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June 08, 2006

TINS!* Times Two

I racked my brain for a while, trying to decide how to spin this turkey highlight certain portions of the tale in order to give you something other than the usual humdrum yawner sedate narrative you’ve come to tolerate expect from me. But I decided against it, because I had a brain stall of galactic proportions wanted to give you an example of how gut-wrenchingly dull prosaically routine most of our missions were…

*tongue planted so firmly in cheek you couldn’t budge it with det cord*

Instead, I dumped half of it in V29’s lap asked V29 for an assist, since, after all, that’s what this particular TINS! is all about. If you want to follow the action on a Tac Map, drop in here and visit the third map from the bottom, third map from the left. I'll let Two Niner start it rolling...

TINS! Times Two; or, He Said / I Said / We Said

V29: In the months leading up to the Cambodian Invasion in May 1970, the 162nd AHC, nightly, flew border patrols from the Parrot's Beak to Ha Tien. We would base from a small airfield adjacent to a Special Forces compound in Moc Hoa. Our team consisted of a C-model gunship fireteam and a C&C/flareship. Or, when we had it equipped an H-model with flares, .50 cal, mini-gun and infrared sight.

V15: This was also the time frame that the Army was doing its first experiments with a Huey “night fighter”--the INFANT (Iroquois Night Fighter And Night Tracker), a UH-1M (which was a Charlie-model gunship beefed up with an H-model engine) equipped with a Low Light-Level TV. The First Cav played around with a couple of them in III Corps until February 1970, then came down to see how well it would work in the Delta. I got tagged to fly C & C for the lads (and that’s a subject for a whole separate TINS!--*really* made me appreciate how much flight discipline we kept in the 162d). Anyway, while Two-Niner was NightHawking along the border, I was babysitting the INFANT (heh) above the Plain of Reeds...

Partial map of IV Corps. Ha Tien to the west, the Parrot's Beak to the east, which is actually west of Saigon, which in turn is east of...never mind.

*go ahead and ignore the area labeled “Ambush” for the time being--it’s okay, you can ignore it--awwww, c’mon, ignore it*

Most of the time, we staged from Can Tho, but this night we, too, were working from Moc Hoa. I had the company's other .50 cal at the crewchief’s station, a twin-M60 mount at the gunner’s station and five flares strapped to the floor.

V29: On the day in question, probably around late March to early April '70, we had the second configuration and I was AC of the H-model. The night patrol had passed uneventfully and our gunship had departed for Can Tho early, while we waited to see if the Team needed to transport any personnel to Can Tho. At our release time we took off for home with no passengers. We were maybe, 10 minutes outbound when a Navy Mike Boat came up on Guard seeking assistance.

V15: We’d had a so-so night. The Charlie-model gunship in *our* team was an Outlaw from Vinh Long. He’d been plagued with electrical glitches during the first mission, so the Cav AMC (Air Mission Commander) released him and opted to launch the 0300 mission with just his top cover--me. After an hour of boring holes in the night sky, the Cav found a squad-sized element moving south along one of the canals leading to the junction we called the Big Wagon Wheel (Why? Because it had more intersecting canals than the *Little* Wagon Wheel. Duh). After some clock-cleaning, he dropped to fifty feet (he flew blacked-out, so I had to drop to eighty feet to keep him in sight) and followed their backtrail north. He popped a pair of rockets at a sampan, then broke left (without warning me) and the secondary that fireballed its way past my nose added my night vision as collateral damage. We decided to scratch the pre-dawn mission and headed to Moc Hoa for fuel and a chat with the radar operators, just to confirm we hadn’t busted the Cambodian border during our gyrations. The Cav launched for Can Tho before first light and we were just cranking up when Two-Niner departed. Enroute to 1,500 feet for the trip home, we heard the Navy’s Mayday (he'd taken an RPG hit) and Two-Niner’s answer. And you just *know* I wasn’t gonna nonchalantly continue to motor south, don’t ya?

[Aside: We called almost everything Mike-Boats (from Mobile-Riverine), including what the Navy called PBRs (Patrol Boat, Riverine) or PCRs (yadda Craft yadda); what the Navy originally called Mike-Boats couldn’t even fit in a canal. Adding to the merriment, there were smaller craft the Navy also called Mike Boats, and (naturally) they also called Monitors Mike Boats. But as far as we were concerned, if it was one of ours and in a canal and wasn’t a hovercraft, it was a Mike Boat and a PBR was warm beer in a rusty can. We were a bit more precise when referring to the floating POL points...]

V29: He reported having wounded and taking heavy fire from both sides of a narrow, heavily wooded canal. I could hear the fire over the radio and the quiet desperation in his voice. As we had an uneventful night, we had a full ammo load, so I decided to see what help we could provide. I made for the coordinates he gave me and had no trouble finding him. The boat was dead in the water and smoking. They were in a fight for their lives for sure.

V15: I was still a good five miles away when I spotted Two-Niner making an orbit around some smoke and figured I’d stay high and play top cover while he did whatever he was planning to do. I wasn’t worried about him biting off more than he could chew, because whatever a NightHawk Huey bit got royally chewed in the process. And I had no desire to collect a .50 cal ricochet, either, so I climbed to 2,000 feet and started a wide right orbit.

V29: By this time we were told the wounded were in need of immediate evacuation. But, I couldn't blindly put my ship and crew at risk. It was necessary to have a look-see and assess the situation. We circled at 1500' and hosed down both sides of the canal with our .50 and minigun. It took a few minutes to impress on Charles that we meant business and had the means to cause them extreme harm. Charlie blinked, taking cover to assess the situation. Surprised at the opportunity, but taking advantage of the lull in fire, I ordered the boat to lower their radio antennae and descended to pick up the wounded. I put my skid on the side of the boat and hovered while the wounded were loaded. At this point the LtJG in command asked if there was anyway to get him out of the kill zone. His engine was kaput and he was rightfully afraid that when we departed Charles would be back to finish him off. What the heck, my H-model could push that little tinderbox about as fast as his engine could, thought I. So, around to the stern I went and placing my skid there, I hovered sideways, while the Navy steered, pushing the boat about 400 yards down the canal to a spot where it widened and the banks were devoid of heavy foliage. At this point, confident that further assistance was on the way, I left them and took the wounded directly to a Navy hospital ship in the bay at Vung Tau. My landing on the hospital ship is a story for another time.

V15: Most of the reason Charlie kept his nose out of it while Two-Niner played with the boat was a reluctance to mess with a NightHawk and the remainder of the reason was us, circling at two grand, squirting rounds from the twin-sixty on our outbound leg and dumping expended brass into the woodlines on the inbound leg (rapidly-descending 7.62 casings warble--they sound just like inbound 60mm mortar rounds). When I saw him reposition to the stern, followed immediately by the Mike-Boat beginning to move out smartly, my first thought was that the boat was under fire again and Two-Niner was now pulling a moving medevac, which is a real thrill. When I realized he was *pushing* the boat, I figured the Boat Boss had just promised him a surf ‘n’ turf lunch in the Navy Mess at My Tho…

V29: I can't remember who my gunner or PP were, but I'm quite sure the CE was Jim M. It amazes me that I have little clear memory of so much of my tour. There are maybe three or four incidents that are etched in my mind and I think of them often. Were they real or figments of my imagination??????? It was unpopular on Wall Street in the early '70s to be a RVN vet, so I never talked of my experiences and may, in fact, have suppressed them to the point that I only remember incidents where the adrenaline was flowing freely. The rest is gone, only to return when somebody prompts me with a memory of theirs. Well that is how I recollect one's my story and I'm sticking to it.

V15: I clued him in on his Peter-Pilot’s ID, since I’d heard that Daown Ee-yust twang when PP mashed the floor mic button, forgot his selector switch was still set on Reed Control’s FM frequency and started whining about the tail rotor getting close to the trees. But he confirms one thing I’d previously realized--if something wasn’t a significant event, the basics (what happened and where) get dribbled into memory, but the details (date, crew, exact sequence of events) vanish until somebody says, “Hey, I need a little help with a story I want to do…”

Epilogue: What’s all the current teeth-gnashing about “Jointness” being so devastatingly difficult to achieve? We did it thirty-odd years ago--it was dirt-simple:

1. Navy (or Air Force or Marines) get into trouble and call for an Army helicopter.

2. Army helicopter arrives and saves the day.

See? What could be simpler?

Post-epilogue: As the Princess has constantly (and fetchingly) pointed out in the past, we sometimes engage in squid-snarks around this place, but I must confess to a certain admiration for the Navy--after all, I can attest to the fact that it was the *first* uniformed service to utilize, in combat, a brown-water patrol boat powered by a four ton, turbine-engined outboard motor with a 48-foot prop.

Operated by an Army crew.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gratuitous Squid Snark: I'll betcha I've landed on more different types of naval craft than Lex has--including to the *width* of the flight deck. Twice.

*sigh* But we can't use the phrase "Boys In Blue" to snark the sister services anymore, evidently. Although I'll bet John will take issue with one of the reasons given for the switch--

• In quality, the blue Army Service Uniform is made of a durable material that is suitable for daily use without special care.

It's gotta be a real nuisance trying to find the exact shade of blue for those spandex™ side-seam inserts...