I wish I could remember who the guy in this story was or even who was the scheduled aircraft commander. Maybe someone will remember his name and let us know. I only hope he didn’t get killed later on in his tour.
We were on night standby at Dong Tam. The lift platoon’s Hueys, callsign; Longknives, had inserted some Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol troops (LRRPs) out in the boonies at around dusk and we were on call just in case they got in a jam. You know some of these guys.... they would be whispering on their radio, ”We think we hear something........ shit! It sounds like they’ve found us,.... we’re moving come and get us”!! And then we would scramble the aircraft and go out and pick them up.
On this night I was flying the lead Crusader Cobra and I don’t remember who my wingman was but we got the word to crank and we took off . We were on our way. We had gotten off before the Command and Control (C&C) Huey. For some reason they were a little slow getting airborne. No problem, I knew where the LRRPs were supposed to be and my trail was following me. C&C was also going to be the lift ship for the extraction. We would provide gun cover while he went in and picked up the American LRRP team. The team was now pinned down and wanted out of there like yesterday!
The C&C co-pilot, called a Pete, (short for peter pilot) calls on the radio and says they are up and I figure, “He’s the Pete, so I think, great, we have a complete team”. I think we only had to fly about twenty minutes to the pick up point. The team wasn’t very far from where we’d put them in. During the trip I thought it was odd that I didn’t hear any radio conversation from the C&C aircraft commander (AC). Then I figured he was just letting his new guy Pete handle the radios while he flew.
When we got to where the LRRPs were pinned down, it was real easy to tell where the good guys were and where the bad guys were. The bad guys were all on the outside of a perimeter and shooting in. We could see their tracers focusing on a cluster or hub from which tracers seemed to reach out in to the darkness like the spokes of a wheel. So nobody had a problem knowing where the good guys were! Yep,... there they were, right there in the middle with everybody shooting at them...they were in deep shit!
And this guy, and he’s just a Pete, comes up on the radio and says he had a little change in the crew. He said his AC got drunk, and didn’t even show up for the scramble. Well this Pete was a “take charge “ kind of guy and he thought since he was the co- pilot , he was therefore second in charge. He knew our troops were pinned down and needed desperately to be gotten out. So he figured he’d just take command and go do the extraction himself!
So, there he is, by himself in the cockpit. The crewchief and door gunner are on their guns in the back. And he’s right out of flight school! He was just finishing his in-country orientation and was just to be a “sand bag” for the night’s mission.
But he was a Peter Pilot Extraordinaire!
He sees the big shit fight going on. He sees what looks like the marked LZ, so he knows exactly where he’s got to go and what he has to do. We can see him clearly under the nearly half moon.
Amazingly, he starts a standard, textbook, normal approach just as if he was doing night training back at Ft. Rucker. Only he was headed a little downwind. He still has his position lights on. Then he turns on his landing lights! Right by the book! And he’s talking on the radio as he goes along, telling us each little thing as he does it. “Keep the nose straight, maintain an 8 to 10 degree angle. Keep a constant rate of closure going”, and so forth. He’s got his position lights on “Flash Bright”! The guys on the ground are going apeshit because they are all lit up by the damned landing lights. They’re yelling on the radio, ”He’s coming in too fast! He’s putting the goddam spotlight on us! Shit! We’re dead”! And the Pete doesn’t listen to anything anyone says. He just keeps talking himself through that “school solution”, normal, night approach. He’s on short final! We’re yelling turn off the fuckin light! He talks himself right down to the ground. He still has all the lights turned on.
In a deep, Walter Cronkite sounding voice, he coolly says, “THERE ARE VIETNAMESE ALL AROUND US”.
We’re putting in rockets on the bad guys positions because we can still see their tracers and now they are headed for the well illuminated C&C.
With the same iron in his voice, the Pete says, “THEY’RE GETTING ON THE HELICOPTER WITH THE AMERICANS”. A moment or two later he says, “ We're taking off... Pulling pitch, keeping the nose straight”. Then he did a textbook confined area takeoff! He even turned of his lights at the “school approved altitude”!
They got three goddam Chu Hois and they just sorta got on with the American troops. So the Pete gets three prisoners, gets out all of the LRRP team, his AC was drunk on his ass back at Dong Tam and he’s out there in the dark doing text book, school approved landings and takeoffs in the middle of the war.
You don’t do that and live very
long unless somebody is looking out for you!! I sure wish I knew who he