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.
He considered it a day at the office, but on that day, helicopter pilot Roger Cox helped save an infantry platoon's bacon, landed in the middle of a fire fight in an attempted rescue, exhausted all his ammo trying to keep the men on the ground safe, and got shot down just for good measure.
It was the first large scale B-52 strike over North Vietnam and F-4 Pilot Carl Scheidegg was flying one of the hundreds of planes assembling in the night sky. There were terrific storms and little visibility as he searched for the tanker at the rendezvous. Suddenly it appeared out of the clouds coming straight for him on a collision course.
The day Jack Jeter was wounded was the third day of serious firefights. His commanding officer, Captain Barry McCaffrey, was wounded on the first day and the temporary replacement had his own ideas about how to proceed. That led the unit right into big trouble. Part 1 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
The river boats were patrolling in narrow canals and rivers, searching for infiltrating NVA troops. Galen Hoover was in the second boat, trailing a boat that was supposed to be mine sweeping. That was the last thing he remembered about that day.
Tony Coalson's helicopter unit flew all of II Corps, a fourth of the entire country, unlike dedicated combat units, which only flew in their little slice of Vietnam. He recalls his first combat related mission, in which he delivered an assessment team right in the middle of one of the biggest battles of the war. Part 1 of 2.
The bullet barely missed wrecking his knee. Jack Jeter was in for some hospital time before he could go home. Once he did, he was amazed at the blase attitude of his friends about Vietnam. Part 3 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
When helicopter pilot Tony Coalson was on the ground during the Battle of Dak To, he was astounded at the numbers of American dead. Some of the casualties were from a terrible friendly fire incident. He remembers watching a C-130 full of wounded men just barely survive takeoff. When he returned to his base, he had a solemn observation for his roommate. Part 2 of 2.
His tour of duty was a real tour. F-4 pilot Carl Scheidegg spent time at many different air bases in Vietnam and Thailand. When he had a chance to go to China Beach and saw the perfect sand, he had a vision of the future. The Vietnamese had a lovely country and he will never forget the civilian he met who told him what the people in the South were fighting for.
When Galen Hoover woke up in a hospital with a bandaged head and a broken hand, he had no idea what happened or how he got there. The guys from his unit came to see him and he finally heard the tale of that fateful patrol on the canal that day.
Carl Scheidegg would watch the MiGs take off at Yen Bai, but he wasn't allowed to attack the base. He had to wait until they came up and challenged him. This was just one of the frustrating things about Vietnam on his mind, including the fact that we had them beat before we walked away.
Coming home from Vietnam was a difficult experience. Jesse Groves was perplexed by the apathy and outright abuse. He suppressed his memories and moved on. Once later wars made service respectable again, and once he began to reconnect with his comrades, he could feel proud of his service.
Vietnamization was underway and, soon, Galen Hoover was sleeping away the long flight home. He landed in San Francisco and was glad to be back in the States, but as he left the plane, here came the peace protestors. What happened next haunts him still.
Steve Long was on a bus headed to Marine boot camp when he encountered his first DI, barking orders. He thought he was getting a plum job while marching, but road guard turned out to be not so good. He did enjoy meeting recruits from a wide variety of backgrounds, which was new to him.
Living full time with his Vietnamese crew meant that Galen Hoover ate what they ate. His first night on the river, they served him a dish that was so good, he requested it regularly, even after he found out what it was. The crew knew he was really green, so the boat captain thought he would mess with the new advisor a little.
Normally, a door gunner would not fly his last month in country, but Steve Long finagled his way into the air. In his other job in the avionics shop, he had a run-in with the new officer in charge. He got a little satisfaction the night after he got his orders home.
There was little contact up by the DMZ so the 1st Air Cavalry was moved south near the Cambodian border. Plenty of action there. The first day, Jerry Gast's platoon set off on a 500 meter sweep in front of the perimeter and ran into a trail. The ambitious lieutenant decided they would follow it. Bad idea.
It started 45 minutes out from Da Nang with a sobering announcement from the pilot. Then there was the oven-like climate, the surprise machine gun fire, the ribbing from the old-timers. Steve Long was definitely in Vietnam.
“I was out of it for days,” recalls Dennis Haines, He had a head wound and would only regain full consciousness after he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he learned the left side of his body was paralyzed.
As the American advisor argued with his Vietnamese counterpart over the radio, Willard Womack, an Army pilot stuck in transit, could hear the frustration mounting. The battle of Ap Bac could not be won with these tactics. Eventually, the evacuation was made and, weeks later, several of the aviators involved hitched a ride to Saigon for a night of carousing. Pt 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Steve Long was on the ground overnight at An Hoa when the base came under mortar fire. He recalls the selfless action of his hosts there, who protected the visiting Huey crew as best they could. He lost a good friend in another incident, made more tragic by the unusual circumstances.
Willard Womack was nervously awaiting the news of what happened to the helicopter carrying some of his friends who had just participated in the Battle of Ap Bac, a crucial turning point early in the war. They had come though that unscathed but were now missing. Decades later, he received an email that brought the memories flooding back. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Upon leading the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Myron Harrington had to help conduct an attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam. This is the story of how he and his men charged the tower, which took longer to accomplish than expected.
Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.