Though my heart isn't in it, following a summer road construction
job, right out of high school, I head for Michigan State University.
I wasn't exactly the Valedictorian of my high school class,
but most of my friends have left for school. So, for lack of
better to do, I guess I should too. I make friends quickly,
and despite not being much of a party animal, I'm having a great time.
My grades prove it. First semester, and I'm bored beyond belief.
Textbooks give me a rash!
I don't know what I want to do with my life.
I just feel a need for some excitement.
Every time I watch the nightly news and see the helicopters in action,
I know I want to go to Viet Nam and somehow get involved with choppers.
I don't know much about it, but that isn't going to stop me.
I want action and feel the war can provide that.
One small problemhow can I break this to my folks?
The nightmare begins, as the rear gate of the Boeing 707 lowers to
the tarmac at Cam Rahn Bay. The humidity hits us like a fire hose.
Its only 7:20 in the evening, with the mercury cranking up to
modest 100* plus. Given the uncertainties about what lies ahead,
none of us have slept much since leaving Seattle 24 hours earlier.
Judging by the feel of the oppressive heat, there won't be much
for the next twelve months. The conversation is minimal as we leave
the security of the aircraft. Though a few of us have actually
volunteered for this assignment, most have not. We file out onto the
tarmac with an overwhelming sense of trepidation.
We take off at 11:00 p.m. with Rabbit in the lead over the treetops;
the Venom flight climbs to 2500¯, and my ship, Lightning Bug
heads for 5,000 feet. Lying on the deck of the ship is a
with a Starlight scope while the low chopper flies slowly over
the triple canopy jungle along the river with the lights out.
The shooter is searching for targets
°Men, this will be a very hot LZ. Artillery will do a three-minute
prep of the village prior to our arrival, and we'll have the usual
gunship escort. As you approach the LZ, and the village, you'll be
in injun¯ country and you can expect heavy ground fire.
Anyone and anything you see moving in the village is considered
a target. I don't care if that target is a man, woman, child,
water buffalo, pig or chickenyou are to fire for effect
shoot to kill!±
Wait a minute!! I came here to fight a war, and if I have to
kill a male enemy soldier who is shooting at me,
I feel like I am prepared to do that.
But, I did not come over here to shoot innocent women
and children! I wasn't told this in Basic Training
or in Crew Chief School! I'll do my part and participate in
mission and try to protect my comrades as well as myself,
but if I see women and children
Up to this point in my nineteen years I had lived a very
charmed life. Growing up in the north woods of Upper Michigan, I had spent
of my spare time hunting, fishing, and trapping. What more could a
young man ask, than to top it off by going to war?
Boy, did I have my head in the sand!
I had the idea that being a crew chief aboard a helicopter would
give me all the thrills that I was seeking. Any thought that
I could be wounded, killed or captured was nonexistent at this point in
Or perhaps it did exist, secretly:
And that's what made it even more tantalizing
anticipating the unknown.
At 9:00, I headed for our new shower, about 80 yards from my tent.
Having not had a shower for seventeen days, I was more than ready
for a good cleansing. No need to dress for the occasion, helmet,
bar of soap, a towel, and of course my ever-present weapon
were sufficient. At 9:10, just when I was about to rinse the
I could hear the all too familiar sound of incoming rockets.
I grabbed my steel pot and M16 while I made a mad dash for the
bunker next to our tent. By the time I got there, the rest of
buddies were already under cover. No one was smiling.
The rockets were dropping everywhere. However, when I came
sliding in the door dressed in only my steel pot and soapsuds,
the place erupted in laughter!
I'm glad my comrades have a sense of humor!
So far, I only know of two men injured in the attack,
and I didn't get any shrapnel holes in my clothes.
The grunts are cheering as they get psyched to hit the ground.
The Sky troopers who have been involved with hot combat
assaults before have removed their helmets and are now sitting on
them to protect what they must feel is more important than their head.
The New Guys can't figure out what this ritual is all about.
The radio chatter is intense, with the guns calling in heavy
fire, even while they rake the LZ. My heart's in overdrive and
feels like its going to explode. I can hear what sounds like
inside of a popcorn popper and see a volley of green tracers
streaming toward ...
The New Guys are now sitting on their steel pots too!
They're fast learners...
enemy fire intensifies and we pour out more lead with the grunts
joining in unison with their M16¯s and grenade launcher,
as the gun ships continue pounding the edge of the LZ.
There's so much noise with all the helicopters approaching
the LZ, now calling in hits,
The LZ and surrounding village is filled
with residual smoke from the artillery barrage and fresh smoke
from the prep that is continuing. Hootches are on fire in the
village, and there are secondary explosions as enemy ammunition caches
are licked by the fires and by rounds hitting the ground.
The shouting of the grunts intensifies.machine gun fire
I'm entranced, when I spot two young boys high-tailing it
between two hootches and shooting at our flight with AK47¯s!
I can hear the rounds hit our aircrafttick, ticktick.
Instinctively, I cut them down.
Oh Lord, what have I done?
I feel like I'm going to lose my cookies!
I can't believe that I've just killed two boys who didn't look any
older than ten years old? Would they really have killed someone
in our flightmaybe even me with one of their rounds,
or perhaps shot down one or more of our choppers,
killing everyone on board? Or was their fire harmless and
cause for a few bullet holes in my ship? I can't believe that
didn't even think before returning their fireor did I?
How did I react so swiftly
Is this any sign of what the rest of my tour will be like?
I can't handle this!
At 7:00 p.m., the silent, hot, humid air is pierced with the sound
of several incoming rockets. By the sound of the initial "ssssshhhhhhhhhh",
we're in deep trouble.
After a very short couple of minutes, the bunker next to our tent
is full to capacity of a dozen wide-eyed comrades. The frequency
of incoming rounds is unusual, and we cringe with fear every time
a rocket ignites near our hiding place. Even though we've gone
extra effort of reinforcing the roof with logs, PSP, and four layers
of sand bags, a direct hit with a 122 mm rocket would send us all
home in body bags. We would all rather be in the air right now
Out of 23 Charlie Company tents; ten were completely
consumed by fire. Many had partially burned and some were
still smolderingletters saved from sweethearts, wives, children,
parents and friends were gone. Trinkets sent from home,
though maybe small and unimportant in another situation,
had been real treasures, but are lost forever. There isn't a dry eye
in the place as we look about and see many of our buddies in tears
over their lossSifting through the ashes, a light rain begins to help
extinguish the fires and turn everything into a muddy mess again.
Looking in one of the corners of what is left of our tent,
I see Twiggy, another crew chief, sitting on an ammo can.
He has his shirt off and his back is rain-soaked, while hunching
over a small pile of smoldering letters from his girl friend.
As he rereads what is left,
his tears flow into the raindrops already running down his face.
It was very rewarding to be able to give the four wounded that
we delivered to the Mash unit a chance to live.
We can only hope and pray that the ammo we dropped off on that
mountainside tonight gives the rest of that unit the same opportunity.
While I'm bandaging his wound, he dies in my arms.
I don't even know this guy I cry aloud.
I thought I was beyond this by now,
because I've seen so much of this. Perhaps I've seen too much.
My mind is numb.
We feel very helpless on the eight-minute flight to LZ Baldy.
We didn't have any more bandages on board that are large enough
to do these guys any good.
So Dad, now maybe you understand why I'm growing bitter and
looking for revenge. I feel like I may have overstepped my bounds
by telling you these graphic details. I'm sorry.
I just had to tell someone. I'm overwhelmed.
Why can't the politicians back in the world wake up and see
how many men we are wasting over here
American as well as Vietnamese, Australians, Canadians, Koreans
My heart is broken!