Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vietnam -- The War From An Officer's Perspective

Editors Note:  the p[ictures described in this document will be added as time allows.


101st Airborne Division, I Corps Tactical Zone
B Battery/4th Battalion/77th Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA)

Memorable Moments of My Year in Vietnam:  May 7, 1969July 18, 1970
  • 7 May 1969 – 18 Dec 1969:  Flight Section Leader
  • 18 Dec 196919 Jul 1970:  Platoon Commander

UNIT HISTORY

B/4/77 (and the 4/77 Battalion was formed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in May 1968. The initial pilots (most of who came right out of flight school) went through two additional weeks learning aerial rocketry at Ft. Rucker, Alabama on the old UH-1A & B Model before they were sent to Ft. Sill. B Battery started with the UH-1C helicopter (Charlie Model) which had the improved "540" main rotor system. In November, 1968, the unit ferried their aircraft to Stockton, CA where the aircraft (and a few cadre) were placed aboard the "Jeep Carrier", U.S.S. Kula Gulf. A month later, and the aircraft had docked at Da Nang where they were flown to their new home with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) at Camp Eagle. By the time I arrived in May of 1969 B Battery had turned in the Charlie Model Gunships and were equipped with 12 AH-1 G Cobras.  In January 1972, B/4/77 (along with the entire 101st Airborne Division "Stood Down" and returned to Ft. Campbell, KY. 

MY INITIAL TRAINING

I did my initial helicopter training at Ft. Wolters, TX and my advanced training and Cobra training at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA. 



Cobra Hall, Savannah, GA



My Instructor Pilot Supervising the Loading of 40mm Grenades


MY DEPARTURE & ARRIVAL

I departed for Vietnam on May 7, 1969 from Travis Air Force Base, CA.  Prior to my departure I spent the night in a dumpy motel in Daly City (South San Francisco).  The area around the motel was so bad I was afraid to go out at night.  If I wanted to go into San Francisco I would have had to have worn my uniform and that was not advised due to anti-war protests going on in the city.  The Army arranged for us to fly on a charted aircraft from Travis AFB.  The flight over was interesting.  I was just shy of 25 and felt like I was the oldest person on the plane and probably the only one that graduated from college.  Young, fresh faces just out of high school surrounded me.  Most of them were Army infantryman (11B Rifleman).  Everyone knew we were bound for Vietnam but no one knew what unit they would be in or where in the country they would be based. Everyone heard stories in basic training about the units to avoid and as kids do, they had a plan for getting assigned to a nice safe area like Saigon, certainly not in the 1st Cavalry Division or the 101st Airborne Division.  Little did they know, the units with the most casualties needed the most replacements.  Denial I guess, because it didn’t take a college graduate to figure that out.  I really didn’t care because the only Cobra units were in both the units nobody wanted to be assigned to.

As we crossed the coast of Vietnam my first images were of giant bomb craters everywhere.  I had seen pictures and knew these were from B-52 strikes.  The aircraft landed at .Tan Snout Airbase in Saigon.  As we landed there were Air Force F-4 Phantoms and F-105 Thunderchiefs taking off fully loaded with bombs for missions in North Vietnam.  I was psyched and wanted to get to my unit and fly.  A convoy of five-ton trucks picked us up and we were told we would be going to the in-processing center for assignment to a unit and for training. 




Bomb Craters Approaching Saigon Airport

IN-PROCESSING CENTER

It was a two hour ride down dusty dirt roads and the driver told us we would be there for 5 days to receive training specific to Vietnam and to become accustomed to the climate.  It was like a sauna, hot and humid.  After arriving we ate and I was assigned a bunk in the officer’s area.  The next day we started training.  I was trained in what not to eat, how not to get VD, what not to touch, who not to have sex with, emergency first aid, weapons training, how to avoid poisonous snakes, more VD films, malaria control, how to stay out of jail if you go downtown, what not to smoke, etc.  The thing I liked most was learning to do an emergency tracheotomy on a pig.  We would cut a small hole in the throat below the bump and use the outside of a ballpoint pen to insert in the airway so it could breathe.  I hoped I didn’t have to ever do it on a person.  Overall it was exciting because it was new and I wanted to get to my unit and fly. I went to classes and training in the day and the Officer’s Club at night and the outdoor movie.  I spent my 25th birthday there and my friends took me to the officer’s club to celebrate.  That night we got hit by a rocket attack (122mm rockets) and had to scramble into the bunkers.  It scared the shit out of me because you just hear this big “scream,” someone yells “incoming,” and then boom.  Nothing you can do and no warning.  Happy birthday Craig, you made it this far. 



Damage from 122mm Rocket To A Hootch

On assignment day everyone went to a big board and looked for their name and the unit they were going to.  You could hear people saying, “Oh, no not that unit, Wait there must be a mistake.  I was told I would be going to the First Calvary Division but my name was on the 101st Airborne Division list.  A young Private First Class (PFC) came out and said “Everyone shut up, the Army doesn’t make mistakes so pack up your gear and get on the truck marked with your unit.”  I found out I was going to B/4/77 ARA located in Northern I Corps at Camp Eagle. I got in a jeep because I was alone and boarded a C-130 transport and flew from Saigon to Phu Bai Airfield. 

ARRIVAL AT MY UNIT

In Phu Bai there was a jeep waiting for me at the airfield and we drove to my base at Camp Eagle.  The ride was interesting because we saw a lot of the local countryside, rice fields, local farmers, and kids everywhere.  We drove through the entrance to Camp Eagle and then to my unit.  When I got there I met with the Commander and was assigned as a Section Leader because I was a Lieutenant.  I was issued my flight gear, personal weapons, and given a bed in a “hootch” which would be my home for the next year.  The top picture is the road leading into Camp Eagle.  I was shocked to see the craters everywhere.  The next picture is the entrance to Camp Eagle.



Road Leading To Camp Eagle


Entrance Gate to Camp Eagle


MY HOOTCH

The hootches were made of discarded wood from the rocket boxes and had a tin roof.  On the outside there were ammo boxes filled with sand and they were stacked 5 feet high and all around the hootch.  This was in case a rocket landed when you were in bed the impact would be absorbed by the sand bags. 



Home

Inside the beds were located below the top of the boxes so you were somewhat protected.  If a rocket hit the roof you were out of luck, it just came right through.  Next to each hooch was a bunker that you could run to if you were under a 122mm rocket attack.


Protective Bunker

If you had a rocket attack you were suppose to crawl into the bunker for protection.  My hootch had 12 metal cots (6 on each side) and we slept in our sleeping bags.  You had your own little area to decorate and I made a little table out of ammo boxes.  It was cozy and you got to know the other pilots well. 


My Bunk with Christmas Presents


My Area Decorated by Me.




Camp Eagle Hootches


IN-BRIEFING & ORIENTATION

The next day I was briefed on our mission and our area of operation.  The 4/77/ARA area of operation ranged from the DMZ on the North (bordering North Vietnam) to Laos on the West, the South China Sea on the East, and the Hai Van Pass north of Da Nang on the South.  Our call sign was the Toros and our helipad (landing area) was called the “Bullpen.”  Our patch was a bull with rockets firing from his nose.


                                    Bullpen

I got my map the next day and was given my in-country check ride by CW-2 Paul Ashley.  I passed, but everyone passes, and then assigned to fly missions as copilot/gunner.  You had to fly as copilot/gunner (front seat) for 100 hours so you could learn the operational area and tactics.  After 100 hours you were given another check ride and made Aircraft Commander.  After that you flew from the back seat as aircraft commander. 



Craig: Getting In the Cockpit


Eagle Tower in A Dust Storm (From My Hootch)
Start of Monsoon Season




Eagle Tower “The Calm After the Storm” – A Pilot’s Dream Sunset


THE AH1-G COBRA – OUR AIRCRAFT:

Our aircraft was the AH-1G Cobra.  The AH-1G Huey Cobra is a single-engine tandem-placed (pilot & gunner) high-performance attack helicopter. It is based upon the proven Bell series of UH-1 type helicopters. Its unloaded VNE (Velocity Never-Exceed at sea level) was 190 knots (with about a 10% cheat factor). We would often dive up to this speed. The Aircraft Commander flew in the back and the pilot/gunner in the front.  Our aircraft were configured in what was termed “A heavy hog configuration.” It had 4 rocket pods on the wing stores (76 rockets total), a 7.62 mini-gun in the front turret, and a 40mm grenade launcher called the “chunker” in the turret. 

Turret: Mini-Gun (L) 40mm Grenade Launcher (R)



Unknown Pilot: Note Heavy Configuration Wing Pods on Left (19 Rockets Pod)



Near the end of my tour we received the 20mm cannon M35 armament subsystem. Extra panels had to be installed on the fuselage just below the pilot station and extending forward to the gunner's station to handle the muzzle blast. The 20mm ammunition is stored in the ammunition cans mounted on the fuselage just above the crosstubes. A crossover chute delivers ammunition from the right side to the left side.


20mm Cannon Setup

Compared to Hueys I had flow in flight school the AH-1G was beyond comparison!  However, they did have a few quirks (like having little visibility in rain, warm to sit in when not flying, screwy Stability Control Augmentation System, and always being underpowered). However, most of us truly loved the Cobra. Additionally, there was always a weight trade-off between weapons, fuel, and density altitude.  Due to our weight and ordnance, however, we could only cruise at 135-145 knots (or until the vertical main-rotor vibrations became unbearable). The Cobra was also semi-aerobatic.  At altitude, the Cobra had the wonderful characteristics of being able to slow down to 40 knots and then wing-over to make a near-vertical rocket-firing dive on a target.  With self-sealing fuel cells, redundant systems, and critically placed armor, she was difficult to bring down.



Wingover

The aircraft could carry seventy six 2.75 inch folding fin aerial rockets with a 10 pound warhead (less with the 17 pound warhead).  We had three types of rockets we used.  High explosive rockets (HE) were use to destroy vehicles, bunkers, knock down trees, shoot boats, and hit troops dug in.  Variable time fuse rockets (VT) were used to shoot troops in the open.  The fuse of the rocket sent out a signal and would explode exactly 20 feet above the ground.  It was difficult to hide from this one and it covered a large area on the ground with shrapnel.  Flachette rockets (Nails) had a warhead with 5,000 little darts (nails) inside.  They would detonate in the air above the target and a single pair could cover every square foot of a football field.  They were great for troops hiding in tall grass or in trees.  Infantry troops on the ground would often report enemy soldiers literally nailed to a tree or the ground. 



Crew Chief Reloading Minigun

The aircraft could carry 4,000 rounds (we carried 3,000 rounds for weight reasons) of 7.62 mm ammo for the mini-gun.  It fired at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute and with tracers spaced every fourth round it looked like a fire hose shooting flames and sounded like a buzz saw.  The mini-gun was a great "people hoser" as the tracers provided the gunner with an accurate idea of where the bullets were going. Just like shooting a water hose but with fire coming out the nozzle. This is a picture of what the mini-gun looks like at night from the ground.  Notice the hose of tracers.  There are 4 regular bullets between each tracer.







The aircraft also carried 300 rounds (we carried 150 rounds for weight reasons) of 40 mm grenades.  The 40 mm grenade launcher fired 400 rounds per minute and sounded like – chunk, chunk, chunk, hence the name “chunker” or “thumper” or “pooper”. The 40mm grenade launcher was harder to fire because the crew only had a reasonable idea of where they were going until impact...but boy, did they do a job when they exploded!  With practice they were deadly on trucks, boats, and troops in the open or hiding in tall grass.

The aircraft was a formidable weapons platform and a pilot’s dream to fly.  The pilot/gunner sat in the front seat which had flight controls and operated the turret weapons.  He had a swivel mounted sight which he looked through and as it turned the turret turned so he was always on target.  He could operate the rocket wing stores if needed.  This pilot had a fixed sight which was used to aim the rockets. It really wasn’t very good and most pilots used a grease pencil to mark the windscreen after firing the first pair of rockets and then used that. With experience it was much easier that way.

The Aircraft Commander was responsible for flying, navigating, communicating on the radios, and for firing the rockets.  There was a fixed sight with crosshairs that you used to align the aircraft with the target.



Pilot’s Sight

The copilot had a flexible sight that when turned, turned the turret weapons. Just look through the sight at your target and the weapons were pointed on target. The copilot generally fired the 7.62 “mini-gun” (6,000 rounds per minute) and the 40mm grenade launcher (450 rounds per minute).



Copilot’s Flexible Sight


The Aircraft Commander was responsible for flying, navigating, communicating on the radios, and for firing the rockets.  There was a fixed sight with crosshairs that you used to align the aircraft with the target.





Simply put, it was a “killing machine” and could carry more than she could fly with. As a result, we only carried about ½ to ¾ of the total capacity of fuel so we could carry more armament.


WEATHER: HOT OR WET

Monsoon Season

Rain, what else can you say. Tough flying weather and the enemy took advantage of it.


Monsoon Rain Shower
Monsoon Season: Red Mud



Dust Storms


SANITATION

There was no running water, there were no toilets, but we made do.


Shit Burning Detail

SURVIVAL:

If you were shot down another Cobra could be put to use for the rescuing of downed pilots. You could open the ammo bay doors and sit on them. Not the best idea but in a pinch it was used in emergencies. If you were lucky a Huey would be in the area and would come and pick you up.

To protect us on the ground if we crashed each pilot was issued a .38 caliber S&W revolver for personal protection. This pistol, with its six shots was basically a “feel good” weapon and is no match for the AK-47 carried by the enemy.  Most of the pilots purchased, borrowed, or stole "illegal" firearms to carry with us during our missions. I had an M-79 Grenade Launcher and carried a bandolier of different rounds for it.  I used to take it to the bunker line at night and practice with it.  I got it from a Special Forces soldier we pulled out of Laos.  He was so happy to be alive he asked, “What can I do for you, anything”. You felt good carrying another weapon and you looked cool also, but the reality was that all but one (of the hundreds) of the pilots taken prisoner in the "South" ever survived.  Most were killed and tortured.

FLIGHT EQUIPMENT: 

As for uniforms, we all wore "Nomex" (fire retardant) flight suits.  The Nomex suits were very hot. The nylon reinforced "jungle boots" were "officially" taboo for pilots (because they tended to melt during a fire). Therefore, many of us flew with our regular all-leather combat boots. Helmets were either of the "sound protective" or "balistic" varieties. Our flight gloves were a composite of nomex-leather. They usually wore out fast (especially because the rats would nibble on the sweaty leather portions at night). We also wore an armor plated vest known as a "Chicken Plate". It was hot and heavy, but necessary.

Our flight helmet was the SPH-4 helmet and Captain Dick Femrite painted them with a “Torro Bull” on the rear.


THE ENEMY:

Who was the enemy? B/4/77 operated in a diverse area of operations ranging from the coastal lowlands of Northern "South Vietnam" into the triple canopy jungle (mountains & valleys) of Northern "I" Corps. We also operated within the beautiful sparse plains of Laos. The indigenous Viet Cong ("VC", "Charlie", "Rice Burners", "Gooks", "Slopes", etc.) were sometimes encountered near the coast. However, most of the enemy we encountered were well-equipped uniformed soldiers of the regular North Vietnamese Army ("NVA") moving down the Ho Chi Minh train from North to South Vietnam. I also suspect that we encountered "Pathet Lao" forces within Laos. Identification of the enemy really wasn't that difficult because if someone was shooting at you (or they were someplace that they didn't belong); then they were simply "The Enemy". However, rarely did we actually see the enemy prior to engagement as the identification process was usually left to others and then they called us.


TYPICAL DAY

A typical day went like this.  Get up at 6:00 AM, shower, shave, and head to the mess hall for breakfast.  The food was good at the camps compared to the field.  Powered eggs, potatoes, canned milk, canned meat, etc. The cooks were very creative and did the best they could do for the troops.  We just called it mystery meat usually.  We would then head for the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and pick up our mission sheets.  The TOC was the command bunker buried underground and covered in sand bags for protection.


Battalion TOC

Our mission sheets told us what we would be doing for the day.  It either assigned you to one of the ready response groups or gave you a time and location to be at with your aircraft.  We were scheduled to fly 7 days a week and you got off when the weather was too bad to fly, things were slow, or there were not enough aircraft ready to fly (combat damage repair).  It was a good day and kept you busy. 

While we flew the crew chiefs would rest up until we returned. Our enlisted soldiers worked all the time to keep our aircraft flying.



Rest Time



If you weren’t scheduled to fly at night you were off.  Dinner was at the mess hall unless you could get the mess sergeant to slip you a few steaks. Then it was dining out. Have you ever seen a happier group of pilots.



Steak Night Behind the Hootch
Most of the pilots went to the Officer’s Club and drank and played poker.  I wasn’t a big drinker or gambler but went a couple times a week to be with the pilots.  I either sat around the hootch and wrote letters or read.  What I really like to do was go out to the bunker line.  The bunker line was the giant wall that surrounded the base for protection.  It was the responsibility of the infantry troops stationed there to provide protection to the base.  The bunker line was ringed with large sandbag bunkers that held 3 men each and spaced about 50 yards apart all around the base.  There was a machine gun in each bunker, a sniper rifle with night scope, and a grenade launcher.  I made friends with some of the infantry soldiers and could go to their bunker at night and shoot to my hearts content. 


Rearming After A Mission


Another Mission Rearm


PFC Richard Edwards (Right)

PFC RICHARD EDWARDS

“Always there, always ready.” Captain Denny  Kramp was my left hand and Richard was my right. Day or night he was there to do whatever it took to get the job done. We stole a lot of stuff together to keep things going. He watched out for me, I hope he can say the same for me. Thank you Richard.

OUR AREA OF OPERATION (AO): 

The area we flew in was the most beautiful in all of Vietnam.  On the East side of the AO you bordered the coastline and the South China Sea.  As you flew to the West it was flat ground and rice paddies for about 25 miles then you started into the hills and then mountains.  They were covered in triple canopy jungle.  The next picture is a shot of our AO looking north.  It was a beautiful clear day showing the mountains.



Throughout the AO there were American Camps, Specific Areas, Fire Support Bases (FSB), and Landing Zones (LZs).


Camps:

Camps were medium to large military bases where units of the 101st Airborne Division had their Headquarters.  It was also the base camp for the troops and helicopters that flew daily to wherever the fight was that day.  Many of the larger ones had artillery units stationed there and they fired constantly.  The camp had a cleared perimeter for protection and was surrounded by mine fields.  The black dots in the picture surrounding the camp are bunkers where infantry troops watched for enemy and provided protection. This is a picture Camp Carol, one of the smaller camps.





Specific Geographical Landmarks:  

These were key locations that we used for flight reference points, navigation, reporting points, or where areas of constant enemy activity occurred.  This is a picture of the A Shau Valley, a geographical landmark.  It’s a beautiful area even with the bomb craters.



Fire Support Bases (FSB):

FSBs  were generally small bases (50 sq. yards) and were set up for artillery units so they could provide supporting fire to the infantry troops on the ground.  Chinook (CH-47) helicopters sling loaded the guns, ammo, and troops to these positions.  The picture is of FSB Rendezvous.  It was located on a mountain top for visibility of the surrounding terrain and for protection from the enemy.


Landing Zones (LZs):

LZs  were usually small remote areas that Huey (UH-1) helicopters used to insert infantry troops on the ground.  Some LZs were large enough to hold 6-10 helicopters landing at once and some would only handle one aircraft at a time.  The Air Force would often drop a 2,000 pound bomb and blow a hole in the jungle so it could be used for a one ship landing LZ.  Our mission was to prepare the LZ for insertion of the troops.   This picture is of LZ Helen.  Helen was a medium size LZ and the troops are finished their mission, cooking dinner, and awaiting a pickup.



TYPE MISSIONS

FIRE MISSIONS:

This was our primary reason for existence.  When the troops on the ground needed help (day, night, and in terrible weather); we were there! Our 2.75" rockets were our primary weapon (and often the only weapon used). Once the alert of "FIRE MISSION" had been sounded, then the "2-Minute Hot Section" had two minutes to become airborne. The "back-seater" (usually the Aircraft Commander) would "crank/start" the Cobra while the "front-seater" (usually the Co-Pilot) would untie the rotor blades, etc. Once airborne, the front-seater would receive a coded radio message from our Battery Operations that identified the mission, location, unit, radio frequencies, etc. Once un-coded (through the use of the SOI code book); we were on our way. We got to be pretty good navigators and often had a good (if not exact) idea of where we were going as soon as we identified the unit, FSB (Fire Support Base), particular mountain ridge, etc. Usually long before reaching the ground unit, we had already made radio contact with them. Officially, we could not fire within 200 meters of friendly forces, but this rule was often broken due to necessity. Basically, the friendly troops on the ground would "pop smoke" using a smoke grenade to identify their position. We would then identify their position by naming/confirming the specific color of their smoke. The ground unit would then give a distance and compass direction from his unit/smoke as to the location of the enemy. At night, this "pop smoke" procedure was usually modified by the use of an electronic strobe light, flair, or tube artillery marker.  This is a picture of purple smoke (called goofy grape) that an infantry unit on the ground used to mark their position.  The radio call would sound like this: Pilot – “I see goofy grape”. Ground Unit: - “I confirm goofy grape.  From my smoke, fire heading 125 degrees at 250 yards, you are cleared to fire”.




The lead cobra of our flight-of-two (the Section Leader) would then adjust the fire in concert with the ground unit. Once this was done, then the "Wingman" could "Fire for Effect" along with the Section Leaders remaining rockets. This all happened rather quickly and we all got to be pretty good at it. However, night missions (and inclement weather missions) were always a challenge. It was all too easy to get oneself in a state of vertigo, turning inside the flight path of your circling Section Leader, or loosing one’s night vision due to the rocket motor sparks. Flying at night in a Cobra was dangerous stuff.

We had 8 aircraft supporting fire missions and they were ready to go at any one time.  We usually launched a pair of cobras on a fire mission.  They were called flight lead and wingman.  Tactically they could do the mission and cover each other better than a single ship.  There were four fire mission response times we adhered to.
·        2 Minute Response:  These 2 aircraft were kept fueled, armed, and ready to takeoff in 2 minutes.  Crews lived and slept in a tent located just off the flight line (Hot Section Tent).  When the bell went off the crew would run to the aircraft and takeoff.  Information regarding the mission was relayed to the crew when they were airborne.  The 2 minute response aircraft were used for support that was needed immediately.  This usually meant that troops were in contact with the enemy, an aircraft was shot down, or troops needed to be withdrawn immediately.  This is the 2 minute hot section tent next to the flight line

            Hot Section Tent



The Same Tent After May 3th Attack. Fan Survived


·        5 Minute Response:  These 2 aircraft were kept fueled, armed, and ready to takeoff in 5 minutes.  Crews had to stay and eat in their hootch so they could be at the aircraft within 5 minutes.  If the 2 minute section launched the 5 min section would then be the new 2 min section. 
·        15 Minute Response:  These 2 aircraft were kept fueled, but rockets were not loaded.  Depending on the type mission requested they would be loaded with the appropriate type rockets for the mission.  Crews just needed to be in the area so they could be at the aircraft within 15 minutes.
·        Standby:  These 2 aircraft were kept fueled and armed and were used as replacement aircraft in case something happened to the 2, 5, or 15 minute section aircraft.

VISUAL RECONNAISSANCE (VR):

VR's were often flown at dawn and dusk. This particular time seemed to offer the best chances of contacting the enemy. Each "Section" of two Cobras was accompanied by a Division Artillery "Loach" (Hughes OH-6A Cayouse)...also know as a "Football" or "Sperm". We were usually cleared into a "Free Fire" zone whereby the OH-6A would fly low & slow to seek out enemy targets and personnel. Once spotted, the Loach would "pop smoke", move out of the area, and give us a distance and direction from the smoke in which to fire.


COMBAT ASSAULTS / LANDING ZONE PREPARATION (LZ PREP)

An LZ needed to be relatively secure and free of enemy troops prior to inserting the infantry troops on the ground.  While the troop carrying helicopters were about 2 kilometers from landing our Cobras would prep the LZ by firing flachettes (nails) and high explosive rockets into the LZ and surrounding area.  This would set off any bobby traps in the LZ and kill any enemy waiting to shoot at the aircraft landing.  It worked pretty well but many of the helicopters that were shot down were shot coming into or departing the LZ.  We would fly overhead at the LZ to protect the troops and would then escort the helicopters back to the base camp.  Overall a boring flight because if the LZ was “cold” (no enemy troops you just blew up trees and dirt.  Good practice for the new pilots.  If the LZ was “hot” (enemy troops on the ground shooting) it was fun and demanding flying.  The picture on the left is from my aircraft and you can see the sparks from the rocket motor.  The picture on the right is the landing zone we are preparing for the troops to land.





FORWARD AIR CONTROLLERS (FAC):

U.S. Air Force "FAC's" were great folks to shoot for and we did a lot of work with them. They would fly around in small fixed wing airplanes and look for targets.  Depending on what they found they could call for Air Force fighters, bombers, naval ship fire, and Cobra helicopters.  They would spot a target, shoot a white phosphorus rocket on it to mark it and we would roll in and blow it away. 










FIRE SUPPORT BASE SUPPORT (FSB):

FSBs were under constant attack and our mission was to provide air protection to these bases and respond when they called for help.  Many fire support bases in the A Shau Valley were completely overrun by the enemy.  The bases would either stand and fight or just move out, and then back in when the enemy left.  They were often attacked in bad weather when the aircraft couldn’t get to the base.  Overall an exciting mission because troops were in contact and needed help.  Lots of targets and lots aircraft mixing it up.



FSB Birmingham


CONVOY COVER: 

The major convoy routes were Highway 1 North from Hue to Quang Tri, the highway West from Quang Tri to the rock Pile, and the trail road from Camp Eagle North West to the A Shau Valley.  The roads were used for moving supplies and ammunition by truck to the Fire Support Bases.  We provided a cobra to fly above the convey and search for enemy locations, fire on suspected enemy locations, and respond to attacks on the convoy.  Overall a boring flight because the enemy would not want to shoot at the convoy when the cobra was overhead.



VIP COVER

This was the 1969 visit of Bob Hope and Joey Heatherton. I was not at the show but flew cover that day.


Bob Hope Show





OPERATION RANCH HAND: 

Ranch Hand was An Air Force mission to spray agent orange over the jungle.  It killed the trees and vegetation and prevented the enemy from hiding.  A good idea except that Agent Orange was very toxic and many soldiers, including me, still surfer medical problems from its use.  Our mission was to fly a pair of Cobras under the C-130 tanker aircraft and look for enemy fire.  Since the C-130s had to fly slow and low they were vulnerable to enemy fire.  The chemicals would come in our air vents and you would be coated completely by the end of the day.  It was very oily and stunk.  This is a picture of the C-130 spraying Agent Orange.  We are under them and difficult to see.


COMMAND & CONTROL NORTH: CCN

Prairie Fire was an area in Laos (West of the Vietnam border).  U.S Forces were not officially permitted to operate in Laos but specialized groups conducted secret missions in this area.  We supported 5th Special Forces Group, Special Operations Group (SOG), and Marine Force Recon Teams operating in this area.  Small teams were deployed in this zone to carry out intelligence gathering, raiding missions, rescuing downed aircrews, kidnapping or assassinating key enemy personnel, and bobby trapping enemy ordinance.  We were responsible for providing air support when the teams were put into the LZ location.  If the team was immediately discovered or fired on we provided covering fire till the team could be extracted.  When a team got into trouble in Laos they called a “Prairie Fire” which meant “get me out now.”  We then sent cobras to shoot and cover the extraction of the troops.  Since Laos was mostly heavy jungle the troops would be pulled out on ropes called “strings” or the “ladder”.  They dropped it through the trees, the troops grabbed on and they were pulled up right through the branches and about 6 at a time. 


This picture on top left are troops coming out on the “ladder”, top right is back at base camp



The bottom left photo is the team that was extracted from Laos, and bottom right is the Officers Club where they celebrate at CCN North.  Overall the insertion was boring because nothing usually happened but when a “Prairie Fire” was called it got hot.  The Special Forces never called for help unless they were in real trouble and completely surrounded.  You had to be able to shoot rockets within 50-100 feet of friendly troops in order to hit the enemy.  It was very demanding and very easy to kill friendlies.  Laos was my favorite place to fly, but kinda' scarey at times. If you got shot down help was hours away.

Hunter Killer Team:  An OH-6 scout helicopter and one cobra were sent out to find the enemy.  The scout would hover over the jungle and fly low to try and get shot at and the cobra would fly at 1,000 feet ready to dive.  When they were shot at the observer would drop a smoke grenade to mark the position and the cobra would dive in and shoot.  Overall a great flight because the scout was usually a little crazy and could always find targets.  The problem was if the scout got shot down you had to shoot to keep the enemy off him till another aircraft came to get him out.


River Patrol/Trail Patrol:   Most of the time it was san pans on the rivers and bicycles and trucks on the trails moving enemy weapons and supplies.  The A Shau Valley trail was a major enemy supply route from North to South Vietnam.  They used bicycles, trucks, elephants, carts, back packs, etc., to move everything.  We would just find them and shoot.  Overall a great flight because you could always find targets and the shooting was challenging and close in.  This photo was taken from inside one of the aircraft we were coveing on a trail patrol.  This is the HO Chi Min Trail just west of the A Shau Valley.  You can see the trail to the left of the river. This is one of the few open areas where you can see it clearly.




DOWNTIME AT EAGLE BEACH:  

Eagle beach was the in-country R& R Center for the 101st Airborne Division.  Troops that came out of the field were given time off and were allowed to go to Eagle Beach and rest for 3 days before returning to the field.  It was located on the South China Sea and was beautiful, safe, and fun.  There was always good hot cooked food, live bands every night, and the famous “Barber Shop and Scientific Massage” house.  I would get to Eagle beach by truck and we would go in a convoy from Camp Eagle, through the city of Hue, then to the beach.  It was a safe way to go and the ride was very scenic. 



Road to Eagle Beach

Road to Eagle beach

Locals On the Way

It passed through local villages and the city of Hue.  I got to go to Eagle beach 3 times during my tour.  It was almost like being in another country altogether.  Sand, surf, music, good food, no enemy, no rocket attacks; just rest and relaxation.  Three days was just enough time before you were ready to get back to flying.  The pictures are of me at Eagle Beach, and the Barber Shop & Scientific Massage.


Beach Day



Barber Shop & Scientific Massage



 
Our Pilots at Eagle Beach

2d Left: Capt. Richard Hulse: My hootch mate and friend. Killed in action with WO1 Scott Pardee 23 March 1970. Never a finer officer and a gentleman.



Eagle Beach: Real Food & Miniature Golf



Performing Bands
Proud Mary’s: Lolling on the Liver (Can’t pronounce “Rs”

VUNG TAU VISIT

Vung Tau was the “French Rivera” of Vietnam.  It was populated by the French when Vietnam was French Indo China.  It is known for its villas by the sea.  It was also the only place in Vietnam that was safe.  It was unofficially a “no trouble zone”.  Enemy and friendly forces mixed company (not knowing who was who) and enjoyed the city.  It was also the location of the in-county repair center for all helicopters.  This is a picture of the fishing village at Vung Tau.  Since I was a Platoon Commander I was allowed to go and pick up our aircraft that were in for repair.  You were supposed to fly down, pick up the aircraft, and fly home the same day.  Here’s the trick – When you get there the maintenance sergeant finds all kinds of things wrong with the aircraft that need additional work (if he didn’t find a problem, he made one).  They can’t fix it right away and you call back and say it will be an extra day.  Every day you call and say, “Just another day.” Eventually you could squeak a week trip out of it.  I made it to Vung Tau twice during my tour.  I spent Christmas 1969 in the Pacific Hotel in Vung Tau.  I had Christmas dinner at the USO there and read cards from children to servicemen. I wish I had saved a few.



Fishing Net Repair


Craig (Tall One) On A Tour Day with Friends



Buddhist Temple




USO Christmas Eve 1969

JUNGLE SCHOOL: PHILLIPINES

Pilots had to be able to escape and evade if they were shot down and were not picked up right away; hence, jungle school.  There was a school in Vietnam and one in the Philippines.  The in-country school sucked and the Philippines’ school was like going to heaven because you got out of Vietnam.  I put in for the school and drew the Philippines.  I flew from Phu Bai to Saigon and had to wait three days for an Air Force flight to the Philippines.  I toured Saigon like a tourist and love it.  When I arrive in the Philippines we were taken by helicopter and dropped in the jungle.  There were 7 soldiers and one Philippine Negrito guide/instructor.  You were given a knife, string, fishing kit, map, and poncho and told to survive for 7 days while covering 70 miles through the jungle to the pickup point.  The guide taught us to get water from the tree vines, set snares for wild game, how to catch dog bats at night for food, how to get fish and crayfish fro the streams, how to cook in bamboo tubes, how to avoid poisonous snakes, how to make a bamboo bed off the ground, and how to stay dry and healthy. I grew extremely fond of eating dog bats.  They were easy to catch, big, juicy, and no one else would eat them.  This is a picture of us catching crayfish for dinner Jungle School was like Boy Scout Camp for me, I loved it.  When we arrived at the pickup point we were flown to Cubi Point Naval Air Station and given two days to relax and play.  Cubi Point had a great Officer’s Club, real food and I got to rest and tour around.


                        Catching Crayfish for Dinner                       Aircraft Carrier

I conveniently missed my flight back to Saigon and had to wait 3 days for another one.  This is a picture of me aboard an aircraft carrier that was docked for repairs.  I played and toured for the three days and was then ready to get back home for more flying.  I flew from Clark Air Force Base back to Saigon on an Air Force transport and then a C-30 cargo plane to Phu Bai and my trusty jeep driver picked me up and we returned to Camp Eagle.


SAIGON VISIT

I stopped in Saigon for 2 days after jungle school and toured the city. The city gave me a weird feeling after having been at Camp Eagle and in jungle school. I stayed at the military BOQ in Saigon and it was covered in wire to prevent someone from throwing a bomb in.



 
Officer’s Quarters In Saigon



Famous Statues


 
Street Vendor



 
Saigon Zoo
R & R IN HAWAII

Everyone in Vietnam got a 1 week R&R break.  The single soldiers usually went to Bangkok, Thailand or Australia.  The married people went to Hawaii to be with their wife.  I met Jeanne in Honolulu and we spent a few days at the Ilakai Hotel in Waikiki and a few days in Kauai. A great week.




Jeanne on R& R in Hawaii


MAY 3, 1970 ROCKET ATTACK

“Incoming” was the first sound I heard.  As I have always done I rolled out of bed and low crawled to the bunker outside the hootch.  A few minutes later someone came into the bunker and said the enemy was inside the base and tossing satchel charges into bunkers so get out, find your weapons and defend the battalion area.  Over the past 9 month we had received regular rocket attacks at Camp Eagle but nothing of this magnitude.  It was usually 3-5 rockets and that was it.  Tonight they just kept coming and coming.  We didn’t know it at the time but our unit and the Cobras was the target.  Before we could launch the 2 minute hot section a 122mm rocket struck the aircraft sitting on the ready pad.  It was fully armed and fueled and it exploded in a giant ball of flames.  The crew had run from the ready tent next to the flight line and was on their way to the aircraft when it exploded.  The next round landed in our ammo dumps and exploded over 3,000 rockets, 100,000 rounds of mini-gun ammunition, and 25,000 rounds of 40 mm grenades.  Our own rockets were flying everywhere and blew up all over the camp.  They thought it was enemy rockets but it was ours.  Six more rockets hit the flight line and destroyed all the remaining aircraft.  The final three rockets came in and two hit the hanger and set it on fire and the other was a direct hit on the underground Tactical Operations Center (TOC).  After getting out of the bunker I grabbed my rifle and my cameras and hid under a truck and took pictures.  It’s hard to describe the noise and crap flying everywhere but some of the photos may help.

This is a picture the following day of me sitting in one of the destroyed aircraft that was on the flight line.


Battalion TOC After A Direct Hit



 

They Blew Up Our Latrine (Crapper)

Our Aircraft and Support Structures for the Hanger




 
The Flight Line




 
The Tactical Operations Center (Direct Hit)




Officer’s Club Set up as Temporary Tactical Operations Center
Untouched In the Attack



SP4 Hood looking at the engine he had rebuilt for me. I pushed him to complete the job and we moved the aircraft to the flightline just prior to the attack.

The Crater Where the First Rocket Hit

Nighttime Explosions From Under the Truck)


 
Our Maintenance Hanger before the Attack
Completely Gone After Attack




HEADING HOME

A lot of mixed feeling about leaving my friends but wanted to see Jeanne. I thought there would be a second tour in the offering but the war was winding down the following year.

I was given a jeep ride to Phu Bai Airport. I thought the whole way this would be a crappy time to hit a land mine.



 
Phu Bai Airport

C-130 cargo planes transported us to Saigon for our connection.



C-130s Taking Troops to Saigon

We were out-processed in Saigon, had everything searched and they took my jungle survival knife from the Philippines, and a bunch of other stuff I had saved. Jeanne had managed to throw away everything I had shipped home earlier because she said it smelled. I made it out with my dog tags and blood chit and boarded my flight for home.



 

Commercial Charter Flight Home

First View: Washington State Mountains


MY CLOSE FRIENDS (Left to Right)

Denny Kramp was my mentor and an officer with the most admirable traits you could ask for. Dick Femrite and Rod Seagle (Seagull) our fearsome platoon leaders and me. Celebrating something?




Final Thoughts

It was a wonderful time and a wonderful experience.  I had the opportunity to serve my country, do what I had always wanted to do since I was a boy (fly), and share this experience with professionals who cared and watched out for each other.



My Christmas Card December 25, 1969

5 comments:

jack lauber said...

I was there on the night of the rocket attack in May, and what a night it was. I was knocked out of my bunk by the blast of the rocket revetment taking a direct hit. I crawled to the door of my hootch and pushed the door open with my hand. just as the door opened two rockets went by two feet off of the ground. I thought we had sappers in the company area and this would be my last night on earth. But I grabbed my gear and went to the flight line. I had to walk in front or the burning hanger. The small arms ammo that was stored in the supply conex in the hanger was cooking off as I went by. There was a crew chief trying to pull one of the cobras out of the hanger but the tail was already on fire so they shoved it back inside, you can't put out a burning helicoptor. I was sitting on the far corner of the flight line when the damaged helicoptor blew up. It shot a fire ball 200 hundred feet into the air and one of the rockets pods landed a few feet away from me.
Do you remember when the officers got to stand down for one day. The party started at the officers club and you went from there to battalion HQ, and you were getting ready to go see the commanding General.It was a good thing the MPs got there to stop that trip. I was the CQ that night and was driving the truck.

I remember that summer we were helping load rockets into the pods while the pilots were still sitting inside the helicoptors. You guys were flying support for firebase ripcord. I didn't find out what happened out there until it was declassified in 1985.

thanks for this website
Spec 5 Jack Lauber
Avionics section chief 1970
jackjgwcorp@yahoo.com

matt martens said...

the "unknown pilot" in the heavy hog rocket configuration photo is my father. CW4 (ret) Barry L. Martens. A/4/77 Oct 70, to Oct 71 Phu Bai, Khe Sahn. Now resides in Overland Park, Kansas.

immigrants2bfree said...

We are grateful for your service to the country and the personal risks you took. Sad to say, the "police action" was not better accepted or more successful.

Anonymous said...

Was a Seabee 1970 at Eagle. We were sent to the hill on perhaps that May night and watched things blowing up at 3 levels in the sky down below. Not a good night for sleeping at all.

Joseph Fultz said...

I was also overlooking the event from on the hill at A Co 5th Trans. I will never forget watching the explosions but one event in particular,a crewman came to a cobra untied the rotor and realized it was on fire but walked the blade back around and tied it back up. I use to reccover your downed aircraft when required. I was in charge og the platoon that performed maintenance on all the OH-6s.
I also have many pictures of the after damage of the attack.

My name is Joseph Fult, retired SGM, onecopterdoctor@hotmail.com