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by Baby Huey
It was probably the beginning of 1971 as I remember, and we were flying from Fire Support Base (FSB) Mace. The name of the base initially confused me since there was no artillery capability. Then someone told me the base was initially used as an artillery base before turning it over to the 15th Med Bn.
Operation Lam Son 719, an all-South Vietnamese ground offensive, was underway as 17,000 South Vietnamese soldiers attack 22,000 NVA inside Laos intending to sever the Ho Chi Minh trail. Aided by heavy U.S. artillery, airstrikes, and American helicopter lifts, South Vietnamese troops advance to their first objective but then stalled, allowing the NVA time to bring in massive troop reinforcements. Back home against the odds, the Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl IV, beating the Minnesota Vikings 23–7, and Larry Fine, of The Three Stooges, suffers a career-ending stroke. Boeing 747 makes its first commercial passenger trip to London. It carried 332 passengers and 18 crew members.
At FSB Mace, the days pass with the usual number of critical medical evacuation requests and the spattering of routine ambulatory cases for broken legs, sprained ankles, and sundry problems requiring medical evacuation. By then, the crewmember's hooch and the pilot's hooch were connected by a covered breezeway that housed our crew shower at one end. Our hooch was also, finally, part of the non-potable water truck's daily delivery routine.
We tended to have fewer evacuation requests in the morning, maybe because both sides in this conflict were eating breakfast and doing the dishes instead of setting up ambushes and causing mayhem. And so, it was curious that we got a call, about 0800, from a platoon having a couple of litter casualties southwest of FSB Mace. They had been ambushed, leaving their night bivouac. We flew to the coordinates to find a platoon sitting on a hilltop with no landing zone close. So, preparations are quickly organized for a 100-foot hoist operation using our internal Breeze rescue hoist and the canvas semi-poleless litter, which our unit used instead of the metal rescue basket.
I brought our medevac to a high hover, all of us went "hot mike," and the GIB's (Guys in the Back) do their thing throwing down the semi-rigid poleless litter for our first patient. Up comes the first litter patient, he's unwrapped from the poleless litter, examined quickly by our medic, and the poleless litter is tossed through the jungle canopy to the friendlies for the second litter patient. Up comes the second patient. He's placed on the cabin floor, and off we go without taking a single round from the bad guys – easy peasy lemon squeezy.
The rest of the day is uneventful and just another day of hanging around the hooch playing Blackjack cards. There was a bit of idle back-and-forth about how nicely the two patients were wrapped in the poleless litter and how they had come up correctly, head first so they wouldn't slip out and fall to the jungle floor.
About 0800 the next morning, we get launched for a platoon with a couple of casualties southwest of FSB Mace. In checking the coordinates, I find it's the exact location we hoisted two patients the morning before. We fly to the hilltop and conduct a hoist mission for a couple more litter patients. Each patient was correctly secured, wrapped tightly in the poleless litter, and came up head first.
That afternoon there was spent chatting idly to pass the time about the chances that the next morning, at 0800, this platoon would have additional casualties. So, the next morning, we were up a bit early and were fully dressed by 0800. Just as clockwork, we get a mission to hoist additional patients from the exact location as the previous two mornings.
Flying out, I set the FM radio to the ground trooper's frequency to coordinate the rescue only to hear the airborne
Command and Control (C-and-C) chewing the platoon's lieutenant "up one side and down the other." Without ever seeming to inhale, the C-in-C went on and on about how "stupid could you be" for spending the night on the hilltop and then, morning after morning, walking down off the hill only to be ambushed by the same enemy a third time. It seems this platoon leader had never called in artillery or done anything different other than follow the same trail morning after morning.
We hoisted one or two more litter patients. All were tucked snuggly into the poleless litter correctly with the armpits trapping the poleless litter and hoisting head first.
As we get the last patient aboard and prepare to depart, we get a call from the ground unit requesting if we had time, they had one additional patient needing to be hoisted off the hilltop.
You know the story, down goes the poleless litter and the hoist cable, and shortly a crew member warns to take up the load, and I prepare to maintain a steady out of ground effect hover. As the poleless litter breaks through the jungle canopy, the medic shouts someone placed this guy in the poleless litter upside down, was coming up feet first, and bleeding profusely.
Fortunately, the patient made it into the cargo compartment without slipping from the poleless litter and falling through the jungle canopy. But not so fortunately, he bled-out and didn't have a pulse. Then the medic announced over the intercom the patient was a lieutenant, and somebody cleanly sliced his throat from left to right. It seems the platoon decided they needed a new platoon leader.
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My First Solo Flight in Nam
By Ron (Baby Huey) Huether
It was probably my second week in Vietnam that I was placed in a "seems
to be the right thing to do" situation.
But let's go back a
week to my first week in Vietnam. After I was processed-in at Ben Hoa, I
looked forward to the three-day charm school mandatory for all new arrivals
to the Cav. I don't know if it was the first day or early the second day,
but I never saw the third day. I was on the hand grenade range, preparing to
blast an invisible commie with my well-placed grenade. I pulled the safety
pin, cocked my arm back and was prepared to release the spoon and toss the
grenade when all the safety NCOs started screaming, "Ceasefire, ceasefire."
It seems there was a Medevac helicopter landing awfully close to the range.
OK, no Biggy, I'd seen a helicopter in flight school, but what I had never
seen or had to do was render a live grenade safe again. Hey, I'm medical; I
save lives I don't blast 'em.
Fortunately, as I stood ashamed-face and probably wetting my fatigue
pants, a range safety NCO came over and took the grenade from me and gave me
one of those "Oh another dumb newbie" look. One of the crewmembers from the
Medevac ran over to the range, and the next thing I hear is the cadre
screaming, "Is there a Lieutenant Huffer here." Having the pronunciation of
my last name butchered all my life, I shouted back that I was Lieutenant
Huether and could I help them?
From there on, that day was just a blur. I was told to sit in the right
seat, so I got onboard the Medevac and tried not to touch anything. We flew
to either Tay Ninh or Song Be. The aircraft commander was a quid-chewing
Okie, and that's all I remember of my first week in Nam. Oh, and ya, Okie,
let me fly a hoist mission where once the last patient was hoisted up, I flew over
the bad guy's location on my way out. I don't remember if I damaged that
Medevac, but Okie promised me I would never be able to live it down. He's
kept his promise many times over.
After a week in the field, I was flown to Phouc Vinh, issued a room and
had my hold baggage rejoin me. I was introduced to a few crew members and
shown when I was next as part of the first up crew.
A couple of days later, I was on first up, so I went to Ops and met the
aircraft commander and the rest of the crewmembers. I'm told to go out and
pre-flight the bird and get it ready for any mission that day. After
completing all assigned tasks, I started to return to Ops when my aircraft
commander staggers pass me. In a mumble with his lips closed, he tells me that if a mission comes in to get the
pertinent information (callsign, frequency, grid coordinates, enemy
situation, etc.) and come to the Medevac where I'd find him.
mission, came in for an urgent patient at the Song Be bridge. I ran out to
the bird with a small section of the paper with all the mission information.
I enter the revetment where the first up bird was sheltered only to find my
aircraft commander unconscious on the patient compartment floor – dead
I wasn't allowed to fly without an aircraft commander, so the crewmembers
helped me move this limp Hawaiian into the left pilot's seat, fasten the
shoulder harness and lap belt, and lock the shoulder harness. And off we
went with the requisite aircraft commander slumped over but free of the
cyclic by a locked shoulder harness. I knew I needed an aircraft commander,
but no one said anything to me about a requirement for an awake aircraft
I got to the Song Be bridge; it's a short flight. I picked up the patient
and followed the crew chief's directions on where to deposit the patient. I
don't recall having to refuel the bird, so maybe I just put it back in the
revetment, but the whole mission was flown with a passed-out aircraft
commander locked safely in the left pilot's seat.
I knew I would be in
for a "dressing down" by the commander, so I started practicing my, "Sir, I
thought it was the right thing to do," probably followed by a cascade of,
"Yes sir, yes sir, never again sir," but the crew said nothing and nothing
was said to me.
For the next 23 years in the Army, I spent almost all my time flying the
Medevac mission. My daily uniform was an Army flight suit. And the real
reason I flew Medevac for 23 years was that if I were required to wear my
greens, the marksman medal had links for Expert Rifle and Expert Pistol, but
the last links says, "Sissy with grenades."
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Song Be Mass Casualty
By Ron (Baby Huey) Huether
The crew and I were sitting as the proverbial fat, dumb, and happy in our GP Medium tent at Song Be (LZ Buttons) when a runner came in and breathlessly announcing we had a twenty-litter casualty mission. He was ashen and looked as if he just finished the New York Marathon. A duce and a half truck full of soldiers had hit an anti-tank mine on a road northwest of LZ Buttons with numerous casualties.
Twenty litter patients instantly exceeded the three-litter patient capability of our poor UH-1 Medevac. But I knew the first step in any mass casualty was to get an assessment team to the location and radio back what combination of equipment and personnel would be needed. Since our crew was the assessment team and the evacuation team, we “beat feet” in a well-rehearsed routine for the bird and made a quickly planned departure. I called the tower and announced urgent medevac departing, and the co-pilot was busily calling arty control to see if any artillery fire needed to be shifted or halted.
After a flight of fewer than fifteen minutes from the mission being received, I conducted a standard approach to the road upwind from the demolished burning duce and a half to stay out of the smoke plume. It didn’t look good since soldiers were lying on both sides of the road embankments. An instant before both skids were planted on the road, the medic disconnected from the intercom, jumped from our bird, and ran to find out what kind of situation we had. If it were twenty litter patients, we’d need the assistance of at least one other Medevac.
While the door gunner and crew chief scanned the tree line on each side of our bird for signs of Uncle Charlie, the medic returned and plugged into the intercom. It turned out the soldiers were all standing in the back of the truck when it rolled over the anti-tank mine. It was the impact of the truck bed against the boots of the soldiers that had caused a plethora of shin, ankle, and foot injuries ranging from broken ankles to shattered lower leg bones.
Hardly any of the soldiers required lifesaving first aid, but they all couldn’t walk, so the unit medic had declared them litter patients since they would need to be moved lying on a litter. The unit medic was factually correct. If the patient cannot walk (ambulatory) and needs to be transported lying down, they’re designated a litter case. But typically, when we heard litter cases, we were just tuned to expect a greater degree of severity.
We spent the afternoon shuttling soldiers from the injury site to Buttons until we had them all safely back “inside the wire.”
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