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War Stories

Accidental Death of Ernest Dow Ford - Nov 1969

Allen "KC" Allcock and Tom Dooling


KC Allcock: Ernest Dow Ford worked in our D Troop Armor Dept. If I recall correctly, I believe he arrived in our Troop somewhere around late summer of 1969. I can picture in my mind at least one other person who was in the armor, but cannot remember his name, nor do I have any pictures of him or Specialist Ford. I remember the day of Ford's death. This, to the best of my memory, is what I recall happening.

Two of the armor specialist were working on one of the Cobra's 40mm grenade launcher weapons, which was located on the turret next to the turret mini-gun. I believe they may have been loading shells into the feed rack of the grenade launcher, and somehow one of the safeties failed(?) and the grenade launcher weapon fired. Now, I must admit, I know nothing about the procedure those men had to take, but what I later observed was that all safety precautions were being taken...... except for a human error which Specialist Ford may have committed. At no time was anyone to pass in front of those weapons while being worked on or reloaded. However, apparently Specialist Ford did so.

I was in the area in front of the hanger when I heard the weapon go off. Several of us ran to the reventment where the Cobra was parked, I saw Specialist Ford on the ground, and got down beside him. He was already in shock. He did not know what had just happened. As I knelt beside him, he asked me, "Why did you hit me?" As medical help was summoned, those of us around him did our best to render whatever aid we could. But, as he was transported away, he was already in an unconscious state. The "shell" had entered his abdominal area, and exited out thru his back, destroying many vital organs, and causing arterial bleeding.

As a side note to this story, after the shell passed thru his body, the shell flew across the road to another company area, and landed on the tin roof of an outdoor latrine. The shell apparently did not fly fast enough to arm itself, or was restricted in some way to hamper itself from exploding. A soldier was using that urinal latrine at the time, and was terrified when it rolled off the roof.

Specialist Ford always talked about California. I don't remember if that is where he was from, or whether it was where he wanted to go once his tour of service was done.


Tom Dooling: Even though I was in the Cobra platoon, I seemed to spend a lot of time with the Scout crews. I was over in the Scout conexes which were located on the East side of the Corral about half way down the flight line (the Loaches were parked in the revetments in Northeast part of the Corral) helping my Scout buddies make “bombs” (see my bomb story). I was facing back toward the hanger and the West side of the Corral and noticed a bunch of guys working on the turret of a Cobra about two revetments North of the hanger - I couldn’t see exactly what they were doing, but I noted that one of them was standing in front of the turret while a couple of others were working on the left side of the turret (where the 40 mm grenade launcher is located). I remember thinking the guy standing in front of the Cobra was not where he should have been. As I watched them, I heard a muffled explosion (more of a loud pop) and saw the guy that was standing in front of the turret get lifted off the ground and thrown onto his back several feet from the turret. I actually saw the 40mm round transit across the Corral into the area just East of us.

A number of people came running from the hanger - we remained by the Scout conexes - didn’t see much point to adding to the confusion - so we were not directly involved in the aftermath. As the story went, there was a write up on the Cobra stating that the 40 mm was jammed (which happened pretty often) and the armament guys were trying to unjam it. I’m not sure if they just lost situational awareness or what, but the absolute rule when working on armament systems was that you did not stand in front of them - loaded or not. Also, I’m not sure if it was SOP or not, but my rule as an AC was that if I had a jammed weapon (minigun or 40mm), I went to the rearm point and unjammed it. I actually became pretty proficient at unjamming the miniguns - and I could generally get the 40 mm to a safe condition even if I couldn’t fix it. I remember I had my Dad buy a couple of stubby flat bladed screwdrivers and send them over in a care package. Initially, I used them for the dzus fasteners, but I found out it fit perfectly into the 40mm firing pin arm on the back of the weapon which prevented it from firing if you rotated the drum around the barrel.

I was always a little disappointed in the 40mm grenade launcher - mostly because:

(1) when shooting it you rarely knew where the first round was going (but once you got it cranked up, it was really easy to adjust so long as the Cobra was going slow or hovering);

(2) when you cranked it up, at least 50% of the time you would get 8-10 rounds out and then it would jam;

(3) when it jammed, it was a royal pain in the ass to un-jam (as well as pretty dangerous); and

(4) even when things were working right, it was a pain in the ass to rearm the system - and took more time to rearm that one system than to rearm the rockets and minigun combined (and took at least two people to do it - and that was the entire crew for the Cobra).

That being said, I do have memories where we would use it on hedgerows - and a good gunner (and an AC willing to hover at 400-500 feet off the ground with a steady hand) were deadly. When done right, it looked like a mini-arclight. I really wish the Army could have designed the system to work better and be easier to rearm (or at least had people in the rearm sites to help reload it). It was an ass-kicker when it worked.