9:11 | There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.
Keywords : Bill Cunningham helicopter pilot Vietnam special forces Viet Cong (VC) landing zone (LZ) Dick Ensley loadmaster tourniquet 5th Army Field Hospital Quang Ngai Vietnam full body cast
Bill Cunningham caught the flying bug in the National Guard, applied for flight training and was accepted. In Pensacola, he found excitement right away when he and his instructor heard a loud banging in the engine during a training flight.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham recalls his time in Pensacola practicing carrier landings, including the time his tailhook malfunctioned. Before departing for the next phase of training, the group was asked how many are going to the Marines. His hand was one of the few, but when the Navy bound heard what awaited them, the Marines gained some more.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham describes the aborted takeoff which caused him to flip his aircraft at the end of the runway. It was a faulty part but there were other hazards in training, like towing the target for the others to shoot. Then there was more carrier training, which was very dangerous.
After receiving his commission and his wings, Marine aviator Bill Cunningham went to Corpus Christi for instrument training. One day, as he waited by the runway for his instructor, he was startled when the man showed up with a big surprise.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham had a little mishap with a rocket while training in Puerto Rico. He still doesn't know where that thing went. When it was time for assignment, he was given a choice, instructing or multi-engine aircraft. Neither appealed to him so he went a third way, helicopters.
For his first assignment after completing his training, Bill Cunningham was sent to the best Marine Air Station in the whole country, Miami. There he flew the A-1 Skyraider, a much beloved single engine prop plane that was very versatile. He also had a great gunnery sergeant who helped him with a prickly executive officer.
Bill Cunningham had completed his helicopter training at Ellyson field and was at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miami. He flew any aircraft he could just for the experience, and one day, he spotted a massive crate containing an oddball Sikorsky craft that he just had to assemble and try out.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham's first overseas assignment was at the Naval Air Station in Oppama, Japan, where he ferried troops and flew search and rescue missions. After 14 months, he returned to Pensacola where he became an instructor and honed his skills flying numerous different helicopters.
Marine Corps helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham served a ground tour in California, where he set up a second training location for pilots. The Marines needed many more because Vietnam was heating up and helicopters had become vital to their mission. During this time, he had an interesting excursion to Thailand, where he trained Thai pilots.
Bill Cunningham was based in Da Nang during his first tour of Vietnam. He recalls ferrying South Vietnamese troops and their livestock, which caused the crew chiefs to spend a lot of time cleaning the aircraft.
Marine Corps helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham was tasked with training Vietnamese pilots during his first tour in Vietnam. He was taken aback when their commander made an ominous promise.
He was ferrying South Vietnamese troops to an operation when helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham heard over the radio, "You've got smoke!" After setting down he saw the ship had been hit and everyone scrambled to get out. Everyone except his co-pilot, who was having trouble with his new weapon, the M-16.
It was a strange trip home. Bill Cunningham was in a full body cast and next to a patient who was ranting and raving. Then an engine went out, which caused him to make an urgent request to the nurse.
A Viet Cong bullet had failed to keep him out of the war. After recovering from that misfortune, Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham began his second tour by assuming command of the MABS-16 squadron, which was responsible for the operation of the base at Marble Mountain.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham served with a fellow officer named John Archibald during his second tour in Vietnam. One night, Archibald wandered into his quarters and made an ominous pronouncement.
Bill Cunningham was in command of a Marine helicopter squadron in Vietnam, and he was lucky to have a competent and respected sergeant major on his team. He recalls the time the man defused a tense situation involving an intoxicated Marine and an M-16.
Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a hooch next to the short runway where his aircraft were based. One night he was startled to hear the roar of a large jet aircraft very close. He awoke to a strange sight.
Bill Cunningham made sure every pilot in the squadron rotated in the search and rescue missions because they were the most dangerous and he wanted to spread out the risk. The Marine aircraft were accompanied by gunships for security and he always seemed to be paired with the same gunship pilot, call sign Hostage Jack.
Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham was paired with a gunship pilot called Hostage Jack on many of the search and rescue missions he flew in Vietnam. The missions were dangerous but it was a little weather scouting flight that cost Hostage Jack his life.
The big twin rotor helicopters flown by Marine pilot Bill Cunningham in Vietnam had door gunners with 50 caliber machine guns. As he approached a landing zone on a night mission, he heard one of the weapons fire. The gunner thought he had spotted an enemy muzzle flash. Unfortunately, it was not.
Bill Cunningham recalls his friend Gene Brady, who always beat him at gin rummy. The two Marine helicopter pilots commanded sister squadrons in Vietnam. Once, he was Brady's co-pilot and that turned out to be a memorable mission. Another memorable mission involved a rig called a jungle penetrator.
After his second Vietnam tour, Bill Cunningham was put in command of a troop ship full of Marines coming straight from the bush. That was a memorable trip and included an emergency caused by a wind blown cap. When the ship landed in San Diego, there was no welcome except for a crusty old colonel who made a ridiculous demand.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham tells a couple of stories about the man who took over his squadron, Walt Leadbetter. The events begin with the profane and then move to the sacred, an incident that resulted in a Medal of Honor award.
After his combat tours in Vietnam, Marine aviator Bill Cunningham served in several assignments that gave him a lot of chances to travel. In Africa, he helped manage drought and famine relief as part of a relief operation and, back home, he made readiness inspections of Marine air units.
Greg Lowe was a company commander and then Deputy Provost Marshal at the giant Long Binh post in Vietnam. He put himself in the rotation as duty officer and he recalls an incident involving a Coast Guard commander who was over served at the club.
When he got to his assigned base at Cu Chi, Tom Buchan finally got a weapon but they didn't give him any ammo. He was a tanker by training but the platoon sergeant put him on an APC. There's got to be some mistake, he thought. They bedded down for the night at a fire support base and, when he woke up and struck a match for a smoke, all hell broke loose.
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.
Greg Lowe's MP's had to search thousands of Vietnamese civilians every day as they arrived to work at Long Binh post. There was less VC sabotage than there was just plain thievery. Outside the base, soldiers were tempted by cheap drugs, which were plentiful.
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.
He got fatigues and gear in Oakland and flew on a charter across the Pacific to Vietnam. Tom Buchan was there as a replacement and had received no training specific to Vietnam as of yet. Fortunately, there was a three day orientation at his first stop before he was sent up to Cu Chi, to the 3-4 Cav. He saw tanks when he arrived and was hopeful he could avoid the infantry job he dreaded.
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.
The nickname of the MP company was The Bloodhounds. Someone stateside sent them a bloodhound puppy who grew into a real beast. Greg Lowe recalls that his name was Andy, that he was an honorary captain and that he loved to torment the domestic workers.
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/.)
Greg Lowe had no use for the anti-war sentiment growing on college campuses. He arrived in Vietnam and took command of an MP company guarding Long Binh post. When a soldier killed a civilian in a traffic accident, he learned about the humility and dignity of the Vietnamese.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He was an Army brat who was attracted to the service. Greg Lowe went to Western Kentucky University, where he excelled in ROTC and was an enthusiastic member of the Pershing Rifles. After receiving his commission, he spent a year in an armored unit and a year in a cavalry unit, but, in fact, he was a Military Police officer and he was destined for Virtnam.
Tom Buchan learned a lot in Vietnam, a lot about combat, third world countries, politics, poverty and a lot about himself. When he got off the plane after it was all over, some anti-war protestors taunted him with hateful speech. He nearly lost it.
The Vietnam War was starting to slow down when LC Johnson arrived in 1972. His logistics skills were needed to get some expensive furniture used by the brass back to America. He did have one spine tingling moment during a rocket attack, but thankfully his battles were mostly played out on the baseball field.
Since his roommate was the personnel officer, Greg Lowe was able to skip the routine of waiting in a replacement detachment when his time was up in Vietnam. His relationship with his father was strengthened when he got home because of the shared experience of combat.
Around Cu Chi, you almost never saw the enemy who was shooting at you. He would pop out of a hole, fire off some rounds and hide again. It was maddening to Tom Buchan, but at least there weren't many booby traps in the area. He did nearly run over a land mine, but was saved by a driver who cut in front of the tank.
Greg Lowe discusses his visits to the Vietnam War Memorial and the veterans group he is active with, who were partners in the 50th anniversary commemoration activities. He fondly remembers the troops love of a classic Eric Burden tune and he pays tribute to the ROTC supply sergeant who taught him about leadership.
After his reserve unit had been dissolved, Tom Buchan was working in his auto mechanic shop when he got a letter from Uncle Sam. He went to Fort Carson to a mechanized infantry unit. "I'm a tanker," he told them, but he was put to work as a radioman and then as a driver. He might have finished out his obligation stateside but he got into a ruckus in a bar. The CO didn't like that.
It was a night to remember when Bob Hope visited Long Binh post in 1970. Greg Lowe enjoyed that show, particularly when his driver got a lap full of Lola Falana. Then it's true confession time as he reveals the source of the steak and lobster served at the monthly parties.
The first day in combat in Vietnam was a memorable one for Tom Buchan. He learned an RPG could hit at anytime, that you could fire your weapon for hours without having seen anything, that a path that ended abruptly was hiding something and that good peripheral vision was essential.