25th Infantry, then
|1966 - Pvt Earl Wilson
25th Infantry Division
|1999 - Earl Wilson
As a member of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company, I started my tour in Viet Nam as an infantryman, with the 25th Infantry Division. After a large battle we were involved in, we had taken serious losses. With no replacements available, battalion decided to disband the 1st and 35th, 25th Infantry, and attach it to the 4th Infantry Division.
Since my platoon took serious losses of personnel there wasn't enough men left to make up a platoon. We were asked by the Company Commander what duty assignment we would like. Without thinking, I requested to become a door gunner with the 170th. I thought at the time it was easy duty, and safe. I thought I would be having hot meals, sheets to sleep on at night, and I wouldn't have to "ground pound" anymore.
After the third day of actual flying as a door gunner on a "slick", I had discovered that it was no different than being an infantryman in the field, except there were no trees to hide behind, nor could I dig a hole to hide in. To my surprise, I found out I still had to pull guard duty after flying a full day, and doing maintenance on the ship and guns, I still had to eat C-Rations at least twice a day, and very seldom did I get to lie in that comfortable bed. At Camp Holloway, we were under almost continuous attack on a nightly basis. I spent most of my time in the bunkers, just as I had done as an infantryman. Even pulling guard duty and repairing these bunkers that we hid in. That's right sandbag detail.
I did enjoy being able to help the grunts on the ground with the delivery of mail, food and supplies, and picking them up for R & R, and ETS dates. I can never recall the 170th refusing a mission. ("You call, we haul.") I did not enjoy washing the blood off the floor of the ship every night, from picking up the wounded and KIA, which was very different from being in one infantry company. I found that we were supporting many different companies, battalions, and divisions of ground troops daily, so of course, this meant that whomever made contact that day with the enemy, we were there. I can honestly say that we flew more Med-Evac out of an unmarked slick helicopter than we had ever called in for one unit when I was with the infantry. I did not enjoy going into hot LZ's with bullets piercing through the ship like a piece of paper. Another thing that was different than the Infantry - I was shot down three times with only, counting myself, four members. It's a pretty lonely feeling being in the middle of the jungle with only four men, and knowing the enemy is close at hand. On those occasions, I can honestly say I missed being an Infantryman with my platoon around me.
In these many missions that the 170th flew in direct support of the ground troops in Viet Nam, not only did we have to fly Med-Evac, resupply, combat insertions and extractions, usually into one aircraft LZ's where there were inches between the rotor blades and the trees, hovering downward up to 130 feet, we were also on permanent "on-call" or "stand by" o Special Forces Operations (SFO), Forward Observation Base II (FOBII)/Special Operations Group (SOG). This, of course, meant "over the fence" operations into Laos, Cambodia, and Northern Viet Nam. It was said for many years that we were not doing these types of operations. Now that it is public knowledge, the 170th was permanently attached to SFO and SOG. A lot of my crew members honestly always enjoyed drawing these particular types of missions. They looked at it as an adventure - so says my Crew Chief Paul Wilson to this day. As far as I was concerned, I always hated to start my day off hearing the word "FOB2," "Omega Team," or "SOG Prairie Fire." Most of the time, we faced .51 caliber and a lot of flak fired at us while going or coming into these other countries. It was common knowledge (to me, anyway), that if we were brought down, we would not be in any area of "friendlies". In other words, we would be stuck in Charlies' back yard, and a good part of the time, unloading these special kill teams was done by ropes while we hovered as a nice, still, big, fat target for Charlie to take aim at.
After doing four months of "slick" duty, I was then elected and accepted by Buccaneers to graduate to gun ships, which was considered to be an elite position. I was proud to be a Buccaneer. I was also very happy that I didn't have to land in LZ's anymore. Being on a gun ship, you are called to all the hot situations, which I can honestly say is an experience that I will never forget.
There have been many misconceptions about the quality of the soldier that served in Viet Nam. I can only speak for those of the 170th. There was never any animosity displayed to the South Vietnamese people in my presence. We were there to help them. The 170th supported two orphanages for the South Vietnamese children. As you can see in the photos of this website, the children looked up to us and loved receiving gifts and candy from us. And the privilege of serving with the Montagnard people, who were our loyal friends and probably still are to this day, who the Communists are trying to hunt down and kill to this day - this nation sold them out.
It has been said that nothing much good came from the war in Viet Nam. God forbid, the next time you have a heart attack, a bad accident, a forest fire near your home, or you find yourself lost in the wilderness, there is probably a 90% chance of survival due to the modern air Med-Evac. The pilots and crew members of Viet Nam learned from trial and error what worked and what didn't. Not so much myself, but the people that perfected these life-saving duties that go on in this country daily. The credit is due to the Med-Evac and air crews. Stop and think about the pilots and crew members of the Viet Nam air learning the hard way, and writing the book on modern air rescue and air ambulance services, and give your thanks to them.
Thanks to the news media, "spin" was invented in Viet Nam. It has been said many times that the United States lost the war in Viet Nam. Yet, I, as a soldier who participated in that war, cannot recall one battle in that war which we lost. I also believe that the Communists are liars, and a people not to be trusted. They signed the peace agreement, and then broke their word, just because the pressure of the bombing of Hanoi was getting to them. In my view, the government of this country lost the war, not the soldiers who fought and died in it.
It has been said that the personnel of the 170th had special heart, and dedication to duty. I was lucky to have served with such people.
Earl W. Wilson, Bikini Red 391, Buccaneer 06, Gunner