I was the right side gunner and I looked out towards the front of the aircraft (we had taken the doors off). In the distance I could see this beautiful shimmering green area. It was like God had a yard. It was a beautiful shimmering green but I kept thinking, ‘Why are we going so high? We never go this high.’

We kept climbing. I looked down and could see the clouds far below us as we got near to the Chup rubber plantation. I felt everything was safe so I dialled into Saigon on my headset. There was only one radio station in Saigon. There wasn’t a lot of choice but it was a good rock ‘n’ roll station. I dialled in and it was Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I cranked that sucker up and I leaned back in my gunner’s well.

Just where the guitar-pick solo starts I heard a loud BEEP in my headset? I had never heard that before – ever.

BEEP!  It sounded again.

Well, if I had known what was happening I would have made sure I had my seat belt on. We had located the NVA but they had also found us. They had an anti-aircraft gun locked onto us. It was radar controlled and I think it may have been a Chinese 51. By the third beep their gun would have been right on target and would have blown us out of the air.

You better be falling before the third beep or you’re going to die. The only way for a helicopter to avoid being hit and destroyed was to shut the aircraft off. Thank God our pilots knew about this and what action to take to save us all. The aircraft was shut down and suddenly there was no gravity. The bird slowly turned on its side – my side – and I floated to the ceiling.

I had a 50 cal. The ammo in it was armour piercing incendiary rounds. It could have easily destroyed that enemy 51 but I couldn’t get down to it. There was an invisible hand holding me up. There was no gravity. I was plastered right there on the ceiling and we were just going down towards the ground.

I could see where the Chinese 51 was hidden in the trees. Every fifth round of their ammo had a type of green paint that would burn to form a green line in the direction they were shooting. I had the same thing on my ammunition except that we used red tracers. The clumps of green were going whuush, whuush and just missing us. We were falling and that anti-aircraft gun was trying to catch us. The ground was coming up fast.

I thought to myself, ‘Mom, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’

I was thinking, ‘Well, you won’t feel a thing … you won’t feel a thing. If they slow the aircraft we’re done! If they don’t slow the aircraft we’re done! We’re done … we’re done … but it’s okay … it’s okay.’

Then something amazing happened.

My headset started to crackle. We had made contact. They (mission objective) were down below us somewhere but where? Oh well, we could come back again tomorrow? I figured we would have to turn around with this jerk-off and not do anything stupid today but the pilots came on the com and said, “Hang on! We’re going down.”

‘Going down? Are you out of your God damn mind?’

“Mom, beam me out of here.”

You can’t do anything about it! You’re along for the ride and your fate is not in your own hands. This is it man. Gunners have absolutely no control over what is going to happen. We’re in the mountains, we’ve got two pilots who are probably only twenty-one years old, they’re starting a circle and slowly going down and we’re watching this thick pea soup coming up until we can’t see our hands. We couldn’t see a thing and I was thinking, ‘We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!’

We kept moving down unable to see anything, unable to see the mountains. Things happened very quickly. A wind shear grabbed our blades. It turned the helicopter my side down and just hurled us toward the ground. I went up to the ceiling, again! No gravity, again! All I could see was the grey puss of cloud pummelling my face and I was thinking, ‘Keep your eyes open! Keep your eyes open! It won’t hurt. It won’t hurt. It’ll be quick. It’ll be quick.’

I was waiting for my death and I really felt it would be painless. Meanwhile, our passenger, the black lieutenant, poor guy, was just screaming his head off. He was screaming and screaming and I remember thinking, ‘Shut up! Die like a man! Just shut up!’

Finally, our pilots regained control of the aircraft and we popped out of the cloud bank level with the ground and really close.


We hit the ground level and the blades bounced down and back up. I got out and immediately opened the door, unsnapped the pilot’s harness and moved the steel plate away so he could get out. The other gunner did the same on the other side. We were standing in front of the aircraft, all of us. One of the pilots had his hands on the nose of the aircraft gasping for breath and saying,

“Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!”

He kept saying it over and over and over.

“Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!”

I realised then it had been close. I looked at the poor lieutenant. He was full of puke. He had puked all over himself and all over the other gunner. He had crawled out of the aircraft then he had got up and tried to walk but his legs would not cooperate. He was so terrorized his legs gave out and he fell.

Then, across an open meadow like field I saw movement in the trees. Whoever they were they were moving in our direction fast and my heart started to race. I reached in my pocket for those warrant officer pins but time was running out and I rushed back to the M50.

I was relieved to see they were US troops. They just blended right out of the jungle. They came and picked up that lieutenant who was still having a hard time walking. I wish I’d got that poor guy’s name and number because I’d love to call him today. It’d probably go something like,

“Hey [Jerry], this is Les, do you remember …”

“… Don’t ever call me again Les!” click!

No sooner had they got the guy by the tree when along came a moped with another one on trying to get the hell out of the area. The Low Bird got behind him and did the same thing – firing bursts behind him. There was a 90 degree turn in the road and the moped didn’t want to slow down, he couldn’t slow down. He was never going to make that turn. The Low Bird brought up the machine gun and hit him. The moped flipped into the air and crashed into a field.

We went back to following the Low Bird. We were going around a section of woods when all of a sudden the Low Bird blew up in a ball of fire. He’d been hit by something but we didn’t know what. As we came around I noticed a little grass hut up front. The NVA had a machine gun set up in there. When the Low Bird had come around the enemy had just blasted him. Now we were coming around and going the same way with the hut on my side.

If the Low Bird hadn’t been hit I wouldn’t have noticed the hut was there. We would have gone past and we would have got blasted too. I still wasn’t sure what was happening in the chaos when all of a sudden the grass hut blew to pieces and we flew through a cloud of mud and straw. That boy up there in the Cobra had seen it. He had also seen us coming around. He saw everything. That would have ended my life there. The NVA in that hut would have caught me with my pants down. I would never have known until it was too late. That Cobra saved our lives.

The Low Bird was down so we were out of there. They had hit and crash landed in a field. We flew in behind and set down. Me and Ken Hoff got out and ran to the wreckage. I grabbed one of the crew and he screamed. We had to get out of there. We could not be caught on the ground like that so we just grabbed him and carried him to our bird where we put him on the floor of the aircraft. Instead of coming with us the other guy crawled onto a missile pod on the Cobra and hung on.

“Let’s go!”

We lifted off with one of the Low Bird’s crew in our Huey and the other hanging onto the Cobra’s missile pod for dear life.


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