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War Stories

Cambodia Crash & Rescue - 10 May 70

Wayne Hooper


Morning came early after a wild night in Cu Chi. Aircraft Commander CW2 J.L. "Jake" Walters and myself WO1 Wayne E. Hooper met in the corral, to preflight our ship and took off for Tay Ninh. Upon arrival shortly after 0800 without shutting down, Jake went in to flight operations while I stayed with the running ship, for any mission plans they may already have for us.

JungleNeeding a BDA or Bomb Damage Assessment we hooked up with our scout for the day CW2 Chuck Poulos, Crew Chief SP5 Joe Don Ramey and possibly Door Gunner SGT Milan Lee.

As usual the B52 strike the night before was a thundering hell dropped on the enemy below. Armed to the teeth and with a grid coordinate, HI HO SILVER our hunter killer team lifted off and out of Tay Ninh headed deep into Cambodia, looking for bomb craters penetrating thru a triple canopy jungle with tree tops reaching as high as 200 feet tall.


The cloud ceiling was about 1000 feet giving us minimal operating room. The scout was cleared to go low level and we circled left above them as they danced dangerously with the tree tops. Within a very few minutes the scout found the edge of the strike zone and we also could see the craters flying right over the low bird. Along that edge we could all see two enemy deuce and a half trucks and a Volkswagen beetle down thru the trees. Undamaged the bombs had cleared enough vegetation to make them very visible.

The scout marked them with a smoke. They were parked very close together. From 1000 feet Jake rolled in putting 17lb rockets right on top of the parked enemy vehicles. As we broke off over the tree tops, I opened up with short bursts of mini-gunfire. Jake came around for another run. Lining up on the targets looking badly damaged and burning, we left them destroyed with secondary explosions occurring. In breaking off again just over the trees and coming up to just under the clouds, the sky lit up with big green tracers from every direction. In seconds we were tagged by the .51 calibers devastating fire power. Almost immediately our engine quit and a fire started just behind Jake in the engine compartment. Autorotation was initiated to the tree tops while I saturated the area with the mini-gun. Falling straight down thru the trees I kept firing all the way to the ground where I was knocked out on impact with the fire still burning and intensifying.

The Rescue (As related to me by CW2 J.L. "Jake" Walters)

Jake survived the crash unhurt yet the amount of time it took to free himself from the wreckage as Jake put it, "I got a bad sunburn on the back of my neck."

As the fire continued to spread, he turned his attention to me while CW2 Chuck Poulos found the nearest clearing to us and with barely enough room set down. When the skids touched down so did Ace Crew Chief Joe Don Ramey. He hit the ground running towards us. About this time small arms fire could be heard from the enemy blindly firing in the distance as visual contact had not been made.

Arriving at the burning ship, Joe found Jake struggling to open the bubble (front seat cockpit bubble) to get me out. Looking at me, what they saw was my chest covered in blood from a neck wound and me not moving. Yet not knowing if I was dead or alive, they determined not to leave me behind to burn with the ship.

Facing the danger of our own armament exploding and being killed themselves and battling the heat from the fire, the bubble finally gave in to their efforts and with some difficulty they got me out. With the small arms fire growing louder, they dragged, carried, lifted me over and slipped me under the obstacles the triple canopy jungle presented. Making it back to the sitting low bird, all extra weight was tossed overboard, including the M60 machineguns and the 7.62 ammo to become light enough to vertically take off to the top of the trees, at the top of the jungle and out of harm's way.

Seldom does a day go by without my thinking of Jake, Chuck, and especially Joe Don Ramey as he was KIA 11 days later in Cambodia. As for me I sustained a shattered vertebra and some paralysis. Living happy and healthy in Florida...Wayne Hooper. July 2020.