6:03 | In Vietnam, unexpected action was the order of the day. On a routine flight, helicopter pilot Jack Swickard and his crew chief Skip Lyons saw another chopper going down and their mission immediately changed to rescue. As they landed, the enemy approached.
Keywords : Jack Swickard helicopter pilot Vietnam Charles Skip Lyons Phu Loi Viet Cong (VC) North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
Jack Swickard was from a military family and when the time came to be drafted, he enlisted beforehand as a matter of honor. He selected the warrant officer program that put him on track to be a helicopter pilot. First up was basic training, where he found the DI's to be quite entertaining.
It was a memorable arrival at Mineral Wells for Jack Swickard, who checked into a hotel that turned out to not be a hotel. Once flight school began, he was at the mercy of higher ranking individuals who liked to make him snap to attention.
During helicopter flight training, Jack Swickard's first instructor pilot really had it in for him, writing him up with pink slips for no reason. After he went through a check ride with another instructor, he was able to fix the situation.
The group of new pilots was split up for the flight to Vietnam and Jack Swickard was on the first plane out. He was a little miffed that he was on the way while the other guys were partying in San Francisco. When he reached Honolulu, an engine failure gave him his revenge.
It wasn't a hooch in Bien Hoa, it was a nice villa. Helicopter pilot Jack Swickard was amazed to find his billet was so luxurious. He had not been there long when he got an unexpected lesson in firearm safety right there in his room. On his first mission, he was puzzled at the strange behavior of the aircraft commander, who was slapping himself in the face.
In the aftermath of the massive Operation Junction City, helicopter pilot Jack Swickard was assigned to ferry a special ops paymaster from camp to camp. At one of these stops, he was asked if he could help extract a civilian irregular unit that was surrounded by a large enemy force. Of course he could. Part 1 of 2.
He had to cut his way down through the vegetation with his rotor blades. Pilot Jack Swickard had volunteered to extract a unit under siege and it was tough just getting down to them on the ground. Once there, as the men began loading onto the chopper, the bullets were flying thick, some finding targets among those already on board. Pt 2 of 2.
Jack Swickard recalls a couple of incidents from his days as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. One involved a Viet Cong hand grenade brought into the cockpit as a trophy. In the other, his aircraft was mysteriously propelled straight up with no control.
Skip Lyons was the best crew chief helicopter pilot Jack Swickard ever had. He remembers how he once resorted to a fistfight to protect his pilot and how his foolhardiness changed over time to caution.
Combat is a series of very close calls. That was Jack Swickard's experience flying choppers in Vietnam. He recalls landing in a mine field and facing down a VC with an AK-47.
Jack Swickard recalls an unnamed fellow pilot who had one of the civilian women who worked around the base chasing after him. He came up with a novel method to get rid of her, one which developed into some trouble at the officers club. (Caution: adult subject matter.)
The soldiers who served in Vietnam fought well and were gentlemen. That's what helicopter pilot Jack Swickard wants people to remember about that war. He decided early on that he would not indiscriminately kill anyone so that he did not have to live with that on his conscience.
The smart bombs were a great new technology and Rick Hilton commanded the first fighter squadron to have them. After a series of missions to test the accuracy so collateral damage could be avoided, he went after an important power plant in the middle of a reservoir.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Rick Hilton was based in Thailand during his first Vietnam tour with a fighter squadron that flew missions mainly over North Vietnam. Their gunners weren't always the best shots, but there were a lot of them. When he looked out his cockpit on a tough mission, the sky was full of red raindrops going in the wrong direction.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
Fighter pilot Rick Hilton had already been flying missions out of Thailand when a former classmate was assigned to the same squadron. His first mission as Hilton's back seater was a memorable one. The plane was hit by a SAM and it looked like they were done for.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
Rick Hilton did not let the cold shoulder from the public bother him when he came home from his first Vietnam tour. He had decided on an Air Force Career and was back for a second tour a few years later. For that one he commanded the only smart bomb squadron in the world. He describes some of the missions and also outlines how the enemy both lost and won the war with help from American politicians and media.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
The conditions in Vietnam did not make for an easy time being a photographer. Frank Heiny describes having to go out during monsoon season, Colonel Lynch, and his efforts to find a water buffalo.
Walt Richardson volunteered at a Catholic orphanage while he was in Vietnam, helping the nuns take care of children. He also found time to start a musical group and had a good time playing in clubs. He was a childhood friend of the legendary Chappie James, the first black 4-star General in the Air Force.
Not every assignment was about the soldiers, some were about the Vietnamese people they had been sent to protect. Frank Heiny remembers some of the other stories from his time in Vietnam and the effect of what he witnessed there.
His missions were usually over North Vietnam but fighter pilot Rick Hilton was diverted to help a forward air controller on the ground in the South. He was not used to ground support tactics but the FAC was very good and he was on the money.
For the first time in his Air Force career, Walt Richardson was in a combat zone. When the aircraft mechanic arrived in Vietnam, one of the first things he saw was bodies being unloaded from a helicopter. That rattled him. Then there were the rocket attacks.
With hundreds of missions over two tours in Vietnam, fighter pilot Rick Hilton was awarded a nice collection of medals and commendations. It may have been even shinier except the new smart bomb technology he was deploying on his second tour caused some to think it was now too easy.
Quinn Becker describes the primitive sterilization units he used in Vietnam at an Army hospital. Smokey Joes, they called them. It was a demanding environment for medical personnel who were tasked with quickly getting casualties off the battlefield and into care and treatment.
It was a memorable mission. Rick Hilton spotted two trucks, sitting ducks on the road. As he rolled in to strike, guns on either side of him opened up. It was a trap. The pilots had to fly a hundred missions to make up a tour, which led to one of them making a memorable comment during a lecture from the flight surgeon about smoking.