Mustangs Save Two From Certain Death
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After spending ten months flying slicks I had performed many medevac missions, some into cold LZ’s and some into hot LZ’s but I had always managed to complete the mission without taking any hits. Then I extended my tour with the agreement that I would transfer to the Mustang gun platoon. I took my 30 day leave and got back in country the day before the Tet Offensive started. My first mission with the Mustangs was flying as pilot/gunner with my old roommate, Kent Hufford. Huff only had two days left in Nam and he had volunteered to fly one last day on ESB (Emergency Standby) to give some of the other Mustang pilots a break. Most of the Mustangs had been flying almost non-stop for two days and needed some rest.
As expected we were scrambled out late morning to support an ARVN unit that was in heavy contact with the VC. On our third run on the target Huff was hit in the right ear when a round came through the chin bubble and went inside his helmet. So my first mission turned into a medevac mission, not what I had expected when I volunteered for the guns. Huff was one lucky SOB and managed to make it home on time.
It was now several months later and I was now a fire team and section leader. My fire team was assigned to ESB and my wingman was WO Jim Radcliff, Mustang 22. We had completed a morning recon mission north of Bien Hoa where Charlie usually fired rockets and mortars at the base. We arrived back at base, refueled and headed to the Officers Club for a burger and something cold to wash it down.
Myself, Rad, and our two pilot/gunners were still in the club telling war stories, when the phone rang.
The phone seldom rang in the O Club during the day, so we were certain we were being scrambled. Sure enough, it was Operations and they had a scramble mission for the Mustangs.
A few minutes later we were cranked up and on the go. I contacted Operations and was given our mission. It was a medevac mission just south of Phu Loi. Dustoff was on the way and we were to supply cover for the extraction. We arrived over the AO just ahead of the medevac chopper. The ground unit (element of the 25th Infantry Division) had two seriously wounded GI’s. One had a sucking chest wound and the other had a severe thigh wound and was bleeding profusely. The ground unit was still in contact with the VC. The fire was coming from a tree line about 100 yards to their west.
Just then the Dustoff aircraft arrived and I briefed him on the situation. I instructed him to come in low level from the south and after picking up the wounded he should come out low level heading east. I called Mustang 22 and told him we would make our run from south to north and use a right racetrack pattern. Having made many medevac missions I knew about how long Dustoff would be on the ground, so I figured Mustang 22 and myself would probably have to make two gun runs on the VC while Dustoff made the pickup. We would still have enough ordinance to cover the ground unit so they could withdraw to a more secure location after the medevac mission was complete.
As Dustoff made his approach we started hitting the tree line with rockets and miniguns. On short final the Dustoff aircraft made an abrupt right break and did not land. I contacted him on the radio and asked what the problem was. He informed me he was receiving fire and wouldn’t land. I reminded him that there were two badly wounded American GI’s that needed to be evacuated. He informed me he was returning to base and would not return until all fire had been suppressed. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. He was turning tail and running and leaving these two guys to die. By now the ground unit was frantically calling me and wanted to know what was going on. I informed them that Dustoff would not land as long as they were still receiving fire. The RTO was begging me on the radio to get these two guys out or they would die.
Mustang 22 and I were both flying minigun ships, and although not equipped to carry passengers we could probably get one on board each of our aircraft. I called 22 and asked if he was up to making the pickup ourselves. He agreed 100%. We were not about to leave these two GI’s to die in a muddy field in Vietnam.
I briefed 22 on the plan. We would make another gun run on the tree line. I would go in first and when I broke off of the target I would drop down and pickup one of the wounded. Mustang 22 would make his gun run while I was on the ground. Rad did a good job of keeping Charlie’s head down while I made the first pickup. I rejoined Rad and now it was his turn. Rad made another run on the target and as he broke right and landed to pick up the other wounded GI, I made my gun run on the tree line. We managed to get both out without taking any hits, but now it was a mad dash to the Evac Hospital in Saigon.
We headed southeast toward Saigon and knew that every second counted. While I was calling the hospital and alerting them to our arrival, Rad was contacting Tan Son Nhut tower and getting permission for our flight to cross low level just east of the runway. We were pulling the guts out of the engines trying to get to the hospital as quick as possible. The hospital was ready for us, they would have gurneys, doctors and orderlies meet us at the medevac pad.
As we made our high speed approach to the medevac pads another chopper was just lifting off from dropping off some passengers (several nurses and one male officer). It was highly unusual to see a gunship landing at a medevac hospital, so the high speed side-by-side approach of two gunships apparently made anyone outside the hospital take notice. As we flared our aircraft to kill off our speed it was easy to see the belly of both aircraft. It just so happened that on this particular day the aircraft that I was flying had a message painted on the belly for Charlie, it read, “Ho Chi Sucks”. On the belly of Rad’s aircraft was another saying that read, “Fuck Communism”. As we landed the rotor wash created quite a bit of turbulence resulting in the garrison cap of the male officer that had just gotten off the other chopper to be blown off his head. The wounded were quickly removed from our aircraft and taken into the hospital. All indications were that we had made it in time and that the two GI’s would survive their wounds.
Mustang 22 had landed on the pad to my right and I was just about ready to takeoff when Rad called me on the radio and told me I had one pissed off Major headed my way. As I looked over at Rad I see this major in dress khakis holding his garrison cap in his hand and headed towards my aircraft. I figured this was likely the officer who had lost his cap when we landed. As he arrived at my aircraft he stepped up on the toe of the skid so he could be face-to-face with me. Right away he starts yelling something about our “hotdog” approach. Needless to say, that turned me off right away, and I’m thinking this guy is just trying to make some points with the nurses that were with him when we landed. With the sound of the engine I couldn’t hear everything he was saying, but that didn’t matter because I had no intention of listening to him anyway. So I yelled back at him and said, “Major, unless you want to go for a ride, I suggest you get the fuck off of my helicopter!” With that I began to pull a little pitch and get the aircraft light on the skids. The Major was smarter than I thought and quickly jumped from the toe of the skid and hustled his ass away from the aircraft. Mustang 22 and I then took off and headed back to Bien Hoa to refuel and rearm.
When we landed at Bien Hoa I notified Operations that we would be up and ready in about 15 minutes after we rearmed and refueled. Top Tiger 3, Capt. Ron Sheffield, Operations Officer, came on the radio and told me to report to Operations ASAP and have my wingman join me. As Rad and I entered the Operations shack, Capt. Sheffield, first words were, “What the hell happened in Saigon?” I filled Capt. Sheffield in on everything that had happened on the mission. I then asked him what the problem was. He told me that the Major had gotten our aircraft tail numbers and contacted Battalion Operations and raised all kinds of hell with them about our approach and activity at the hospital. He apparently had also voiced his opinion about the messages on the belly of our aircraft. Capt. Sheffield said he would take care of everything with Battalion and not to worry about anything. I’m thinking, worry about what, Rad and I just saved two GI’s from certain death and this piece-of-shit Major is complaining about our approach to the medevac pad. I volunteered to fly back to Saigon and personally apologize to the Major, right after I punched his lights out, but Capt. Sheffield said that would not be necessary. However, Battalion did want the “messages” removed from the belly of both aircraft. I guess we didn’t want to offend Charlie before we killed him.
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