Being the new guy, I was religated to flying the front seat for several months. Flying missions in the cobra generally meant hours of boredom interrupted by moments of shear terror. Our job was to fly cover over the LOHs. The LOHs flew at tree top level trying to locate the enemy in the jungle (get shot at). The cobras flew at about 1500 feet above them and our job was to bring fire onto the enemy (shoot into the trees) whenever they did get shot at. Between the LOHs and the cobras was a command and control ship. The C&C ship carried the important people that decieded where we would go and what we were to do.
We also flew cover over the troop carrying Hueys that landed ARVNS (Vietnamise soldiers) onto the battlefield when it was determined that there was enough enemy activity to warrant it.
Things could get pretty hectic. When the LOHs did take fire, generlly they radioed in a voice about two octives higher "TAKING FIRE". You could see the LOHs nose down, pick up speed and get out of the way of the rockets that were surely coming.
One day I was flying front seat with Lt. Robert Green and from 1500 feet I saw a guy in a khaki colored shirt run under a bush! When I told Lt Green, he cleared the LOHs out and wanted me to fire the 40MM grenade launcher into the place where I saw the guy.
I flight school they taught us not to point the gun sight and then depress the actuator bars. This would jerk the turret with all that hydrolic pressure and was not good for it. You are supposed to point the gun sight straight ahead, depress the actuators, aim the gun sight then depress the trigger to fire the weapon. So, I pointed the gunsight straight ahead, depressed the actuators and hit the trigger! I failed to aim the gun and I launched one 40MM round straight ahead! When I looked up, the C&C ship was flying straight across the line of fire. I thought, "I've shot down the C&C ship!" About that time, Green said "Fire the ____ weapon!" I aimed the gun sight in the proper direction and fired a string of 40MM rounds. "Boom ... Boom ... Boom ... Boom!"
All of a sudden, the gunsight flew out of my hands toward the top of the cockpit! Green had suddenly and violently gone into a steep dive. The 40MM attack had sent VC scurring in every direction. We had stumbled upon a VC batallion headquarters.
Another day I was flying front seat for "Lash" Larue. We were in a ship that had just come out of maintance. That day's mission was to VC lake. Now, VC lake was a bad place.
Later in my tour I referred to it as VC lake over the radio and the C&C guy told me to that we were no longer to refer to it as VC lake. It was supposed to be pacified and we were to refer to it by it's proper name. When I asked what the proper name was, he told me, but it was an impossible Vietnamise name. I said "Roger, no come home lake." I was ' never called on the carpet for that little bit of insubordination.
When you went to VC lake you flew a little higher and a little faster and it didn't take ANY time for the LOHs to stir up some action - like 10 seconds! Well, the LOHs go down, and right away they take fire! "Lash" rolls over and fires a pair of rockets. Those rockets took a nose dive like I've never seen before or since and headed straight for the LOHs! "Lash" goes frantic and screems over the radio "Watch the rockets! Watch the rockets!" Like you could see them coming at you!
The rockets hit between the LOHs and almost shot them down. One of them got something like 157 schrapnel hits. It's a wonder no one was killed. The only good thing to come of it was that our mission to VC lake was curtalied for the day. Whew! And we had to bring the ship home to have the rocket pods aligned.
Some months later the schedueling officer Wayne Burke, Darkhorse 30, had his helicopter to go into a scheduled 100 hour maintance. He snatched one of the side panels off the cockpit and had "Tubber's Tiger" painted on it. Tubber's Tiger was a pet name he had for his wife. He and I both took a picture. Early that afternoon, both he and Holshof (2 cobras) got shot down. One of the helicopoters cought on fire and I remember seeing the rockets cook off and explode.
After Burke got out of the hospital (I know Holshof went to the hospital, he was wounded in the back) he had "Tubber's Tiger" painted on both sides of his new cobra. Shortly after Burke rotated home, some major stress rivits in the ammo bay worked loose and that sent "Tubber's Tiger" on an extended vacation to Corpus Christie, TX (junked).
When it came time for me to be promoted to the back seat (the front seat is the co-pilot) the platoon leader (Merlin Olsen) walked over to me one afternoon on the flight line and said, "You're going to be Darkhorse 30, Sullivan is going to be your crew chief and that's going to be your ship." pointing to a cobra that had just been rotated into the company.
Sullivan looked the ship over and said, "That thing looks pretty pitiful, let's paint it." So, he went to maintaince and got some paint, a spray gun and a duce'n'half truck and we taped the windows, hooked the paint gun to the air brakes of the truck and gave Army helicopter 15035 a fresh coat of paint. We however neglected to paint "US ARMY" or the tail numbers or anything else on it.
The very next day I was flying back seat for the first time and Cecil "Sleasy Chuck" Crowder, the unit instructor pilot, was checking me out. We staged out of Vi Than. This was a fateful day! Chuck and I were in the second team so we weren't flying this mission. We were in the hooch with the local military advisor listening to the mission over the FM radio when all of a sudden "The LOH is distroyed" screamed out over the radio. Lukow's LOH had exploded!
Chuck and I raced to the helicopter. He took the back seat and I got in the front. We hurried out to the area. Once there, all the action was over. Our instructions were to remain on station while everyone else went to Ca Mau to refuel and regroup.
So here we are, Chuck and I by ourselves over the area where the bad guys had just scored a major victory and what do ya know, we have an engine failure! As we were going down, Chuck was desperately trying to radio for help and I was searching the area around where we were going in for the enemy!
In flight school they had showed us a picture of a cobra that had crashed. The rotor blade had flexed down and de-capitated the guy in the front seat. That picture was in my mind when I locked my seat belt and leaned my head back as far as I could.
We hit the ground hard. It was the monsoon season and when we hit, water and mud went everywhere! I had already seen a cobra catch fire and cook off the rockets so I was only interested in getting away from the thing. I threw open the cockpit door and in one motion lept from the helicopter and landed in the mud on all fours. To this day I don't know how I did it! I jumped up and ran away. The mud however was so deep however that I only got about 20 feet or so before I ran out of breath. That's when I noticed that I had lost my revolver.
My cousin had sent me a shoulder harness from the states. It was more comfortable in the narrow cobra seat than the standard issue side holster. When I went back to where I had landed in the mud and there it was. I had lost my billfold too but didn't realize it at the time. Then I went around to the other side of the cobra and Chuck was still in the cockpit trying to raise someone on the radio. I said, "Get outta there!" Chuck crawled out and we set off without discussion in the direction of Ca Mau. And wouldn't you know it, some guy had the nerve to shoot at us! The novelty of getting shot at had worn off a long time ago, but that was personal!
Things worked out well because the batallion commander who was flying nearby heard our distress call and flew in and picked us up after a short while. To this day, I consided myself lucky. To have had Chuck, an instructor pilot, fly us to the ground.
Well, they dragged 15035 back to Can Tho. She was a mess! The skids were broker, the transmissions had sheared in to, the control rods to the blades had broken, one of the main rotor blades had bitten into the tail boom and sheared the tail rotor drive shaft in to, not to mention the engine was bad. Into the maintaince hangar she went and there she stayed for a long, long time.
Finally she was ready to go back into service. Everything on her was new and she was the strongest ship on the line. There was just one problem, there were still no markings on her. Well, things rocked along for awhile until the platoon leaded (Hendrix) started nagging me to get her painted. So, we hired some Viet Namese "artisans" to paint her up with all the markings. Well, those guys worked all day, and when the sun went down, 15035 was beautiful. She had shark's teeth and "Pale Rider" for her name. There was just one problem. The painters didn't finish and she was left with no "US ARMY" or tail numbers. Hendrix was hot! My only defense was that "I didn't know they couldn't finish the job in one day or I would have had them start at the back of the ship!"
So, it was agreed that I would fly something else the next day and Hendrix would stay behind and see that the paint job was finished. The next day we had a cobra develop a maintaince problem and had to return from the field. So, Hendrix cranked up the "Pale Rider" and came down to Dong Ha help us out. He promply got shot in the engine, the oil leaked out, and she had to be slung loaded under a Chinook back to Can Tho.
I never took a picture of the "Pale Rider". I seemed as though paint and photographs were not good medicine.
Many years later, I was in a hobby shop. On the shelf was a book "gunslingers" showing how cobras were painted up in Viet Nam. I of course couldn't resist. Low and behold, there was the "Pale Rider" featured in the book. Within the next few days, my sister-in-law's business was burned by arsons. Darkhorse 30 and photographs of our helicopters just don't seem to mix.
While I was still new to C/16, another new pilot came in. He found his way into a card game one night and emerged with the nickname "BooRay". (That seems to be the name of the game they were playing). BooRay was a nice enough guy but he was writing letters home telling his wife that he was in a safe area and everything was OK. In reality, he was flying LOHs and his job in life was to get shot at!
One eventful day, there was a reporter aboard the C&C ship (command and control). On the way to the AO (area of operation), I was asked to come along side and do a wingover for the camera. Of course I obliged. A wingovers is a manouver that I did every day. What made this one different was that the reporter was on the right hand side of the C&C ship and therefore, I had to do a wingover to the right which is backward to normal practice.
That day our mission was to search for some bad guys that were setting mines. That was what the LOHs were out doing when BooRay crashed. The reporter got a good picture of him and his crewchief sloshing through the mud to get aboard the C&C ship. Now BooRay's wife happened to work for a newspaper and when she saw the picture of her husband she called her congressman and raised some stink!
Now, the LOH had to be securied and sling loaded out. Kent Crisler, a HUEY pilot up and volunteers to do the job. He grabs up an M16 and away he goes. While he was in the process of removing the rotor blades and taking out the radios, a couple of guys come walking down the canal. Kent whips out the M16 and captures the guys. Turns out that they were the ones setting the mines! Mission accomplished!
So now, it comes time for the LOH to be sling loaded out. A HUEY lifts the LOH out by a strong "rope". All seems to be going well but then the LOH begins to swing wildly left to right and the HUEY pilot had to punch it off (release it in flight) and the LOH fell back to earth and crashed into a useless pile of rubble. Much to the relief of BooRay who thought that he was shot down but now didn't have to show any bullet holes to prove it.
So how do I fit into this picture? Just a few months ago, that was a program on the history channel about helicopters in Viet Nam. There was a picture of a cobra doing a "right handed" wingover. Now, I can't prove that that was me ... but I'm claiming that it was.
One of the most amusing radio message I ever got occured one afternoon about time to call it a day and go home. I got an extra mission to go down to such and such a place and provide fire support for a Vietnamise company on the ground that had made contact. The radio contact was the company commander and he spoke pretty good broken english. He directed us where to fire our rockets. I made one pass and fired a pair of rockets. "No", he says, "one tree line over." So I roll in and fire a couple of pairs of rockets. "Number one ... number one" (meaning that I was on target) "VC shoot you now!"