Saturday, November 18, 2017

Khe Sanh - Killing is our business and business was good.

Since the Vietnam war was officially over on April 30, 1975, I think it is only fitting to work through the transitions which shaped the paths both I and the 101st Airborne Division went through to finally get back together.

1971 LAM SON 719

Here's the link to a good read on LAM SON 719.

There are battles such as Hamburger Hill and Ripcord which should have taught us not to use our radios to broadcast "were coming" in such a profound way that the enemy had tons of time to prepare its house warming party.

The enemy had been listening to radio chatter all the way through the US involvement and as far as I'm concerned that lack of understanding on our side was responsible for more American soldier's deaths than any other factor during the war.

Needless to say, having to stay at Phu Bai for a couple of days while Da Nang had to deal with a typhoon was enough time for me to notice a lot of ARVN troops being dropped off by C-130s.

In-other-words, something was up. I just didn't know what it was yet until Time Magazine in March of 1971 with a picture of F.Scott Fitzgerald was on the cover playing Patton in a movie.

AT Khe Sanh, the distinctive pump and whir of hundreds of helicopter rotor blades began at 7 a.m., even before the morning fog started to lift. 
Drowsy pilots walked out to their UH-1 Hueys and malevolent-looking OH-6 Cobra gunships, checked out the oil levels, the instruments and the control linkages, and then strolled back to their tactical operations centers. 
The call to combat came as it has almost every day since the Laotian operation began, well before mid morning. 
At the heavily sandbagged T.O.C. of the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery, 101st Airborne Division, blond, mustachioed Warrant Officer Fred Hayden, 27, set down his cup of tea and sprinted out onto the oil-soaked pad. 
Zipped into his brown flame-resistant flight suit, he had already scrambled into the front seat of his Cobra by the time Copilot Ronald Lee Walters, 22, clambered into the rear. 
Within two minutes the Cobra was bound for Fire Base Ranger on a hilltop eight miles inside Laos, where South Vietnamese troops were trying to fight off a North Vietnamese attack. 
Walters dipped the Cobra's nose and rolled out to the northwest. A set of scrambled alphabet letters came in over the T.O.C. radio, and Hayden pulled out his "Whiz Wheel" decoder to decipher the grid coordinates of his mission. 
As their chopper raced over the bomb-pocked Laotian countryside, a second Cobra pulled up alongside. Twenty minutes later, the Cobras arrived over a scene of total chaos. 
As Hayden and Walters carved circles in the sky several thousand feet above the fire-scarred hilltop, they watched errant rockets from choppers already on the scene blazing into friendly and enemy positions alike. 
Other ships, including Medevac Hueys, milled around the Ranger landing zone but were unable to penetrate the murderous curtain of fire. 
The pilots pushed the Cobra into a steep dive. Before they pulled up—at about 500 ft.—Walters had fired two pairs of 2.75-in. rockets into enemy positions. Diving again, Hayden let go with his 7.62-mm. mini gun against a pocket of North Vietnamese caught in the open near the perimeter wire. 
Terrified, the Communists scattered back into the tree line, leaving 15 bodies on the ground. There was another strike, then another and another, until Hayden had expended his entire 2,500-lb. load of ordnance. 
By noontime, he was back at Khe Sanh to refuel, rearm and wait for the next assignment. 
Hayden was lucky at Ranger, where, as he puts it, "nobody knew what was going on.'' In the week-long battle for the hilltop fire base, a number of U.S. helicopters were shot down, and more than a few of those that wobbled back to Khe Sanh were thoroughly shot up. 
Since the Laotian operation began on Feb. 8, the loss rate of U.S. helicopters —normally about one per 16,000 sorties —has quadrupled. So far during the Laos operation, Communist gunners have knocked out no fewer than 61 helicopters, about 10% of the fleet originally committed to Lam Son 719. 
More than 160 other birds have been brought down but later hauled back to their bases by other choppers. 
A total of 31 U.S. crewmen have been killed, 44 wounded, and ten listed as missing.

What caught my eye back in 1971 was:  "Killing is our business and business is good."

After that I couldn't stop laughing. Swiss cheese has less holes in it than this story. What did we do? promote the OH-6 to gunship?  I mean, yeah, I know the OH-6 can have a mini gun but when fired actually spins the OH-6 in the direction it fires.

But okay, the article did say gunship, so all is good. NOT!

Its an AH-1G Cobra. "This is my rifle, this is my gun.  This is for shooting, this is for fun." We learned, in a rather embarrassing way in basic training to distinguish between bullets and cum. I only wish the press could learn the difference between our artillery Cobras and our gunships.

Now, boys and girls of the press, repeat after me, "This is artillery and this is a gun. This supports ground troops and this kills for fun."


And if you are reading this for hysterical reasons, this is how it works. The infamous "gunship" scenario worked like this:

An OH-6 --light Observation Helicopter -- would buzz around near the ground in attempts to get shot at while two Cobras would be flying at 3000 feet in a holding pattern. If the OH-6 started getting shot at, it would pop smoke and pull straight up.  The Cobras would then roll in with their 30 calibers and mini guns and make mice meat of the area where the smoke grenade was dropped.

Our artillery AH-1G Cobras, on the other hand were configured in what was called the heavy hog configuration. Meaning, we carried 72 pairs of rockets -- 10 and 17 pound pairs-- and either two mini guns or two 40mm grenade launchers -- often referred to as "chunkers" or 1 of each.

The other distinction between the the 2/17th Cavalry and the 4/77th Field Artillery was the way each was painted. The Cavalry had red, white and blue color bands that wrapped around the back end of the tail boom.  The Artillery had red, white and blue arrows. Each had three units assigned to to them. That Cavalry were called troops and the Artillery were called Batterys.

So, it was, indeed, possible that three two minute sections could be brought to bear on a target if the concentration of enemy solders required it.   

This configuration placed a large damper on the amount of time we could be on station. Also, because our mission was to provide artillery support, the pilots were given grid coordinates and communicated with friendlies on the ground for further clarification on where they wanted the rockets to be fired for best effect and deadly force.

Due to the time constriction we had additional sections -- a section was 2 Cobras -- that were set to go into action at various time intervals: 5 minutes, 15 minutes and standby.  The most a section could stay above the target area was 15 minutes. But that was predicated on the distance away from a refueling point.

The farther away from a refueling point the less time we could spend above a target. Also, if the concentration of enemy forces on the ground were high enough that additional support was needed, not only could our pilots call in another section, they could also call in additional air support.from the Air Force.

What boggled my mind was the "god" like manner in which the story is written. Almost as though the author was writing a movie script and was flying with the Cobras.


Some idiot -- and we won't mention his name because we're too embarrassed to say it was one of ours -- duct taped himself to the belly of an OH-6 Cobra (or should that be AH-1G Cobra) and was killed by 1000 bullets (wait that's our killer bees story) to wit the pilots after landing said,

"Well, he saved our lives. A real hero in my books" and then while peering at the remains said,

"Somebody get a body bag."

Oh, I'm laughing way too hard.

Seriously, I don't know of any situation where we would take a civilian -- press included -- into a combat mission. It just doesn't happen. While I have been in the front seat of a Cobra myself taking pictures of rockets, mini gun rounds and 40mm gernades heading for ground zero, it was done during SERTS training at Camp Evans.

The press corps is pretty much kept out of harms way and allowed to interview the pilots before and after a combat mission. So the entire story is, well, fake news.


Okay, about 20 minutes away, the now promoted to SP4 wife of mine with her 96B20 intelligence Analyst MOS hears about the Army want some of the soldiers to come back to the flock and will give them back their old rank.

Civilian life sucked and so I joined back up for 3 more years.

No body really had a real job for me and being assigned to Headquarters at Fort Huachuca was politics on steroids so if you looked at someone the wrong way, you were told to look for another place to work. Took two for me to find a job I could stand for longer than 5 minutes.

The first, a desk jockey job working on Fort Huachuca's version of Army directives Fort Hucahuca style.

The second was working at the post museum.

But the 3rd stuck. I became the custodian of all the classified documents for the Fort Huachuca Emergency Operation Center. Per instructions, I downgraded 450 documents from classified to top secret. When done, there was an inspection and I got a letter of appreciation.

I was also there when 12 cars loaded with 500 pound bombs blew up just east of Benson, AZ. I believe it was the only time the EOC went operational. Knowing I was also a photographer, I volunteered to take images of the cleanup.

With my MOS -- per my request -- changed back to 67Y20, I also asked and got assigned to the 101st Airborne Division which was now back home at Fort Campbell, KY.

With my wife discharged from the military because she thought she was pregnant, I was really excited about being back with a real combat division.  But I wasn't going back to the 4/77th, I was on orders to be assigned to the 2/17th Cavalry. While a bit disappointing, it proved to be one of those cases where the impossible was made possible and a wonderful blessing in disguise.

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