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War Stories

Never Volunteer For Nothin' - Oct 1967

Woody and Leci Gardner

Before Woody became a famous Door Gunner he worked in maintenance and longed for action.

Mentioned: Mark Schmidt; Gary Dawson; Gary Cochran; Tom Fleming

also see Letter Home - 29 Oct 67 by Bruce Powell; mentions Rick Arthur as lead gunship.


This happened while I was still in Maintenance (in the old troop area), and had a bad habit of sneaking off if any Crew Chief needed a door gunner. I actually did this because I really thought I was gonna die over there and I didn't want to die without engageing the enemy.

The Aircraft Commander on this mission was WO Mark Schmidt. The Crew Chief was Gary Dawson. Dawson was yelling "I need a gunner, I need a gunner". So me being 19 and so smart, I took the job and jumped in, 'cause I didn't want anybody to beat me there. That ship was on #1 standby.

FlexGunsWe were scrambled to cover a shot down Med Evac ship, somewhere south of Cu Chi. Upon arrival over the area we learned where the bad guys were. Dawson's ship was an old Flex-gun ship (XM-16 system with 2 M60 machine guns mounted on flexible mounts on either side of the aircraft). We made one pass over the area and the rear gunship received fire, so we turned around and made another pass over the area. The rear gunship recieved fire again.

As we were making our third run over the area I got this bright idea. I turned around and faced backwards; since we hadn't recieved any fire, so I could see the flash of the guns as they were shooting at the rear ship. As we came over the area again, I heard this machine gun start shooting, It sounded like it was only a few feet away.

When I woke up I still had the pistol grip of the M60 in my hand, looking at the roof sound damping insulation. I knew there was something wrong with this picture, so I jumped up and tried to act like nothing had happened ( I actually thought I had gone to sleep for some strange reason). Dawson was shaking my shoulder asking if I was alright. I was trying to get him to leave me alone so I could continue to act like nothing had happened. As I looked at Mark and the other pilot and saw how big their eyes were I looked down at my chest protector and saw that the bullet had hit the edge of it about an inch in and tore the front of it up. Damn, I thought.


About this time Mark called the other gunship and told them if they were worried about getting shot, to hide behind their chest protectors, 'cause Gardner had just got shot in his. As we started the next gun run it looked like the later Tet Offensive. More different colored tracers coming up at us that I had ever seen. WO Cochran (spell) got shot in the leg on that pass, he was in the rear ship.

PlayboyA few minutes later, and all the clatter from the ship to D Troop operations, another ship called and ask if they could help. Mark asked what they had. And they answered, "two snakes". We had heard about the Cobras but had never seen any. Damn they looked mean. The rear gun ship left for Cu Chi, and we made another pass to mark the target with smoke and watched death roll in! I knew I wanted one of them. They made our Flex Gunship look like a toy. I had never seen a Mini-Gun in action before, and action it was. I bet that bunch of VC or NVA wondered how in hell we unleashed death and destruction like that. Since we were no help, we watched a couple of passes then went back to Cu Chi.

It wasn't long after that, that we started getting mini-guns and got rid of the Flex guns. The bullet that hit me actually hit the M60 feed tray cover and then continued on to hit me in the chest. It black and blued both my shoulders and knocked a hole about a half inch under my lip with shrapnal. Needless to say the pucker factor was pretty high on this mission for everybody. Major Fleming came over the that night to see how I was and saw the hole in my face, which wasn't bad. He wanted to know if it blead. I told him it did just a little bit, and he wanted to put me in for a purple heart. Me being 19 and so very smart, I refused it 'cause I thought you needed to really be messed up to get one of them.

When we landed at the corral, half of D-Troop showed up to see the chest protector. I remember WO Pat Eastes, shaking my hand and saying "you lucky SOB' and smiling. ( Pats Dad and my Dad were stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas at the same time. We knew each other as kids).

We checked that ship from stem to stern looking for bullet holes. The only bullet that hit that ship also hit me. The copper case on the outside of the bullet, which was found by Mark, which I still have, he found in the front bubble of his side of the ship. The back of his seat had cuts and tares from the bullet blowing up.

I wasn't superstitious or an odds player, but I knew, or thought I did, that you might not get shot again. Being young and stupid with a bad ass weapon, I continued to sneak out any time anybody needed a door gunner.

It was the Cav's fault. The pilots didn't have a choice. And the way I looked at it, neither did I. I knew that Maintenance was critical, but I hated the mortars, recoilless rifles and the rocket fire worse than getting shot in a ship. It was a way to strike back and not to have the responsibility of three other guys lives as a Crew Chief 67-N20.

No one complained, but it wasn't long before SGT Gutares(spell) told me that as long as I flew as an 11B-MOS and not take a 67-N20 C/E job, I'd leave Vietnam as a PFC. Needless to say the SGT and I became good friends.

My flying days were over, for now, but thats another story.

And thats the story of my first Air Medal with a V. Why I got it I still don't know.

We all did our jobs and D-Troop had a great bunch of pilots.