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War Stories

Stable Boy Rescues LRRP's - 1967

Tom Fleming

"We've got your back" might be a good slogan for the crews of Stable Boy, our Maintenance and Recovery UH-1. On the big missions they were always there in the background ready to swoop in and take care of any unforseen situations. They did so on many harrowing occasions.


The first LRRP mission I participated in was a no-contact insertion and extraction with MAJ Richard Thomas as the Aircraft Commander and I as the Pilot. The MAJ Thomas explained all the maneuvers and expectations of Stable Boy. There seemed a lot to know and keep on top of. I was glad it was a no-contact mission.

StableBoyMy first real test under fire came on 24 February. Operation Junction City, the largest US operation to date, was in its initial phases which entailed attempting to determine the location and disposition of enemy forces in the operational area. The operational area for this operation was all of War Zone C, a Viet Cong stronghold and the presumed location of COSVIN the military and political headquarters of the enemy.

The Air Cav Troop with its LRRP Detachment was to play a key role in gathering intelligence of the enemy intentions. MAJ Dick Thomas, Service Platoon Leader, was preparing to return to the States in a few days, but decided to take one last mission and fly in the pilot seat with me in the aircraft commander’s seat of Stable Boy to give me the experience of operating from that position and the benefit of his experience with the maintenance recovery mission.

The troop deployed a majority of its assets to Tay Ninh and was screening the Western edge of the Vietnam/Cambodian border within War Zone C. A LRRP team was inserted into an area up close to the border and had been reconnoitering their assigned area for a couple of days. Their location was so remote that it was necessary for the troop to keep a helicopter in the air to maintain contact with the team. MAJ Thomas and I took our turn orbiting the northwest corner of War Zone C listening to the LRRP Team frequency.

Occasionally the fire from the enemy on the ground became directed at us and we climbed to a higher altitude to decrease the chances of a hit. There was an extremely heavy amount of artillery and tactical air being employed to the east of our reconnaissance area and we were forced to fly into Cambodia on occasion to stay out of the way. The border in this area was ill defined and the only way we could tell that we were over the border was that there were no bomb craters, no artillery impacting and no air strikes. We weren’t supposed to cross the border, but you have to do what you have to do. While we were orbiting on listening watch we observed the 173d Airborne Brigade make its one and only combat jump in Vietnam. Their landing zone was cleared by the 11th ACR and the air cavalry prior to their jump. It was hardly a repeat of the combat jumps of prior wars.

The enemy activity in the area the LRRP was operating was increasing and the troop commander moved the LRRP reaction team of extraction and backup extraction UH-1Ds with their 4 UH-1C gun ships and maintenance recovery (Stable Boy) forward to Ben Soi Special Forces Camp. The camp had an assault strip and was a staging area for US and ARVN forces being air assaulted into the operational area. The reports coming from the LRRP were indicative of immanent contact with the enemy.

MAJ Thomas decided that we should go airborne so that he could put me in a good position to observe the operation. The troop C&C was already airborne and in communications with the LRRP who had discovered an apparently empty enemy (but active) base camp. In the process of checking out the insides of the base camp the enemy returned and a firefight ensued. The LRRP called for extraction and beat a hasty retreat to their designated pick-up location. The troop C&C directed them to an open area along a straight road through the tall forest, about 400 –600 meters away.

The extraction UH-1D would not start so the backup extraction ship cranked up and in an attempt to hurry up the process they experienced a hot start (over temp of the engine) and had to abort the mission. The gun ships had taken off were orbiting awaiting the extraction ship. The troop commander in the C& C called for our location and because we were close to the pick up point he told us to go in and pick up the LRRP.

I was flying Stable Boy and proceeded to the pickup location only to arrive there before the LRRP did. I was informed that the LRRP was being pursued and in a running gun battle with an enemy force and that I should try and land as close to the team as possible. The team was running down a road that was not wide enough to land on so I put it down on the road about 200 meters in front of them. I had no gunship escort into the pick-up location; they were several minutes away orbiting awaiting the aborted extraction UH-1D.

As I landed we could see the team running down the road directly ahead of us firing over their shoulder. As soon as I touched down there were enemy on my side of the aircraft who had taken a short cut from the base camp to the place where they were sure we would be landing. The enemy was only 25 to 50 meters away and they were popping up throwing grenades. The door gunner on my side commenced firing suppressive fire immediately with his M-60 machine gun and his fire was keeping their heads down.

I was firing my .45 Cal pistol out the window at the grenadiers who would pop up like ducks in a shooting arcade. I also was trying to make myself as small as I could behind the armor plated seat shield. The Medic in the jump seat couldn’t fire from his position so he handed me his loaded .45 when I emptied mine and I passed him mine to reload. I don’t know how many times we did this but it was several. I never had an empty .45 cal pistol in my hand for very long. Think I hit about three or more of the VC.

The gunships arrived and were not in position to fire a normal pattern, but started firing right away in hopes of breaking up the VC attack on our ship. They unloaded their rockets perpendicular to the target, e.g. over the top of our aircraft into the tree line. We picked up a lot of shrapnel from their rockets and 40mm grenades.

The LRRP arrived and hopped in. It was like the shoot out at OK Corral. The helicopter was overloaded with the five man LRRP team, our medic and all their equipment. I pulled the pitch up under my arm and we rose up vertically just clearing the 100-foot trees to our front and in the process lost too much RPM. The low RPM warning horn was screaming, the red warning light was flashing and the helicopter shaking as I rolled it over into level flight skimming over the tree tops attempting to gain speed and clear the area. MAJ Thomas reminded me to lower the collective pitch and get my RPM back as we passed normal flight speed. I did that and everything settled down. The low RPM horn quit screaming, the controls returned to normal and the shaking ceased.

We returned the LRRP to Tay Ninh for debriefing and inspected Stable Boy. Old Stable Boy had over a hundred scrapnel and bullet holes in her skin. The hits were on both sides, which indicates that they came from both the enemy and our gun ships. Fortunately no one was hit and Stable Boy was back flyable very quickly.