Monthly Archives: July 2009

McGuire Rig


Extraction Method

The ‘McGuire rig’ was used quite frequently to extract soldiers from the jungle when no suitable pick-up zone was available.

What we did was tie our rappelling rope around our chest, then snap a d-ring on the rope. As our chopper was hovering above the jungle at tree top level, the crew dropped two or three one-hundred foot ropes down to us. These ropes had a loop at each end and were securely tied to the floor of the Huey. We snapped the end of the rope to our d-ring and were lifted out of the jungle then flown to the nearest LZ (Landing Zone)…

Photo courtesy of Dave Roger (right)

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Down Bird


Quick Rescue ( usually recovery) Team

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As a member of the Blue team, our primary duty was to scout for the enemy on the ground after our reconnaissance helicopters found signs of enemy movement.

All too often a Scout bird would get shot down. In that event, the Blues would scramble down to the helipad and board our Hueys and head out to the crash site.

The crash site was usually marked by smoke rising above the jungle, as most of the birds crash and burn upon impact. Our pilot would hover the Huey above the trees close to the downed aircraft as we rappelled one at a time to the ground through the dense vegetation. We always carried rappelling equipment with us as standard equipment, which consisted of leather gloves, rope and d-ring.

Fortunately, with our vast air support, the NVA and Viet Cong usually stayed out of sight until we were gone. Unfortunately, we mostly brought back depressing and disheartening body bags…
Down Bird in Cambodia Audio (May 6, 1970)

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Songs of the Vietnam Era


When your Vietnam tour was complete, you flew to Oakland Army Base in the San Francisco Area to process out…

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First Taste of Combat


Anxious moments

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Every morning in April 1970, our Lift birds would crank up at the helipad in Phuoc Vinh. Fifteen or so of us Blues would board (five or six per bird) and fly to Firebase Buttons, which was about a half hour flight to the northwest of Phuoc Vinh. At Buttons, we sat and waited for word of our next mission, whether it be a recon or quick reaction mission for a downed helicopter. My radio was always tuned into the same frequency as our two Scout birds buzzing around the jungle at tree top level looking for enemy activity.

LRRPs173rdAbn1967One morning a call came over the radio that a group of Lurps (U.S. Army LRRP / Rangers) in the area made contact with the enemy and needed reinforcements. Lurps were heavily armed long-range reconnaissance teams that patrol deep in enemy-held territory. Our choppers cranked up, and we were on our way.

I had never before had to deal with those emotions. This was the real thing and not a drill. This is what all that training was for and why a certain amount of brainwashing was necessary for this type of duty. Turning back was not an option.

The guy next to me on the chopper was a seasoned combat veteran, and he knew I was a FNG, so he gave me a quick briefing as what to do. His instructions were to take my M-16 off the safe position and flip it to ‘rock-n-roll’ (the automatic position) and start firing into the jungle as soon as my feet hit the ground, if not sooner.

Each Huey (chopper) had a crew chief and door gunner on board, one on each side of the bird. Both these guys were equipped with M-60 machine guns, and they both opened up as we approached the LZ (Landing Zone). That was known as ‘coming in hot’.

I jumped off the bird and along with the other Blues, started firing frantically into the jungle. I’m not sure if we were receiving enemy fire because all of us had opened up at the same time and all hell broke loose.

That’s when I felt a hot stinging sensation in my upper back. I swung my right hand around and pulled a hot piece of shrapnel out of my left shoulder. A fellow Blue not far from me took some shrapnel in his stomach about the same time he fired his M-79 grenade launcher and hit a nearby tree. There’s a good chance; that’s where the shrapnel came from.

It wasn’t long after that all was silent, and we hooked up with the Lurps. They had the upper hand in that firefight as they came out without a scratch. Two or three unfriendlies made the ultimate sacrifice for their cause.

That was the first time I saw ‘Charlie’. Their lifeless bodies were laying there in front of me, stripped of their clothing and any possessions they had with them. The Lurps took everything from them to have as souveniers​.

I then took my Kodak 126 Instamatic Camera out of my pocket and took a picture of one of the bullet-riddled bodies on the ground and later mailed it to a friend back in the ‘World’. To this day, it still bothers me why I did that…

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The Blues in the Air


Liftoff

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It seems a bit dangerous, but we never thought anything of it. Riding on choppers with our legs dangling over the side was very common.

When being inserted on a recon mission, the Huey pilots had good reasons for not wanting to stick around too long, so we had to exit the bird as quickly as possible…

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I Wore it for Good Luck


Immaculate Conception Medal

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When I left for Vietnam, my mother gave me an Immaculate Conception Medal. She said it would help keep me safe, so I wore it around my neck for a short while, until I decided it was just too shiny. I then slipped it into my wallet for the rest of my tour.

I gave what was left of it to my daughter Jill a few years back to keep. It was almost worn down flat from being in my wallet that long…

 

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Blue India


New Guy got the radio


I was a FNG (f**king new guy) so they put a radio on my back. My call sign was Blue India.

As a RTO (radio telephone operator) I was the only communication between us Blues on the ground and our choppers in the air. It only made sense that the RTO was a prime target in a firefight, so that’s probably why the radio was given to a FNG. I found out a little later that the Blues radio guy (Blue-India) was killed in an ambush in September of 1969.

The most common radio used was the PRC-25. The PRC-25 ran on battery power, and the battery only lasted for one day of continuous use, so I always carried a spare. The PRC-25 had two large knobs, which changed the frequency. The frequency had to be changed often to insure that enemies could not pick up transmissions.

I also carried smoke grenades. The smoke grenade released clouds of colored smoke to help mark location for gun ships and Huey Pilots.

The first time I rappelled from a chopper with a radio on my back, I flipped upside down from being a bit top heavy. After a few more rappelling missions, I finally figured it out…

Tom Criser served in Vietnam from February 1969 through March 1970. He also carried the radio (Blue India) while with the Blues.

Pat Bieneman (Blue India, 1968-69)

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