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War Stories

LOH Shoots the Cu Chi Tower

by Tom "Sam" Dooling, Eric Brethan and Billy Blackmon

Mini guns were not meant to be door guns on an LOH. However...


Dooling: Typically, when we departed the Corral northbound, we would generally start our take-off in the Corral and then slide over to the runway to head out. For most of us, we would arm our systems over the runway to have them hot when we hit the wire (seems like there was always someone at the end of the runway that would shoot at us). When Eric Brethan was taking off one day, his crewchief (probably Ken Taylor) was pulling the minigun from its stow position pointing straight down to a level position pointing out the door.

About that time, Eric armed the system and there was apparently a short or something, so as soon as he armed the minigun, it cranked right up to 4,000 rounds per minute. You may remember that the Control Tower was on the East side of the runway. Eric caught it quickly and safed the system, but (remember the tower) - the controller got to experience the business end of a minigun for about 3 seconds - took out much of the glass in the tower, but otherwise no harm done.

After that, that controller always had us depart to the South regardless of what the wind was doing (just kidding) — he eventually forgave Eric and his crew.

Brethan: You are correct Sam, it was me that shot up the tower. At the time I had the only mini gun mount in the LOH platoon. Ken Taylor was the Crew Chief for me in LOHs. Wayne Hooper (Hootme from Miami) was the Cobra pilot. His nickname came about because Whacky, the bar maid at Tay Ninh, couldn't pronounce 'Hooper' and called him 'Hootme', he was from Miami so it was a no brainer.
He later was shot down in a Cobra, breaking his back and paralyzing him from the waist down. Fortunately Wayne tells us that he has been blessed with good health ever since.

The Air Traffic Controller in the tower was Billy Blackmon and he lives in Amarillo. He often rode as door gunner for J.C. Carnathan on his days off, or Little Bears. We are in contact regularly. He was never in the Centaurs but saw action more than once. I was covering them in a Cobra and he and J.C. swear I put a pair of 17 pounders directly into a tunnel entrance when they came under fire.


Billy Blackmon: I was working the tower one day at Cu Chi when Centaur 13 called for departure as a hunter killer team ready for takeoff from the corral (Centaur parking and fortified revetment area). Their departure lane was a road between the tower and the runway very close to the tower. Roads with no overhead wires that were adjacent to parking revetments were often used as helicopter runways. I cleared them and turned my back to clear aircraft into and out of our refueling area.

At Cu Chi the control zone was virtually 360 degrees since we had takeoff and landing areas all around us for helicopters. I heard a sound like a truck with no muffler behind me. The engineers had their company area below the tower so I assumed it was a truck being worked on. As I turned to face the active runway I was amazed to find myself looking at a Loach hovering just feet from the tower window facing me. I said “Centaur Loach hovering in front of the tower clear the lane”. He said “is anybody dead”. Both of the other controllers were on the floor of the tower. I said “clear the departure lane I have a Cobra coming out behind you” The Loach transmitted “that is my snake, is anyone dead; my mini gun went off into the tower.” I said “we are fine” he said “please check the engineers” I said “clear the lane now”.

I sent one of the other controllers down to check on the engineers. The Loach and the Cobra departed and I was able to advise the Loach before he was out of range that no engineers had been hurt or killed. Eric Brethen and I were comparing notes over a steak in Canyon Texas during his visit in 2004. He mentioned that he had the first mini gun on a Loach at Cu Chi. I said I never flew on a Loach with one. He said he had a few problems, it was illegal and not approved for the aircraft and that it had gone off once directly into the Air Traffic Control Tower. It had a buildup of static electricity as skids crossed metal (he thought). He said the controller in the tower must have had ice water for blood. After seeing a mini gun go off right at him his only concern was that Eric was blocking a lane. I told him it was me and that I never saw the gun go off and didn’t really understand what had happened until later. He said he had been sure it was my voice on the mike.