Saber Article Index

2017 Mar-Apr

I got a telephone call from 1969 MEDEVAC door gunner Richard Hampsher, probably in response to my write up about Bill Pickle. Richard said they both made sergeant at the same time. Richard says his MOS was a wireman and that he was in MACV. He went to 1st Cav MEDEVAC because he was tired of running ammo and 15th MED needed door gunners.

Webmaster Ron Huether has included all past issues of this Saber column on the 15th MED Assn. Website. I started those in 1999. Is it possible to remember that far back that wasn't war trauma? Reading them may jog the memory, and possibly induce some war trauma.

The 1st Cav Assn. just lost two of its best friends with the recent deaths of MG (Ret) Jim Smith and LTG (Ret) Hal Moore. Both of them were always kind to me, and I could call them friends. R.I.P.

I remember at one Reunion in Killeen in the hotel lobby where everyone gathered to depart, seeing through the crowd the two of them standing together with prominent Stetsons and stars, the morning sun's rays illuminating them through the skylight. They were always there for us.

With the recent Hollywood Academy Awards-which I glanced at-one nominated movie brought attention to the story of a WWII Army Medic who earned the CMOH. I then researched and read about the incredible story of Desmond Thomas Doss. A devout Seventh-day Adventist, of which I knew quite a few in the Army who were also reserved to serve, and as Medics, because they were conscientious objectors.

What I read about Desmond Doss was beyond courage. Even with the Hollywood rearrangement of the truth, the truth about what he did was even more unbelievable. From the war stories on the Website one submitted by the 15th MED Assn. founder, crew chief Sherman (SNORE) Breeden: "A MEDICS GREATEST FEAR".

“Since graduating from the U.S. Army Medic School, I have suffered the terror of a recurring dream. Or should I call it a nightmare? I know that someday it is bound to come true. I dream I am shuffling along a narrow sandy roadway winding snakelike through dense, moist jungle. Triple canopy foliage drapes the tops of trees two hundred feet above, shutting out the sun. A small unit of infantrymen walk slowly ahead and behind. We walk wearily, but with increased caution. No one speaks, yet we sense from the forest that something is wrong. Maybe it is the unusual absence of birds, the silence broken only by snapping twigs under heavy payloads, clicking machine gun shells dangling in bandoleers sagging from well-worn shoulders, heavy panting of sweat-soaked men. We continue, waiting for something to happen. We are looking for it, expecting it, seeking it - yet hoping it is never found. We know it is useless to hope. This is war."

“My head turns up at the faint crack of a twig somewhere ahead. I am caught for an instant by an intense twinkling of sunlight slipping between emerald jungle leaves. I linger for a moment, hypnotized by the blade of light, aware of what is about to happen. There is no reason to think. I react without deciding. My legs collapse, crumbling slowly to one side, my body falling yet hanging in mid-air. A cloud of red dust puffs into the still air as my body drops heavily to the ground. I bounce and roll, tearing at my pack straps. I am still in the open - still rolling. I feel the jab and tear of jagged rocks and sticks as I roll to a stop in a shallow grave like depression. My arms are free. My pack lies with the aid bag in a clump of weeds a few feet away. I feel no wounds. The whole length of my body is pressed flat hard against the earth, my face compressed into the soil. I try to be thin but feel grossly conspicuous. Certain my rear is high up in full view. I grind my pelvis tighter into the ground. It will go no lower. I am stiff and trembling as bullets crack and whiz randomly about. The air is full of speeding metal. I expect the shattering, hot impact at each second. I sweat in sheets, my lungs heaving, my heart pumping a rapid pulse to the brain. Any time now, any moment 'Medic!'"

 “Bullets whine, exploding into fragments, shattering branches, which drop to the ground, whole limbs ripped and torn, 'Medic!' Louder he screams out to me in panic. Slowly, through the evolution of seconds, my mind can see him sprawling face-up in the chalky dust, writhing in a puddle of spreading blood coagulating in the intense noon heat. 'Medic, Please.' He claws the air beckoning to me, opening and closing each hand desperately, pleading. One-hand moves back clutching his eyes, a brush of tangled blond hair caught between sticky fingers wet with blood. 'Please help me?' “The jungle is roaring a rain of bullets, the air pungent with gray smoke and dust. I begin to rise. Suddenly I imagine an explosion splattering my face, turning it to jelly. I cannot move. I know he is dying. I must get up! 'Please!' I try to move. I am paralyzed, lying helplessly. 'Please!' Tears streams glistening down my face plunk softly into the earth. I am sobbing and falling apart. I begin to vomit."

 "It always ends there. I awake and am relieved to remember that it is only a dream. But today I am less certain. The airline stewardess speaks into the microphone solemnly. 'Good morning, gentlemen. Hope you enjoyed your flight. Please fasten your seatbelts and observe the 'No Smoking' sign. The weather in Bien Hoa is hazy, but dry. The temperature is now 110 degrees. Hope you will all enjoy your stay in the Republic of Vietnam.'

“There is a mystique about MEDEVAC. So much has been written of the courage, the dedication and espirit de corps of the men in MEDEVAC that today they live with legend. Tradition seems to affect their every action. Pride becomes a primary motivation. 'It's why I joined the Army,' said MEDEVAC pilot Warrant Officer Richard Leonard. 'There's something about saving a life - and the way MEDEVAC does it, defying the odds - that makes it appealing. I've never seen a mission aborted,' said Specialist Four Dick Gamester, who monitors MEDEVAC Control at Phouc Vinh. 'I've seen missions delayed by weather and suppressive fire, but never called off. There are nights when the only birds in the sky are MEDEVAC.' The espirit de corps touches everyone. You can't get into the program unless you volunteer and even then the competition is tough.

“Specialist Four Mike Vineyard, a helicopter mechanic at 15th MED, worked in the maintenance shop before he got a shot at a crew chief position in MEDEVAC. 'I frequently flew door gunner when we'd go after a downed bird,' he said. He didn't have to go. He didn't get flight pay for it. 'You just do it,' he said. When a bird goes down, everyone heads for the pad. It's like a brotherhood.' That startling routine response to a call that seems beyond that of duty is part of the mystique of MEDEVAC. Yet there is another side. 'It gets to be a little hairy at times,' said MEDEVAC pilot Captain Ernest Bayford. 'But I wouldn't say there's excessive strain on anyone.' He's right, of course. MEDEVAC teams lead a very comfortable life when the going gets slow. Half their time is free. Even at the brigade field hospitals, where the teams are on call twenty-four hours a day, they have no duties until suddenly, though routinely, they are called to scramble.

“Downed aircraft, let's go!' Captain Bayford shouted from the doorway of the crew quarters. It was 2:21 p.m. and the scramble was on. The crew reached the chopper at full stride; in minutes it was airborne, hitting a hundred knots at treetop level. The bird climbed to two thousand feet; then nine minutes after the call and ten miles northeast of Quan Loi, the descent began. They circled once at thee hundred feet as a Cobra gunship pulled in behind. The downed aircraft was somewhere in the thick green foliage below. A Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), flying as low as it could, finally spotted the wreckage and marked it with purple smoke. Aircraft commander Bayford banked the ship to the left and hovered over the now visible downed helicopter, its slender tail protruding through the bamboo.

“It was 2:33 when Specialist Five William Meeks attached the yellow, torpedo-like jungle penetrator to the cable hoist and lowered it to the bamboo below. On the ground a man grasped it and, shielding his face from the entangling bush, rode the cable skyward. He looked straight up at the chopper with a strained smile, drawing closer, closer until he could touch the skid, grab the Medic's hand and pull himself aboard. 'We've got to get the pilot out! We've got to, got to!' he said again and again, breathing hard as he lay against the cabin wall. The whine of the hoist started up again, bringing the rescued door gunner to the side of the ship and inside. He clutched at the Medic-crew chief.

“It was 2:35. ‘He's trapped. I couldn't budge him.’ He waved me away, the man blurted out. 'We've got to get him out, we've got to,' said the door gunner. 'They will. They will,' answered the Medic. The ship gained altitude slowly, banked to the left and circled again at three hundred feet. It was up to the Blues now - the crack infantry element of the 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry, already airlifted to the area and maneuvering toward the downed aircraft and its pinned pilot. The MEDEVAC chopper circled above. Specialist Meeks turned at once to his patients, wrapping and taping the crushed toes of the door gunner.

“As the chopper passed over the crash site for the fourth time, a thick cloud of white smoke erupted from the bamboo below and there was a bright red flash from the ground. ’Hey, man, our ship just blew up!' the wounded door gunner shouted. He turned to the Medic with his eyes wide and fearful. The Medic talked into his radio mouthpiece, listened, and then looked up at his patient. 'He's alright. The Blues got him out. He's okay.' The helicopter circled down to land in a yellow meadow close to the crashed and burning chopper. The rescued door gunner looked past the Medic. A big smile shot across his face and he flashed the 'V' sign at the freed pilot, now sprinting toward the ship. 'You're the greatest. You're the greatest,' the rescued pilot cried to the MEDEVAC crew as he climbed aboard. Then he turned and lunged at his own two-crew members who caught him in a wild embrace.”

Do not forget, the 19th Annual 15th Medical Bn. Assn. Reunion will be held 26-30 April 2017, at Westgate Branson Woods Resort, Branson MO. and the 70th Annual 1st Cavalry Division Assn. Reunion 7-11 June 2017 - Killeen/Fort Hood, Texas.

Always remembering our 1st Cav Troops on duty around the world; over and out.

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