Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vietnam -- Incoming at T-Bone and I was almost the steak

You hear a lot of war stories from Viets about their first experience with incoming rounds and how the dealt with the fact that they were being fired upon by a hostile enemy.

Well, for me, these wasn't my first experience with incoming rounds. Nor would it be my last.

I don't make it a habit of temping fate. So taking one's life into one's hand so to speak isn't something a take lightly.

However, for us Cobra crew chiefs and mechanics, the only way you were going to get an air medal was if you volunteered for flying door gunner or as a front seat warmer in an OH-6.

An OH 6 had 5 main rotor blades and proved to be one of  the best crash able and walk away from helicopters in Vietnam. Indeed, the Cavalry loved using them as they could force the enemy to shot at it.

Which, of course, was a bad mistake as flying circles above the aggravated enemy were to Cobras just waiting to roll in and telling the enemy all about the mistake they just made.

The OH-6 got its nickname -- tadpole -- because of its shape. But it was also lite and agile and very response to a tug on the collective.

Which was pulled after smoke was dropped onto the target by the crew chief in the back seat.

So, if the North Vietnamese thought this little helicopter was annoying.  I can only imagine the horror in their eyes when those two Cobra gunships provided them with a dinner of led.

So, this OH-6 lands on our bull pen, Craig Geis yells at me to suit up and grab a flight helmet.

Few minutes later, I get in with my nomex gloves, uniform and a flight helmet. After securing the monkey strap safety harness around me, I plug in.

"Can you hear me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good, Don't touch a thing."

"Yes, sir."

We flew over to the 2/17 Cavalry refueling area and landed.

"Hang tight, I'll refuel."

I nodded with understanding.

Once refueled, the Captain made a call, scribbled some numbers on the Plexiglas and we were on our way to Fire base T-Bone.

T-Bone wasn't but about 15 minutes north of our location.  Indeed, almost parallel with Hue. Within minutes, we were getting permission to land. As I watched him land, I noticed just how good he was coordinating the pedal collective and cyclic controls and just how smooth this helicopter flew.

Once the skids touched the ground, the pilot put the collective down flat, I heard him say something about coming but the first part of that I didn't get.  All I saw was helmet and ass and gone.

After that I also thought it odd that no one was outside manning the 105 howitzers. And the white puffs of smoke inside the area made some noise but were barely heard.  Flight helments block out a lot of noise. I could barely hear anything.

When all of that subsided, the vietnamese men responsible for manning the 105s came out of the bunkers including the pilot.

They were all laughing at me.

The pilot got back into the helicopter and plugged in.

"Didn't you hear what I said?"

"No sir."

"I said, 'In coming,'"

I shrugged my shoulders. As far as I was concerned, I was enjoying the fireworks.

Looked back at the cannon cockers firing back at the emeny.

It was at this point in my time in Nam that I realized, I no longer was scared of Vietnam nor were my nerves fractured by combat produces.

I'm never certain why that Captain didn't care if I lived or died. What I am sure of, given the same situation today, I would have pulled the collective on that helicopter and made him walk home.

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