was an interesting experience; one marked by extreme excitement at times and one
also marked by extreme boredom and tedious monotony.
monotony was sitting in the back watching the world go by at 80 knots enroute to
a large base camp to pick up supplies for our little home away from home and our
own makeshift PX. There were times when we would supply and re-supply and supply
and re-supply again and again all day long. I can remember fighting the urge to
close my eyes and sneak a nap, although I never fell asleep, it was a
assaults were exciting and at times scary too. With guns firing as we entered
into the short final approach, our job was to ensure that the enemy was either
dug in deep or dead, if they were there at all. Most of the time we would not
see anyone as the gun ships had already cleared the area for us, but it was
always a concern and precaution that was standard operating procedure for us in
the back seats.
September 12, 1967 a series of events occurred that will stay with me all my
life. The mission for the day an
airlift elements of the 101st Airborne Division into the foothills
northwest of Chu Lai. All aviation
companies of the 14th Battalion would be furnishing aircraft for the
operation. My crew that day was
Captain Thomas Hooker, our 2nd Platoon commander, a Warrant Officer,
whose name may have been John Newell. My
gunner was a Staff Sergeant from the 14th Battalion Headquarters.
I would guess this mission was considered not too dangerous and this
sergeant wanted to get some flight time.
usual preparatory artillery barrage in and around the landing zone will precede
the landing of the first aircraft. I
had later heard some of the artillery prep-fire included airburst above the LZ
to hopefully clear the area of land mines.
it was our turn to land, I vividly remember how rocky the LZ
was and barren… not much vegetation, at all.
landed, our troops got off and we departed without incident.
However, a few minutes later, there was a call for an emergency medical
evacuation at the LZ.
I monitored the radio traffic, I could tell mines had been detonated in the LZ.
There was an aircraft disabled in the LZ. Evidently, there were still mines in the LZ not detonated by
the artillery prep-work..
Hooker answered the medievac requested and we headed back to the LZ to make the
pickup and fly the wounded to the nearest medical facilities.
we approached the LZ, to our left, I recall seeing another Huey shut-down in the
LZ. We landed slightly ahead of
this aircraft. I glanced back at this aircraft, not noticing the
presence any of the crew. One thing
I vividly remember about that aircraft was the nose access door, where the
battery and radios are mounted. The
door was unlatched and was flapping up and down from our rotor wash.
glanced back to my right and saw a group of soldiers approaching our aircraft
from the right side, carrying another soldier.
I unbuckled and stepped around into the cargo area to assist loading the
soldier into the aircraft. He was
loaded feet first, so I grabbed him by both ankles and eased him onto the cargo
deck just behind the pilots seat. I
immediately noticed he was a helicopter crewmen, since he was still wearing a
chest-protector and flight helmet. Another
thing I noticed about this man was how his head rolled from side-to-side as he
was laid on the deck… this man was dead.
From my brief observation of this man, I did not see any noticeable
wounds on this man. The first dead
American I had seen in Vietnam, a fellow crewmember.
soldier got into the aircraft and
assisted another wounded soldier into the aircraft.
This man was obviously seriously wounded in the leg.
We laid the cargo seat down, which had been stowed in the upright
position, and placed him stretched out along the length of the seat.
made my way back to my crew chief seat on the left side as three more walking
wounded got on board. One of the three, I noticed, had a puncture wound in his
right cheek. I, also, vividly
remember this, because my father had the same kind of wound he received in
Europe during WWII.
we lifted off, I overheard Captain Hooker on the radio that we would be flying
the wounded back to the big Evacuation hospital at Chu Lai.
When we arrived at Chu Lai, the hospital staff was waiting at the
helipad. The first person they
grabbed to unload was the dead helicopter crewman, but one of the other
passengers waved his hand across his face to signal the corpsman that this guy
was already dead and to get the other wounded first.
The fellow laying across the seat was placed on a stretcher, the walking
wounded got out on their own and finally the KIA was removed and placed on a
unloading our passengers, we quickly took off and contacted the airlift
commander for instructions to rejoin the flight.
For now, the flight was stand-down at a small airstrip, whose name and
location I never heard. We landed
in line behind the other helicopters that were already shut down and awaiting
the next phase of the mission.
of the duties of the door gunner (right side) was to tie-down the main rotor
once we shut down. Since we had a
guy from 14th Battalion HQ did not know the routine, I did this
little chore myself. Also, did my
usual walk around the aircraft and checked for any battle damage or anything
that needed attention… everything seemed to be okay.
the aircraft was another story. Beside
the usual sand and dirt was fair amount of blood on the canvas seat and along
the cargo deck along the transmission bulkhead.
About this time, a group of five soldiers, who were assigned to our
aircraft for the next lift assembled around the aircraft.
The sight of the blood seemed upsetting to one of the guys.
Obviously, new in-country by sight and condition of his fatigues and
gear. I got some grease rags
and water and as I tried to clean up, I related to them about the mines in the
LZ and our medievac.
soon cranked up and proceeded with the next phase of the airlift. With
our load of five grunts, we seemed to fly further into the mountains.
Our ship was on the left leg of a three-ship v-formation into the landing
zone. We landed and the grunts
disembarked quickly and we took off without incident without any enemy ground
after we cleared the LZ and crossed over the tree line, they opened up on us.
The terrain seemed fairly level, with some vegetation and tall palm-like
trees. I was leaning over my gun
pointed down toward the tall trees, when gun smoke suddenly erupted from several
locations. I immediately opened up,
pouring M60 fire onto one of the ground fire locations.
Within seconds, we were cleared of the ground fire.
looked forward and saw both pilots had taken off their flight helmets and trying
to talk to one another over the chopper noise.
Thinking someone by might have been hit, I made my way forward to see
what I could do to assist them. No
one had been hit by the ground fire, but I did not understand why they had taken
their helmets off, until Captain Hooker pointed to my helmet and signaled me to
remove it. He then pointed to the fuel gauge, which had dropped to zero,
as had most of the other instruments. Captain
Hooker then instructed me to look underneath the aircraft, while in flight, and
see if we were losing fuel. Not
knowing any better, I laid down on the cargo deck and eased myself out far
enough where I could look underneath. Not
seeing any fuel, I quickly pulled myself back inside.
Thinking about this later, it would not have taken much movement of the
aircraft to send me flying out into midair.
did not have any radio communication at all.
I think Mr. Newell made some kind of hand communication to another
aircraft flying nearby that our radios were not operating.
Captain Hooker told us keep a look out for any nearby aircraft as we flew
back to our base at Chu Lai without incident.
We had taken eight small-arms hits, four in the cockpit area, two along
the tail boom and two more hits on the tail rotor.
The most serve were two rounds that hit the center console, damaging two
major wiring harnesses and junction panels.
The tail rotor took a hit in one of the blades and the bullet hole in the
pitch change hub was discovered by the maintenance who replaced the tail rotor
assembly. Anyone on the maintenance
crew could have kept the hub as his own souvenir, but I had a good relationship
with the crew, and they graciously gave it back to me.
29, 1968 is the second date associated with Million-Dollar Hill in which a lot
of aircraft were damaged or destroyed and quite a few people hurt.
I did not participate in that engagement since my aircraft “Pelican
839’ was still grounded due to avionics damage sustained on the September 12th
did want to give an account of the death of Robert Douglas Anderson, the only
air crewman killed in the engagement. Robert
and I were in the same 2nd Flight Platoon with the 161st
AHC. Neither of us was scheduled to
fly that day, because our respective aircraft were grounded for maintenance.
On that day, I was out on the flight line at my ship, mainly just
tinkering around and avoiding being tapped for some company detail.
Robert must have been still in the hooch area.
call came into operations to scramble all available aircraft.
At least one ship from the 2nd platoon was available, but its
regular crew was not around, so a skeleton crew was assembled.
Therefore, our platoon sergeant, SFC Danzel Marcantel grabbed Anderson
for the crew chief and he took the gunners position. Captain Tom Hooker and WO William Chellis took the pilots
did observe them taking off in a hurry and when the ship returned.
However, I do not recall the elapsed time between takeoff and return, but
I do not think it was all that long.
the time, Captain Hooker and his crew arrived, there were already troops on the
ground. Again, there was a call for a medical evacuation and Hooker
took the assignment. Contacting the
ground commander, Hooker asked about enemy ground fire and was informed there
was no ground fire in the LZ.
landing, Anderson got out of the ship to assist in the loading of a single
wounded soldier. As Anderson was getting back into his crew position, an NVA
.51 machine gun opened up on the aircraft.
Rounds hit the left wind screen sending shards of Plexiglas into the face
of Captain Hooker. Fortunately, he
had his visor down and only got minor wounds in the lower part of this face and
neck. Another round struck the
armored seat in which Chellis was sitting, wounding him in the buttock.
That round, by the way, entered the right side of the seat and exited the
rear of the seat… so much for the term ‘armored’ seat.
Still another round, hit the wounded GI that had just been loaded,
although, it was not fatal.
Anderson was struck in the groin area by a .51 round.
Hooker later said, he heard Anderson cry out and instructed Marcantel and
check on Anderson. Marcantel
described how he found Anderson blown against his machine gun mount from the
force of the round hitting him. He
pulled back into the aircraft, buckled him in and tried to stop his bleeding.
However, the wound to so massive that Anderson quickly went into shock
and bleed to death before they could even get to one of the US field aid
flew onto Chu Lai and dropped everyone off at the Evac Hospital.
Even Marcantel stayed at the hospital.
Captain Hooker then flew the aircraft,
him being the only person on board, back to the 161st AHC field.
I was still on the flight line when he arrived.
He flew in very fast, not the usual slow approach down the taxi way, but
very fast and parked down by the aircraft wash area.
He shut down, got out and quickly walked up the taxi way toward flight
operations. As he past me, without
stopping, the said something to the effect, “we need to clean Anderson’s
ship.” I was one of the first to
reach the ship and I never saw such a ghastly sight.
The inside and down left side of aircraft appeared to have been spray
painted with some kind of rust-colored paint, when in fact, it was Anderson’s
set about doing the cleanup. A
general wash down was done, then most of soft material, such as seating and
sound proofing was removed and thrown away.
As the weapons were being removed, a human finger with a wedding band was
found in one of the ammunition boxes. We
later learned the grunt that was being evacuated was hit a second time in the
hand by the same machine gun burst that killed Anderson.
always feel somewhat troubled by Anderson’s death, since I could have very
well been in his place when Sgt Marcantel was gathering the crew for this