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War Stories

Centaur AH-1G Cobra Medivac - 25 Apr 1969

Marty Jenkins


Story by Marty Jenkins LOH Scout Pilot with D Troop, 3/4 Cav, 25th INF Division (Call Sign "Centaur 14")
Contributors: Jim Walt, Thomas "Sam" Dooling, and Bruce Karn

Lately I have been encouraged to record the events of April 25, 1969, as a testimony of the love and respect I have for the troopers that saved my life that day. It is a period of life that has affected me and my family in the 49 years that followed.

I was assigned to the scout platoon of OH-6A aircraft (Loach) of the 3rd Squadron 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division on 29 January 1969. I requested the 25th Infantry Division because just 3 years prior, I was the Division’s Commanding General’s family baby sitter in Okinawa, where my father was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade that the General commanded prior to becoming Division Commander at Cu Chi.

I was transitioned into Loachs by Mr. Bruce Karn, the division SIP at Cu Chi. I flew on different types of missions through February, March, and April, like Command and Control with LTC McGowan, the Squadron Commander, and Dawn and Dusk Patrols for our road repair engineers. Loach’s are natural magnets for small arms and machine gun fire. I soon earned the nickname “Superman”, for receiving fire and never going down.
By the 25th day of April, the rainy season was about to begin, but that day was still very hot and humid. During preflight for the day’s mission, I was approached by Specialist John Dobash, asking to fly door gunner in the back seat to collect flight time. I said okay. We were scheduled to fly scout action in front of the track troops of our Squadron in the Hobo Woods, which was a very dangerous area. Specialist Jim Walt was my veteran observer that day, and a friend of Specialist Dobash. I told the crew to roll their fire resistant Nomex shirt sleeves down and to put on gloves. I felt that we should err to caution.


Re-armed and refueled, and after negotiating out of the revetments, my aircraft, Tail # 66-14384 named "Paper Tiger" (See photo of the Joe Kline painting to the left) was handling very well, even though we were overloaded with ammo and fuel. As I got the aircraft light on its skids, I realized we would have to hop on the aircraft’s shock mount skids three times to get translational lift and avoid tail rotor stabilizer problems.


I had already flown early dawn patrol and the local weather was great. As the morning wore on, scouting in front of our track troops, we burned several hundred pounds of fuel, which helped us become more maneuverable. We were in the northwest corner of an area called the “Hobo Woods” and south of a bend in the river called “The Mushroom” (Grid Coordinates XT 583292)

We were flying close to the earth (treetop height) at about 40-60 knots when we spotted a pot of steaming rice outside an enemy fox hole. I flew several passes by the hole having Specialist Dobash try to drop grenades into the enemy fox hole. We reported the enemy fox hole to the Cavalry troop commander that was moving towards that area. We were low on fuel and proceeded to make one final pass to use a white phosphorous grenade, before returning to Base. We made our final approach and dropped the grenade while in a hard-right hand bank. A Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) Shooter came out of a hole and fired his RPG.

(Jim Walt - I never thought about this before, but it is unlikely that Dobash actually dropped the White Phosphorous (WP) grenade, as it would have been pretty hard for the shooter to jump out at exactly that moment and still be able to fire on us. I guess it is possible that the shooter was subsequently hit by the WP).

I tried to bank hard left when the RPG hit the lower right fuselage under Dobash’s seat. It felt like a sledgehammer hitting a car door. Specialist Dobash was blown out of the aircraft by the force of the explosion. I saw fuel splashing forward onto my flight console. The front bubble was blown out by the blast, and we were on fire.
I started to be very anxious, but suddenly I settled down inside my Soul. In my mind’s eye I envisioned the aircraft crashing on the battlefield. I saw my whole life flash before my eyes, and I asked for “forgiveness”.

Suddenly, I was back inside the aircraft fighting to keep a nose high position so as to lessen damage when we hit the ground. The tail struck the ground first and then the skids flattened, and we rolled over and over 3-5 times. As the rotor blades violently hit the earth, the pedals slammed back against my right leg below my knee. I didn’t feel pain until later, after we rolled to a stop on the bird’s left side. Walt was on the bottom and I was on top. He got out quickly through the blown out front aircraft bubble. I couldn’t free myself as my harness release had jammed. I called to Walt to help me! He came back to me and helped me get the harness to release. I couldn’t stand, as my leg was severely broken below the knee. The small arms ammunition we carried was already beginning to cook off from the intense heat of the aircraft fire. As Walt carried me to safety, our grenades and white phosphorous also began to explode.

(Jim Walt: At the point where you say you called out to me because you were stuck, I remember vividly thinking about whether to go back to get you. The ammo was already cooking off. I remember clearly thinking, “Well, cooking off ammo isn’t that dangerous.” So, I rushed back, hoping to get to you before the grenades, and especially the WP, started going off. The stuck seatbelt was a big thing. We both fought that for a few secs. By the time I got you out and far enough away from the now exploding grenades and WP, I knew that going back for John was just not possible. I didn’t know that he wasn’t in the loach).

Mr. Thomas "Sam" Dooling, the aircraft commander of the two seat AH-1G Cobra Gun Ship and Mr. Richard "Dan" Spalding (Front Seat Gunner) were flying as our high cover ship. They came down to rescue us. As Dooling tried to find a place to land he incurred severe scratches and gouges to his tail rotor and Main Rotor. (See photos) Walt was able to direct the Cobra to a safer landing area.

(Sam Dooling: I needed to know exactly where you guys were on the battlefield before I could protect you with suppressive firepower).

Ammo and grenades were still cooking off as Mr. Spalding got out and surveyed our injuries. Walt was relatively unharmed, while I had severe burns on my neck and arms and the broken leg. Spaulding opened the Cobra ammo bay doors to make space for us. He and Walt loaded me onto the left side bay door, Walt got onto the right side door, and Spaulding got back into the Cobra. Walt and I held on to the ammo bay guidewires while Mr. Dooling brought the Cobra to a hover.

It became readily apparent that the aircraft was over grossed and very “nose heavy” which could result in running out of aft cyclic control. Mr. Dooling tried to set the bird back down, but as he did, the Cobra drifted over some brush and trees. As the bird descended into the brush, the cargo doors we were perched on began to fold up on us. Walt pounded on the side of the bird to get Dooling’s attention, and fortunately for us he noticed and lifted the cobra up and over to a clearer area

Mr. Spalding jumped out again leaving his canopy open and with Walt’s help got me back off the Cobra’s ammo bay doors. Mr. Dooling lifted the Cobra up to a 30-foot hover, with the gunner’s canopy still open, and while rotating in a circle right over us, fired off all his rockets. Rocket smoke and white-hot electrical debris came inside the Cobra and pelted all of us on the ground directly below the aircraft. After he sat the aircraft down again, Mr. Spalding and Specialist Walt got me resituated on the ammo bay door and we departed the area RAPIDLY!



Two things here, one.. as the aircraft gained speed we had to tuck our heads away from the ongoing direction just to be able to breathe, and secondly.. as we gained full flight status and cleared the M113 troop carriers and M551 Sheridan tanks, they opened up with everything they had. In an instant, I knew we were going to make it back to Cu Chi.(Sam Dooling: We just stuck them on the ammo bay doors and left the ammo cans in place. I was so pumped and anxious to get them to the hospital, I ran the Cobra up to about 100 KTS. Thankfully, Spaulding kept his cool better than me and had me slow to about 50 KTS so we wouldn’t blow them off. That would have been really embarrassing if we got to the hospital pad with nobody on the ammo bay doors.)

Note: Later during that same summer in July, LT Jerry Odom, my Platoon Leader, and his crewmembers Dennis Rogers and Marty Lalli, also did this same scary Cobra ride, except with three guys on the bay doors! (see video story at
Specialist Dobash was found by LTC McGowan and LT Jerry Odom about 200 meters back along our aircraft flight path. Odom, flying a second LOH, landed, locked the controls, then they both jumped out to rescue Dobash. They carried the severely wounded Dobash back to the LOH and flew him to the 12th EVAC Hospital at Cu Chi. He expired that evening.

As we landed at the 12th Evacuation Hospital Pad at Chu Chi, two on duty stretcher bearers began shooting pictures of the two of us holding on as the Cobra landed (I wish I had a copy of that image).

The nurses and surgeons of this hospital unit were awesome! They treated all of us that day, including Specialist Dobash, with such tender care. These emergency high danger hospitals have the finest medical people anywhere. These medical professionals stayed vigilant and attentive no matter how many wounded came through the hospital door. Later, I observed how steadfastly the nurses worked under these life or death close quarters situations day in day out.

Specialist Dobash was severely injured and passed away that evening, Specialist Walt had burned his knuckle on a smoke grenade that went off inside the cockpit. I had suffered 20% burns and a broken right tibia. I often think how blessed we were that day. Our flight Nomex suits saved our lives and my armor plate stopped more than a few pieces of sharp metal.

The next day 1LT Terry Talley flew his Loach out to survey my aircraft damage. He proceeded to receive an AK-47 rifle round through his foot. 1LT Talley and I stayed together at the 12th EVAC, Camp Zama Japan, and Scott AFB in Illinois. P.S. CPT Bill Blair (the maintenance Officer) sling loaded the melted remains of 66-14384 “Paper Tiger” and bagged it up for stateside observation.

Jim and I are eternally grateful for Mr. Spalding the Aircraft Gunner and Mr. Dooling the Aircraft Commander for saving ALL our lives.

Since that day, Jim Walt and I have become good friends and we hope one day to thank in person Mr. Richard Spalding and Mr. Sam Dooling for saving our lives. We will always remember Specialist John Dobash, our fellow crew member. We faced the enemy together and I am proud to have flown with him and Specialist Walt.