Saturday, March 22, 2014

Khe Sanh Airport from above, Fall 1966

Khe Sanh airport from above, Fall of 1966.

This is the picture I was unable to add to the post, "Enemy Helicopters!"

Pictures missing from "Enemy Helicopters!" post.

Elephants graze just off the end of the runway at Khe Sanh Airport,  Fall of 1966.

Here are two of the pictures that go with yesterday's post, "Enemy Helicopters."  There is one more-an aerial shot of Khe Sanh airport.  I will keep trying to figure out this insane system.

This is NOT the very same Vietnamese Airforce H-34 "Butterfly" mentioned in my story.  This was taken somewhere near the coast in flat terrain.

Helicopter/Blimp crash!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Enemy Helicopters!

This is yet another excerpt from my soon-to-be published book, "ADVENTURES of a Helicopter Pilot" Book One Flying Helicopters in Vietnam for the United States Marine Corps. (My apologies this morning, I can't seem to figure how to insert the pictures I want to go with this.) I am shooting for a 1 July publishing date. I will post. Enemy Helicopters! Occasionally we were sent from Dong Ha to Khe Sanh to support the marines who held positions atop the hills surrounding Khe Sanh airport, just as we had once been sent to Dong Ha from Phu Bai. I was flying copilot for Captain Arch Ratliff. (Picture of elephants grazing in grass off Khe Sanh airport should be here.) In the fall of 1966, the Khe Sanh area was very peaceful. Elephants grazed off the end of the runway. A few months later, in the early summer of 1967 the Marines held all the high ground around Khe Sanh and the seige of Khe Sanh was in the near future. We were supporting those troops around the air base. We had heard rumors that enemy helicopters might be operating in the area. Since Khe Sanh was very close to the borders with both Laos and North Vietnam, this was the most likely area to encounter them. On a break between flights, hanging around operations, a message flashed to us that our marines in the field were being strafed by an enemy helicopter. Ratliff and I and the second crew dashed to our helicopters, leapt into the air in record time and sped to the area where grunts were reporting the enemy helicopter. We were excited because this was a big chance for fame and glory, the chance to do a little air to air combat between helicopters, and maybe even shoot down an enemy helicopter. We had all been weaned on stories of World War II dogfights, our hero Pappy Boyington and his Marine Corps VMF-214 Black Sheep Squadron. Primarily, we were driven to get out there to protect our marines in the field. No filthy “gomer” helicopter pilot was going to strafe our marines and get away with it. We were out for revenge, to kill! When we arrived in the area, there was no enemy helicopter in sight. We saw only a Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) H-34 “Butterfly” (the same type machine that we were flying). We contacted the marines on the ground and confirmed with them that this indeed was the machine that had strafed them. The VNAF H-34 was casually flying around the area above the marine positions. (Picture of VNAF H-34 belongs here.) We added maximum power to our engines and caught up with it. We tried to contact it by radio, but we had no common frequency. No joy. We weren’t sure what we were getting into. Was this an enemy helicopter posing as a VNAF? Perhaps it was a renegade VNAF, shooting our marines on purpose. We didn’t know how its crew would react to our presence. We approached closer and closer to the chopper, anticipating it might shoot at us. We instructed our crews to bring their machine guns from the outer sides of our helicopters to the inner side of the formation, so that each of our two helicopters now had two M-60 machine guns trained on the VNAF aircraft. Then we slid our formation position tighter and tighter to the helicopter. We instructed our gunners to be alert and in the event of any hostile fire from that helicopter, they were cleared to fire at will. We could blast them out of the sky in an instant. Once they noticed us, it only took a few seconds for the pilots of the enveloped H-34 to realize that we were very serious in our actions. Since we were unable to contact them on the radio, we made hand signals for them to return to Khe Sanh airport. They acknowledged and began a very careful, slow and deliberate turn back to the airport. All three helicopters flew back to Khe Sanh airport, landed and shut down. (Picture of Khe Sanh airport from the air goes here.) Captain Ratliff and I were very surprised to see climbing out of the VNAF helicopter a United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and a United States Army Major. They climbed into the back of their six-by truck and ordered their driver return them to operations. Even though we had just forced them to land, they acted as if we were not even there. Captain Ratliff hailed to the driver of the truck to stop. He then yelled up to the two senior officers. “What the hell do you guys think you were doing out there? Don’t you know there were troops below you? You just shot up a bunch of our marines!” Instead of acting surprised and apologetic, the two got very defensive and arrogant. They acted as if it was their right to go out and shoot up a bunch of our marines if they wanted to. Wrong attitude! Captain Ratliff and I started up the side of the stake bed truck, intent on tearing these two assholes into dog meat. Neither of us gave a thought to the consequences of our actions. Thoughts of court-martials and years in prison for the very serious offense of assaulting a superior officer were simply pushed to the backs of our minds. For an instant, the thought of any punishment meant nothing to us. No asshole was going to shoot up our marines and get away with it. Ratliff headed for the throat of lieutenant colonel, and I was headed for the army major. Superior rank was going to be no protection for these two flaming assholes from the wrath of two livid Marine Corps helicopter pilots We felt it was our duty to thump these two guys, hang the consequences. Just as we got to the rails, and were about to tear into these two jerk-offs, cooler heads prevailed; a few of our comrades grabbed us by our arms and kept us from climbing the truck. By then quite a crowd had gathered including our commanding officer. Our C. O. ordered us to back off and told us to return to operations area and write up a report on what had just happened, which we did. We learned later that these two were the liaison officers to the to the Vietnamese Army unit at Khe Sanh and they were out for a familiarization flight of the area. They had not bothered to consult any troop deployment maps, had not talked to any officers in charge of the troops in the field, and they had no idea where any troops were deployed. If anybody should have known where the troops were deployed, these two morons should have known. They just happen to be over our marines when they decided to test their machine guns. Fortunately no marines on the ground were killed. One required a medevac for a wound to his thigh. It probably saved his life in the long run. I doubt seriously that any reprimand was given to the two jerk-offs. Surely the wounded marines were given purple hearts for their injuries due to “direct enemy action.”