I was infused into D Troop in January
of 1968. I had gone over to Viet Nam with the 17th Assault Helicopter Company.
We were stationed at Long Binh.
When I came into D Troop, Major Neilson was the commander. Captain Clemente was the XO and Captain Rockwell was the operations officer. Cpt Richard A. Pataja was the platoon leader for the Long Knives. That was the lift or "slick" platoon. Cpt. Eiseman was in charge of the attack or "gun" platoon; their callsign was Crusader.
When I joined the troop they were just getting H Model Hueys to replace the old D Models. The gun platoon was still flying UH-1C "Charlie Models" and OH23Gs were being used for Scout helicopters. The 23s each had an M60 mounted on the right-hand side.
The Scouts were called the "Grim Reapers". At that time the tactics we were using required two Charlie Model gunships orbiting high and covering the team of two OH23Gs that were working low level as the scout team. This "CAV Package" was overseen by the Air Mission Commander (AMC) and the Ground Mission Commander. Flying in a C Model Huey, they were designated as the Command and Control Ship or C&C. We worked exclusively with American ground troops from the 9th Infantry
Division. The Ground Mission Commander would be familiar the area we were working. Most of time we were out checking things in his area of operations, (AO), that he requested we look at. The Scouts would fly slow and low, down in the trees. They would snoop around trying to locate the enemy. If they drew fire they would fly out of the immediate area and the Charlie Models would roll in and shoot up that area. Then the Scouts would go back in and maybe make another run at it, check damage done by the gunships or see if they continued to draw fire. The C&C would then make the decision as to whether we put in Infantry troops from the unit's Aerorifle platoon known as the Doughboys or to work up an larger Airmobile Assault depending how large an enemy unit we thought there was. There were many times when we found the enemy while just looking for targets of opportunity. We usually inserted our Doughboys into these areas.
I was assigned to D Troop as the assistant operations officer. For the first month or two I flew nearly everyday in the C&C aircraft mainly to learn the mission, the unit's capabilities and the role of the C&C ship. Either the Operations officer or the Commanding officer controlled daily operations from the C&C helicopter. The Executive officer, (XO) didn't take that many missions. At that particular time we were working with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols, (LRRPs) to the northeast of our home base at Bear Cat. That was the area between Bearcat and Xuan Loc. The rolling terrain's vegetation varied from scrub brush to very tall trees. We worked that whole area. There were a lot of rubber plantations and lots
of areas that had been de-foliated with Agent Orange. We'd put the LRRPs in and maintain radio contact with them. The helicopters would be on strip alert nearby in case the LRRPs got into more than they could handle and had to be extracted in a hurry. They would be watching for a supply line and troop movement into the area. Sometimes if they found something extra interesting, we'd also insert our Doughboys.
I wasn't there too long before the unit began to receive the Hughes OH6A Light Observation Helicopters. These aircraft were nicknamed "Loach" and they were there to replace the "Grim Reaper's" aging OH23Gs. Around April or May of 1968, a vacancy in the Scout Platoon came open and I asked to take that platoon to get out of Ops.
When I took the platoon there were
only 5 OH6s. There were supposed to have been 6 but one ship was at Quang
Tri with the 3rd of the 5th Cavalry supporting the 101st Airborne Division.
It was hard to figure and work up Scout teams with only 5 Loaches. We flew
two aircraft everyday. That Scout team would fly the whole day. That left
the crews flying every other day and left 3 ships available for maintenance
or other stand down or stand by duties. That kept our availability up.
As we got the Loaches in we began to migrate to AOs south of Saigon. It wasn't long before we were working in the Dong Tam area nearly everyday. The OH6 transition course had not been set up at Vung Tau yet and most guys just learned to fly the Loaches by getting in and flying with another pilot a few times. We eventually started getting guys who had been transitioned in them in the states while on their way to Vietnam.
I flew with WO Jim Tasker for about a week, learning the door gunner job and then learning to fly the Loach. That was my Scout orientation and transition.
Ace Cozzalio was a 1st Lieutenant in the Scout Platoon when I arrived. Since I was a Captain I became the Platoon leader. In early June Major Duane Brofer took over the unit as Commander.
We still flew a Charlie Model for C&C and about that time frame we began getting the AH1G Cobras. Our guys went over to Binh Hoa for a certain number of hours for their checkouts and that's how the pilot's got transitioned from Charlie Models to Cobras, by attending the in country school at Binh Hoa.
The mission evolved to having the Cobras orbiting above the Scouts and having C&C flying above the Cobras. The slicks would be on standby, ready to bring out the Doughboys to insert. We began to work more and more down in the Delta region of Vietnam, IV Corps
Interviewer Callison: Can you shed any light on the story titled "NVA Under Rice"? It is about lots of enemy troops getting caught in the open, Cobras running out of ammo and hovering around getting kills with personal weapons. By the end of the day there were over 130 KBAs. I'm trying to validate the story and the time frame in which it occurred.
JB: I don't recall that mission but I do remember one day when I was flying C&C and everybody had gone back to Bear Cat.
We caught a large number of bad guys crossing a stream. This was kind of southeast of Saigon down one of those hundreds of little creeks or canals that were in the area. We went down and started using the door guns on them.
We'd fly parallel to the creek and the door gunner was shooting and every time he said he got one I'd put a tic mark on the windshield with a grease pencil. We'd do a doughnut and come back and the crew chief would work out. So the door gunner and the crew chief would alternate and we got over thirty in a short period of time.
Callison: Were they wearing uniforms?
Callison: Any idea when that might have been?
JB: That was the time when I was still working for operations, so that
would have been in the February or March time frame. But I know that day we had over thirty KBAs.
Callison: I got the impression that that was where the skull came from.
JB: The story on the skull, and I've read lots of stuff about this. After the 1968 TET offensive, down there southeast of Saigon, there were just bodies left laying everywhere. After a while all the flesh went away and there were just the bones left out there. That was when Ace Cozallio landed and picked up the skull and brought it home. We were flying Loaches then. He brought it back to Bear Cat. We had been having a lot of problems with the hooch maids stealing our stuff out of our refrigerators and lockers. So Ace put that thing in the refrigerator and when one of the maids went in it to help herself to a soda pop she went berserk. After that he'd put in a wall locker or let other guys use it. We got to where we were moving it from room to room and all the theft suddenly quit because the hooch maids never knew where that skull was going to turn up. So they stuck strictly to the business making the bed, polishing the shoes and sweeping the floor. But that's where the skull came from. I think last night it was Cleary saying that before the skull, some of the Doughboys had brought back, they caught this old boy out there and he had a wooden leg, and that was the forerunner of the skull.
Callison: Did they drink out of the wooden leg?
JB: Yes, they had a wooden leg with and aluminum prosthesis in a combat boot and that was what was up a Bear Cat for a long time.
Callison: Describe a typical day at Bear Cat.
JB: We would get up every morning and everybody would fly down to Dong Tam and then we'd put the Doughboys in someplace. Then everyone would go and stand down, including the scouts. We'd wait and just have a C&C up there. The Doughboys would patrol around and everyone else was on strip alert, ready to rush back out there if they were needed. We did an awful lot of that you know. We frequently worked in the "Plain of Reeds" area. There was one place called the "Pineapple Plantation"; we worked a lot in that area too.
We also worked a lot with the Mobile Riverine Forces (MRF). In fact one time, Brofer had to go up north to headquarters and while he was up there he got deathly ill with dysentery and had to go in the hospital because he was dehydrated. The operations officer got deathly ill too and then I guess the XO got it. Everybody in the chain of command was just sick as dogs and they couldn't fly. So I was the rankingest one left and I was the scout platoon leader. So Maj. Brofer called me and said, "You got to take the mission tomorrow". Well I hadn't been in a Charlie Model in months because I'd been strictly flying Loaches, but never the less the next morning I go get in the Charlie Model, in the left seat and we take off down there to support the Mobile Riverine Force. We get down there and we call them up to get landing instructions. The USS Binnewah was steaming upstream on the Mekong River. You just have to picture this, the boat's going up the river, say left to right and all the trees and the water are going right to left and they are moving about 12 knots and you've got to hit the helipad on that moving target. Keep that in mind and that I hadn't been in a Huey for a couple or three months and now I'm suddenly the aircraft commander trying to land on the Binawah . Well first off they didn't tell me to look for any green light or stuff like that, they just said land from the starboard side.
Well none of us on the helicopter knew starboard from port so we just picked out a direction and landed. It was wrong. And we had a terrible tailwind and we couldn't slow that sucker down. We got down pretty low and we were committed to either landing or going around so we elected to go around because we couldn't slow down. As we went between the front of the boat and the back of the boat I came eyeball to eyeball with the boat Captain. He wasn't real happy with us to say the least. So we went out a ways, turned around and came back in and landed. We picked up the Commander of the MRF and got him on board the C&C and hooked up so he could talk to his troops then we went out to support them all day. That was really my only experience with working with them.
Another funny thing that happened down there on the river. We were out someplace and I don't know who it belonged to but there was a US boat, I don't know if it was an engineer boat or what, but it was 18 to 20 feet long, like a big aluminum boat. It was Army issue and we found that sucker. So we called the slicks out and they were going to come and get it and we thought we'd have the only ski boat on the Mekong River. We brought out some security people and we went in to pick that dumb boat up but it was too big to go cross-ways through the Huey's doors and we didn't have anything to sling it with. So after we tried for a while to figure how we could get that boat home we finally gave up and we just rolled in and filled it full of holes and left it out there.
Callison: When you flew scouts, did you ever get shot down?
JB: No but I got shot down in a Huey. I never took a hit while I was flying scouts.
Callison: You flew with door gunners didn't you?
JB: Yeah, one. They rode in the left front seat and used "free M60s" hanging from bungee cords in the left door.
Callison: So by then that guy had invented the ammo feeder chute that helped feed rounds out of the back of the aircraft up to the M60.
JB: That guy you're talking about is Spec5 Green and he lives up in Virginia. I found him this last year and talked to him. He was graduate mechanical engineer and when we first got the Loaches all they had on them was the minigun and so we were trying to figure out how to transition and put an M60 on them. So we drilled a hole in the side of the left front door frame, tied on a bungee cord and hung an M60. Then we put an ammo can in the back compartment and tied it down. That's how we were getting the linked ammo up there with the traditional C ration can stuck under the M60's receiver to smooth the flow of the ammo. The ammo would come up over the back of the seat and over the door gunner's shoulder and it would get twisted. You would have misfires all the time from belt tension. Sp5 Green came to me one day and said, "If you'll let me have a couple of days up at the 9th Aviation Battalion in their maintenance facility, I think I have an idea that I could make work". He told me, " I need a cutting torch and welding rig and we don't have that here". I sent him up there to see what he could do. He came to me a couple of days later and said he thought he had figured out. So we went out and tried it and sure enough it worked just beautifully. He had taken the ammo cans out of a Charlie Model and the ammo chute out of a Charlie Model and arranged them with welding some angle iron together and all that sort of stuff so that it would go up over the seat and fit into the M60. After we tried it out, it worked so well that I told him to go back and make one for every Loach we had. And that's how we came by the ammo chutes.
Callison: We had gotten away from using those feeders by 1970. We just brought the ammo out of a big 7.62 can in the back, up over the gunner's shoulder. The gunners kept slack in the belt and fed the gun with their left hand. They didn't depend on the gun to draw ammo out of the can.
JB: Green had also made short little aluminum cyclic sticks for the gunners.
Callison: Our gunners just had cut off mop or broom handles. We carried a field pack full of frags. It sat on a chicken plate just in front of the gunner's cyclic.
JB: We didn't have anything like that but there was safety wire strung all over inside of the cockpit.
Hanging on those wires were frags, smokes, trip flares, Willie Pete (WP) and CS (tear gas).
Callison: After King and Huish got blown up we started putting the WP under the armor plate on the right side of the pilots seat. We figured if we took a hit in a WP that maybe it would just blow out the side of the aircraft. Not everyone would carry WPs after that incident.
JB: I wrote an article for VHPA (Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Assn.). We got a mission to go out and fly behind Chinooks while they dropped out 55 gallon drums of CS. That was the only time that I ever actually had to fly while wearing a gas mask. I'd practiced before to see what it was like. We carried the masks with us but that was the only time we had a real mission where we used them. Those 55 gal. drums just rolled out the back of those
Chinooks. They had proximity fuses on them and they'd get about 20 or 30 feet off the ground and blow up. Throwing that CS everywhere. They did a real big area and our mission was to fly around in the CS cloud and see if anybody was down there running around.
Another time we had to do a mission to inspect a B52 strike and give them the results of whether they hit anything or not. This was west of Bear Cat and we were out there tooling around and we found this trail. There were 122 mm rockets laying just every where. The guys that had been carrying them just threw them down and ran off. We were trying to get an accurate count of how many rockets there were and seeing what else we could find, looking for bunkers and that kind of stuff.
Along come's an O-1 Bird-dog. He rocks his wings and we commented to each other, "I wonder what he's doing out here"? We kept scouting around and after a few minutes the Bird-dog comes flying over a lot closer. He must have been thirty or forty feet away from us. He signaled to me with his hands and fingers and gestured to "come here". I told the wingman, " I guess he wants us to follow him". We hadn't gotten far when we found out he'd brought in a second B52 strike. We didn't know about a second strike and nearly got blown up in it. We could definitely fell the concussions from the bombs exploding near by. We were madder that old wet hens when we got back to Bear Cat. We were looking for the guy who put us out there in an Arc light.
Callison: We did BDAs (bomb damage assessments) after Arc lights and believe it or not the rules of engagement would be "Specified Strike". You'd think that after a B52 raid the area would be a Free Fire Zone but not so in 1971.
JB: Our rules were; supposedly if we got shot at we could return fire. There were also Free Fire Zones. You could shoot anything that moved. The whole "Plain of Reeds" was a Free Fire Zone all the time. If you saw anything move you just shot it.
It was so hot and dusty at Bear Cat and out in the Plain of Reeds the water was so pretty and clear. I used to think, "Man if I could just go swimming in that water I'd be happy".
Callison: You've seen the pictures of us swimming in that clear water. That was at Muc Hoa, right on the Plain of Reeds.
JB: We never got to swim. There were lots of bad guys in the area.
Callison: Well I guess we ran pretty loose.
JB: Yeah I guess it got looser as time went on. Things were still pretty tight when Maj. Brofer had it.
I used to go out and I'd know there were VC around because of the water buffalo. We'd see the water buffalo and we'd shoot them. I always wanted one of those sets of horns. I'd think to myself, " I'm going down to get that set of horns", and just before I committed to do it, sanity would kick in and I wouldn't do it.
My handle bar mustache was kind of big and guys nicknamed me "The Water Buffalo". I kept it trimmed just like a set of horns on a water buffalo.
Callison: I'd like to know more about the 3rd of the 5th at Bear Cat. When you were there, was D Troop still part of the Regiment or were they already fragged off to doing their own thing?
JB: When I got there A, B, C, and D Troops were still there and we supported the 3rd of the 5th . We worked for them frequently. We did medevacs of injured troops on the tracks.
Callison: When the 9th Infantry Division was forming to strength at Fort Riley, Kansas, and before its deployment we know that the Third Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division's Fifth regiment was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division and hence became the "Bastard Cav". When the Squadron was organized into Troops with D Troop being the traditional reconnaissance Troop for a cavalry squadron, wasn't D Troop actually an honest to God Armored Cavalry troop?
JB: As the Squadron began sending Troops up north the Commander wanted to take D Troop too. But the 9th Infantry Division Commander wouldn't hear of it. We were a helicopter asset that he wasn't going to turn loose of. So after the Squadron left we were Opcon (operational control) to 9th Division although officially we were still under the command of the 3rd of the 5th.
Callison: I'd like to record your recollection of the day that Tasker and Brophy got killed.
JB: Jim Tasker transitioned me into the Loaches. I flew with him and learned the door gunner job with him too. Our mannerism of flying was very much alike. I'm convinced that I'd be dead today if circumstances had not turned out the way they did.
Since I was an Engineer Officer, Maj. Brofer had sent me to Dong Tam to get the buildings built for our anticipated re-location there.
Usually I was flying one day and the next was to be my day off and I'd take a spare helicopter down to Dong Tam to supervise construction. On one of my days to fly Maj. Brofer told me to go to Dong Tam to check on something important. I explained that it was my day to fly Scouts. It didn't matter. He wanted me to go to Dong Tam instead. Tasker worked opposite from me and I went to him that morning and told him he'd have to take the mission because I had to go to Dong Tam. He and Brophy took off and it didn't seem like more than thirty minutes when the call came back saying they had been shot down. I was pre-flighting my helicopter to go to Dong tam. I ran and woke up Ace. He and I took off in a loach to go down there and look for the downed crew. On our way to the AO we found out that immediately after they were shot down there was an Airmobile operation in the air. That Airmobile operation was diverted into the area where their loach was shot down. The Airmobile guys quickly started taking casualties from the enemy fire in the area. There was an armored Cavalry unit there with armored personnel carriers (APCs). They started taking lots of small arms and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire.
There was a really big enemy force in the area. Ace and I went in and we over flew the indicated area countless times and we were taking fire the whole time. We finally found the helicopter. Each time we flew over the helicopter we could never see Tasker or Brophy. After about forty-five minutes of searching we finally found them. At that time we were still taking lots of fire, I mean lots of fire. When we could look at them from the air we didn't see any movement from them at all.
Callison: Were they still in the aircraft?
JB: No they were out of the aircraft. There was a hootch to the right rear of the helicopter. We surmised they were shot from the right rear, which may have taken out the engine and perhaps the flight controls. It looked as though on impact the helicopter had rolled to the left-hand side. Brophy was the door gunner. They usually rode with they're left leg hanging outside the left door. When we found them, Brophy's left leg was broken between the ankle and the knee, and was turned at a ninety degree angle. We didn't see and apparent bullet wounds in Brophy. We surmised he must have died of shock. We found them in a nearby crater that had been left by some type of artillery shell. They were bellies down, laying foot to foot. Apparently doing a perimeter defense of the crater. They were probably seventy-five feet from the helicopter. Tasker had been shot numerous times in his back. We figure that perhaps Brophy had died of shock and the bad guys had blind sided Tasker.
Tasker had been carrying a CAR15, a short barreled, folding stock M16 rifle. Shortly after that, the VC just started melting away. We caught and killed the VC that was carrying Tasker's weapon in the river and the ground troops came and picked up the CAR15.
Callison: Do you remember whom Tasker's trail was?
JB: I think it was probably Grove/Grose (SP). Either him or Bell. We had Beushore (SP) and Maxwell too. Beaushore may have flown behind Ace and Maxwell may have flown behind Tasker. I'm just not sure.
Callison: Were Tasker and Brophy's bodies recovered?
JB: Yes that very day. I personally packed up Taskers things and turned them into supply to be sent home. After I got off active duty, I met Taskers brother who was also a helicopter pilot. We were in the same reserve unit in Ft Worth Texas. I talked to him about Tasker and ask if his things arrived home OK. To my Surprise, I was told no! All of the stereo and cameras were missing.
Callison: Could C&C shed any light on what they were doing before they went down?
JB: Perhaps. I am not sure who was flying that day. It would have to be Maj.Bropher, Cpt Clemente, or Cpt Whitworth.
Callison: What was the callsign of the Scout platoon when you became the platoon leader?
JB: We had just adopted the call sign of War Wagon. So I think I was Officially the first War Wagon 16. Ace may have been acting before I took the Platoon, because I know it was vacant and I went to the old man and asked for the assignment. George Dyer designed the War Wagon Patch.