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War Stories

Becoming a Crew Chief

John 'Willi' Williams

This is John's recollection of his selection to become a Crew Chief and some of the things that can happen until

you have enough experience to really control a bungee cord mounted door gun.

January 1967

I thought my goose was cooked when my Platoon Sergeant told me to report to Capt. Delvy. Just a few days before, on Christmas night, I had guard duty and he was the OD. I hate to tell on myself but I had been wussin' out. It was my first Christmas away from home, I didn't know anybody yet and I was still hesitant about getting to know anyone. Anyway, my hooch mates offered me something other than Apricot Brandy (that was all us em's had to drink for alcohol at that time) to celebrate with and I did. All this did was make me sadder. Sooo, when Capt. Delvy came upon me sitting on the steps that night crying, smelling like alcohol, I figured I'd get to go to LBJ with the AWOL guy.

I reported to Capt. Delvy with my tail between my legs - expecting a huge chunk of ass to be missing when it was all over. He asked me if I would like be a Crew Chief/Door Gunner for the Gun Platoon. I said yes and then asked "Why me?" He told me that I didn't try to lie my way out of trouble on Christmas Night and that he could work with an honest person.

I was assigned to John Cumbie; CE of 65-9461. He had come from Hawaii with the Troop and it was about time for him to go home. He acted like he was giving me his daughter or something instead of transferring his helicopter to me. As it turned out your aircraft was basically your life. Take care of it - it will take care of you. A lot more to it than you think; especially in a nasty, dirty, combat environment.

Then you have to learn how to shoot an M60 machine gun that was hanging from a bungee cord. The first time I touched that thing off I thought - "Holy Cow." I let off the trigger, got my feet back under me, got my butt off the floor and into the seat and thought “This is going to be the hard part.” It got easier with trial and error.

I never fired a round that hit the inside of the aircraft but anything that stuck out from the side of the aircraft, with the exception of the tail rotor and main rotor, I hit at least once. I do think that the main rotor and M60 had a synchronous (if there is such a word) relationship because I know some of the rounds went through the rotor disc without any physical contact. But the skids, door handles, elevators, mini-gun barrels and rocket pods? Yes. I shot up all of them.

Usually it was one of the pilot's fault for juking one way or the other before breaking left or right. But I just wanted to keep fire on the target as long as I could. By the time I rotated back I could play that M60 like Jimi Hendricks played the guitar. My name had too many letters so the best I could do was write my initials with tracers at night, I even wrote them backward in case there was a gook down there that could read English.