Friday, May 26, 1972

Born LOHser

Ups and Down of Flying

PLEIKU, Vietnam -"If you get shot down, you just go back and get another 'bird' and finish the mission," said Capt. Jim Stein.

Stein, 25, B Troop, 7th Sq., 17th Air Cav., has been shot down three times in the last six weeks. And yet, he continues to fly the same missions in the same areas everyday -- mostly north and west of Kontum City. He has rescued 14 men, mostly American advisers, and most of the time has dodged intense ground fire. He always emerged unscathed.

Last week, he was given a Silver Star for braving heavy small arms and mortar fire to rescue American forward air controllers from a besieged border Ranger camp west of Kontum.

"I do it because there are men on the ground that need help," Stein insists. "I hope I never hear a pilot refuse to help somebody, saying 'It's too hot down there.' If somebody is in trouble you go down and help."

On his first Vietnam tour which lasted 19 months and ended in November 1970, Stein flew "Huey" and "Bravo" gunships in the Delta. He began his second tour last March.

As a LOH pilot Stein zips along at treetop level assessing bomb damage, marking strike positions and sometimes fighting the enemy at point-blank range.

He shrugs off the obvious danger of skimming treetops. "At 6,000 feet you can draw .51 caliber that is just as deadly as AK at 100 feet."

On his first tour Stein was shot down five times. On two other occasions he brought badly shot-up choppers back to base.

Last month, on a mission near Kontum City, small arms fire knocked Stein's bird out to the sky, "We crashed near QL14. When we hit, the chopper rolled three times. Fortunately we landed in a safe area and another bird picked us up."

On another mission last month Stein buzzed within 25 meters of a Communist-infested bunker. His observer tossed a grenade into the position and sprayed machine gun fire into the area.

The Communists returned fire, wounded the observer and crippled the chopper. After the crash Stein and his partner were again rescued by a sister ship.

Earlier this month, Stein sniffed out some tank tracks and suspecting that tanks were hidden in large bunkers, he marked the area for air strikes.

After the bomb runs he dropped in to assess the damage and was greeted by .51 caliber fire from about 30 feet. Stein and his ship smashed into the earth again and, as before, a sister ship rescued the downed aviators.

Stein says that the LOH pilots have "kind of a code" to save one another at all costs." He rescued one LOH crew recently. WO Jack Rogers has rescued Stein twice.

Stein's rescue missions also include snatching two Americans from Dak To and dodging antiaircraft barrages to save two downed AH1 Cobra pilots.

During the mission that won him the Silver Star, Stein slipped under the other choppers that were drawing heavy enemy fire. "The men on the ground had run out of flares and I had to go in without lights. I just hovered around until they realized I was there. The Communists must have never seen me," he says.

"Everybody is scared when they are flying," says Stein cooly. "But you don't think about it. If you do it possesses and you can't do your job.

There were periods recently Stein says, that his ship was taking hits almost daily. "But it has been quiet lately."

"Ups and Down of Flying" by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH S&S Staff Correspondent PLEIKU, Vietnam, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Friday, May 26, 1972 and reprinted with permission from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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