During the Vietnam War, the United States relied on the helicopter as never before. The helicopter’s role in combat expanded enormously in this conflict as thousands of “choppers” rapidly transported personnel throughout the war zone. Heavily armed helicopters offered a fearsome component to ground operations as close air support.
These were a group of two helicopters a Loach, White platoon and a Cobra gun ship, Red platoon. The concept was the Loach would fly low and in tight circles to draw enemy fire. Then when the enemy was spotted the Cobra would use their fire power (miniguns and rockets) to attack.
When the situation warranted, the Blues would be inserted to fix the enemy until a larger force could be committed to the area. The Blues would also search out bunker complexes, possible cache sites, and conduct ground reconnaissance. The Pink team would provide air cover for the Blues at all times while on the ground.
WO Randy R. Zahn (Cobra pilot) & WO Walker A. Jones (Loach and Cobra pilot) Gunner SGT Ford (back) Photo by Walker A. Jones
I recently purchased Randy Zahn’s book “Snake Pilot”. As I read it, I felt right back in the thick of things because Randy flew ‘high bird’ on many missions while I was on the ground with the Blues. As Blue India I had direct radio contact with him on numerous occasions. He gives a very detailed account of events as they unfolded before and during his Vietnam tour. He arrived in Vietnam shortly before the 1970 U.S. Invasion of Cambodia and was a Cobra pilot in Charlie Troop, 1/9th.
Zahn writes with authority about the duties and responsibilities of the high bird in a Pink team, the armed helicopter from the troop’s Red (weapons) platoon that kept watch over the Loach (light observation helicopter) from the white (scout) platoon. As a 19-year-old, fresh out of flight school, he went through a five-month apprenticeship in the front seat to qualify as an aircraft commander (AC). As an AC, he had responsibility not only for his own aircraft and the life of his front seater, but also for the little bird and its crew, the Hueys from the Lift platoon that inserted the Blues of the aero-rifle platoon and the Blues themselves once they were on the ground…
On March 12th, 2000 Walker A. Jones started the Charlie Troop 1/9th message board on Yahoo, which currently has 130 members. It is a way for current and former members, family and true friends of Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), Vietnam, 1965-71 to communicate with each other. Walker moderated the message board for many years from his distant home in France almost daily and recently moved back to the States.
This board has reconnected many men who served together while with Charlie Troop 1/9th during the Vietnam War. Many thanks to Walker for his dedication in keeping Charlie Troop spirit alive…
Once again, one of our Scout birds got shot down, and the Blues were called to either rescue or recover the crew.
It was a typical rappel mission as there was no place near the crash site to land our choppers. I was Blue India (the guy with the radio) so I was one of the first of six Blues to rappel down into the jungle. The details of this mission are still foggy to me, but I do recall receiving sniper fire
We always had one if not two Cobra helicopter gunships circling high above us in the event, we needed extra firepower. These Cobras (Snakes) were equipped with mini-gun and rockets and were very much feared by the enemy.
Lt. Michael La Chance (Blue) was our platoon leader. decided it was time for some help from above; we had no idea how many unfriendlies we were dealing with. La Chance grabbed my radio and called for one of our cobra pilots to make a gun-run in tight to our position as possible. We popped a smoke grenade to guide him in.
Suddenly, bamboo was flying everywhere with explosions all around us. It sounded like a sewing machine on steroids, and the whole jungle began to rip apart. My first thought was Charlie was throwing some big stuff at us. I then looked up and saw our Cobra directly above pulling out of a gun-run, and realized what happened. The smoke that marked our position must had drifted too close to our position and the pilot came in right on top of us with mini-gun and rockets.
A few of our guys were injured by that incident but nothing serious. I lucked out again with only the crap scared out of me along with the rest of the Blues. After all, I was a FNG and just twenty years old, half way around the world in a strange land.
The Cobra pilot (WO 1 Myron R. Lamont) was grounded for a short while because of that incident. In fact, he was beating the bush with us on our next recon mission and made a comment on how thick the jungle was when on the ground…