Iíd been in D Troop, 3rd of the 5th Air Cavalry for about three weeks. I liked the Cav. These guys were absolutely amazing. I was proud to be a member.
We were going to be working about thirty miles west of Dong Tam. This was my first day of flying with Captain Eiseman. He was pointing out the different landmarks and I would find them on the map. I had a lot to learn.
It didnít take long to get to the Special Forces compound. There was probably ten Green Berets assigned there. Camped ARVN troops surrounded the compound. There was a place for two helicopters to land near the camp. It had a fuel bladder nearby. The rest of the troopís aircraft landed on a rice paddy dike. The rice paddies were covered with about a foot of water. While I was tying down the rotor blade a grunt walked up to me. He wanted to look at the Cobra. I was proud to tell him about the gunship and what it could do. I told him about the Cav and that there anything we wouldnít do. No brag, just fact. I was showing off. I had a big head and a small audience.
When we finished our mission briefing the teams split. Eiseman and Ace Cozalio were gun leads. Eisemanís team was first on station. Cpt. Frank Bryan was the lead scout. We only had to fly five or six miles to the Area of Operations (AO). Intelligence knew that a large group of Viet Cong were operating in the area.
The Scouts were working a treeline that surrounded a large rice paddy when a puff of smoke came out of Franks Loach. Suddenly he was flying all over the place. Then he just landed in the middle of the paddy. We hadnít heard anything from him on the radio. Frank and his gunner jumped out of their helicopter. They ran over and got into the back of the other Loach and off they all went. No one knew what was happening. We just kept circling high overhead. The Trail scout pilot called saying they had the lead crew and were taking them back to the base.
I looked back down. Frankís Loach sitting in a foot of water and was still running. The crews were talking to each other but no one knew what was wrong. I asked Eiseman what was going to happen to the Loach? The only Loach I had seen go down during my long three weeks in country had been Newkirkís. He had just rolled into a little ball. One of our Hueys went in later to sling load it out. The maintenance people salvaged whatever pieces they could.
But this Loach was still running with nothing apparently wrong with it.
I asked Eiseman, "Look, why doesnít someone just go in and fly it out since itís still running". Eiseman got on the horn and said, "My peter pilot that maybe we could fly that Loach out of there. Anyone have any ideas"?
The radio was silent. I kept looking at the idling OH6A. Finally I said, "In Flight School I flew TH55s. Theyíre both made by Hughes. How hard could it be? Iíll fly it out.". Eiseman got on the radio and repeated the ravings of a fool. Words were exchanged between ships until finally C&C gave their permission.
We landed in the water about fifty or sixty feet from Frankís abandoned Loach. The rotorwash had really stirred up the water. I got out of the Cobra and started across to the Loach to try to see what was wrong with it. I noticed there were fish jumping. They were jumping all around me. I turned around when I heard the Cobra leaving. I could see Eisemanís mouth moving. I walked a few more steps before I realized that those fish were bullets and that lots of folks in the nearby trees were shooting at me. What Eiseman had been saying was, "Taking Fire! Taking Fire"! He was getting the shit shot of him and he couldnít get me to turn around to get back in the Cobra. He took off thinking I stood a better chance if the Cobras started putting down suppressive fire on the treeline while C&C tried to get me out. I figured my only chance was that Loach.
It was terrifying! People were shooting at me! The Cobras rockets taking apart the treelines. I leaped into the OH6A. The instrument panel and windshield had been destroyed and bullets were still hitting the ship. I wrapped on the throttle until it stopped and pulled pitch. I didnít bother to strap in and I didnít know what the RPM was. It didnít matter! Me and the Loach were gonnaí leave!
I must have been about fifty feet off the ground before I tried to take my first breath. My lungs started to fill with pure CS, tear gas. Suddenly, I couldnít breath or see and I was still over the rice paddy. I slammed in the left pedal in an attempt to turn the aircraftís side against the airflow to get the CS out. Then I let her rip. You can do seventy knots sideways in an OH6 when the conditions are right. I was flying all over the place. But it didnít matter because I couldnít see.
The C&C had been on short final to me when that trusty Loach bolted into the air. It can really throw off you timing when an unexpected and out of control helicopter takes off in front of you. The C&C finally chased me down and the crewchief motioned for me to follow.
They led me back to the Special Forces compound. When I finally got the ship on the ground the same grunt Iíd met earlier that morning helped me out of the aircraft. He checked me over to see if Iíd been shot before he asked if I wanted the windows washed or my oil checked. Obviously, he would never dare to test the mettle of a CAV member by asking what, "happened to the Indians".
A couple of our guys checked over the Loach. The only things it was missing were the radios, some instruments and portions of windows and windshield. The engine was still running and it seemed to be OK.
They asked if they got me a gas mask, would I fly the helicopter back to Dong Tam? I could follow the C&C Huey to help control the airspeed. Of course the only reply I could give was, "No Problem".
I wish I could have heard the radio traffic talking about my arrival. All of D Troop 3rd of the 5th Cavalry was waiting. They were waving their Cav hats and sabers. Frank had been wounded at the same time a tear gas canister had been hit during the mission, but even he was there.
I had to pee so bad I couldnít wait any longer. I was
reliving myself at the back of the Loach when I looked up and noticed a
group of nurses standing just below the airfield control tower. They had
just arrived in country and were having a ball watching the spectacle and
fanfare. I just waved. I was really glad that I still hadnít taken off
my helmet and that gas mask.