Following the US Entry into the Vietnam War, helicopters rapidly became an integral part of almost every phase of the war. This was the first war in which helicopters were used on a large scale hence the need for large number of pilots and crewmembers quickly became apparent.
To fly helicopters, the Army looked for three basic
attributes in those selected for flight school. First, because of the inherently unstable nature of
helicopters they needed someone with excellent reflexes, which usually
meant someone between the age of 18 and 26.
Next, because of the hostile environment these
aircraft would be flown in, they needed someone who could make quick,
accurate assessments of a situation and react accordingly. Pilots often were required to improvise much like a savvy
streetwise person, someone who could figure their way out of a jam in an
instant, somehow complete the mission and get the aircraft and crew back
The Army also needed someone who could handle the
physical and emotional stress of extended dangerous missions that would
be flown in all kinds of weather and terrain.
Those selected were for the most part young and wanted to fly
-- often not quite realizing what they were getting themselves
into. Volunteers came
forward by the thousands.
Flight training for pilots began at Ft. Wolters,
Texas, and continued at Ft. Rucker, Alabama or Ft Steward, Georgia. The
training was broken into essentially five segments. Basic training consisted of simply learning to hover, takeoff
and land a helicopter. In
the next phase, they learned how to land and take off from a confined
area, how to land on a pinnacle and cross-country navigation.
At Ft. Rucker and Ft. Steward (and Ft. Wolters in the early
days), pilots received basic instrument training, essentially how to
maintain the helicopter right side up solely through the use of
instruments. Next, student
pilots were transitioned into the UH-1 Huey helicopter, which became not
only the workhorse, but also the symbol of the Vietnam War.
Finally, students were taught aviation tactics. The flight
program lasted a total of 9 very trying months. There was no let up,
when a student wasn’t flying they were in class studying aircraft
maintenance, proper preflight techniques, military tactics, how to call
in artillery fire, first aid, navigation, safety considerations, flight
characteristics of the aircraft and much more.
Flight training for pilots began at Ft. Wolters, Texas, and continued at Ft. Rucker, Alabama or Ft Steward, Georgia. The training was broken into essentially five segments. Basic training consisted of simply learning to hover, takeoff and land a helicopter. In the next phase, they learned how to land and take off from a confined area, how to land on a pinnacle and cross-country navigation. At Ft. Rucker and Ft. Steward (and Ft. Wolters in the early days), pilots received basic instrument training, essentially how to maintain the helicopter right side up solely through the use of instruments. Next, student pilots were transitioned into the UH-1 Huey helicopter, which became not only the workhorse, but also the symbol of the Vietnam War. Finally, students were taught aviation tactics. The flight program lasted a total of 9 very trying months. There was no let up, when a student wasn’t flying they were in class studying aircraft maintenance, proper preflight techniques, military tactics, how to call in artillery fire, first aid, navigation, safety considerations, flight characteristics of the aircraft and much more.
The crewchiefs and gunners were trained at various
locations around the US. Beyond
basic aircraft mechanics the training was minimal, because the skills
needed to survive in Vietnam were both largely unknown and untrainable.
Gunners were often former infantrymen who volunteered or extended
their tour in Vietnam to get the job.
The expectation of fun, adventure and travel brought forward the
adventurous and bold. Fortunately,
this was just the kind of person needed for the job.
The crewchiefs and gunners were trained at various
locations around the US. Beyond
basic aircraft mechanics the training was minimal, because the skills
needed to survive in Vietnam were both largely unknown and untrainable.
Gunners were often former infantrymen who volunteered or extended
their tour in Vietnam to get the job.
The expectation of fun, adventure and travel brought forward the
adventurous and bold. Fortunately,
this was just the kind of person needed for the job.
For the most part, survival skills for both pilots
and other crewmembers were learned on the job and taught by those who
were still there and had first hand experience.
Most pilots came out of Vietnam with 1,000-1,200
hours of combat flight time. Despite
the best training the Army could give, it took about six months of
flying every day for a green pilot to gain enough experience to become
an Aircraft Commander (AC). To
make AC was an honor above all else!
A pilot made AC only when the other ACs thought he was ready.
Crewchiefs and gunners were normally assigned an
aircraft for which they were responsible. It was their “baby.”
They lived with it constantly, took care of it and sometimes even
slept with it. After a long
day’s mission the crewchief and gunner normally stayed on the flight
line to pull a daily or 25-hour inspection.
Many times the crew had already missed supper and they knew they
would be getting up at a very early hour for another long day.
Many Crewchief's would rather miss food, a day off or anything short
of their DEROS than not being with their aircraft when it flew. They would fly with anyone just to be with “their” ship.
There was a bond here that is difficult for the uninitiated to
understand. It was not
unusual for crewchiefs and gunners to extend beyond their normal
12-month tour to make sure their pilots were seasoned, and
"their" ship came back in one piece.
Everyone went to Vietnam knowing that they would be
placed in harms way. To the
men in the infantry and other units in the field, the helicopter was
literally their lifeline – it dropped them off and picked them up; it
brought them hot food and mail; it resupplied them with ammunition often
under heavy enemy fire; it provided them with light at night to see the
enemy and covering fire to help drive the enemy back.
But most importantly, they knew a helicopter would come for them
if they were wounded, no matter what, and quickly get them to a
The helicopter crews knew they were primary targets of enemy fire and
could be killed or wounded. But
they all believed deep down that their skills and ability would give
them the edge which was often the case.
Many more made it out than didn't, and only God knows why some
were chosen and others not, something many often reflect on, even after
all these years. Maybe
that's why the story of the 134th is now coming out.
Every man in the 134th had a job to do and all were important to the functioning of the company, right down to the cooks and mail clerk--maybe especially the cooks and mail clerk!
Helicopters, being complex machines with many moving parts, required very high levels of maintenance. Failure of a single part could be a life or death matter. A common saying was “if something hasn’t gone wrong yet, it will”. The primary duty of almost half the men in the unit was direct maintenance support, a critical role without which there would quickly be no flyable aircraft. Many long hours were put in day in and day out by the men in the machine, engine, electrical, avionics, hydraulics, sheet metal, armament and paint shops as well as those on Line Crews, PE teams, recovery teams, etc. It often seemed they received little notice or recognition but their peers and the flight crews knew who did the work and who kept them flying, and that's what really counts.
No more fitting tribute can be paid to the maintenance and support personnel than the following words of Walt Chrobak: former gun platoon leader and XO:
“One thing about an assualt helicopter unit, there might have been people considered "non-flying" but just about everybody flew.
The crews flew - they weren’t supposed to, but many of the crewchiefs and a few gunners learned to fly - at least enough to get back to base or on the ground if the two front seats couldn’t continue.
The aircraft maintenance and signal detachment got to work both day and night. When the flights were over, maintenance began - day or night. The flight platoon leaders knew when platoon maintenance wasn’t being done because they were reminded at 0200 – “come and look at this”. The motto of maintenance seemed to be "save the data plate and we won’t have a loss" and they saved more than one aircraft with little more than a data plate. Somehow the men in maintenance also managed to dig wells, pour sidewalks, repair roofs, fix air conditioners and refrigerators, build showers and latrines, and even build small model cannons that actually fired bearings. After a helicopter came back, no matter how damaged, and after it was fixed, maintenance flew it. They flew the test flight. They made sure the aircraft wouldn’t kill us - that was up to ourselves and the enemy. And they didn’t log combat assaults, just test flights. Mechanics, technical inspectors, sheet metal - they all flew. They manufactured the door gun mounts for the gunships and the oversized ammo boxes these helicopters carried. They were outraged that we allowed our aircraft to be hit by enemy fire, but they fixed them and nobody died or was injured from mechanical failure. Under the conditions they worked in, this was remarkable.
Supply provided us what we needed when we wore it out or lost it. Where did the "chicken plates" come from - they were too old for issue? Supply also provided trading material for the scroungers. They nearly cried when their sunglasses were traded for showers, water heaters, and water tanks - but they gave up their precious sunglasses. Does anybody recall everybody wearing PX wrap-around sunglasses? The supply people also flew to wherever they might get what we needed - boots, gloves, beds, lumber, lights, fans, sandbags.
The real administrative people - the clerks, switchboard operator, drivers - made sure headquarters stayed off our back and made sure we got home on time. They also volunteered to fly to let the flight crews rest - they didn’t have to. One particular clerk I recall volunteered to fly on a particularly bad day and although it made him proud his mother and congressman wrote to the CO asking why a clerk was flying combat assaults. The clerk asked to write both responses.
So everybody flew - the cooks who kept a hot meal waiting at night and a hot breakfast in the morning. The clerks, the supply section, maintenance, communications - Hell, even the CO and XO flew. We were a team!”
This history is dedicated to those who made it possible, and especially to those who made the supreme sacrifice for their country and compatriots.
The 134th Aviation Company was originally a fixed wing Caribou company but built it combat record primarily as an assault helicopter unit in Vietnam. To acknowledge its predecessor and namesake, a brief history of the Caribou era is included in this narrative.
The 187th Transport Airplane Company was formed on 11 February 1963 and picked up its first Caribou from Dehavilland of Canada on 1 March 1963. The unit participated in the development of the airmobile concept and took part in virtually all of the Army’s air assault tests, such as Swift Strike, Desert Strike II, Hawk Star II, and Air Assault II. Shortly after Air Assault II, the TO&E and numerical designation of the 187th Aviation Company was changed and a new unit, the 134th Aviation Company (Air Mobile-Fixed Wing) was formed.
The call sign for the unit was “Rough
different numerical designation and slight change in equipment could not
dispel the pride, esprit de corps, and “we try harder” attitude that
had existed in the old 187th Aviation Company.
The unit accepted its next mission of preparing for movement to
Vietnam. After many hours of planning and preparation, the
134th departed Fort Benning in mid-December 1965 and flew
10,000 miles via the Pacific route to Vietnam, coming into Vung Tau on
the tail of a Typhoon, then on to its final destination in the Delta
the beginning of 1966, the unit found itself in a less than desirable
situation. Because of the
size of its 18 Caribou and the ramp space required for parking and
maintenance, the company was divided between Soc Trang and Can Tho in
the Delta region of Vietnam. The
Company headquarters, 260th Maintenance Detachment and the
second platoon with nine aircraft were stationed at Can Tho. The first platoon with nine aircraft and a small maintenance
section were located at Soc Trang, roughly 30 miles away.
Living conditions at Can Tho left much to be desired. The crewchiefs were living in a tin shed with a dirt floor at the
airfield and the remainder of the enlisted personnel were living on the
5th floor balcony at the Delta Hotel, while the pilots were
living in three different locations. Soc Trang living conditions were crowded, but at least everyone
was living at the compound, within walking distance of the flight line,
mess hall and billeting area.
By March, after two months of combat flying behind them, local commanders had been shown what the Caribou could do for them. Due to a large backlog of supplies and equipment to be delivered the unit was taxed to the maximum. Crews were flying from daylight to dark, seven days a week. Landing at remote strips with no radio contact and being recalled from scheduled missions to participate in a tactical emergency were getting to be everyday occurrences. During the month, the 134th moved over 5200 troops in tactical operations.
On 23 March 1966, after completing a full day’s flying, the
unit was called on to airlift a Ranger battalion from Can Tho to Soc
Trang at night. Aircraft
62-4165, after being cleared to land by the tower, collided with a VNAF
H-34 whose rotor blades were overlapping the runway.
The helicopter was a total loss and the left wing of the Caribou
was damaged, but there were no injuries.
The wing was changed on the Caribou and it was flying again
within a week. During one
week in March, the unit carried over 3,000 troops in support of combat
operations in the IV Corps area. In
this same week ARVN troops killed over 800 Viet Cong by body count.
In early August
the 134th was notified of “Operation Red Leaf”, the
transfer of the Caribous to Air Force control.
On 13 August Major John F. Tiernan arrived as the first Air Force
replacement. Major Tiernan’s blue uniform put him on the receiving end
of considerable ribbing but his good nature and quick wit soon made him
a regular member of the unit. Shortly
thereafter, every conceivable type of Air Force pilot showed up to be
transitioned into Caribous (B-52, F-100, F4C, Reconnaissance, etc). Surprisingly, the transitions went smoothly. Also in August
aircraft 63-9740 crewed by SP6 Thomas Dawkins and SP5 Harry “Tiger”
Colly set a new Caribou record by flying 170 hours during the month.
Unfortunately the Air Force never flew
the Caribou like the Army. They
were primarily interested in long-range “throughput” missions while
the Army used the Caribou for local support to remote Special Forces
camps and similar missions. After
the Air Force takeover, this incredible short field aircraft was phased
out in favor of larger, high-speed conventional air transports.
Consequently, the Special Forces and others were left without
support. This was a role
subsequently assumed by helicopter units.
More and more Air Force officers and enlisted men began arriving
in November and living quarters again became a problem.
Air Force and Army personnel now worked side by side.
By this time almost everyone who came over with the 134th
had reassignment orders and the old saying of “Happiness in Vietnam is
DEROS” was finally coming true. The
first large group of officers and enlisted men left on the 17th
of the month, leaving only a small number of Army personnel remaining.
was reactivated on 17 February 1967 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina as an
Assault Helicopter Company. WO
Orin Nagel was the first person assigned to the company and PFC Ray
Wysocki was the first enlisted man and acting First Sgt. The 134th with its subordinate units, the 618th
Transportation Detachment and the 832nd Signal Detachment,
was one of four companies being organized at Fort Bragg for training
prior to deployment overseas. Authorized
strength was 219 men for the 134th, 72 for the 618th
and 9 for the 832nd. Roughly
75-80% of the men were regular army volunteers and the rest draftees. The
unit picked up its 23 slicks (UH-1D’s) and eight gunships (UH-1C’s),
many with consecutive tail numbers, at the factory in April-May and
began training. The
commanding officer was Major (later LTC) Richard Kielman, Executive
Officer Major John Thorpe, Operations Officer Captain Carl Pritzl and
gun platoon leader Captain Walter Chrobak.
Captain Pritzl, a reserve LTC, was on his 3rd war,
having flown with the Army Air Corps in World War II and later Korea.
The days at Fort Bragg were an exciting time as new men arrived and joined the fledgling unit. The very first to arrive were 22 door gunners straight out of AIT and 2 warrant officers just out of flight school. The men were well-trained, spirited and anxious to get on with the job. Many remember getting up at 5 am for the mandatory PT runs with the other units at this “gung ho” airborne base—and then going back to bed after PT to get up for work at a more reasonable hour. There were also a number of memorable events, such as:
Upon completion of
training, the 82nd Aviation Battalion administered an ORT (Operational
Readiness Test). The test was completed in a minimum of time due to the
preparedness of the 134th.
The company far surpassed all requirements and was said to be the
most highly trained and professional unit to have been organized at Fort
and equipment were picked up at Nha Trang and driven by convoy to Phu Hiep.
This was an unsettling experience for those driving and riding
shotgun since they had only been in-country a few days.
The fire truck’s hose compartment was lined with sandbags and
manned by 4 men with M-60’s. Other
weapons and plenty of ammunition were kept handy.
Luckily, before the primary living areas and other major facilities
were built, a neighboring unit (the 192nd AHC) relocated to
Phan Thiet. The men of the
134th then moved into these ready-made quarters (only 7 tiles
had to be changed in the Officers Club bar countertop to change 192 to
Most of the flight crews and their aircraft were initially farmed out to sister units for a few weeks of intense in-country training, some with the 129th AHC (Bulldogs) at An Son but mostly with the 48th AHC (Blue Stars) at Ninh Hoa. Demon 66-16319 (WO “Stork” Hamel and CE SP5 Harold Shonk) had an engine fire on its first flight out of Ninh Hoa but the Blue Star pilot flying as aircraft commander set it down with no damage. The 48th had some damn good pilots and the 134th crews learned a great deal from them. The Devil gunships were the envy of Ninh Hoa during their orientation. The 48th guns (Jokers) still had UH-1B models with twin M-60’s on each side while the Devils had brand new C models with miniguns and two “Frogs” with 38 rockets and a 40 mm grenade launcher, or “chunker”. In less than a month after arrival, the 134th was participating in normal operations with one lift and one gun platoon, the second lift platoon not being formed until six months later.
arriving in country all men in the 134th had standard army
issue weapons, primarily M-16 rifles, 45 and 38 cal. pistols.
Shortly afterwards, the gun platoon driver, PFC Harold Long,
decided that he preferred one of the small M-1 carbines used by the
Vietnamese and traded his M-16 for one.
His punishment was to serve 30 days in the field with the 173rd
Airborne Brigade to learn how to properly appreciate his weapon.
He was sent on a patrol that was attacked one night, and the next
morning they found his position surrounded by dead VC.
The 173rd awarded PFC Long a Bronze Star with “V”
and a Combat Infantryman Badge. Of course, he was very happy when his 30 days with the
infantry were up. After this
incident, there were remarkably few problems with personnel swapping
short one lift platoon made the 134th a bit unusual and the
company was not assigned a direct support mission like most assault
helicopter units. Instead,
the 134th was assigned the mission of general support for II
Corps, a task which was to last throughout its tour of duty.
Its area of operations extended as far as Dak Pek in the northwest,
LZ English in the northeast (north of Qui Nhon), Phan Thiet in the
southeast and Ban Me Thout in the southwest.
Backing the Demon and Devil flight crews up was a superb maintenance team that set the standard for excellence for aircraft
maintenance during the Vietnam War.
various times during its tour of duty the 134th supported:
Due to its general support mission, the 134th covered all of II Corps and the flight crews often spent several days at a time with the units they supported, or more often with the local aviation unit having the direct support mission. Consequently, they came to know the other aviation units throughout the II Corps area very well. The various aviation units in II Corps and their locations are shown in the following table.
of the first missions, especially for the Devils, was to support the last
stages of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s famous battles around
Dak To (Hill 875, etc.).
gunship had the company’s first engine failure and the pilot autorotated
beautifully with no damage to the aircraft.
However, a Chinook sling-loading it back to Phu Hiep dropped it in
front of the maintenance hangar from a height of 10-15 feet.
In early 1968, Major Thorpe, the CO, was flying near Tuy Hoa and came across an abandoned UH-1D that he remembered from his previous tour in 1966. On that occasion a ship on a combat assault was badly shot up as it landed in an LZ. The crew scrambled out and got on the next incoming ship. The aircraft was so badly damaged that it was left in place. Two years later, Major Thorpe came across the downed aircraft and gave Major Cramer the ok to hook it back to Phu Hiep. Major Cramer took a look at it and decided he could fix it up. With the help of the two civilian aircraft technicians then assigned to the 134th, an outstanding Demon maintenance crew rebuilt, tested and approved the aircraft for flight within a few weeks. The resurrection of the abandoned aircraft was reported to First Aviation Brigade HQ but they sent instructions back to “sling load it out over the South China Sea and drop it.” However, with all the work that went into its resurrection, there was no way it was going to be dumped. Major Thorpe refused to do it and the company ended up with an extra, unauthorized aircraft.
On 7 February 1968, the 134th suffered it’s first combat casualties. An entire crew and aircraft were lost while on a MACV support mission at Phu Bon near Cheo Reo. The aircraft flew MACV senior advisors and local commanders to a village that was to have been secured earlier in the morning by nearby PF (Popular Forces) ground troops. On arrival over the village there was no radio contact with the ground unit supposedly at the site but smoke was popped by someone on the ground and the crew landed. However, the PF troops had not yet arrived and the village was occupied by VC who had taken it over the previous night.
After landing and shutting down the aircraft, the crew and six others were ambushed and killed. The aircraft was set on fire and destroyed. Members of the crew were CW2 Roy E. Worth, CW2 Guido S. Reali, SGT Ronald R. Loveland and SGT Harold O. Hoskins. This was a very traumatic experience for everyone in the unit since the 134th was a close knit group and everyone knew the lost crewmembers well. The war hit home to all in a very personal way. After this, aircraft from the 134th were not allowed to land in remote locations without establishing radio contact with ground personnel or positive identification.
In a bizarre twist, less than an hour before the ambush of the crew, WO Trainee Hall and WO Mike Harding had been searching for a MACV advisor with the PF troops and had landed at the same village after smoke was popped on the ground. However, they did not shut down or get out of the aircraft. They saw what appeared to be local troops, waved to them (their waves were returned) and realizing their intended passenger was not there, they took off again.
On 14 February, a Demon ship (66-16316) with Lt. Gause, WO Dean Sawyer, SP5 Tom Prout and PFC Les Demorest on a MACV “people sniffer” mission suffered a low level engine failure west of Nha Trang and made a semi-controlled crash in a rice paddy. The aircraft incurred major damage to its undercarriage but the crew walked away without a scratch. The ship sat in a cradle next to the hangar for weeks while being painstakingly restored to duty by the dedicated Demon maintenance crew. Old 316 became famous for spending so much time in maintenance. The maintenance crew called her the Hangar Queen and built a large crown on her roof. Rightfully, she should have been sent back to the US for rebuild but Demon Maintenance liked the challenge of such an undertaking and did an outstanding job of restoring 316 to service.
Tet of 1968 was a busy period for the 134th. Aircraft were dispersed all over II Corps, plugging holes and supporting units normally supported by others. Some slicks went to Pleiku to support the 52nd Artillery Brigade, others to Ninh Hoa, Nha Trang and Qui Nhon. There were quite a few night flare missions during this period and also a few close calls in getting the flares clear of the aircraft before they ignited. One slick carrying the 52nd Arty commander called in artillery fire on 2 companies of NVA regulars brazenly marching in formation down Highway 1 into Qui Nhon, accounting for at least 100 KIA.
Two days before Tet WO Orin Nagel and WO Roger Jones of the Gun Platoon got a few days off and decided to see the sights in the historic city of Nha Trang. On their second night in town they heard a great deal of gunfire but thought maybe it was just a celebration of the new year. The next morning when they walked outside their hotel the streets were deserted. They finally found some MPs who told them that VC “were everywhere in the city.” Without wasting any more time they hopped a ride back to Phu Hiep, picked up a couple of gunships and headed for Pleiku to join other Devils already there in heavy, and scary, action around the Pleiku, Kontum and Dak To area.
The Devils had a field day during Tet and accounted for well over a thousand VC and NVA KIA. They were so busy and had so many missions no one bothered to keep count of KIAs. Missions included fire support for US and ARVN units engaged in house to house fighting in downtown Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa and Kontum (the Devils attacked and destroyed a Texaco station in mid-town Nha Trang as well as a church in Kontum).
At times, 5-6 Devil gunships were working out of Pleiku, supporting ground troops around Kontum and Dak To. Through an incredible effort, Demon Maintenance was able to provide 3 and sometimes even 4 Devil fire teams during this critical period (100% of the available gunships). A fire team was sent to Kontum to help the 57th AHC beat back the NVA who had overran the east side of the airfield and portions of the 57th’s compound. At one point a heavy fire team (3 ships) under Cpt. Chrobak were forced to refuel and re-arm while being shot at from the east end of the runway. On takeoff they spotted an NVA battalion crossing an open field as it attacked the airfield and unloaded on them. The Devils had a real turkey shoot and accounted for some 700 enemy KIA during this incident. There was no way to describe the action except as an incredible slaughter. Perhaps that’s why gunships with miniguns came to be known as slaughter ships.
In other action during Tet a Devil fire team was directed to fire at a village near Kontum but saw only women and children on reconning the area. During the recon they spotted a large group of NVA in a nearby tree line and attacked, resulting in some 300 KIA. In another instance during this time Lt. Cappone led a fire team in attacking a .51 caliber position and had his entire left pylon shot off, losing a rocket pod and minigun. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured and the gun position was destroyed.
Despite a wide variety of dangerous missions and nightly mortar attacks on Phu Hiep itself not a single man or aircraft was lost during the Tet offensive. Considering the missions undertaken by the 134th this was quite an achievement. Contrary to public perception back in the US, Tet 68 was a major victory for US and Vietnamese forces. The NVA attacked all major cities, expecting to be welcomed and aided by popular uprisings but this did not happen. Instead, they were cut down in the thousands by the infantry, artillery and aircrews from assault helicopter units such as the 134th.
Just after Tet, six Devil gunships under Captain Chrobak were returning from an extended assignment at Pleiku and stopped at Lane AAF to spend the night. The crews attended a party that evening (and may have consumed a drink or two) when they were suddenly ordered to Phu Hiep immediately. There was a layer of low clouds along the route so Captain Chrobak, being an expert navigator, decided to take the flight VFR on top of the clouds and then descend over Phu Hiep airfield. He led the group on a compass course back to Phu Hiep and then began a descent through the cloud cover. On breaking out he spotted a group of lights and began his approach. However, after a few minutes, the flight realized they were making an approach to a fleet of fishing vessels several miles off shore. After a little embarrassment, they located Phu Hiep and arrived uneventfully.
In April 1968, the 134th was given the direct support mission for two battalions of the 173rd Airborne. One battalion was located at An Khe and the other in the Phu Hiep area. A forward detachment of 2 gunships and 2 to 4 slicks was sent to An Khe and personnel rotated every 45 days. While there, the detachment also frequently supported a Special Forces “Mike Force” unit of 3 battalions of Montagnards based at An Khe and the gunships provided road convoy escort and Highway 19 security from An Khe Pass in the east through Mang Yang Pass in the west. For a period of roughly 9 months the two Devil gunships were the only guns between Qui Nhon and Pleiku and were called on to support any unit operating in the area. The First Cav had pulled out a couple of months earlier and there were no aviation units left at An Khe during this period.
The First Cav had left tons of ammunition and supplies scattered all over An Khe to which the Demons and Devils helped themselves. Initially the detachment did not have any vehicles. However, those small flat-top “mules” (a version of a jeep) that each platoon had as part of its original equipment came in very handy. Four people could easily lift one and it would fit nicely into the cargo area of a D/H model. The detachment took several of these to An Khe. At Phu Hiep the crewchiefs often got into trouble for drag racing the “mules” on the flight line and the flight crews loved them. Unfortunately, these convenient, transportable, little vehicles were replaced later in 1968 with standard jeeps and ¾ ton trucks.
During this period the Devils “owned” the highway between the An Khe and Mang Yang Passes and had a free fire zone “the size of Rhode Island” (roughly 10 km either side of the highway). It was a gun pilot's dream. The Devils worked very closely with the other combat units along Highway 19. These included 1/50th Mechanized Infantry, C Company, 1/69 Armor, and 3 batteries of 105 mm artillery in the 3 fire bases along the highway. There was a great deal of fire power but only one fire team of gunships and 3-4 slicks. It was an exhilarating time and there were many varied and interesting missions.
On a number of occasions, Devil gunships prevented ambushes of road convoys on Highway 19 by catching the VC off guard as they made preparations. The daily recon by fire missions hindered VC/NVA activity and the Devil fire team at An Khe often accounted for 5-10 KIA per week solely from its recon missions. The Devils’ presence significantly reduced enemy activity along that most dangerous portion of the highway near Mang Yang Pass.
In early April 1968, WO Cliff Barnes (the aircraft commander) and WO Bob “Missy” Brooks were flying support for the “Convoy Commander” at Fire Base Schuller along Highway 19 between An Khe and Mang Yang Pass when they were shot down by ground fire. They managed to land next to the highway and crawled into a ditch but were not far away from the enemy troops who brought them down. Luckily there were gunships nearby, a vehicle with a quad fifty and Air Force fighter bombers. All three were called in to attack the enemy positions. Both pilots were slightly wounded and some passengers were seriously wounded. They could hear the shrapnel from the bombs buzzing through the air and it was pretty scary for a while. The gunner, SP4 __?__Webb?, had previously been in the infantry and did a great job, keeping the crew down and where they should be. After half an hour or so, they were picked up by a slick and the wounded medivac’d.
Later that same month, WO Barnes and WO Dean Sawyer, were resupplying a ROK unit in a single ship LZ east of An Khe when WO Barnes was hit in the leg by small arms fire. The bullet severed the main artery in his leg but he continued flying and made it back to the medivac pad at An Khe where he passed out from loss of blood. He lost more than four pints of blood and almost died but fully recovered later back in the US.
On Wednesday of Easter week, a Devil fire team under WO Bob Allen (148 with CE Mike Ogrysko and 150 with CE Dave Bittner) were flying convoy cover at An Khe when a convoy was hit between An Khe and Mang Yang Pass. The Devils along with tanks and mechanized infantry attacked the NVA/VC positions. After it was over, the infantry pulled 9 or 10 bodies up next to the road and left them there as examples. By Friday (Good Friday) the smell was so bad that troops from a local firebase hosed the bodies with diesel fuel and burned them.
On two occasions during this period at An Khe, WO Orin Nagel managed to incur the ire of the CO, Major Thorpe. WO Nagel and crew shot some deer one day and persuaded a slick to land and pick them up. Major Thorpe happened to drop by for supper that evening, noticed they were eating barbecued venison, asked where it came from, and then proceeded to have some harsh words with Mr. Nagel. On another occasion, WO Nagel decided to take a prisoner. They spotted a man in the free fire area and landed nearby. WO Nagel and the crewchief jumped out and chased the guy through the bush while their gunship took off to provide cover. However, their intended prisoner got away and their ship came back and picked them up. Word of this episode quickly made its way back to Phu Hiep and Major Thorpe again chewed out WO Nagel out when he returned to Phu Hiep in a few days to exchange aircraft. It must not have affected WO Nagel’s evaluations much since he subsequently received a direct commission to Captain and retired from the Army 30 years later as a Colonel.
In May, a gunship (66-15148) crashed after an engine failure on a recon mission west of LZ Uplift. There was not much space to land but the ship (WO Ray Labier, WO Loren Hall, SP5 Mike Ogrysko and SP4 ?? Smith) managed to autorotate and make a controlled crash in a small dried up rice paddy between 2 hills. They were in a hot area and the crew took up defensive positions while the second gunship in the fire team provided cover and called for help. A slick from the 129th AHC picked the crew up 20-30 minutes later and the ship was sling-loaded out the next day.
In the first half of the year there were a number of Agent Orange spray missions where a slick was fitted with a tank in its cargo area with a spray boom projecting out each side. For the pilots it was a fun mission to spray the small cultivated fields in remote mountain valleys. It was almost like flying a crop duster, but with a little more excitement. Sometimes the bad guys on the ground didn’t appreciate it and took a shot at the slick. The crewchiefs didn’t much like these missions either since Agent Orange was a sticky liquid that covered the tail boom and was hard to wash off. It was also a pretty decent paint remover and ships would sometimes return with no paint at all on portions of the tail boom.
There was an incident around July or August 1968 where a Devil fire team under Captain Gause at An Khe was returning to re-arm from a recon by fire mission and stumbled into an attack on a road convoy near Mang Yang Pass that had just begun. The gunships crossed a line of low hills 800-1000 yards south of Highway 19 and immediately spotted a group of VC in the open at the base of a hill with 4 mortars. The 15 or so VC were busily shelling the road convoy and had their backs to the gunships. The Devils were able to approach to within 500 yards before the VC turned around, saw them and momentarily froze. Miniguns and rockets had been expended earlier, and only a few rounds of M-60 ammo remained but the Devils attacked with door guns, M-16’s, the pilots’ hand guns, empty ammo boxes, spare machine gun barrels, smoke grenades and anything else not attached to the aircraft. At least 5 of the enemy were killed and the attack was broken up with no friendly casualties.
On August 6th a gunship (66-15078) had an engine failure near Tuy Hoa at 4000 ft. The pilots (Lt. Dale Toler and WO Kent Showalter) autorotated but pulled pitch just a tad too soon and the aircraft fell through, landing hard and severely damaging the undercarriage.
During the July-August period a Devil fire team (WO Orin Nagel and WO Dave Wilkinson) was assigned a direct support mission to the 28th ROK Regiment to provide cover and support for ROK LRRPs. Supporting ROK LRRPs was sometimes pretty hairy. They dressed like NVA and when you saw 6-8 NVA looking guys come running out of a tree line you were not sure which side they were on and your trigger finger got awfully itchy. However, the ROK LRRPs were incredible. Unlike most US LRRPs who usually worked relatively small areas, ROK LRRPs were frequently picked up a week to 10 days later at pre-arranged locations 20-30 clicks (km) away. The ROKs were tough and damn good soldiers.
An incident occurred in late 1968 that illustrated the dedication and professionalism of Demon Maintenance. A slick had been low leveling down the beach from Qui Nhon and hit a tree, knocking off the right front crossover tube. SP5 Jim Brady of the Line Crew was working nearby when the slick hovered up to the maintenance pad. Realizing the ship could not land with the missing crossover tube, SP5 Brady and others quickly assembled a complete set of landing gear, removed the old gear and installed the new one while the pilot held the aircraft at a hover. Despite the obvious risk, this was all accomplished while standing underneath a hovering helicopter and being continually sandblasted by the sand picked up in the rotor wash.
In October, Lt. Carey Boyles and WO Jack McDonald (on one of his first missions in-country) were pickup ship on a hot LRRP extraction on the Mang Yang Pass ridgeline. In addition to particularily heavy small arms fire, mortar rounds were also exploding in the LZ as they landed to pick up the LRRPs. The covering gunships and FAC were also taking airbursts. Lt. Boyles remained in the LZ under heavy fire while the LRRPs fought their way to the ship and everyone was extracted safely. Lt. Boyles was awarded a DFC for this action and the rest of the crew was awarded an Air Medal with V.
On October 27, 19 of the 47 pilots completed their tour and returned to the US, leaving the company with only four pilots with more than six months in country. The first platoon had been rebuilt in mid-68 with new pilots but only a small number of the original pilots who came over with the unit were ever infused into other units. Over 40 enlisted men also DEROS’d at this time, leaving the company with a much reduced level of experience. In some respects it was a rather sad farewell for the original Demons and Devils. The 134th was a very close knit group and the original members had built the company and given the unit its distinctive character. However, their spirit lived on in their successors. The Demons and Devils continued flying their missions with the highest standards of performance.
On December 29, 1968, aircraft from the 134th took part in a large Combat Assault, moving ROKs into the mountains northwest of Phu Cat AFB. During the lift, aircraft 66-16295 set down on a land mine which flipped it over and destroyed the aircraft. WO Michael Schuster was AC and WO Bernard O’Donnell was on his first combat lift. Some passengers incurred light to moderate injuries. The pilots and crewchief (SP4 Sterling Peterson) escaped with no injuries but the gunner, PFC Larry Burke, was seriously injured. He was hit by shrapnel in both cheeks and lost part of his jaw and several teeth. The next slick into the LZ picked up the crew and took them to the hospital. At the time, the gunner’s face was covered in blood and WO Schuster thought he was dying. He held PFC Burke’s head in his lap all the way to the hospital and kept telling him he would be ok but that it might be a good idea to pray. This incident resulted in the unit adopting the policy of coming to a hover rather then landing in unsecured LZ’s.
That same day, December 29th, a Devil gunship (66-15150 with Lt. Donald McNeely, WO Mike Dzikowski, SP4 Mike Ogrysko and PFC Ernie Long)) was shot down west of Tuy Hoa at night with a single round. The round hit the engine and oil cooler, missing PFC Long’s family jewels by 5 inches. The pilots made a perfect landing with no damage. The aircraft was secured by ROK troops and the 268th Battalion Pathfinders and later recovered that same night.
The 134th came of age in 1968 and completed its first year in country (as a helicopter unit) with only 4 personnel lost in combat. However, there were a number of serious injuries both from enemy fire and from freak accidents. Aside from WO Barnes being wounded during Tet these included:
· 20 to 30 personnel wounded (but none seriously) in mortar attacks.
· A pilot who shot himself in the leg while practicing his “quick draw”.
· A maintenance man who shot himself in the eye with an arrow (by shooting it straight up and looking for it to come down).
· A crewchief who shot another crewchief through the penis with a 45 while relieving himself at a latrine.
· A gunship door gunner (SP4 Grady Caldwell), who took a 40 mm round through his leg while unloading a malfunctioning M5 “chunker”.
· Two men who earned a purple heart the hard way. One was running to a bunker during a mortar attack and his penis somehow got caught on a piece of revetment material. Another was taking cover in a locker in the shower and took splinters in his rear end when a mortar landed just outside.
· Sadly, a door gunner was fatally injured at An Khe when he shot himself in the stomach with a pistol during a bout of depression the day after Christmas.
Unfortunately, two other men who came over with the 134th and subsequently transferred to other units were also lost that year. A gunner, SP4 Fry, was KIA on a gunship run and SP4 Robert Pfeister was killed in a ground attack on the 57th AHC at Kontum on January 10th, 1968 (his twin brother William was wounded in the same attack). The 57th’s compound was later named after the Pfeister twins.
The unit participated in numerous large Combat Assaults into hot LZ’s during this first year in support of ROK units and the 173rd Airborne, often in company with its sister units, the 48th AHC, 61st AHC, 129th AHC and 180th ASHC. Some of these operations involved over 100 aircraft in the initial assault and were among the largest of the year in II Corps. In fact, the 134th led some of these large operations with a WO or Lt. being Air Commander over other units led by a Captain or Major. Rank didn’t matter much in these operations. Experience with the local ground troops and knowledge of the area were the most important factors.
The airfield at Phu Hiep, and
the 134th company area, were mortared on at least
15-20 occasions during 1968, damaging some aircraft and
buildings (and providing souvenir mortar fins for some
folks). During Tet the airfield was hit by mortar fire
every night for more than a week. However, the men of the
134th escaped with no serious injuries. During
one such attack a gunship crew ran to their aircraft, jumped
in and attempted to start the engine without realizing the
tail boom had been blown off by a direct hit from a mortar.
On another occasion a gunship landed for refueling after
being scrambled during a mortar attack and then discovered
that mortar shrapnel had almost completely severed the tail
rotor drive shaft.
During 1969, the 134th absorbed the 832nd Signal and the 618th Transportation Detachments. The company was also redesignated from the 134th Aviation Company (Airmobile Light) to the 134th Assault Helicopter Company.
The commander of the 134th was still Major Robert Chancellor until April 23, 1969 when Major Charles Teeter assumed command. Major Teeter commanded the unit until October 10, 1969 when he turned it over to Major William Hensley.
On 20 January 1969, the company participated in a major Combat Assault with the ROK Capitol Division. The operation consisted of three phases over 9 days. A total of 10,196 troops were lifted and 1,365 hours were logged for the operation.
On 6 February 1969, the 134th conducted a Combat Assault with ROK units near Phan Rang. At the landing zone, the VC were waiting in spider holes for the incoming aircraft. The lead ship was hit by ground fire and crashed in the LZ while another (66-16326) was destroyed by a B-40 rocket as it landed. CW2 William M. Harrison, the AC with 24 days left in country, was killed by shrapnel from the B-40. The crewchief, SP4 John Baxter, was hit numerous pieces of shrapnel and also took a hit in a leg that had to later be amputated. The last ship (66-16319) in the 3 ship formation went around the crashed lead ship. As it did, it was hit by a hail of fire and a round hit the gunner, PFC William Ogden,in the neck killing him instantly. The rest of the crew somehow escaped serious jury and managed to get the badly damaged ship back to Phan Rang Air Base.
On the 27th of February, the An Khe commitment ended and the detachment returned home to Phu Hiep after almost a year of outstanding support to the 173rd Airborne and other units in the area. During the previous 12 months the Devils had performed an incredible job in preventing ambushes and protecting convoys on Highway 19 from attack. This mission was turned over to the newly arrived 238th Aerial Weapons Company.
One night in early 1969, a Devil gunship (66-15019 with SP5 Gene Molek and SP4 Tifis Flinn) was returning from the LZ English area and a .51 caliber gun locked onto them. They were already at several thousand feet and immediately began climbing. Those green tracers looked as big as basketballs as they gracefully closed in on the ship with what appeared to be rapidly increasing speed. It wasn’t until the ship passed 10,000 feet (maybe a gunship altitude record) that the tracers began to arc underneath the aircraft. The .51 caliber was most likely a radar controlled gun and the Devils were very lucky to escape with no injuries.
On March 27th aircraft 66-16701 had a transmission failure at 1500 feet over Song Cau, south of Qui Nhon, with 3 passengers on board. The crew consisted of CW2 Robert Yalden, WO1 Gordon Soeder, SP4 Miguel Delacruz and SP4 Robert Bernard. CW2 Yalden was able to autorotate but landed with forward speed on the beach near the ocean. The skids caught in the wet sand and the aircraft flipped end over end several times, finally coming to rest upside down in two feet of water. Five of the seven people on board were injured but none seriously. The aircraft was destroyed.
In early 1969 an incident occurred that was particularly sad. Two slicks and a Devil fire team made a LRRP insertion northwest of LZ English using one slick for a decoy insertion and one for the real one. Roughly 10 minutes after the insertion the gunships were called away on a Tactical Emergency and one of the slicks diverted to another mission. While returning home the remaining slick heard a faint radio call for help from the LRRPs. They had been ambushed immediately after insertion and only two of the four LRRPs were still alive. The AC asked the crew if they wanted to go back and attempt an extraction without gun cover or a backup slick and all voted to go back.
The remaining LRRPs were surrounded by the VC and pleading on the radio for help. The slick arrived on station and the LRRPs were not in a position where the ship could land. The slick began taking intense fire at that point and the gunner’s (SP4 Curt Easterbrook) M-60 jammed. The AC broke off and was circling back when on the LRRP frequency they heard an American moaning, then Vietnamese voices, a single gunshot and then silence. The moaning, Vietnamese voices and gunshot still haunt the dreams of Easterbrook and the other crewmembers even after all these years. May God bless these unknown LRRPs. The LRRPs had more guts than anyone alive. They performed an important and incredibly dangerous job, probably the single most dangerous job of the entire war.
Any helicopter crew would always risk everything to pull LRRPs out of a bad situation. A failure was the worst thing a crew could imagine and the few instances of failure cause nightmares to the crews involved to this day. They could not help but feel they were somehow responsible despite all possible efforts to get the LRRPs out. God bless them.
Around May a 134th slick, without crew, was loaned to Air America. The ship was flown by two Army pilots on temporary assignment to Air America. They flew a mission to a small compound roughly 30 minutes inside Laos occupied by US Marines, some sort of long range patrol. On take off the ship was shot down just outside the compound and both pilots killed in the crash. Another 134th ship with a maintenance officer and SP4 Larry Davenport was sent over to recover parts from the downed aircraft. As they stripped the partially burned ship of useful parts they took sporadic enemy fire, returned by the Marines, and again on leaving the compound. It hardly seemed worth the long flight, effort and danger to retrieve a few parts. But then, crazier things happened sometimes!
A few weeks prior to the above incident, SP4 Davenport had attended a turbine engine course in Vung Tau. While there he became friends with two fellow maintenance types from Australia. One night they had a few beers and one of the Aussies remarked that he’d sure like to have one of those loach (OH-6) engines for his dune buggy back home. After a few more beers, the three men then proceeded to the airfield, spotted a loach parked on the ramp and quickly removed its engine. In a spontaneous gesture of hospitality to an ally SP4 Davenport then presented the Aussie with the turbine engine which he took back to his compound for shipment home in his hold baggage. Next morning the loach pilot was a bit surprised when he attempted to start his engine.
On another sad occasion in the first half of 1969, a Devil gunship performed the unlikely mission of sling-loading the body of a Special Forces advisor out of an LZ west of Tuy Hoa. An ARVN unit, with its US advisor, had made contact with NVA units and called in Cobra gunships. The Cobras attacked but some of their ordinance hit the ARVN unit, killing and wounding a large number of friendly troops including the US advisor. Since no slick was available, Devil 019 (SP5 Molek and SP4 Flinn) volunteered to pick up the body of the US advisor. They couldn’t land in the LZ but hovered while his body wrapped in a poncho was attached as a sling-load underneath the gunship. SP4 Flinn remembers hearing the Cobra pilots talking about their mistake and wondering how they must have felt. He also felt bad himself about picking up a dead US advisor but leaving wounded ARVNs in the LZ for later pickup..
Hell’s Half Acre was attacked on 12 May 1969. The VC fired 14 to 15 mortar rounds into the revetment area in hopes of destroying some of the aircraft but no damage was incurred.
On 11 August, the VC again mortared Phu Hiep, sending a number of rounds into the company area. Cpt. Joel Harris and Lt. Mike Zale were roommates who heard the mortars go off too close to them to run to a bunker. They both dived under the bottom bunk as the mortars walked closer. Cpt. Harris, renowned for his ability to crack jokes under all conditions, was left speechless as the shrapnel clattered off the roof of his hooch. The next round would probably be a direct hit—but the firing suddenly stopped. Luckily, no one was injured.
The unit lost four aircraft during August. A fully loaded gunship landed at the Phu Hiep POL area to refuel one evening and jet fuel was accidentally splashed onto the exhaust housing as the CE pulled the nozzle out of the fuel tank. The aircraft immediately burst into flames. SP4 Tony Dacosta was standing nearby when a pilot come running up to him shouting “she’s gonna blow”. SP4 Dacosta, SP4 George Savage and SP4 Daniel Koper were all in the vicinity and grabbed two large flight line fire extinguishers and managed to extinguish the fire and avert a major disaster.
Gunship 66-15150, one of the original Frogs, had an engine failure after takeoff from Ninh Hoa. The aircraft landed hard and the main rotor severed the tail boom. Members of the crew were WO Gary Murphy, WO Jeffery Swickard, PFC William Fisher and PFC Tom Lewis (who was on his first flight in country). PFC Lewis must not have been bothered by the incident since he later went to flight school and became a Cobra pilot. Also in August a UH-1H hit a revetment while taxiing out and lost a tail rotor (CW2 Paul Brennan, SP4 Douglas Vick). The slick spun into a revetment and crashed. There were no injuries to any of the crews.
On August 19th another slick was lost. Aircraft 66-16368 (WO Bill Schade, WO P. E. James, and PFC G. W. Paine) was re-supplying ROK troops in a tight LZ near An Khe when a loss of power caused the ship to spin 270 degrees. The tail rotor hit a slope and the tail boom was broken off. The ship then crashed, rolled over on its left side and caught fire. The only injury was sustained by the gunner, PFC Paine, who was thrown from the aircraft on impact. However, he was not seriously hurt.
The second original Frog (66-15151) had an engine failure in September but the AC, CW2 Mike Dzikowski, auto-rotated with no damage.
Another gunship was lost in September. Aircraft 66-15019 (WO David Schindler, WO N. E. Lawrence, SP4 Ronal Defrenn and SP4 Robert Bernard) took off from Ninh Hoa with a wingman to pick up a Korean observer at a nearby field location. The wingman landed to pick up the observer while 019 provided cover. In a 30 degree bank at 300 feet the aircraft lost power and WO Schindler entered autorotation. The ship landed hard nose low with a ground speed of roughly 30 mph. It spun 180 degrees on its nose, the main rotor severed the tail boom and the transmission was torn from the aircraft. There were no serious injuries but the ship was destroyed.
One afternoon late in the year WO Bob Giebner was returning to Phu Hiep from Qui Nhon. He was close to home and was low leveling down the beach about 50 feet off the water when an Iowa National Guard F-100 suddenly flew underneath his aircraft from behind. The shock waves slammed the ship up and down a few feet in a blink of an eye. WO Giebner was left wondering if the F-100 pilot was as stunned as he was, or if he actually had planned the maneuver.
WO Giebner was involved in another incident around this time. An overworked maintenance test pilot had released his ship for duty at 2 AM that morning after an FOD check. He had removed his Rolex watch to reach in and spin the compressor blades and forgot about the watch. WO Giebner and his AC flew about for 45 minutes that morning before compressor stalls kicked in, sounding like large caliber anti-aircraft near misses. Their first reaction was to auto-rotate but, after realizing they had some power, they made a minimum power approach to a fire base north of Tuy Hoa. They found Rolex parts welded to the N2 and major chunks of compressor blades missing.
One day in the fall of 1969, CW2 Bob Morris and CW2 Bruce Willis had a rather scary experience flying a mail run (literally) south of Ban Me Thout. A jet had been shot down in the area by a radar controlled 37 mm gun earlier that day. The Demon aircraft was at 5,000 feet on a run to deliver mail to an engineer compound when they heard the tell-tale “click” on the FM radio of a radar controlled gun targeting them, then a second click. Not waiting for the third and final “lock-on” click they bottomed the collective and kicked the ship into a hard right diving turn. After descending to roughly 2,000 feet they leveled off and resumed course. Almost immediately they heard two more clicks. At that point they executed the same maneuver, dove to tree top level and continued on course, determined to deliver the mail. Luckily, the engineer unit radioed that they were taking mortar fire every time an aircraft landed and informed the Demon ship that they preferred “no mail with no mortars” to “mail with mortars”.
Just as in the previous year there was a large turnover of pilots in October 1969 and few new pilots to take their place. Many pilots began logging 150-200 hours a month, well over the 140 hour maximum allowed by the flight surgeon. Anyone with a set of wings was press ganged into the peter pilot seat, including much of the battalion staff.
On the 2nd of November, the 134th had a unit party. Right after the party, the company area was hit with mortar fire. No aircraft were damaged or personnel injured. On the 9th of the month, a gunship crashed at Fire Base Mike-Smith while participating in combat operations around the besieged Bu Phrang area. The ship was too heavy on take off and did not clear the concertina wire on the perimeter. Although the aircraft escaped major damage, the crewchief, SP5 Joseph Merricks, was injured in the crash and evacuated. On the 10th of the month, Captain Bruce Porter, gun platoon leader, was wounded in a mortar attack at Ban Me Thout.
The 134th had three other personnel wounded in November while returning from a Tactical Emergency around the North English area. An aircraft was hit by small arms and .50 caliber machine gun fire as it crossed a ridgeline. The AC WO Maurice Richy was hit square in the chest by a 50 caliber round, blowing a 5-6 inch hole almost all the way through his chest armor (“chicken plate”), and the crewchief SP5 Joseph Bates was hit in the leg by small arms fire. He also had a round enter his helmet, shave his ear and exit the other side of the helmet. The copilot WO Anthony Costanza was hit with shrapnel in his legs but was able to fly the aircraft back to LZ English. The door gunner SP4 Clarence Fry gave first aid to the wounded until medical attention was available. The aircraft had a total of 79 holes in its skin. Although WO Richy was seriously wounded the chicken plate he was wearing definitely saved his life.
In December, a portion of the Phu Hiep outer perimeter near outpost 14, guarded by the 134th, came under attack by B-40 rockets and small arms fire. A small group of VC attempted to penetrate the concertina wire in front of the OP and got close enough to throw a satchel charge at the OP tower. The enemy was engaged with M-16 and M-79 fire, and the VC who threw the satchel charge was killed by one of the 134th guards. Devil gunships were scrambled and accounted for 4 other enemy KIA.
There were also a few other notable events that took place during the year:
· The senior Instructor Pilot in the company (CW2 James Campbell) having a stinger and tail rotor strike on September 22nd in an autorotation on the main Phu Hiep runway during a visit by General Abrams, the Commander of US Forces in Vietnam. The ship (68-15374) was brand new and had less than 700 hours on it.
· Both pilots of a slick getting vertigo in fog while returning from LZ English one night. Each pilot kept trying to hand the controls to the other and the ship lurched all over the sky. They were finally able to descend over the ocean, landed on the beach and both pilots got out and barfed.
· During an attempt to hover over a landing pad at a firebase on a steep pinnacle strong winds were causing the tail boom of a slick to swing violently. The crewchief made some remark about his flying ability and the AC, WO “Leaping” Larry Leathers suddenly pulled pitch and dove off the mountain. He came in hot, flared and landed in a field then climbed out and grabbed the crewchief. They went out into the field, worked out their differences, then continued on with the war.
· A crew refueling at the LZ English “crap table” when mortar rounds begin landing nearby. The pilot immediately pulled pitch, leaving the gunner and crewchief on the ground holding the fuel nozzle and a fire extinguisher, respectively, and wondering how they’ll get out of there. They weren’t picked up until 2 hours later.
· Cpt. Joel Harris trading a switchblade knife for a monkey (2-3 feet tall) at an Air America base. The monkey and crew didn’t get along very well on the way home. The monkey was kept tethered to a wall outside Cpt. Harris’ hootch, hid behind sandbags and terrorized unsuspecting hooch maids by jumping on them as they walked by.
· CW2 Bob Morris and crew trying out the local Montagnard rice wine. They took some MACV types to a village that was having some sort of festival. The village chief pointed to a big pot with a lot of straws sticking out and invited the crew for a drink. It tasted like charcoal—but at least it was alcohol!
· WO __?__Bailey going to sleep on a maintenance test flight while teaching SP4 Larry Davenport to fly. WO Bailey was so overworked and tired that after turning the controls over to Davenport he dozed off into a deep sleep. SP4 Davenport flew around for a while, enjoying his “stick time” and then had to shake the pilot to wake him up so he could land the ship.
· SP4 Tifis Flinn, gunner on aircraft 500 had a bit of target fixation as his gunship banked over a target. He continued firing as they turned and put a few rounds into the cockpit, hitting the copilot (Lt. Emil Schemnitzer) in the leg.
· In covering a combat assault into a hot LZ SP4 Flinn had pulled the pin on 5 grenades and was about to drop them on the LZ when an incendiary grenade fell out of his hand and rolled up behind beneath a pilot’s seat. He ditched the other grenades and dove for the one beneath the pilot seat and pitched it out the door a split second before it exploded—a very close call that everyone ignored and pretended not to see.
· SP4 Gene Molek, a gunship CE on 019, was accidentally shot in the arm and his chicken plate by his door gunner (SP4 Daniel Flynn).
Over a two-week period at the end of 1969 and beginning of 1970, Demon crews rescued two Air Force pilots whose aircraft went down in the 134th’s area of operations. By chance, Demon aircraft were nearby and in both cases the pilots were on the ground less than five minutes before being rescued.
During 1969, the 134th transported over 152,000 personnel on combat assaults and other troop lifts. Although resupply was not a major activity, over 1300 tons of cargo were transported during the year. The unit also participated in its first night combat assault (with the 28th ROK Regiment). As a result of the dedicated efforts of Demon maintenance, aircraft availability averaged over 80% for the year.
The commanding officer at the beginning of 1970 was Major William Hensley. On 15 April 1970, Major Jon Dickerson assumed command of the company. Major Dickerson commanded the company until Major Elliot Welch assumed command on 15 September 1970.
The 134th got off to a sad start in 1970 with the loss of a gunship crew member. On January 11th while providing gun cover for a medivac in the Phu Cat Mountains, a Devil gunship (66-15151) went IFR and crashed into a mountain. SP4 Edward Hamrick was killed when the aircraft hit, rolled over and the transmission crushed him. The door gunner, SP4 R. D. Tipple, was not injured but the two pilots sustained serious injuries. Captain Porter suffered a broken leg and the copilot, WO Larry Ingle had a partially collapsed lung and was in shock. SP4 Tipple managed to pull the pilots out of the wreckage through the windshield and get them away from the crash site, successfully avoiding nearby NVA/VC troops. SP4 Tipple, a former infantryman on an extension, had the presence of mind to break off the magnetic compass from its mount on the instrument panel and grab a map of the area. They spent 3 days in the mountains, evading the enemy while seriously injured and slowly making their way east toward Phu Cat Air Base. On the 3rd day they were finally spotted by search aircraft and rescued. SP4 Tipple was awarded the Soldiers Medal for his actions in saving the injured pilots from capture during this incident.
Interestingly, while searching for the downed gunship 134th crews found a couple of crash sites that were previously undiscovered. In one case they found a loach suspended upside down in the dense jungle canopy, a crash that was at least several months old. The pilot and observer were still strapped into their seats and no identification was found on their bodies. The aircraft had markings from the 361st AWC (Pink Panthers) out of Pleiku but, strangely, that unit was an all gun company that never had any loaches. The 134th never learned the resolution of this puzzling situation.
On February 25th a slick (68-15316) was in a landing pattern at Lane AAF. On extended final at roughly 600 feet and 90 knots the AC (WO J. A. Mullen) felt a jerk in the aircraft and immediately entered autorotation. When he saw the tail rotor and 90 degree gearbox fly past the cockpit he realized what had happened. The ship touched down hard and nose low. The left skid collapsed and the ship rolled on its side. Other crewmembers were WO J. W. Price, SP4 G. R. Estes and SP4 E. L. Parodi. Two passengers were slightly injured.
On March 1st a Demon ship (68-15309) was taking part in a combat assault carrying troops of the ROK Whitehorse Division. The ship had an engine failure on approach to the LZ with 5 troops on board. The aircraft auto rotated into the LZ of tall elephant grass, hit a large rock, rolled over and burst into flames. The aircraft was destroyed and one passenger and one crewmember were injured. The crew consisted of WO Bowman Roberts, Lt. C. E. Taylor and SP4 Myron Johnson.
April 1970 several Demon ships were involved in Combat
Assaults north of LZ English when volunteers were solicited
for a rapid Vietnamese LRRP insertion on a nearby mountain.
One ship (CW2 Arvine Coleman and WO Douglas Schultz)
volunteered and just prior to touching down the VC opened up
from spider holes in the LZ. Both pilots, and all of the
LRRPs, were severely wounded and one pilot lost
consciousness. The other pilot managed to get the ship off
the mountain and landed in the valley below. He had put out
a May Day call but the radio had been knocked out. The C&C
ship followed the aircraft into the valley and was joined by
another Demon ship. One medivac’d the pilots and the other
the severely wounded LRRPs. The LRRPs were in such bad
shape that they probably did not survive.
On May 3, 1970 Phu Hiep airfield was hit by mortars and sappers attacked the area around OP 14. SP4 Ed Kalakauskis and SP4 Donald Elliot ran into Operations and heard on the radio that the post was being attacked. They ran over to a flight platoon, grabbed a 2 ½-ton truck, loaded up some CE’s and gunners and headed for OP 14. The VC had driven the guards from OP 14 and breached the perimeter. SP4 Kalakauskis and the others attacked the tower at OP 14 which was now occupied by VC and killed 5 of them in and around the tower with no casualties to themselves. A warrant officer killed another VC with an M-60 as he was withdrawing through the perimeter wire.
Sp4 Kalakauskis and others entered OP 14 and could see VC firing from a hooch in the village on the other side of the perimeter but could not obtain permission to fire on it. SP4 Kalakauskis, being a good marksman with the L-312 hand flares, shot one of them directly into the door of the hooch and set it on fire. The VC ran out of the door and were engaged by the defenders around OP 14. These and others nearby were also attacked by Devil gunships and an unknown number were killed. Sp4 Kalakauskis and SP4 Elliot were awarded a Bronze Star with V for this action.
On June 10, 1970, a slick (68-16356) had an engine failure at 200 feet on a ROK re-supply mission near An Son. The aircraft landed hard and the rotor flexed down, chopping off the tail boom. There were no injuries to the crew (Cpt. M. Holmes from 268th CAB HQ, Lt. Jack Rainwater, SP4 William Turner and SP4 T. Williams).
The next month, July, saw the crash of another slick (66-16186). On July 29th the ship had an engine failure after takeoff from LZ Uplift at roughly 200 feet. The aircraft landed hard, hit a dike and the rotor severed the tail boom. None of the crew were injured (WO J. L. Weston, Lt. Dennis Feavor, SP4 D. A. Sessions and SP4 D. A. Fowler).
During the night of August 28th, roughly 30 mortar rounds were fired at the company area and 18 men were hit by shrapnel. There was also considerable small arms fire on the perimeter but it was not breached. Although several of the wounded men were in serious condition, all recovered from their wounds. This was an amazingly accurate mortar attack and one of the worst at Phu Hiep. All of the rounds fell within a tight pattern directly on the company living area.
At the end of September, Demon 68-16064 (WO J. S. Walls and WO Larry Biles) was working a re-supply mission in support of the Capital ROK Division. On approach to a pinnacle position at LZ Matterhorn at roughly 50 feet, the engine rpm began dropping and the ship spun to the right. WO Walls attempted to land in the LZ but the area was congested with supplies and troops. The aircraft settled into the perimeter wire entangling the right skid, lunged forward and rolled to the left. The ship was destroyed but there were no injuries.
On October 14th, a slick (67-17278 with WO J. W. Price and WO Dannie Smith) was chalk 5 of 7 on a combat assault and lost a tail rotor when it struck the runway at Cheo Reo. The aircraft spun completely around twice and landed hard with severe damage to the undercarriage but no one was injured.
Also in October, the 134th along with the other units at Phu Hiep were advised that they would be moving to Tuy Hoa Air Force Base in early November. When the final word came, the entire unit was moved within a week without a stand down. Unfortunately, the move was made miserable by a typhoon that hit the coast at the same time. The move resulted in better living conditions (real flush toilets instead of half barrels with JP-4, etc.) and better maintenance facilities for the aircraft. There were also those plush air force bunks, air conditioning, a gym, a theatre and even a miniature golf course—almost heaven for the sand hogs from Phu Hiep.
C Company, 75th Rangers (temporarily attached to the 173rd Airborne) also moved to Tuy Hoa and began long range recon (LRRP) patrols in the Hub area to the northwest, a long-time haven for the VC and NVA. (Since early1968 the 134th had also been working with other LRRPs from the 173rd). C/75th Rangers specifically asked for the 134th to support their operations and the commander of the Rangers later stated that they had never received finer support than they did from the 134th.
On November 6, a Demon ship flying in the Tuy Hoa valley overheard 2 gunships from the 238th AWC talk about spotting a small group of four NVA on a trail near the river escorting 3 Vietnamese prisoners who were bound together with ropes. CW2 Cary Mendelsohn, the AC, volunteered to go down and check things out if the gunships provided cover and put a few rockets close by to scatter the NVA. The Gunrunners agreed and CW2 Mendelsohn descended to survey the terrain. His crewchief and gunner engaged the NVA with M-60 machine gun fire and wounded all 4 of them. They landed nearby and the CE and gunner jumped out, chased the NVA down and disarmed them. They then rounded up the prisoners and brought all 7 back to the aircraft. The wounded NVA and the 3 very happy prisoners were turned over to the ARVNs at the Tuy Hoa North ARVN compound. The crew never did find out who the prisoners were or the story behind this incident. CW2 Mendelsohn received a DFC for this action, the CE and gunner a Bronze Star with V and the copilot an Air Medal with V.
Many remember a notable event
from 1970—CW2 Lucky Wilson did not complete a check ride on
three attempts. He lost a tail rotor on his first attempt,
had an engine failure on his second, and on his third
attempt totaled a ship (67-17683) during a simulated tail
rotor failure and running landing on a sand bar in the Tuy
Hoa River (with SIP Lt. George Jameson). He also had
another engine failure and set the ship down with no damage
but it was dropped in front of the maintenance hangar by the
Chinook slinging it back to Phu Hiep. In spite of all this,
Lucky Wilson was indeed “lucky” since he escaped without a
· WO Jimmy Edwards, WO Hank Groce and SP4 Kevin Malikowski taking off on a test flight, intending to turn off the hydraulics to perform a servo check but turning off the main fuel switch instead--and crashing the aircraft. The ship (68-15464) landed hard, bounced twice, and the rotor flexed down and chopped off the tail boom.
· A light fire team was on the way to Qui Nhon and the AC of the trail ship decided to give his crewchief (SP5 Richard Sellars) some stick time. Somehow the ship took a sharp drop into the treetops. The AC managed to recover but the chin bubbles were smashed and the aircraft landed in Qui Nhon with tree branches hanging out of the chin bubbles.
· SP4 Ed Kalakauskis, gunship CE on 65-09500, dropped his M-60 in a rice paddy one day and it speared the ground barrel first. The AC came back around and landed to retrieve the gun.. However, on takeoff he couldn’t get quite enough lift out of the C model and hit a dike, smashing the nose and chin bubbles.
· CW2 Arvine Coleman had a re-supply mission into a tight single ship LZ surrounded by tall trees, one of which was long dead. As he hovered in the LZ well below the tree tops, a large limb from the dead tree fell onto the top of his rotor blades. The limb was trapped on the top of the blades’ path, bouncing up and down and gradually being chewed up by the blades. After 15-20 seconds CW2 Coleman flipped the cyclic sideways and the limb slide off the blades.
In late 1970, or possibly early 1971, a Devil gunship with AC Captain David Ayers (Devil Zero) and CW2 Andre Garesche, became the first and only gunship from the 134th to be credited with shooting down an aircraft. Unfortunately, it was Demon 32 (Captain Tom Offutt) that was shot down. The slicks and guns were on a combat assault, landing ARVN troops near Dak To, when the gunship fired a rocket (with a “nails” warhead) into the LZ while the slicks were on short final. The slick was hit with quite a few nails but no one was injured. However, nails hit the battery, causing it to catch on fire, and forcing the crew to make an emergency landing in the LZ.As 1970 came to a close, the Demons and Devils had flown 28,733 combat hours with a total of 79,613 sorties in general support of II Corps. One crewmember and nine aircraft were lost during the year. The morale of the men of Hell’s Half Acre remained as high as ever.
The commanding officer at the beginning of 1971 was Major Elliot Welch. On 15 March 1971, Captain La Vern Rovig assumed command until 13 September 1971. He was called home on emergency leave and the Executive Officer Captain Kenneth Canup took command until Oct. 2nd. Major W. F. O’Neal then took over command until the unit stood down on 28 December 1971.
At the beginning of 1971, the Company was based at Tuy Hoa, along with three of its sister units. These were the 238th Aerial Weapons Company(Gunrunners), 225th Surveillance Airplane Company (Mohawks, call sign Phantom Hawks), and 180th Assault Support Helicopter Company (Chinooks, call sign Big Windy).
On January 27th a gunship (66-00610) suffered an engine failure at 300 feet and landed hard in a rice paddy with the main rotor chopping off the tail boom. There were no injuries to the crew (CW2 Anthony Mediate and Lt. Cannon Ramey).
At this point, the Devils had exhausted their ammunition and the CE of Cpt. Ayers’ ship had been hit in the leg. They immediately headed for the hospital at Qui Nhon and dropped off the CE who was not seriously wounded. The lead ship was too damaged to continue flying so Cpt. Ayers took over and was able to get a wingman (CW2 Phil Hollar) from the 129th AHC at Lane. They returned to the Cung Son area to offer additional fire support and learned the remaining NVA had worked their way into the village proper. The NVA had taken hostages in the village but released them and begin to shoot them in the back as they ran toward the beach. At this point the Devil fire team felt it had to attack. Unfortunately, as it did so, many of the civilians ran directly into the line of fire and 20-25 civilians were killed in total by the NVA and gunships. The NVA were finally subdued later that afternoon and the ARVN blocking force made a sweep of the area. The result was 41 VC killed and twice that many captured by ARVN ground forces. Two Devil aircraft were damaged and one person was injured.
In early 1971, a Devil fire team under Cpt. Richard Hartselle (Devil 6) ran into a bit of bad luck. Working in the Cats Paw region west of Tuy Hoa along the river they spotted 15-20 VC/NVA carrying supplies on bicycles. They took fire as they made a recon of the area. The crew of the lead ship (#500) was Cpt. Hartselle, Lt. Alan Mott, SP4 Ed Kalakauskis and SP4 Stephen Fuqua. Lt. Mott was hit in the leg with small arms fire and Sp4 Kalakauskis pulled back his armor seat to give him first aid and stop the bleeding. As he did so, Lt. Mott’s leg pushed the collective down and the aircraft crashed into a rice paddy. SP4 Fuqua jumped out and began returning the fire of nearby enemy but Cpt. Hartselle, realizing the aircraft could still fly, called him back and they took off. They made it back to Tuy Hoa but the aircraft was so badly damaged it had to be shipped back to the US for rebuild.
Also in early 1971, WO Andre Garesche was wingman (AC) in a Devil fire team that had just covered a medevac southwest of Qui Nhon. They were on the way back to Phu Hiep and flew through a free fire area looking for some activity. They spotted 2 sampans on a river, partially hidden by trees, and saw several people run into nearby bushes. WO Garesche immediately rolled in and fired 2 rockets at the sampans from very close range, maybe 100 yards or so. All of a sudden there was a massive secondary explosion and the gunship was too low and too close to do anything but fly through it. The crewchief and gunner were completely drenched with water and mud covered the windshield, which luckily stayed in one piece. It was a close call but no one was injured.
On April 1st the 134th had 7 slicks and 2 gunships participating in a local area combat assault. Upon landing in a single ship LZ, the lead ship (Captain Donald Kent, Captain Russ Hiett, and SP5 Raymond Boyd) set off a land mine most likely triggered by a trip wire. SP5 Boyd (the gunner) was seriously wounded by shrapnel in the face and right eye. The AC, Captain Kent, was also hit by shrapnel in the face and two Korean soldiers on board were injured as well. Although the ship was severely damaged, Captain Kent was able to fly it back to the Tuy Hoa medivac pad. This action was said to have saved the life of SP5 Boyd. Damage to the ship was extensive and the main rotor was nearly severed in two places.
On the 10th of May, the unit received 5 VNAF aviators who had recently completed their training at Ft. Hunter-Stewart. They were to fly 200 hours each with the 134th before being turned over to the RVNF 229th Helicopter Squadron in Nha Trang. They were treated just like the other pilots and finished training in August with an average of 238 hours each. Their training went smoothly and they showed themselves to be willing and capable pilots.
By mid-1971, almost all of the “C” model gunships had been converted to the more powerful “M” model with installation of improved engines. This allowed them to actually hover and take off like normal helicopters. Prior to this, on hot days fully loaded “C” models often had to slide and bump along a runway, burning up their skid pads, until take-off speed was achieved.
A gunner, SP4__?__, had a close call around mid-year while on perimeter guard duty. He was in a bunker with a man from another unit who began banging on an M-79 round with a rock, apparently trying to open it. Seeing this, the gunner dove out the entrance just as the round exploded. The other person in the bunker was killed but the gunner suffered only scratches.
In June the 134th played a key role in the battle of Cung Son, the largest single engagement the unit participated in during 1971. A combined VC and NVA battalion attempted to overrun an ARVN artillery base at Cung Son. The VC penetrated the perimeter wire and partially overrun the base. At 0330 hours, a Demon standby flare ship was launched and shortly thereafter was dropping flares to illuminate the area. With the light from the flares, the enemy was sighted and 105mm howitzers were fired point blank at the enemy troops. The VC and NVA retreated against this fierce firepower to a small village two clicks northeast of Cung Son. The battle of Cung Son.
Upon arriving at the village, the enemy took over thirty to forty houses, holding the occupants hostage. The ground forces on both sides were at a stalemate until dawn. That morning, six Demon slicks and two Devil gunships were assigned to insert three companies of ARVN troops into an LZ along the river northeast of the occupied village. ARVN artillery was supposed to prep the LZ for the initial lift but apparently ran out of normal fuses and began using VT fuses. Unfamiliar with these fuses they fired rounds which exploded above the LZ as flak. Consequently, the first inbound formation had to break off the insertion until the artillery could be shut off. This put an even heavier burden on the Devil guns in covering the landings. More importantly, the ARVN artillery’s lack of knowledge of VT fuses prevented them from bringing effective fire on the VC as they retreated. Nevertheless, the ARVN troops moved in toward the village and were able to suppress the enemy fire for the next two lifts. Despite this, the C&C ship was fired on by B-40 rockets as it inserted the command element.
As the day wore on, the ARVN troops were making little or no progress. The Devil gunships were called in and given clearance to fire on the village. When the Devils expended their ordinance, they put out a call for more guns. The Gunrunners (238th AWC) responded and arrived to assist the Devils. The hostages were released and they headed for Cung Son. The VC and NVA dug in and continued to return fire. After the Devils and Gunrunners expended their ordinance two to three more times, they had destroyed all but two strongholds. The ARVN commander and Province Senior Advisor fearing that with darkness the remaining VC might escape, requested an airstrike from Phu Cat AFB.
At 1715 hours, two F-4F Phantom Jets started their runs with napalm and high explosive bombs. They continued until the village was leveled. By 1800 hours, the ARVN forces reported over 150 enemy troops killed. This figure probably does not include a considerable number of innocent civilians caught in the middle that were either hostages or too scared to leave their homes. The 134th took no casualties and was credited with 35 enemy KIA.
The next day a Demon ship (69-15393), which had been involved in the assault the previous day, took ARVN officials on a recon of the area and landed near the village to inspect the damage. The crew of 69-15393, which included, Hans J. Underwood and Sam Cook, were shocked and deeply troubled as they walked through the carnage. Most houses had been burned and completely destroyed, and bodies and pieces of bodies lay everywhere. For those who participated in this action it truly was an horrific slaughter and a “killing field” that still haunts them. As Sherman said “War is Hell”, and sometimes innocent people are caught up in the carnage and suffer the most. The Cung Son incident was a sad victory with mixed emotions for the men of the 134th.
Roughly a month later, a group of Demons (WO Ralph Staunton) and Devils were on a Combat Assault inserting ROKs near the coast about half way between Miami Beach and Lane AAF. They finished the lift and went back to Tuy Hoa for lunch before a scheduled afternoon extraction of the troops just inserted. Normal lunch was C rations but this was a special treat since they were so close to their home base. Tuy Hoa, being a former Air Force base, had many little “extras”—such as a flight line snack bar operated by local Vietnamese. The crews ordered sandwiches from the snack bar and then headed back for the extraction at an LZ near the insertion point. Unknown to the crews, a VC sympathizer at the snack bar had put poison in the sandwiches. On approach to the LZ they began taking sniper fire and every crewmember suddenly became violently sick and began throwing up, all at the same time. The aircraft were virtually impossible to control but the flight somehow made it into the LZ and shut down the engines. The ROK troops in the LZ silenced the snipers and guarded the aircraft while a Big Windy Chinook arrived and transported the flight crews to Tuy Hoa Hospital. Fortunately, the doctors were able to administer an antidote to the poison and everyone fully recovered in a few days.
On June 26th the 134th supported the 7/17th Air Calvary Regiment with 7 slicks and 2 gunships. The entire operation consisted of 20 slicks, 8 gunships and 6 Chinooks. The mission was to insert 1300 ROK and 7/17th troops into the mountains west of Phu Cat. The 134th flew 52 hours, lifting 370 troops in 119 sorties. Although prepped by artillery, most of the LZ’s were hot and the 134th had one slick shot down on short final to an LZ, resulting in major damage to the aircraft. The crewchief was slightly injured but the rest of the crew were unharmed. The operation took all day and was followed by 7 days of re-supply.
In August, a Devil fire team including aircraft 65-09557 (gunner SP4 Don Forsee) was on recon in a free fire area a few miles west of Tuy Hoa. They flew over a clearing that had several picnic tables with white paper plates laid out and a stage set up nearby, complete with microphone and sound equipment. After doing a double-take, they came back around for a closer look and began taking small arms fire. The fire team began a gun run and, oddly, both ships either lost electrical power or their guns jammed. They could not fire any of their rockets, and the both the chunker and miniguns jamed, leaving M-60 door guns as their only firepower. However, they marked the target with smoke and were able to call in nearby fighter bombers who hit the area with napalm. The fire team then flew back over the target and observed a number of charred, burning houses under the tree canopy as well as bodies scattered about the area. Apparently the VC/NVA were having a party or ceremony of some sort when they were interrupted by the gunships. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t turn out too well.
Several weeks later the same gunship was part of a fire team covering an ARVN combat assault north of Pleiku when the aircraft was hit by a large caliber weapon, possibly an RPG. Whatever it was hit the front of the right skid, blowing it off, caving in the door post behind the pilot and putting a large hole in the aircraft underneath the right pilot and console. The blast blew the M-60 out of SP4 Don Forsee’s hands and sprayed shrapnel in his face, shins and thigh. Luckily the wounds were not serious and the rest of the crew was not injured. However, the aircraft flight controls were damaged and use of the collective was restricted. The pilots were able to land in a rice paddy not far away and he aircraft was sling-loaded back to Tuy Hoa by a Chinook but had to be jettisoned from 2000 feet when the rotor tie down came loose.
On September 13th while covering slicks inbound to a hot LZ, a Devil gunship had a 2.75 inch rocket explode as it cleared the tube, causing major damage to the right section of the cabin and cockpit areas. WO David P. Davis suffered serious and extensive shrapnel wounds to both legs.
October 7th, 1971 was a sad month for the unit with the loss of three crewmembers in the first major accident in over 250 days. Captain Gerald F. McGlone, SP5 Addison W. Page Jr. and SP4 Rafael Perez-Verdeja were test flying a UH-1C model aircraft when it crashed and burned for unknown reasons onto the PSP runway at Phu Hiep. All three crewmembers died in the crash.
On the 10th of October the 134th had its 3rd slick shot down in as many months in the LZ English area. A Demon C&C ship spotted 5 NVA moving across an open field while on a low level reconnaissance. The crewchief was given the ok to fire and opened up with his M-60. The 5 NVA returned fire and an additional 15 or so NVA in a tree line also began firing at the Demon ship. The engine was hit by the ground fire and the AC, WO Staunton, autorotated with no additional damage. The downed aircraft was immediately covered by Devil gunships. ARVN troops were then brought in to secure the ship and began a sweep of the area. During the sweep they found 6 NVA bodies, kills which were credited to the crewchief of the downed ship.
On a note of levity, a few days before the above incident, 134th crews were warned that if any more water buffalo were shot they may have to pay for them. As WO Staunton cleared the crewchief to fire on the NVA he shouted “Get those S..O.. B.., but don’t hit the water buffalo.” He took a little grief over that one back at Tuy Hoa.
On the 27th of November at 1845 hours, the last Demon aircraft to fly a scheduled mission in Vietnam touched down at ‘Hell’s Half Acre’. Aircraft 177 with WO1 Pietrzak, 1LT Barton, SP5 Pena and SP5 Lemon had flown a mission to Pleiku and back. At 1848 the blades ceased to turn, by 1915 the ship was postflighted and pushed into the revetments for the last time.
Throughout the month of December, the men and equipment were either shipped home or to other units. On the 29th of December 1971 the 134th Assault Helicopter Company passed into history.
The 134th served in Vietnam for 1 year, 12 days as a Caribou outfit and 4 years, 35 days as a helicopter unit. The company flew almost 14,000 hours in Caribous and just short of 100,000 hours in UH-1’s. Miraculously, a total of only 12 men were lost during this entire 5 year period despite the many hazardous missions. However, every man lost was precious and a friend to many in such a close knit organization. These men made the supreme sacrifice for their country and their compatriots. But for the hand of fate, anyone of us could easily have been in their place. We all owe them a debt which can not be repaid. They served their country well, with dedication and valor. As the rest of us grow older, they remain forever young and will always be with us. May God take their souls in his hands and may we meet again in Heaven.
To the men who served in the 134th she was undoubtedly the best aviation outfit in Vietnam, maybe the best there ever was, anywhere. There were many fine aviation units in this “Helicopter War”. Perhaps some units accomplished more and, due to the luck of the draw, some certainly suffered far more casualties. Some achieved considerable renown. However, the 134th had no equal in terms of individual motivation, dedication, unit morale, camaraderie and esprit de corps. The men who served in the 134th were part of something unique and fulfilled their duty magnificently. May God bless the men of the 134th. There will never be another.
Compiled by Stanley R. Gause (RIP)
Arvine Coleman (69-70) RIP
Walter Chrobak (67-68)
Stan Gause (67-68) RIP
Jimmy James (69-70)
Jim Brady (68-69)
Bob Morris (69-70)
Curt Easterbrook (69)
Richard Keilman (67)
Bruce Porter (69-70)
Robert Anderson (70)
Anthony Constanza (69-70)
Patrick Pavey (69-70)
Barry Spencer (68-69)
David Ayers (70-71)
Joel Harris (68-69)
Tifis Flinn (68-69)
Cary Mendelsohn (70)
Gene Molek (68-69)
Orin Nagel (67-68)
Russ Hiett (70-71)
Jack McDonald (68-69)
Edward Ybarrola (68-69)
Stephen Franich, Jr (71)
David Ayers (70-71)
Harold Shonk (67-68)
Sam Robinson (68-69)
Andre Garesche (70-71)
John Thorpe (67-68)
Tom Offutt (70-71)
Ralph Staunton (71)
Wayne Hall (67-68)
Eric “Stork” Hamel (67-69)
Rick Pemberton (69-70)
James DeWitt (69)
Hans-Jürgen Underwood (70-71)
Mike Ogrysko (68-69)
Ed Kalakauskis (70-71)
Bob Giebner (69-70)
Merrill Adamcik (65-66)
Many thanks to Stan Gause
(RIP) for the countless hours
gathering and compiling the history you have just read.
Special thanks are extended to the men of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company who
originally expressed some of the thoughts in the introduction which, of
course, apply to all helicopter units that served in Vietnam.
Last modified: Wednesday November 28, 2018