coordinating with the clearing station so that medics would be waiting at the helipad. He quickly changed radio frequency and put the warning order out to a Blue Max Red Team (two attack aircraft). Since the unit was in contact with the enemy, Blue Max would accompany us on the medical evacuation.

With speed acquired from months working as a cohesive team, Brady and Tiny T off-loaded the patients, and Baby Huey conducted a short high hover over to the refueling pad. There was no time to shut down the aircraft. With the Lycoming engine still operating at idle and exhaust gases thrusting aft over the tail boom at over one thousand degrees Fahrenheit, Fergie added a few gallons of JP-4 jet fuel in the helicopter.

Now, at three-quarters full of fuel and two Blue Max attack aircraft trailing, the Medevac raced toward the wounded soldier with the sucking chest wound. On the way, the three helicopters flew in an inverted V-of-three formation: the Medevac in the lead and one attack aircraft trailing slightly behind on either side. No one knew this formation was about to result in almost losing a Medevac helicopter and its seasoned crew of five.

The traditional role for the Blue Max Cobras covering a Medevac conducting a hoist operation was that one of the Cobras would circle the Medevac at a couple of hundred feet above the jungle canopy and provide mini-gun close-in support attempting to keep the enemy soldiers from mounting a deadly attack against the Medevac. The second Cobra would circle 180 degrees out from the first Cobra and at an altitude of about 1500 feet. The high Cobra was ready to support the Medevac by firing 2.5 folding fin rockets at the enemy position. By setting up in these orbits, at least one Cobra was always prepared to provide instant assistance to the Medevac.

But, having arrived in a V-of-three formation, the Medevac came to a stationary hover above the triple canopy jungle. The Blue Max Red Team split off and began establishing their orbits while leaving the solitary Medevac and exposing it to enemy fire until in their traditional orbits. An insignificant error of arriving in a V-of-three formation left our Medevac unprotected by Blue Max and presented as the world's biggest and noisiest target for the enemy forces.

Almost immediately, the enemy unleashed a fury of automatic weapon bullets on the Medevac with pinpoint accuracy. In tenths of seconds, the enemy fire engulfed every crew position in a hail of AK-47 rifle and machine gunfire. Once at a hover, Baby Huey and Okie coordinated with the medic on the ground and the Blue Max Red Team. Fergie and Tiny T were "rocking-and-rolling," firing their M-60 machine guns fiercely to subdue the enemy fire. Fergie was shooting at muzzle flashes in the jungle and watching fuel spew from the punctured fuel cell right next to his left foot.

At one point, Brady yelled over the intercom, " "Fergies hit, and there are brains all over!" Though Baby Huey was at the controls and maintaining the aircraft at a stationary hover, he looked over his shoulder into the cargo compartment.

One quick look – just an instance – told the whole story. Fergie was blown out of the hell hole when a bullet hit his ammo links and flailed around on the cargo compartment floor. Brady was on top of him in an attempt to keep Fergie from slipping out the open cargo door of the Medevac. There was blood all over the floor and brains sprayed on Fergie's two-piece Nomex flight suit, as well as brains and skull pieces splattered on the sound-proof blanket surrounding the transmission compartment. Brady remembers Fergie's eyes were as large as silver dollars. But Brady quickly discerned Fergie didn't have severe injuries and relayed that to everyone over the intercom.

Two enemy rife rounds pierced the left windscreen two seconds later. Both bullets missed Baby Huey's face by only inches. They then exited through the greenhouse Plexiglas and aircraft skin above Huey's seat. Baby Huey remembers vividly the hot metal bullet jackets dropping in his lap and burning a sensitive part of his male anatomy. The bullets also created capillary wounds to his face making the bloody face look worse than it was. At this, Okie also came on the controls.

Where two bullets aimed at Baby Huey
hit windscreen.

Where bullets passed through roof.

If either of us were wounded or killed, the helicopter would hopefully not crash into the jungle canopy. Enemy automatic rifle bullets continued to slam into the Medevac with the unmistakable thud sound when a bullet hits the aircraft. With rounds coming up through the floor under Okie's seat, piercing the right jump door and barely missing Brady and Tiny T. There was no safe place to be in the helicopter – no location providing better protection.

Where bullet passed through floor
under Okie's seat.

With Okie at the controls, the Medevac pulled up from the jungle and departed as fast as possible. Baby Huey had already coordinated with Blue Max, so there wasn't an accidental mid-air collision between Blue Max and the Medevac.

After parking the Medevac, Baby Huey looked left and was so glad to see Fergie on the skid toe, unlocking the armored plate and sliding it aft.

The 1st Cav had a shortage of ammo belt guides for the M-60 machine gun. The ammo belt guide's function is to direct the linked ammo belt into the machine gun's receiver. Not having a belt guide, Fergie knew an empty C-ration can could be a suitable substitution. Fergie had decided if he got shot down and had to survive and escape in the jungle, he would use the full C-ration can. More specifically, a full C-ration of franks and beans.

A bullet struck Fergie's belt right as it went around the bean can and blew the gun out of Fergie's hands. The force blew him out of the hell hole nearly into Brady's lap. Either the heat from the belted ammo crossing the C-ration can, as Fergie shot, or the enemy bullet striking the ammo belt made the C-ration can explode. The exploded contents of the can left Fergie splattered with franks and beans and a generous portion of Army food splattering the sound-proof blanket on the transmission compartment.

 Where bullet almost hit Fergie.

Meanwhile, under the impression Fergie had a severe wound, Brady announced that Fergie was hit over the intercom. Brady dove on top of Fergie to keep his flailing body from undulating out the open left cargo door. Once into the cargo compartment, Fergie found his wire to the intercom disconnected, so he could not tell Brady he was all right.

Fortunately, after having enemy bullets pepper the aircraft just inches away for each crew member, we all were seen at the clearing station with only shrapnel wounds.
The blood on the cargo floor was from the previous mercy mission, and the "brains" were nothing more than an exploded C-ration can of franks and beans. And from then on, we dubbed Fergie with the catchphrase of "Fergs and Beans!"

Where bullet almost hit Gergie

Brady showing bullet hole. Where bullet aimed at Don Tegethoff
traveled through aircraft.

Don Tegethoff after mission.
Don Tegethoff lights up after mission.

Fergie and bullet.
Fergie shows Mike Vinyard where bullet
hit belt guide

Okie surveys damage to rotor blade.
Okie surveys damage to rotor blade.

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Downed Bird

By Baby huey

It was July 1970 when I was flying copilot to CPT Mohica and we were spending a week at Tay Nihn in the “Land of the red dust” supporting Medevac Charlie. If you didn’t take a shower often you got this beautiful bronze all-over tan look…until you took a shower and all the red dirt dust washed down the drain.

We had our normal share of missions but then a lull set in and CPT Mohica announced he was going to take a shower and I would stay in the pilot’s hooch in case of a mission. Sure enough a few minutes later the RTO came running in announcing we had a downed bird mission. I ran out of the hooch and sprinted by the shower yelling for Mohica to finish because we had a downed bird mission. He told me to go get strapped in and start the aircraft.

Almost before I got strapped in Mohica came flip-flopping out to the revetment wearing only his towel wrapped around his waist and flip-flops. As his nearly naked body got strapped in, I had the aircraft up and running and was pulling out of the revetment.

As he navigated, and I flew, we raced up toward the Cambodian border to work this downed aircraft mission. As we got overhead the small field the downed aircraft was in, we could see the crew had made it out safely. About this time Mohica says, “I’ve got the controls” and begins to set up an orbit and start an approach to land just short of the aircraft on the ground. As he comes down on final the crewchief of the other bird starts giving ground guide hand-and-arm signals to guide us safely in for landing.

On short final the crewchief begins to giggle and then falls to the ground in a fit of hysterical laughter. One can only image the view this crewchief had looking up through our left seat chin bubble and up under Mohica’s toweled lower body!

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