arrived in Viet Nam in August 1969 as a young second lieutenant (nick-named
“Butter Bar” due the color of the rank insignia) in the city of Nha Trang. I was then assigned to the 129th Assault
Helicopter Company, call sign The Bulldogs & Cobras, in the Highlands area,
just outside of Qui Nhon. I was
assigned to the First Lift Platoon as a co-pilot.
I did not like flying the Huey Utility Helicopter UH-1D since I had been
qualified as a gunship pilot before coming to Viet Nam, so I really made a pain
of myself and finally the company commander decided that some one who was some
much trouble would make a good gun pilot. For the next year, I flew the old Bell
Helicopter UH1 B-model Huey gunship between the coast and the Plelku area even
into Cambodia and Laos. After
having been qualified in the Huey Cobra, this was like having bought a Corvette
and then being forced to drive a Chevette for the next year.
However, I learned a lot about being a good pilot from having to fly an
older under powered helicopter. During
this time, I was given the call sign “Cobra Bishop”.
My job during this year was provide aerial weapons coverage for the
ground troops who found themselves in conflicts with the North Vietnamese Army
and the Viet Cong gorillas.
job I found most satisfactory was providing protection coverage for the
Aeromedical Helicopters, call sign “Dust Off”, which brought the wounded and
injured soldiers to medical care from the battlefields.
These helicopters had army medics on board and carried no weapons for
protection from the weapons used by the opposing forces. They also had a white
square painted on both sides and on the nose of the helicopter with a big red
cross inside the square. This red
cross was supposed to mean that they were not to be shot at because of the
Geneva Convention Pact. However,
the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong used the crosses as bull's eyes for
shooting down the unarmed “Dust Off” helicopters.
These brave crew’s medics and pilots would risk their lives to save a
wounded soldier, either American, South Vietnamese, Korean or even North
Vietnamese/Viet Cong. Just note,
there were more “Dust Off” crews killed in the Viet Nam war than any other
helicopter crew and the “Dust Off” pilots and medics were presented the
“Congressional Medal” more then any other flight crew during this time.
To these crews it did not matter who the person was, if they needed help
they were there. As a gunship
pilot, my job was to protect the “Dust Off” aircraft so that they could make
their pickups. The most proud
accomplishment I had was that during my coverage not one “Dust Off”
helicopter was ever shot down when I was providing coverage for them.
a year, my tour of duty was up and I was ready to go home, luckily, I had been
injured but never enough that I could not continue to fly.
As I was getting ready to leave Viet Nam, the Army offered me a chance to
command an aviation platoon and fly the Huey Cobra gunship if I would stay an
additional year. As a young first
Lieutenant, I decided to stay on, to fly the helicopter of my dreams (this was
the closest any helicopter pilot can come to flying fighter jet aircraft), and
get the leadership experience that I needed to advance.
I then was transferred to the 361st Aerial Artillery Company
in Plelku, where I flew for the second platoon, call sign The Pink Panthers, for
the next year. Normally you were
given a call sign to associate you with your platoon such as Panther 22, but I
was able to keep my call sign “Cobra Bishop” because of the former tour and
my platoon thought that it was nice to have the old man, at age 21, set apart
from everyone else. Again being
able to assist the “Dust Off” helicopters was the best job that I could have
been assigned. Again not one
“Dust Off” helicopter was shot down when I provide cover.
This was and will always be something that I consider to be my greatest
accomplishment as a helicopter pilot.
my second tour I was assigned to Fort Bragg, NC, while there I was offered a
chance to fly, at the time the “Free World’s Larges Helicopter”, the
Sikorsky Sky Crane CH-54A/B. This
was the most sophisticated cargo lift helicopter ever made and a plum assignment
for a young Army Captain who was getting to do more than he ever dreamed of
doing. It would mean going back to
Viet Nam for another tour, but how many times does some thing like this com
along. That’s where the call
sign Captain Jack came from.
I spent the next eight months in Viet Nam doing just that.
returned to the United States to find that no matter that I had been shot down
seven times, been injured twice by enemy fire, and served more that 32 months in
combat that I was disliked just because of my Army uniform. I just wanted to get on with my Army career.
I was home about six months when the Army informed me that even with the
time I had spent in Viet Nam that I had no infantry command time and if I was
going make a career out of the Army I would have return to Viet Nam for at least
six more months to get the required infantry experience. It
was at this time I decided that I would resign from the Army. I left the Army and joined the Alabama National Guard in
Birmingham where I attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus.
The one good thing about that was that I could still fly the “Sky
Crane” while I attend school. How cool was that?
answer some of your questions;
the time, my parents did not understand why I felt that I must serve in Viet Nam
and why I kept extending my tours. This
was a personal thing about being a soldier in unpopular war that few could
type of duty in the air, I never got to see the soldiers that I was fighting
against, just the results of a battle, which was never pretty.
War is an ugly business that takes a toll all those who participate in
lost some good friends to enemy fire and stupid accidents.
I wish that they had survived, but during war, some soldiers live and
others die for some reason that only God can understand.
I felt that I had given to my country the best that I had and hope that
the protestor in the United States realized that I, as an individual, had fought
for their right to protest. However,
as always the veteran of a war can only expect someone who had walked in his
shoes to understand how he feels.
hope this explains about my Viet Nam experience.
Those were times that I would not want to live through again, but they
help shape me into who I am today. Nor
do I wish any young person to have to experience that in their lifetime.
I just hope that the sacrifice of the young people who died in Viet Nam
will never be forgotten and that we as free Americans remember that our soldiers
will always be there for us when need them.
for visiting Viet Nam again, I have no desire to visit there.
As a professional pilot, I have worked in Asia since then and decided
that I much rather just work here in the United States.
There is too much of the United States that I have never visited and I
would rather see more of my beautiful country.
friends like Chuck and Elaine, and my other Corvette friends, I never feel like
I do not fit in, no matter where I have traveled.
I hope that you and the other young Corvetters stay in our sport and
remember the old folks who found that a car could bring such good friends and
great times together.
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