War Stories 10

Enjoy the stories in this section. Some of them may even have been true!! Have a favorite war story you've been relating over the years? Well sit down and shoot us a draft of it. Don't worry, we'll do our best to correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling before we publish it. to us and we'll publish them for all to enjoy.

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A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

By baby huey

My long-departed four-foot eleven-inch Irish-American mother had a proverb for just about every situation in life. If it wasn't an urging to finish my meal because "there are starving kids in China," then it was to stay out of the cookie jar before I was "caught red-handed." There seemed to be a rich collection of animal phrases such as "it's raining cats and dogs," or may times, I was "barking up the wrong tree."

With all the running around I did as a child, many times, I would get injured and just have to "bite the bullet" while crying "crocodile tears" and hoping I didn't "kick the bucket." She'd lovingly, but sternly, tell me to stop crying and "stick a sock in it."

One of the more odd or obscure proverbs were "a stitch in time saves nine," which I didn't understand until much later in life. It seems she meant it to mean to delay or put off doing something until a later time. People use "a stitch in time saves nine" to express that it's better to spend a little time and effort to deal with a problem right now than to wait until later, when it may get worse and take longer to complete.

Medevac doing hoist.In early 1971 I was stationed at Mace Fire Support Base (FSB), where we had a rash of overly critical classifications of wounds to soldiers originating from one particular unit. The unit was conducting operations in the old lighthouse area just north of the coastal town of Ham Tam. Flying to this unit's location put us at the furthest north edge of our area of operations (AO).

My fear was we'd fly to this unit's location for a traumatic wound only to find some soldier had a scratch on his knee. Being that far north would leave us vulnerable to having multiple wounded soldiers, in the southern part of our AO, almost 30 minutes away.

After several over classified patients, we started doing a lot of "bitching in the hooch." A day later, we got a nine-line casualty report that this unit had an urgent traumatic amputation of a soldier's arm. We scrambled as fast as we could and were airborne in only minutes. About five minutes into the flight, I let Doc Nose use the FM radio to talk directly to the unit medic on the ground. It was then that I overheard the wound downgraded and described as a traumatic amputation of the hand. Another five minutes went by, and I put Doc Nose in contact with the unit medic again. We found the patient's wound reclassified as an urgent traumatic amputation of the finger.

When we arrived over the unit's location, we were required to conduct a hoist operation to extract the patient from the jungle. I slowed the helicopter to a hover, and the medic lowered the hoist cable and forest penetrator to the ground. A minute or two later, the medic reeled back up the hoist cable, and the patient brought into the cargo compartment.

Colonel dressing down.That's when I hear Doc Nose say over "hot mike" that the soldier only had a small cut to the top of his hand. I was livid. I asked Doc Nose if he had surgical thread for stitching a wound. He said yes, and I told him to lace the injury with a single stitch and send the trooper back down to his unit on the rescue hoist.

Arriving back at Mace FSB, I was greeted by an Infantry Colonel who proceed to "dress me down" for what was probably only 90 seconds but seemed like weeks. I was about to start my well-rehearsed (I got in trouble frequently), "Yes Sir, yes Sir, never again, Sir" when I decided on another tact.

I threw my shoulders back, looked him straight in the eyes, and told him the Army Medical Department has the mantra "To conserve the fighting strength" and that one could not have conserved the fighting strength any fast than I had. Ahhhhhh, that didn't go over well with the Colonel, and to this day, I can still see his red, vein-bulging face as he screamed at me that my military career was finished.

Of course, I just stood there at attention and smiled, visualizing my mother saying, "a stitch in time saves nine!"

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Getting on the R&R Roster

By baby huey

I arrived in-country as Medevac Meadows drew to a close. Little Okie flew down to Ben Hoa and snatched my young butt out of the Three Days Charm School and off to Song Be we went. Not that I had a choice, but my hold baggage went to Phouc Vinh, where I finally found it a little over a week later.
I was issued a room and dumped my stuff in it, and then decided to take a walking tour of the area. The first folks I met were Ray Zepp and Rich Leonard, who came to a stiff attention and saluted me.

They welcomed me and told me the R&R roster was a first-come-first-leave list and that I should immediately go to the orderly room and sign up for my R&R. Any delay may mean the difference of weeks and weeks, or not being able to go at all. They also were kind enough to warn me that the orderly room clerk hated lieutenants and would probably try to tell me one had to be in-country for three months before being eligible for going on R&R. I was assured that if I "locked his heals," I could get him to put me on the R&R list.

Off to the order room, I went, and sure enough, the clerk tried to hand me crap, saying I didn't qualify since I wasn't in-country long enough. I proceeded to have him come to attention and "ripped him a new one" only to hear loud uncontrolled laughter coming from the doorway.

Yup, there were Zepp and Leonard on the ground laughing hysterically. That's when I realized the clerk was telling me the truth and never listened to Zepp or Leneord again.

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Where Are You Going, Medevac?

By James C. McKay

On 1 May 1970, the 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was the "spear point" of the "Cambodian Incursion" (Operation "Rockcrusher"). The Cav was implementing President Nixon's announcement of American military forces penetrating Cambodian territory to seek, destroy and disrupt the Communist Supreme Command for the Liberation of South Vietnam ("COSVN"), in the so-called "Sanctuary." But well before "Cambodian Incursion," the Division was more than well-acquainted with the interdiction mission and what it meant to be at the "spear point" on the Cambodian/South Vietnam border.

The Division had pivoted and re-located from I Corps to Ill Corps on 7 November 1968, where it immediately met fierce enemy resistance from North Vietnam Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) units from Phuoc Vinh to Quan Loi to Tay Ninh. Medevac had become acutely aware of the danger in its combat mission in support of the operational units. On 26 November 1968, Medevac 18, the crew, and six soldiers from A/5/7 were killed in action (KIA) approximately three miles from the Cambodian border, north-northwest of LZ Rita.

(See, "The Vietnam War's Most Costly Army Aeromedical Evacuation Mission 26 November 1968," Terry McCarl, War Stories.

On 22 January 1969, I was a combat medic with Medevac at Quan Loi air ambulance base for "C" Company. Late in the afternoon, Medevac was dispatched to Tay Ninh Province for an urgent pickup for several wounded personnel (WIAs) from 2/5, that had been in substantial contact with NVA forces near the Cambodian border. After a 30-minute flight from Quan Loi to the grid coordinates, we found where 2/5 in, an area of triple-canopy jungle, dense vegetation, and undergrowth with downed trees and craters from B-52 Arclight bombing.

After making initial radio contact with the ground unit, WO Allen Westmoreland, as the aircraft commander (A/C), flew a large loop over the area since we could not see the unit due to the thick jungle. WO Westmoreland began asking the standard questions before a combat pickup. Approximately how long ago had the unit been in contact with the enemy was the pickup area secure or not, the direction of enemy fire, the total number of casualties, and in this case, whether a hoist would be needed to extract the wounded. Satisfied with the answers, including that a hoist would not be necessary since there was a jungle clearing, that would be the pickup point. WO Westmoreland requested the unit "pop" a smoke grenade as a marker. After a moment, WO Westmoreland responded to the unit, "l have a Goofy-Grape," to which the unit responded, "That's a Roger, Medevac." The purple smoke was a faint stain in the jungle as the Medevac began a reverse turn and got aligned for the approach and descent.

The Medevac's approach direction would be opposite from the last known enemy fire. The approach would be a high-speed, low-level flight to limit Medevac's visibility to enemy gunfire. But because the smoke had become filtered by the jungle, it was dispersing. WO Westmoreland, in radio contact with the unit, requested the unit guide Medevac into them by using the distinct Huey-helicopter sound until they could see the Medevac. Still, there was nothing to see in the jungle, except split and toppled trees, with tangled undergrowth. WO Westmoreland had Medevac moving forward over the treetops at the slowest airspeed possible and had the whole crew with "eyes on" the jungle, looking for any signal, marker, or movement that would reveal the unit's location. Radio contact continued encouraging Medevac, saying, "Keep coming. Keep coming, Medevac." By then, I was on the cabin floor looking underneath the helicopter, to make sure that somehow, we had not bypassed the unit. Finally, the crew chief, PFC Edward Miranda, new to Medevac, saw some purple smoke hanging in the trees. He directed WO Westmoreland toward the smoke. The radio contact said, "You're almost there, Medevac. We hear you 5/5." The purple smoke billowed through the tree limbs, but neither the peter pilot (co-pilot), Miranda or door gunner SP4 Dale Harmon, nor I see anything resembling a military unit in the field.

Medevac had just started a vertical descent, when suddenly much more intense purple smoke spread below the helicopter, as the radio contact suddenly said, "Where are you going, Medevac?" With that, green tracers appeared in and around Medevac, tearing holes through the cabin floor and impacting into the overhead. Harmon said, "I'm hit," but was still standing, sweeping the M-60 machine gun back and forth over the jungle to suppress the enemy small arms fire, which continued to pepper the aircraft. Miranda, on the other machine gun, had at first been rocked backward into his seat, from a bullet that impacted the front of his ballistic helmet, cracking it open. Recovering, Miranda fired his M-60 in the same manner as Harmon, sweeping back and forth, returning the enemy fire. I had an M-16 at the ready, loaded with a magazine of tracer bullets and expended it into the unseen enemy below. WO Westmoreland managed to regain airspeed while turning the helicopter in the opposite direction and gaining forward airspeed away from the ambush.

Momentarily, the ground unit contacted Medevac again and asked, "Medevac, are you coming back?" To which WO Westmoreland replied, "That's a negative. We have wounded on board and battle damage. We'll send up another Medevac." By then, the peter pilot had notified Phuoc Vinh that our Medevac was damaged, had wounded on board, and a replacement Medevac would have to take the mission.

At about that time, a "Blue Max" Cobra flew alongside our Medevac, looking the aircraft over, then dropped back and below in its inspection, then flew up alongside once more and said, "You'd better sit it down, Medevac. Your fuel cells are ruptured, and you have an aircraft fire, trailing you in the fuel leak."

 Katum Camp

Both pilots were uninjured, despite the enemy fire. I worked on Harmon, where he received a through-and-through gunshot wound to his left leg. It took multiple bandages to control the bleeding from the entrance and exit wounds. Once Miranda removed his helmet, his forehead showed swelling where the bullet glanced off his helmet, leaving reddened but unbroken skin. Miranda put his helmet back on, and although cracked, the avionics was undamaged. He began a running dialogue with WO Westmoreland about the aircraft fuel leak and where the ignition was sparking away. At one point, Miranda turned to me and said, calmly, "If the flame gets to the fuel cell, we'll explode." I believed him. In the meantime, the "Blue Max" Cobra it." WO Westmoreland said, "OK, roger that," as the Cobra broke away.

The suspenseful flight from that point to the Basecamp was not long, but time did seem to pass quite slowly. Finally, the base camp was in sight, and we landed
immediately beyond the barbed wire. As the helicopter was shutting down, a jeep emerged from the base camp with a Special Forces NCO at the wheel. He drove us into their compound, where everyone was basically "underground" due to mortar attacks. A Special Forces medic gave Harmon a syrette of morphine, as the combat shock had worn off, and his wound was causing him distress.


After dusk, CPT Scofield from Phuoc Vinh retrieved the crew and returned to Medevac HQ. Harmon had an orthopedic injury, and he was evacuated out-of-country for surgery. Miranda would be assigned other Medevac aircraft and was shot down several times. Later, that same evening, WO Westmoreland, and I would return to Quan Loi with another crew. Later I was informed the NVA was so close to the 2/5 that they had "popped" another purple smoke grenade as we approached the "friendlies," which was the purple smoke Miranda had identified. The 2/5 also confirmed blood trails from NVA, but there were no bodies found. But as an ambush, it had been just about perfect. Katum, South Vietnam, would return to the news as an important staging and operational area for the Division a year later during the "Cambodian Incursion." Last, I don't know whether WO Westmoreland ever received an acknowledgment, or decoration, for his coolness and flying skill as the A/C on that mission. If he didn't, he should have.

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