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War Stories

LRRP Infiltration and Extraction - Dec 1966

Herbert D. Beasley

(A story of the amazing bond between Centaur aircrews and LRRPs)

LRRP insertions were always done at twilight giving the LRRP Team the cover of darkness. On December 7, 1966 the crew of aircraft # 65-9661, which flew most of the LRRP missions, was ready to go. MAJ Mike Squires, CPT Gary Hatfield, Crew Chief James Pyburn, and Door Gunner Herbert Beasley. MAj Squires was the team leader in charge of all the Slick crews, so he felt a huge responsibility to fly these dangerous missions keeping his other pilots out of harms way. A true sign of a leader. James and I being single felt we had less to lose than some of our counter parts that were married. The mission: insert the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol in the vicinity of Ho Bo Woods, north of Cu Chi.

We flew in at low level, we called it on the deck, into the first landing zone (LZ). The LRRP’S were sitting on the cargo floor, legs dangling over the side ready to depart and start their mission. One of them slapped me on my right leg. At the same time I spotted two VC walking walking on a rice patty dike with their rifles slung over their and they looked as though they were bigger than they were. The two had to be very young, but it was hard to tell. They turned, I opened fire. Both lay motionless, their bodies, half in the rice paddy the other half on the dike.
Staying at low level we flew to an alternate landing zone. The LRRP team was out and into Ho Bo Woods.

They were soon pinned down by intensive VC fire about 75 meters from the landing zone. They requested extraction. It had become very dark. Making the extraction even more difficult. We made an attempt to pick them up but they couldn’t break contact. There we sat in the middle of Ho Bo Woods at night, searchlight on, but no one came. We were sitting ducks. We left the LZ and waited in the air for another chance. From the air you could see tracers flying in both directions. The VC were in hot pursuit, while the LRRP team was trying desperately to get to another LZ fighting back as they moved.

About 15 minutes later, which felt like a lifetime, a new LZ was picked. You could still see the green tracers from the VC firing at the LRRP team, and their orange tracers firing back. On the way into the landing zone an enemy machine gun fired at us. The green tracers looked like basketballs coming at us right in front of our flight line. MAJ Squires yelled, “Shoot that Son-of a Bitch!!”

I opened fire not knowing for sure where our LRRP team was but I damn sure knew they were not where the green tracers were originating from. I fired until I didn’t see anymore green tracers, over 500 rounds. We saw no more enemy tracers being fired at the LRRP team. Either the enemy had broken off their pursuit or they no longer existed.

We descended into a small opening, not much larger than our helicopter. CPT Hatfield searched the tree line with the landing light while MAJ Squires hovered the aircraft, barely keeping it out of the mucky swamp water. James and I were keeping one eye on the tail rotor the other on the tree line watching for the LRRP team. That LZ was about the size of a postage stamp.

The last time my asshole was puckered this tight was June 10, 1965. Dong Xoai Special Forces Camp located in the heart of War Zone D was under attack by a large VC force. But that’s another story. I think this was the scariest time of all, not knowing who was going to come out of that tree line or how many LRRP’S had made it. I figured the VC would stay inside the tree line and the LRRP’S would come running out. I determined that I would hold my fire and not fire back unless we were fired at from the tree line. I damn sure didn’t want to shoot our own men after everything we all had been through!

It seemed like we hovered there forever. Where were they? The prop wash from the rotor blades was throwing that smelly swamp water all over us. I can still smell it today. All of a sudden, there they were, coming right at me. What a beautiful sight, even if they did all smelling like swamp water; but beautiful in spite of it all. One, two, three, four, they were all flying in. I grabbed the last LRRP by his web gear and assisted him on board. I yelled “Up!” We were off, machine guns blazing. Not one enemy round was fired back at us. We were all happy to be alive to fight another day.

When we landed back at Cu Chi and everyone was departing the helicopter I heard a thud on the cargo floor. Something had fallen out of one of the LRRP’S web gear. I picked the object up. Turns out it was a spent round that had lodged in his web gear and had worked its way out and onto the cargo floor. I gave it to one of the LRRP team members. That day God was on our side. I don’t know what ever became of that spent round. I don’t think anyone was talking about it. Maybe in the LRRP circle but no where else.

MAJ Squires received the Distinguished Flying Cross, CPT Hatfield the Silver Star, and SP5 James Pyburn and SP4 Herbert Beasley received the Air Medal with “V” device.

At a 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Reunion over 40 years later I was approached by one of the D Troop members who asked if I was Herb Beasley? He said he was Marshall Huckaby and thanked me for saving his life. It turned out that he was the LRRP member that I had grabbed by the web gear on December 7, 1966. I believe I said something like “Just doing my job.” I really think I was speechless. That meant more to me than all the medals in the world. I consider Marshall a true friend and brother. We saw each other again in 2012 at the Nashville Reunion. I hope I’ll see him again in 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. - SP/4 Herbert D. Beasley