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War Stories

Welcome to the Cav

T.J. Lange

A short story of arrival in-country, adapting to life in an Air Cavalry Troop and gaining the knowledge and confidence

to become a Crew Chief on a Centaurs UH-1C helicopter gunship in 1967.

January 1967

I arrived In-Country pretty much the same way as everyone else did. When I got off the plane, the first thing I noticed, it was hot and humid. It felt like home as I’m from Miami, Florida. After some processing in the airport we were separated into groups and loaded onto 2 ½ Ton trucks with no tops. After an hour or so, off to Cu Chi – my home for the next year, as I thought then.

We were in a short convoy and drove up Highway 1. The countryside was green with folks tending to their duties in the rice paddies and fields. It was not a bad ride and I just sat back and kinda’ enjoyed the view as it went by. I don’t recall any weapons being fired, no explosions or any signs that that would indicate I was in a country at war. We made a right turn into and through the city of Cu Chi, as the guard in the cab yelled out. It wasn’t a very big city, but you could notice everyone looked up with no expression, some smiled and the kids chased the truck, begging for whatever.

I would learn with time that C-rations held the keys to many doors. The barter system was alive and well. You could trade for ice cold cokes, which were a treat. Some soldiers traded for things I won’t mention here.

So, as we approached the main gate, everyone in the trucks stood up to see what our new home looked like. After the MPs let us go by, some of the trucks went their separate ways. The truck I was in stopped, I heard my name and was told to get off. I was in front of D Troop, 3/4 Cav, 25th Infantry Division.

Someone guided me to my hooch where MOS’ 67N20 were bunked. I went inside to set up my area and there were a couple of fellas with no shirts on and complaining of the heat. Within two minutes I was attacked by a monkey. Scared the hell out of me and of course the two guys started laughing. Turns out the monkey was someone’s pet named Sam. This little ape knew how to open pockets looking for goodies to eat. As time went by I tried to make friends with this starving critter. I learned four things about the beast. He’d either steal whatever treats you had or jump on you from a hooch roof as you walked by – again scaring the hell out of you or if you were holding/playing with him, he’d just bite the hell out of you for no reason and lastly, if he had the urge, he’d pee all over you. Yeah – funny!

After getting settled I was instructed to attend an “orientation to country” that the 25th Inf Div conducted. I think that lasted 2 or 3 days. We were instructed about what to expect during our tour of duty. I remember firing the M-16 and that we had to keep it clean or you would have problems with it.

Back at the unit I was assigned to maintenance and introduced to my boss. He was a Spec 5 and I don’t remember his name but I do remember his attitude. He was ‘short,’ had spent his year in maintenance and only wanted to go home.

My first month in-country was a learning experience. “The crapper” was the bathroom/head/latrine, only for the purpose of passing #2. The “piss tube” was the toilet where you passed #1. “Shit burning detail” was taking 50 gallon drums which were what you passed #2 into and you would pull them out from under the boards you sat on to do your business. You would have kerosene/oil and set it on fire. Once it was burned and gone you’d put them back under the boards to be filled again. I did this disgusting duty a couple of times. The fellas that were in trouble all the time had the privilege of performing this task many times.

‘Pallets’ in the Troop area were the sidewalks that went to every area people had to go. The primary purpose was to keep feet dry and clean, especially when it rained. It rained all the time. If they weren’t in good repair, during a mortar attack you would suffer the most. I think some folks got ‘purple hearts’ when they got hurt running on these things to the nearest bunker ??

I had spent about one month in Maintenance when my boss told me there was a ship that needed a crew chief. I was tickled to death as I had been expressing the fact that I wanted to be a crew chief. I wanted to fly in the worst way. Little did I know ‘what all’ was to come with that title. He told me to go clean the ship first then tell him if I wanted the job. So here I go to clean up the ship and walking on air.

When I got to the ship, I quickly came down to earth. I don’t know what had happened, but I was a little taken aback when I saw what I had to clean up. The ship was a mess with gear just everywhere and blood – God, the blood! I don’t know what happened on that last mission. Either the crew got hit or they brought someone in that was hit. Whatever it was, apparently the crew chief had had enough. It took me two days to put everything back in what I thought was in order. I went back to my boss and told him I wanted the ship.

For the next three weeks I got myself educated on my duties. I wanted to be ‘one’ with that ship. I learned how to correctly perform my daily inspections, maintain my log book, learned from my gunner everything about my weapons systems, went to the training area and fired my M-60, how to take it apart and clean it, how to refuel the ship, rearm it – I just wanted to be a good crew chief.

Now, missions – There were a couple in which I can place a date or locations, but most were just missions. The pilots knew all the details, crew chief and gunners for the most part followed instructions once we got on site.

I think I flew with most of the pilots that flew ‘guns’ and ‘hogs.’ I don’t recall ever flying on a Delta model, only Charlie models.