When members of the same unit get together at reunions or other gatherings, the remembrances are shared like the events happened yesterday. Jeff even remembers flying Martha Raye a few times, but if his memory serves him every aircraft she flew in she signed with a big magic marker, and they all crashed later. See what else this author remembered:
by Jeff Murray
I arrived in Nha Trang and the 281st Assault Helicopter Company in October 1968, having spent a few days in limbo with 1LT Dave Mitchell at Dong Ba Thin awaiting a ride north. Not realizing we had it so good Mitch and I complained until we got a ferry ride from Buck Yancey, who made us keep our heads down so we wouldn’t get shot by the phantom enemy machine gunners assigned to shoot all FNG’s he told us were out there. I was assimilated into the Bandits and began flying a lot of missions all over the place, usually with Norm Kauffman, Paul Morsen, or Ken Smith.
I visited Kontum, Hon Tre Island, that big hill west of Nha Trang everyone called (at that time) the Grand Summit, dropped leaflets, flew a sniffer mission, and even an uneventful combat assault. On December 1st, 1968, we deployed to Phu Hiep, and that first night Brian Paine informed me that if this type of stuff kept up I could conceivably spend an entire tour and never take a round. The very next day I was departing LZ Courage when we took one through my chin bubble then the RMI and finally the altimeter. Suddenly no one wanted to fly with me except Fred Sherrill, but I was still enjoying the scenery. I even flew Martha Raye a few times, but if my memory serves me every aircraft she flew in she signed with a big magic marker, and they all crashed later.
Returning to Nha Trang a few weeks later we began flying Recondo missions, and getting to know those guys was what the 281st was all about to me. It was all fairly routine but seemed like mission essential stuff to me. Zipping into a tight hover hole and watching SFC Hinds emerge from the woods partially concealed by that huge handlebar moustache of his reminded me of every semi-combat movie on Vietnam I have ever seen. I had no idea he would play a part in the biggest, and longest, mission in my short stay with the Bandits.
On January 21, 1969 we had a few Recondo teams out in the Nha Trang AO and I was lounging in my BOQ room when we got a call for an extraction of SFC Hinds and his team. “A wounded soldier” was the extent of the briefing we received, and off we went in aircraft 17360, crewed by Alan Johnson. Ron Lohman was the AC, and I think I flew us out to the AO where we began a lazy circle until the team popped smoke. The recovery sergeant on board, SSG Marvin Gies, was scheduled to go to Hawaii the next morning where his wife was waiting for him. Ron took the controls and got on the deck, flying about 20 knots toward the team when SSG Gies said “Stop. We’re right over them.” We did, but it was the wrong “them.”
About 8 rounds were emptied into the bottom of the aircraft, one hitting SSG Geis in the chest and one in the neck. Alan worked feverishly on the gaping hole in SSG Geis’s neck and we had him at the Nha Trang hospital pad in probably less than 3 minutes, but he died later that night. Our collective lever had a huge hole in it so we traded aircraft and awaited a second attempt. In the interim Fred Sherrill and Dave Mitchell had attempted a pick up and were shot out as well, and finally a USAF HH-3 Husky with a winch extracted the most seriously wounded man, a Marine hit as he was diving over a log, the round climbing up his gut and lodging somewhere in his middle abdomen.
SFC Hinds told me later the Marine continued to stand and fight, without complaining, until his extraction. “A real Marine” I remember Hinds saying. We returned later in the afternoon with another aircraft, 17715, and went down once more, this time safely getting three Recondo members out on a string.
Another ship went down and finished the extraction. I remember two things distinctly about this mission…(1) Wolf Pack suppressed the hell out of that area. CPT Black was the fire team lead and he was shooting so close to us that something bounced off my knee and ripped a small hole in my nomex. (2) When we got our team back to the airfield, they unhooked from the McGuire Rig and began greeting the ground personnel from Recondo. When the second bird came in with SFC Hinds on a string, he unhooked and climbed in the back of both aircraft and shook the entire crew’s hands. Then he went to his team members and marched off into the darkness.
I soon wound my way to Wolf Pack and my most memorable C Model mission was a combination of overconfidence and underperformance. I was in aircraft 236 on a sniffer mission with 1LT Jim Holt, my rater of all people, in the left seat. I was showing off, flying a bit too low in a heavy gunship, and trying to emulate the slick moves of the slick driver in front of us, when he did a cyclic climb over a small ridge. I did the same maneuver when all of a sudden the airspeed and RPM started dropping, rapidly. With the nose in the air and our upward movement really slowing down, I somehow made the correct decision, which was right cyclic and right pedal, while I made a radio transmission that sounded something like “Get out of the way back there, I’m coming your way.”
We were now heading downhill but the RPM was somewhere near the 6000 mark and there was this huge dead tree sticking up in front of us. Here is where I got lucky. I climbed right again, but had to increase collective in an attempt to clear the tree. We smacked part of it but as soon as we cleared it I glanced at the tack and saw the needles well below 6000 and I dumped the collective again. Poof, I was somehow over a streambed and able to descend enough to get the RPM back. I then remember 1LT Holt thanking me for remembering which foot to use because he thought we were all heading for the trees. I think it had to be because I was sitting in the right seat, because I didn’t remember enough about aerodynamics to know which pedal to use in situations like that until much later in my flying career. I have a ton more of Wolf Pack stories but this one was boring enough so that will be all for now.
About the author: After a year of college, he joined the Army for flight school, spent a year in Vietnam as a slick and gunship pilot, came home to instruct for a year, got married, returned to college and graduated from Texas A&M in 1973, returned to the Army and retired in 1990 with the exalted rank of major. His callsign: Bandit & Wolf Pack 33
Thank you, Jeffrey for your service, sacrifice, and ongoing support!
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