Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
Blackhawk 54


"So Crash, do you remember doing a medevac near Katum where you chopped
down a couple of trees getting in?  Asks Frenchie Gibeault sitting in my living room.   "The night medevac deep in a hover hole where I destroyed a D model getting out the wounded?" "Yep, that's the one." The Frenchman replied.   "I did not think we were going to make it home, in fact, I did not think we would ever get off the ground."

We laughed at ourselves, thirty-two years after it happened, it still scared the shit out of us to talk about it.

Here is the story Robert "Frenchie" Gibeault and I put together Thursday
night.  It is interesting to me how so many details come to light while talking with some one who was there in the helicopter with me watching things unfold with a different perspective.

Here is our story.

The 187th Assault Helicopter Company had been given the mission to re-supply the 25th Infantry this day, and as a member of the First Platoon (later known as the Maggots) my instructions had been simple.  "Blackhawk 54, Contact Manchu 6 on his ground push, don't let them keep you past 1900 hours." Growled Major Bauman.  After our evening briefing my platoon leader Captain Billie Presson was next to get my attention, he assigned me an aircraft and gave me a list of frequencies to contact the ground troops.   I was happy to get Roger Gilbert for my Crew Chief and Frenchie Gibeault for a Gunner both from Boston, both with thick Boston accents.  It would be fun to hear them talk on the intercom, some of men from the Deep South needed translators just to work with these two.

The second platoon was doing Eagle Flights.  I was happy to be doing single ship resupply rather than hopping tree lines inserting Grunts into hot poorly prepped Landing Zones. 

We started early in the morning, just at daybreak.  Hauling water and ammo. "Blackhawk 54 is inbound to your location with a load of ammo over," the voice on the radio controlling the re-supply effort came back with "Blackhawk 54 you have no traffic things are still quiet clear to land."

I could see the red smoke coming up through the hole in the Jungle.  We were out near Katum. It was a long flight from Tay Ninh to that hole in the jungle.

I made a high pass over the Hover Hole and looked down into the dark green eerie pool, I could see nothing in the darkness and the smoke coming up made things worse.  I was light, having burned quite a bit of fuel going up there and the crew loaded us light for our first trip in so we could get a feeling for how much power it was going to take to get in and out.

I approached into the wind and when I got right over the top of the hole my crew started clearing me down.  About half way down my eyes had a chance to adjust to the dim light in the Jungle and I could see between my feet the Grunt with the rifle over his head guiding me in to touchdown.  The red smoke flair at his feet puking out clouds of the acrid red smoke that burned my eyes and lungs at the same time.  The rotor wash turning the air pink all around us.

Once I had the guide on in sight, the rest was easy and they had a pad marked and markers for us to land on.

I went to flat pitch and had a look around.  The Grunts were dug in, but the only light was from straight over head, it was dark under triple canopy jungle early in the morning.

The crew helped the Grunts take the ammo off while the Sargent I would be working with came up to the helicopter to shoot the shit.  I told him this helicopter was a good one and we could take seven men.  With simple hand signals the Sergeant pointed who was getting on and with a thumbs up and a big smile it was time to go.

I pushed the mike button the cyclic to the first détente, the intercom, "Coming up" I was telling my crew to clear me on the vertical departure.  "Clear right" from Frenchie, "Clear left" from Roger.  The UH-1D started to climb straight up.  With help from my eyes in the back we threaded our way out into the bright sunlight.  At the top of the hover hole I eased the nose over and gently started to get enough airspeed to fly home.

Time after time we went in and out of the hover hole until very late in the afternoon just before sundown when Manchu 6 let us go.

That last trip out of the hover hole empty was like being born again.  With an empty chopper and the radio playing "Please release me let me go" we were all singing along with the radio grabbing some altitude on the way home.

"Mr. Coe, you said I could get some stick time if" I cut him off " well get up here Frenchie" was my reply.  Usually after a long day of flying, I would let the crew fly home.  Some of them like Frenchie became pretty proficient flyers.   I always thought teaching the crew to fly was insurance.  The 187th Assault Helicopter Company already had a time where both pilots were hit and the helicopter was flown to the hospital by the crew chief saving all their lives.

With the Flying Frenchman at the controls and clearance from the Tay Ninh tower, we terminated at a hover twenty feet over the top of POL.  "I've got it" I said, and I hovered down to a refueling nozzle.  I was about to take my helmet off when the call from operations came in over the company frequency. "Blackhawk 54 we have a medevac for you, shut down on the operations pad."

After hovering over and shutting down in front of the Operations tent, I climbed out and made the short walk to the inner sanctum, Blackhawk 6 territory.  Major Bauman always talked very formally to the Warrant Officer pilots in his command, "Mr. Coe, the troops you have been supporting today were hit hard just a few minutes ago.  They are requesting medevac.  They have at least two very seriously wounded men that need medical attention immediately.  You have been operating out of that Landing Zone all day and know the area, so I am sending you back to get the wounded.  Grab something to eat while the gunships work over the area, this could be a long night."

I felt sort of numb on my short walk back to the helicopter, the thought of flying down in that hover hole in the dark was not what I had in mind for this evening.

I told the crew of the mission we had been given; they were ready to go, not one second of hesitation.  I felt better; they obviously had faith in my ability to get in and out of the hover hole one more time in the dark.

Major Bauman's runner found us all at the mess hall. " There is a break in the action, you need to depart now."  And he turned on his heel and was out of the tent in a flash, we looked at each other and dropped what we were doing and ran back to the helicopter.

We were in the air in minutes, the darkness closing in around us as we left civilization and headed out over the jungle.  I checked in with Paris Radar and they started vectoring me to my target.  I could hear the Guns on Victor coordinating their attack; I broke in with "Blackhawk 54 inbound for a medevac, over."  The Rat Pack fire team leader came back with "Roger 54, they seem to be pulling back, I would not call it quiet, but we are not taking fire at this time." Rat Pack 18 had my life in his capable hands. 

I switched to FM ground frequency and called the ground commander.  "We
have two hit very badly and five that will make daylight."  Was his comeback, I knew I could get all seven, we had been hauling that many all day.

Rat Pack 18 called for flares, and the Grunts responded by shooting one out the top of the landing zone.  The wildly swing flair clearly showed the hole in the trees and I was over the spot in seconds.

Searchlight and spotlight on and at first look down I could see tree limbs that had fallen across the opening to the landing zone during the battle.  My crew was clearing my tailboom, and about half way down our rotor wash dislodged a large branch sending it through the main rotor.  To up the pucker factor, the Viet Cong started shooting at the light in the trees with everything they had.  I could clearly see the landing pad had a large branch leaning out over it, I had not chopped my way in this far to pull pitch and leave without my wounded Grunts.  I chopped and chopped until I got on the ground.  When I shut off the light we were plunged into an inky darkness with the only light coming from tracers criss crossing the landing zone and the dim red light of the instruments.

My D model blades were thrashed.  I had lateral vibrations, I had vertical vibrations, and it seemed as if she was going to shake herself to death.  We were taking a huge volume of fire on the ground, and everyone with a weapon was using it.   The Sergeant I had been working with all day ran up to the door and told him to just put on the critically wounded patients, my beat up blades would not lift very much.

The Grunts loaded two very badly wounded men and a medic to keep them alive. I called out "Coming up" and as I started pulling pitch I knew we had big problems with the main rotor.

As soon as I broke ground I turned on the lights, that seemed to focus the tracers on us.   We still had some chopping to do to get out.  By the time I got to the top of the hover hole I was pulling all the pitch we had.  The Rat Pack was working out on the steady stream of tracers coming up from the jungle.

I was trying to get some altitude, but the old girl had given her all chopping in and out to get the wounded Grunts.  I was able to get some forward airspeed and with the pitch pulled under my armpit we limped back at 40 knots low level the aircraft shaking so hard I was afraid we were going to come apart in the air. I did not lower the collective until we were over the hospital pad.

"Blackhawk 54 turn on your position lights."  The call from Rat 18 boomed in my ears.  I turned everything I had on.  "Tally ho" was the response and soon a light fire team accompanied me on my slow trip home.

It took an eternity to get back to Tay Ninh.  I made a straight in controlled crash at the hospital pad, my Rat Pack escorts streaking over the top of us low level, in 90 degree banks, thumbs up, a salute from the Bad Dogs.  I started to breathe again.

The 45th MUST hospital triage team swarmed our chopper and I shut her down after cooling the engine for the required two minutes.  As the blades turned down I could see the end piece was gone off of both blades.  When I climbed out to have a look myself, my knees got a little wobbly from what I saw.  The blade leading edge had been beaten flat, and about the last three feet of both blades was gone, they just had the flat lumpy leading edge, and the rest was gone.  We had a couple of bullet holes and the dents in the leading edge went all the way back to the rotor head. The tail boom had dents all over it and the tail rotor leading edges were all flattened and dented. We had also broken out one of the greenhouse windows, and my chin bubble.  If I had not flown it in myself, I would not have believed that a helicopter would fly in that condition.

© Wayne R. "Crash" Coe  "Blackhawk 54"
187th Assault Helicopter Company 67-8


Narrow Ribbon Strip

EMail Webmaster

All photographs or written matter contained within this site are the property of the individuals who graciously submitted them for your pleasure. No picture or writing contained within this site may be reproduced in whole or in part for any reasons without the express permission of its owner.

© 1997 2001 WMH