Agent Orange

Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
Blackhawk 54


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. All the
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 dirty dozen.

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 talking.

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 monster.

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 Field Hospital.

The Chaplain was overwhelmed with the severe wounds and our crew went to work stopping the arterial bleeding with compression and comforting the badly wounded.

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  "Blackhawk 54"
187th Assault Helicopter Company 67-8


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