Official Website of the

  219th Aviation Company (Recon)

HEADHUNTER (1ST PERSON) STORIES 1965-1972

True Life (Uncensored & Unedited) Personal Accounts from Enlisted & Officer Personnel in Combat while Serving with the 219th Aviation Company "Headhunters" in the Republic of South Vietnam

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The 219th Aviation Company (Recon) was an extraordinary unit comprised of dedicated enlisted and officer personnel who served in the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1972. Known as a Recon Airplane Company (RAC), the 219th sadly suffered the most casualties (KIA & MIA) of all the RAC units deployed during the war.

Whether in the air or on the ground, this group of professionals experienced a diversity of missions covering a very large geographical area in South Vietnam plus special operations missions in Cambodia and Laos. Many of these missions were in direct support of ground units that were U.S. Military, South Vietnamese (RVN) and other allied countries such as South Korea.

219th Missions ranged from general reconnaissance without a specific target to direct support of units in life & death combat where ground artillery, helicopter gun ships, Air Force tactical air and naval artillery were all coordinated in close support to rain down on the enemy forces. The stories contained herein are as varied as the personnel who experienced them. These first person remembrances come from both enlisted and officer personnel.

We hope you enjoy reading these accounts of  the war in Vietnam as it was experienced by these brave personnel from the 219th Aviation Company and the people who flew with us.

CLICK HERE IF YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO THE 219THAVIATION COMPANY

(Caution: Some accounts may be graphic in both language and description of action.)

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

WINGS OF

ARMY AVIATION

 

Basic Crew Member

 

 

Senior Crew Member

 

 

Master Crew Member

 

 

Army Aviator

 

 

Senior Aviator

 

 

Master Aviator

 

 

MILITARY

MEDALS

 

Silver Star

 

Distinguished Flying Cross

 

Bronze Star

 

Purple Heart

 

Air Medal

 

Army Commendation

 

Army Good Conduct Medal

 

Vietnam Service Medal

 

Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

National Defense Service Medal

 

Army Valorous Unit Citation

 

(Click Year) 1965   1966   1967   1968   1969   1970   1971   1972



Vietnam 1965

"Headhunter Callsign"

Submitted by - 1Lt Jim Voelzer, HH 10 ('65-'66)

Derivation of the “Headhunter Call Sign” (as my memory, tempered by these many years, recalls). 

I arrived at Pleiku in early July 1965 fresh from an “interrupted” stint as a Test Pilot at Sharpe Army Depot; Lathrop, CA.  Initially, our call sign was simply “Army 321”, but shortly, due to the many Army aircraft flying out of Pleiku, it was changed to Hershey.  That term cobbled up any number of snide comments from other units, not the least of which was “candy ass” which got old very quick.  We learned that we could apply for a new call sign and after discussing it amongst the pilots, agreed on Blackjack.  We applied and received the new call sign.  I don’t remember how many weeks we had Blackjack, but inasmuch as it was the nickname of General John J. Pershing, it wasn’t long before some “Brass” appropriated it and we were assigned the Headhunter name.  A couple of the pilots actually appropriated human (purportedly VC) sculls from the battle of PleiMe for their desk display and painted their call sign on the forehead.  As one might imagine, it wasn’t very long before that practice was terminated.  Our Unit patch in ’65-’66 was round and depicted an armed Bird Dog in a 45 degree dive.  It was a beautifully constructed and colorful patch and I haven’t seen it depicted on the website.  When I departed Pleiku for discharge in April ’66 we still called ourselves the 219th; not Headhunters. 


"The States to Pleiku"

Submitted by - SP4 Andrew Cardiel, 219th Pleiku

May 1965 – I reported to Gray Air Base from Ft. Hood, Texas. June 14th our unit departed for Austin, TX. Late in the afternoon we were loaded on a C-130 cargo airplane and landed that night at Travis AFB in California. We left and arrived at Hickam Field AFB in Hawaii. We were there for about 4 to 5 days with aircraft problems. Eventually we changed airplanes and went on to Wake Island. We were there for a few hours and then went on to Guam, then the Philippines where we stayed the night. The next day we flew to Saigon and landed for a few hours. Next we flew to Pleiku but had to turn back because our aircraft was too large for the landing strip. We flew back the next day to Pleiku and landed at Camp Holloway during a monsoon rain storm. In Camp Holloway our tent area was already setup by other units that arrived before us. We sand bagged, built bunkers, bathrooms, showers and unloaded shipments of supplies. The Big Red One came out of the jungle and set up camp around our perimeter in anticipation of an attack. The 101st Airborne was flown in and stayed with us also. Both units left to go back into the jungle to help support other units but still remained nearby to prevent an attack on Holloway. I left the unit in Sept. 1965 when the Major flew me out to Saigon. We spent one night at outlying platoon for one night on the way.



Vietnam 1966

"One Time Flight"

Submitted by - Specialist Victor Hikok, PMOS 67B20, 219th Pleiku

Anyone in Army Aviation (crew Chief, Mechanic, Tech Inspector, Aviator) knows what the dreaded "Circle Red X" means to the flying capability of an aircraft! And for those who may have forgotten, it means that the aircraft can only go on a restricted, one time flight!!

During my tour of duty at Pleiku (Camp Holloway )in 1966, I had the opportunity to go TDY (Temporary Duty) to a town (?) called Gia Hghia where one Army and one Air Force O-1 were stationed.

 

We received word that a major offensive was being mounted against our area in a few short hours!! We had the cowling (both upper and lower) off the Bird Dog, for maintenance, and had to make a rapid departure for safety back to Camp Holloway. The only way to do that was throw the cowling on the aircraft, secure it with a few screws and the latches on both sides of the cowling, then the mighty 100 mile per hour tape (Duct Tape) was wrapped around and around the cowling to hold it together. The decision to make the aircraft a circle red X was made and we flew that aircraft back to Camp Holloway in that manner. Of course, as soon as we shut down the aircraft at Camp Holloway, it became a Red X condition (Not Flyable) but we were safe from Harms way, once again!


"Camp Holloway Flight Ramp"

Submitted by - Specialist Victor Hikok, PMOS 67B20, 219th Pleiku

 

"I recall an incident at Pleiku sometime in my tour of Jan 66 to Jan 67, where a crew chief was placing 2.75mm rockets in the tubes of his aircraft. Only problem was, he forgot to put in the red flagged "Remove Before Flight" pins that kept the electrical circuit from being completed on the tubes. Result? One crew chief hanging on to a 2.75 rocket with a 15 lb high explosive charge going down the PSP (Perforated Steel Plating- for those who do not remember those pieces of steel that many of us enlisted were tasked to replace on detail in the hot sun!!) for a short distance!!!"

Further comment on the incident above -

Submitted by Troy Duplessis -Pilot with the 219th 6/66/-3/67

"The pilot was Cpt Florio and the SF Camp was Duc Co. The SF guys were conducting a ground operation and CPT Florio was providing air cover. Ground fire struck one of the rockets on the right wind. The rocket detonated in the tube and a large chucnk of metal passed through the aircraft between the pilot & observer seats. Fortunately no one was wounded. The blast damaged the right wing aileron and it dangled from the wing causing severe drag. CPT Florio was able to return to Duc Co and safely land on the airstrip. I do not know if he had an observer aboard or if he was flying solo."

~ ~

"I also remember after arriving at Pleiku, that I believe was the 194th Avn Co (Caribou) was across the field from us. The Dept of Defense said the Army was trying to do the Air Force job, and the Army had to transfer the CV-2 to the USAF. They needed to fill air crews on those aircraft, and we were asked if we wanted to transfer from Army to Air Force. I chose not to, because it meant the loss of 1 rank, and I had earned my PFC and was hoping to make SP4!!"

 

"While stationed at Camp Holloway in 1966, I recall an aircraft landing that did not go as planned at the airfield at, I believe, was Plei De Lim (Sorry about spelling of Vietnamese towns.) I recall being told the aircraft was landing into the sun and an Ammunition truck was crossing the runway. The aircraft hit the Ammo truck. The Crew Chief pulled the pilot out of the front seat. I remember being told that one 105mm round had went off. I did see the crater in the middle of the runway when we went to retrieve the aircraft, to be sling-load it under a Huey Helicopter back to Camp Holloway. The pilot suffered broken legs. I am sot sure of any other injuries, but I know that crew chief's fast thinking and evacuating that pilot, saved both their lives that day! By the way, I was on the Huey, over the river, when we started losing altitude and the Bird Dog started swaying badly, even with the spoilers we put on it. So the pilot hit the button that released the hood, and the aircraft went into the river. That is all I know first hand of that incident. "

Further comment on the  incident  above-

Submitted by Troy Duplessis -Pilot with the 219th 6/66/-3/67

""The pilot was LT John Martin and his back seater was Lt Butler, an artillery officer from the 3rd Brigade, 25th ID. At that time 3rd Brigagde CP was at the Catecka Tea Plantation adjacent to the sod strip. Typical mission scenario was flying from Holloway to Catecka to pick up an observer from the infantry brigagde for either an artillery mission or a recon mission. End-of-mission was landing at Catecka to drop off the obaserver and returning to Holloway. LT Martin was on short final at Catecka when a 21/2 ton truck loaded with 105mm artillery rounds drove onto the runway. Collision was almost immediate. LT Martin's knees were severely cut by the firewall and LT Butler saved his life by extracting him from the wreckage. A post-crash fire resulted and engulfed the airplane and the ammo truck. Fire caused the 105mm rounds to detonate and crater the runway. In addition, a nearby jeep had its frame, a mounted radio and all tires perforated by flying shrapnel, along with some fuel blivets at a nearby helicopters FARP that were also punctured. Fortunately, or perhaps miraculously, no one was injured. LT Martin was medevaced to Japan and I do not if he ever flew again or returned to Vietnam."

~ ~

"I recall the Bird Dog had to be fitted with some sort of aiming sight to use to launch the rockets they carried. I recall it was a small piece of Plexiglas which was mounted a few inches from the windshield. Then marks in grease pencil were made on the windshield to align with marks on the Plexiglas. I remember my pilots having to change the marks in flight from time to time!"

 

"While on a routine (was there ever any other kind?) flight as observer in the rear seat, this actually happened to me, which I will not ever, in this lifetime, forget! The pilot instructed me to put up the pedals and install the stick. Then told me to give him my M-14 from the rifle rack. Of course I complied without question, for I figured he saw something I did not see? While in that flight mode, he leaned out the open window and shot. We landed at a nearby Green Beret camp. The commander there drove a jeep to the aircraft, the pilot told me stay with the plane, that he would be back in a short time. I was nervous, because Green Beret camps were not a popular site to be at! Sure enough, as promised, they returned. In the back of the jeep was a animal I believe to be leopard. The pilot told me, the animal was going to be strapped into my seat, that he would fly to Saigon to the taxidermist he knew, and would be back for me!! I was like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for that aircraft to get back. When the aircraft finally showed up, the pilot didn't shut off the engine, but had me climb in and back to Camp Holloway we went. That was my only experience with the brave men of the Green Beret, of which I am glad they did not go under attack while I was with them those few hours!"


"Individual on the Runway"

Submitted by - Troy Duplessis, Jr. Pilot, 219th  , HH52 6/66-3/67

 

"An aircraft piloted by LT Chris Schafer was landing at Catecka when an individual soldier walked on the runway requiring him to make a go-around. A temporary control tower had been set up there because the 1st Cav was conducting operations in the area and had a FARP established parallel to the runway. LT Schafer reported the problem to the tower just as a 1st Cav chopper was calling to depart the FARP. The chopper pilot saw the runway intruder laughing about the matter and informed the tower that he was going to teach him a lesson. He then proceeded to rundown the gleeful fool and beat him into submission with his rotorwash. Needeless to say, we never had that problem recur."

 

"Baby Cakes"

Submitted by - Troy Duplessis, Jr. Pilot, 219th , HH52 6/66-3/67

 

"Crew Chief Stacy Reeves painted the name "Baby Cakes" on the cowling of an aircraft. This was the bird Chuck Getman was flying when he had a mid-air collision with a Huey near the la Drang River. Chuck was killed in the collision as was everyone aboard the Huey. Later Reevers painted the name "Baby Cakes II" on an aircraft with tail number 2929. On Nov 19, 1966, I was flying a recon mission alongthe north river of Plei Djereng SF camp when a throttle linkage failure occured. I landed in the river and my observer - SSG Teal Holbert - and I waited a long 30 minutes before being rescued by a Huey. After that incident, Reeves said there would be no "Baby Cakes III". Maintenance folks sent a Huey to sling load the Birddog back to Holloway. Not considering the weight of the water in the fuselage, the Huey lost rotor RPM and crashed into the river. A Chinook was sent and recovered both the Huey and the Birddog wreckages."


 

"My First Day as a Headhunter"

Submitted by - SGT Don Jordan, 219th Co Clerk, Pleiku

It was a short trip of no more than and hour or so from Qui Nhon to my new home away from home.  When we touched down on that big runway at Pleiku, I thought that it was my new base.  But it was not to be!  My base, I found out, was located to the south at another smaller airfield on Camp Holloway.  Camp Holloway was a few miles to the south of the main Air Force base at Pleiku.  So I hopped on a truck and headed down the road to my new home.

I remember being greeted in the Orderly room on that first day by my new First Sergeant.  His name was Sgt. Rush, and the Company Clerk was a Spec/4 named Mathews . . . .”Matt” for short!  I didn't know it at the time, but I was to be Matt's replacement once Sgt. Rush found out that I could type. The XO (Executive Officer) was a Major Spence.  I was given the customary cordial greeting when I turned in my Orders, and then received a short briefing on the ways of the world at Camp Holloway.  

I was then introduced to my new Commanding Officer (CO).  His name was Major Ogburn.  I stood in front of Maj. Ogburn’s desk, came to attention, and gave my best snappy Army hand salute. 

 “Specialist Fourth Class Jordan reporting for duty as assigned Sir.” I said.

 “Welcome to the 219th Jordan.” He said, as he stood up to shake my hand.  Then came the “New Man” questions:

 “Where ya from Jordan?  How long have you been in the Army?  What’s your DEROS date?”  The DEROS date is the date when I go back to the States. 

 The officers in Vietnam were sure a lot more civil to the enlisted men than the ones in Basic Training at Ft. Ord.  So for the next few minutes we had a nice little chat.  The one thing that I remember most about the meeting was the sign on the left side of his desk.   It read “Headhunters!”   On the right side was a human skull with a bullet hole in it, and a cigarette clinched in the Beetle nut stained teeth.

 After that Matt gave me a short tour of my new home. Buildings like the latrine, the Post Exchange (PX), and the mess hall were all pointed out first. Then came the supply building where I picked up my bedding, an M-14 rifle and one clip of ammunition.   In the barracks Matt and I were sharing the same semi-private room.   I was assigned the “Top” bunk.  I found out later on January 7th why all of the new guys got the top bunks.    I have few memories of my first couple of days in Pleiku.  I do remember that the air was dryer, and it was a little cooler.  Particularly at night!  The nights could get downright cold!  Pleiku was much higher above sea level than Qui Nhon.

  I joined the Army to be an Army Aviator. But I was tricked into becoming a Crew Chief on the O-1 Bird Dog.  I was told that all pilots had to take a mechanics course first.  In the 219th they turned me into a Company Clerk.  Such were the recruiting practices at the time.



Vietnam 1967

"Surprise!- Close Call"

Submitted by - CPT Robin (Obie) O'Brien, HH16, 219th Pleiku

In early 1967 I was assigned to the 219th Aviation Company as a FAC (forward air controller). I was returning from a mission to a Special Forces Camp south of Pleuku, Vietnam. I had an artillery observer in the back seat of the O-1 birddog I was flying. Seating is somewhat cramped and his knees were touching my back. We had been conducting "visual recognizance" while returning to our home base. While flying at aproximately 800 to 1000 feet elevation we sighted a group of 8 - 10 Montagnards about 500 yards off to one side of our flight path. They were running in a straight line parallel to us. Two of them in the middle of the group had a large "Bengal Tiger" hung beneath a bamboo pole. Normally the Montagnards did not run from us. I felt we should take a closer look to see what type of weapons they had and perhaps find out why they were running from us. I planned to circle around and cross the trail at a point where I thought they should be. I dropped  down to ground level so the wheels were almost touching the ground and the prop was stirring up dirt. We were flying with the windows open so I instructed the observer to get his rifle pointed out the left side of the aircraft and I would look out the right side. As we crossed the trail I heard a gun shot and smelled burnt gun powder. I thought the observer had fired his gun inside the aircraft. I pulled up and attempted to talk to him on the intercom. The radios had quit working so I pulled up higher and turned to look back at him. He was white as a ghost and very shaken. Later he told me that as we crossed the trail a little man had stood up from behind a small bush and ducked as the wing of the aircraft passed over his head. He stuck out his rifle and pulled the trigger. The bullet passed between us and as it went in one window and out the other the blast was caught in the aircraft as we flew by. I'm not sure why the radios failed as they came back on about ten minutes later. I never did see any of the men but I did feel the bullet pass by the back of my neck.


"In-Flight Explosion"

Submitted by - SGT Don Jordan, 219th Co Clerk, Pleiku

1967. I was a back-seat observer on many O-1 flights out of Pleiku from January to May 1967.  I remember one flight in particular in which one of the O-1s in the air with us was hit by some kind of explosion or other ground fire.  I remember that it was damaged but kept flying.  We heard the Mayday call and rendezvoused with it somewhere far from base.  I don't remember the extent of the damage, but I think it had a flat tire, and a hole in the right side fuel tank.  Not sure though!  Anyway, it could not make it back to Pleiku. So we provided an escort to some Special Forces base where it landed safely.  We followed it down to the ground, and then left for home.  Does anybody know anything about that incident?  I never did hear what really happened, or who the pilot was.


"When I First Met Arlie Jan 7, 1967"

Submitted by - SGT Don Jordan, 219th Co Clerk, Pleiku

I met Arlie Deaton for the first time in a bunker at 01:30 hrs on January 7, 1967.  We were rudely awakened that night to the sound of explosions at various locations in our compound at Pleiku, South Vietnam.  “Charlie” had decided that we had had enough sleep for one night and decided to stir up a little trouble for us.  I knew him then as Captain Deaton.  After all of these years, my memories of that night are a little hazy. So I had best just quote from my own personal memoirs of that first encounter with Capt Deaton.

“…During a let-up in the deafening explosions I decided to make a run for the Command Bunker (CB) located about a hundred yards away just outside of our Orderly room.  The CB was where all of the company officers and administrative personnel went when under attack.  Well since I was the Company Clerk, I figured I was administrative personnel too.  And since there were mortar rounds exploding all around us, I was pretty damn well sure we were under attack!  It didn’t take three months of basic training to figure that one out.

So with the equipment and clothes that I had hastily gathered up in the dark, I darted out of the door and started running for the Command Bunker.   I figured that it would take too long to lace up my boots, so I just carried them along with me.  I arrived within a minute or so and found that some of the company officers and a few enlisted men were already in there.  It was a comical scene at best with five or six Lieutenant grade officers all standing around half dressed trying to figure out who out-ranked whom.  The highest-ranking officer in the bunker had to assume command until our Field Grade Company Commander arrived.  And nobody wanted to admit that he out-ranks anybody else.  It was proper Army protocol, but comical nonetheless.

I was just standing there wide-eyed and scared to death watching these proceedings when in ran an out-of-breath Captain Deaton from our company.  When he arrived the other young officers seemed instinctively to know that Deaton was the highest-ranking officer.  A Captain out-ranks a Lieutenant!  It appeared from the looks on their faces that a great weight had been removed from their shoulders.

Fortunately Capt. Deaton had a good since of humor.  He could sense the fear and apprehension in the room, and could tell from the looks on our faces that we were waiting for someone to do something.  We were all just staring at the door as if waiting for “Charlie” to come busting through any second.  So Capt. Deaton took a deep breath, stood up straight, and said in his best Captain’s voice:

“Well I guess you’re all wondering why I called this meeting?”

Laughter broke out, and everyone knew who was in command!

Since no mortar rounds had fallen in the last few minutes we had a chance to assess our situation.  I was standing there half dressed with my shirttail hanging out, my fly open, my helmet on with no helmet liner, my weapon in one hand and my boots in the other.  After Capt. Deaton scanned the room for a moment or two his eyes stopped on me. 

“Put your boots on soldier, and do you have any ammunition for that weapon?” He asked.

“Yes sir!” I said sheepishly.  “One clip!”

“Then load it!” he said in a calm but firm voice.  We’re in a war here you know!”

“Yes sir.” I replied, and began fumbling in my pockets for my one and only clip of ammunition.  It never occurred to me to load the damn thing! After a few seconds I found it, inserted it into my rifle, chambered a round, and then made sure that the safety was in the “On” position.

Now that I was ready to defend our county with my 5 bullets, I figured it was time to get properly dressed.  After all if I were attacked I wouldn’t want to be caught with my fly open.  Why I didn’t put my boots on first I’ll never know.  But I didn’t!  I went about sticking in my shirttail, buttoning up my fly and tightening my belt.

About that time Capt. Deaton looked at me again and said:

“Jordan . . .you’re the new Crew Chief aren’t you?

“Yes sir” I answered.  I didn’t think to tell him that I was recently promoted to Company Clerk!

“Then you don’t belong in the Command Bunker!  You belong down on the line guarding the airplanes with the other maintenance personnel.  Get down there!”

“Yes sir.” I replied, and out the door I went!”

Those are my memories of Arlie Deaton.  I flew many hours in the backseat of Capt. Deaton’s O-1D Birddog.  He was a fine man and a superb Army officer quick to do his duty when the need arose.  We, in that bunker, needed Arlie Deaton that night.  We needed someone to  lead us, and Arlie Deaton was that man.  Rest in peace Sir…


"Target Fixation & Other Hazards"

Submitted by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68

After arriving at the 219th in May 1967, I was assigned to the 4th Platoon at Camp Holloway, under command of Major Vic Weber, which supported the 4th ID.  It was very quiet initially, with little if any enemy contact.  After two or three months, I made my first significant contact with the enemy.  While on recon just northwest of Pleiku, I spotted a squad of NVA soldiers hiding along a trail.  After confirming there were no “friendlies” in the area, I decided to engage with my HE rockets.  Rolling in from altitude, I aligned the sights, then threw the arming switches to hot.  When I pressed the trigger, nothing happened.  I looked out at the wings and saw several of the wires flapping loose in the breeze.  With the ground rapidly approaching, I armed the other two and fired.  They worked, but I found myself pulling out below tree level and flying through my own shrapnel.  Target fixation almost killed me early in my tour. 

Something I had been warned of during my orientation flights was not to recon up a valley.  A Birddog pilot could find themselves in rising terrain without room to turn around if they did this.  But what they didn’t tell you was to make sure you looked out the window on the uphill side of a mountain.  While this may seem pretty self-evident, one of our pilots, WO1 Ted Fiedler,  managed to fly right into the side of a mountain in VC Valley by doing the opposite.  Fortunately he and his observer were not seriously injured and were safely recovered. 

But it was dropping grenades out the window at low altitude that probably killed more Birddog pilots than anything besides enemy action.  This was really just another form of target fixation.  Scared myself a few times that way too, as well as low altitude stalls while engaging “VC” water buffalo. 

Lastly, there was an aircraft-related way to be killed by pilot error.  The Bird Dog had two fuel tanks, one in each wing.  When one was almost dry you switched to the full tank.  Forgetting to do this caused several harrowing moments for me, especially at low altitude.  Most of the time the engine would cough and sputter, giving you a few seconds warning, but sometimes it would just quit.  On one very memorable occasion I went through several restarts before the engine started.  I’ll bet there were very few Birddog pilots who didn’t experience this at some time during their tour.


"Which Tree?"

Submitted by - Cameron Sutherland, Cpt, Headhunter, Pleiku May '67-May'68

Tour: 1967-68.  On this particular day, Captains George Frazier and Bill Taylor, both from 1st Platoon, were on a dual-ship mission along the western border of Pleiku Province, an area in triple canopy.  I was up doing a Visual Recon (VR) mission south of those two.  About an hour into my mission, Bill, probably flying low ship, comes up on the company net & yells, "George, George, I've got a VC down here behind this tree".  There was an extremely long pause and then George came back with, "any particular tree Bill".  I thought my observer (Special Forces type out of Duc Co) was going to have a heart attack in his kidney.



Vietnam 1968

"Trees in the Trail"

Submitted by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68

I’m not positive of when this happened, but I think it was in January 1968.  1Lt Art Morecraft and I were on a two-ship mission to go from Pleiku to Cheo Reo.  What for, I don’t recall, but it seems it was administrative in nature.  Art’s observer was one of our crew chiefs, Marlin Wagner.  I don’t recall who I had in the back seat, if anybody.  The weather was overcast with a fairly low ceiling in Pleiku when we departed, becoming higher as we flew southeast toward Cheo Reo, and we were flying fairly high.

As always, regardless of the mission, a VR pilot has his head out the window looking for the bad guys.  As we passed over the escarpments that formed the Five Fingers area southeast of VC Valley, I noticed a well-worn trail with trees growing right in the middle.  That couldn’t be, so we dropped down to take a better look.  That’s when the trees stepped off the trail into the brush.  Before the day was out, we had put in 6 flights of A-1E’s on the target and coordinated a company-sized air assault of troops from the 4th ID.  Love those A-1E’s, they were SO accurate. 

The next day we were invited to go to Phu Nhon, the headquarters for the 4th ID brigade that had been involved in the fight.  There were at least twenty NVA bodies collected there.  I don’t recall the exact number and I’m sure many more had been dragged away by the enemy.  From the intelligence that was gathered, we learned that we had happened upon a company-sized contingent of replacements headed for the NVA 95B Regiment that operated in the Pleiku area.  I often wonder why the NVA didn’t just step off the trail and then freeze when they heard us coming.  Must have been because they were newbies.


"1,000 ft. RULE?"

Submitted by - 1LT David Miller, Headhunter 45, Pleiku & Kontum

1,000' rule??  When I was a HH (Pleiku & Kontum) the "rule" that was never followed was 1500' - ask Bill Silva who got written up for getting caught working too low, by someone from staff (I think). I still don't think we could've done our job up that high ... besides, the "cone-of-fire" was too big at that altitude.

While we didn't talk openly about it then, we did most of our flying "work" between the tree tops & about 200'. Dragging wheels thru the trees happened now & then, while dropping a sandbag of mail or a case of rations, to some isolated radio relay guys. Or while supporting LRRP's - the bad guys couldn't easily see what we were doing. Also, it's really hard to see the footprints in the dirt etc., when doing a BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment) after an "Arclight" (B52 strike) at altitude. Bonus: my observer (from Dayton, OH) could put a round (grenade launcher) in or damn close to a bunker if I was flying "coordinated."

Beyond that, I can talk about that business, just west of Dak To, where we were taking small-arms fire from above, while flying thru the saddles - some of us got gassed, too - I put Crazy Al Morton in for the Silver Cross after that all calmed down.

And, I have an issue with some who say that Army Recon Pilots weren't allowed to FAC or run air strikes etc. Whenever I had a hot target of opportunity, I'd go up on guard & ask if anybody, who could hear me (& be close enough), had any ordinance to drop. (Fighter bomber jocks didn't like to go home with ordinance onboard.) I ran airstrikes by Thuds & F-4's & gave them the BDA when they were done. Would've liked to fire the Missouri, if I'd have been closer to the coast.

Didn't we do it all? Shoot heavy artillery missions as well as mortars, cover convoys & Dustoff's when needed, make deliveries when the choppers couldn't fly, run Donut Dollies around to the various S.F. camps, cover LRRP's, cover ground unit movements, support radio relay teams etc. etc. ??? About the only times we would fly at altitude were on admin trips like taking a bird in for maintenance, or giving a familiarity trip to a new staff officer, or a milk run to Qui Nhon.


"Rocket Ridge"

Submitted by - CPT Bill Beckwith, Headhunter 14, Spaf 1, Kontum

In April 1968 1LT Steve Butler and I had flown to Dak To, located in the region known as the Tri-Border Area where Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet.  We were to pick up two sergeants from Dak To Special Forces camp as observers in the back seats of our aircraft and fly a dual-ship mission along the borders where the Ho Chi Minh Trail entered Vietnam from Laos.  My engine had been running rough on the flight north from Camp Holloway so after we landed I performed a common, but probably unauthorized, maintenance procedure.  Each aircraft carried a spark plug wrench, steel brush and a grease pencil (actually composed of colored wax) in a small pouch.  The Bird Dog's six-cylinder engine has a dual set of spark plugs, two in each cylinder, for safety reasons.  In case one set of plugs and its separate electrical system ceases to function, the other will keep the engine running.  If a spark plug in one or more cylinders happens to become fouled by gunk in the gasoline, a not uncommon situation, the engine will run rough.  The procedure was to open the cowling on both sides of the engine, mark each cylinder with the grease pencil, and briefly run up the power.  The cylinder with the fouled plug, having run at a lower temperature than the others, would not melt the wax grease pencil mark.  The fouled plug would be removed with the spark plug wrench, cleaned with the steel brush, replaced and with the engine running checked for proper performance. 

A ridge line just to the west of the Dak To airfield was known locally as Rocket Ridge.  This feature was so named because of the frequency of Soviet-supplied 122 millimeter rockets that were fired by the VC or NVA from the other side of the ridge onto the airfield, Special Forces camp and other US and Vietnamese Army facilities there.  Just as I was replacing the last cleaned spark plug in my engine and before our observers got to us, rockets began to impact the far side of the airfield.  It was either jump into a ditch along the runway or get in the aircraft and get out of there.  Steve started up first and hit the runway from the ramp at full power with me in hot pursuit.  We flew west around Rocket Ridge, climbing for altitude, and Steve immediately saw the rocket position that was firing.  He immediately rolled in on the position and fired four high explosive rockets carried under the wings, all of which impacted right in the middle of the position, stopping the attack and causing secondary explosions from stored rockets

That was one of the finest examples of what Bird Dog pilots were supposed to do.  However, Steve never received the award he should have gotten for probably saving lives and property in Dak To that day.


 

"Incoming Mortars!"

Submitted by - Al Paulsen, CWO, Headhunter, Pleiku

 

"My orders tell me that I was assigned to the 219th on 21 September 1967.  I left the unit on 20 June 1968. The incident that I described happened in January or Feb 1968.  I’m thinking that it happened shortly before the Tet offensive began in earnest, but I’m not positive. We had a lot going on during that period of time. The event I remember happened about the same time, in the early morning, as your event. We took a real beating.  In addition to the hit on the roof of the orderly room, we had 3 rounds hit the roof of the Headhunter hanger.  The wings and fuselages of three Birddogs in the hanger looked like sieves.  We also took a round on the ground just outside the maintenance office attached to the hanger. The round landed a couple of feet from the south wall and peppered the office with shrapnel.  The large water jug we had in the office was shattered and water flowed all over the floor inside. During another attack a couple of Headhunter barracks also took hits and shrapnel came through the walls of my hooch and tore through some family photos that I had under clear vinyl on top a small desk in my room.  I still have those photos too.  I’ve attached photos of the hanger roof and the south wall of the maintenance office where the mortar round hit. The guy pointing at the impact crater was a flight school classmate of mine that was with the 185th RAC “Pterodactyls.  He had RON’ed the night of the attack.  For some reason he never came back for a visit after that!  I’ve also included a hooch that took a hit.  It may have been the Officer’s Club at Camp Holloway."


"Dodging the Bullets"

Submitted by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68

Several months after arriving in Pleiku and being assigned to the 4th Platoon of the 219th, we received a very interesting intelligence report from the 4th ID.  It addressed captured VC instructional materials concerning antiaircraft fire, and specifically dealt with the O-1 Birddog.  The basic thrust of these materials was to fire in front of the aircraft and to lead it based on the visibility of certain items on the aircraft.  These included the tail number, the whisker antennae, etc.  I didn’t think much of it then, but as I thought about it over time I came to realize that perhaps you could trick them by putting your aircraft in a full slip and descending when you started taking fire.  That would make you seem to be traveling in a direction 90 degrees from your actual flight path. 

Months later, I was on a VR mission west of Plei Djereng Special Forces Camp and just north of the Se San River.  It was an area where the 4th ID had fought several battles with the NVA about a year prior to that.  There were many craters and old gun positions visible.  However there seemed to be evidence of some fresh digging, so I cranked up the 175mm arty at Plei Djereng and started a little recon by fire.  The NVA must not have liked it much.  I soon saw some movement and made another pass over the area when all hell broke loose.  I was the target of multiple AA machine guns while at an altitude of about 500 feet at most.  Here was the unwanted opportunity to test out my theory.  I applied a full descending slip and made it to tree-top level without taking a single hit.  That was the good part, obviously.  The bad part was having to look at all those tracers coming up right in front of you.  I then continued with the artillery.  After I left the artillery peppered the area with H&I fires all night. There were no friendlies in the area, so we never knew what damage we did. 

In later months I had several more “opportunities” to use the slip technique.  I don’t think I’d be writing this story today if I had not learned to do that.


"On the Ho Chi Minh Trail"

Submitted by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68

In early 1968 the NVA started converting the Ho Chi Minh trail from a dirt path into a highway.  Because of the barrier posed by the high mountains along the border between Cambodia and Laos, the trail had to come through a small portion of Vietnam just west and south of Dak To known as the Plei Trap Valley before turning west into Cambodia.  In an attempt to forestall this project, the USAF directed a multitude of B-52 strikes into the area. 

In April 1968, three weeks before my DEROS, Captain Stan Irvin and I were assigned to conduct a two-ship bomb damage assessment of the area.  We initially surveyed the southern portion of the Plei Trap.  We found evidence of fuel dumps and saw a few enemy troops, upon whom we wasted all our rockets.  As we moved further north and east, slightly into Laos, where there had been no bombing, the highway was in plain sight and had bunkers every 40 or 50 meters.  Just up the road we saw a platoon of NVA pushing a gun south.  It was pretty large and had eight wheels.  Stan had a case of CS grenades and his observer dropped a few.  Then we had to skedaddle because we were low on gas, so we headed for Kontum, but cranked up the 175mm arty and fired blind while enroute.  Of course, we had to fudge a bit on the border between Laos and Vietnam.  As we departed I noticed a nearby hill top where the bamboo had all been cut down and wondered what that was all about. 

After refueling and grabbing a bite of lunch, we headed back to the area.  Thinking we were being sneaky, we flew low level up a valley toward the ridge line where the road was located.  I was lead ship and as I approached the ridge line I drew heavy fire from the smaller ridges to my left and right.  All I could do was evade and get over the higher ridge and road to my front, while Stan had room to turn around.  As I passed over the road, all I could see was masses of humanity running for the bunkers along the road.  We both put a  little distance between ourselves and this area, then climbed to an altitude of 1500 or 2000 feet above ground level.  We cranked up the 175mm arty again.  While adjusting the arty, I noticed that the area of cut bamboo I had seen before was cut in a clover leaf pattern.  This looked ominously like what an antiaircraft position was supposed to look like, and my suspicions were soon confirmed.  I heard a continuous boom-boom-boom sound, looked down, and saw what looked like green baseball bats coming up from the ground in my direction.  The only solution was to get low again, so I went into a spin until I was low, flew a good distance away, and then went back to altitude.  It was then that a USAF FAC called us on guard and told us to get away, he was putting in a flight of F-4s on the AA position.  But they were jinking so much when they went in that they didn’t come anywhere close.  After that we headed back to our base in Pleiku. 

I’m told that this road became a very dangerous place when it was completed, because the NVA had truck-mounted AA guns all along it.


"The Observer"

Submitted by - Cpt David Farenbach,  Headhunter, Kontum Aug '67 - Aug '68

About mid-afternoon on day three of the Tet Offensive I landed at Dak To for fuel and rockets.  I’d been in the airplane since just after dawn and had logged nearly twenty hours in the two days before this one.  The 2nd Platoon of the 219th Reconnaissance Airplane Company (mine) had to relocate from Kontum Airfield to Holloway under great duress the day before.   And that night, the Kontum airfield along with a temporarily resident American Huey company, had been overrun and our platoon’s entire physical plant--ops shack, revetments, POL and ammo dumps, everything—went up in a huge explosion that lit up the sky sufficient to be visible 30 miles away at Holloway, over the mountain range that rose 4,000 feet exactly half-way between the two towns.  On that day, the North Vietnamese Army was very much in control of everything in the city of Kontum except the MACV compound where I lived with a couple of hundred Americans, and the Province Chief’s residence.  (He kept all the tanks.)  I remember feeling very tired, filthy and scared to my toenails.  The fact that Dak To was out of rockets didn’t help.  And that was my emotional footing when I first heard his voice.

I was up on the step pumping AVGAS when I heard him ask if I was going anywhere near Dragon Mountain, the 4th Infantry’s base camp somewhere South of Pleiku.  I’d only heard about it—didn’t even know if the place had a runway.  I explained in what must have sounded like a royal wimp-out that I was going in that general direction, that this load of fuel would last until just after dark, that the airplane needed to be at Holloway for the night, and that what we would encounter on the way was anybody’s guess.  I did mention that good ole’ 690 been accumulating bullet holes for the last three days and things were still pretty iffy where I was headed.  He said that was fine.  He said, “You see, sir, I got separated from my spare pair of glasses in a firefight in the bush yesterday and I can’t see shit.  Gotta get to base camp to get a coupla more pairs.”    It would soon be dark in the central highlands and he’d be one helluva lot better off at Holloway than Dak To.  I told him, “Jump in.”

         The only clean thing he brought with him was his M-16 which we tied next to mine behind the door.  His boots and web gear were funky and his personal persona was pretty ripe from being in the bush for a little over 3 weeks; his fatigues hard-caked mud sheets at the knees and elbows.  He was one of those people whose face seemed frozen in a permanent smile, which when combined with his myopic squint gave him an air of optimistic intensity that you had to see to appreciate.  Since this was the first time the observers’ seat was to be occupied in at least three days it was, therefore, the first time I had reason to inspect the only observer’s helmet on board—and found it wanting.  All padding, save the earmuffs, was AWOL.  His smile seemed to imply that the dirty bandana surrounding his head would suffice just fine and where did you plug this thing in?  We had a little chat about how to drop stuff and took off.

         My memory of what happened over the next 3 hours has become a somewhat fuzzy over the last 43 years.  But for the sake of brevity it can be summarized by saying that we played out a version of a standard scenario common to countless Birddog pilots throughout the Vietnam war: somebody on the ground was in a bind; two other Headhunters showed up, helped out and we were able to make the difference that got the job done and a few dozen innocent people got to go on living.  But in doing so, there was a lot of yanking, banking, low flying and dropping stuff.  Years later, it occurred to me that I had had in my backseat an observer who could see nothing and had every right to be scared to his toenails, too, but if he was it surely didn’t show.  He performed like he did this every day and every time I glanced at him in the mirror the look on his face said, ‘Man, if you gotta go to war this sure beats the hell outa what I been doin’.  In short, he was in hog heaven, thoroughly enjoying the experience and this was going to make one helluva good story to tell the folks back home.  Or not.   I remember thinking that this chap was much more comfortable in my world than I would have been in his.

         After we landed at Holloway, he donned his pack, picked up his M-16, said, “Thanks for the ride, sir”, and started out across the PSP.  Needless to say, I never saw him again.  But the man’s slightly crazy smile has never left my mind in all these years and I’d surely give a lot to be able to buy him a beer.  I don’t think I even asked him his name.  


"Not My Machine Gun"

Submitted by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68

During my year with the Headhunters I replaced one set of rocket tubes on my O-1 Birddog with a machinegun on several occasions.  The Air Force would get wind of it before long and an edict would come down from on high to remove all machineguns.  Seems they were worried we were encroaching on their close air support role. 

In early 1968 the third platoon of the 219th was formed to support the 52nd Artillery Group in Pleiku.  I was assigned as platoon leader and began to develop a close relationship with the S-3 Section.  They always sent forward observers and assistant S-3 on missions as backseaters.  Finally one day the S-3 himself, a major, went on a mission with me in the back seat.  This was during a period when I had removed the machinegun.   We did the usual registrations and then began some visual recon in the mountains to the northwest of Pleiku.  The area had patches of open fields where the Montagnards had exercised their slash-and-burn agriculture and there were craters and old antiaircraft positions here and there. 

Having been in the area recently, my attention was drawn to a field on the crest of the mountain.  There had previously been digging along the edge of the jungle that I thought had been fresh.  Now it was nowhere to be seen.  So I made a low pass down the edge of the woods, all the while just seeming to wander around.  Sure enough, there was a camouflaged antiaircraft position there, fully manned and ready to shoot. 

I informed the S-3, we alerted the artillery, and I decided to surprise them first with a few HE rockets.  The approach was low level, this time over the length of the field.  After I dipped my nose and fired two rockets, a machinegun opened up on me from the other side of the field.  (Memory lapse dummy, they always operate in pairs.)  Being on the crest of the mountain, I did a diving wing over to the left, masking the fire.  All the while, the S-3 was cheering me on about giving it to them with my machinegun.  When I said that it wasn’t my machinegun but theirs making all that noise, I thought he was going to pee in his pants.  Subsequently we plastered the area with 155mm artillery, but I don’t think that S-3 ever took another ride in the back seat of a Birddog.



Vietnam 1969

"Ground Pounder to Pilot with the 219th"

Submitted by - 1LT Eugene Kobes, Headhunter 26

Editor's Note: Many 219th personnel had prior tours in Vietnam. These prior experiences are important to know because they also helped shape how these individuals contributed to the success of the 219th's overall mission.

 

"Before my assignment to the 219th RAC in early 1969 I had a previous ground assignment as a platoon leader with the 3rd Bn 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th ID supported by the 219th RAC.  It was always a comforting feeling in practically any engagement that some birddog was overhead to direct supporting fire whether it be artillery or TAC air. 

 

In this particular case in early 1967  from recollection occurred when our company C was attacked by a North Vietnamese Regiment.  We lost Charlie Barrett’s whole platoon with the exception of one man that was patrolling in the direction of the attack.  Two other platoons were patrolling off our respective flanks.  My platoon at company base was hit next and caught in the crossfire between the enemy and our Company B that had moved up to support the engagement.  The combat was very intense lasting a good share of an afternoon.  Rockets, artillery, close air support, machine gun fire, grenades, you name it, were in play.  Over four thousand rounds of artillery were fired in our support.  Other statistics of the battle are recorded in the book, “War of Innocents” by Charlie Flood who incidentally was in the thick of the battle.  My prayer for the circumstance occurred after the battle.  It was a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God that I was able to lead men through the chaos and confusion of battle when thought, planning and sense seemed to be brushed aside for instinctive action.  It is my belief one does not know how he will act in those conditions until you actually experience it.  Than to be able operate, to make decisions and act on them must be God given for I do not believe it is anything you could possibly train for. 

 

During the course of the battle I could not recall how many times I rose up to fire my weapon or to shout commands.  Once to execute the claymores and the word came back we just did.  I do not know how many times I shouted at my machine gunner to hold down his rate of fire or he would burn up his barrel.  Well he burned up both barrels and went forward to pick up an enemy machine gun to continue the battle.  I do remember just getting down in my foxhole when the back of my not to deep foxhole was stitched with machine gun fire.  In fact the antenna of my radio was shot off about two inches from the base.  I do remember getting up a little to look behind me to make sure I was not in the line of fire by B Company machine guns.  It was one of these times I saw the 500 lbs bombs tumbling through the air.  You see the TAC air and gun ships were brought in from behind us as opposed to parallel with my front because  the artillery was not lifted.  Enemy pressure was so great the Battalion was concerned both companies would be overrun so all supporting fires were continuous.  Enemy mortars and rocket were coming in volume and now we are also throwing hand grenades back and forth.  The intensity was unimaginable.  I do not remember if nor when I screamed to my unit to fix bayonets or whether they just instinctively just did it.  The din of battle is still etched in my mind. 

 

I believe the body count later that day was over 358 enemy along with a pile of enemy weapons. Many were just meters away from our positions.  Later, a platoon of tanks from the 4th moved in.  Can I tell you how comforting this was?

 

Incidentally, at the morning planning meeting of Company officers before the battle my platoon was scheduled to patrol the area of where the attack took place.  Charlie wanted to switch with me because his platoon was scheduled to be company lead in our company movement the following day.  He wanted to have firsthand knowledge of the terrain.  I suggested we both patrol the area, each with two squads, leaving two squads behind for company security.  Well, Charlie wanted his whole platoon with him so the decision for the switch was made.

 

An unusual circumstance that occurred over the course of the battle as well was that my platoon did not suffer anyone killed in action while facing a far superior force in numbers whereas B Company positioned behind my platoon did.  There was a memorial service for the fallen the next day.  I helped the chaplain hand out small hymn books in the calm breeze as I seemed to feel the whisper of God, He cares.  From what I remember, my prayer that day was for all the families and loved ones of those we lost.

 

The other unusual fact from my ground duty over the course of a year was that my platoon did not incur anyone killed in any action while I was with them in the field.  At one point I was detailed to Division but volunteered to return to my unit after another major battle and the loss of two more officers, one of which was the company commander. The platoon leader that had my platoon was severely wounded.

 

My second tour started with the 183 RAC in Phan Thiet.  It was an interesting three or four months before I was ranked out of my position as platoon Commander and moved to 219th 2nd Platoon in Kontum early 69.  But in those four months I had much excitement.  On one occasion I was attacking a VC tax point on Hwy 1.  Well the wood line was full of VC as well and my aircraft and I got shot up pretty well.  You see until then I could not get any fire support.  My aircraft was still flyable and I was not seriously wounded but my excited call went out.  Catbird 7 this is Seahorse 26, I have just taken fire, now can I get some type of support!!  Roger, you have pair phantoms that we have diverted to your area.  After I put them in as well as direct a Cav Troop from Task Force South I came back to Phan Thiet and landed.  I checked into the dispensary soon thereafter.

 

There were a number of 219th stories out of Kontum.  The short side of one is my returning to Kontum late after a mission in darkness (Kontum was an unlit airfield) and the portable GCA was inoperable.  Anyway I had a partial engine failure over Kontum city and my only one ever Mayday in my flying career call went out. “Mayday, mayday partial engine failure.”  I had full power on and was losing altitude. The tower operator asked me if he should shoot a flare.  Yes, yes I excitedly called back, do it now.  Well as if by answered prayer the flare lighted the area for me to locate the field.  I just made it to the end of the runway and landed.  Can I tell you that in two tours in Viet Nam one as an Infantry platoon leader and one flying reconnaissance, God was looking after me.

 

On another occasion, I, well my Marine observer adjusted main gun fire from the New Jersey.  I felt good about the target area.  It was where I was shot up.  Incidentally, my flight pattern in adjusting fire gave a wide berth.  You can see the rounds from the main guns in the air and the impact is special. 

On low level flying I guess after forty years it is safe to divulge. I was covering a convoy on Hwy 1 low level crisscrossing the hwy at varying intervals.   Well,  I did not catch the rise in the road as I was skimming tree tops when all of a sudden the command track is just meters in front of me as I initiate a climb.  Not soon enough however, as I hear a ping.  I am very quiet and perhaps praying as well, until the commander comes on the radio.  Seahorse 26, are you alright? I am asking because you took about three feet off my 125 antenna.  I promised to replace it I radioed back.  A post flight check revealed a slight nick in my propeller.

 

In the 219th, I am now flying over areas I trudged about.  Biggest battle for me there was in Dak Siang.  Enemy artillery was adjusting on our artillery base which I was using.  Enemy mortars were going off below me where I just got mirrored by some of our LRRPS.  Enemy P76 armored vehicles were engaging our outer defenses and enemy masses were emerging from the border area.  I do not know who replaced me on station when low on fuel but Dempsey  and Ritz do not remember the that particular battle.  I met them at last reunion and found out things I am glad I did not know about at the time.

After three or four months with the 219th I took command of HHC 52nd Cbt Av Bn. in Plieku.  Ah the memories."


"Mayday! Mayday!"

Submitted by - 1LT Eugene Kobes, Headhunter 26


Late one afternoon in early 1969 I was to fly a troop from Kontum to the airbase in Plieku to catch a hop to Saigon.  He was going on emergency leave back to the states.  I had not flown into the airbase before and it was kind of neat with the ground control instructing me to taxi up to the C-130.  It was waiting on me with props turning.  Anyway, after my pax debarked I have clearance to taxi and takeoff.  Only issue is that darkness is settling in and I know Kontum does not have runway lights.  Oh well, maybe I will have sufficient moonlight I thought.  Poor decision, for now as I approach Kontum it is really dark as I call our mobile  GCA for landing.  I had not used it before since from memory we did not launch at night that often.

The GCA operator picked me up and gave me a glide path and I thought, this isn’t so bad and I am proceeding with letdown.  Well, when I turn on my landing light all I saw were bunkers.  The operator had me in heading on glide path from what I remember.  Anyway, I radioed,  go around and began my climb for traffic pattern altitude.  Everything was still okay except that on downwind my engine sputtered as I was still added more power.  Now, I am at full power and losing altitude as my call went out, “Mayday, Mayday partial engine failure!!  GCA operator, “What do you want me to do? (Pause) Shoot a flare?”  Yes, yes, yes I radioed back a bit excitedly as I see the lights of Kontum coming up just beneath me.

 I do not remember how close I was to the ground or the obstacles I had to clear before touchdown but my roll out was not far from our ramp.  With a sputtering engine I just made it back to our ramp for shut down.

That was my only Mayday in a flight career that went along with a few fuel emergency landings


"Scratch One Bird Dog"

Submitted by -CPT Dave Miller, HH45, Section Leader, 4th Plt. Kontum Sep '68-Oct '69


It started out as just another summer day of 1969, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. I flew the first 3-hour mission, then Bernie took the second, I was to fly the third - we’d flip-flop missions the next day. 1LT Bernie Serafinowicz & I were a 2-aviator section of the 4th Platoon flying in direct support of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. We bunked on Fire Base Mary Lou, home of the Brigade HQ, and we flew out of Kontum. While we usually had 2 planes, when a bird was in for maintenance or repair, we would share one Bird Dog - this was one of those days.


We were working a contact area near Dak To that day and, as Bernie banked for home, at the end of his mission, the plane took a number of small arms & .50 cal. MG hits. Bernie managed to call in a message that they’d taken hits and that he was going to try to bring the bird home - almost all of the radio gear & controls had been shot away.

Using mostly trim and power, Bernie set up about a 17-mile straight-in final to the Kontum strip. Later, Bernie said that adrenalin kept him going until they were almost to the threshold and he shut everything down - that’s when he blacked out.


Without power, their glide path was too shallow and they hit the ground just short of the runway. The plane suffered lots of damage as it skidded along, finally coming to rest near a Huey that was refueling from a bladder. Bernie & his passenger were quickly pulled out of the wreckage and loaded onto the slick which hopped over to receive them. The chopper then flew directly to the hospital in Pleiku.

The Bird Dog’s ‘cage’ did a good job: Bernie’s injuries were limited to 2 bruised knees (from hitting the instrument panel) and a cut near one eye (from hitting the center-mounted compass above the instrument panel). He was sent to Japan for plastic surgery on the cut and returned quickly to finish his tour. His passenger, an Intelligence Lieutenant, who had been on his first ‘small’ plane ride (to see the AO), suffered a minor shrapnel wound to his posterior (from the exploding radios under his seat) - he was also diagnosed with malaria and was immediately sent back to the States. (See Pictures)

“While attending the 2011 Headhunter Reunion, I was told that Bernie did not survive the crash of a cargo plane that he was piloting, sometime after he left the Army.



Vietnam 1970

"Arlie Deaton  & My Wife Ruth"

Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 1st PLT Pleiku Sep '70-Oct '71

All is fair in Love & War! From April to October 1970, my then finance’ Ruth Holbook, was an Army nurse assigned to 71st Evac Hospital in Pleiku. We had become engaged while I was still in flight school at Ft. Stewart Georgia and she was still assigned to the hospital at Ft. Gordon, GA.. When I was in the tactics phase at Ft. Rucker, I flew Bird Dogs and shared this information with Ruth. She told me there was a Birddog unit in Pleiku at Camp Holloway called the 219th Aviation Company. (At that time, we used the MARS radio system to talk with each other). I asked if she could meet the unit commander and find out if I could get assigned to the company if I received orders for Vietnam. Arlie Deaton was the 219th's company commander. The next thing I know I receive a letter from Ruth. In it is a list of names and units for the people in Vietnam who I would need to talk to when I arrived in country. They would help me get to Pleiku and the 219th.  Armed with this information and before graduating flight school at Ft. Rucker I called the Officer Personnel Branch in Washington, D.C. My request was that I did not want any more schooling, no aircraft transitions, and no assignments to Germany, South Korea or anywhere in the states. I wanted to go straight to Vietnam! The officer I spoke to asked my name again. He stated "Well, Lt. Brewster do you know how many calls I am getting like this?" I answer back "No, sir I don't ". He then told me "None!" then asked me if I wanted to go straight to Vietnam or have some leave before I went. This was mid-September 1970.  Two weeks later I was in South Vietnam.

Upon landing in Saigon, I pulled out my list of names provided by Arlie to Ruth. It worked like a charm. Only one officer questioned me by saying “Lt Brewster, we are supposed to assign you to a unit, you are not suppose to assign yourself”. I answered back quickly by saying “Sir, it must be important that I get to this unit, otherwise how would I have your name?” Without another word he stamped my orders and off I went to the next stop. Arlie arranged a flight for Ruth from Pleiku to meet me in Qui Nhon. It was in either a Beaver or an Otter. We both flew back to Pleiku in it. The date was September 29, 1970. Arlie Deaton’s assignment with the 219th ended on October 1 when he headed home to the states. We knew each other for only two days but he had changed my life forever.  That was Arlie!

In early December, Ruth and I were both reassigned from Pleiku to Qui Nhon where I joined the Headhunter's 3rd platoon and she went to the 67th Evac Hospital. In February 1971, we were married in Hawaii while on RR .  We have been happily married 42 years. This would not have been possible without Arlie Deaton, the greatest Headhunter of all. God bless Arlie!!


"My O-1 Backseat Adventure"

Submitted by -CWO Chuck Brainerd, Cougar 34, 57th Assault Helicopter Company, Pleiku 1970-1971

 

My name is Chuck Brainerd,  I Flew with the 57th Assault Helicopter Company.  When I arrived in country the Gladiators and Cougars were based at An Khe.  Later that year we moved to Camp Holloway where this event happened in late1970 or early 1971

 

A 219th Headhunter pilot approached me at the Officers Club in Camp Holloway.  He asked if he could exchange a ride during a bird dog mission for a ride in Cougars Revenge Night Hawk.  So named for retaliation for the death of Cougar Jeff Coffin that was killed south of Pleiku.

 

I had seen these guys on missions in the AO and wasn’t sure I wanted to fly in one since they didn’t have the two door gunners that I was use to.  Also it was a non-turbine aircraft and I didn’t have a fixed wing rating.  But the 20 year old inside of me made the deal.

 

I had one condition, which he agreed to.  I would be able to bring along a M-60 Machine Gun.  He said yes to this request. After draping belts of Ammo every where I could, We took off to a strip that I cant remember the name of, landed and, pulled up to a conex, removed the smoke rockets and rearmed the Bird Dog with HE, 2.75 inch Rockets.  Then we headed out to the AO.  Enroute he asked me if I wanted to do a Split S, to proud to admit I didn’t know what that was, I said yes.  When he finished the maneuver I still didn’t know what a split S was.  I experienced G forces I have never felt and saw the horizon where it was not supposed to be.  He asked, how did you like that??  I answered I’m not sure what you did but that was fun hoping he wouldn’t do that again.

 

Arriving in the search area, he told me some one had use that trail last night, I could not even make out a trail.  After following the trail for a short distance, we heard a short burst of AK fire. After firing the HE Rockets, He began circling the area; he reached for a M-79 and a laundry bag full of Ammo for it and began firing it out the left side.  After he had his fun, he allowed me to shoot the 60 out the right side.

 

Now we were having fun.  After expending all the ammo we headed back to the PSP runway at Holloway.  During the post flight he exclaimed "Oh, Holy (expletive)".  He showed me that the M-60 shells had damaged the leading edge of the right horizontal stabilizer.  I said I had to go and left quickly never seeing him again.

 

This year this 60-year-old pilot soloed a Cessna 305 Birddog.  Looking in the back seat I can’t believe I shot a M-60 out the back right window.  I’m in love with the plane and have a great respect for the 219th Pilots and crews that flew them.

 

I thought he was Head Hunter 11 but I am not sure of that.  If you are the pilot in this story, please email me at chuckb@firehawkhelicopters.com,  I would love to talk with you.

 

Chuck Brainerd Cougar’s Revenge (Cougar 34)


"LZ English to An khe to Pleiku to Cheo Reo"

Submitted by -SP/5 Robert Kroman,  3rd Plt., 1970-1971

 

When the 203rd went home Lt Jim Baker  and  I went to LZ English 1970 I think for only 3 months then to An Khe with Lt Baker again and when the 3rd Bgd of the 4th div  pulled out in may 1970 we both went to Camp Holloway till March of 71 then I went to Cheo Reo till May 71 and I ETS'd to Saigon working on U21's for NHA, which took over LSI's contract. Lt baker is in the guest book # 96  2010 but not on the roster.  I would sure like to get his Email to say Hi, the day we went to Holloway that night i had Guard Duty and he was OD. During inspection he looked at my M-16 and said this looks like the same dirt from An Khe and I said "No Sir "that's the same dirt from LZ English Ha!  it brings back a lot of memories for me.

 


"Hey, You Got it....Give Me that M-16 "

Submitted by -SP/5 Martin Tremethick,  3rd Plt. Qui Nhon, 1970

 

This Ain’t  No Shit!

In the latter half of 1970 in Qui Nhon, Charlie Ryan rotated home and was replaced by Bill Hutter.  As a crewchief/observer I remember a particular flight with Cpt.  Hutter in Happy Valley.  We were on a VR mission when we stumbled upon what appeared to be the entire NVA army.  From my perspective in the back seat it look like a Chinese fire drill below us.  I don't recall if gunships or Phantom F- 4's were called, but  Cpt. Hutter turned the Bird Dog around a 180 turn and started back up the valley.  He said to get my M16 ready which it was, so  I started preparing to get out of my harness and kneel on the seat.  He then turned a 180 turn to head back down the valley.  The next thing he did blew my mind.  With all the flying I had done up to now I never saw this maneuver.  He throttled the engine back dropped the flaps and trimmed the aircraft.  I later found out it was called slow flying.   And then he really blew my mind!  He said, "take the controls and keep her straight headed down the valley...give me your M-16...you crew chiefs always have all the fun."  With that, I handed him my M16 and held a death grip on the controls because I knew we were going to die.  I was either going to fly into the valley wall or Charlie was going to pick off this slow moving airplane.  Well, I successfully flew the Bird Dog down the valley and Cpt. Hutter got to blast a few magazines at some NVA.  I never did see if he hit any...I was kind of busy at the moment.  Anyway, it was an unforgettable and exhilarating experience.  Thank you Bill Hutter...Your favorite crew chief...Trick


MY PERSONAL STORY -

JOHN A KUBIK,

HEADHUNTER22

1967-1970

I graduated from flight school on 29 August 1967 and was more proud of this accomplishment than receiving my commission as an officer.

While in flight school, those of us who were not married, pretty much were treated as “top gun” kind of guys by the local female population. I suspected that is why the schools were located in rural south Georgia and Alabama farm country so that we young “studs” would have few to choose from. I did manage to date a nice girl while in Georgia but I could not get past her “southern twang” (she was a bright attractive kid but her accent was definitely not for this Yankee Boy). 

I did however, meet my first wife while I was in Alabama (she was originally from Oklahoma – much better). 

Vietnam…  (Read more...)



Vietnam 1971

"Super Subsonic Fighter"

Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT Qui Nhon Sep '70-Oct '71

It is around April 1971. I am based in Qui Nhon with the 219th 3rd platoon. The Birddog is an unusual airplane. Specifically built to Army specifications as an observation airplane and radio relay airplane, it also is an excellent aircraft for forward air controller (FAC) duties. While assigned to the 3rd platoon, we got to know many of the units that we worked with in the air by call signs and voices. Rarely did we ever meet the people we supported who flew side by side with us. This was particularly true of any assault gunships or tactical air from the Air Force. However, there was one time where I had a chance to meet several pilots from an assault helicopter company (AHC) based between Qui Nhon and the Mang Yang Pass on the way to Pleiku. I cannot recall the units name or even its call sign but we worked with them a lot in the areas around Phu Cat.

The pilots from this AHC offered several of us the chance to obtain some High Explosive (HE) and Fleshette (Nails) rockets. I remember along with CWO Larry White and I think also CWO Jim McDevit taking a Deuce and a half truck from Qui Nhon to the AHC base some twenty miles away to pick up these rockets. When we returned to Qui Nhon, I was all hyped up to do some “damage” with them. Our Bird Dogs were outfitted with four rocket tubes - two on each wing. We normally carried four 2.75 inch White Phosphorous (WP) rockets. When fired to spot a target the WP rocket would send up a plume of pure white smoke hundreds of feet in the air from the ground. This smoke could be seen for miles and it was our main tool for bringing in air strikes or gunships on the enemy.

Anxious to fire these HE and Nails rockets, I got up at “0-Dark thirty” one morning. There was a valley where I always saw heavily used trails but never any bad guys. The bad guys worked and traveled at night but this day with my new load of rockets (2-HE and 2-Nails) I was going to get there just at the break of light and catch them out in the open. With the help of my crew chief we first loaded two HE rockets. To my surprise they stuck out almost two feet in the rocket tube’s front. The WP rocket’s nose stuck out maybe eight inches so this was a big difference to me. Then we loaded the Nails rockets and they were the opposite barely sticking out of the rocket tube at all.

All loaded, I felt like a “super subsonic fighter” - dangerous, stealthy and ready to show the enemy what I had. While still dark, I departed Qui Nhon for a valley west of Phu Cat in Binh Dinh Province called the Crow’s Foot. There were many valleys running up and down this mountainous region and they resembled a crow’s foot from the air. My tactic was to low level on the treetops perpendicular on one valley side and pop over the ridgeline down into the next valley. This morning my timing was perfect! As I popped over the first ridgeline, I could not believe my eyes. There were hundreds of black clad people running every direction. I quickly pulled up and armed the HE rockets. I did a semi-split S maneuver and pointed my Bird Dog’s nose at the running bad guys. I pulled the trigger to fire one HE rocket and off it went with more power than any WP rocket. I watched the rocket head for a large group of people and….nothing happened. I swung around from a different direction and armed the second HE rocket. I fired! And, still nothing happened. Neither rocket exploded on the ground. Now, people are disappearing into the jungle. I am desperate to do something. I swing around on another pass. This time I will fire a Fleshette rocket. I pull the trigger and the rocket heads toward a large group. Nothing happens! I fire the second Nails rocket on my last pass and unbelievably still nothing happens again. I have fired all four rockets – two HE and two Fleshette without any of them exploding! What is going on? The WP rockets would all have exploded. I cannot figure it out.

All told only a few minutes had passed since I made my initial surprise attack over the valley ridgeline. In spite of small arms ground fire I am not hit anywhere. It is daylight and everyone has disappeared. I search around the area and see nothing. Later that day I would go back out with a second aircraft, an Air Force O-2 and we would put tactical air strikes in along the valley. But, we see nothing. That night I would learn that both the HE and Fleshette rockets need minimum distances to arm themselves before impacting or exploding. Of course, I am at tree top level, maybe 300-500 feet above ground level at the highest when I fired and too low for the rockets to arm themselves. What a threat I am! Better stick with what I know. But, I do know this much - I scared the crap out those bad guys! At least they would think longer and harder about shooting at any Bird Dog flying overhead after that day.


"The Day We Lost Dave Cinkosky"

Submitted by - CWO Dale Bennet, Pilot, 4th PLT, Bam Me Thout, Mar '71-Oct '71

CCS - David Edward Cinkosky, KIA 5 August 1971

Below is my memory of this day. 

Dave was just back eight days from his home leave, after his first tour. The night before his final flight, Dave said lets go to the O-club for a beer. I said ok but it was a little strange because Dave rarely drank and other than pilots, who had their own bars, there were only two other officers at BMT. The club was empty and we sat at the bar and had a couple of beers. During our talk I asked Dave why he had extended for another year. He said, “I think what we were doing is significant and we were saving lives in Viet Nam.” I hadn’t thought about it much but agreed with him and said they at least let us fight in Cambodia. 

The next afternoon Dave and I flew out to the launch site at Duc Lap. Cpt. Tangney briefed us and gave us the grid quadrants of the area he wanted us to recon. He then introduced us to a Yard who he said was his best team leader. He said he would be taking a team in soon near our area today and would we take him along. If we had time would we fly over his area and also check some LZ’s. I don’t know why it was a request rather than an order other then we hadn’t done it before. We said sure and that he would be in Dave’s back seat as he was low bird today. Our rocket tubes were loaded with all HE today. We flew out to the area and Dave dropped to the deck to do the recon. Low level for us was less than 50 feet above whatever was solid. The high bird navigates and vectors the low bird around the area. No electronic navigational systems were available so we did everything with maps and a compass but our maps were very good. The maps were topographical with photo overlays and stamped Top Secret. The low bird would say something like “off my right wing…..now, I have two bunkers and their estimated size is….”  The high bird would right down the grid coordinates and take notes; we could always get a six digit grid coordinate which put it within ten meters with an eight digit about 40% of the time which put us within one meter. In fact that day we did spot two bunkers and less than 50 meters north of them was a very dense area that looked like camouflage but we couldn’t see in. We were out in the middle of nowhere; the bunkers must have a reason to be there. I than vectored Dave to the area the one zero wanted to look at which was less than two clicks away. We didn’t want to spend too much time in the area because we didn’t want to alert them to our interest in the area. A quick look showed some active trails but nothing else. The area had two good LZ’s and we couldn’t see any booby traps or firing positions around them. 

Done, we headed back with Dave staying low as we would look for a target to fire our rockets at. (We normally fired our rockets on low level passes)  No one liked to unload live rockets at Duc Lap and we weren’t allowed to have them in Darlac province. Mondolkiri city was on our way back and always had bad guys and buildings to shoot at. We decided to have a look to see if anything new was going on. I dropped back and vectored Dave in up wind near the air strip then he was on his own. We tried to sneak up on them and once in a while it worked. I was above and just behind him now. Dave was at about 20 feet and made a turn down a slight slope and between a hill and a three story building. I then heard heavy ground fire and the nose of his aircraft pitched up sharply which is not normal. I called him “Snoopy 2, Snoopy 3…..Snoopy 2, Snoopy 3 what’s happening”  (Now I started to see everything in slow motion.) The nose dropped and it looked like he had pulled power and was in a slow glide to the right toward the hill. Then the right wing tip touched the ground, it cartwheeled next hitting the prop and it looked like it exploded sending chards of Plexiglas and metal into a cloud. The wings had separated and the fuselage form the back window to the prop was missing! I was flying around starring at the crash site trying not to believe what I had just seen when I heard “Snoopy this is Mike _ _ on guard, is that one of your birds down? “ (USAF FAC’s call sign Mike flying 0-2 aircraft) They were always in the AO at 4 to 5,000 feet ready for something to happen. If nothing else was going on they would keep track of us. He said it looked like no one could have survived. I said he was strapped to his seat and could have been thrown free and be alive. I was thinking two things: no way was I going to say he was dead without seeing his body and I wouldn’t let him become MIA. Mike asked me what I wanted and I asked what I could have, he said I could have anything I wanted. I said I wanted the guns to hit them hard then a recovery team and when they were clear, TACAIR to blow the shit out of anything still alive. I showed Mike the primary and secondary targets and turned the operation over to him. 

I climbed to about 3,000 feet and went into a slow orbit, out of the way but where I could see everything. I was low on fuel but planned to stay until I could see the recovery team go in. I leaned out my fuel mixture as much as I could and pulled back the throttle to just maintain altitude and waited. Four Green Hornet guns show up and the FAC gave them instructions including my location and cleared them hot on the target. They went in on the target in their normal pairs, firing their mini-guns and rockets. (Each gun ship carries 14 rockets.)  As the first pair rolls off target the second pair rolls in hot. They fly in an oval keeping this pattern of continues firing on the target. After a couple of passes trees and camouflage was blown away and I could see a large building about 40’ X 80’ some out structures and some bunkers. I was surprised when the recover team showed up in the spare gun ship. I expected to see an H 34 Kingbee not an American crewed chopper. The guns continued to fire as the recovery team landed and Cpt. Tangney jumped out with some Yards to recover the bodies. I told the FAC that I was going back by the southern route which had some areas that you could land on. I told the FAC that I was extremely low on fuel and may have to make an emergency landing. On the way back one tank went dry and the engine sputtered, I quickly changed tanks and the engine came back to life. I babied it back and made a straight in, down wind landing. I taxied to the refueling area and shut down. When I refueled I could see the bottom of the left tank, it was completely dry and the right tank had about ¼ inch in it. I walked down to where the recovery ship had landed and told them I wanted to see the body. They pointed to a body bay and asked if I wanted it opened. The body bag had a large amount of blood all over it. They explained that he had taken a round to the head just under the jaw and it had blown the top of his head off. I declined on opening the bag. The Yard one zero was most likely killed in the crash. I walked to the briefing tent and stopped just outside as I saw Cpt. Tangney with his back to me talking on the radio. He was reporting that “I” had just been killed! After he finished he turned around and froze staring at me and me at him, no words spoken. He had turned a bit pale then quickly turned and was back on the radio changing the KIA. He debriefed me then I flew back to BMT. I think the bullet had misshaped Dave’s face and we didn’t always have name tags, he assumed it was me because Dave had a lot more experience. When I shut down on our ramp the entire platoon including crew chiefs were waiting for me. When I got out it was very awkward as no one knew what to say. Our sergeant had a cold six pack of beer and he held one out and asked ‘Would you like a beer Mr. Bennett”  I drank the beer straight down I was so thirsty and then realized my flight suit was soaking wet. The sergeant handed me another beer and everyone started talking at the same time. We went back to our bar which had A/C and I told everyone the above story.   

The next day Cpt. Estill wanted me to fly the afternoon CCS mission and I said I go on R&R tomorrow and didn’t want to fly. He said I needed to get back in the saddle right away. (he is from Texas) I said the saddle will be there when I get back I just really need a break. The next morning I hoped on a Hughie going to Plieku. We landed on a strip about a third of the way to Plieku The pilot said that the weather was too bad to fly any farther north. I started a conversation with a first lieutenant and sergeant sitting in a jeep. They said they were going to Plieku and I asked for a ride. They said ok and I jumped in the back. They handed me a steel pot, flack jacket and M-16 saying we can use another rifle. I asked if we were going to join a convoy and he said no it’s just us, any problem with that? I said no, let’s go. That night I was playing poker in our company bar when our CO walked through and saw me and said “Bennett what the hell are you doing here?”  “I said “I’m going on R&R” He said “We have been socked in for three days how did you get here....never mind I don’t want to know.” and walked out. My first day back from R&R I flew the CCS mission and on the way back flew over the crash site. All the vegetation and structures were completely gone and the entire hill looked like it had been lowered about 2 meters. I found out later that the Mike FAC had expended three sets of TACAIR on the hill. I continued to fly the CCS mission until about two weeks before my DROS 27 October 1971.


"Eyeball to Eyeball with the Enemy"

Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT LZ English Sep '70-Oct '71

AUGUST 1971 In 1970-71, we all knew the bad guys were down there watching us. Had we been any higher per the "rules" they would have had a better chance of hitting us. And because the friendly ground forces were getting scarce throughout the AO as the good guys pulled back,  flying low was not breaking any rules, it was to me self preservation,. Plus how close can you fly a Bird Dog to the ground without hitting anything? I was flying low level down Happy Valley near the Mang Yang Pass. My wheels felt like they were on the water when I made a slight turn to the right as the river curved. Right under my left wing tip only a few feet away was a fully outfitted NVA Regular in mid stride. New pith hat, canteen with cover, new uniform, AK, etc. We surprised the hell out of each other and I will never forget looking into his eyes just the length of the wing away. Of course I was gone in a split second and he disappeared back into the jungle. Turned out a few weeks later that he was part of a large NVA Regiment moving south filling in the areas we were leaving. What an airplane! Just slow enough to see things and just fast enough to get away. As O-1 pilots in RVN, I think we were the last of an era stretching back to the early beginnings of airplane flying.


"Crew Chief on the Ground & in the Air"

Submitted by -SGT Ed Grisham. 11 Bravo, 3rd PLT LZ English

 

1970-71. I would like to add my two cents worth in regards to low level flight and other experiences that serving with the 219th Headhunters gave me. During my tour in 1970-1971 at LZ English working from the back as I did afforded me some opportunities that I might not have had with other platoons (good or bad). Of course, many Crew chiefs and Observers experienced the same types of situations on a different days and possibly a different AO but regardless, I think that we all would agree and stand united when I say that anytime we left the ground we as a crew were very vulnerable to having our asses shot down to say it mildly! During my tour at LZ English I believe because of its isolated distant location away from the Company area the enlisted and officers alike mingled probably a little closer than some of the other platoons. Of course, I fully understand why the separation between the ranks but, at English sometimes survival of the basic commodities was hard to come by therefore Enlisted as well as Officers were forced to survive and scrounge together. I firmly believe that this environment forged a very strong bond between us all that I consider a privilege to have encountered and has lasted until this day. Oh, Lance Holmes will agree with me that if Major Arlie Deaton would have known how many times Lance and myself volunteered and left our compound on foot patrols with a 173rd Airborne unit we would still be locked up! I know you remember those early days Lance! The Jeep trip from LZ English to Phu Cat Airbase and back and the M-79 taking out the Water Buffalo is another story that I will save for another day.
 

Bob, when you mention that look in the eyes of that particular VC I can absolutely recall the same experiences numerous times that you describe. I may not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday but, I will tell you that there are many visions that flash through my mind on a frequent basis that create this scenario over and over again. I vividly remember targets of opportunity exposing themselves for me from the backseat on many occasions only because we were "cranking" tightly on our wingtip over a hole in the jungle canopy at "tree top level" that miraculously seemed to appear at the most opportune time. I'm certain that the Fishhook, An Loa, Sui Ca Valley, Tiger Mountains etc will bring back many memories to many of you out there. For-sure, getting back in one piece would not have happened if it were not for the excellent piloting skills of our pilots! Talk about flying by the "seat of your pants"!!  It is absolutely true that it was an everyday occurrence to be shot down on as well as up at when flying in and out of these valleys! I know first hand that we made a big difference to the successful outcome of many missions during our time and saved many lives allowing a few more of our comrades to come home and for this, I am proud of all of our service. 
 

Something that I have wanted to say to everyone (pilots & crew) for a long time is what an honor it was for me personally to serve with such a brave group of men! It has also been an honor to have attended all of the reunions besides the first one I believe that involved just a few folks. I know that we all are moving upward in ours years and one thing that is so humbling to me while attending our reunions is fact that when I look around the room and see aging warriors as our group is there is a constant reminder to me that these are the most brave men that ever went off to war because I saw many of you when you and I were young fighting men. You see, I know first hand how thoroughly competent our group was because I was there like all of us were regardless of rank and saw the constant bravery and sacrifices that the 219th was willing to make even at the risk of there own lives. I can honestly tell you that each and every time that I loaded up my weapons into the backseat that I would have sacrificed my life to bring my pilot back alive if I had the capacity to do so and I believe firmly that all of us back seaters, Crew chiefs etc  felt that responsibility to our pilots,,, our hero's! Sure, we are a tuff bunch but, as tuff as we all are I have the seen the tears well-up in the eyes of our aging warriors during the most intimate personal moments of tribute when our reunion group reflects on lost comrades during the war and since. 
 

For me personally, I can recall flying on many missions with no less than 8 different pilots during my 219th time. Of course, by nature each and every pilot had his own differentiating personality and flying habits, aggressiveness etc but, there was always one common denominator and that was to be the best that he could be each and every mission, even at "First Light" and after a hard night drinking! 
 

With that, I will close and wish all of you well and look forward to seeing all of you at the next reunion.


"Timing is Everything"

Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT Qui Nhon, Sep '70-Oct '71

 While assigned to the 3rd Platoon in Qui Nhon mid-1971, I loved to fly the Bird Dog low level over the beaches to the north near the Phu Cat Mountains. The beaches in Vietnam were beautiful and north of Qui Nhon they were also very wide. The mountains dropped right down into the sand which ran out into the South China Sea. We rarely saw any people on these beaches. The Phu Cat Mountains harbored a lot of the enemy both VC and North Vietnamese Regulars making the wide beach exposure very dangerous.

I found the beaches to be very relaxing. Often times, heading north or south on missions I would drop down within five to ten feet of the water and lazily bank my aircraft back and forth, first over water then over sand. On this particular day, it was bright sunshine with no clouds. I could see my Bird Dog’s shadow below me on the beach as though I was formation flying with another airplane.  I could have been anywhere else in the world enjoying a peaceful flight in beautiful surroundings but this was still a war zone.

As I zig zagged back and forth across the waves and then over the sand suddenly there was an explosion directly in front of my aircraft. Everything turned black in front of me as smoke and sand flew up into the aircraft and through the propeller.  I had all my side windows open and sand and dirt flew inside the cockpit. Fortunately I had my helmet visor down preventing the sand from hitting my eyes, face and mouth.

Without thinking, I instinctively banked to the left to fly out over the water away from the beach. My thoughts were that my complacency led me to fly into a mortar or rocket attack from the nearby mountainside. I pushed the throttle full forward and I remember leaning forward in the pilot’s seat hoping it would help me get away from the beach faster as I banked one way then another trying to get away.  I looked at all my engine gauges. The oil pressure and engine RPM were still normal. My fear was an engine failure and ditching in the water. I waited for more rounds to hit but nothing else happened. I looked back toward the beach and saw a large cloud of smoke and dust climbing up from the sand. Nothing else was visible. Was this just one round?

I immediately flew back to Qui Nhon where after landing I inspected the O-1 and found nothing. No hit marks, shrapnel or any damage. I turned in a report that I had taken ground fire from somewhere in the mountains without sustaining any damage. That night I went to the Navy Officers Club in Qui Nhon City. There I met a Navy Seal. Upon telling him my story from that day, he volunteered to check out the beach area where the explosion occurred. I questioned him as to how he could do that and he told me he had a Boston Whaler that they used for patrols. I was surprised (nothing should surprise anybody about a Navy Seal) and I told him “Yes, please let me know if you find anything”. Truthfully, I thought he was joking with me and that I would hear nothing from him.

A week later I see my Navy Seal friend again. I ask if he had a chance to visit the beach as we discussed. He told me “Oh, yes! And, you will never believe what I found out there.” I asked him about what he found and he went on to tell me that there was a very large crater in the beach at the location I told him about. He said I was very lucky. When I questioned out loud what could have happened he told me that there were pieces of sea turtle scattered all over the crater and sand. Apparently, at the exact time that I was low leveling from the ocean surf back over the beach sand, a large green sea turtle was digging a hole in the sand and hit a land mine. He told me that the whole beach area north of Qui Nhon was full of landmines from the French, the U.S. and others. This made the beach very unsafe and the reason why no one was ever seen walking out there.

Incredibly, of all the close calls I experienced in Vietnam during my year of flying Bird Dogs where I could have crashed or died, this was probably the closest. The irony is that if I was a few seconds faster and had actually crashed and died, I would have been killed by one of the slowest and most gentle creatures on Earth – a sea turtle! Timing is truly everything!


"Letting Go of the Controls"

Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT Qui Nhon, Sep '70-Oct '71

It was April 23, 1971, in Happy Valley--a very dangerous mountainous area near the Mang Yang Pass. I was flying my O-1 on a regular recon mission without any specific target. This was an area I had flown over dozens of time in the past but on this day I saw a heavily used trail running along the valley floor near the tree line. The valley floor to the mountaintops in this area was probably 1,500 to 2,000 feet. As I followed this trail I banked first to the left then to the right while concentrating my full attention on the trail below. As the trail went up the mountainside so did I. Continuing to bank side to side I was also subconsciously applying more engine power to keep up my climb.  I was so absorbed in watching the trail below that I failed to hear the aircraft engine slowing. This was a fixed pitch propeller without any governor. The RPM was dropping and the noise level of air passing the windows was growing less and less. Suddenly, I realized that I was no longer climbing but actually slowly descending toward the jungle below. Stunned I saw my airspeed was almost at the red line for a stall. (I cannot remember but I think this was somewhere around 49 MPH indicated airspeed). Incredibly I was already at full power and was still settling downward. I was now hanging on the propeller!

There was no stretching my climb to get over the mountain top. I still had hundreds of feet remaining to the top. Within seconds of settling into the treetops, I heard a voice--the voice of my instructor from flight school telling me to “let go of the controls if you get in trouble flying because the airplane inherently wants to fly due to the pull of gravity.” That is exactly what I did! I let go of the stick and a miracle occurred. The Bird Dog started banking to the left from what I would later realize was the propeller forces called “P Factor” or the torque affect at very slow speeds for the propeller to turn the airplane in the opposite direction of the propeller’s rotation. 

In fractions of seconds my descent into the trees stopped. My slight banking turn to the left due to propeller torque combined with the down slope of the mountainside and the growing lift from my increasing airspeed as I descended all together worked to keep me from crashing. My landing gear dragged through some the tops of the tallest trees but I continued to accelerate to the point where I regained complete control and flew out of the valley. My heart was pounding so much so that even through my flak jacket and survival vest I could see my chest heaving in and out. Truthfully, I never feared dying but I truly feared getting captured. That scared me more than anything. For the next hour I tried to calm down and think about what had just happened. I climbed up to 8,000 feet and droned around in recovery thought. How could I have been so absorbed that I let myself get into such a critical situation? Yet, in spite of the danger or requirement for split-second thinking, I was able to respond and do the right thing. “Letting go of the controls” worked! What an airplane!What great training in flight school!!

"Total Blackness"

Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT Qui Nhon, Sep '70-Oct '71

Including Pleiku,  LZ English and Phu Cat, I was also stationed with the 219th Aviation Company at Qui Nhon. This incident was probably late spring 1971 where we received a emergency mission request that there was a company of US types surrounded and in trouble. They needed immediate fire support. This call came into our platoon around midnight or just before. I was the only one able to fly. I took off from Qui Nhon in pitch black darkness, no moon and no horizon. Could not see a thing until my eyes adjusted to the dark and I headed for the "Crows Foot" or "Wed Foot" area in the mountains west of Phu Cat.

I had all my lights turned off in the aircraft including all the navigation lights on the outside. I could not even see the instrument panel so I flew by feel. I was petrified of being shot down for I knew that everyone could see and hear me. Both my legs were shaking so much that I could not hold them on the rudder pedals and the pedals were vibrating and rattling when I did put my feet on them. I made contact with the ground unit CO and attempted to locate their position on the ground. But, they were pinned down so low to the ground that they could not even give me a good fix. He said that they were as low as they could get but could hear me overhead. I saw ground fire and some flashes but could not make out who was who or from what direction. My ground CO told me that they were surrounded by a large enemy force and needed to have arty brought in.

I was in contact with the TOC and two fire bases. I had each fire base fire off a spotting round so that I could get a fix on the ground guys. As I remember this was not working well for it was so dark that all I could see was a big flash and not able to specifically pinpoint where our guys were located. It took probably 5-6 spotting rounds from each artillery position before I had any confidence that I knew where they were and could safely walk the arty to their position. As I gave each arty fire base a command to fire I would ask the ground commander where the round landed compared to their position. In only this way could I figure out direction and distance. Finally, I gave the order to fire for effect and that is when all hell broke loose. Artillery rounds were landing everywhere including on top of what I thought was the location of our guys. Usually fire for effect got five rounds per battery. I think there were twenty rounds that hit the ground. To my chagrin, I had three not two fire bases firing for effect. It was momentary terror and chaos. I kept calling my ground contact. No response. I called again. No response. Holy crap what did I just do? Then I received a call that they were OK. The bad guys had stopped shooting but our guys were not going to move anywhere until daylight. I stayed overhead until my fuel  remaining was only enough to get back to Qui Nhon. I had been out there for three hours. I flew back to Qui Nhon, refueled and flew back to the AO where I stayed over head until daylight.

I can't recall if it was then or later in the morning that I spoke with the ground commander. He told me that the artillery rounds hit everywhere that they were supposed to hit. He also shared that when daylight came and they started to move out, they saw hundreds of enemy bodies laying everywhere around their positions.

What a night!  Even though I flew 299 combat missions during my year, other than night watch over Pleiku,  this would be my first and last night mission into total blackness.



Vietnam 1972

Even though the last 219th Aviation Flight occurred Dec 1971

there are several 1972 stories yet to be told.

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