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War Stories

Letter Home - Martindale 1972

by CPT Paul Martindale (deceased 28 Apr 1972) - provided by his brother Charles


Map9Monday 10 April 72 Phu Bai, RVN

As you can tell from the above location, we aren’t where you thought, as we have been moved for the second time since coming to RVN. We went from Lai Khe to Long Bihn which was about 30 miles and then Easter Day we moved from Long Binh to Phu Bai, a distance of 473 miles. I will try and tell you what I have been doing in some kind of order, but it could prove hard to do as much has happened since the first of December.

Throughout the months of November, December, and half of January, we worked exclusively in Cambodia, laggering out of Tay Ninh City. We were sometimes as deep as 80 miles into the country and at one time we overflew the Mekong River. We had action aplenty and it was there that I first experienced taking fire from the Bad Guys. We were shooting into an area and suddenly the tracer rounds were coming up instead of down. We shot where the fire was coming from but couldn’t determine if we killed any of them. We lost 5 aircraft and sent 4 pilots home, all alive!

During the second week of December we received word that we would redeploy to Long Binh, which is right close to Saigon. We began to pack and prepare to move our entire unit. Our unit is entirely self-supporting so it’s a job to pack and move. We were due to have a week to accomplish the move but were not given that. On January 5th we were told that the 6th would be the only day we had to move and on the 7th we would begin to fly missions again. Of course the only thing that moved was the people and the aircraft. We were given a very rundown area to live and for a couple of weeks the unit looked like an urban renewal company. We all pitched in to try to build rooms and get comfortable. It was rather hard to do as no one wanted to help us.

We flew missions into Cambodia throughout the month of January and then just started working everywhere. We were working the entire Three Corps area and never knew from one day to the next where we would go. It was interesting as we got to see a lot of new places and work all types of terrain.

During the month of February we lost the first pilot the unit has lost in nearly a year. One of our scouts was shot down on the way home one afternoon and the pilot and door gunner were killed (CPT James Hamrick and SP4 Don Ware). The left seat observer wasn’t hurt but it took us a long time to get him out as Bad Guys were everywhere. The pilot was with the troop only six weeks but was one of the favorite pilots of the troop (see story). We had a Cavalry Memorial Service for the pilot which was very impressive. We have Cav boots with spurs, Cav Hat, Cav Sword and the Unit Cavalry Flag. It would bring tears to the eyes of the strongest (see news article).

During the month of February I made Aircraft Commander, which is a big step and really an honor in this unit. The only way to make AC is to have all the AC’s agree that a man is ready for the job. Being an AC carries a lot of responsibility as the lives of several people depend on the Cobra AC and the success of the mission is dependent on the decisions of the AC. All the guys said I was ready, even though I had only 800 hours in a Cobra. I made it and now I have an official call sign, which is Centaur 41. I am in the back seat doing the flying now.

In March, we were made OPCON to the 1st Cavalry Division, the last major ground unit in Viet Nam. We were to fly cover and do VR missions for their ground companies. It turned out to be very dull as the area they worked in is very cold as far as Bad Guys are concerned. We only got into bad stuff one time and your eldest son was in the thick of it. I must have had 500 rounds shot at me by the Bad Guys but luckily none hit. I fired a whole bunch of rockets but don’t know if I killed anyone. I was supposed to be put in for a Distinguished Flying Cross but our Awards and Decorations officer is too concerned with his own medals to have time to write anyone else up so I won’t get it. Makes me sorta mad, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

To get on with the history, we had settled down into a good routine at Long Binh. I had moved into two rooms with the three other guys and we really had things fixed up neat. We had an 18,000 BTU air conditioner and a big refrig so we were really set up. We planned a grand opening of our club on 1 April 72 and were going to really have a blowout, but the roof caved in that night and it wasn’t April Fool.

At 10 oClock on the night of 1 April we were told that we had to pack up and be ready to move to Phu Bai at 0730 the next morning. We had to pack everything we owned as we would be vacating the buildings we were in. I finally got to bed at 0200 in the morning but got woke up at 0400 the same morning to start getting ready. We pulled out of Sanford (Sanford Army Airfield Long Binh) at 0730 on Easter Day with a flight of 19 helicopters, heading north for the northern portion of I Corp. It was a long flight, about 9 hours in all. The countryside was beautiful. We went up the coast and had mountains the whole way. The South China Sea is beautiful and has the bluest water I have ever seen. We finally got to Phu Bai and were again greeted by the slums. We always manage to get the worst quarters in Viet Nam and it doesn’t do a helluva lot to help the morale. This entire area is hot and the NVA own about 75% of it. There are mountains everywhere and few of us are used to it.

Our mission up here is to replace another Cav Troop that was here but got all their Cobra’s shot down ("Blue Max" 1st Cav Div). We are trying to take some of the pressure off the ARVN’s up here and have been partially successful. The weather has been against us the last couple of days as it has been raining and the clouds have been down to 5-600 feet. It’s hard to work in that.

We went out tank hunting yesterday and I got the dickens scared out of me. We were flying low level over enemy held terrain and I started taking fire. This in itself was nothing new as I have drawn fire everyday up here. I was hit by two rounds – one of them hit my rotor blades and the other hit the left side of the canopy, about 3 inches from my left shoulder. It hit the armor plating and was deflected back out, but it sounded like a thunder clap inside the cockpit. Shrapnel was flying everywhere and the entire left side of my face was hit. No cuts though so I wouldn’t qualify for a Purple Heart. I continued to fly even though I was scared to death. I missed being killed by only a few inches but a miss is as good as a mile in this game. - Paul