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War Stories

Letter Home - 29 Sep 1967

Bruce Powell

Training new pilots; Jim Moore; WO Hooper; Jeff Halliday: Mark Schmidt; Flying into a storm; Sidwayne Collins; Rick Arthur; Tom Fleming;

Ethan Norris from Flight School; Buck Buxton; new Cobras at 334th.

..I'm under a lot of pressure now that I've made Section Leader. I almost have to live in the Operations shack!

We haven't had to much enemy contact in the last month. Don't get me wrong we still have had some hairy ones but we've had plenty of time to recuperate and prepare for the next ones. I got another new Warrant Officer this week assigned to my section. We've been training him as time permits. LT Moore, (Jim Moore) my assistant Section Leader is still pretty new himself and not quite ready to be an AC (Aircraft Commander). WO Hooper is leaving in 4 days for the states, and I've been forced to make one of the new Warrants an AC. The kids name is Jeff Halliday; couldn't be more than 19 or 20 years old. But he's a good pilot with a level head. He's flown a lot with me and we've been shot up together. He's the only new man who's seen heavy combat and had a chance to prove himself. By making him and AC I've given to him the responsibility of one aircraft and the lives of 4 men (Himself, pilot, crew chief & gunner).

When I first took over (the Section) I made Mark Schmidt (Warrant) an AC, and so far he has proven himself worthy.

I haven't been able to work it to where LT Moore can get "Bloodied" as we say. I thought we might get into a fight tonight. LT Moore was flying as my pilot and WO Rick Arthur and his pilot were flying my wing. Our mission was to search the road from Cu Chi to Go Da Ha for ambush sites, road blocks and so on. A "Diamond Head" aircraft (from 25th Inf Avn Bn) flew ahead of us with a "Lightning Bug" device mounted to the ship. He would shine the light from about 1000 feet altitude, onto the road. I was flying, blacked out, (no lights) at 200 feet off the deck and almost in the light. Rick was covering me with his "Hog" at 800 feet and about 1/2 mile back. The idea was if I could draw some enemy fire, I'd open up with the mini-guns and attack. At the the same time we would turn on our lights. Rick would begin a rocket run by sighting in on my ship as a target. When I break (turn) right I call him at the same time. He opens fire.

Of course the other part of our mission was to recon. A storm front was moving in over Go Da Ha. We could see the sky blackening. "Diamond Head One" called me (Centaur 20) and said he was dropping to 800 feet. The rain was dispersing his light. The weather was getting bad. "Diamond Head One" kept getting lost and I would have to turn my search light on and shine it on the road. As soon as he would get his bearings, we would shut off our light and continue the search.

I saw a truck. It had it's lights on. Looked like a moving van (civilian). It was stopped in the middle of the road. "What do you make of it Collins?" I said to my crew chief. "There's a definite road block there sir; I can see the barbed wire". "Diamond Head One, this is Centaur two zero, orbit left, we've got a road block down here." "Roger".

The rain was getting thicker and we lost sight of the road block. By the time I had directed the Lightning Bug back to the area, the truck was gone. I could see it moving on into the village up ahead. We made a circle and started to come back to check the road block. Then wham! We went IFR, or in civilian talk we couldn't see outside of the ship. LT Moore's eyes were as big as silver dollars. "Don't even bother to look outside Jim, just watch your altimeter and airspeed indicators and make a standard rate 180 degree turn to the right" I told him. I switched on the lights and called Rick. "Centaur Four Three this is Two Zero we are IFR at this time making right 180." "This is Four Three, Roger, breaking right at 800". "Two Zero this is Diamond Head One, we monitored. Breaking left at 800".

The storm was really on us. One bad part about a Huey is flying with the doors open in the back. The gunners get sopping wet. I was beginning to wonder if we were going to make it back into Cu Chi.

We moved out ahead of the storm and recon'ed the road again back to Cu Chi. The storm hit us again when we were on final approach to the "South Pole" (refueling area). The Diamond Head ship ahead of me almost lost control about 50 feet off of the ground. We make it in ok and bounced around a little getting the aircraft up to the pumps.

Fortunately I've had a lot of experience in this type of crumby weather. Jim hadn't had any so he learned a lot tonight. After we got back to the Corral and turned in our report, Major Fleming (Troop Commander) informed me that a bad batch of 2.75 inch rockets had been released and that we must check all of our aircraft for the bad rockets. So back out into the rain we went to pull rockets. Every one of my aircraft but one had bad rockets. We had to fly over to the rearming point and change them.
An hour or two later, after drying myself off with a towel, I sat down and began this letter. At 0200 hrs we're suppose to go up again, but I don't think we will if this rain keeps up.

Ethan Norris (My friend from The Infantry Course & Flight School; now with "Little Bears") got shot down yesterday. We scrambled two gun teams, the Aero Rifle platoon, and a medevac ship to his location West of Cu Chi. … the time I didn't know it was Ethan. They managed to land without too much damage. Ethan was shot in the leg (calf). I went up to see him right after we landed (at Cu Chi) but he was unconscious. LT Buxton saw him last night and said he was going to be alright, and that they expect him to be flying again in a month or so. I was sure relieved to hear that.

I don't know whether I told you before or not but the "Cobras" are in Vietnam. The 334th Assault Helicopter Company at Bien Hoa has 4. We had a demonstration a few weeks back here at Cu Chi and we all got to see the new Cobra. What an aircraft! That's my next goal; to fly one of them.