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War Stories

Viet Nam 1967 - The Way I Saw It

Terry L. Vaughn

I was 18 at the time, fresh out of Army AIT at Ft Rucker. 67N20, Single Rotor, Turbine Engine, Helicopter Repairman, My orders said I would be going to the 1ST Air Cav Division. We left Oakland Army Terminal on a cold January morning, dressed in fatigues and field jackets. Arrived at Travis AFB and were herded onto a C-141 Starlifter. There must have been 200 of us. They pilled our duffel bags on the tail ramp and we all sat in small nylon seats that looked backwards, facing the tail. There were about 4 small windows on the whole plane. We all kept out field jackets on because it was cold inside the plane.

After flying for what seemed three hours or so one of the Air Force crewmen brought around a half heated TV dinner (Swanson) not the best looking stewardess I have ever seen! A while later I noticed we were losing altitude and were getting close to the water, the "stewardess", announced we were landing on Guam to refuel. We landed, taxied for a while, and finally stopped. They opened the doors and let us out, where we all IMMEDIATELY stripped off the field jackets! Guam is rather warm! After taking off from Guam we continued flying for several hours and as I was thinking we were never going to get anywhere, the power comes back and we are again on an approach to somewhere. I'm thinking its Viet Nam .... When the ugly "stewardess" announces that we are landing at Clark AFB in the Philippines, due to the fact that they can't turn on the runway lights at Pleiku for oblivious reasons, and that we will wait at Clark AFB until morning.

We land at Clark and were herded to an Air Force mess hall. I'm in line and shuffling through, and I reach the server, He says "What would you like?' and I say "HUH?" Army people don't ask this question! I then say "Eggs" he says "How do you want them?" I say "HUH" again he ask how I want the eggs ... I answer "over easy" ... How many he says .... again I answer with "HUH?" .... .I'rn not believing this! I'm ready to resign from the army and re-join the Air Force! Anyway after the best food I ever experienced in the military .... we finally take off after daylight and finally land in Pleiku.

PLEIKU. After landing and rollout they park the plane and open the tail ramp. We file by and pickup our duffel bags and walk out into the sunshine. As we walk out there are others walking onto the C-141 ... all yelling "You'll be sorry" or "DON'T GO" We get to the replacement depot and are assigned cots and begin in-processing. Paperwork of ALL kinds classes on this and that ... I'm HOT, tired, need a shower, confused ... and then after the evening meal in a REAL Army mess hall (no decisions here) I get picked for guard duty! WHAT? You want me to sit in this bunker with this M60 and shoot anything that moves???? We did the 2 hours on and 2 hours off that really screws up your sleep for that night!

The next morning there are about 200 of us in a roll-call formation, where they are calling out names. Those names were directed to go stand over THERE. I have found in my brief Army career that this is ALWAYS BAD. My name is called, ..... oh shit! I go stand over there. A buck sgt comes over forms us up and marches us back to the barracks where we get our duffel bags and we get on a bus and go back to the airfield. He then tells us we are going to Saigon. I'm thinking .... SAIGON YEAAA, You got LUCKY VAUGHN! WOW SAIGON!

There are about 40 of us that get onto a C-123 that's already loaded with about 40 Vietnamese, crates of chickens, ducks, goats, pigs and other foul smelling livestock. We take off and everyone of these creatures shits on cue! We finally land at Saigon and are greeted by another buck sgt, who gently suggests that we all get into the back of several duce n a half trucks that he has there for our convince. He throws us an M14 rifle and a steel helmet and says if you need ammo, its under the seats! As I start to complain that I'M NOT an lIB ANYTHING .... I'm advised to shut up ... and sit down .... We then start out of Saigon up some dirt road that someone calls a highway, and FINALLY end up at a place called Cu Chi.

I was never SO glad to see helicopters in my life! CU CHI Well I ended up assigned to "D" troop 3/4 Cav. Nice place I thought. I'm assigned to the helicopter maintance section and have an uneventful couple of months there. Working on helicopters by day, and enjoying the EM club by night. Ah.... the EM club. When I arrived in D troop the EM club consisted of a small metal cooler, with a small piece of canvas tent flap for cover. THAT'S IT. There was a block of ice in the cooler, and the "Bar Tender" stood behind collecting money for canned sodas and canned beer. The beer and sodas were never cold. And I remember one month the only sodas they had were Fanta Root Beer (I still can't drink root beer!!!)

It must have been March or April of '67 can't remember now, when Charlie introduced me to the recoilless rifle. I had gone to the Artillery's EM club one night located just behind our company area. Theirs was much better than ours. They had a real bar, cold drinks and a slot machine. I was sitting there losing my money, when I heard a strange noise flutter by ... followed by an explosion nearby and when I looked around all of those artillery guys were GONE! I ran out the door and followed a running figure into a nearby bunker. I thought this will be safe! About that time the guy started yelling at me to pass him some shells! I was in a 105 bunker and he wanted me to help him shoot this thing! I could see that this wasn't doing either of us any good, so I ran home to my hooch with incoming mortar rounds landing around the area.mortar

When I got there the place was dark and empty ... I looked inside and I could see sky through the roof! Then someone yelled at me to get my ass IN the bunker. I found out later that the first round of that attack hit directly across from my bunk. The guy laying there at the time was taken to 12th Evac with over 80 pieces of shrapnel in him. I never did find out if he lived, nor can I remember his name. That round tore up my foot locker and air mattress. I had to go buy all new underwear, and shaving gear but I couldn't replace my Playboy collection. Uncle Sam didn't have insurance on my hooch.

As I mentioned earlier our company area was located right next to an artillery unit. This isn't too bad during the day, but trying to sleep at night took some doing! After about three months of being serenaded by the 105's all night long you finally can get to sleep. Then the Arty unit goes out to the field and it gets SO quiet .. .It takes another 3 months to get used to THAT ..... Then they come BACK .. .I don't think I ever got a full night's sleep while in "D" Troop.

Another of the pleasures of "D" Troop was the various details you got to do. KP .... ah yes KP ... where they wake you up at 3 AM and take you to the mess hall. Here you get selected to either work as a waitress in the dining room ... cleaning all day ... refilling salt n pepper shakers ... wiping tables ... sweeping floors ... OR you help the cooks by peeling things, cutting things, carrying around kettles of water, cleaning stoves, cutting boards, knives etc ... OR you hang around outside collecting the garbage from the food trays and washing the trays in boiling water. When you finally are done at 10 PM you have put in a full day.

THE VERY NEXT DAY you had shit burning detail.shit This was PRICELESS! You had to open the little trap door behind the crappers .... Pull out the barrels, pour in about 3 gallons of JP4 jet fuel and then light it!. ... Stand there for a while and then stir the mess so it all bums ... WHAT A LOVELY SMELL. ... That was in the morning, in the afternoon of that day, you had trash detail. .. where you collected all the troops trash into a duce n a half and took it to the dump. What a wonderful fun filled two day vacation from your assigned job!

Then there was guard duty! That started at 8 PM and IF you were lucky you got the first shift. 2 hours of walking up and down the flight line bunkers, two hours off back in the company area ... then 2 more hours on the line from midnight till 2am. Second shift was 10 Pm till midnight ... then 2 am till 4am ... Then up at 6 am to start your normal day! Life goes on in D Troop ... I keep hoping that I get assigned as a crew chief on one of the Huey's I wanna FLY!

I do get to fly occasionally as a replacement on Stable Boy the maintance slick or sometimes as a replacement for a door gunner for some reason. Now let me break this down for some of you ... and this is AS I REMEMBER IT . ..40 plus years later. "D" Troop was the "Air" arm of the 3rd Sqdn 4th Cav. A-Troop, B-Troop, C-Troop were armor. D Troop had: 5 OH-23 Ravens small piston powered helicopters used for scouting. 5 Gunships, B Model Hueys with 4ea 7.62mm machine guns and 2ea rocket pods (7 rockets in each) 5 Hogs ... C model Hueys with 2 rocket pods (24 rockets each) and a 40 mm grenade launcher in the nose. 5 Slicks D model hueys with door guns only 1 Slick ... Stable Boy .... maintenance and C&C ship.

I finally got my slick in October of 1967. We normally flew with the same crew. The Aircraft Commander was 1LT Joe Bridges. Pilot was WO Mike Seigel Door gunner was Buzz and I was the crew chief. buzz
A little bit about "Buzz". Buzz is the only name I know him by, I don't ever remember him having any other name. I inherited Buzz along with the huey when I took over as the crew chief. At that time Buzz was 34 years old ... an Ex-Marine. He got out of the Corps to enlist in the Army for Warrant Officer Flight training, and the Army in its wisdom sent Buzz to Viet Nam as a door gunner to wait for his slot to open up in the WOC program. I don't know if Buzz ever made it to the WOC program, and to this day don't know his name ... Buzz taught me a lot about guns, the military and living. Every time we went on an ash and trash mission out in the boonies ..... Grunts would swarm Buzz's side of the helicopter. There would be some conversation, some money would exchange hands, Buzz would come around to my side and open the compartment where the aircraft heater should have been, remove a small sack and hand it to the grunts and away they would go! Well after about the fourth time of watching this I had to ask!!! Buzz was selling bottles of whiskey at a very handsome profit Which he cut me in on after our next payday and a trip to the Cu Chi PX. The guys in the field knew the tail # of the Booze Huey! ... God bless you Buzz! (David "Buzz" Busbin)

As a crew chief, I could draw a case of C-rats everyday from the mess hall. I did this every day, and horded them under my bunk. I always had a case on the aircraft for us to eat if we were out somewhere. But the "extras" went under my bunk. Occasionally I would take a trip to the Air Force side of the field. The Air Force had a detachment at Cu Chi that had several of the "Bird Dogs" spotter planes, and I believe some aircraft maintenance types, and some air traffic controllers. These guys couldn't get C-rats ... so I arranged some trading ... They got C-rats .. .I got Air Force sun glasses, survival gear, flight suits, flight gloves ... and whatever else they had too much of.

We flew all kinds of missions. First of all was support for our rifle platoon. Put em in ... take em out. We flew LRRP insertions and extractions. Took hot chow and mail out to the field units. We flew medivac's ..... night illuminations. Occasionally we would fly with the "Little Bears" A Company 25th Aviation Battalion, when they were short of slicks. When we were not flying, Buzz was cleaning guns and I was working on the helicopter. I can remember one day standing on top of the thing next to the rotor mast doing something ... when all of a sudden ... WHOOSH BOOM! .... an explosion on the runway! I came flying off the top of that huey and down into the bunker in one leap! Seems that one of the Air Force Bird Dog spotter planes hit a WRONG button as he was on final to the runway!

Christmas 1967. Dau Tieng We spent Christmas of 1967 on stand-by at Dau Tieng, I have no clue what we were standing by for ... we probably had a LRRP team out, but I do recall eating c-rats in a tent next to the runway. Someone came through and handed out Red Cross packages. Nothing much in them. But Tony Lerner got a cheap little deck of Old Maid cards ... He talked me into playing ... We played about five games and he beat me every time! I FINALLY found out how ... Those cheap little cards were very thin .. .I had my back to the sun ... He could see right through the cards and pick AROUND the old maid every time! Tony Lerner CHEATING at OLD MAID ON CHRISTMAS DAY, I still haven't forgiven him!

Remember paydays? I do ... they used to pay us in the mess hall. They would have us line up and they would have one of the medics checking our shot cards before we got into the actual pay line. Good idea, ..... poorly executed. I hate needles, and every payday I would come in with one of those little white towels and act like I was wiping tables ... till I got by the medic ... then get in line for my pay and then out the door! The only problem with that was when I was clearing post to return home. When I got to the 12th Evac and they saw my shot card, they said ... 24 shots or you don't go home! I got 12 shots one day and 12 the next! MAN THAT HURT!

Another example of me and needles ... We were flying a night flare mission and I had one of the flares pop off in my hands as I was about to throw it out. The end cap cut the palm of my hand, making a VERY small cut. I told Lt Bridges about it after the mission. He told me that if I would go get a tetanus shot, I would get a Purple Heart. I declined as the shot would have hurt worse than the cut.

I also recall that at some time, they lined us ALL up and said we were getting a shot for hepatitis. This one I couldn't get away from. That was one BIG needle and my butt hurt for a week. After being assigned to the "Slicks" I moved into their hooch. In the hooch were all the slick door gunners and crew chiefs. Now the hooch's were constructed of a wood floor, screen sides, and corrugated tin roofs. The roofs got really hot during the day, but this hooch had a nice "improvement". We had access to the magnesium illumination flares that had parachutes. There were quite a few of those flares that went STRAIGHT down without a chute. The chutes were hanging in the rafters of the "Slicks" hooch. They were good insulation and better looking than the bare rafters in the other hooch's! One night as I was trying to sleep, I heard Buzz jump out of bed yelling at something. I thought he was having a bad dream, but as it turned out, he was yelling at a rat! The rat had fallen off the rafters into the parachute and was trying to scramble back up in the rafters. Well Buzz didn't like rats ... He followed the rat in the chute then HIT IT as HARD as he could with his fist, the rat hit the tin roof with a bang, and fell back in the chute. Buzz hit it again, another BANG! This time it didn't move after landing in the chute. Buzz rolled it out and it hit the floor. It was the size of a small cat! And very dead ... Buzz took it and threw it into one of the shitters so it would get burned the next day.

Medivac ... one I remember ... It was during the day ... for some reason MAJ Fleming was the Aircraft Commander that day. We were going to pick up the bodies of an Air Force b-57 Canberra bomber that had gone down. As we approached the area one of the medics handed me his m-16 and said" hold this" ... Well I sat it next to me in my seat, as I was kind of busy with my m-60 at the time .. it was a hot LZ! The medic jumped out the other side and was gone for what seemed like forever. They finally came back with black rubber bags and we finally pulled pitch. About 2 minutes later the medic ask for his M- 16 ... I looked over and it was GONE ... I keyed my mike and told MAJ Flemming "We lost an M -16 back in that LZ" ... .I have NEVER felt a helicopter shake like that before or since! When we got back to Cu Chi and dropped off the bags and refueled .... There were Army CID investigators waiting for me in the orderly room! Three hours and several signatures later I was allowed to return to my hooch.

Another mission. .. This time we had our rifle platoon out somewhere in rice paddy country. We would drop them off, go sit somewhere for an hour or two, then go pick them up. Repeat as necessary. On this day I had Major Fisher as my Aircraft Commander. We were picking up a squad and as we started to pull pitch, the rotor wash flattened the rice ... and I was looking into the face of a guy sucking air through a straw ... 1 keyed the mike and told MAJ Fisher. .. well we were already lifting and there were 3 other hueys following behind ... He told me to keep my eyes on that spot and direct him back there. We made a circle and landed back at the same spot and the infantry guys grabbed this guy ... He was about a 10 year old kid that was scared shitless! The infantry guys walked right by this guy to get on the huey in the first place! We threw him back in ... Too small to keep!

Nui Ba Den...The Black Virgin Mountain. On several occasions I was lucky enough to land on top of Nui Ba Den. Usually these were exciting approaches and take off's but ONE really stands out in my memory. Lt Bridges was the AC with Mike Siegel as peter pilot. We made the approach and landed and usually didn't sit there for long. Usually dropping off mail and other supplies'. This time we had 4 grunts on board and a 1.5 KW generator that was going somewhere for repair. A guy comes up and asked me if he could get a ride back to CuChi...he was going home! I ask Lt Bridges and he said "Sure". Well the guy didn't travel light. He had me help him load a two foot tall STONE Buddha statue and then he and a duffel get in. I keyed the mike and told Lt Bridges we were "UP". He started pulling pitch and I swear it was in his arm pit before we broke ground. we were at about a two foot hover when I heard the RPM warning starting to go off. The Lt did a pedal turn, pointed the nose over the side of the mountain and DOWN we went!!! It was like a roller coaster ride, my stomach was in my throat as I watched the trees hitting the skids...Well finally we got some lift and pulled out of the KAMAKIZE dive and flew back to Cu Chi like nothing ever happened.

Jimmy Weber: Jimmy and I met in Jr High School. We were good friends all through school. As our graduation approached, I had decided to join the Army instead of being drafted as a 11B. I elected to go in as an aircraft mechanic. Seemed harmless enough. To make a long story short, Jimmy enlisted too. We went through basic training and AIT at Ft Rucker together. We traveled to Viet Nam together. When we got to Cu Chi, they separated us, and sent Jimmy to A Co 25th Aviation ... Little Bears. We saw each other from time to time there at Cu Chi. One day, as my slick was coming back from a mission, I noticed a mangled "Little Bear" slick sitting in the dirt next to the runway. I noticed the tail number, and realized that was Jimmy's slick! After securing my huey in its bunker, I ran over to the Little Bears orderly room and ask about Jimmy. I was told that he was at the 12th Evac in serious condition. I beat feet to the hospital and found Jimmy in intensive care. He had tubes and wires and bandages all over him. I couldn't tell if it was him or not. A nurse there told me it was Jimmy. I got to talk to him for a minute or two before they kicked me outta there. This happened about 3 weeks before we were due to rotate out. Jimmy made it home to Denver, Fitzimmons Army Hospital and eventually recovered.

The memories come and go, but I do remember always the guys I served with in D Troop. A bond was formed with ALL of them...a shared experience that I treasure and will never forget!


Terry L. Vaughn