Tag Archives: charlie troop 1/9th

ZIT


Vietnam Veteran and his Helicopter Reunited

Nate Shaffer and Bruce Campbell at their assigned positions

Nate Shaffer has restored a Hughes OH-6A Cayuse helicopter. Shaffer, 63, rode in the military helicopter as a door gunner with Charlie Troop 1/9th, 1st Air Cavalry while serving in Vietnam.

The restored helicopter will be dedicated May 19th 2012 at 10:00 am at Motts Military Museum in Groveport Ohio.

Pat Bieneman and his wife Carol was on-hand Saturday for the dedication of ZIT. He posted a report of the event in his blog.

May 1970, Nate Shaffer re-upping 2-months for Charlie Troop 1/9th Scouts, 1st Air Cavalry Division

October 1970, Nate Shaffer (door gunner) Bruce Campbell (pilot) Rae Bailey (observer)

The OH-6A (Loach) along with it’s pilot, observer and door gunner armed with a M60 machine gun, worked in cooperation with the larger Cobra (helicopter gunship) to form a Pink team. It was agile and could fly up to 150 mph.

1970 990 ZIT, ? (observer) Barney Vestal (pilot) Nate Shaffer (door gunner)

Nathan “Nate” Shaffer
Charlie Troop 1/9th Scouts door gunner 1970

With the help of John Hairell, Robert Wisler, Gary Roush and the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, Nate found out the 990 left Vietnam in 1972. After that it served with 5th Army Reserve in Chicago for a short time, then to a National Guard unit in New York. Then Boarder Patrol in Texas. Sometime later it went to Border Patrol in Arizona, after which Border Patrol became Homeland Security.

Proof that N 6186Y is 990 ZIT

In 2008 Nate traced 990 ZIT to Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Nate’s children, Misti Wilson and Ben Shaffer, arranged for Nate to go out to Fort Huachuca as a 60th birthday present. The trip resulted in a reunion of the former war bird and it’s door gunner. Nate was offered the opportunity to take a ride in the helicopter for old time’s sake, an offer he happily accepted.

The helicopter was later transferred to the Department of Agriculture in Utah, where it was eventually retired. It flew as late as 2011.

Now that #990 was located, Nate continued to track it’s travels, and when it was regulated to the ‘bone yard’ for unused aircraft, it became available for claim by organizations wanting to obtain that type of machine.

Nate learned ‘his’ helicopter had been donated to Motts Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio, located just outside of Columbus.

Transporting the helicopter to it’s new home became a problem, because the military aircraft transports which are able to handle the helicopter are all serving overseas.

Nate volunteered to drive to Utah to pick up the helicopter and bring it to the museum, but first make it presentable before delivery. That was an offer gladly accepted by Motts Museum.

10/17/2011 Picking up 990 ZIT at Parowan, Utah at the airport

Packed up and ready to move

10/19/2011 Picking up main rotor blades from Kevin Grant and Phil in Wichita, Kansas

10/20/2011 Arriving home Spencerville, Ohio

The helicopter was taken to the home of Bob Dresen, a long-time friend of Nate’s, where the duo began the challenging process of making the helicopter look as it had in Vietnam.

Looking at Nate and the helicopter, Dressen remarked “I’m sure glad you weren’t in the Navy and didn’t serve on an aircraft carrier.

As word of the helicopter’s arrival got out, friends began to show up to look at
and help reconstruct the stripped helicopter.

10/21/2011 Starting to work on restoring 990 ZIT

10/21/2011 Working to restore 990 ZIT

Floor of 990 ZIT being replaced due to removal by government at Davis-Monthon A.F.B.

Parts of the floor that had been removed

Making a pattern for the floor (Note where cardboard had come from)

Starting to repair the floor

Working on the main rotor

L to R Nate Shaffer and Art Fleck working topside

Sanding 990 ZIT prior to painting

L to R Bob Dresen and Art Fleck

Bob Dresen

Some of the sanding discs used for removal of paint

Holes in the engine cowing that need to be repaired

L to R Bob Dresen, Roger Dillon and Art Fleck

Door for 990

Tiz Shaffer removing plexaglass from doors; she was Nate’s girlfriend (now wife) while he was in the service. He named the helicopter ZIT, TIZ backwards.

L to R Nate Shaffer and Ted Croft building up the floor

Masking off Plexaglass

Nate Shaffer Painting

Back to the original

Floor installed and primed

Finished floor

Masking off to paint white

Nate Shaffer painting white

George McManus laying out crossed-sabers

Darlene Dresen laying out lettering

Crossed-sabers painted

11/08/2011 Getting ready to deliver to Motts Military Museum, Groveport, Ohio

11/08/2011 On the way to Motts Military Museum with motorcycle escort

Escorted by a contingent of approximately ten smiling friends on motorcycles, Nate and #990 hit the road bound for the helicopter’s final landing in Motts Military Museum. Trailing the convoy on his Harley is Bob Dresen, who played an instrumental role in the refurbishing of the helicopter.

11/08/2011 At Motts Military Museum
Nate Shaffer and Warren Motts Military Museum Director

L to R Bruce Campbell (Charlie Troop Scout Pilot) Nate Shaffer and Warren Motts

L to R Nate Shaffer and Bruce Campbellat their assigned positions

L to R Congressman Steve Stivers, Nate Shaffer and Warren Motts

Congressman Steve Stivers and Nate Shaffer

Mission Completed-990 crew and escort

The tail rotor and main rotor blades are on. ZIT looks like she did in Vietnam over forty years ago. Ready for the dedication May 19th.

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Vietnam Nose Art


Legacy of Valor

Not to be confused with official markings or insignia, nose art personalizes an aircraft for its crew, because it is the crew members who name the aircraft and create the art, imbuing it with an identity of its own. ‘Nose Art’ is important as an historical and societal indicator over time, an example of folk art or popular expression, and a record of the past. Charlie Troop 1/9th Lift bird Cobra gunship Scout bird Bravo Troop 1/9th Lift bird Bravo Troop Cobra gunship The original Pink Panther nose art was designed by 1st LT Joe Waters (Weapons Platoon) C Troop 1/9th, 1st Cavalry Division


Mike Thompson (crew chief) 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, 1970-71 This and the following thirteen nose art photos were taken by Mike and provided to me by Mike’s brother-in-law Specialist 5 Jordan Green (Maintenance Platoon) Charlie Troop 1/9th, 1969-70

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 W.O.1 Matthew Lawless with A Troop gunship

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Image courtesy of Michael Dwyer, Sp 4, Victor call sign “Blivet” 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion Gladiator Huey CH-47 Chinook, South Vietnam Photo by David Parsley UH-1D Dolphin 605 “Ruptured Duck” with WO1 Boyd Mitchell and CPT Bill McCurry. Photo by Captain Bill McCurry, 1966-1967 CH 47 Nose Art Photo by John Lippert Sr. Song Be Province, Vietnam Photo by Dave Simmons Photo by Jerry Walker

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Photo by John M. DeCillo

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Photo by Joe Schwarzer

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Col. Thomas E. Colvin, USAF (Ret.), Danang Air Base, Vietnam, 1969-70

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‘Mr Groovy’ of the 11th ACR out of Blackhorse.
Photo by Lloyd Goldston III

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Flew in from Bien Hoa to FSB Buttons December 1970
Photo by Joe Saad

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Puff the Magic Dragon (Spooky) AC-47 gunship

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Vietnam – weather girl

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tddanniefanny

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Dancing the Foxtrot


by Walker A. Jones 1970-71

There I was, an experienced Scout pilot by the summer of ‘70. I’d arrived in late April, drafted, naïve and immature. Other boys with peach fuzz, teenagers-on-typewriters, had sent me to the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment in Phouc Vinh. Charlie Troop. I wrote the folks of the luck I had, not having to fly the Hueys we’d watched shot down on TV, but rather a small observation chopper that “only needed one door gunner”. I was to just observe the war. I have the letter. What luck thereafter, to have survived all that war-watching. I was still an FNG back in early May, riding left seat with Frazier as we raced from Cambodia to discover Whiddon’s burning little one door gunner helicopter, adding to the continuing fiasco. After days like those, the hot Vietnam evenings were spent in the O-Club, or in a dim hootch-corner, relieving the stress with your own click of guys, witnessing the stories of the day and those before my time, mostly boasts. We were survivors, hiding the fear with bravado. Strung together, those nights could become a diary of the daily trudge of our uncommon young experiences then.

Out of the blue on a mid-summer day, the Navy sailed into Papa Vic on an S2 Seasprite. Affixed starboard was the anti-submarine Magnetic Anomaly Detector. They would fly lowish over a designated map grid, deploying their torpedo-like thingy on a cable to get a “reading”: an arms cache so highly desired by all. But us take-it-to-the-enemy alpha-warriors didn’t like this high-tech crap. Convoy cover was the worst, but this just seemed like another fruitless concoction, like people-sniffers and silent ghost planes aleady had this mission hanged by the cojones. It was a new “Golf Foxtrot”, the C Troop phonetic for wasted missions, the war-wide “Romeo Foxtrot”. We had elevated the rat to a goat, retaining the war-soldiers’ beloved Foxtrot.

Unwashed in aircraft technology, we were secretly intimidated by the Navy’s deep blue, shiny high-class ship, what with it’s electric trim tabs and refined fuel needs. And us unrefined Cav Guys of course derided the Navy’s presumed cush mission; air conditioning and steaks and what have you. No nightly rockets and mortars like us. I was the last Scout to have a turn on this unlikely interservice ride. My day began cruising in lazy circles with the high bird Cobra, bored from the get-go, listening to rock and roll on the ADF, not looking forward to a wasted day of no results. And no revenge. We were way east of our usual AO, low hills with heavy cover. The Air Force had clearly ignored this place. Sure enough, their MAD gear soon had a “reading” and they threw out a smoke. Notified, I tossed out my cigarette and started my drop-like-a-brick twirl to the deck below. Scudding over unexpectantly to the smoke plume, I was just starting to look down when I heard the shot. Didn’t feel anything though, which was good. I’d been hit by one shot before of course; going low and slow tempts them. But you get to know when a bullet hits your bird; usually there are more than one. My gunner-crew chief was new, though it was really his bird. But I was supposed to be the teacher that day, so that he didn’t hear the shot, or didn’t feel the hit, didn’t bother me.

But I must’ve had an odd feeling, as for some reason I decided to pull pitch and get some altitude, though I don’t remember why. I didn’t realize it then, but an experienced pilot can sense something wrong, without needing flashing lights and earbuzzing warnings. Or a dashboard blasted to hell. Very soon, the aircraft started to vibrate, and it got worse in a hurry. A white, acrid smoke quickly had me IFR in the cockpit, though a little left pedal swooshed it away in the doorless Loach. I radioed my High Bird desperately asking to confirm that I was on fire. I didn’t know if I should gain or lose altitude. My hootch mate, Wyatt, sitting front seat Cobra above us, answered in his Kentucky drawl that he ‘don’t see no smoke’. In my own Mississippi drawl I cussed out loud, as if anyone could hear in what was now a schrieking, metallical grinding racket of terror, vibrating the bonemarrow. I asked for a vector and steered west toward an unseen opening. Scouts weren’t given maps, as they tended to provide them to the enemy when they crashed.

Suddenly, with a loud “pop” and a violent jerk, the helicopter went from maelstrom to dead silent calm. What the Foxtrot, over? Then the console started flashing and sirens buzzed in my helmet. Something still was not well with my war-watching helicopter. I had never experienced this before, as usually we just were simply shot down, or quickly plopped into a nearby clearing, with no time for conscious decisions. But I was now a Cav Scout with altitude. Then I noticed the dreaded “splitting needles”. Holy crap. I vividly remember looking down at my left hand holding the collective, and the voice that told me: “push it down”. It was the voice of my flight instructor (thank you). I remember subconsciously trying to pick out a “soft looking spot” in the mosaic of green now rushing up too fast. I didn’t think to call “going down”, as I guess it was obvious; surely they saw my trailing smoke by now. Anyhow, I’d switched off my battery.

I was lucky. The little bird flared itself over the jungletop, pulled pitch at the tips of the trees like taught, and then we fell, straight down, flopping through greenery, tensing up for the impact that never seemed to come, like falling through a hole in the earth.

I never remembered hitting, but when I came to, I was staring at bamboo in my lap and liquid dripping off my face. JP4! And worst of all, the sounds of grenades that had been strung by the Gunner on a wire behind me, jerked loose by the violent impact, their crackly spuming telling me of the impending immolation in the spilled fuel and homemade bombs. “Get the Foxtrot out!” I remember screaming in panic. I lept out the door but was foolishly restrained by my harness. Unhooking, I dived again only to splat myself headfirst into a foot-deep streambed under the jungle canopy that enclosed us. Creekwater, again on my face, and hissing smoke grenades behind me, forming rainbows of colors in the slanting slits of sunlight piercing the crashdust.

We’d plummeted 150 feet, bobbling down a bamboo funnel through a deep jungle ravine, the OH-6A incredibly landing “on its feet” smack in the middle of a hidden streambed. The jungle “just swallered ya’ll up” Wyatt later said. We’d somehow missed the big trees that cause the usual Loach conflagration. As the Hughes Tool Company had promised, the rotors folded up, the tail boom broke away, the skids splayed out on final impact, and my seat had collapsed as advertised. Still don’t know how the hell we’d fallen all that way without flipping over. Maybe we had. And thank you Mr. Hughes and Co. for the overrunning clutch that allowed us to become a free-spinning metal parachute after the transmission seized. At least as far as the treetops.

Out of the bird now and glancing around, scared, I saw that we were in some sort of dark tunnel coursing through the dense jungle, formed by the creek, the steep sides thickly lined with huge bamboo stalks and covered over at the top by the arms of giant trees. I had my Gunner take his M-60 and slosh up to the nearest bend, and the Observer to go the other way. I figured the gooks would have to use the creek as a highway if they were to get to us — a fear that I’d previously decided would never happen. I tried my 2-way emergency hand-held to no avail as the sweet noise of unseen helicopters were swarming somewhere above us, shooting rockets and stuff that killed any attempt to send or receive. The old joke that Scouts marked their position by their burning Loach didn’t hold water here, and I was glad. I weakly shot some pen flares that my shaking fingers had extracted from my survival vest, but they couldn’t penetrate the foliage above. But I had my .38 cal., which I swung menacingly at the shadows. Yee ha. I then proceeded to shoot up the place with a half clip of 35mm.

Finally realizing we’d crashed a good ways from One-Shot-Charlie and his comrades, and that the Blues could never get to us this deep, I called my guys back and told them to start trying to make it up the steep ravine through the dense dark bamboo so we could show that we were alive and be rescued. Just as we started to pick our way up, a surreal voice from heaven came down to us: “Stop! Stay where you are! We will get you out!” Totally freaked, I looked up to see a helicopter’s bottom, rotor wash parting the vegetation high above us. It was the Foxtrot Seasprite! It must have a damned electronic megaphone. Sumbitch! Holy Moly! It took me some time to grasp what was happening.

Well, they let down their rescue hoist cable, and one by one we were reeled up like wet puppies to the high-tech mothership, each of us soaked with creekwater, sweat and piss.

In the Charlie Troop club that night I was subjected to the expected barbs of fellow competitors — I mean Scout pilots. “Was it a ‘prang’ or a ‘ditch’?” demanded Chuck Frazier, self-appointed judge and jury. I was feeling terribly guilty, and they meant to preserve it. I still didn’t know why we’d gone down. But that was the way we learned to forget. That we escaped unscathed meant torment. A death or serious wound would have provided deference for the rest of the tour. So I was lucky to be taking the crap. The tail rotor chain bracelet was my most cherished award, wherever it is now.

I couldn’t friggin move my sore body for a couple of days. But someone kept coming by my hootch to plead with me to write the Navy pilots up for hero medals. I blew a fuse. Told them to Foxtrot off. We went out every day knowing that our thankless mission might get us killed. At night, we sat in the club, never breaching the juju talk of people we’d lost. Why should the Golf Foxtrot Navy guys get medals? We don’t need no medals! We did this every damned day. Screw them and the hoddy-toddy helicopter they sailed in on.

Well, those fun times are long ago; we all went on to different lives, burying those days that now seem like a dream. But the club nights could never erase the memories of Whiddon, McKiddy and Skaggs in my first May, much less all the ones that followed. VHPA records told me the names of my crewmembers that summer day. But Wilkes is dead and I can’t find Mitchell. I have tried my best to locate some history about that Army-Navy game that put us in a water-plunge in the center of red-dusty III Corps. I guess Operation Barnacle had some success. I hope that someone else can find those Navy folks; they should get their medals. I’ll pin them on myself. Besides, I find that being back again in the presence of the guys and family from those days brings an unexpected, unspoken comfort. That may be the real legacy we all took home from that dance.

Walker A. Jones
Montferrier-sur-Lez, France

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Combat Maintenance


Essential Part of the Team

I connected with another Charlie Trooper over the weekend. Specialist 5 Jordan Green was a Cobra mechanic with Charlie Troop 1/9th (September 1969-70) and now resides in Yakima, WA. He made a two hour trip east to my home in Kennewick where we traded stories of different events while stationed in Phuoc Vinh. He also shared his photos which I am using in this blog entry.

Thanks Jordan!

The Maintenance platoon’s main job was to keep Charlie Troop’s aircraft running in tip-top condition, which was critical for the success of our missions.

Quite often a helicopter mechanic would ride with the pilot on a test flight. Jordan recalled one particular time he flew front seat on a Cobra on one such flight. He said the pilot was short and had a mustache. We both agreed it could have been Randy Zahn (“Snake Pilot“) who after gaining altitude, shut the engine down…

Spec 5 Jordan Green working on AH-1G ‘Cobra’

Spec 5 Dennis Junger

Dennis Junger

Photo by Terry A. Moon

Dennis Junger

Dennis Junger

‘Snake’ ready for flight

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Junger

Back side of maintenance hanger

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Junger

‘Short Timer’ in this Group

CH-47 Chinook

HQ’s Troop bird that experienced sudden blade stoppage when the pilot was hovering out of a revetment at Phouc Vinh.

Brought in by the ‘Blues’

Can anyone name this Charlie Trooper?

Jordan Green puts himself to sleep by reading the Cobra Maintenance Manual.

Newly built Charlie Troop hooches before sandbags

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Junger

Look who did the sandbags

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Junger

Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)

Weapons from an enemy cache.

Steve Halverson, Frank Archdeacon & Jordan Green

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Jordan Green

Photo courtesy of Dennis Junger

Photo courtesy of Dennis Junger

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Drug Use In Vietnam


Myth: Drug Use Was Rampant In Vietnam

The Bush Was No Place For Drugs

While in the ‘bush’ with the Blues we counted on each other to keep a clear head, otherwise it could have spelled disaster for all of us. Imagine trying to rappel from a hovering chopper into the jungle full of unfriendlies while under the influence of drugs. That would have been nearly impossible.

I became Charlie Troop mail clerk during the final months of my tour. My duties included confiscating contraband being sent through the mail. Most of it was marijuana , and I recall the day ‘Top’ (First Sergeant Herder) suggested we burn my stash of weed. We put it in a sawed off fifty-five gallon drum behind the Orderly Room and with the help of a little fuel, we had a roaring fire. Of course we stood upwind as we both knew how nasty that smoke was.

As I recall the event drew quite a crowd downwind…

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Charlie Troop Blues


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New guy in country (FNG) gets the radio

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Sgt. Gregory Lee Peffer KIA January 22, 1971

Relaxing – our squad leader Staff Sgt Dave Roger 

 Staff Sgt Dave Roger, Blues medic (right)

Dave Roger, Bob Quintana 

Dave Roger

Dave Roger (right)

Johnny Stiteler, Dave Roger, Eddie Smith, Tony Cruz, Jim Debolt, Tom Connell 

Dave Roger, Dave Parkhurst,  Larry Pruett

Jim Debolt, Dave Roger

SSgt. George D. Slye ‘Blue Mike’ KIA May 2, 1970 (with A Troop 1/9th) 

Blues in the bush

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Jeff Stone, Daffy Dawson

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Staff Sgt Dave Roger guiding chopper into LZ… 

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Dave Roger

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Just a Walk in the Park

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Blues Arriving at Song Be (Fire Support Base Buttons)

LZ Thomas on top of Nui Ba Ra Mountain

LZ Thomas

LZ Thomas

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smoke break

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Charlie Troop Blues at Rang Rang Airfield

Jeff Stone Photo

Blues in the bush

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What War?

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Blues communicating with Lift bird… 

Blues extraction

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One large combo with extra cheese and an order of breadsticks please… 

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Dave Roger (center) with combat engineers

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Blues in Saigon 

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Struck

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My M-60 

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Photo by Mike Thompson (crew chief) 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, 1970-71

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Blues in the air 

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Walter Maude with Veronica (Charlie Troop monkey)

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Rob Struck, Tony Mizzi 

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Struck

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‘Peace’ 

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Blues Rappelling 

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‘McGuire’ Rig 

Photo courtesy of Dave Roger

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Struck, ARVN’s

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Eddie Smith, Schumacher, Tom Connell 

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Daffy Dawson, Marv Lundervold, Dave Parkhurst

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 Eddie Smith

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Dave Roger, Rob Struck

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Rob Struck – search and destroy mission

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Home away from home…

PBR time – Dave Roger, Tom Connell, Rob Struck

Mike Melton, Jim Debolt, Bob Porter, George Burns, Dave Parkhurst, Dave Roger     

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Bob Quintana 

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Sgt. Gregory Lee Peffer (center on the ground) KIA January 22, 1971  

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Sgt. Gregory Lee Peffer

Photo courtesy of Ron Peffer

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Sgt. Gregory Lee Peffer on right with unidentified Charlie Trooper

 

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‘Cavalier Blue’ Mike La Chance, Rob Struck ‘Blue India’

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Johnny Stiteler, Charlie Thatcher, ? 

Bob Porter, Gilbert Ortiz

Dave Roger

Dave Roger

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SFC Lionel DeLa Rosa 

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Marv Lundervold (Lucky Lundie), Charlie Thatcher (Thumper), Harvey Bolejack (Boe) 

Dave Roger, Richard Brasteter

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I got a break

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Bob Quintana 

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SFC Lionel DeLa Rosa ‘Blue Mike’, PFC Rob Struck ‘Blue India’ 

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Smith, Struck, Mizzi 

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Bryant

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Eugene Vanasse 

George Burns, Mike Cody 

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Charlie Thatcher (Thumper) 

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Frank (Amigo) Alameda, George Burns, Schumacher 

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Our medic (?), Cadenhead, Struck, Cody, Roger (Mike La Chance on ground)

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 ‘Cavalier Blue’ Mike La Chance (right)

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Rob Struck, Eddie Smith

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Schumacher 

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Struck

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M-60 by my side 

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Vanasse, Debolt, Struck, Johnson 

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Lift Off

Jeff Stone Photo

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Weaver

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Lawrence 

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Johnson, Ancrum (sp), Fingers (nickname), Struck, Robert (Dutch) Florez – Saigon

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Cadenhead

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Robert (Dutch) Florez, Frank (Amigo) Alameda

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Pat Cadenhead, “Cavalier Blue” Lt. John Mackel, Sgt. Tom Criser

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Struck

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Sgt. Larry Pruett, Frank Alameda, Robert (Dutch) Florez, Eugene Vanasse 

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Weaver, ?, Mike Melton, Pat Cadenhead, Frank Biesel

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?, Johnny Stiteler, Eddie Smith, Rob Struck

Johnny Stiteler, Dave Roger

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Bryant, Struck, Mizzi

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Dave Roger on the left knocking down a PBR

Tom Connell, Bob Quintana 

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Struck

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Schumacher, Lawrence, Porter, ?, Doc, Bryant

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‘Cavalier Blue’ Mike La Chance, Rob Struck ‘Blue India’

1966 Blues 

1968, 69 Blues – Patrick Bieneman (front left) 

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1970 Blues – Crouch, Greg Peffer (KIA January 22, 1971), Tom Connell, Johnny Stiteler, Schumacher, Knight, Ringo 

1971 Blues – Gary Pope (right) fourth squad leader

 

 

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PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)


Facing Wounds You Can’t See

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The Author: “The Ghost in the Orange Closet” Sgt. Tom Criser (right)

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I never met Tom Criser in Vietnam, he was leaving Country as I entered.
We both carried the radio (Blue India) in the field for the Blues of C Troop 1/9 (probably the same one).

I usually don’t finish a book in one sitting, but this one, I had to…
Great Job!
Rob Struck (Blue India) 1970

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Cambodia Incursion


The darkest day of my Vietnam Tour was May 6, 1970 in Cambodia

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The sky was filled with birds as 1st Air Cav Skytroopers launched the attack.

I knew something was up when we were instructed to board our choppers extra early for our daily flight northward. We normally flew to Firebase Buttons and waited for a mission, but this day proved to be different. Our birds continued north and landed at Bu Dop, which was one kilometer (1000 meters) from the Cambodia border.
When we landed, we were briefed on our mission of the day and why the men of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry of the 1st Air Cav Division had congregated on the airstrip. At 7:30 AM an assault into Cambodia was scheduled and our Blue platoon would be QRF (Quick Reaction Force) for down birds. Our Scout birds and Cobras (Pink Team) would lead the way followed by Charlie Company, 2/7th, inserted by the vast number of choppers lined up on the airstrip.

6269146049_73861dd99c_oJust before liftoff, I had a brief conversation with a young soldier cleaning his M-16 in preparation for the invasion. He couldn’t have been a day over eighteen and appeared very nervous. He told me he considered shooting himself in the foot to keep from going on the mission.
All the Hueys cranked and at exactly 7:30 the sky was filled with birds heading to Cambodia with 1st Air Cav Skytroopers.

I was the Blues radio guy that day and a down bird rescue mission was almost immediate. Our two Hueys cranked and we were on our way. One of our Scout birds got shot down as the invasion began.

Army news reporter (PFC Scott Long) was at Bu Dop that morning to cover the invasion. He managed to jump on the same bird as our platoon leader Lt. Michael La Chance, myself and five other Blues. He recorded the action as it happened on a cassette player while seven of us Blues rappelled down into the jungle.

WO Dave Farrell was the A/C (Aircraft Commander) of our bird. This was only his second mission as an A/C and did a great job positioning his ship in a high hover while we rappelled.

Our other Huey with Blues on board beat us to the down bird site and crashed as they made their approach. It wasn’t clear if they got shot down or simply lost power. Now we had an additional down bird on this mission. Our chopper hovered above the down Huey (which did not burn on impact) while seven of us rappelled down to rescue our fellow Blues. CPT Rhett Lewis (one of the Huey pilots) and three Blues were injured in the crash and medevaced out.

This is when there was a turn of events. Our Medic decided conditions were too dangerous to continue and wanted all of us extracted without completing our mission.

It was then decided which Blues would continue on with Lt. La Chance. I had no choice because I was the radio guy. Five of us made our way to the burning Loach which was about 30 meters away, but seemed much farther due to the thickness of the jungle undergrowth. When we arrived, we discovered the pilot and crew chief had died in the crash.

We radioed for a Medevac chopper and when it arrived the crew lowered two body bags down to us. After placing the bodies into the bags, they were lifted up to the chopper hovering above us. We were constantly watching for enemy movement as we knew the unfriendlies had to be in the area.

Our mission was complete except for getting ourselves out. The only way we could be extracted was by the McGuire rig. There were five of us and three men per trip was the max, so that meant Lt. La Chance and I would be taken out last. We radioed for a Lift bird (Huey) equipped with McGuire rigging ropes on board to extract us.
When they arrived, three ropes attached to floor of the hovering chopper were dropped down to us. Three Blues attached themselves to the ropes and were lifted away to the nearest friendly LZ. That left Lt. La Chance and I all alone waiting for our chopper to return. Each minute seemed like an hour as we stood back to back watching for enemy movement with thoughts of Charlie closing in. My worst fear was the two of us occupying a room at the Hanoi Hilton (POW).

The jungle got very quiet with an occasional bamboo stick falling to the ground. My imagination ran wild and I opened up with my M-16 on nothing more than suspicious sounds. That surely gave our position away.
Then suddenly that all familiar chopper sound could be heard, in the distance. Our Huey made its approach and hovered above us. They dropped two ropes down, and we attached them to our rappelling ropes, we had tied around our chest. We were then flown through the air (McGuire rig style) to a safe LZ.

To this day whenever I hear a chopper in the distance, I have flashbacks of that memorable day in Cambodia.

There is much more to this story than the Blues efforts to rescue the men that were shot down.
Crew Chief/Gunner Gary McKiddy performed an act of ‘heroism’ that cost him his life. He was killed that day along with the pilot, WO1 Tommy Whiddon when the helicopter they were in was shot down. Gary was either thrown or jumped free of the crash upon impact with the ground. Although the chopper was burning, Gary risked his own life when he returned to the chopper and retrieved the copilot, Jim Skaggs, and carried him to safety. Gary again returned to the chopper, even though it was burning out of control and ammo from inside of the chopper was “cooking off”, in an attempt to rescue the pilot, WO1 Tommy Leon Whiddon. As Gary entered the chopper and positioned himself to retrieve the pilot, the fuel cells exploded and killed both men. When the rescue team arrived, Gary was found stretched across the seat that he had just removed Skaggs from, laying across Whiddon with one arm behind him. The transmission had fallen across Gary’s back pinning him in. The military tells us that this happened after the explosion, and he was already dead when this occurred.

Gary was awarded the Silver Star for his action, however there is a bill pending in Congress that if approved will provide for Gary to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions; the bill is HR 369. Gary had flown more than 650 combat missions and was awarded 37 medals during his 6 months in Nam.

In August of 1999, the First Air Cavalry Division dedicated a barracks at Fort Hood, Texas, in honor of Gary Lee McKiddy. Inside of the 400 person building there is a day room that displays pictures of Gary from the time he was a baby until soon before his death, as well as a trophy case with all of Gary’s medals in it. A beautiful plaque on the outside of the building tells the story of his heroism.

Down Bird Audio (May 6, 1970)

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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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Rocket and Mortar Attacks


Bunkers Constructed with Sandbags

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Charlie Troop 1/9th hooches

Staff Sgt Dave Roger

One of the most helpless feelings I experienced in Vietnam is when our firebase was being mortared (incoming) and hoping the next rocket wouldn’t be a direct hit. It almost seemed safer on a recon mission in the middle of the jungle.

An incoming round exploding is a noise forever embedded in your brain and for years to come you could be affected by similar sounds.

When I first arrived in Phuoc Vinh mortar attacks were quite frequent. It seemed like we got hit at least three times a day, and Charlie had our Company Area zeroed in.

Usually, a siren would blow to indicate an incoming mortar attack. When it sounded you scrambled to the nearest bunker for protection. The siren would sound again to indicate the attack had ended and all was clear to exit from your bunker. That’s when you had to be careful because Charlie could also hear the siren, and he would lob a few more in.

One morning a bunch of us Blues were standing down at the helipad waiting for our choppers to arrive to fly us out for a recon mission. Charlie started shelling the helipad area and a mortar landed within six feet of where we were standing. There was a row of barrels filled with sand between us and where the mortar landed. That was a close one to say the least!

Then there was the night Charlie threw some big stuff at us (Sept. 12th 1970). The sound of 122mm rockets slamming down in the area around the hooch where I was sleeping woke me up within seconds. I rolled out of bed to the floor and low crawled as fast as I could to the nearest bunker.3987246444_95167a4f3d_m
When the attack seemed to be over, we came out of the bunker to access the damage. Our hooch did not take a direct hit, but a Red platoon hooch across the road did and was on fire. I then went back to check my AO ( sleeping area). I would not be writing this now if I wouldn’t have woken when I did. My pillow got peppered with shrapnel holes along with an Iowa State flag that was hanging on the wall above my bed…

Remains of Red platoon hooch
Photo by Nathan D. Shaffer (Charlie Troop Scouts, 1969-70)

The hole in the ground between the boots is the results of a small VC mortar round.

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Chinese 60 mm mortar rounds captured by 1st Cav Quan Loi May 69
Photo by Jim Beck

Radar unit on the wooden tower was used to pinpoint the origin of incoming rounds for retaliation purposes. (Two above Photos by Chris Bussells, 31st HHC)

Newly built Charlie Troop hooches before sandbags

Two above photos by Jordan Green (Charlie Troop Maintenance, 1969-70)

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