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.
A new company commander in combat has to prove himself to his men very quickly. Keith Nightingale faced this task when he arrived for his 2nd Vietnam tour. They got to know him and he was accepted. They may have been peaceniks and part time dopers but they turned out to be fine soldiers.
Why were the Montagnard units getting no contact? It was determined that they weren't going out far enough and on the second patrol that ventured further, Jim Bolan and the combined unit ran into the back of a VC ambush. A furious firefight followed, and he summoned his ace in the hole, the Air Force.
Forward air controller Mike Leonard went up to Ban Me Thuot to help out for a few days. The first night, as he settled in with a cold beer, the radio crackled with pleas for help from a nearby special forces camp. They were under siege. Part 1 of 3.
Lam Son 719 was a huge operation meant to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail by pushing into Laos. The ground forces were all Vietnamese with air support from the Americans. Keith Nightingale's company was responsible for security at the closest landing zone to the border and it became a scene of chaos as the operation turned into a rout.
American advisor John Le Moyne didn't give the South Vietnamese Airborne unit much advice. He was there to call in air strikes, artillery, Medevacs and resupply. He marveled at the toughness and courage of the fighters who traced the unit's lineage back to the French Colonial Airborne.
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
Every male in his family back through history served so it was preordained that Keith Nightingale would serve in the military. He got a commission out of ROTC and went through jump school and Ranger school. He headed to the 82nd Airborne but went on his first tour of Vietnam as an advisor to the South Vietnamese army.
Everyone breathing in a uniform was hurriedly mobilized by the 82nd Airborne as they scrambled to reply to Gen. Westmoreland's demand for more troops. On the flight over, while some of the planes were grounded by weather, Jim Littig saw an amazing test of wills in an Airborne versus Air Force standoff.
After nearly being overrun on the first night of the Tet Offensive, the Vietnamese Rangers, along with American advisor Keith Nightingale, rejoined the other half of their battalion which was battling the VC nearby. They were aided by some splendid Australians and some cocky VNAF pilots. Part 2 of 3.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
This isn't going to work. That's what Tony Nadal told his boss, Hal Moore, as they launched a helicopter assault to search for the enemy. He was right. The forces scattered and hid, so new tactics were called for. The next assault was in the Ia Drang Valley and they were perhaps too successful. Part 1 of 5.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.)
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.
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.
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.
Midway through his second tour, Keith Nightingale was moved from the field to division HQ where he became the G-2 operations officer. This meant that he was responsible for managing intelligence from the sensor program and developing targets for B-52 strikes. This was his first exposure to intelligence work and he liked it.