My meeting with ‘Top’ (First Sergeant) was brief and to the point. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He said my records on file, qualified me to be the mail clerk for Charlie Troop. Prior to being drafted into the Army, I took a Civil Service correspondence course and at Fort Knox, I got a license to drive a military vehicle.
Along with sorting Charlie Troop mail this job would require me to toot around Phuoc Vinh in a 1/4-ton Jeep running errands and chauffeur for the upper brass. Another duty was taking dirty laundry down to Phuoc Vinh Village to be cleaned for a select few Charlie Troop ‘lifers’.
Was I going to be bored with this type of job? Would I miss the adrenalin rush I got from combat situations with the Blues? How about pulling blood sucking leeches off of my body after humping through the hot steamy jungle all day? Could I possibly miss any of these things with this new job?
The more I thought about being a mail clerk this late in my tour just made good sense and my chances of going back to the ‘World’ in one piece and not in a body bag would definitely improve…
Sergeant First Class Lionel De La Rosa ‘Blue Mike’
As you can see in this picture, De La Rosa did all the talking on the radio. I just carried it. Hey, what’s an extra thirty pounds on your back?
It was a typical Blues recon mission. Thirteen of us walking single file spaced about six feet apart. I was carrying a PRC-25 radio along with my M-16 rifle. The man in front of me was Sergeant First Class De La Rosa our Platoon Sargent.
Our routine stroll through the jungle was interrupted by rapid machine gun fire to our rear. I slammed my body to the ground and tried to make myself as invisible as possible, which was hard to do with the radio antenna waving around in the air. In a matter of seconds SFC De La Rosa was next to me talking on my radio communicating with our Pink Team circling above us.
At that point, we didn’t know if it was sniper fire, an ambush or something more serious. In any event, we were usually outnumbered, but we had lots of firepower flying around above us and ‘Charlie’ was aware of that.
After burning up a few clips of M-16 rounds toward an invisible target, I ceased fire along with everyone else.
Nothing more materialized from that incident, so we called our Lift birds to extract us.
Later that evening back in Phuoc Vinh we found out what really happened that day. Mike Milton our ‘Ace’ M-60 Machine Gunner staged a firefight. He began firing his machine gun into the jungle just out of boredom. It definitely worked!
I could tell by De La Rosa’s actions he truly loved being in the thick of things and also the adrenalin rush which occures during a firefight. His first tour in Vietnam began in 1965, so he was no stranger to combat…
Weaver, ?, Mike Melton, Pat Cadenhead & Frank Beasal
I was on the lead bird when I snapped this picture of our other chopper of Blues.
It was late afternoon when we landed in Phuoc Vinh after another long day in the hot steamy jungle. I was looking forward to a long cool shower and maybe a beer or two before I hit the sack.
As we walk the short distance from the helipad to our hooch someone hollered out those all too familiar words “down bird”. We all did an about face and scrambled back to our choppers, which were by then fully cranked and ready to go. We were informed that one of our Scout birds was downed by ground fire in Cambodia. We all knew it would be dark, by the time we reached the downed Loach but that didn’t matter in this life or death situation. There was always a chance the crew of the downed bird survived the crash and needed our help, so we had to reach their location as quickly as possible.
When we reached the area of the crash our Lift pilot hovered our bird over the treetops in position for us to rappel. Only a few of us Blues rappelled into the darkness of the jungle that night. I had a radio on my back when I went down and recall getting tangled up in the jungle’s undergrowth before my feet hit the ground. Then the real drama began!
It was our understanding, there were no friendlies in this part of Cambodia, which clearly made it a ‘free-fire zone”. We heard movement not far from our position, and it had to be one of two things. Either the crew of the downed bird survived or ‘Charlie’ was closing in on us. We were ready for the worse-case scenario which was of course ‘Charlie’. There was a slim chance the crew survived the crash so we expected the latter. That’s when a call came over my radio “hold your fire”. The movement was a squad of friendlies from a grunt company that beat us to the downed bird.
We stayed the night in the jungle and were extracted by our Lift birds the next morning…
Weaver, ?, Mike Milton, Pat Cadenhead, Frank Biesel
I took this picture while waiting for a Lift bird to pick us up before being inserted on a recon mission.
Specialist 4 Mike Milton (center) carried the M-60 machine gun for the Blues. Mike’s heroic actions while on a recon mission were pointed out on page 89 of T.L.Criser’s book “The Ghost In The Orange Closet”. Tom Criser carried the radio (Blue India) for the Blues just before I arrived in Country.
Typically, two squads of Blues flew out of Phuoc Vinh on two separate birds early each morning and headed north.
In an older entry (Mortar Attacks) I wrote about a close call down at the helipad. ‘Charlie‘ pumped some mortars at the airstrip one morning while we were waiting for our choppers. One of the rounds landed just on the other side of the red barrel in this picture. Not a good way to start your day…