We often knew if an LZ or PZ was going to be hot before we arrived. Many times, we were reinforcing a unit engaged in combat operations, or we were extracting them as they attempted to break contact. Those pick ups were normally at the end of the day as the sunlight was fading.
If I remember correctly, I was flying in Chalk Eight, meaning I was at the end of the flight. Our gunships were engaged, with the C&C directing the rocket and minigun fire into the enemy positions. As we approached, I could see the ruby tracers from both the gunships and the soldiers on the ground. Lots of outgoing fire but I wasn’t seeing any green or white tracers, which didn’t mean there wasn’t incoming. It could mean that the enemy wasn’t using any tracers and I was sure that I could hear AKs firing somewhere.
As we touched down, I saw a soldier kneeling near the two-foot-high rice patty dike, firing into the tree line fifty or sixty yards away. While I’m sure others were firing, I only remember seeing this one man.
Over the radio, someone was talking about taking fire. And then another one said he was taking hits. The man near the dike leaped to his feet and sprinted toward the flight. I didn’t see him reach an aircraft because a lieutenant had scrambled into the cargo compartment. He tapped me on the shoulder and shouted something at me. I don’t know what he said because I couldn’t hear him over the scream of the turbine and all the shooting going on. Most of it was our door guns and gunships as the soldiers were disengaging.
About that time there was a snapping to my right as an enemy round smashed through the windshield. The lieutenant was suddenly laying on the cargo compartment floor. The peter pilot said, “I’m not hit.”
Neither was I.
Over the radio I said, “Eight’s taking fire from the front.”
|The bullet hole in the windshield.|
I had no idea if the round came from the left or right. The lieutenant was now up and the bullet had missed him as well.
Over the radio, Trail said, “You’re down and loaded.”
“Lead’s on the go.”
We took off and broke right as we cleared the PZ. The climb out was uneventful. The only shooting now was the gunships trying to protect us. They then quickly broke contact.
Once we were at altitude, heading for the LZ, C&C asked, “Who took hits?”
In Chalk order, those who had taken hits reported them. When it came to me, I said, “Chalk Eight.”
For some reason C&C asked, “Are you sure?”
I was surprised by the question and said, “Yes. It came through the windshield.”
When we got back to Tay Ninh and had parked the aircraft after refueling, I found other hits through the tail boom. In all the confusion, I hadn’t felt them hitting the aircraft, but that might have been because we were sitting on the ground. No one on my aircraft had been hit though.
Later, while I was in the officer’s club, the Company Commander came up to me and said, “I hear you’re the magnet.” He meant that if there was a round fired at the flight, it would hit my aircraft. Of course, he knew that I have blown up a helicopter on a land mine.
I said, “I don’t think that’s fair.”
And I don’t remember what his response was. All I know is that by July, I was the only aircraft commander left in the First Platoon. They weren’t all casualties of the war. Some had reached the end of their tours and had gone home. There had been an aircraft accident. No one had been killed but several of them had been wounded.