VIETNAM MEMORIES
Your contributed stories and photos
       We Saw Pink Elephant
          By   Bob  Whaley 

          As an observation and low altitude reconnaissance pilot with Marine Observation Squadron Six at Quang Tri Combat  Base, I had the primary mission of working with troops in contact (combat with enemy units) and the coordination and control of artillery, air and  naval gunfire in support of that  mission.  My sector of responsibility was the very northwest corner of South Vietnam; to the north was North Vietnam, to the west was Laos.  I was flying the new OV-10A  low altitude reconnaissance, light attack twin engine turbo prop aircraft armed with 2.75 and 5 inch Zuni rockets and four 7.62mm machine guns.  My sector included the infamous but abandoned Khe Sanh air field and fire support base.  The terrain included low, rolling hills to the west of Khe Sanh that fell off gently towards Laos, but to the northeast, the terrain rose abruptly with jungle-covered mountains, the highest of which we called Tiger Mountain.  Though I wanted for a long time to fly over this magnificent area, it was rare we could ever do so because even on clear days the clouds lingered and were constantly forming and obstructing the mountain, due to the very humid climate and its 5300 foot elevation.
        I will always vividly remember this one day.  I had a newly assigned young aerial observer (A/O) lieutenant, (a combat experienced infantry officer who had  just extended his tour of duty to fly with us) who was in my rear cockpit.  It was a routine recon/observation mission looking for enemy movement in the myriad road and trail networks leading down from North Vietnam and across from Laos, often referred to as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  After flying over Khe Sanh, I glanced over at Tiger Mountain.  It was almost totally clear.  I told my lieutenant that he was really in luck.  I had been flying up here for eight months awaiting the chance to have a good look at the mountains and waterfalls that were alleged to hold great beauty and majesty.  They surely were everything I had hoped to see; high cascading waterfalls, thick lush jungle, beautiful rock outcroppings.  My lieutenant called out “Look Major… at our 9 o’clock low, in the opening, near the falls…. elephants.”  I rolled the aircraft abruptly to the left, and gazed down on a herd of 8-10 elephants, including several calves, one of which appeared to be nursing from its mother.  The lieutenant exclaimed, “I don’t believe it, they’re all pink.”  I told him that since elephants love to wallow and roll and the soil is predominantly red clay, they would probably have a pinkish hue. His next comment bothered me but I somehow expected it.  He asked if we were going to shoot them ourselves or call in an artillery fire mission.  I told him that I realized in this hostile sector where there are no known friendly personnel, that beasts of burden, like elephants and water buffalo, are often used as pack animals by the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong, and as such are to be destroyed since they often figure into their logistics network, which he obviously knew.  I added, however, that we were quite far removed from any known strategic trail or road networks or enemy sightings as reported by aircraft or Marine Force Reconnaissance  patrols and that the poor elephants have probably finally found a safe haven from this crazy war and deserve to be left alone.  “But major, we’re supposed to”,  I interrupted him and said,  “We’re not reporting this and if I hear of anyone asking about this or word gets out and some trigger-happy  SOB goes looking for them, I’ll have you over to see the flight surgeon and you can explain the pretty pink elephants you saw and which I’ll totally deny.”  I said, “Let’s be realistic.  If I thought destroying that family of elephants would change the outcome of this war, I’d strongly reconsider my decision, but since they are not pack animals, no sign of pack marks, no easy access to their location, we let them be.  Do you understand?”  A formal, yes sir was the response.  We took another pass over them.  The old bull was rolling on his back with all four legs in the air.  The lieutenant exclaimed, “that’s  just what my dog likes to do”.  My point was made and accepted.
Since we didn’t always fly with the same observer, it was several days later before I saw him again.  It was at night.  He was at a table in our makeshift officers’ club sitting with other observers and pilots.  He had had a few beers and was quick to catch my attention with a sly grin and a big  thumbs up.  I knew our little pact was honored, our secret safe.  
A week later I knew it would be honored forever.  He was killed along with his pilot.  At least we hopefully let something live on in that war that destroyed so much.
“WE  ARE  DEFINED  BY  NOT  ONLY  WHAT  WE CREATE….BUT  BY  WHAT  WE REFUSE TO  DESTROY.”

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MARINE OBSERVATION SQUADRON SIX (VMO-6)

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Marine Observation Squadron Six antecedents reach back to the 1920 activation of Flight E, 3d Air Squadron at Quantico, Virginia.  At that time, its aircraft inventory consisted of six biplanes and the sole mission of the squadron was observation, the gathering of battlefield intelligence.  During the period immediately preceding its introduction into Southeast Asia in September 1965, the squadron acquired the new UH-1E (Huey) helicopter and it took on the additional missions of utility transport, armed escort, and close-in fire support.  In August 1965, the squadron left its home at Camp Pendleton, California aboard the U.S.S. Princeton, bound for Ky Ha and the new helicopter base near the Marine Corps jet base at Chu Lai in the Republic of Viet Nam. 

By late September, VMO-6 was operatioin in support of both South Viet Nam and U.S. Marine ground units.  The squadron's main tasks were acting as gunship escorts for transport helicopters and maintaining a 24-hour medical evacuation alert.  Occasionally, the VMO-6 gunships would be called upon to strike enemy emplacements and troops, and the pilots would serve as airborne forward air controllers, directing fixed-wing aircraft in attacks on enemy targets.  Another "popular" mission of the VMO-6 "Klondikers" was the emergency extraction of reconnaissance teams that had come under enemy fire and were in immediate danger of being overrun and annihilated.  These missions frequently took place at night and under adverse weather conditions.  One such mission occurred during the evening of January 30, 1967. 

First Hand Account:
I had just returned to Vietnam after a one-month extension leave. This was my first night back in the air. It was another night TAOR hop over Da Nang. There had been incoming from the southwest that night.

Our two aircraft launched at about 0100. My aircraft was VS-18, flying wing to the lead bird at about 3000 ft. over by Hill 327 when the med-evac H-34 came out of our 10 o'clock level. It had no running lights illuminated. My pilot, Capt. Ted Cieplik, instinctively yanked the bird up and to the right just in time for the H-34 to crash into our belly and skids, knocking off our skids, the right rocket pod, and the shrapnel from his blades knocking out our tail rotor servo, the radios, the fuel cell, the gunner's M-60, severely damaging his hand. We had to have taken off his rotor head. The Master Caution panel lit up like a Christmas tree and the RPM warning lite & alarm came on. For approximately 15 - 20 seconds the bird flopped around the sky like a fish out of water before Capt. Cieplik regained some control. He immediately started a long, slow, left-hand, reduced-power descent to try to get us back to Marble Mountain airbase but we knew the bird wouldn't stay up that long. 

Da Nang airbase was closer but it was closed at night. With no radios, he instructed the co-pilot to lower the landing light and by clicking the button on and off transmit a visual S-O-S to the tower in Morse code. We came over the end of the runway in a slight yaw but as soon as my pilot pulled pitch, the bird began to spin. He dumped the collective at about 20 feet from the ground and we "augured in" at about 60-80 kts. It was a "hard landing" to say the least as we spun around and around finally coming to a stop on a taxiway. We shut down all electrical power and bailed. I got the co-pilot out and Capt. Cieplik helped out my wounded gunner. I jettisoned the left hand rocket pod and rolled it away from the bird. There was a rapidly growing puddle of hydraulic fluid and fuel coming from under the bird. I was really worried about a fire but the Da Nang Crash Crew was on us "most riki-tik" and foamed everything.

It wasn't until we got back to Marble that we learned of the loss of the 34 crew. We were really lucky and the other crew was not. Our hearts were heavy, numb. I still feel for them - to this day. My heart goes out to their families for their loss. This mission is burned into my memory. I re-live it every once in a while without humor. I had other "bad" missions but none like this. 

It was my one and only mission with Capt. Cieplik. I wanted to put him in for a DFC for his incredible skills, cool head, and airmanship but I got dinged the next day and shipped back to the States. I was told that he had been a 34 driver and just recently trained to be a Huey driver. No matter what, he saved us all.

KIA from HMM-363 MAG-1634:  Capt Johnnie Garner; 1stLt William Elmore Jr; Cpl Clarence Gunther Jr; and LCpl William McGee IV.

Semper Fi, Brothers.   Submitted by Ed Hart, UH-1E crew chief involved in mid-air crash
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Col Nelson was the first Skipper of VMO-6 in Vietnam.  I am privileged to say that Art Friend is not only a squadron mate, but a friend. [no pun intended) TC

THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE UNPUBLISHED MEMOIRS OF COL JOSEPH AUSTIN NELSON:
 
"11.  VMO-6 at KyHa, Vietnam (the Klondikers) 1966-1967
          As C.O., I was “Klondike-6”
          After completing the camp building project at KyHa to the standards set by the group C.O. (Col. Vic Armstrong), he gave me command of VMO-6.  This would be my last squadron that I would command.  After 25 years of active duty, and approaching the age of 48, I was older than most of the parents of the officers and men in my squadron. 
          I was particularly delighted to get the HU-1E Gunship Squadron because I had brought the first HU-1Es into the Marine Corps three years earlier, when I had commanded VMO-1 at New River.  I had been a fighter pilot for most of the past twenty-five years, and had flown combat in Grummond Wild Cats and Corsairs, and AD-4’s and anything else with a propeller on it and jet fighters.  And now, I would have the gunships which in many ways were like the old fighter planes in close ground support of the troops in combat in WWII and Korea, and I’d have the opportunity to teach all fifty of my young pilots the special use of close air (and fixed wing) support I'd learned in WWII and Korea. 
          At least half of my pilots were qualified as TACA’s and I now had the opportunity to instill in them the value of fixed-wing air in the Marine Corps close-support concepts and how to use it effectively.  We had excellent communications in the HU-1E, as did the fixed-wing pilots, so one of the biggest problems in the past was now solved.  We could communicate clearly with the ground troops and with fixed-wing air, as well as with other helicopters.  I taught my pilots how to utilize fixed-wing air in ways never to endanger the friendlies, and maximize the effects of their ordinance, Napalm, being one of my favorites, since I could use it closer in, parallel to the friendly lines.  All these goodies were only minutes away from the hot pad at Chu-Lai.  Just give them a TACAN bearing and distance and they were overhead, ready to roll in hot in minutes, where ever or whatever the situation.  The most amazing thing about the fixed-wing close air support in Vietnam was that nearly 100% of all bombs I called on targets were bulls-eyes from the fixed winged jets. 
          I don’t remember this kind of professional accuracy in the crowds I flew with in the days of the old fixed-wing birds, even though we tried hard.  Many times in Vietnam I called in jet air support, telling them that I had friendlies close by on each side of the target, that a miss would endanger friendlies, and if they did not feel good about the run, to take it around.  They never failed me even once in these combat situations, and not once did we endanger our ground troops with fixed-wing fire support during my entire tour with this squadron.  We found that we were ideally suited to be the eyes for the fixed-wing birds, which was a very comforting thing for them to know exactly what the situation was, as well as their BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment).
          In VMO-6, I had fifty young pilots, and about a hundred dedicated young enlisted troops on the side guns.  Most of my plane captains were lads only eighteen or nineteen years old.  They were the most loyal Marines I had known in any war.  All of these plane captains insisted on flying as side door gunners whenever their plane flew.  Most of the planes in my squadron flew approximately ten hours a day, usually under enemy fire.  These young men would work at night to maintain their birds, sometimes going without sleep or even food until the plane was ready to go again, and when it launched, they were in the side door with their M-60 Machine guns as well as another young man in the other door. 
          At KyHa we were fortunate in that the enemy-harassing rockets were never fired at our base.  I figured that this was probably due to a huge secondary explosion of rocket fuel about fifteen miles west of our base.  I had called in an F-4 on NVA troops in that area, and the bomb had actually hit the right guide of the NVA formation.  When a "grave" exploded, about 100 meters away, it was like a launch from Cape Canaveral, which burned like solid rocket fuel about 200 feet high in the air, and about 30 feet in diameter for nearly two minutes!  So, we figured this was the rocket fuel they had stored for those harassment rockets for our area.  DaNang and PhuBai areas had nightly problems with incoming rockets, which affected their ability to work at night on their planes.  So, their availability at times was low.  My squadron, however, was able to maintain at least twenty-three birds flying every day, for an average of more than five thousand combat hours each month.
          The loyalty and hard work, patriotism and dedication of every man in VMO-6, was the greatest thing I had known in my entire career.  What a privilege it was to work with these lads each day, regardless of the dangers of combat.  I never had to ask for volunteers to go with me on dangerous missions.  One, Lance Corporeal Arthur Friend, age eighteen, from Louisiana, was typical.
          On a dark and stormy night about 0100, I was working through all the paperwork in my VMO-6 office, when an emergency call came in from Crankcase 3 with First Recon (a nine-man team) saying that they were surrounded by a large enemy force and under heavy fire.  They were surrounded by unknown enemy numbers out near Ho Chi Min's trail over in the mountains to the west.  (We kept a special radio in our ready room to hear the whispers of the Recon Teams when they were in trouble, to expedite our help.) 
          As I went out to get in my airplane, it was one that had been shot up several days before, and the loyal young Lance Corporal about 18 years old who was the plane captain, was there, and he helped me strap in, ready to "go to war."  He was an unusually sharp young man, gifted with common sense, and a dead-eye shot with his M-60 in the side door.  This young man had voluntarily worked on the plane for two days and two nights without relief or sleep, patching the holes and cleaning the plane up getting it ready.  I don't know if the lad had even stopped for food.  His eyes were red, and he looked fatigued. 
          I told the OPS officer to get me another man to take his place with the side door machine gun, because this was going to be a very dangerous night, and he probably wouldn’t be able to survive if we went down out there in enemy country.  So I asked for a replacement for him on the side door.  As we hurriedly got ready for takeoff, I was making the last minute checks in the right seat (which is first pilot for helicopters) when the young plane captain with blood shot eyes came over and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Skipper, he’s got to whip my fanny to take my place.  It’s my plane.  I fix it, I’ll fly."
          I said to my co-pilot, “We have about two-hundred of these here in our Band of Brothers in VMO-6, and each one is special to me.” I told the lad, “O.K., get in, and let’s go to war.”  It was about 0130 when we took off.  I was kind of glad to have that youngster with me because this mission was considered life or death for the Recon Team, and he could be trusted in his orientation never to endanger the friendlies, so I could allow him to have “free guns” on his side.  Such was the case with the loyalty of every man in my squadron. 
          The weather was down to the ground and pouring down rain.  We had to proceed under a low hanging ceiling along with the CH-46 rescue helicopter.  In order to get there, we had to go down a dry riverbed in the mountains, at about 50 feet altitude, to stay under the low hanging ceiling.  After arriving at the Re-con team, the CH-46 had to hover in the tree tops to lift each man out by cable.
          I circled the CH-46 in a right hand turn, and let the side gunner spray the area around the team below to discourage the enemy from their intent.  I circled as close to the hovering CH-46 as I could get to be able to draw the enemy fire, which would help the CH-46 to survive in its hover, and my side gunner would strafe in an arc as we circled.  The clouds overhead were practically in the tree tops also!  When he’d run out of ammunition, the right-hand gunner would furnish him more ammo.  L/Cpl. Friend was able to quiet the enemy down with his M-60 and made the rescue possible.  On the way out, we had to go up the dry riverbed, the way we had come in, and then cross a 400-foot ridge that was now enshrouded in clouds.  This made for an anxious several minutes until we could let down on the other side over the rice paddies, hoping to get back in the clear from the storm.  Fortunately, we had approximately fifty-feet of ceiling over the rice paddies near the coast, and completed our homeward bound journey. And so we brought them home safely, regardless of the weather.         
          There were many such emergency evacuations that Art Friend joined me as my side gunner.  On another trip, when we got back, I looked the plane over, and there was a big patch of blood near the left door.  I asked Friend about it, and why he didn’t tell me that he had been hit.  He said he was hit earlier in the day, and that the bullet had cut about a two-inch gash in the right cheek of his fanny.  He said that would be his fourth “Purple Heart” and he did not want anybody to know about it because four Purple Hearts would cause him to be transferred from combat.  He said, “Besides, Skipper, I knew you needed me.”
          That 18 year old boy retired from the Marine Corps as a Lt.Col. about 1995.  He came to see me to tell me, "Farewell."  Art Friend is his name, a Cajun from Louisiana.  I attended his Retirement party which was down at Captain Rex's Restaurant in Morehead City, N.C.  I noticed his uniform still bore his four Purple Hearts from VMO-6 along with a chest full of combat ribbons from Vietnam.  Art Friend had not wanted to tell me about his fourth Purple Heart, because he was afraid that I'd send him home.  I now realize that this command was the greatest privilege and challenge of my entire thirty-two years in my Marine Corps career.  I've come to realize what I'd been told by an old-timer named Col. Chesty Puller, that the place for the leader is out front.
          The UH-1E came into the Marine Corps to my command in 1962 when I had VMO-1 at New River, N.C.  This helicopter, as compared to the old fixed-wing type operation aircraft of previous wars was notable.  This opened up a world of new capabilities as described in these stories.  Hundreds of lives were saved because of this particular aircraft and its capability in war.  All my squadron ultimately became TACAs and so, we dealt in all the fire fights in our TAOR.  We actually flew about 100 combat missions each day, sometimes more in the Vietnam War.
          Quite often we'd leave early in the morning on a mission, then refuel and re-arm at the nearest field depo, and be ready to answer another emergency call the same day.  Most times we came home after dark with not a dry stitch on our clothes from all day on the battlefields.  Even my bravest sidegunners would tend to choke up when wounded ground troops would come to our squadron to say, "Thank you for saving my life!"  This was all made possible by the amazing capability of the UH-1E (HUEY) Helicopter.  We maintained an availability of about 23 of our 24 airplanes each day.  Our crews were made up of four men:  pilot, co-pilot and two side-gunners with M-60 Machine Guns.  (We had four forward firing M-60s in front, and two pods of white phosphorus rockets primarily to mark targets for the fixed wing aircrafts.)  In many squadrons, various crew members were affected by combat fatigue.  We did not have this problem in VMO-6 during the tenure of my command with them.  Despite the restrictions put upon us by MacNamara in D.C., our forces had won every battle, over all the ten years of the war!  Many of our troops lost their lives because of the restrictions placed upon us like having your hands tied behind your back!  We were all confident of victory, all through this war, until DOD gave it away by ordering us out (to cut and run) in 1973! 
          When various troops (Army, Navy and Marines) came back to San Francisco, getting off the ships or airplanes, the bands of hippies were there, demonstrating in very vulgar ways and language against us.  We were asked for volunteers to form a platoon to march in the streets to block them off.  When we insisted about doing it with fixed bayonets or swords, they declined our offer.  This was a dark day in the history of our country which seemed to be a "mass of gutless wonders!"  Years later, President Ronald Reagan, put the whole country back on its feet and pointed to the high goals we'd been taught to maintain."
 
Semper Fi,
Art
"Alfa Golf"
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This item is a speech given by Joe Galloway, an American newspaper correspondent and columnist.  He is the former Military Affairs consultant for the Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers and is presently a columnist with McClatchy Newspapers.  During the Vietnam War, he often worked alongside the troops he covered, and was with U.S. Army LtGen Harold G. Moore in the battle of the Ia Drang Valley.  Moore and Galloway recount the battel in the 1992 book, "We Were Soldiers Once... and Young," which was made into the 2002 movie "We Were Soldiers."  The Army awared Joe Galloway, a civilian, the Bronze Star for repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire to gather wounded and carry them to the aid station.  

Although not VMO-6 specific, I recieved this in an email, and Mr. Galloway does address Marine aviation in his speech.  Here is the complete text, minus only personal information:

"I remember this like it was yesterday.  Had a pilot pickup of Mel Elliot who had been shot down in an A1E at 2pm on friday morning over Plei Mei and after over 36 hrs on the ground the pickup was made about noon on Sat.  Exciting times and tough people.  DP 

Joe Galloway's talk - YOU ARE MY BROTHERS IN ARMS  
  
Given to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association 
  
Aviation or not, this was a powerful speech….   
  
"Thanks to all of you for giving me the honor of speaking to you. I have got to tell you that looking out across this assemblage I must confess:  I haven't seen  this many bad boys collected in one location since the last time I visited  Leavenworth Prison. 
  
When I first learned that I would be doing this gig I asked an aviator buddy of  mine what else I needed to know......and he said, well, most of you would be bringing your wives along.......that half of you were so damn deaf that you couldn't hear a word of what I was saying.....the other half would be so damn drunk you couldn't understand what I was saying..... so I might just as well talk to the ladies...... 
  
I have waited years to be able to share this story with so august a group of aviator veterans as this:  A few years ago I was at a large official dinner and I was seated next to a nice lady who was the wife of a two-star general.  I knew the lady had two college- age daughters and I also knew that one of them had been dating a Cavalry lieutenant.......so I thought to make some polite conversation and I offered her my condolences at her daughter's choice of companionship.  "Oh No!" the general's wife said.  "He is a fine young man.  Nothing wrong with him......and at least he isn't a goddam aviator!" 
  
I just wanted you to know that your successors in the bizness continue to win friends and influence people in high places.  Before I go along any further in  this thing I need to ask you some questions:  --Is there anyone here who flew with the 1st Cavalry Division?  The 229th?  The 227th?  How about the old 119th out  of Holloway?  Any Marine pilots who flew them old CH-34 Shuddering Shithouses???  Now I know I am among close friends......I know that old Ray Burns from Ganado, Texas, is here.....and I have got to tell you a story about me and Ray that goes  back to October of 1965.  Plei Me SF Camp was under siege by a regiment of North  Vietnamese regulars.  I was trying to get in there.....like a fool......but after an A1E and a B57 Canberra and one Huey had been shot down they declared it a No-Fly Zone.  So I was stomping up and down the flight line at Holloway  
cussing......when I ran across Ray.  He asked what the problem was and I told him.  He allowed as how he had been wanting to get a look at that situation and  would give me a ride...... 
  
I still have a picture I shot out the open door of Ray's Huey.  We are doing a  kind of corkscrew descent and the triangular berms and wire of the camp below  fill that doorway.....along with the puffs of smoke from the impacting mortar rounds inside the camp.  Hell.....I can scare myself bad just looking at that  photo. 
  
Well old Ray drops on in and I jump out....and the Yards boil out of the trenches and toss a bunch of wounded in the door and Ray is pulling  
pitch.....grinning......and giving me the bird.  When the noise is gone this sergeant major runs up:  Sir, I don't know who you are but Major Beckwith wants  to see you right away.  I ask which one is the major and I am informed he is the  very big guy over there jumping up and down on his hat.  I go over slowly.  The dialogue goes something like this:  Who the hell are you?  A reporter.  Son, I need  everything in the goddam world from food and ammo to water....to medevac......to  reinforcements.....and I wouldn't mind a bottle of Jim Beam.......but what I do not need is a goddam reporter. 
  
And what has the Army in its wisdom delivered to me?  Well....I got news for  you.....you ain't a reporter no more; you are my new corner machine gunner."  Ray.....I want to thank you for that ride.......wasn't for you and Chuck  Oualline I wouldn't have had half as much fun in Vietnam.  Hell.....every story  anyone has about Vietnam starts and ends with a helicopter......you guys were  simply fantastic.  Thank you all.  Thank you for everything ....large and small. 
  
Now I guess I got to get down to bizness.  All of you know that I have spent most of the last forty years hanging out with the Infantry.....a choice some folks view as perverse if not totally insane.  But there was always method in my  madness:  With the Infantry things happen close enough that I can see what's  happening.....and slowly enough most times that even I can understand what I'm  seeing.  There's just this one little downside to my long experience with the Infantry: 
  
During that time I have personally been bombed.....rocketed.....strafed..... and  napalmed by the U.S. Air Force.....U.S. Navy......U.S. Marines.....and U.S. Army  Aviation......as well as by the air forces of South Vietnam.....Laos......Sri  Lanka......India......and Pakistan.  Now I don't consider myself an  
inconsiderable target.....and wasn't even back when I could fit comfortably  behind a palm tree......but here I am....running my mouth.....nothing hurt  
beyond my dignity.  Don't get me wrong; I don't hold any grudges against those gallant winged warriors.  But ever since the first time they attacked me and  missed.....I have never ever used the words "surgical bombing strike" in any  story I ever wrote. 
  
I had the chance to say some good things about all of you at the Memorial Service at The Wall on Sunday.  I meant every word of that..... and more. You chopper guys were our heroes in Vietnam.  You were our rides....but you were  much much more than that.  We were always either cussing you for hauling our  butts into deep kimchi.....or ready to kiss you for hauling us out of it.  I have  a feeling that without you and your birds that would have been a much shorter and far more brutish war. 
  
You were our heroes, though, first last and always.  You saved us from having to  walk to work every day.  You brought in our food and ammo and water.....and  sometimes even a marmite can full of hot chow.  To this day I think the finest  meal I ever ate was a canteen cup full of hot split pea soup that a Huey delivered to a hilltop in the dry paddies of the Bong Son Plain in January of 1966.  For a moment there I thought if the Army could get a hot meal out to an  Infantry company on patrol maybe.....just maybe.....we could win the damn war.  Oh well. 
  
I think often of all that you did for us.....all that you meant to us:  You came for our wounded.  You came to get our dead brothers.  You came....when the fight  was over.....to give us a ride home from hell.  There isn't a former Grunt alive who doesn't freeze for a moment and feel the hair rise on the back of his neck when he hears the whup whup whup of those helicopter blades. 
  
What I want to say now is just between us.....because America still doesn't get  it.....still doesn't know the truth, and the truth is:  You are the cream of the crop of our generation.....the best and finest of an entire generation of  Americans.  You are the ones who answered when you were called to serve.....  You  are the ones who fought bravely and endured a terrible war in a terrible place.  You are the ones for whom the words duty, honor, country have real meaning  because you have lived those words and the meaning behind those words. 
  
You are my brothers in arms....and I am not ashamed to say that I love you, would not trade one of you for a whole trainload of instant Canadians.....or a  whole boatload of Rhodes Scholars bound for England......or a whole campus full of guys who turned up for their draft physicals wearing panty hose.  On behalf of  a country that too easily forgets the true cost of war.....and who pays that  price....I say Thank you for your service!  On behalf of the people of our country who didn't have good sense enough to separate the war they hated from the young warriors they sent to fight that war.....I say we are sorry.  We owe you all a very large apology.....and a debt of gratitude that we can never adequately repay. 
  
For myself and all my buddies in the Infantry I say:  Thanks for all the rides in and out....especially the rides out.  It is great to see you all gathered here  
for this reunion.  A friend of mine, Mike Norman, a former Marine grunt....wrote a wonderful book called "These Good Men" about his quest to find and reunite  with all the survivors of his platoon from Vietnam.  He thought long and deep about why we gather as we have done this evening and he explained it thusly: 
  
I now know why men who have been to war yearn to reunite.  Not to tell stories or look at old pictures.  Not to laugh or weep.  Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted their best.....men who suffered and sacrificed.....who were stripped raw......right down to their humanity.  I did  not pick these men.  They were delivered by fate and the military.  But I know them in a way I know no other men.  I have never given anyone such trust.  They were willing to guard something more precious than my life.  They would have carried my reputation.....the memory of me.  It was part of the bargain we all made.....the reason we were so willing to die for one another. 
  
As long as I have memory I will think of them all.....every day.  I am sure that  when I leave this world....my last thought will be of my family and my  
comrades.......such good men.  I'm going to shut up now and let us all get down to the real business of drinking and lying.....er.....telling war stories. 
  
Thank you.  I salute you.  I remember you.  I will teach my sons the stories and legends about you.  And I will warn my daughters never ever to go out with  aviators...... 
  
Good evening. God bless... "
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Submitted by Tom Constantine.

Col Ed John
Colorado Springs
CO  80918
 
Col John called me this aft. He told me that he was born January 28, 1922.  In 1942 he enlisted in the Marine Corps and became a pilot, flying F4U Corsair aircraft in the western Pacific off Jeep Carriers. After WWII as a Capt he was assigned as the CO of VMO-6 and took the squadron into China. Believe he stated that they flew EOY-1 aircraft. Around this time USAF  was attempting to downsize the USMC aircraft capability and the Marine Corps was ordered to shed pilots. So then Capt John was rifted to MSGT in 1949  and sent to avionics school to become an avionics NCO. Col John stated that he really enjoyed being a MSGT, and his avionics training, as it served him well later. At some point in time after 13 months of intensive avionics training MSGT John was transferred to a F4U squadron at El Toro. Upon his arrival, his CO told him, “ you might want to go down to the avionics shop, but I want you as a squadron pilot as well.” So MSGT John continued as a Naval Enlisted Pilot as well as NCOIC of avionics and began flying the F4U. At some point in time he was transferred from that billet and recommissioned as a 2nd Lt. and began flying F9F and later C-119 transports. In between various jobs he had become an embark officer as well, related to a deployment to Atsugi with F4U’s. Shortly thereafter he was promoted to major. At some point in time The Marine Corps became interested in Tactical Air Control in combat environments. Major John, with his technical knowledge in avionics was then assigned to Quantico as CO of an USMC R&D outfit to design and build air transportable radar units for TACC. Apparently after his great successes then Lt Col John  had multiple commands of Marine control units doing standardization etc for  Marine Control Squadrons. During an interlude  Lt Col John was transferred to Danang Air Base as the CO of the H&MS and was charged with installing the Tactical Radar Control unit on Monkey Mountain. When Col John wanted to get some time in the left seat he flew flare missions in the R4D’s at night out of Danang. Later he was transferred from 1st MAW to Quantico and promoted to Colonel for his twilight tour as the CO of a school and retired in 1972. Thirty years of service. Capt to Master Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant to Colonel. F4U Corsairs to Birddogs, back to Corsairs, to F9F’s to C-119’s to R4D flare ships. Okinawa, China, Korea, and Vietnam. He told me with a chuckle, “ They told me I would never get beyond major.”
 
Col John states he is feeling pretty good after turning 90 and wants to be at Quantico 17May.
 
Now that is a story.  
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In Memory of Joe Grzelak

I first met Joe Grzelak at Quang Tri, he was an electrician & I was a mechanic. We both came from Staten Island & I would get our hometown newspaper in the mail and pass it on to Joe. We were friendly, but not close friends. After discharge we both returned to Staten Island & I ran into him a few times after that. He joined the New York City Fire Department sometime in the 1970s. I also wanted to be a firefighter but couldn't qualify because of vision requirements. We both got on with our lives & i never saw Joe after that.

Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 I was having a few beers with my brother in law. He is also a NYC firefighter & was deeply affected by the events of that day. Joes name came up during that conversation & he gave me a shocked look. He had been in the same firehouse with Joe for years, and had been a very good friend of his. All those years he never knew that I knew Joe and had been in the same squadron together.

The story as i know it is as follows. Joe stayed in the department & over the years moved up the chain of command. On Sept. 11, he was a batallion chief in the lobby of the north tower when the building collapsed. Shortly after that the south tower collapsed. A total of 343 firefighters died in the line of duty on that horrible day.

Since then I have spoken to quite a few guys who knew Joe much better than I. Every one of them had nothing but praise for Joe. These guys are very much like Marines, very spirited & can do. Joe was a "fireman's fireman", which i think is one of the best compliments a man can receive.

When the brick is in place I will contact his friends, who will in turn, contact the family. If i can provide you with any additional information I would be happy to.
I mailed the form & check yesterday before receiving your email inquiry. I have many fond memories of my time with 
VMO-6 & the men who served. Please add my name & contact info to your database. If you need any additional information about Joe Grzelak I will do my best to provide it. 

Semper Fidelis!
Mike Fallon
26 Apr 2013













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VMO-6 Viet Nam 1966-68
Luck and good fortune.
by Peter Greene
(Formerly Cpl. Greene Crew Chief WB#1)

During my tour in Viet Nam with VMO-6  I was the crew chief on Huey Gunship WB#7  briefly, then WB#1.  Over the course of my tour there were many occassions when not only myself but the whole crew (pilot, co-pilot and gunner) might have met our fate due to circumstances other than enemy fire.  Thinking back to those days I sometimes cringe at the thought that I was the one who fixed, repaired and maintained the helicopter.  Yikes!!  There are a lot of moving parts on a UH-IE helicopter,  and it only takes one of the parts to fail and the bird falls out of the sky.  I often wonder what the pilots and crew would think now after reading this;  what if, if some of the possible mishaps/happenings had occurred on the Hueys that we flew on.   Situations that were just bad luck and/or were waiting to happen, whether they be human error, mechanical failure, or misfiring the ordnance that we were carrying.  But by the grace of God, these possibilities did not happen. 

The most frequent occurrence of many events was when one of the rockets (14 in the small pods, or 34 of them in the larger pods),  which we carried would become stuck in the rocket pods after the pilot pushed the red "fire" button on the cyclic stick.  (The 2.75mm rocket was about four feet in length, with about three feet of propellant and then the war head.)  On at least three different occassions after the pilot fired them, one of the rockets would be jammed inside the pod with the propellant was burning forward toward the war head.  I'm not exactly sure why, but my best guess is that when the ordnance guys re-armed the bird and the rockets were slid into the pod one of the four guiding fins became loose and was wedged in the tube holding the rocket in place.   (When the rocket was fired the four fins deploy outward upon leaving the pod which helped guide and keep the rocket on target.) 

At any rate, with antipication of this failure happening, there were a couple safe guards built into the firing system on our gunships.  The first one was the pilot or co-pilot had a cable release lever between them that they could pull if this mishap occurred.  When a jammed rocket event happened and the release lever was pulled,  the pilot would jetison both pods and remaining rockets away from the aircraft.  If for some reason that method did not work, then the crew chief or the gunner could reach outside on the rocket and gun support system and pull the release mechanism on their side of the bird and that pod and its remaining rockets would fall away.  The first couple times this malfuncation happened on my bird, the pilot was able to get rid of the pods himself by pulling the pod release lever.

But the last time it happened the rocket was on my side, and the pilot's attempt to jetison the pod failed and I had no better luck when I tried to release the burning pod manually.  Several times I tried and failed to get the pod to fall away.  I'm not sure how long it takes for the propellant to burn its way to the war head but I'm positive that when it gets there the war head is going to explode.  I don't know why the pod was hung up under the support system, but I had to climb out on the support and literally kick and push the pod  with my foot before it finally broke away and fell.  Needless to say, I had three very anxious crew members in my cheering section yelling instructions, telling me that I should hurry up, and to get that burning rocket away from the aircraft.  Afterward that last event I made it a point to make sure each and every rocket was loose fitting in the pods, that none of them felt stuck in the tube before we took off.       

Another situation happened early in my tour that was rather startling;  I was either post-flighting after a mission, or pre-flighting the bird the following morning.  The normal procedure at the end of the inspection tour around the aircraft was to climb up on the top of the plane and inspect the rotor head system.  This is where the controls from the pilot end up coming through the aircraft and connect to the rotor head; all those except those going back to the tail rotor.  The controls end up connecting three rods from the cyclic stick to the rotor head swash plate mechanism. These rods are connected to three different points on the swash plate, which has three U-shaped receptacles which the rods are attached to and are held into place with two and half inch long bolts which are then safety wired so that they can not come apart.  Like almost everything on a helicopter, the swash plate is made up of magnesium and aluminum; very light weight material.  

Anyway, on this particular day I was up on the bird inspecting the rotor head when I noticed that two of the three U-shaped receptacles that the control rods connect to were cracked on one side.  I don't know  the reason, if the cause was over-torquing when the bolts were installed, pilot rough handling, or a combination of the two;  but one thing for sure, it was only a matter of time before the linkage rod(s) came off and the bird and its crew fell to their deaths.  I immediately went to the flight shack to find my section leader and found SSgt. Whitham, (Sgt. Whitham was the Quality Control and Aircraft Safety NCO at the time; (the main reason I remember and recognized  Lee's name in later years is because of this event.)  A few minutes later I found my section leader (Sgt. Sherrill) and took them both out to the bird and showed them the cracks.  I can remember well Sgt. Whitham's reaction when he saw the cracks, "Holy Shit"!!!!!  Obviously the swash plate had to be replaced and all other birds were inspected; I don't recall whether other cracks were found on the other birds; but immediately afterwards Bell Helicopter came out with side plates to re-inforce the U-shaped recepticals on the swash plates. 

Months later at Quang Tri we were a section of gunships getting ready to take off for Khe Sanh.  We were immediately behind the lead bird waiting for them to lead the way out of the revetments and to the runway for take off.  As the lead bird lifted off the deck into a hover at about 2-3 feet suddenly (from what I saw was the tail rotor started flying apart) and down came the helicopter with parts flying in all directions.  Fortunately no one was hurt. But apparently others who had witnessed the same event saw something different than what I saw; and instead of the tail rotor coming apart first, they determined that the mast (the metal pipe coming up from the transmission to the rotor which holds the two together) must have had metal fatigue and had caused the accident.  After the Navy investigated the incident they ordered all the Hueys to be flown to Phu Bai for X-ray examination of the masts; and with that all the available birds were flown to Phu Bai to be tested.  

Down at Phu Bai, we had to lift off the rotor head with attached blades, then disconnect the masts from the transmissions and take them to the maintenance shop for X-raying.  It was then, while waiting to get the mast back, that I happened to get a good look at the top of the blades on the rotor head.  It was impossible to see much of the top side of the blades with the rotor head on top of the bird during routine inspections.  But much to my surprise, I noticed that there was a crack all the way across the top of one of the blades about 6-7 feet from where the blade attaches to the rotor head.  The crack was at a spot where we had previously taken a round;  it had been patched and had since worked its way across the wideth of the blade.    It was not noticeable from the ground nor on top of the bird;  but it was only after the rotor head was on the ground with the two blades drooping down was it visable.  The normal procedure at the time when a bullet was taken in the blades was for the tin-knockers to fill the hole with a fiberglass material, and then we would re-balance the blades, and off we went.  The only thing holding the blade together was the bottom half of the blade; in normal smooth flight, instead of drooping down, the blades were pulling the bird up, but there were many times when the ride got pretty bumpy, and very rough .  And again it was only a matter of time and how many more flights later before the blade broke apart;  and I don't believe that auto-rotation would work with only one blade and a third of the other.  Once again, the Good Lord must have been with us.  Needless to say, all future hits in the blades called for blade replacements.   

Another mishap happened late in my tour as we were in a fire-fight west of Quang Tri.  As you would expect when the bullets start flying everyone has something to do.  The pilot is busy directing operations on the ground, in a rocket and strafting run, or trying to conduct/control business with the ground units, with other choppers, fixed wing, or whatever needs to be done.   The co-pilot is helping,  coordinating with the pilot, and/or using his own M-60s in front.  The gunner and I are busy on our own sides of the chopper either firing our M-60s, re-loading, or fixing and clearing jammed guns.  On my bird I always carried a M-79 grenade launcher with one or two boxes of M79 grenades, as well as my own M-16 and several flips of  ammo for it. (I often wondered if the pilot was going to be able to get the bird off the ground because I had too much weight aboard, but we always managed to get airborne;  thank God, because I was a firm believer that you can not have enough weapons or ammo.)   At any rate, I had not noticed, but in the middle of this firefight the gunner had decided to use the M-79.  Suddenly I heard a loud bang and right in front of me was the business end of a M-79 grenade spinning around at my feet.  I had no time to even think about it, but I kicked the spinning live round out the door and momentarily wondered why it did not explode.  Obviously in his excitement,  after he loaded the grenade launcher the gunner had accidently discharged the M-79 inside the bird.  It made a 3/4 inch dent in the floor and spinning around looking for a place to blow up.  I don't know if the two pilots were even aware of what had happened;  understandingly the gunner was quite red-faced and not too anixous to talk about it.  I don't remember any conversation about it when we got back; everyone went their own way, but I just kept wondering why we didn't blow up.  Afterwards I asked the ordnance guys why the grenade didn't explode, and they explained that after being fired the round has to rotate about 15 times before it is activated.  I don't know if spinning around on the floor is the same as rotations but apparently it didn't get to 15.  God was with us again.

Another near mishap occurred at Dong Ha.  We did not have enough fuel to get back to Quang Tri, and had to stop at Dong Ha for a hot re-fuel.   Generally this was not a good idea account the NVA were hitting Dong Ha with artillery on a regular basis, and the sight of a couple of helicopters there would be added incentive.  Anyway, we had to stop or run out of fuel.   Everyone stayed in their seat with the rotor head turning in case we had to get out of there in a hurry, and I jumped out to re-fuel the plane.  I hauled the fuel hose over to the bird and took off the fuel tank cap and shoved the fuel noozle in the tank, and no sooner had I pulled the trigger when I was pushed backwards spraying the whole side of the chopper with JP-4 before I could release the trigger.  No one had told us that they had jacked up the pressure on the noozle to help re-fueling more quickly.  I almost set the bird on fire.  There was aviation fuel all over the side of the aircraft, front and back, with the heat of the jet engine and the exhaust coming out the back it was a wonder it did not catch afire.   Obviously the pilots were pretty pissed and I didn't blame them.  At any rate, the pilot had the gunner come around and help me hold the noozle in place, we got our fuel and headed out of there.  (At the 2013 Arizona VMO-6 mini-reunion,  I overhead (Crew Chief) Rick Ault talking about the same thing that had happened to him at Dong Ha, only he was not so lucky;  his chopper caught on fire.  According to Rick they were going to throw the book at him, but that's another story that he will have to tell.  While Rick and I were describing our near fire/re-fueling ordeals,  Art Friend (AlfaGolf) added that he had a similar situation re-fueling at Phu Bai.)

Lastly, another near deadly episode suddenly wonders back into my mind.  Early in '67 while down at Ky Ha sitting on my cot writing a letter, two or three of the guys in my hootch had returned after being on liberty into the little villa outside the perimeter.  They all had their M-14s and side arms.  I wasn't paying any attention but one of guys was fooling around and yelled "Hey Greene!";  when I looked up, there he was pointing his rifle at me, as if to shoot me between the eyes.  I just told him to knock it off and went back to my letter.  Several seconds later we all heard his rifle fire; the damn fool still had a round in the chamber, and it went right over my head and out through the roof of the hootch.  In no time at all, the heavies were all there and needless to say the Marine ended up losing a couple of stripes.  
 
In summary, these are some of things that could have happened during my tour and most probably to many of us 45+ years ago;  not just the bullets, mortars and rockets aimed at us from the VC and NVA.   As I have mentioned before there is a certain amount of luck that brought most of us home.  I do believe that I have had my fair share of that good luck, and I am positive that the Good Lord has been looking over me.

Viet Nam -  last several months

During my time in Viet Nam our squadron was originally located at Ky Ha, in the southern portion of the I Corps area.  In late summer 1967 we made the temporary move to Phu Bai before moving on to our final location at Quang Tri.   While at Ky Ha VMO-6 generally, on a daily basis, had gunships positioned at various places within the ICorps, including aboard ship on occasion.
As I remember VMO-6 generally had half the squadron's birds in the "up status" and ready to go, whereas that was not the case with the other VMO's in country.  I am not sure why but VMO-6 always seem to have more choppers available;  we always had on two gunships on stand-by at Ky Ha and one on Ky Ha medevac, frequently two birds at Marble Mt (VMO-2) or Tam Ky and other sites on quick reaction stand-by, and almost daily four guns on SOG SF Base at Phu Bai (even though VMO-3 was there, but I'm not sure that they ever had a full complement of aircraft). 

Being stationed at Ky Ha was a big advantage because of its location;  it was a pretty secure area and maintenance on the aircraft was 24/7, and Ky Ha was seldom hit with enemy fire.  But that was no the case at Quang Tri.  During my time at Quang Tri and until I rotated home in late January 1968 it was lights out when the sun went down.  Quang Tri was very vulnerable being on flat ground, and did not have the advantage Ky Ha offered;  it was surrounded by enemy on all four sides.  Upkeep of the 
squadron's helicopters was limited to day time, and the result was the numbers of available choppers was cut in half and even more.  One day late in my tour VMO-6 had only three gunships "up"; mine and two others.  I don't remember the date but on a heavy overcast day Land Shark scrambled all three birds;  account the North Vietnamese are trying to overrun Con Thien.  (Con Thien was the northwest corner of the Leatherneck Squadron at the edge of the DMZ.)

All three gunships were directed to Con Thien.  When we arrived on station the NVA had already penetrated the perimeter.  Due to the low cloud cover there would be no fixed wing on this day, we would be the only air support for the grunts.  The three Hueys with M60 machine guns and rockets are all we could offer to the Marines on the ground.  I remember looking down, seeing close range firefights and  some hand to hand fighting; I could not tell good guy from bad.  I remember looking out the right door and seeing one of the other Hueys' top of its rotor blades, it was turned 90 degrees and looked like it was falling sideways; going down.  I thought at that instance that whoever was in that bird, that they were going down and were going to crash in the middle of Con Thien.  Being a very small forward observation post, Con Thien was only maybe 6-7 hundred yards across with some NVA were inside the wire;  I remember thinking where do we shoot, where do we fire rockets, there were no good clear targets. People in the open were Marines fighting the NVA; it was pure chaos.  The only true targets were outside the perimeter.   It seemed like a blur then but before I knew it we were heading back to Quang Tri, all three gunships, thank God.  I don't really know what effect we had that day on the battle taking place below us; but I am hoping that the presence of three gunships overhead might have forced the NVA to back off and get back in their holes.  I guess we will never know how Con Thien would have fared that day withoutus. 

When we got back to Quang Tri my bird (WB#1) was the only gunship operational (for the next couple days I think).  The other two were shot up.  (As previously mentioned),  I  generally don't remember who the crew might have been on this or any given mission;  account different crews each day.  But at one of our VMO-6 reunions recently Ed Kufeldt was telling this same story 
about the day when the NVA tried to overrun Con Thien, and how the bird he was flying that day was the only gunship VMO-6 available afterwards.  Capt. Kufeldt was the pilot that day.

On another mission late in my tour the Navy had come up with a little small gadget called the "Sniffer".  The Sniffer was a small box that was positioned in the middle of the bird just behind the pilots.   It had a small tube which ran out to the front of the bird and "sniffed" the air; which supposedly measured the amount of ammonia and other chemicals given off by human urine.  A 
Navy technician sat in back between me and the gunner and monitored the readings. The purpose was to try to determine the numbers of NVA and VC who were in the area just west of Quang Tri; this area was off limits and a free fire zone.  (Shoot at anything you see.)  The mission that day was my bird was the lead down on the deck with two gunships following behind higher up ready to attack if we took fire.  We swept the area at tree top level and only about a half mile from Quang Tri's west perimeter when the Sniffer's needle started jumping all over the place; the Navy tech said he thought the area was loaded with enemy.  I don't recall whether or not this was before or after the mortar attack when we took all casualties in mid December '67, but no doubt they werethere in force and getting ready for the Tet offensive.       

I rotated home in late January '68 and in those months at Quang Tri enemy sightings in the area were almost daily; VC and NVA caught out in the open.  Just north of Quang Tri on the south side of the Cua Viet River was a USMC Am-Track Base.  I had medevac escort several days in a row and each time a patrol was sent out on the north side of the river they would get ambushed and we would have to go get the wounded out.  The terrain was nothing but sand and  scattered small evergreen trees and flat with no hills, very little cover to hide behind.  But the place alive with VC and NVA; and several days in a row we caught them in the open, out of their tunnels, standing next to and hugging a tree trying to avoid detection.  On one of these medevac missions, the transport chopper was on the ground picking up the wounded while we rotated around the area low at tree top level and we spotted 3-4 VC  in the open on the beach right across from the Am-Track Base but they disappeared after I got several rounds off.  The following day, same senario, the CH-34 was loading the medevacs on the chopper and we were flying around tree top level when I looked down and directly below us were three VC trying to sneak up to get a shot at the medevac chopper.  We were only about 20-30 feet over-head.  The middle one was tall and was carrying what looked like to me was an anti-craft (37mm) gun, and the two outside guys were carrying ammo and a tripod.  I yelled to the pilot and had to 
grab my M16 because the M60 would not shoot straight down or right straight back account of the gun guide.  I hung out the door and tried to aim back at them with the M16 but we were zipping along at 120 knots and they were quickly out of sight in a couple seconds.  The pilot radioed the 34 and informed him of the situation, and after gathering up the medevacs we got out of the area. 

Another very frustrating day was late in my tour; we were a sections of guns returning from a re-con insert in the hills west of Quang Tri.  Enroute back to Quang Tri Land Shark called and directed us to assist the grunts who were patrolling north out of Gio Linh (the northeast corner of Leatherneck Square) into the DMZ.  The patrol had two elements, one unit was moving north up the old railroad tracks and the other on Highway One.  The old railroad tracks and Highway One were about a half mile inland from the coast and maybe 100-150 yards apart, parallel, and heading directly north and south; the grunt units were on them and sweeping into the DMZ.   

My bird was the lead and the pilot checked in with the ground unit trying to get a fix on their lead's exact location which was stretched out on the railroad tracks.  (It was hard to determine locations from the air as Viet Nam is nothing but rice paddies in the coastal low lands, the big difference in the DMZ area is the rice paddies are dried up and abandoned for years account it is NO Man's Land; there was not supposed to be anybody there.)  At any rate I  thought that I had found the lead elements on the railroad tracks, but looking a little further ahead there were several more people who appeared to be hiding.  As I looked down and said to the pilot, "Sir, if these guys below us are the grunts, who are they about 50-60 yards further ahead?''. The pilot immediately banked left for me to get a better look, and as soon as we did all of a sudden the three or four guys further north broke and started running back toward the river and North Viet Nam.  They were NVA and had been laying in ambush, waiting for the Marines to get a little closer when we surprised them.  And as they took off running they began dropping their rifles, 
helmets, back packs and everything else they might have had.  And the further they ran the more of them came out of nowhere, joined them and started doing the same thing; running for North Viet Nam.  We could see the grunts on the point shooting at them and the pilot called the ground forward observer to tell him we had gooks in the open and on the run; and asking permission to open up.  But the guy on the ground wasn't sure about the situation ahead of him and would not give us permission to shoot.  And so for the next several minutes we watched helplessly as about 12-15 NVA kept on the dead run back to North Viet Nam. And there we watched them dive off the blown up railroad bridge and swim across the river to safety.  Very obviously they were new recruits fresh from of the north, and the only consolation we had was at least no Marines were killed or wounded that day in the DMZ. 

After a few more minutes Land Shark called again; the recon team that we had inserted earlier that morning was in trouble and needed to be extracted, so we headed back south.  And wouldn't you know it, but a minute or so later ground control called and said that he had accounted for the lead elements, he confirmed that they were NVA and that we now had permission to fire; but it was way too late.  I remember sitting there like the rest of the two crews watching them get away and thinking that most 
likely they would be back soon after we left.  For some of us we had spent a year in Nam basically reacting to VC and NVA ambushes; it was always the same, the enemy sit hiding and waiting for their opportunity to strike when it was to their advantage.  For us it was most always watching wounded Marines and/or body bags being loaded on the medevac choppers, or seeing helicopters shot down and burning on the ground, or limping back to Ky Ha or Quang Tri with holes in your bird if you were lucky that day. But on this day back when it would have been our turn, but it wasn't to be. On this day fate was on their side. Oh well.    

After finishing the last paragraph above, another mission jumped out at me which has similar results as the previous story, shoot or not.  And maybe shed a little light on the ground air controller who would not let us attack the NVA who were out in the open.  I was in a similar position, should I shoot or make sure at who I was shooting at.  On another mission (same time period) we were again lead on re-supply escort at Con Thien.  The transport choppers were taking fire and could not land to off-load supplies, so the pilot I was with told the transport choppers to climb up out of range, and to the chase bird that we were going down on the deck to try and draw fire from the NVA.  We were in deed down on the deck; literally below the tree tops, only 10-15 feet above the ground, zipzapping just above the rice paddies and hugging the contour of the tree lines.  (To some it might be considered too dangerous to be down that low but in reality anything below 1000-1200 feet the aircraft was exposed to a lot more danger because you are seen from a larger area and most vulnerable; and traveling at 120 knots at low altitude the enemy can not see or hear you until you are right on top of them.)  At any rate, while zipping along in and out of the tree lines both the gunner and I and the co-pilot were up on the guns, safeties off, and ready to shoot at anything we saw.  Suddenly on my side I spotted two NVA sitting in their fox hole at the base of a tree. They were ony 50-60 feet away from us, so close I could see the whites of their eyes; one was a machine gunner and the other was his tender. But for that instance, I was not exactly sure where we were, who they were, NVA or Marine.  I immediately looked up and around to acclimate /orientate as to where we were; but in a flash it was too late, they were out of sight; we had gone too far and I had missed my chance.  I'm 99 percent positive they were NVA, a machine gunner and his assistant;  but what if I had been wrong.  I mentioned this espiode to give the air ground control officer his due;  he wanted to be sure that he did not call in our air strike on the Marines he was supposed to be protecting.  

Pete Greene
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Listen to Duckbill audio of here:  http://vimeo.com/78122929
This page updated 3 Feb 2014  10:50 AM
Added link to audio of Duckbill incident