After graduation at the U. of Alabama in December 1968, I received my draft notice. I reported for duty and was sent to Fort Polk, LA for basic and advanced infantry training. After graduating from Fort Polk the Army decided that since I had college degree, to offer me Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, GA. My choice was either going to Viet Nam after a two week leave or attending OCS for 19 weeks, then go to Viet Nam after a thirty-day leave. Being a coward, I chose OCS. Graduating in the top five percent of Infantry OCS class, there were some really dumb guys in that class, I was offered additional training as a Special Forces Officer. Again, this would mean additional time in the United States before Viet Nam, so I accepted the challenge of becoming a Special Forces Officer. I was very lucky to have made it through this course, graduated again in the top five per cent, and was offered a chance to be a Special Forces Aviation Coordinator, which was a new position the Army was making to help the Special Forces Troops use Army Aviation on the battlefield. This position meant that I would attend the Basic Army Helicopter Pilot School at Fort Wolters, TX, again more time in the US before Viet Nam. Do you see how my thinking was running? Maybe I could stay in schools until Viet Nam was over. I graduated from Fort Wolters, and then attended Primary Helicopter Training at Fort Rucker, AL. Somehow, I was again in the top five per cent of my class and was offered addition training and I chose the Army’s Advance Helicopter Weapons School at Fort Hunter/Stewart, GA, were I learn to fly the Army’s Premier helicopter gunship, the Bell Helicopter Huey Cobra. After graduating from Fort Stewart, I had two weeks of leave before traveling to Viet Nam.
I 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.
The 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.
After 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.
After 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.
I 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?
To answer some of your questions;
At 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 understand.
My 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 it.
I 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.
I 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.
As 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.
With 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.
Helicopter Association International (HAI) honored Jack, site Manager for Keystone Helicopters - Metro Life Flight Operations in Cleveland, Ohio, with its 2003 Agusta Community Service Award.
READ MORE CLICK HERE!
Back to the Membership Home Page