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War Stories

The F Troop Factor

Bruce Powell

CIVO and the Centaur Society is working hard to bring in our Centaur counterparts from F Troop. This article might give our D Troop guys a better appreciation of what those men went through, and what they had to do to continue to uphold the high standards of our unit.

I am waiting for the men who flew both the D Troop and the F Troop missions to give us some stories about the transition between those highly different missions. F Troop was supporting mostly ARVN forces, rather than American troops. It had to be dramatically different. I call it the "F Troop Factor". Let us hear your stories.

Until those stories come in let me give you a parallel perspective by someone who flew the D Troop missions for over 18 months (67-68) then came back and flew similar missions except for the Korean Army Forces (1972).

We had no Aerorifles! We had no Wolfhounds or Manchus flying in on "Hornet" slicks to save the day. Who was there to say "We've got your back" when we would depart on a mission? The pucker factor went up quickly. Korean troops were well trained and tough. However they spoke no english; they seemed to have less regard for human life; they rode on a false confidence that the VC and NVA would leave them alone as much as possible because of their ruthless reputation.

I flew Cobras that whole year of 1972 with the 129th Assault Helicopter Company, An Son, Vietnam (Cobras and Bulldogs). I often felt more like a mercenary pilot flying for a foreign country. I missed my ground forces. How could the 3/4 Cav Squadron have left me here all alone?

At the line shack one day one of my crew chiefs handed me a NewsWeek magazine and said "look at this!" It was a map of Vietnam showing the areas that the NVA was now in charge of. It covered our whole AO and our base camp. No shit! No wonder all of those civilian pukes left in such a hurry; leaving behind heavy equipment like bulldozers, a tractor with a back hoe, and such. I had a ball playing with that equipment. Things I had always wanted to operate were mine for the taking. I mounted a radio in my 5 ton forklift so they could call me for gun missions while I was building a better perimeter defense.

The hardest mission that I ever had was to fly in on a slick with a Korean force to recover the burned bodies of two of my Cobra pilots. No, I was not flying. I was in the back with my CO and Korean infantry. I was more concerned about getting shot by a Korean than an NVA soldier. They tended to shot everything that moved. Don't get me wrong they were good tough soldiers.

The Koreans got their comeuppance at the Battle of An Khe Pass (Apr 72); Butt kicked big time by the NVA. We had some American Casualities that day. The Koreans had hundreds of KIA's. They built a monument called the An Khe Pass Battle Triumphal Monument to honor those Korean fighters. Most did not consider this battle a triumph.

I flew that battle for 5 days returning home each day with a different critically battle damaged Cobra (51 cal hits mostly). I was finally grounded. The CO said he couldn't afford to loose any more Cobras.

This may better explain my positive attitude of the Centaur "good ole days" and my admiration for the men of F Troop serving without backup.

Bruce Powell, Cobra 5