Some Very Hairy Extractions.
Don “Murph the surf” Murphy was a slick driver and always found his comfort zone as the last aircraft in the formation. When he lifted off his call was, “surf’s up”, which let lead know the flight was up and moving. On this particular day he was alone. We had received a call that a 6-man patrol was in contact and about to be overrun. We located the general area and started talking with the troops. They were running through the jungle with, what they estimated to be, a company of bad guys hot on their heels. The radioman was out of breath and it didn’t sound like they were going to last very long. We asked them to throw smoke so we could ID their position. When the smoke finally made it up through the triple canopy we rolled in with rockets and miniguns, only to hear from the troops that both they and the bad guys were well past that point.
Murph showed-up to do the extraction, but it wasn’t going to work if we couldn’t locate the team so he flew down on top of the trees until the radioman reported he was directly overhead. I guess the only reason the VC hadn’t blasted him out of the sky was that they were shocked to see a Huey just hovering along at tree-top height. At any rate, as soon as he had them located, he told them that there was a suitable LZ about 2 klicks ahead. The radioman reported that they wouldn’t be able to make it. They were done in.
We put some suppressive fire behind the friendlies position trying to slow the bad guys down. I don’t think it did any good and it was looking pretty grim. Murph suddenly said, “Make a right turn. 50 yards, you’ll see a clearing. I’ll pick you up there.” I looked to the right but I couldn’t see any clearing. There was just a thin patch in the jungle with some small trees. Then it became clear. “Oh sh@#! He’s really gonna do it!”
Murph came to a hover over the “clearing” just as the team appeared. He told them to hit the dirt and started on down. As he chopped his way toward the ground, branches and leaves flew everywhere. He was cutting his own LZ with the rotorblades. I knew the Huey was tough but this was way beyond normal wear. He finally found the ground and the troops ran for the cabin. Just as the last man jumped aboard, the point man for the VC stumbled into the “LZ”. Determined to inflict some damage on their pursuers, the last man on lowed his M-79 grenade launcher for a shot. Just as he did so, Murph pulled pitch. The barrel of the M-79 jerked down and the grenade went off directly under the helicopter. Now things really started to get interesting. A white milky cloud enveloped the helicopter, stirred up by the rotors. When I saw it happen, I thought he’d been hit. Then the radio lit up with Murph yelling, “GAS!”
The guy had loaded a CS grenade in the launcher and now the entire helicopter was in a cloud of tear gas. Despite not being able to see, Murph pulled pitch and started out. I happened to be in position behind him so I slid into trail and gave him a few left, right commands until his vision cleared. We got out of that mess and nobody died, but I sure don’t know why. In Vietnam, guys earned medals every day. Once in a while they even received some.