Here is a story about Sam Bose.
Chief Warrant Officer Sam Bose lived in the tent next to mine.
When the 187th Assault Helicopter Company moved to Tay Ninh from Ft.
Brag, about 12 Aircraft Commanders with local area knowledge were
assigned to the Blackhawks from assault helicopter companies in the area
to "keep the 187th safe and give local area knowledge to the FNG's."
That was the reason given. All of the pilots knew that in a
pilot poor environment, the new company was being given the dirty dozen.
big drinkers and hell raisers they could get rid of with just an
in-country transfer no questions asked. Sam was the ringleader of the
Sam had stopped by my tent last night with his group of drunken fuck-ups
and we had the maps out and I had my first look at the Mekong Delta. Sam
and some of the other men had done a lot of flying in the Delta. They
told stories about how flat and dangerous it was flying on and off the
Brown Water Navy boats, delivering men and equipment. Tales of how they
would be sitting on the front of a boat watching the shoreline drift by,
when whoosh an RPG-7 would go zooming past the aircraft.
As far as I was concerned ash and trash in the delta was a fine change
from hover holes in triple canopy jungle. The usual Manchu Six screaming
at me on the radio about something I can do nothing about, and the
inevitable "Your mission has been extended till dark" bullshit
had become more of the norm, than the exception.
I don't know how Sammy did it. He would drink till the club closed, and
I knew when I entered the mess hall, Sam would be sitting at the Dirty
Dozen table near the coffee urn. He would be powering down very strong
smelling coffee mug after mug. No matter how early I arrived, he was
always there first.
Sammy was obviously nursing a major hangover. He had bloodshot eyes and
the continuously burning Marlboro that seemed to forever be in front of
his perfectly capped front teeth. He smoked so much, there seemed to
always be smoke coming from his nostrils and mouth, even when he was
I was anxious to get flying. I had never landed on a riverboat and I had
never been down in the Mekong Delta except for Combat Assaults. Sam was
going to show me around the Delta today.
We landed at the Navy facility near Can Tho. They had a huge stash of
boats and equipment and a secure facility that had the best mess hall in
all of Viet Nam. Sam and I both hoped we could get at least one meal
there while we were attached to the Brown Water Navy.
While we were refueling, our first load of the day walked out of the
small operations shack and Sam started to laugh. "Is today
Sunday?" Sam inquired over the intercom. "Look at this, we are
flying the Sky Pilot around today, talk about boring."
A Navy Chaplain and his enlisted Junior Sky Pilot were carrying several
large boxes and the crew helped them load their equipment and strap it
down. The Navy Lieutenant handed me a list of call signs and frequencies
and said he did not care where we went first, but before the day was
over we were going to all of them.
Sam dialed up the first frequency and as we were gaining altitude over
the Mekong River he called and asks for a short count to home in on.
From 1500 feet the boats looked small. From 25 feet on short final to
the landing pad on the front deck, they really looked small. We had to
fly sideways to land on them, Sam made it look easy. As soon as we were
landed they gave us the shutdown signal and we let the blades coast to a
stop and tied her blades down to the metal grating to keep them from
flopping around. Our tail boom was sticking out over the water.
Our passengers had opened their trunks and taken out long purple robes
and they had one of the trunks that when opened became an altar. Other
riverine boats tied along side our boat. Soon we became a large floating
raft with the Chaplain standing tall ministering to his men on the
center boat with the chopper tied to the bow.
Sam was out cold on the back seat of our UH-1 D model snoring loudly.
From where I was sitting I could see someone fishing from the stern of
one of the boats that had just rafted up with us and I started hopping
boat to boat to get close to see what he was fishing for.
I had not been fishing for so long I could hardly remember the last time
and I loved to fish.
The fisherman was quite involved with something huge in the water, and
when I walked up near him he ask for help and I started by letting out
more line and getting the spool he was using untangled. When I put my
gloved hand on the line, the line almost cut through the gloves the fish
was pulling so hard.
I was so excited battling that huge fish on the line with just my gloved
hands that I started whooping and hollering making so much noise, that
the Sky Pilot and his flock all turned around to watch me battle the
With two of us pulling, we started to make headway with the fish. The
brown muddy waters of the Mekong keep the type of fish a secret until
they are along side the boat. That first roll and I knew I had never
seen anything like it in my life. The fish was easily ten feet long and
black with an under slung jaw and teeth like a huge Barracuda. It was
prehistoric looking and sticking right out of its top jaw was the
biggest fucking spinner I had ever seen.
The fish weighed over 250 pounds and it took some extra help to get it
into the boat. No one on the boat knew what kind of fish it was, and I
have never seen anything like it since. The river rats cleaned that fish
and had huge fillets iced down in minutes and we were fishing again.
I ask the fisherman where in the world he got a spinner that big, and he
told me how he made them in the machine shop at the boat yard. They were
all stainless steel and had propellers turning in different directions
on a shaft to put a huge vibration into the water. Then in the murky
water the predator hears the lure and smashes it to see what is for
dinner. The one he was using was all bent up and scratched. The spinner
was trailing a huge treble hook. The whole thing was mounted on steel
cable and that was then tied to nylon parachute cord of about 1000-pound
test. The slower it could be trolled the more effective it was according
to the Chief.
I had to have one. I did not just want a hand made stainless spinner, I
simply had to have one. So my first question after my heart stopped
racing and the fish was still flipping on deck "What would it take
to get a fishing rig like that?" The old black Chief Petty Officer
put the 18-inch spinner in my hand and looked in my face and told me
that all he ever wanted was for me to be sure and get to him when he
needed help. He had a brand new back up spinner he was dying to try out
and I started taking lessons from the master on how to throw the lure
and then try and keep it on top when retrieving it. Then while he was
showing me how to let the lure drift deep in the slow current, bang,
fish on. We dragged the next monster to the boat and by the time we were
finished getting the fish on the boat the Sky Pilot was ready to depart.
The aircraft was fully loaded and running at flight idle and all the
passengers were strapped to their seats when I made the mistake of
wakening Sam up.
Sam could really cuss. I am sure the Navy Chaplain may have even learned
some new words, but it is so noisy with the aircraft running you can
barely make yourself understood when you yell. So Sam's grumbling fell
on over worked ears. As soon as Sam was buckled and plugged in we were
hovering sideways down the Mekong slowly lifting off the riverine boats.
The smell of the river and the trees is like thick perfume coming in all
the doors and windows. I do not think I have ever been any where on
earth that was that green and lush.
It was a short hop to the next set of boats and this time a pissed off
Sam Bose was making me shoot the sideways approach to the lead boat. I
got on the boat with out Sam touching the controls, but I was sweating
like a pig, and had promised myself to watch Sam more closely next time
he made an approach to a moving boat.
The Chaplain and his assistant started setting up their equipment, and I
climbed out on the end boat and started soaking my new spinner down deep
like the Old Chief had showed me. The savage strike almost pulled my
arms off and the running parachute cord through my gloves cut a quarter
inch groove. When the fish got to the end of the parachute cord, it
stretched the cord until I thought for sure it would break, but it
didn't, and it took about half an hour to retrieve my gear from another
huge 200-pound fish. The men in the boats wanted the fish to eat and the
Chaplain wanted to get to his next appointment. I thought I had died and
gone to heaven.
Fishing was good that Sunday, while the Sky Pilot fed their souls, the
old Chief and I provided fresh fish for the grill.
Late in the afternoon the radios erupted with men in contact and men
wounded. We were the closest aircraft to the attack and Sam offered his
aircraft for medevac. With huge suppressing fire from the gunboats all
around the sinking boat, Sam landed gently on a burning boat and we took
the burned crew off. They were a mess all black and covered with soot
from the fiberglass and diesel fires. Sam had done the impossible
getting in and out with out getting shot or set on fire, we were now in
a race with time. We needed a burn unit. The nearest one was in Saigon,
I have never seen a helicopter flown as fast as our trip to the Third
The Chaplain was overwhelmed with the severe wounds and our crew went to
work stopping the arterial bleeding with compression and comforting the
One look in the back and I could see the Chaplain was loosing it big
time. He was covered in blood and black soot from the wounded, he had
his legs drawn up in a fetal position with a silent scream on his
lips. They took him off with the rest of the wounded.
© Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
187th Assault Helicopter Company 67-8