"What A Day!"
First off, each day was like waking up in a new world. You never really knew what to expect. It could be a leisure day where your first decision was: Do I get up now and go for a hot breakfast or do I sleep 30 minutes more and eat "C" rations later? Next decision is what to wear. We had so many uniforms, but since they all looked alike it was an easy decision. In the monsoon season you just looked for a dry set. (You must remember that a sense of humor and trust in God was necessary to maintain sanity).
Now that the first two decisions have been made, it was time to head to the flight line and check out the aircraft. If we had gotten through the night without being mortared by the VC, then it was check the fuel, kick the skid, and get under way. I really never worried about the aircraft because I always put a lot of faith in the Crew Engineer. Main reason being that he had to fly on that bird too. (There's that humor again).
The mission of the day was usually Command and Control (C&C). One type of C&C is where you fly out and pick up a Commander of an Infantry Unit and go recon an area that he had picked from his map that he intended to airlift troops to. Some times the place, known as the Landing Zone (LZ), would be in the jungle. Usually on some high ground or hill depicted on the map by the elevation numbers (i.e. Hill 724 which was 724 meters above sea level).
One LZ, I remember was a hill that took me an hour to convince the commander I was flying over it. I had gotten pretty good at reading a map while stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, as an air observer in "A" Battery, 2/132 Field Artillery, 49th Armored Div, Texas National Guard. I was in the guard until called to active duty during the "Berlin Crisis" in October 1961. The land there is flat and covered with pine trees, so looking at the rain forest of RVN did not cause me a big problem.
I think this was the day I convinced my new boss that I could read a map. Based on a note I just received from him, he still remembers that about me. Gosh that was over 30 years ago.
Anyway, after the LZ location was confirmed, then it was time to direct the Air force in to blow away some trees, bamboo, etc. so we could land with troops. While this was being accomplished the Field Artillery observer, who was usually on board, with the troop Commander, would be adjusting artillery on and around the LZ area. We always put down a lot of artillery just prior to landing the first troops in hopes that if the VC were there they would become casualties or so far down in holes that we could get in and out without taking fire from them.
When the Air Force finished dropping their bombs, we would make a low pass or an approach into the area to determine if the helicopters could land with troops.
Decision time again.
While this was going on, the slicks (troop carrying UH1 helicopters called the Bikini's in the 170th Aslt. Hel. Co.) would be at the pickup zone loading troops and waiting for the call to head for the new LZ.
When the LZ was ready the slicks would depart the loading zone with the troops. I would brief the pilots, while en route, on the condition of the LZ, direction of approach, enemy situation, etc.
With the slicks would be gun ships. Our gun ships were called the Buccaneer's. They provided escort to the LZ and the final prep after the Artillery stopped firing. The gun ships that we had were UH-1B or C model's and were armed with 2.75" rockets, M60 machine guns and usually a box or two of grenades. The crew consisted of 2 aviators, 1 crew chief and 1 door gunner.
When the slicks arrived with the troops and were on short final approach to the LZ, the artillery observer would call off the artillery prep. The gun ships would then pick up the fire support with their 2.75" rockets along with the door gunners firing their M-60 machine guns.
Those guys flying with us were great. If I didn't have some shrapnel pinging off my windshield on short final I would ask " Where are you"? thanks to their great shooting and God's protection I never took a round in my aircraft during an approach or departure from an LZ.
On one approach a soldier got a small piece of shrapnel in his leg, which he had hanging out the side of the helicopter as he was preparing to off load. The commander called me and said the troop had been hit by shrapnel. My reply was, "That's better than a bullet from a VC rifle". He agreed and never questioned our method of assaults again.
With the troops all inserted into the LZ, it was time to bring in any support equipment needed. If they were going to make a fire base at this location then we would haul everything but the kitchen sink. Ammo, sand bags, water, timbers, and anything else required.
The missions following the Combat Assault was called "Ash and Trash". Normally they weren't too bad.
If the troops got into heavy contact with the enemy then we often got called out for a "Tac-E". A "Tac-E" mission was a Tactical Emergency. It could be anything from water, food, ammo, medical evacuation, or all of the above. A "Tac-E" after dark was the most dreaded mission of all. Not only did you have the enemy to deal with but flying around in the dark just scared the hell out of you. If you went into a closet, closed the door and turned off the light then you know what it was like. The soldier on the ground did not want to turn on a light and the pilots did not want to turn on the aircraft lights for obvious reasons so it made it very difficult to make deliveries.
Most of the time the troops were in the jungle and we had to kick the supplies out of the aircraft and let them fall through the trees. The troops would direct us by radio and when we got close enough the crew chief would airmail the supplies. All the time hoping we did not drop things on troops or hit that tree we couldn't see. After the LZ was secured, the supplies delivered and the troops set up in their defensive position for the night, we got to return to home base.
Time to grab a quick shower, a meal if the dining facility was still open, or heat up another can of "C" rations and wait for the next days missions to come in from operations.
When the missions were received and assignments for the next day passed out, it was time to say, "Thank you God for another safe day", and hit the sack.
If you were lucky you would get to sleep all night. However, the VC liked to send 70 or 80 mortars into the camp about midnight. This really messed up a good nights sleep because after a mortar attack we had to man the perimeter in case they decided to launch a ground attack. Most of the time when you went to bed it was hard to go to sleep before midnight for fear of the attack. If you happen to be awake and heard the first mortar fired you had a few seconds to leave your bed and make it outside into a bunker. If you only heard the first impact, which was a lot louder of course, then the only thing to do was get under your bunk and hope that cotton mattress stopped any shrapnel that came your way. While waiting for that last round to explode was always a great time to catch up on your prayers.
"WHAT A DAY!"
Written by Captain Jimmie S. Ford,
2nd Flight Platoon Leader in the 170th Assault Helicopter Company,
52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, located at Camp Holloway, Pleiku, RVN, 28 Apr 1967 - 11 Sep 1967.
Captain Ford also served as Operations Officer, 11 Sep - 17 Dec 1967, and Executive Officer, 17 Dec - 17 Mar 1968.
Captain Ford returned to the Republic of Vietnam in Nov 1970, as a Major
and commanded an Air Cav Troop (Troop "B", 3rd Sqdn, 17th Air Cav).
He retired as a LTC in August 1981, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.