I remember it was 3/30/71. (I remember, because I kept my logs) The AO for our S&D mission was about 5 klicks west of Ben Tre city. Ben Tre Island is a fairly large island between two of the many branches of the Mekong river delta. The upriver end is right across from our old Dong Tam base, formerly the home of the US 9th Inf. Div.
We were Scouting an area that intel. thought contained a base camp of sorts for some NVA regulars. Intel was right. We came across many well-camouflaged hootchs and bunkers. We could see signs of fresh activity. As my trail and I closed in, we began to receive sporadic fire from several positions. We marked their locations with smoke and asked the Cobras to blow them up for us.
We broke left and began a holding orbit out the line of attack and were waiting until the strike was over. The reason for our `almost' demise was that when the Lead Cobra broke from its gun run, the Front Seat [gunner] held the trigger on the 40 mike-mike shooter a wee bit too long and lobbed a few off into `never-never' land which happened to be our holding orbit.
We had been stooging around about 25-50 feet over the rice paddy at an IAS of about 50 kts. We were waiting for the Cobras to get done when suddenly, BLAMM! Then all there was blackness and the rice paddy mud.
Stunned, we unstrapped ourselves from the Loach seats that we'd rode in on, then stood up out of the mud. Bill and I looked at each other and asked where the hell had the rest of the unit gone. We couldn't hear anything. [The blast from the explosion must have dampened our ears for a few moments.]
Then we heard our Trail Loach approaching. It held there at a hover while we did our best to walk toward it. The bad news was that we were now being shot at from the bunkers in the tree line. We tried to run, but the rice paddy was about thigh deep and we kept falling. We must have looked like two of the `Three Stooges' falling over each other then helping ourselves up again. But it wasn't very funny to us.
We finally made it to our Trail Loach and climbed aboard.
The Command and Control (C&C) UH1H Slick was inbound low-level right behind the Loach... The Cobra team were firing rockets and mini-guns into the surrounding tree lines doing their best to keep the Bad Guys heads down. I recall that it was pretty damn exciting at the time. The Trail Loach got us clear of the danger and found a quiet place for the C&C ship to sit down.
The C&C commander had us transferred to his aircraft thinking that we were more seriously hurt than we were. Once we were checked out, we got off at the
D Troop flight line called the CAVPAD.
Later we found another Loach, and continued our mission.
There were some questions that arose about what had caused us to appear to explode in midair then crash.
My observer, Bill Hanegmon, had constructed a homemade bomb that day out of a Mini-gun ammo can.... It must have weighed about 50 pounds. Claude Stevens and some of the other guys had worked with him building it. Hangman loaded it into the aircraft. I was real pissed off because he had set it in between our seats.
When I woke up in the rice paddy, at first I thought that the "thing" had blown up. But then I realized that the left side of my body was still there.
It was only later that I was able to learn what happened.
I think that I can give you names of all the folks who were there that day.
Subject: "A 40 m/m downs Loach."....
Our Trail Loch that day was flown by Bill Weyrich and the Door Gunner Observer was Thomas LaCrosse.... Later in his tour Thomas Lacrosse got hit in the elbow, and so got to come home earlier.
The C&C Pilot that day was Cpt. John Sorenson... He was at the Reunion in Atlanta.
was the Cobra Pilot AC. Johnny and I have always been good friends.
for that day for some reason or another?? His front seat, the Pete, who
was the man on the 40mm was Cpt. John McCray. [John died several years
ago from cancer.]
Note: It has been determined that Johnny Helms and John Mc Cray (RIP)
were not the Cobra
crew that shot Rick and Bill down. Crusader Chris
Rummel has "fessed up" to being the guilty party in this incident..
Most humble Apologies to Johnny and McCray's family for the error.
Later my Trail pilot told me that he watched while the Cobra walked those 40 mike-mikes right on across my Loach, with one round hitting the main rotor causing aircraft to explode.
John McCray may have had "target fixation" and had failed to notice my Loch flying across in his gun sight picture.
Your details on Hanegman's injuries are correct with the exception that the Chicken plate he was wearing nearly beat him to death when we splashed into the paddy. My only injuries were some fragments from the 40 m/m in my arms and bruising of the family jewels. The Cyclic stick, being directly linked to the rotor head, had severely beat up my crotch while the rotor system destroyed its self. Which later caused my balls to turn a terrible color of green.
Our Trail Loach initially picked us up with the C&C and you [Paul] hot on his trail. You came in low-level. Then Cpt. Sorenson suggested a transfer because he thought we were more badly hurt then we were.
George Schmitz was leading the second Fire Team that day and was sent back out to destroy what was left of our Loach (#058). Later, George told me that they couldn't find anything left to destroy. Apparently the aircraft had literally disintegrated as we fell into the paddy.
Lost my fucking Cav hat that day too!
There wasn't anything left of that fucking aircraft, just us. However, we knew that if we told the true story on what had happened, Johnny would have got into some really deep shit.
And it was an accident and so we left it that way. Half the time those Fucking Cobras couldn't hit anything on purpose anyway.
The correct spelling of my gunner's name is "Hanegmon." You guys as well as the rest of us liked "Hangman" better! Sort of fit him, didn't it? He was one of the best. The only reason I looked so damn good was because of him. To this day I haven't met a braver man!
Bill Hanegmon is now a detective with the St. Louis County Sheriff's Department in Hibbing, Minnesota. My chosen life's work is that of a private detective in Dalton, Georgia. Not exactly a Sam Spade, but close.
As for our slang name for the Hughes OH-6A helicopter, we called it the "Loach," a corruption of the acronym "LOH" = Light Observation Helicopter. Our 11/2 ton vehicle we used to drive out to the flight line in the morning was called the "Loach Coach". Most other Scout pilots I deal with also called it the Loach. Maybe others called it the Loch, but I'll let you make the call on that. Best damn aircraft in the world. We never had anyone killed in a crash. There were lots of people shot up but not a single casualty due to a crash while I was there. Thank God for the Hughes Tool Company!
Rick Waite, WarWagon 19,
"D" Trp 3/5th Cavalry, Vinh Long, RVN, `70-`71]
Bill Hanegmon, WarWagon Crew Chief/Gunner,
"D" Trp 3/5th Cavalry,Vinh Long, RVN, `70-`71]