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.
States to Pleiku"
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.
"One Time Flight"
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
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!
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
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
"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
"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!"
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."
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."
First Day as a Headhunter"
by - SGT Don Jordan, 219th Co Clerk, Pleiku
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.
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.
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
“Specialist Fourth Class Jordan reporting for duty as assigned Sir.” I
“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
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.
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.
I First Met Arlie Jan 7, 1967"
by - SGT Don Jordan, 219th Co Clerk, Pleiku
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
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
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
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
“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
“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 &
by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68
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.
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
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
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.
in the Trail"
by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
by - Al Paulsen, CWO, Headhunter, Pleiku
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."
by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68
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.
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.
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
the Ho Chi Minh Trail"
by - Charley Barnes, Cpt, Headhunter 36, Pleiku May '67-May'68
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.
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.
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
that this road became a very dangerous place when it was completed,
because the NVA had truck-mounted AA guns all along it.
Submitted by - Cpt David
Farenbach, Headhunter, Kontum Aug '67 - Aug '68
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.”
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.
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.
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.
My Machine Gun"
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.
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.
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.
"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.
particular case in early 1967 from recollection occurred when
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
“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.”
"Arlie Deaton & My
Submitted by -1LT Robert
Brewster, Headhunter 37, 1st PLT Pleiku Sep '70-Oct '71
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!"
asked me if I wanted to go straight to Vietnam or have some leave before
This was mid-September 1970. Two weeks later I was in South
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
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,
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 –
"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
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
"The Day We Lost Dave
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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!!
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
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.
Even though the last 219th Aviation Flight occurred Dec 1971
there are several 1972 stories yet to be told.