War Stories 12

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Fergs and Beans

By Baby huey

October 1970 was a month for change in South Vietnam with rainfall on the decline 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, Cassette TV: The Good Revolution, and Women’s Lib by Clare Boothe Luce. By the end of the month 374 US soldiers would lose their life.

For the Medevac crew of the 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division stationed with the clearing station (aid station with a physician) at Landing Zone (LZ) Mace, 36 miles east of Bein Hoa and a short 28 miles inland from the East Sea, the day started with an overcast sky. This focus for this week was dedicated to seeing if Ron Huether, known as Baby Huey with callsign Medevac 2, could successfully conduct helicopter ambulance missions and be promoted from pilot to the status of 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 a 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 two weeks of going back to the States and was probably harboring thoughts that Baby Huey was going to pass this checkride come hell or high water, so he could leave the unit without a shortage of combat ready aircraft commanders.

The rest of the crew on the aircraft name Super King were; Jim Ferguson (Fergie) the crewchief, Dan Brady the flight medic, and Don Tegethoff (Tiny T) the right-side M-60 machine gunner. The Guys In the Back (GIBs) had worked together often 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 site, you had nowhere to run.

October 16, 1970 was just another day for this crew. Nothing much happened in the morning other than Baby Huey performing a preflight inspection of the aircraft, Fergie doing his normal daily inspection and taking a fresh fuel sample while 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 LZ Mace was beginning to gain a reputation as being the most dangerous field stand-by.

Sure enough a call came in for some priority patients as the result of 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-know missions of US medical soldier – than of tending to any patient on any side of the conflict. By Geneva Conventions medical service members are neutral in any conflict. And the mantra for Medevac, “So That Other May Live” did not make a distinction as to which side of the conflict the solder was participating.

Since it had been quite a while since the 1st Cav soldiers sprung the ambush and there was no further enemy contact, the Medevac crew of Okie, Baby Huey, Fergie, Brady, and Tiny T bounced on the mission without gun support (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. Though there was, at time, profuse bleeding from both soldiers causing some pools of blood on the cargo floor, Brady had no trouble assessing the injuries and providing life-saving procedures.

The return flight promised to be the usual flight with the pilots listening to songs on the aircraft’s radio that received AM radio stations. The Top 10 Hits for the third week of October 1970 presented as an accurate description of surviving 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 so that 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.

About half way back to LZ 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 allowing air into the cavity between the rib cage and the lungs and 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 already on the aircraft, get a couple squirts of JP-4 aviation fuel, team up with two Blue Max Cobra attack aircraft, and return for ground medic’s patient.

With the aircraft slicing through the air at bit above max allowable speed of 124 knots, their Medevac sped toward the clearing station landing pad at LZ Mace. Okie was on the radio coordinating with the clearing station, so medics would be waiting at the pad. He also quickly changed radio frequency and put the warning order out to a Blue Max Red Team (two attack aircraft) that they’d need gun coverage on the upcoming urgent medevac mission with a unit in contact with the enemy.

With speed acquired from months working as a cohesive team, Brady and Tiny T off-loaded the patients, Baby Huey conducted a short high-hover over to the refueling pad. There was no time to shut down the aircraft so 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 to the helicopter.

Now, at three-quarter full on fuel and with two Blue Max attack aircraft trailing, the Medevac raced toward the wounded soldier with the sucking chest wound. On the way, the two Blue Max attack helicopters flew in an inverted V-of-three formation; the Medevac in the lead and one attack aircraft trailing slightly behind and to the left while the other Blue Max took up a position slightly to the right and rear, forming a flight formation of three aircraft in an inverted “V”. 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 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 foot. 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 and Blue Max Red Team split off and began establishing their orbits all the while having their backs to 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 totally 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 pin-point accuracy. In tenths of seconds the enemy fire engulfed every crew position in a hail of AK-47 rifle and machine gun fire. While Baby Huey and Okie were coordinating 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 right next to his left foot.

At one point, Brady yelled over the intercom, “Fergie’s hit and there's brains all over hell!” Though Baby Huey was at the controls and maintaining the aircraft at a stationary hover, he swung around a bit to the right and looked 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 seconds later two enemy rife rounds pierced the left chin bubble with one round missing Baby Huey’s helmet by only inches and exiting through the green house Plexiglas above the left pilot’s seat while the other round slammed through the thin aluminum skin in the roof. Baby Huey remembers vividly the hot metal bullet jackets dropping in his lap and burning a sensitive part of his anatomy. A couple of more bullets came through the front of the aircraft knocking out a few of the gauges in the instrument panel. 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.

That was enough. With Okie at the controls the Medevac pulled up from the jungle and departed as fast as possible. Baby Huey had coordinated with Blue Max so there wasn’t an inadvertent mid-air collision between Blue Max and the Medevac. In the seconds from leaving the hoisting location, Okie told Baby Huey to check the instruments. Some of the instruments were damaged or reading zero, but the important fuel gauge, engine gauges, and the chip detector lights (which indicated imminent failure of the engine, transmission, or gearboxes) all indicated the aircraft was marginally airworthy for the moment.

The flight back to LZ Mace was tenuous at best, but with the two Blue Max following the suffering Medevac it made a controlled landing at the Medevac pad. Upon landing Baby Huey knew he’d have to somehow unlock and slide back the armored side plate to his armored pilot’s seat 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 there was Fergie standing on the skid toe unlocking the armored plate and sliding it aft. But how could this be, Fergie was dead. 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 was a suitable substitution. Fergie had decided that, in case he got shot down, and had to survive and escape in the jungle, he would instead use a full C-ration can – more specifically a full C-ration of franks and beans. The shrapnel from the C-ration can, the hot metal jackets from the enemy bullets, as well as parts of Fergie’s M-60 machine gun and ammo belt pummeled Fergie’s face and hands, and the velocity of the impact tossed him into the helicopter’s cargo floor.

The round bent parts of the M-60 and the impact propelled Fergie to the right and toward the cargo compartment. The bullet also went through the linked ammo belt and hit the bean can leaving Fergie splattered with franks and beans and a generous portion of Army food splattering the sound-proof blanket on the transmission compartment. Having already received shrapnel wounds from enemy bullets hitting the aircraft very close to him, and thinking an enemy soldier had a bead on his location, Fergie leaped out of the hellhole and into the cargo compartment. Meanwhile, Brady, under the impression Fergie had a fatal wound, announced that over the intercom. Brady dove on top of Fergie to keep his flailing body from undulating out the open left cargo door it disconnected the intercom wire and Fergie was unable to 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. With over 40 bullet holes in the airframe, The Super King, 571, never flew again. 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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