It has been many years (43 yrs. to be precise) and my memory is a little hazy, however, due to this being my first taste of real combat, some of it is as clear as if the event happened yesterday. Anyone recalling this event, please advise of any needed corrections, forgotten names, etc. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Background: I arrived in Viet Nam on March 24, 1967; assigned to 161 AHC at Lane Field. In approximately three weeks we were reassigned to Chu Lai as part of Task Force Oregon. Being assigned in maintenance, I moved to Chu Lai aboard a Navy LST. Since my first test flight at Lane Field, I knew I wanted to fly. In May, I was finally picked up on flight status and started to OJT by flying as a door gunner, rotating among differing helicopters and crews. Finally, a crew chief position was opening as SP5 Ruff (Pelican 835) was due to DEROS in June. I was assigned as his door gunner, continuing my OJT under his watchful eye. The day before Ruff was to stand down and I would be assigned as Pelican 835’s crew chief, we were shot down somewhere on a ridge overlooking Song Ve Valley.
Event: June 16, 1967
In the early morning of 16 June we picked up a reconnaissance element of the101st Abn Div. Can not recall whether the PZ was at Duc Pho or Carentan, however, both are in the same vicinity. We headed west of Duc Pho, departing the relative safety of the coastal plain, flying over hilly ridges and finally crested a heavily forested mountain ridge; then descended into a very wide valley filled with rice paddies. I believe it was Song Ve Valley. We followed a river up the valley for some time. Soon, the valley narrowed, with the rice paddies being replaced by a densely forested and rugged terrain. We were part of a 3-ship formation with no gunship support, Pelican 835 being the second bird in the formation. I do not recall the other aircraft call signs or crews. The Aircraft Commander of Pelican 835 was CW2 Hose, Peter Pilot’s name unknown - as memory recalls he was a 1LT, Crew Chief was SP5 Ruff, and myself as gunner. After some flight time up the valley, we did a 180 and aligned for our approach to a one-ship LZ located on a spur, approximately a quarter of way down from its top. The spur jutted out from the western ridge of the valley. We were spaced out and in the glide slope for the LZ. As we were closing on the LZ, the AC of the lead ship advised CW2 Hose to take the lead as he had shot too high and was doing a go around. All the aircraft were D models with L-11 engines. All seemed quiet as we committed to the LZ. On short final, all hell broke lose. Apparently, the enemy had seen the air reconnaissance of the LZ and with few other options for an LZ in the vicinity, decided to set up an ambush at this site. Any rate, on short final we started receiving a withering hale of fire from the western side of the LZ, high ground of the spur. Suddenly, the blades locked (apparently hit in the transmission) and we dropped hard onto the LZ. All I could see were muzzle flashes in the tree line immediately in front of me and “I’m hit” coming over the intercom. At this time, I had not determined who was hit as I just kept putting out suppressive fire on the muzzle flashes. The troops on board exited on the east side of the aircraft (down hill side) and began engaging the enemy. From my peripheral vision, I could see someone in the crew compartment, either CW2 Hose or SP5 Ruff, assisting the Peter Pilot over the center counsel and into the crew compartment. As my adrenalin pumped, my M-60 jammed. In my haste, I had failed to fire in bursts; rather, I fired steadily as if in flight. I then realized that I was alone aboard the aircraft. Being in the direct line of fire, I concluded I could not take the time to clear the M-60 and that I needed to get to the ground ASAP. I was assigned a M-14 as my back up weapon, which was wedged, between the rear panel and my web seat. I made an attempt to exit, simultaneously grabbing my M-14. The moment I rose, one of the enemy zeroed in on me, hitting me in the chest plate directly over my heart. Of course, the impact of the round as I was rising to my feet, drove me straight back against the transmission wall. (I remember that my first instinct was to question whether I was still alive – I had read somewhere that the mind could function up to four hours after a fatal injury).
I again attempted to exit with my M-14, this time doing a belly whacker onto the ground in front of me. I crawled to the rear of the main fuselage to where the tail boom joins and then realized the precarious situation we were in. There was a steep embankment behind where the rear of the skids sat. Furthermore, the skids had spread and pushed up into the belly. I only had about a foot wide and high exit route (no room under the chopper) between the rear of the skids and the side of the embankment. (Had we come down just a few feet shorter, we would have tumbled down the steep embankment). Any rate, I wasted little time and crawled through the narrow opening, putting the chopper between the enemy fire and me. I got my bearings, sighted the rest of the crew who had moved down the spur and began running and sliding down the hill toward them. I lost the concealment the chopper offered after running a few feet. Once linking up with the others, they advised that clouds of dust from bullet impacts were rising on either side of me during my dash down the spur. Furthermore, I discovered that the peter pilot had received a round through his right leg. The round entered, went straight through and exited on the other side of his leg suggesting an armor piercing round. I cannot recall whether we had 5 or 6 members of the recon patrol on our aircraft. As they were traveling light, we may have had 6. Any rate, they had quickly fanned out after impact and engaged the enemy, thus allowing my escape, which I am forever thankful for. Once I linked up with my crew, they broke contact and leap-froged back, giving us rear cover while we worked down the spur toward the alternate LZ in the valley floor. Soon we linked up with the remainder of the patrol that had been discharged at the alternate LZ and was working up the spur toward us. Having no radio contact until we linked up with the patrol, our anxious brethren in the circling Hueys were advised of our status and we were soon extracted from the alternate LZ.
At the time I started flying, there were not enough “chicken plates” to go around and as the new guy, I normally wore a flak jacket. However, this particular day, WO1 Poteete who was originally scheduled to be peter pilot on this flight, did not fly due to a severe toothache. He told me to wear his chest plate that day. Proof to me that God takes care of children, fools, and drunks, of which I fit all three categories at that time.
ROBERT E. MIX
As an after thought, something that has bothered me for years is what happened when 835 was extracted. The recovery crew got in there a few hours following the incident. The story I was told was that the Chinook slinging 835 started receiving fire and had to jettison the sling load. Later, the remnants of 835 were pointed out to me, lying in a rice paddy about 1 mile north of Duc Pho. Upon seeing it, I question the story. By the looks of the aircraft, it must have been jettisoned from an altitude of 1500 to 2000 feet, out of small arms range. Likewise, the location where it was jettisoned was a flat area with rice paddies for miles in all directions with limited concealment for an anti-aircraft gun. I seriously doubt the NVA had any anti aircraft weapons in this area. If anyone has information as to why this aircraft was jettisoned, please contact me at email@example.com.