War Stories 5
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The Medevac Standby and the LAW
By Ron (HUEY) Huether
Medevac 2 (Baby Huey)
It is said that occupations such as air crewmembers, firefighters, and Emergency
Medical Service (EMS) crews have hours and hours of boredom punctuated with a
few minutes of stark terror. So it was with my 23-years of flying air ambulance
helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
My assignment during the 1st Cavalry Division's incursion into Cambodia in 1970
was to sit just inside Vietnam next to an Army of Vietnam (ARVN) compound at Tin
Yon. Having we "non-snake eaters" stationed just inside Vietnam afforded
President Nixon at least partial truth to his statements that the United States
had no ground troops in Cambodia.
And so it was that as the sun rose to its apex, my crew became ever increasingly
bored. The first break in the boredom was when my crewchief challenged me to a
game of Knock the Tree Over. We both had M-79 grenade launchers with sawed off
stocks and forward sights making the weapon one huge handgun with a
two-and-a-half inch diameter barrel capable of firing grenade size bullets way,
way out there.
ARVN compound at Tin Yon.
We picked out a lone tree with a northerly slouch some thousand feet away, sat
on the left side of my medevac aircraft and began taking alternating turns at
lobbing a round down range at our, obviously Viet Cong, tree. After a dozen
attempts (or so) one of us won and the poor tree went crashing into the dusty
soil of the great Republic we had pledged to protect.
Another hour passes when my medic comes running toward the aircraft in a greatly
excited state announcing he found a cache of ammunition that was stuffed down a
hole in the dirt not more than 500 feet from our air ambulance helicopter. As
the crew ran off with him to this hole (not one of us ever considered the idea
it might all be booby trapped), I stayed behind to "hold down the fort" and add
some decorum to an otherwise dusty afternoon medevac standby.
Shortly, my crewchief, medic, door gunner, and copilot come back with arms full
of every conceivable ammunition used by the United States soldier. There was
M-16 rifle bullets, M-60 machine gun linked ammunition, some M-79 grenade
launcher rounds, and…and TWO Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAW).
M-79 Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW)
Now, for you peace-loving folks, or you air force warriors that have never
gotten dusted with rotor wash every day, the LAW is the updated version of the
World War II bazooka. Constructed of fiberglass, it is lightweight, collapsible
and meant to be fired only once and discarded. Ah, but there was a problem with
our newly found booty of anti-tank weapons - they were caked in mud and dirt.
Having see many John Wayne movies where the bad guy gets the drop on the Duke
only to try and dispatch of our hero with a muddy six-shooter that blows up in
his hand, none of us were brave enough to extend the LAW to the firing position
and pull the trigger. Besides…we were medics and didn't know how to do it
Over comes the crewchief with the exceptionally bright idea that we put the two
LAWs down range by a poor blown up tree and shoot at them with our M-60 machine
gun until they explode. Of course we'd take turns and the winner would be the
air ambulance crewmember making the "kill" shot.
And so it was, that hot afternoon on the Cambodian border, that the crew of
Medevac 2 started taking turns shooting at two pieces of weaponry designed with
such destructive force that they could (each) knock out a tank. After much
back-slapping and kidding about who was the worse marksman, our door gunner
climbs into the "hell hole" seat on the left side of a slightly more than half
million dollar, 1st Cavalry Division air ambulance helicopter and commences to
fire with such accuracy that we all stood in awe…for the first 15 seconds.
You see, it was at that moment that one of our gunner's machine gun rounds
ignited the motor of one of the LAWs and the damned thing started shooting
across the dirt like an air-filled balloon let loose. As we stood, frozen in
place, the LAW round skittered across the ground in a direction away from us and
the aircraft. Of course, that only lasted about five seconds (a life time if you
were there) when it hit a dirt clod and turned on a straight course toward our
beloved Huey helicopter ambulance…AND us!
As if rehearsed previously, my whole crew yelled in unison, "RUN!!" In those
tenths of seconds that flash through your mind just prior to meeting your
Creator, I could only think of how I was going to explain the loss of a half
million dollar air ambulance to my commander. But the Creator was in a jovial
mood that day and made the anti-tank round hit another dirt clod just prior to
impacting our helicopter, diverting the high explosive round toward a tree line
where another Vietnamese tree unhesitatingly gave its life in a valiant effort
at saving me from court martial.
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Some Thoughts About LTC Turner
By Randy Brewer
24th, we were called for
a hoist mission, my ship
was MEDEVAC 458.
Art Jacobs was A/C. We
were badly shot up. We
returned, got another
aircraft, returned to the
location, and were shot
up again. I was crew
chief on the first two
“The third ship, had its assigned crew chief, returned to location, and was shot
down. No more aircraft. Platoon Leader MAJ Dorris Goodman got a ship out
of maintenance for a one time flight - he was A/C, CWO Magin was co-pilot, I
was crew chief, can’t remember the gunner.”
As we lifted off, I felt the ship rock, looked up and there sat LTC Turner. I
SP5) said, ‘Colonel, you can’t go on this one, we may not come back.’ He
‘I am TOO going!’ Goodman lifted off saying we had no time to argue. We still had radio contact with the downed aircraft. I saw yellow smoke at
9:00 o’clock, which was confirmed. Goodman began to set up his approach and
I noticed Turner was unarmed. I knew Jacobs was injured, Turner would have
to leave the aircraft, we had no idea where or how many NVA were in the area.
I gave him my unauthorized Colt .45 & two magazines, and then I unwrapped
my precious M-79 from my field jacket (court martial offense - but I wasn’t
to send my CO out unarmed) loaded it with a canister round, showed him the
safety, gave him three more rounds. Goodman came in like a bat out of hell,
flared and landed. LTC Turner ran for CWO Jacobs, who was shot in the arm,
under one arm and brought him back to the ship, the rest of the crew came
running with guns, ammo, and radios, and we di-di-mao’d the AO post haste. LTC
Turner unloaded the M-79 and returned it and my .45 with a grin and a ‘Thank
you.’ Never said another word about it. The downed aircraft had to be
destroyed by artillery and napalm.
458 was so badly shot up it was sent back to the states and I got a ‘new’
‘H’ model; MEDEVAC 578. Since I was getting ‘short,’ it was decided to keep
578 at Evans for VIP missions, so I had the privilege of flying with our new CO
quite a bit. What a great guy- 180 degrees better than the last CO. When we went somewhere on a VIP mission, he gave the pilots money for
lunch for them and the crew too. He treated us so well we found it hard to
believe after the CO before. I took quite a few photos of him- enclosing what I
consider the best. 578 eventually had to be sent to LZ Jane and I went with it until my last two
days in country-but I’ll never forget the courage, honor, and compassion LTC
Turner had for ‘his’ men. He was truly a man among men.
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