Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vietnam From A Hero's Perspective
There are a lot of us who where there.  A cook who saved a soldier from bleeding to death.  A clerk who worked from 6 am to 10 pm seven days a week making sure the unit ran smoothly without complaining. A Huey crew chief who jumped into the line of fire to save two grunts after the two were shot up so bad they couldn't make it to the Huey.
These things did happen. Many never did get recognized for their heroic actions. But for many of us who lived on beyond Vietnam and are now ready to retire, we know what we did had to happen and also know that despite the lack of awards for gallantry or recognition for going beyond the call of duty -- we realize that we did what we did because no one else could have done it as well as we did.
April, 1970
I was given the task of polishing a White Phosphorous round. I knew that turning the round 230 times in one direction would arm it, So, I turned it half way in one direction and then half way in the opposite direction. 
After three days of polishing, the very shinny round was ready for the 200,000 template painting.
Pleased with my handy work, I was just about to put the round into its cardboard casing when a familiar voice -- SFC Valentine -- remarked about how nice it looked but wanted to know how many times I turned it.
"I stopped counting after 230 times," I remarked, then turned to watch a pastey colored senior NCO walk slowly backwards out of the place where I had polished it. That moment still makes me smile.
I put the round in the back of the hanger and made sure everyone knew what it was and what it was for. 
Captain Denny Cramp, Lieutenant Craig Guess and SFC Valentine are discussing the fate of their careers over the fact that a certain part known as Push/Pull (split cone) bearings for the tail rotor blade of the Cobra could not be found in Vietnam.
They were of course, correct. What happened was the Army had issued a order to convert these bearings to a solid version. Unfortunately, these began to fail miserably. So, the older ones were once again required.
You couldn't use the ones pulled off the Cobras because they adjust to the "squeeze" of the casing they are housed in.
Because of this, there really was a shortage of the original sets of bearings and since the helicopters can't fly without them, our unit would be forced to stand down and we would be deemed not Combat Ready.
It just so happened that a friend of mine over at A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion who was a Huey mechanic carried a set of Cobra tail rotor bearings in his pocket.
So, after going back and forth with these three, I finally convinced the three that I could find a pair of these bearings. They gave me a jeep and Guess to me not to come back if I didn't return with a pair.
I would have loved an image of the jaw dropping faces when I returned with them.
I had no idea that this would set the stage for a much bigger job.
May 1
Roughly every five months, you could take a week break from the madness and go on R&R. While most guys go to various locations to get laid, I went to Japan to see the EXPO 70 in Osaka.  As it turns out, on the morning of May 1st, the trains stopped running and I had to call the Navy Military Police who came over picked me up and called the Army Military Police who picked me up and proceeded to get lost.
May 2
Instead of flying into DaNang, I'm flown into Saigon and then catch a C-130 to DaNang.  It was 3:00 in the afternoon. Another C-130 would be headed to Phu Bai would leave at 3:30.
I wasn't on that C-130. I stayed up all night over at the 24 hour Air Force Mess Hall drinking coffee and wondering why the hairs on the back of my neck stood up just thinking about being there that evening.
May 3
Before boarding the C-130, we had to wait while some black body bags were removed from the plane. A sobering reminder that you could die here passed us by.
We then boarded and less than 30 minutes later we were doing final over Camp Eagle. And, at that point I was wishing I was in one of those body bags. The scene below was horrifying. The hanger was gone. Cobras looked like the hand of god came down and twisted them into pretzels, there was smoke coming from the TOC and hundreds of people were all over our pad taking pictures and cleaning up the after math.
My first thought, my round blew up and destroyed our unit. But after realizing the extent of damage, I calmed down and came to the conclusion the enemy was most likely to blame.
Hitched a ride in the back of a dump truck.  Two other Infantry soldiers also hitch a ride.  They looked like death was at their door step.
"You guys look really beat,"  I said. And they told me their story about being over at Firebase bastogne and how Charlie was lobbing in lots of mortar rounds and keeping them up all night ever since we invaded Laos and Cambodia.
But my remark about Cobra support revived them from the dead.  After that, I knew why the hairs on the back of my neck had stood up.
I placed my stash of Expo 70 memories away and inspected the hooch.  Ours was the farthest away from ground zero.  Luckily, there was no damage. The kid from Pittsburgh who had been on a 30 day leave one gets after volunteering for another year in hell, looked like he needed another one.  He asked me to come over to his hooch.
"Do you see that hole," he asked while pointing to it." 
"That is where one of our rockets came in, past my nose. Dropped down into the middle of the floor and started spinning around. I had to kick it out of the hooch!"
"Anyway, SFC Valentine is looking for you. Him and Lt. Guess. They have a new job for you."
As he said this, he looked at me with that look of knowing already what they want.
So, I worked my way up to the flight line,  talked to the Battery Commander who was glad to see me and it didn't take long for Lieutenant Craig Guess to find me and tell me what my job would be for the next 90 days.
"Your job is to get us back to fully operational status.  I am assigning you a jeep, we'll put a radio on it, you will be wearing a CEOI and you will be reporting directly to me. You are to be borrow and steal anything and everything you can to get us back up.  If you get caught stealing, I will bail you out of jail.  I'm that serious."
So, I did. The Sea Bees did the physical job of rebuilding the hanger and our other buildings that were destroyed. I did the job of making sure the parts, the paperwork and the rest of the items necessary to assure 12 Cobras were fully functional and the maintenance support as at the point where it was before the attack occurred.
10 weeks after the May 3rd rocket attack, our unit was at 100%, able and proud to support our soldiers during the evacuation of Firebase Ripcord.

I worked 14 hours per day, 7 days per week. Put pilots in a Cobra I never saw again.  I moved our Cobras twice.  Once behind  A Company, 5th Trans hangers and once at A Troop, 2/17th Cav.

I created a hydraulic line that was need to get a Cobra on CCN at Quang Tri.
No one to this day has ever written a thank you. And only Lieutenant Craig Guess can vouch that this ever happened.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was people like Rich that keep everything running. 100% accurate. thanks Rich.

Craig Guess