Damn, Bob, we're hit!
Bob, I do believe I owe you a beer, or ten, if we ever catch up with each other. Yes, I was one of the two advisors you picked up that day in mid-June (14th or 15th--I'll have to check) 31 years ago, the other was CPT Bob Sparks. We were the only Americans at Ben Het during that time. If I remember correctly, you had dropped off our fearless leader (LTC James Rose) so he could have a face to face with his two prize eight-balls about some innocuous topic, drink our beer, smoke our cigarettes and try to purloin our Zippo's. All of our regular pads were covered by NVA artillery or mortar fire and it had become sort of a game trying to outwit them when choppers came in.
The spot you initially landed at that day was a new one we were trying, and the landing went okay. However, when LTC Rose was ready to leave after his short visit, we had planned for you to come in at another spot to pick him up, (part of the game), but peerless leader didn't believe the NVA had us as targeted as they did and was adamant that we use the initial ad hoc LZ for his departure. We should have overruled him, but he was a pushy LTC and we were but mere Captains, so we gave in. So in you came, he climbed on, we saluted and turned to walk back to our bunker. And we never heard the one that got us. The NVA were aiming for you, and the helicopter you know, but were a little slow on the trigger. One moment we're shuffling along, the next we're laying on the ground in a swirl of dust. I thought Bob Sparks had tripped me and he thought I'd punched him in the stomach. And then we saw the blood. "Damn, Bob, we're hit!" I recall trying to stand and falling again, and then crawling on all fours trying to drag Bob, when someone picked me up under the arms and sort of dragged me to your aircraft. Someone else was carrying Bob Sparks right behind me and we bounced off as soon as he was on board. Your gunner or crew chief gave me a battle dressing for an obvious wound in my leg, wiped blood off my face from a cut with his gloved hand, and gave me a lit cigarette. Our LTC was holding a pressure dressing on Bob's stomach to stem his bleeding. And you flew us to the 67th Evac hospital in Pleiku.
To make a long story short, Bob Sparks was evacuated back to the states with his stomach wound, recovered, finished out his twenty years and is now retired in West Virginia. Me, I'd actually been hit in three places--left leg, right knee and right shoulder (still carry the fragments--great fun at airports). And I still have grains of sand and tiny metal splinters coming out to ruin razor blades from time to time. I was given a week of recovery in Pleiku and Nha Trang, was declared "Mission Essential," deemed fit enough to return to duty, and was sent back to Ben Het with a supply of bandages and still on crutches! I began some serious social drinking about that time. My foolish LTC was definitely trying to get me killed.
I think we also have that wild ride on 20 March in common as well. I remember going up with my Vietnamese counterpart and his radio operator to do a BDA on a one ship Arc light strike in a small valley just a few klicks to the north west of Ben Het. We did a high pass but couldn't see the strike because of the ground fog. I asked for a lower pass and you said "No problem." As we were going down for that second pass, my counterpart began to lose it, took a white knuckled grip on my knee, and began screaming "Go up! Go up!" We had just reached the beginning of the impact area when I think one of you crew said he saw an overturned truck by a bomb crater. And then the whole North Vietnamese Army opened up on us. In my mind's eye I can still see their muzzle flashes twinkling through the fog, felt rounds impacting the aircraft and remember empty shells casings rolling on the deck from the gunner's 60. I think we were in that shooting gallery for less then 10 seconds, but your chopper took four or five hits, to include one round that stuck in the main rotor blade root, and holes through the tail, blades and the skids. I recall snapping sounds through the cabin and I found a round had gone through my PRC-25 (which was between my feet) after we landed. My helmet was gone from the seat behind me, too, blown out, I suspect, by a passing shot. You got us back to Ben Het, but because of the round in the blade root, and a nicked tail rotor chain, you figured that was far enough. I, too, have pictures of your chopper that day, to include, I believe, you standing on top looking at the round in the root.
We had lunch waiting for the recovery team. We still had a cook then, Co Sau, who made great biscuits. Alas, she remembered she had to leave Ben Het to visit relatives in Saigon shortly after the first NVA artillery round hit our camp in April, and we never saw her again. And I still recall my counterpart after we landed puffing up to his 5' 4'' and screaming at me; "You're fuckin' crazy! I never fly with you again!" and stomping off.
And that pretty much sums it up. So, here I am, 31 years later, still in the reserves and teaching C&GSC to students younger than my boots. By the way, in the --for what its worth department -- I still have the Zippo lighter I was using that day. I had put it in my pocket to keep my LTC from stealing it and it actually deflected a small shell fragment. Had it not been for that Zippo, the fragment would have hit me dangerously close to my, ah, future progeny.
(Once known as Rocket 88 Bambino)
Chilling out in Vermont
Mark Truhan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
USA - Monday, July 14, 2003 at 18:11:57 (PDT)