War Stories

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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Pilfered Goods
by baby huey

After I settled in with Medevac and the 15th Medical Battalion, I received unit orders to become the platoon's Aviation Safety Officer. It was a tasking I was passionate about but underestimated the problems working in an aviation unit in Vietnam. An aviation safety officer's traditional tasks were educating one's unit about unsafe conduct and holding a monthly aviation safety meeting.

Right, cut me some slack. The rare times I was at Phouc Vinh, only a handful of disinterest aviation crew members would come to my monthly aviation safety meeting and command backing was zero. Since I preferred to spend time away from Phouc Vinh, the monthly aviation safety meeting was usually held with the four other crew members. It was a challenge aspiring to be a "real" aviation safety officer.

Years later, after going to formal training at the Aviation Safety Center in Fort Rucker, Life Support Equipment school, and the Crash Investigation School at the University of Arizona, I was a "real" aviation safety officer. But Vietnam posed severe challenges to keeping one's crew members safe and understanding the trepidations that may occur if one lets their guard down.

Medevac revetment parking Phuoc VinhI prioritized the small contributions I thought I could make to the crew members, the aircraft, and our birds' locations. After seeing the field locations and flying myself, I decided to start on one project. The Medevac aircraft revetments at Phouc Vinh were positioned relatively close. For the most part, the trained aviators in the Medevac platoon had no trouble backing an aircraft out of the revetment without hitting the revetment or other parked aircraft. For the most part. I know of two aviators with absolutely terrifying aircraft control, but they tended to seek ground jobs as soon as possible. Of course, my evaluation was conducted during daylight hours.

Backing an aircraft out of parallel revetments during the night was a whole different ball game than doing it during the day. There was virtually no lighting for the revetment area at Phouc Vinh. Perfect opportunity for the aviation safety officer with his Cav yellow cape to save the day, or night as it was.

I submitted a work request for lights to be installed on the top of each revetment. After waiting for many weeks, the request came back disapproved. OK, I thought, I can do the work, so I submitted a supply request for lights and wire to install the lighting myself. Many weeks later, the request was denied. Not the time to give up, but rather ruminate on the problem and seek an out-of-the-box solution.

Sometime later, I had a night patient evacuation from one of our outlying bases with a drop-off at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh. After the patient was taken off the aircraft, I hovered over to hot-refuel for a top off with JP4. The whole crew exited the helicopter per our SOP, and I was alone looking down the 45th Medical Company's helicopter runway at their Long Binh location. The runway was about the main rotor disk's width and (I don't know) maybe 100 feet long – and lighted.
Yes, the runway was lighted with just the style of lights I tried to order. And the best part was they were fastened to tent pegs with electrical wire above ground running from light to light. I mean, it looked like a solution too easy to pass up.

After the aircraft was topped off and the crew got back in, I transferred the controls to my copilot and jumped down from the left armored seat. I walked over to the first light, and an underground cable attached it, but a cannon plug could disconnect it from the above-ground wiring. I unplugged the cannon plug and started rolling the wire around my hand and elbow like I was rolling up a length of rope. When I came to the first light, I just pulled on the tent stake and up it came. Then I just continued down one side of the runway, pulling up lights and tent stakes until I have the number of lights that I had revetments at Phouc Vinh.

Not a sole was around, sans the Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) for the 45th Medical Company's "tower," so I went unchallenged at the beginning. I had rolled up half the wire and lights I needed when the RTO came out and said something like, "Hey man, Whatcha doing?" I turned to him, looked him straight in the eyes, giving him my superior First Lieutenant stance, and said, "I've got permission to do this." To which he gave me an," OK, man." Or some other retort suitable for addressing a superior officer.

The next chance I had at Phouc Vinh, I outfitted the revetments with lighting and felt damned proud of my little contribution to aviation safety. But wait, you ain't be heard the end of this saga!

Fast forward to 1972, and after it's after Vietnam and I'm assigned to set up a Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic (MAST) helicopter air ambulance unit at Fort Sill, OK. I was the first officer to arrive, and over the days and weeks, additional crew members arrived to "flesh out" the remaining positions until we became the 4/507th Medical Company.

We had a great bunch of guys and started to meld after days and nights of the 24-hour medevac standby. One learns more than they probably wanted, spending 24-hours with the same three crew members. Most of the crew members had some experience flying DUSTOFF in Vietnam, with a few crew members going to flight school after Vietnam and then posting to us as their first aviation assignment. We even had a pilot who was a Navy medic assigned to the Marines in I Corps and then flew with 45th Medical Company out of Long Binh.

Having spent some time attached to the Marines, Bill Yancey was a bit more "shoulders back, standing erect, chip on his shoulder" type of pilot. Nice guy and a good pilot. Before becoming an Aircraft Commander, I had the opportunity to spend several 24-hour tours with him as my copilot. One couldn't miss the 1000 hour sandwich and the 1500 hour sandwich. Though he was fit and slim, he said his metabolism required him to eat several additional times during the day. OK, that explains the baloney and cheese sandwiches, but those sandwiches had an additional filler. They had saltine crackers layered in between the baloney and cheese. He said it was analogous to lettuce; it doesn't add to the taste much but instead gave the sandwich a "noise factor." Oh wait, there were other oddities with CW2 Yancey.

One of his best stories was when he accepted the challenge of Navy survival training. The abridged version of this story was the individual was brought within a mile of an uninhabited island by a submarine where they had to survive for a week, alone. The person was placed into one of the forward torpedo chambers, the outer doors would open, and the person had to surface and swim the mile to the island. He said he tried all his survival training once on the island, looking for mollusks, fishing, edible plants, and nothing worked.

He did have to admit that the island, beaches, and coastal water were just beautiful. He found he wasn't entirely alone since a large flock of seagulls walked on the beach, and finding him curious, followed him wherever he went. But after three days of not eating, he said those seagulls started looking more like Cornish Game Hens than seagulls. So, he picked up a large stick and said, "Here, birdy bird. Here birdy bird." Then he started clubbing the poor defenseless seagulls, built a fire and ate to his heart's content. He said that he almost didn't want the leave when he was supposed to signal the submarine to come and pick him up after the week on the island. He said he never ate so well as when he was on the uninhabited island surrounded by cheerful chubby clubbable seagulls.

But I digress from my story. One night I'm on duty with the crew, and Yancey was my copilot. He mentioned that he flew with the 45th Medical Company out of Long Binh, Vietnam. I mentioned I flew Medevac with the Cav, and we start the typical "one-upmanship" in relating war stories. Some of his were probably lies, but all my war stories were God's honest truth, almost. Where somehow, he tells about being the aviation safety officer when he was with the 45th. I mentioned I was the aviation safety officer for Medevac, and we "ring knock" each other.

Then I went one war story too far. I told Yancey about stealing the runway lights from the 45th Medical Company and putting them on the revetments at Phouc Vinh. Yancey stands up, clinging his fists, and turned beet red holding his breath. As politely as he could to a senior officer, he explained, he always wondered where the lights had gone. And that his replacement supply requests were always denied for the remainder of his tour.

Ahhhhhhhhh, winning is always so sweet!

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Gigantic Red Cantaloupes
by Jim mitchell

We received a mission for soldiers pinned down and unable to move because of intense automatic enemy gunfire. This infantry unit already had urgent casualties needing immediate evacuation. That meant we had to go in and at least attempt a rescue. Hank Tuell (Okie), callsign Medevac 1, was the aircraft commander, and unfortunately, I do not remember the other three crew members. When we got close to the hoist mission’s location, I remember looking down and saw the soldiers were on the side of a very steep slope covered by dense trees. We could see .51 caliber heavy machine gun tracers bearing down on them from above, and the bullets 51 Cal NVA Heavy Machine Gunappeared to be hitting the tops of the trees where our pick-up hoist site was to be. Their heavy machine gun could fire armor piercing bullets capable of penetrating 15mm armor plate at 500 meters. And what made things even more dire was that this gas operated weapon fires only in full-auto mode. Those .51 Cal tracer rounds looked like gigantic red cantaloupes covering the hillside. The enemy .51 caliber machine gun location looked like it was mounted in a tree. The rounds from that enemy .51 caliber machine gun were fired downslope almost in a straight line, in what looked like non-stop firing. Knowing that tracers are inserted every five to ten rounds, those bad guys must have burned up a lot of ammunition.

I told Okie I didn’t think attempting this mission was a smart choice. We were going to attempt a hoist where the .51 caliber rounds were impacting, and we had no Cobra attack helicopters for support. It was the epitome of a “hot hoist.” Okie said, “Boys, this is what they pay us the big bucks for.” Okie had devised a plan, but we crewmembers knew nothing about it. Our butts puckered, and I knew we were all going to die in the jungles a long way from the safety of home.

After orbiting the pick-up site a few times, down we went to drop off the semi-ridged litters. Okie’s initial approach was directly into the enemy fire. And in one swift motion, he stopped the Medevac on the proverbial dime and spun the chopper around, so the tail was facing where the incoming rounds emanated. That way, we had some partial protection from the enemy bullets since helicopter transmission stood between our crew and the enemy gunner.

When we got to a hover above the trees, I spotted the soldiers on the ground and pushed out the litters, and then we took off and initiated a climb. Amazingly we did not receive a single hit. I didn’t understand why but felt like we just got lucky. We climbed back out of small-arms fire distance and circled a few orbits, which allowed the guys on the ground time to fasten the wounded soldiers into the semi-rigid litters. After the soldiers on the ground radioed they were ready, we went back down to the same location to perform a hoist.

When we went back in the second time, the enemy bullets were still steadily coming in, like someone was holding a Roman candle firework horizontally. But Okie had found a place in the 250-foot triple canopy jungle allowing our chopper to be hidden in a little pocket just below the incoming rounds. We guys in the back of the chopper didn’t know about his plan, and we wondered where he was taking us. That little pocket allowed us to conduct the hoist mission concealed just under the enemy .51 caliber machine gun rounds, which were continuously streaming overhead.

Time seemed to pass slowly as we hovered for what felt like a lifetime. If it weren’t for Okie and his innate flying skill, there would be parts of me sprinkled all over that area of Vietnam like little grains of fertilizer. He saved a lot of people that day, including our crew.

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