War Stories 13

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Skinny Dipping

By Baby Huey

LZ Mace at the beginning.My favorite field site in the 1970-1972 timeframe was Mace. It was Spartan in the beginning but there was always a lot of action and lots of opportunities to get in trouble. When Medevac Charlie was ordered to move from Tay Ninh to some place closer to the ocean, the Medevac commander and I flew over the area looking for a place we wanted to vote on. We voted a place about five miles southwest of Nei Ba Rah mountain because there was a runway there, but alas we were outvoted and the powers-to-be said we’d set up station at the base of Nui Ba Rah’s north side.LZ Mace Vietnam.

Initially we were in tents with, if you can believe it, our aircraft parked OUTSIDE the wire. Nothing more reassuring than running through a hole in the berm wire, at night, cranking the helicopter, and leaving on a mission. What could go wrong? Somehow, Charlie never got smart enough to put a bubby trap on our helicopter.

Medevac hooch beginning at LZ Mace.But we soon came into possession (I forget how) of some culvert piping and built one metal hooch for the pilots and one for the crewmembers connected with an enclosed breezeway. We pitched in some money and paid a couple of Vietnamese kids to fill sandbags and double-layered the hooches in sandbags and blast walls. Ahhh, life was good. And it got “gooder” when we rigged up a couple of 55-gallon barrels and had hot showers at one end of the breezeway.

Our hooch was next to the Blue Max Cobra guys and close to our aircraft, which now sat safely inside the berm wire. Other than chow, I don’t remember spending much time with the non-aviation guys of Medevac Charlie. But there was one straight-legged MSC Lieutenant that caught our eye. He never was without his pistol belt and 45 – never. You’d see him coming out of the shower and he’d have on flip-flops, and towel around his waist, and that trusty old pistol belt and 45.

Medevac hooch at LZ Mace.At this time there was a bit more action going on than we were comfortable with, so we had two Medevacs stationed at Mace – the proverbial First-up and Second-up. Or is may have been, you get shot down and if you’re nice I’ll pick you up. And on special occasions it was observed that Second-up would fly due East to the coastline and the crew would go…ahhh as illegal as it was…the crew would go skinny-dipping in the ocean. After all, we were Cav and didn’t have issued bathing suits like the DUSTOFF crews. Medevac shower LZ Mace, Vietnam. One day, killing time between missions and playing Spades, we got to talking about this Lieutenant and his personal armament. If we took him with us to the beach, would he wear his 45 into the water or just leave it on the bird like the rest of us? A lively conversation ensued with varied opinions given. Then someone said, “Hey let’s invite him and see.”

So we did. I invite this straight-legged paper-pushing MSC Lieutenant to go swimming with the Medevac guys. Ohhhhhhhh, the look on his face showed he thought he had died and gone to heaven.

We all jump on Second-up and off to the beach we go. Following SOP, we first slow-hovered over the beach to see if we drew fire, then we landed briefly to let Deros the mascot dog out so she could sniff out any bad guys, and then when all look safe we’d land and reclaim Deros.

On this day, as the blades wound down we all started stripping off our Nomex, boots, and other assorted clothing. And sure as the sun comes up, this Lieutenant strips bear-butt naked and then straps back on his pistol belt and 45. Picture this…a butt-naked soldier Second up at the beach east of LZ Mace.wearing only a pistol belt and a 45. He walks down to the water’s edge, unclasps the pistol belt, rolls it around his 45 and puts it gently on the sand. And off he dives into the South China Sea. None of my crew said a word and none of us could believe our eyes. That’s when I came up with the bright idea to take a picture of him after he comes out of the water and puts the pistol belt back on. Click, I get the picture and over the years it gets inundated with all my other stuff from Nam once I get back to the world.

Now, fast-forward 18 years and I’m sitting in the Pit in the basement of the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston and up walks an LTC and starts to talk to me. I look at his chest and he ain’ta gots no wings. If you don’t have wings on your chest, I don’t engage in conversation with you – that’s my rule. He asked if I remember him and I say no. Then he says, well in Nam you took me S W I M M…and like a bolt of lightning I know exactly who this guy is.

Second up at the beach.He sits down, and I tell him I have a picture of that day when we went swimming and I ask where’s he’s stationed so I can send a copy to him. He’s a commander of something-or-other at Fort Carson and I get his address. When I get home, I find his picture, and have it enlarged into an 8 x 10 glossy and mail it to him.

Unbeknownst to me, he’s on leave when the picture arrives. Being a commander, he’s told his female, civilian, orderly room clerk to open all the mail and stack it in three piles by urgency. She opens my envelope, pulls out the picture of the commander, butt-naked sans a pistol belt and 45 and…get ready for this…and posts it on the command bulletin board!!

Needless to say, I received a fairly loud, very irate telephone call a few days later from this poor LTC.

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Medevac Down

By Dave sheets

 15th Medical Battalion routinely forward positioned medical evacuation crews at FSB Mace to be more responsive to US military operations in the area. My crew was "First Up", which meant we would be the first to respond to all requests for medical evacuation. The crew included: CPT David Sheets - Aircraft Commander, 1LT William (Bill) Cooley - Copilot, SP5 Ray Flynn - Aircraft Crew Chief/Left Door Gunner, SP5 Larry Lund - Medic/Hoist Operator, and SP4 Richard Dubray - Right Door Gunner.

We began our day with an urgent request from 1/12th who had just broken contact with an enemy unit. There were four wounded soldiers needing immediate evacuation. We flew to the unit's location, north-west of FSB Mace, successfully hoisted the soldiers on board and then flew them to the Aid Station at FSB Mace for stabilizing medical treatment.

Late in the afternoon we received an urgent request from C CompanY,2/8'h Cavalry for medical evacuation of nine critically wounded soldiers. When we arrived on station the unit was in heavy contact and "Blue Max" the Huey Cobra gunships were still providing fire support to the ground unit. Once the gunbirds expended their load a "Pink Team" joined the fight. This "hunter killer team" consisted of a low bird (OH-6: Loach) spotter helicopter and a gunship (AH-1G: Huey Cobra). The low bird advised me that they were not taking fire and I may want to attempt the mission. The ground unit radioed that, except for four men, everyone else had been hit. I then received instructions from the Command and Control aircraft "do not go in yet . . . still not secure". However, because of the urgency to evacuate the critically wounded soldiers, I made the decision to begin the hoist operation.

[To read about this mission from the patient's point of view click HERE]

The ground unit "popped smoke" at the hoist site. I approached the pickup site so as to not overfly the enemy position. As we hovered above the triple canopy jungle and SP5 Lund started to lower the jungle penetrator, we began to receive intense ground to air fire from the NVA forces. In addition to the hail of small arms fire, an RPG hit the tail boom knocking out tail rotor control. The aircraft yawed and began to roll tail low. At this point an armor piercing round came through the floor of the aircraft striking me in the right calf, exiting the front of my right leg, Within a split second another RPG hit the engine. ln hind sight, this was a miracle. This was a Devine miracle because, within seconds, the tail rotor failure and engine failure had equal and opposite "counter balancing" effects. We were now back straight and level.

As I regained control of the aircraft, I noticed a small somewhat open area to my left front where I would attempt a low level autorotation. We continued to take intense fire as we began our decent. A third RPG came through the cockpit, taking out the radio console between the two pilot seats. Tracer rounds continued to come up through the floor of the cabin, igniting the fuel cells. At this point, a fourth RPG hit the right machine gun mount; blowing off the mount, gun and entire right skid.

As I approached the touch down point, not knowing we had lost the right skid, I began to execute the standard emergency procedure. As we touched down, the aircraft fell over on its right side. As the main rotor dug into the ground, it flipped the aircraft to the left side, back to the right side and finally back to the left side as we skidded forward to a stop. I was pinned in the aircraft and the aircraft was engulfed in flames.

1LT Cooley released his seat belt and attempted to pull me out of my seat. Being unsuccessful, he exited the aircraft. I was then able to work my way loose from my entrapment. With a wall of flames on one side of me and the windshield on the other side, I was unable to exit the aircraft. It was at this point that I heard the shouts of 1LT Cooley and SP4 Dubray . . . "come this way . . . jump through the flames!" Since I was certainly not ready to die and because I trusted my crew, I jumped through the flames. There was an open area behind the thin waterfall of burning fuel. 1LT Cooley and SP4 Dubray helped me to the open side of the aircraft and we all jumped to the ground.

As we cleared the aircraft we again came under heavy small arms fire. Fortunately, we )/ere able to take cover in the tall elephant grass. At this point, we observed the second up medevac helicopter landing in the crash site. The second up crew, with Chief Warrant Officer Warren Jackson at the controls, "chopped" their way through the thick jungle to land next our burning aircraft. My entire crew was able to run to the waiting aircraft and we were then flown out under heaving enemy fire.

Warrant Officer Jackson flew the entire crew back to FSB Mace. I was rushed into the Medical Aid Station, were my wounds were stabilized. I was flown to the 24th Evacuation Hospital for additional treatment and surgery. After several days I was flow to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for a second operation. Finally, I was flown to the hospital at Fort Ord, California, where I completed inpatient treatment and subsequent full recovery.

It is my understanding that the following awards for heroism were received: Warrant Officer Jackson - Distinguished Service Cross, 1LT Cooley - Silver Star, SP5 Dubray - Silver Star, CPT Sheets - Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

As a final comment, it is my firm belief that only by the Grace of God did my entire crew survive this miraculous combat experience. To this day, my thoughts and prayers are with the ground soldiers wounded and killed on that fateful day in June 1971.

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