War Stories 13
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By Baby Huey
My favorite field site in the 1970-1972 timeframe
was Mace. It was Spartan in the beginning but there was always a lot
of action and lots of opportunities to get in trouble. When Medevac Charlie
was ordered to move from Tay Ninh to some place closer to the ocean, the
Medevac commander and I flew over the area looking for a place we wanted to
vote on. We voted a place about five miles southwest of Nei Ba Rah mountain
because there was a runway there, but alas we were outvoted and the
powers-to-be said we’d set up station at the base of Nui Ba Rah’s north side.
Initially we were in tents with, if you can believe it, our aircraft parked
OUTSIDE the wire. Nothing more reassuring than running through a hole in the
berm wire, at night, cranking the helicopter, and leaving on a mission. What
could go wrong? Somehow, Charlie never got smart enough to put a bubby trap
on our helicopter.
But we soon came into possession (I forget how) of
some culvert piping and built one metal hooch for the pilots and one for the
crewmembers connected with an enclosed breezeway. We pitched in some money
and paid a couple of Vietnamese kids to fill sandbags and double-layered the
hooches in sandbags and blast walls. Ahhh, life was good. And it got “gooder”
when we rigged up a couple of 55-gallon barrels and had hot showers at one
end of the breezeway.
Our hooch was next to the Blue Max Cobra guys and
close to our aircraft, which now sat safely inside the berm wire. Other than
chow, I don’t remember spending much time with the non-aviation guys of
Medevac Charlie. But there was one straight-legged MSC Lieutenant that
caught our eye. He never was without his pistol belt and 45 – never. You’d
see him coming out of the shower and he’d have on flip-flops, and towel
around his waist, and that trusty old pistol belt and 45.
At this time
there was a bit more action going on than we were comfortable with, so we
had two Medevacs stationed at Mace – the proverbial First-up and Second-up.
Or is may have been, you get shot down and if you’re nice I’ll pick you up.
And on special occasions it was observed that Second-up would fly due East
to the coastline and the crew would go…ahhh as illegal as it was…the crew
would go skinny-dipping in the ocean. After all, we were Cav and didn’t have
issued bathing suits like the DUSTOFF crews.
One day, killing time
between missions and playing Spades, we got to talking about this Lieutenant
and his personal armament. If we took him with us to the beach, would he
wear his 45 into the water or just leave it on the bird like the rest of us?
A lively conversation ensued with varied opinions given. Then someone said,
“Hey let’s invite him and see.”
So we did. I invite this straight-legged
paper-pushing MSC Lieutenant to go swimming with the Medevac guys. Ohhhhhhhh,
the look on his face showed he thought he had died and gone to heaven.
all jump on Second-up and off to the beach we go. Following SOP, we first
slow-hovered over the beach to see if we drew fire, then we landed briefly
to let Deros the mascot dog out so she could sniff out any bad guys, and
then when all look safe we’d land and reclaim Deros.
On this day, as the
blades wound down we all started stripping off our Nomex, boots, and other
assorted clothing. And sure as the sun comes up, this Lieutenant strips
bear-butt naked and then straps back on his pistol belt and 45. Picture
this…a butt-naked soldier
wearing only a pistol belt and a 45. He walks down
to the water’s edge, unclasps the pistol belt, rolls it around his 45 and
puts it gently on the sand. And off he dives into the South China Sea. None
of my crew said a word and none of us could believe our eyes. That’s when I
came up with the bright idea to take a picture of him after he comes out of
the water and puts the pistol belt back on. Click, I get the picture and
over the years it gets inundated with all my other stuff from Nam once I get
back to the world.
Now, fast-forward 18 years and I’m sitting in the Pit
in the basement of the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston and up
walks an LTC and starts to talk to me. I look at his chest and he ain’ta
gots no wings. If you don’t have wings on your chest, I don’t engage in
conversation with you – that’s my rule. He asked if I remember him and I say
no. Then he says, well in Nam you took me S W I M M…and like a bolt of
lightning I know exactly who this guy is.
He sits down, and I tell him I
have a picture of that day when we went swimming and I ask where’s he’s
stationed so I can send a copy to him. He’s a commander of
something-or-other at Fort Carson and I get his address. When I get home, I
find his picture, and have it enlarged into an 8 x 10 glossy and mail it to
Unbeknownst to me, he’s on leave when the picture arrives. Being a
commander, he’s told his female, civilian, orderly room clerk to open all
the mail and stack it in three piles by urgency. She opens my envelope,
pulls out the picture of the commander, butt-naked sans a pistol belt and 45
and…get ready for this…and posts it on the command bulletin board!!
Needless to say, I received a fairly loud, very irate telephone call a few days
later from this poor LTC.
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By Dave sheets
15th Medical Battalion routinely forward positioned
medical evacuation crews at FSB Mace to be more responsive to US military
operations in the area. My crew was "First Up", which meant we would
be the first to respond to all requests for medical evacuation. The crew
included: CPT David Sheets - Aircraft Commander, 1LT William (Bill)
Cooley - Copilot, SP5 Ray Flynn - Aircraft Crew Chief/Left Door Gunner,
SP5 Larry Lund - Medic/Hoist Operator, and SP4 Richard Dubray - Right Door
We began our day with an urgent request from 1/12th who had just
broken contact with an enemy unit. There were four wounded soldiers
needing immediate evacuation. We flew to the unit's location, north-west
of FSB Mace, successfully hoisted the soldiers on board and then flew
them to the Aid Station at FSB Mace for stabilizing medical treatment.
Late in the afternoon we received an urgent request from C CompanY,2/8'h
Cavalry for medical evacuation of nine critically wounded soldiers. When we
arrived on station the unit was in heavy contact and "Blue Max" the Huey Cobra gunships were still providing fire support to the ground unit. Once
the gunbirds expended their load a "Pink Team" joined the fight. This
"hunter killer team" consisted of a low bird (OH-6: Loach) spotter
helicopter and a gunship (AH-1G: Huey Cobra). The low bird advised me that
they were not taking fire and I may want to attempt the mission. The
ground unit radioed that, except for four men, everyone else had been
hit. I then received instructions from the Command and Control aircraft
"do not go in yet . . . still not secure". However, because of the
urgency to evacuate the critically wounded soldiers, I made the decision to
begin the hoist operation.
[To read about this
mission from the patient's point of view click HERE]
The ground unit "popped smoke" at the hoist
site. I approached the pickup site so as to not overfly the enemy
position. As we hovered above the triple canopy jungle and SP5 Lund
started to lower the jungle penetrator, we began to receive intense
ground to air fire from the NVA forces. In addition to the hail of small
arms fire, an RPG hit the tail boom knocking out tail rotor control. The
aircraft yawed and began to roll tail low. At this point an armor
piercing round came through the floor of the aircraft striking me in the
right calf, exiting the front of my right leg, Within a split second
another RPG hit the engine. ln hind sight, this was a miracle. This was a
Devine miracle because, within seconds, the tail rotor failure and engine
failure had equal and opposite "counter balancing" effects. We were now
back straight and level.
As I regained control of the aircraft, I noticed
a small somewhat open area to my left front where I would attempt a low
level autorotation. We continued to take intense fire as we began our
decent. A third RPG came through the cockpit, taking out the radio
console between the two pilot seats. Tracer rounds continued to come up
through the floor of the cabin, igniting the fuel cells. At this point, a
fourth RPG hit the right machine gun mount; blowing off the mount, gun
and entire right skid.
As I approached the touch down point, not knowing
we had lost the right skid, I began to execute the standard
emergency procedure. As we touched down, the aircraft fell over on its
right side. As the main rotor dug into the ground, it flipped the
aircraft to the left side, back to the right side and finally back to the
left side as we skidded forward to a stop. I was pinned in the aircraft
and the aircraft was engulfed in flames.
1LT Cooley released his seat belt
and attempted to pull me out of my seat. Being unsuccessful, he exited
the aircraft. I was then able to work my way loose from my entrapment.
With a wall of flames on one side of me and the windshield on the other
side, I was unable to exit the aircraft. It was at this point that I heard
the shouts of 1LT Cooley and SP4 Dubray . . . "come this way . . . jump
through the flames!" Since I was certainly not ready to die and because I
trusted my crew, I jumped through the flames. There was an open area
behind the thin waterfall of burning fuel. 1LT Cooley and SP4 Dubray
helped me to the open side of the aircraft and we all jumped to the
As we cleared the aircraft we again came under heavy small arms
fire. Fortunately, we )/ere able to take cover in the tall elephant
grass. At this point, we observed the second up medevac helicopter
landing in the crash site. The second up crew, with Chief Warrant Officer
Warren Jackson at the controls, "chopped" their way through the thick
jungle to land next our burning aircraft. My entire crew was able to run
to the waiting aircraft and we were then flown out under heaving enemy
Warrant Officer Jackson flew the entire crew back to FSB Mace. I
was rushed into the Medical Aid Station, were my wounds were stabilized.
I was flown to the 24th Evacuation Hospital for additional treatment and
surgery. After several days I was flow to Clark Air Force Base in the
Philippines for a second operation. Finally, I was flown to the hospital
at Fort Ord, California, where I completed inpatient treatment and
subsequent full recovery.
It is my understanding that the following
awards for heroism were received: Warrant Officer Jackson - Distinguished
Service Cross, 1LT Cooley - Silver Star, SP5 Dubray - Silver Star, CPT
Sheets - Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.
As a final
comment, it is my firm belief that only by the Grace of God did my entire
crew survive this miraculous combat experience. To this day, my thoughts
and prayers are with the ground soldiers wounded and killed on that fateful
day in June 1971.
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