War Stories 12

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Fergs and Beans

By Baby huey

October 1970 was a month for a change in South Vietnam, with rainfall declining, especially towards the end of the month as the region moved toward its dry, sizzling summer months. Back home, the cover of Life magazine touted articles about Agnew on the Warpath and cassette recorders. By the end of the month, 374 US soldiers would lose their lives.

For the Medevac crew of the 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division stationed with the clearing station (aid station with a physician) at Fire Support Base (FSB) Mace, 36 miles east of the big Bein Hoa airbase and a short 28 miles inland from the East Sea, the day started with an overcast sky. The focus for this week was dedicated to seeing if Ron Huether, known as Baby Huey with callsign Medevac 2, was ready to become an Aircraft Commander.  If he could successfully conduct helicopter ambulance missions while doing most of the decision-making, he would be promoted from Pilot to Aircraft Commander.

The pilot responsible for this week-long evaluation was Hank Tuel, known to all as Little Okie with the callsign Medevac 1. Okie was a much-decorated Medevac pilot and always had a tobacco chew in his mouth and an empty Coke can for the brown slimy spit. These two pilots had flown together many times, making up a One-Two-Punch. Little Okie was within a week of going back to the States and probably harbored thoughts that Baby Huey would pass this checkride come hell or high water. Baby Huey passing his checkride would allow Okie to leave the unit without a shortage of combat-ready aircraft commanders.

The rest of the crew on the aircraft named Super Kong were; Jim Ferguson (Fergie), the crewchief, Dan Brady, the flight medic, and Don Tegethoff (Tiny T), the right-side M-60 machine gunner. The GIBs (Guys In the Back) often worked together and functioned as a formidable life-saving crew. Fergie was the best helicopter crewchief in the unit and revered for his knowledge and standards. Brady was a consummate soldier lifesaver that could stick an IV needle in a bleeding-out patient as the helicopter hammering up and down at maximum speed without even breaking a sweat. Enemy shooting at their Medevac didn't know it, but Tiny T could shoot a cigarette out of their hand at 900 feet. When he had you in his sight, you had nowhere to run.

October 16, 1970, was just another day for this crew. Nothing happened in the morning other than Baby Huey performing a preflight inspection of the aircraft. Fergie did his normal daily inspection and took a fresh fuel sample. At the same time, Brady and Tiny T made sure they had everything ready for the inevitable first mission of the day. They knew a mission would come in because Medevac standby at FSB Mace was beginning to gain a reputation as the most dangerous field standby.

Sure enough, a call came in for some priority patients due to a 1st Cav Div. unit springing an ambush on enemy soldiers. There was one US casualty and one Viet Cong (VC) casualty resulting in one of the little-known missions of US medical soldiers – that of them tending to any patient on any side of the conflict. By Geneva Conventions, medical service members are neutral in any conflict. The mantra for Medevac, "So That Others May Live," did not make a distinction which side of the conflict the solder got hurt.

It had been quite a while since the 1st Cav soldiers sprung the ambush, and there was no further enemy contact. So the Medevac crew of Okie, Baby Huey, Fergie, Brady, and Tiny T bounced on the mission without assistance from armed Cobra attack helicopters. They would conduct this mission only with the defensive assistance of the two M-60 machine guns mounted toward the rear of the cargo compartment, more lovingly called the hellhole.

The mission went routinely well, with the crew picking up one wounded US soldier and one VC soldier. Both soldiers were sporting brand new gunshot wounds. There was profuse bleeding from both soldiers, causing some pools of blood on the cargo floor for a time. But Brady had no trouble assessing the injuries and providing life-saving procedures.

The return flight promised to be a routine flight. The pilots listened to songs on the aircraft's radio that received AM radio stations. The Top 10 Hits for the third week of October 1970 presented an accurate description of surviving a year in Vietnam. RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ON MY HEAD by B.J. Thomas was an oft-heard chant in "the bush," and every soldier dreamed of LEAVING ON A JET PLANE.  SOMEDAY WE'LL BE TOGETHER as sung by the talented Diana Ross and the Supremes putting the soldier DOWN ON THE CORNER and the Jackson 5 wailing out I WANT YOU BACK.

Halfway back to FSB Mace, just coming up on the French train (an incapacitated old train from the French occupation), this routine mission changed abruptly. While in flight, a radio call came in from the 2/8 Cav unit that had heavy enemy contact resulting in a soldier with a sucking chest wound. Sucking chest wounds are critical situations caused when a bullet pierces the chest cavity. This wound allows air into the cavity between the rib cage and the lungs, eventually collapsing the soldier's lung – the soldier slowly suffocates.

Baby Huey talked over the radio to the young medic on the ground and let him know it would be about 20 minutes before he could return. He first had to drop off the two patients on the aircraft, get a couple of JP-4 aviation fuel squirts, team up with two Blue Max Cobra attack aircraft, and return for the ground medic's patient.

With the aircraft slicing through the air slightly above the maximum allowable speed of 124 knots, their Medevac sped toward the clearing station landing pad at FSB Mace. Okie was on the radio coordinating with the clearing station so that medics would be waiting at the pad. He quickly changed radio frequency and put the warning order out to a Blue Max Red Team (two attack aircraft). Their support would be needed because the unit was in contact with the enemy.

With speed acquired from months working as a cohesive team, Brady and Tiny T off-loaded the patients, and Baby Huey conducted a short high-hover over to the refueling pad. There was no time to shut down the aircraft. With the Lycoming engine still operating at idle and exhaust gases thrusting aft over the tail boom at over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, Fergie added a few gallons of JP-4 jet fuel in the helicopter.

Now, at three-quarter full on fuel and two Blue Max attack aircraft trailing, the Medevac raced toward the wounded soldier with the sucking chest wound. On the way, the three helicopters flew in an inverted V-of-three formation; the Medevac in the lead and one attack aircraft trailing slightly behind on either side. No one knew this formation was about to result in almost losing a Medevac helicopter and its seasoned crew of five.

The traditional role for the Blue Max Cobras covering a Medevac conducting a hoist operation was that one of the Cobras would circle the Medevac at a couple of hundred feet above the jungle canopy and provide mini-gun close-in support attempting to keep the enemy soldiers from mounting a deadly attack against the Medevac. The second Cobra would circle 180 degrees out from the first Cobra and at an altitude of about 1500 feet. The high Cobra was ready to support the Medevac by firing 2.5 folding fin rockets at the enemy position. By setting up in these orbits, at least one Cobra was always ready to provide instant assistance to the Medevac.

But, having arrived in a V-of-three formation, the Medevac came to a stationary hover above the triple canopy jungle. The Blue Max Red Team split off and began establishing their orbits while leaving the solitary Medevac and exposing it to enemy fire until in their traditional orbits. This seeming insignificant error of arriving in a V-of-three formation resulted in the Medevac being unprotected by Blue Max and presenting itself as the world's biggest target for the enemy forces.

Almost immediately, the enemy unleashed a fury of automatic weapon bullets on the Medevac with pinpoint accuracy. In tenths of seconds, the enemy fire engulfed every crew position in a hail of AK-47 rifle and machine gunfire. Once at a hover, Baby Huey and Okie coordinated with the medic on the ground and the Blue Max Red Team. Fergie and Tiny T were "rocking-and-rolling," firing their M-60 machine guns fiercely to subdue the enemy fire. Fergie was shooting at muzzle flashes in the jungle and watching fuel spew from the punctured fuel cell inches from his left foot.

At one point, Brady yelled over the intercom, "Fergie's hit!" Though Baby Huey was at the controls and maintaining the aircraft at a stationary hover, he looked over his shoulder into the cargo compartment. One quick look – just an instance – told the whole story. Fergie was on the cargo compart floor, flailing around with Brady on top of him to keep Fergie from slipping out the open cargo door of the Medevac. There was blood all over the floor and brains sprayed on Fergie's two-piece Nomex flight suit, as well as brains and skull pieces splattered on the sound-proof blanket surrounding the transmission compartment.

Two enemy rife rounds pierced the left windscreen two seconds later. Both bullets missed Baby Huey's face by only inches. They then exited through the greenhouse Plexiglas and aircraft skin above Huey's seat. Baby Huey remembers vividly the hot metal bullet jackets dropping in his lap and burning a sensitive part of his male anatomy. The bullets also created capillary wounds to his face making the bloody face look worse than it was. At this, Okie also came on the control, ensuring at least one pilot would be at the controls if the other were wounded or killed. Enemy automatic rifle bullets continued to slam into the Medevac with the unmistakable thud sound when a bullet hits the aircraft. With rounds coming up through the floor under Okie's seat, piercing the right jump door and barely missing Brady and Tiny T. There was no safe place to be in the helicopter – no location providing better protection.

At this, Okie also came on the control ensuring at least one pilot would be at the controls in case the other was wounded or killed. Enemy automatic rifle bullets continued to slam into the Medevac with the unmistakable thud sound when a bullet hits the aircraft. With rounds coming up through the floor under Okie’s seat, piercing the right jump door and barely missing Brady and Tiny T. there was no safe place to be in the helicopter – no location providing better protection. Just then the crew heard a B-40 rocket explode in the nearby jungle tree top just missing the Medevac.

With Okie at the controls, the Medevac pulled up from the jungle and departed as fast as possible. Baby Huey had already coordinated with Blue Max, so there wasn't an accidental mid-air collision between Blue Max and the Medevac.

Upon landing at FSB, Mace Baby Huey knew he'd have to unlock somehow and slide back the armored side plate allowing him to exit the aircraft. Normally the crewchief would be on the skid shoe to unlock the armored plate and slide it back for the pilot. But with Fergie's brains all over the cargo compartment, this wasn't an option.

As if by magic, Baby Huey looked to the left, and Fergie stood on the skid toe, unlocking the armored plate and sliding it aft. Fergie was dead, how could this be? It turns out that the 1st Cav had a shortage of ammo belt guides for the M-60 machine gun. The ammo belt guide's function is to direct the linked ammo belt into the machine gun's receiver. Not having a belt guide, Fergie knew an empty C-ration can could be a suitable substitution. Fergie had decided if he got shot down and had to survive and escape in the jungle, he would use the full C-ration can. More specifically, a full C-ration of franks and beans.

Either the heat from the belted ammo crossing the C-ration can as Fergie shot or an enemy bullet made the C-ration can explode. The exploded contents of the can left Fergie splattered with franks and beans and a generous portion of Army food splattering the sound-proof blanket on the transmission compartment. Fergie thought the enemy had a bead on him. Having already received shrapnel wounds from enemy bullets hitting very close to him, Fergi decided to leap from the hellhole into the cargo compartment. Meanwhile, under the impression Fergie had a serious wound, Brady announced that Fergie was hit over the intercom. Brady dove on top of Fergie to keep his flailing body from undulating out the open left cargo door. The jump into the cargo compartment disconnected Fergie's intercom wire, so Fergie could not tell Brady he was all right.

The blood on the cargo floor was from the previous mercy mission, and the "brains" were nothing more than an exploded C-ration can of franks and beans. And from then on, Fergie was dubbed with the catchphrase of "Fergs and Beans!"

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Downed Bird

By Baby huey

It was July 1970 when I was flying copilot to CPT Mohica and we were spending a week at Tay Nihn in the “Land of the red dust” supporting Medevac Charlie. If you didn’t take a shower often you got this beautiful bronze all-over tan look…until you took a shower and all the red dirt dust washed down the drain.

We had our normal share of missions but then a lull set in and CPT Mohica announced he was going to take a shower and I would stay in the pilot’s hooch in case of a mission. Sure enough a few minutes later the RTO came running in announcing we had a downed bird mission. I ran out of the hooch and sprinted by the shower yelling for Mohica to finish because we had a downed bird mission. He told me to go get strapped in and start the aircraft.

Almost before I got strapped in Mohica came flip-flopping out to the revetment wearing only his towel wrapped around his waist and flip-flops. As his nearly naked body got strapped in, I had the aircraft up and running and was pulling out of the revetment.

As he navigated, and I flew, we raced up toward the Cambodian border to work this downed aircraft mission. As we got overhead the small field the downed aircraft was in, we could see the crew had made it out safely. About this time Mohica says, “I’ve got the controls” and begins to set up an orbit and start an approach to land just short of the aircraft on the ground. As he comes down on final the crewchief of the other bird starts giving ground guide hand-and-arm signals to guide us safely in for landing.

On short final the crewchief begins to giggle and then falls to the ground in a fit of hysterical laughter. One can only image the view this crewchief had looking up through our left seat chin bubble and up under Mohica’s toweled lower body!

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