There's an old saying that goes something like, "There are no atheists in a foxhole.". With the benefit of hindsight I can surely say that Someone bigger than me saved my butt on more than one occasion. Many who read this can relate to those times when danger, disaster and even death were rushing towards you so fast all you could do was toss up a quick "GOD HELP!!" Although much of my "Nam" experience is still stuffed somewhere in the haze of time and denial, three close calls have stayed with me over the years:
Tail Rotor Failure
We were on our way back to base. We had been flying a full bird colonel around all day so he could observe his armored unit's operations from the air. I had just moved "up" to right side gunner from the maintenence hangar. I don't remember the names of the flight crew that day but do remember it was Stallion 66-16152. Somewhere over the foothills west of DBT a huge shudder ran through the craft and woke everyone up. With eyes as big as silver dollars we all looked at one another as if to say, "What was that!!" A quick survey of the gauges showed nothing unusual. Then, checking the outside of the bird, my heart skipped a beat or two as I saw the tail rotor slowly spinning to a stop. When I informed the pilot (and rest of the crew) of the situation, that sinking feeling hit everyone at once. I'm not sure if the colonel knew what the problem was but he knew we were going down. The AC got off a quick mayday and nosed it down to maintain airspeed as we looked for a good spot to put her down. The jungle below had nothing to offer so he steered towards an area "way over there" which seemed to have less trees. We were losing altitude too fast in an effort to maintain straight flight. Another mayday went out as the pilot put us into the classic autorotation mode. Airspeed had now dropped to the point where the fuselage could not overcome the torque of the main rotor. Just above the treetops and spinning out of control, I remember thinking "this is it!". As we hit the trees, the rotor blades were sheared off and it was a dead drop to the ground.After the deafening thud of impact, there was an eerie silence as everyone wondered if we were dead....or alive. Miraculously, everyone onboard survived the crash (each one complained of serious back pain, I remember). Now a new danger loomed: what if Charlie saw the whole thing and was now closing in to finish the job?. The crew chief and I managed to get our 60's and some ammo off the craft and set up a crude perimeter as the pilots disabled the radios. We dragged the colonel, screaming in pain, to a nearby tree and propped him up there. Three trees had penetrated through the floor of the aircraft like giant pungie stakes. We had landed skids down, I'm convinced, by the AC's determination to control the ship as long as possible. Someone had heard our mayday and was on the scene within an hour or so it seemed. Charlie never showed up. Stallion 152 was airlifted out later and dropped at the 243rd across the highway from our compound. Probably cannibalized for parts as she was virtually destroyed in the crash. It was found to have been a worn hanger bearing on the tail rotor drive shaft that caused the failure.Wish I could remember the names of the crew, especially the AC. He was a captain as I remember and did a marvelous job of bringing us all down alive.The crew chief never flew agian as he was "short" and had a serious back injury. I moved "up" to crew chief and got a brand new aircraft- Stallion 115. She was a strong ship and I think all the pilots enjoyed flying her.
Not Today, Charlie
I remember we were on our way back from a two week stint at Ban Me Thout. (I know this for certain as I have never forgotten that red dirt that never came out of my clothes). I was back in my gunners hole about to nod off to sleep when I decided to move forward to the cargo area in an effort to wake up a bit. No sooner had I settled into the jump seat than we all heard that unmistakeble "pop-pop-pop" of AK-47 fire. It was not all that unusual to take the occasional potshot from some angry farmer or renegade VC. A huey cruising at 4000 feet is not exactly a sitting duck so it would take an excellent marksman or dumb luck to get a hit at that range. I'm not sure which one it was in this case, but we heard one round strike the bird. I looked all around for a hole or smoke or something but saw nothing. The gauges gave no indication that a vital component had been struck so we decided to watch everything real close and take it on home since we were so close. Back at base, I got a chance to look things over a little better. I discovered a bullet hole through the left skid, below the M-60 mount. I investigated further and found the business end of that bullet imbedded in the insulation covering the transmission well. I sat in the seat I had nearly dozed off in just minutes before and traced the trajectory of the round. If I had not moved forward earlier, I figure that hot metal would have caught me right in the chin. I sank down on my knees and had a little heart to heart talk with God right then and there.
Monsoon season. Clouds and fog all around. Fuel getting low. Need to get down soon......but where? Can't see the ground. Searching....Searching for an opening. Looking right...now left....nothing! Fuel gauge is screaming!! Come on, sky...open up! There!! There's an opening! Not much but it's all we've got. I can see roads and trees! Go for it! We drop like a rock towards that beautiful Vietnamese earth. Suddenly all is gray as the weather grips us in it's fist. Feels like straight and level flight but I hear blades popping, engine groaning, rivets snapping! My God! Look at the attitude indicator! We're past verticle! Which way is up?...down? Pilot strains at controls and finally rights aircraft. Now what? We must be flying on fumes.Help, God! Sky mercifully opens up below. We drop through, beneath the clouds. High-tail and lo-level home.