When ordinary people are put into unusual situations and they and everyone around them survive, we call that camaraderie. When exceptional people are put into dire circumstances and everyone around them survive, we call that good leadership.
But when one person takes action -- risking life, limb and career progression for the good of everyone else despite the outcome on the person taking the action -- the impact of those actions change lives. We call that heroism.
Craig Geis took it to the next level.
Because, despite our differences in rank, upbringing and passion driven survival instincts, we were both hell bent on making the impossible happen.
Okay, so you're probably thinking, alright mister ego riding writer of this praise of Craig Geis, aren't you implying that the two of you are equal as one?
No. Which is why I've decided to add this additional information to point out the distinct differences.
Think of our "relationship" as me being a professional tackle who does his best job at protecting the quarterback. Who gets the glory for the touchdowns? The quarterback.
The famous MASH also had a character albeit fiction performing role. Radar was similar in many ways to my role as the clerk who kept the quirky officers and the Army system running smoothly despite the discord among the players.
But when someone mentions MASH, Hawk Eye or Hot Lips comes quickly to mind.
Unfortunately, stereotypes are also a form of prejudice. Things like rank, how many awards you have won, how much time in service, whether or nor you fit into a group smoothly and conditions such as whether or not you play into social expectations all fit into one concept.
So, when you don't fit into the mold, you find similar souls with similar conditions and you do your best to fit in.And I can tell you right now, if you had a GT score of over 100 and you have already been in the business of managing a flying club in High School, you have no business being an enlisted man or women.
Especially, when you organized a 30 person flight from Moorestown, NJ to Lock Haven, PA in private airplanes so that they could be given a tour of Piper Aircraft by Bill Piper Senior himself.
I still had to spend $120 of my own money to get the last three up there and Bill Piper was right, it did take an entire year of planning and, yes, it still tried to unravel at the end.
So, ya, I had my glory moments but, now, I'm thrown into a world of organized chaos where I have to play the game of being an enlisted. So, I got over it...for a while.
Then there are those who -- for want of a better way to describe it -- are driven by their genes. And that's where this story begins. The place where I or the gentleman I'm about to introduce you to got away with making the impossible, possible the insane, sane and the unbelievable, believable.
Because we are doers. Screw politics. Screw the system. Let's get the job done and go home in one piece.
We don't look pretty on TV or try to get credit for things we didn't do. But we do go above beyond the "what is expected of us" and we pray those around us don't sense our objectives before we got to "borrowed time" or the finish line.
Yes, I knew I was an enlisted soldier. Yes, I knew I had to play that position. No, it didn't mean that I was going to play it forever or after work hours no one cared about what I did or how I did it.
I had room to do what I wanted to do. That is what keep me going. All I really cared about. Craig Geis had a career. I had an expiration - term of service (ETS). So the overtime I did on the flight line at night, as much as it sounds in-congress, provided me with a sense of pleasure out of doing so.
I just didn't realize just how much the night time playing field was going to so important for both myself and Craig Geis and the future roles fate would have us working together in. We were players playing for keeps.
So hopefully, from all of what I just said, you know that my role was far different than his. And that what I'm going to cover from now on is only how we reacted to the events which we found ourselves in survival mode. Craig Geis the quarterback, me being a lineman.
One last thought before going into what really did happen. I have been a bit eerie about openning up and talking much about these incidents and not for the reasons you might think. Not because I was afraid of him or anything like that. But because the situations, as incredible as some might sound, did happen and they might have generated the wrong kind of image for both him and myself.
His nickname in Nam was "The Animal". How that nick name came about, I have no idea. But from my point of view, I didn't want to find out either.
We enlisted folks didn't come up with official nicknames for the officers. These were generally ordained by fellow officers. What I do know about him as an officer and a friend is that I would following him through hell and back without question.
Between meeting him in March of 1970 and today, this one tall man, now bald headed hunk of a guy has had more impact on me and my life than even my mother and father. He is a man of integrity and a man who wears his passion and his beliefs like body armor.
THE EVENTS THAT LED TO US MEETING FOR THE FIRST TIME
Basically, the story starts off like this:
- I hate being lied to
- I hate being told you are trained to do a job but can be assigned anywhere
- I hate being told while you are trained to be a Cobra mechanic, there's none to work on so your going to work on big fat ugly slicks or wash jeeps or mix kerosene with human waste and light it because you spoke out of hand.
I had the worse plate of pissed off you could have and there was no cure. At least, that was what I thought at the time.
So, I told my mother about washing trucks -- during the monsoon season -- and not having any work as a Cobra mechanic on Cobra helicopters.
I was just complaining to my mom...or so I thought. That letter went from my mother to my father to Congress and to the Pentagon and back down the chain of command. I was told to go find a job with a Cobra unit.
Guess my dad kind of forgot to mention the John Clark was in our family tree (Lewis and Clark).
But the part about the congressional, that didn't happen until a AH-1G Cobra actually did come to A Company, 5th Transportation with the results of a sudden stoppage and hard landing. On top of that,
there were only two of us qualified to work on it. Me and E-5 who was on special assignment.
For me, this was my chance to prove my skills as a helicopter mechanic and completely rebuild a AH-1G Cobra from the ground up on my own. So between me and TI-Joe -- that's what we called him -- I wrote up all the things need to be replaced and rebuilt it. Had some help from hydraulics and prop and rotor.
Replaced the tail section, engine, transmission, Swash Plate, Scissors and Selve assembly, the lolly pops and performed all of the nuts and bolts replacements by the book. TI-Joe signed off on everything including my safety wiring (which I'm pretty terrible at).
Took the entire slick crew an entire three days to go back over and look for problems. They found none. This got me a lot of respect from A Company, 5th Trans. Something that would help me later on. But more importantly,impressed he heck out of an E-8 by the name of Sergeant Solomon who begged me to stay and he would let me work on anything I wanted to work on.
I felt like a pissed off E-7 by the name of Sergeant Valentine -- still talking stink about my encounter with an IBM punch card reader -- that basically ate the 21 punch cards like breakfast cereal -- was a historical disaster.
What I didn't realize at the time -- despite the fact that I proved my ability to literally rebuild a Cobra from the ground up -- that same certain E-7 was to transfer over to the same unit I, too, was about to become part of.
This particular E-7 was the reason why I decided to transfer in the first place.
Had I known this, I most likely would have taken up Master Sergeant Salomon's pleading request for me to stay.
As a mechanic, yeah, I am that good.
I actually watched that AH-IG Cobra come over to the refueling point for refueling. The perfection left me in awe and amazement.
As a helper in the computer area, I crashed and burned.
But, then, there would be no story here and besides, life probably would not have been so much fun!
So, I arrive, get assigned a hooch and go to formation the next morning. To my rather shocked surprise, there he -- SFC Valentine! -- was and there I was assigned to trash truck detail for an undisclosed and much undesirable length of time.
Do you know how much C-4 the infantry soldiers threw away!!!? I figured if the stuff compacted together in large wad of C-4, there would be a crater in the ground 5 feet deep and 20 feet across!
And that was just one day!
Despite the fact that one of the prettiest French\Vietnamese girls I had ever seen was between me and the driver -- I even entertained taking that beauty home with me -- it was the fact that what I had just accomplished with a Cobra and the look of amazement on Sergeant Soloman had on his face, I knew I had to talk to someone about a course correction on my career.
So, I talked to LT Craig Geis.
He was taller than most officers in our Battery. And he listened to my story. Little did he or I realize it at the time -- regardless of what our true intentions were -- him wanting a desk jokey for his operations section and me wanting a Crewchief job -- I doubt very seriously that either one of us had any idea as to what April of 1970 to July of 1970 had in store for either one of us.
We did, in fact, have an uncharted and certainly not planned Rendezvous With Destiny.
While that sounds quite dramatic, the story lines about to follow are as true as I can make them.
And we both didn't have much of a choice in what was about to expire.
SECOND WEEK IN APRIL
This was actually a pivot point. The Army sent down orders to change the split cone tail rotor bearings on our AH-1G Cobras to a modified solid version of the bearings. These failed and everyone had to go back to the originals. Only problem is, there wasn't enough of them to go around.
In order for us to be combat ready, we had to have enough AH-1G Cobras flyable. We were one short. There was a bit of convincing on my part that I knew where I could find a pair despite the fact that there weren't any around.
"Okay," began Lt Craig Geis, "Take the jeep and get us this pair you claim you can get but don't come back if you can't."
What they didn't know is another fellow helicopter mechanic who worked on slicks had a pair of Cobra push pull bearings in his pocket. And when I asked him why he was carrying around Cobra bearings instead of Huey bearings, he said, "Because someday, someone might need them."
Either this guy was a Soothe Sayer or he knew something was coming that I didn't know about. Either way, I got them from him.
Well, I did come back and with a pair of AH-1G split cone tail rotor bearings. You should have seen the look on their faces. I'd pay a thousand bucks for that one image!
BEFORE GOING ON R&R
I was tasked by LT Craig Geis to polish off the white paint from a 17 pound 2.75 inch white phosphorus round that would be used to celebrate the 200,000 round fired in Vietnam.
This was one I had a bit of fun with SFC Valentine. He came into the hooch where I was working on this round, remarked on how well it looked and asked how many times I had turned it. Knowing that after 230 turns in the same direction --I always went back and forth --, I said, "I don't know Sergeant Valentine. I stopped counting after 230.
It was the second time I've seen a man turn pasty white and the first time I saw one walk slowly backwards and out of my site.
The day before I left, the round was spray painted with the numbers, put into its container and placed in the back of our hanger.
Coming back from R&R in Japan, as the C-130 turned over Camp Eagle on final, I looked down in horror at the mess that used to be B Battery. There was nothing but total destruction on and around our El Toro pad.
No hanger, no choppers, smoke coming out of our Tactical Operations Center. My mind instantly went into guilty mode. I honestly believed I was responsible for the mess I saw below because my round actually did blow up in the back of the hanger.
I was half temped to stay on the C-130.
As it turned out Charlie Con was responsible for the mayhem. And I was about to become responsible for rebuilding it. LT Craig Geis gave me a jeep, a PR77 radio with an antenna on it, handed me a CEOI and told me to "Beg, borrow and steal anything you can find that will get us back up and functional...NOW!"
I'm over at A Company, 5th Trans supply with a laundry list of parts and supplies we desperately need to start the rebuilding when I hear Divarty sending us a Fire Mission, we all looked surprised. I believe one of the people in the supply area remarked, "This is crazy, You guys are officially stood down."
And as my butt was in motion towards my jeep, I said, "Yeah, I know."
Two minute later, on an ink black Pad, you could see men running and people yelling. LT. Jeffery Johns had already fired up the turbine and was off the ground in seconds without a front seat.
CPT Winfrey yelled at me to help get his front seat into the other Cobra. I remember telling him that I would buy him a Coke when he got back, saw him smile, closed the pilot's canopy window and got out of the way.
I went back over to A Company, 5th Trans and thought nothing but my parts and supplies until I heard LT Jeffery John's voice over the radio. I went down to Da Nang with this gentleman and we talked back and forth. I also went over to the Air Force building where is father worked and pretty much could sense when something was wrong. He sounded pretty shook up.
I headed back to the flight line.
I have a tendency to not knock on doors. Especially when its supposed to be our Tactical Operations Center. What I saw were men in tears and our CO talking to Johns. The CO yelled "Get him out of here."
I left on my on and LT Craig Geis followed.
"I take it you know what happened, " he began. "Are you okay?"
I sighed, "Under the circumstances, a bit numb but okay,"
"Good," he continued, "I am giving you a direct order to get LT Johns down in one piece, wait for him to turn off the engine and if he begins filling out paperwork, get him out of the helicopter by force if you have to and get him over to our medial dispensary, wait on him and bring him back."
"Your call sign is 13ECHO."
Well, I did get him down and he really got mad when I threatened to pull him out of the chopper and he yelled at me to and from the medial dispensary.
LT Geis greeted me after I brought LT Johns back. He said, "Go get some sleep, I'll tell Sergeant Valentine to not bother you in the morning."
If you have never been dead asleep and someone kicks the crap out of your cot, you can pretty well imagine my mental condition when I'm staring at a PFC with a killer look.
"Sergeant Valentine wants you up at his formation now."
As my wife can tell you, I am in no mood to be talked to for the first ten minutes after I wake up.
This was no exception. In fact, this was beyond no exception.
"Tell Sergeant Valentine to go get F***ed."
Wasn't a good career move on my part.
With the Adrenalin kicked in to overdrive, I could hear SFC Valentine say, "He said WHAT???" With everyone in formation laughing.
He turned around as I approached and said, "You go report to the First Sergeant, I'm going to have you Court Martialed."
That didn't exactly work out for him. First Sergeant listened to SFC Valentine, then looked at me. Told SFC Valentine to get out of his office. Then turned his stare at me, "PFC and future SP4 Edwards, I know what you did last night. They are putting you in for some awards. But you ever tell one of my senior NCOs to go get F***ed again and your a** is mine. Get out of my orderly room.
I never did see those awards he was talking about. But not getting Court Martialed was good enough.
"PFC future SP4 Edwards how is your rapport with A Company, 5th Trans?" asked LT Craig Geis.
"Well, they like my war stories and I'm still remembered as the Cobra mechanic who rebuilt a Cobra all on his own. What do you want to me to do?"
"Take these been bag landing lights over there and get permission to land a section there. Once done, drive back over here and I'll get the Cobras in the air. Do what you did with LT Johns and guide them in. Bring them back over here."
"You are to take our 2 minute section over to B Troop, 2/17th Cavalry. If the Operations Officer gives you any push back, you tell the Operations Officer that you have been given a direct order from DIVARTY to land them there. Bring the pilots back here after they have shut down and the blades are tied down."
I never bothered to ask if these direct orders were a bluff or not.
Well, I think his response was, "You aren't landing those Cobras over here, We don't want incoming on our pad."
I then told him about the direct order from Divarty and that got the approval. I then talked the pilots down to my location by blinking my lights and brought the pilots back over to our pad.
MIDDLE OF JUNE
After weeks and weeks of finding parts, supplies and all the Army paperwork to get us back up and totally operational, Lt Craig Geis after seeing a couple of our Cobra pilots fly their choppers like they were landing fixed wing planes, he decided that both he and I needed to go to A Company, 5th Trans for a seek and find heavy duty skid pads.
The mission was simple enough: I kept the supply personnel busy while LT Craig Geis was in the back of the supply room quietly procuring the extra duty skid pads.
This proved to be anything but quietly procuring. A rather loud commotion was heard -- guess they didn't nick name him "Animal" for nothing.
To wit I remarked, "Damn monkeys".
That made the supply personnel laugh and none of them got up to find out what the commotion was. I then did a bit of wheeling and dealing and put the pads in the back seat of the jeep.
I picked up Lt. Craig Geis on the far side of the building and gave him a look that said my thoughts of that really went well.
"Sir, look in the back seat."
Once while trying down one of our 2 minute section Cobras, I noticed that the engine would turn along with the direction I pulled the rotor blade. Normally, the two should be free wheeling, so it concerned me.
"Sir, I'm not sure this is normal." And I showed him what was happening when I went back and forth with the rotor blade.
"Looks normal to me," he said and then looked at the engine. Something I hadn't seen. One of the exhaust stationary blades was missing. The engine had FOD or foreign object damage.
Driving CPT Denny Kramp and LT Craig Geis over to Eagle Beach was like driving two kids willing to bash each other with the combat helmets. I could help laughing.
To wit, CPT Kramp said, "You keep your eyes on the road, soldier."
I could have charged admission the two were totally hilarious.
To earn an air medal, you had to log 25 hours of flight time. So, we were volunteered to take flights with various sundry missions. I went up in an OH-6 and the pilot in command told me he was going to Firebase T Bone. After landing at T Bone, the pilot realized he landed on a hot LZ and said something about "coming" and in a blink of an eye, he was gone.
I'm sitting in a chopper at flight idle while watching white puffs of smoke going up and wasn't sure what was going on.
The pilot and the ARVNs had a good laugh at me sitting in the chopper. After he buckled back in and plugged back in his mike, "Didn't you hear what I said?"
"I said incoming."
Today, thinking back at that moment, all I had to do is cut my finger on a piece of metal and I would have been awarded a Purple Heart.
"Oh," I said, "that's what those white puffs of smoke were from."
LT Craig Geis asked me to create a hydraulic replacement line for one the took a bullet and then fly up to Quang Tri and replace the line. We supported Command and Control North (CCN) there and it was the first time I was that far north. Took all of about 15 minutes to replace the line and we were headed back home.
END OF JUNE
The only thing left to do is help finish off the new hanger with the Sea Bees and then organize the areas where we will be performing the work.
We have a new Transportation CO who replaced CPT Denny Kramp. The new CO asked my what my job was and I told him what I had been doing. Looking over at LT Craig Geis, he asked if we really needed me to perform that task any longer and Lt Craig Geis looked at me with that look that said it was time to move on.
RIPCORD, WHY ARE YOU WHISPERING, INCOMING, AND MY NEW ASSIGNMENT
So, LT Craig Geis suggested that I become the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery (AFA) stringer.
WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
I didn't know F Stop from shutter speed. So, I borrowed an ASHI Pentax book from CW2 Fred Capo and started my career as a writer and photographer from there. I don't think Fred ever got his book back although our paths crossed once at the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division and again at Fort Campbell when we were assigned to the 2/17th Cavalry.
Feeling guilty about the book, I gave Fred my coveted AH-IG Cobra tie that Bell Helicopter (TEXTRON) gave me for all the work I had done as a writer and photographer. Without his book, my photography work may not have been as quick to turn from unpublished to published.
Meanwhile back at Camp Eagle. We had a few things to worry about:
One, we were about to support one of the last US Army conflicts in the history of the Vietnam War.
Two, in doing so, we were about to get some unwanted feedback from Charlie Con.
Three, I was about to get assigned to Headquarters Company, 4/77th as the battalion stringer...whatever that meant.
At this point, our unit was totally ready and capable of supporting any mission requiring up close and personal artillery support any of our troops and the ARVNS needed on the ground.
We had no idea that what took two gusty soldiers two months to rebuild would also be tested on one of the biggest, baddest confrontations between the The United States and the NVA.
The evacuation of Firebase Ripcord had us scrambling for almost an entire month. The Battalion had 36 AH-1G Cobra helicopters -- we owned 12 of them and between the 19th of July to the 23rd of July our Cobras were there doing what we were designed to do and we were doing what had to do, non-stop:
Provide our friendly forces within 10 to 15 meters worth of sure kill protection.
For us, the war was on!
WHY ARE YOU WHISPERING?
I was back over at A Company, 5th Trans closing the books so to speak when I heard one of our pilots having a conversation with some ARVNs on the ground. It went something like this:
"Roger, understand you have an estimated 208 enemy soldiers held up in straw huts out in front of you. Please identify yourself.
"Roger, will verify who you say you are. "
"Roger, we're confirming that right now. Why are you whispering?"
Replying back in a likewise whisper. "Roger, is this better? Can you still here me?"
Want to bet where I was in less than 2 minutes? Below is an image taken that day:
Lt Craig Geis had this incredible knack for pulling his little 8mm camera and taking images when no one was looking. The picture above was one of those moments. Aside from me running back and forth with rockets in my hand, this image also shows what I believe was the Battalion Commander about to replace one of the pilots.
It is not very often that we have a fire mission where literally every helicopter is on station. But if you look around from where this image was taken, there isn't a Cobra one on the pad.
We got a confirmed kill count of 208 NVA. One of the largest single day kill count for our Battalion through the Vietnam War and this was added to the total kill count of 418 during the siege for Firebase Ripcord.
Around 2pm I headed over to the Recreational Services Photo Lab. I had some black and whites I wanted to develop. As I walked over to the Photo Lab, I saw an officer walking along the the tar paper covered pallets and yelled to him if it was okay to take his picture. He stopped, put his hands on his hips and waited for me to take his picture. I developed that image and then realized who it was.
It was General Sidney B Berry.
A General I would soon get to know very personally.
I finished up my development and printing and began the mile trek back over to my unit. It was around 5pm and I heard a familiar sound of incoming rockets. But these didn't come close to landing inside Camp Eagle.
Never-he-less, the sirens went off and I started running back over to the unit.
I found LT Craig Geis honking his horn at an empty hootch..
"Sir, I'm right here."
"Where the hell have you been? Your supposed to be driving me around the inside perimeter."
Like I know when the NVA. I ran inside the hooch and grabbed my TA 50 gear. LT Craig Geis drove me around and not the other way. I think he was trying to embarrass me.
After he calmed down, "Sir, I don't think those were the last of the incoming rounds. This just doesn't make any sense. Not only did they over shoot Camp Eagle almost any time we've gotten attacked, it was early in the morning or between 2 and 3 in the afternoon."
"I'll keep the jeep over in front of my hooch just in case you are right."
Just about 9pm, thee rounds came in. I waited until for almost a solid 3 minutes before lurching out the door and running over to the jeep.
Know that saying that it is the one you don't see or hear that kills you? Well, I almost didn't hear the last one come in. Saw the red flash and felt the heat. It hit just behind one of out Cobras. Knocked my on my butt.
This time I was in the jeep waiting for him. LT Craig Geis came out of his hooch with his sleeping bag over his head. "Man that was close, where did it hit."
"Sir, I'll show you exactly where it hit."
A few minutes later, I did. Warrant Officer Joe Maxim was shoveling dirt on the JP4 when our CO cam out and asked where that last round hit. We pointed to the hole and as he smelled the JP4, he went from smile to rage, threw down his helmet and shouted some expletives that Charlie Con could have heard six clicks away.
Two days later, the stricken Cobra was sling loaded off of our pad. LT Craig Geis asked me to get him a white smoke grenade. I came back with an incendiary. He wasn't too pleased with my humor.
On the day I transferred, the CO called me and LT Craig Geis into his office and pulled out a cigar box. Stamped on the top of the box was B BATTERY'S FIRST AID KIT FOR AH-G COBRAS.
I started cracking up. Both looked at me as to ask what was so funny. And I said, "Sorry Sirs, but after all that we have gone through, a bit of humor just hits the spot."
The laughter got louder from all of us.
It climaxed with me saying, "Okay, so where's the paper clips?"
After regaining my composure, I stood at attention, saluted and said, "Sirs, it has been a pleasure working with you."
They saluted me back and I left the COs office.
That was also the last I saw of LT Craig Geis in country.
When you are young, there's two things true that I think we all are guilty of. We want to believe we have some sort of control over our futures and we absolutely take things more seriously than we should.
This is from Craig's article: A view from an Officer's perspective:
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.
Me, in Craig's shoes, I would of told that jerky PFC off and forced him to recognize my rank with a sir. Damn bean counters.
But that's not why I added this piece of his story with his. I did this because it shows I was not the only one who was promised one thing and when the disappointment if the lie is realized, you find yourself accepting the truth:
In the Army regardless of rank, they can do anything they want and you can't do a damn thing about it.
The strange thing about acceptance of unexpected fate, you've got no where to go but up and become a force to be reckoned with. That's the way I see Craig Geis: A legend in his own time.
POST VIETNAM NOTE
This is a picture of me and my daughter in front of an Apache. She is a Material Science Engineer and worked for Boeing in Mesa, AZ. She also worked on the Dream Liner up in Redmond, WA.