“ The Year was 1967-1968 - Vietnam ”
During the 60’s, America’s younger generation was getting a lot of resentment from authority figures. A lot of our young men and woman were fighting a war they knew nothing about, and a lot of the young people were protesting the war in Vietnam and doing illegal drugs etc. Meanwhile the war was escalating, by sending more troops into South Vietnam by LBJ, Lyndon B. Johnson.
I joined the US Army at age 17 and was sent to Vietnam, for one tour of duty of 13 months. My story and the year doesn’t stop here. I was a door gunner on UH 1-D helicopter gunships, with the 187th Assault Helicopter Company located two miles or clicks from Cambodian border. One mile in front of us was Highway 1 where the North Vietnamese would bring their rockets and mortars through, along with their AK-47’s, and the Viet Cong their weapons of choice. A mountain located to the west of our base camp called Nui Ba Din where heavy artillery was kept to fire at the American troops in the base camp below called Ye Holly Land. We were hit every hour on the hour for harassment by Charlie with his rockets and mortars fired into our base camp, killing a few good friends.
It was the 60’s and the music was great, the beer was good, and the pot out of sight. I arrived in country October of 1967. I had typed up my own 1049 because I was the company clerk for a Cav outfit in Saigon Vietnam. I heard from a officer telling the company commander that we need to recruit some of your boys as door gunners, and to be quite frank they were losing too many of them. Wow, here was my chance to see real action as a door gunner on helicopters.
I arrived in 1968 to the 187th Assault Helicopter Company, I was assigned to my gunship and there I met my crew chief, SP5 Allen Tharp. Later I met pilot and peter pilot, WO1 John Fitzgerald and WO1 Steve Eckle. There were four of us to one gunship. While flying we would put our head sets on and listen to Hanoi Hanna or some GI radio station out of Saigon, and the officers talking about the action they were receiving, while they played the top songs of the 60’’s, to try and get our boys homesick? Unless one of the pilots would want to cut in and talk to us or the C&C ship that over looked all of our operations with the infantry or with whomever. We would listen to music to and from our LZ back to our base camp. After 10 days of flying in gunships all hell broke lose and it was the North and South Vietnams’ TET a lunar holiday in January and into February and the 1st part of March called the TET Offensive. All of us GIs’ were fighting the North Vietnamese, the Viet Cong and some North Chinese troops, it looked like the 4th of July had lasted to February with all the tracers, flares and bombs bursting in the air lighting up the skies. Well sometime in February of 1968 things started settling down the young men fighting won the battle of TET. On the 5th of February the day Frenchy and I along with the crew chiefs were told to cease fire that we were killing our own. I froze, all kinds of thoughts were running through my mind, how could I be killing our own, I opened fire and laid down suppression where we were told too. I lived with the thought all my life until Frenchy, at the first get together we had in Florida told me the truth about what had really happened that Feb 5th 1968, that he had talked to Chuck Boyle and we didn’t kill anyone of our own at Ap Cho. We had to lay those M60 rounds down close because Charley was all around us. But did I or didn’t I lay my rounds and hit any of our guys. I told Frenchy that I lived with that curse all my life was I guilty or not, the next year or the year after we all got together at a reunion in San Diego and Chuck Boyle reinstated what Frenchy told me that we didn’t kill our own that day. “Phew” how do you let that go after living 35 years with the thought that you had.
But then the sounds of home rung out, in Feb 1968 we were on support operation for the 25th infantry company and as we were listening to Saigon radio someone on the radio interrupted a good song and stated that the man you GI’s loved, Martin Luther King, was shot dead by an assassin’s bullet. We were told to surrender. Well that wasn’t going to happen. After things settled down, two grueling months’ went by as a door gunner, and I didn’t want to fly anymore. I wanted to take a night off on April 11th. That was the worst thing I could have done. Tharp told me that if I wanted to take the night off that I would have to find him a gunner, and that no one cared if I didn’t want to fly as long as there was a person to take his place. So I knew a guy named John Wilcox, muscular surfer type dude that wanted to fly in a bad way. So John Wilcox took my place that night, and I found out later that the ship was shot down and everyone was killed but the gunner who sustained some injuries. Shit, I talked to no one for days. I wouldn’t have known what to say if anyone had asked why wasn’t I on that ship? That was my second worst day in Vietnam and probably my life. Enough of this. Two more months had passed quickly and it was June of 1968 during the presidents campaign trail, shots rung out at home again another assassin’s bullet found Bobbie Kennedy the leading contender for the presidency. I thought to myself what the hell was happening at home, and what were we fighting for? After sobbing to myself I stood up and started fighting again with my M-60 hanging out of a gunship firing my 60. Couldn’t have cared less what happen to me at the moment. Riots and protesters took to the streets all over America protesting the war in Vietnam, and in South Vietnam, we were all scratching our heads wondering what the hell was going on back home. Well none of us fighting the war would know until we got home. Unfortunately the other shoe dropped for me three months later. In August of 1968 my brother in law was killed in action while flying a Cobra. He was a WO3 Gregory Beck and he was killed in Pleiku. This was the same brother that told me to become a door gunner. Now it was October 1968 a couple months later, after 13 very long grueling months I was going to get on that freedom bird a TWA 707 and travel to the real world, home. At the end of my tour I had earned 16 Air Medals. But it wasn’t worth fighting for 13 months.
D-day, I was actually getting on the freedom bird and going to the US of A after spending and saying all of my good byes to friends I had met while serving my tour in South East Asia. And climbed abound of that big beautiful bird, the aircraft took off from Saigon airport everyone yelled and howled, officers and enlisted men alike. After four hours of flying time behind us, a captain on our freedom bird had some bad news to give us, I couldn’t believe it, and I thought all the bad news was left in South Vietnam. As the captain spoke to us he was saying that everyone who had their uniforms on had to change into their civilian clothes and stow our medals. We all moaned and groaned how we all had our medals pinned on our uniforms and shoes were shined etc. The captain told us that he had a general telling him the bad news and that it was for our own safety. We all yelled out asking what the bad news was and the captain stated that there were a lot of unfriendly protesters protesting the war in Vietnam. And the general would rather have us in civilian clothes than our uniforms for our own safety. So we did what we were asked to. We changed into civilian clothes. By the time we arrived at San Francisco Airport we had all changed into our civilian clothes. When we landed and started to debark from the freedom bird, there were at least 150 protesters protesting the war in Vietnam and calling the ones that had left their uniforms on that they were baby killers throwing rotten vegetables, tomatoes. I mean yelling it out at them, not one spit on anyone that I saw but I was walking very fast to my awaiting 1967 Dodge Dart, with my parents inside the car with a can of beer waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to get a home cooked meal, and see my girlfriend. Vietnam was over for me and a lot happened while I was there. I shot and killed some of my own and my entire crew was shot down killing everyone aboard but the door gunner when I should have been there to help everyone in need, but fate didn’t let me be their that night April 12th 1968. Two people were assassinated while over in Vietnam, and I couldn’t understand why we were fighting a war that was not ours to fight. Now all was passed and now I am home. What’s next for this 18-year-old veteran? There was no respect for us who had come home alive or for our dead. What did America come to? The next day I went surfing but while paddling out I couldn’t stop from remembering the terror that just went through me in a far away place called Vietnam of 1967-1968. I didn’t talk to my step dad about what happened over there nor to my mom, I figured they wouldn’t really understand my true feelings in fact I never spoke about the war until the year 2000 when I met Frenchy who tried to ease my mind about what really happened at Ap Cho. Hell I already lived with it for 33 or so years.
“End of my tour in South East Asia”
I will never forget my crew chief SP5 Allen Tharp 12 April 1968
WO1 John Fitzgerald 12/April/1968
WO1 Steve Eckle 12/April/1968
My last day flying with them was on the 11th April 1968
Killed in action were, SP4 Harry Frazer, SP4 Dennis Lulofs, SP4 Ricardo Romero, these were pretty good friends and I will always remember them.
WO3 Gregory Beck I won’t forget my brother in law killed in Pleiku August of 1968
Vista, Ca. 92084