I remember the day Crew Chief Bob Shipp handed the ship "Stallion 67-17166" over to me on the DBT airfield,,, the Strawberry Alarm Clock… to me she was one of the better ships of the 1st flight platoon…. With a brilliant combat history!
In January 1969, the day before we lost her, we were following up on LRRP reports of heavy NVA movements on the mountains above Nha Trang. We were working with the 5th special forces and had two advisers on board showing us the way over the summit trail and down into a steep ravine of triple canopy jungle. There, under the tallest trees were three huge barracks type hooches about 150-200 feet long! We fired hundreds of rounds of M60 from both doorguns, carpeting the three structures with wall to wall bullets and tossed many Willy Peter and incendiary grenades through the tree tops…after several slow passes from both left and right sides and despite all of those fire grenades and tracer bullets we weren’t able to set afire a single structure. From the air we could see well used multiple, foot trails, fish traps in the stream, dug out concealed bunkers and or never seen trash along the trail. With all that shooting and low slow passes, not one… no body shot back at us!
The next day, we began with a combat assault of six Stallion slicks and two Sidekick gunships. The PIC was WO Bob Bowen ”West Virginia Mountain Man” . I don’t remember our co-pilot’s name… but I think he remembers this day! Gunner “Gus” Oliver Gustafson, and Crew Chief “Spaceman” Brian C.T. Yee. The gunships went in hot followed by the slicks. We were number 4 in the flight of six … it was then, I could hear a distant series of popping of heavy guns. The firing becoming louder and multiplying as we got closer to the LZ…I could see from my side, clusters of white and green tracers being shot out ahead of us from the ground from several different positions all along our flight path. Then slowly curving up towards us on a collision course as they exploded and cracked right through us! We made our touch down in sequence; the troops disembarked and fanned out. I knew that we had been shot at, but I didn’t know if we were hit. I could smell a faint hint of smoke so I gave my left side a quick visual check as we were lifting off. As soon as we were about to rejoin the flight pattern, the heavy ground gun fire promptly resumed in earnest, heavy machine gun fire booming right through us again! I looked downward to see the fuel cell under me was on fire…I could feel the heat of the blaze and I could see the slow trickling leaking liquid fuel igniting. The flames growing instantly larger! I called up front telling Bowen to put it down immediately! He called up, saying we were on fire and going in, then quickly rolled left and down. The cabin suddenly filled with a choking thick black plastic smoke, the diving speed blew down the flames almost out, but as soon as he started to flare upon landing, the flames roared back even larger! I felt right then, that we going to die in an exploding fire ball! I pulled back away from the flames, braced myself and waited for the worst… a sudden bump…we were on the ground!!! The tall elephant grass had brushed out the raging flames but it was still bellowing thick heavy smoke. I instantly grabbed my M16 Rifle, locked in a round, and tripped the safety. I hustled forward to open the pilot’s door, slid back the armored seat’s bullet shield, and unlatched Bowen’s seat belt…while he was shutting down the overhead master and electrical switches. I handed him the M16, told him it was loaded and the safety was on. He pointed the direction of our recovery ship at the edge of the LZ. I picked up the M60 machinegun, broke off some rounds, and we bolted through the thick, tall elephant grass. When we got to the ship the copilot was already sitting on cabin floor. We were missing Gus! The copilot claimed that he had heard a scream as he was running from 166 and that maybe he had been shot or captured… Scared and weary my heart sank to the floor…Just then the pilot said “WE DON’T LEAVE NOBODY!! Go back and get him!’’ The recovery ship's crew chief instantly said, "I’m going with you!" I grabbed my weapon and the both of us ran back to 166. Back at the scene, we saw no one and the ship was still heavily smoking and burning. I desperately called out for Gus several times and then finally he crawls out from beneath the fuselage under AMF with an expended fire extinguisher. Thank Goodness! We quickly gathered up his stuff, the log book and didi mao! As we lifted out of the LZ, 166 was now totally engulfed in flames…she exploded a few times more, due to having on board incendiaries and Willy Peter grenades from the day before. This story is especially dedicated to Bob Shipp, what had finally happened to 166 and to all of those brave young men who contributed to the proud combat history of the 92nd AHC during the Vietnam conflict.
Brian C.T. Yee Stallion Crew Chief 1st Airlift Platoon 92nd AHC ’68-‘69