The Battle for 
Fire Support Base Burt.

by

Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
Blackhawk "54"

Stories

 

Doc Warden kept a journal of his tour in Vietnam. This is a story out of that journal. I do not have the names of the Stinger Gunship crew we lost that night.

Crash


1 January 68

Soui Cut,

I loved the view from the top of Nui Ba Dinh.  You could see the lights from the far away cites, and I loved the challenge of a perfect pinnacle landing.  In the early evening, just as the Sun drops below the horizon.  It was my last stop, I could go back to Tay Ninh for the nights festivities at the club.  It was amazing how fast they could get the cases of Champaign off my helicopter.

Tonight would be great fun, Captain David R. Warden our Group Flight Surgeon, would be on the courier from Cu Chi, and would be staying in the guest quarters.  I loved flying with Doc and we had flown a lot of missions together.  Doc is the greatest story teller of all time, and tonight I would get a double dose, staying up late for New Years stand down.

I was the last bird in that night and after fueling and a quick stop at the arming pits for some linked 7.62 for the M-60's, I put my D-model in the revetment, and started the hike to the operations tent, walking right past the mortar watch ships, WO Bill Britt saying something is cooking down at fire support base Burt, and they were on alert.   Bill Britt, Frenchy Gibeault, what a team.

I find Doc and we start cooking a steak, out on the grill set up behind the Officer's club.  I liked it when the Army made an attempt during the holidays. Almost anything was better than C-rations.  The party had started before Doc and I got there and seemed to be in full swing by the time we sat down to eat our steak.  WO Jim Conde could get anything, these steaks were proof.  I looked up to Jim, a special forces type that went to flight school, he could speak the local language and he knew people in low places, if you know what I mean.

The party was a success, we watched a movie, heard and told some great stories (all true of course) and I headed off for bed, wishing the tent had cooled down enough to be able to sleep in.  I walked over with Doc to find him a Cot in the tent we kept for visiting crews, and on my way back was stopped by the on duty orderly.

"Mr. Coe find your Doctor friend and get to operations now."  I thought, what kind of silly bullshit is being pulled now by one of my more than slightly inebriated flying buddies.  So rather than wake up the Doc, I walked over to the Operations tent and a very serious Major Bauman looks up and says "where is your Flight Surgeon."  Well, I started to speak and he cut me off, "get him now, and get back here as fast as you can, your crew has been sent for, hurry."

Doc was still awake, he jumped in his boots and grabbed his gear and out the tent flap in one move.  For a huge airborne ranger, Doc moves so well, the word would be graceful, if not applying to 250 pounds of raw muscle and brains.  My flying gear is in my tent and we both double time over to it, and double time to the operations tent.

Major Bauman looked very unhappy, he was gruff when he was happy, he looked sinister tonight.  "Men I have a bad job for you two tonight.  Mr. Coe you are my only sober pilot, and Captain Warden, I have to send you as the Co-pilot, I have no one else to send."  I looked at Doc and he smiled at me.  I knew he was up to it what ever it was.

We were taken to the revetment by Jeep and my crew had the bird untied and ready to rock and roll, we were airborne in minutes.  First stopping by the ammo bunkers and taking a full load of ordnance.   As my heavy helicopter staggered for some altitude, I noticed just how black it could be in Vietnam, and started to fly on my instruments, tuning my radios to the Ground FM, the FAC on VHF and my company UHF.   "Blackhawk "54" inbound with a load of ordnance, where do you want it, over."  No response.  We must be too far out for them to hear us, and I pulled a little more pitch and grabbed some more altitude to help with the radio.

I was busy flying, I could hear the gun ships on Victor and I could hear fast movers on Uniform, no grunts on Fox-trot.  Doc keys his mike "good night, look at the fire fight going on out there."  In the inky darkness was the fountain of horror, a full fledged fire fight, tracers coming in, tracers going out, explosions, fire, it looked like a real mess down there.  Bullets ricocheting at every angle, I knew our 25th Infantry 2/22 the Triple Duce mech. men were fighting for their lives down there, and they would be needing our ammo and medevac now.  I ask the FAC for the ground frequency and he gave it to me.

"Ground control Blackhawk 54 over."  I could hear the din of battle behind a voice on the radio.  "Blackhawk 54 we are under heavy attack and are requesting you stand by, say again ordnance on board," "Roger Ground, I have 105 Beehive and a Doctor."  After a moment of silence ground comes back on the radio "it is too hot to land now, but we urgently need your load."  I don't hear the Rat Pack, so I call the Stinger gun ships, "Stinger lead, Blackhawk 54, over," "Stinger go ahead" "I have 105 beehive and a Doctor on board can you get us in?"  "If you want to go in there we will escort you in, what is your location?"  "Blackhawk 54 is North West 5 miles out."   "Roger Blackhawk come to the south end of Burt, we will pick you up and escort you in, but there is a lot of fire down there so make it a fast approach."  We fly south of Burt and I can see the gun ships coming out to get us.  I start the 120 Knot approach, at first going past the gun cover, but then as I start to flair they are by my side, mini guns roaring, low level insanity.


I can't see a fucking thing with all the smoke and flares competing with the tracers.   I see a lone trooper standing with his arms over his head, guiding me in, exposing himself.  The bravery of the men on the ground chokes me up.  I am guided to a spot with wounded men, Doc is out of his seat on the ground, doing the much needed triage, so we can take the worst hit out and hope to save them. Men come from the dark and take the Ammo off, the volume of fire in the perimeter is intense, I am taking hits, it will only be a matter of time and this helicopter will never fly again, Doc has his load and is back in the right seat, I call coming out, and look up to see a pair of gun ships covering my ass coming out.  We are low level in the dark with a load of men, all severely wounded, Doc says "I had better get busy," and jumps over the console and starts taking care of the men in the back.  I fly directly to the 12th evac pad in Cu Chi.    I call "Golden Umpire, Blackhawk 54, inbound with eight wounded about 10 minutes out."  The calm voice of Bill Giles on the radio comes back "late night 54, you are our only chopper right now, land on pad one."  Nice to hear a familiar voice on the radio.  I wondered if he ever slept, he was always there when I
needed him.  He and his crew, will expedite the unloading of our wounded.


Best Hospital Pad Man in Vietnam.

Cu Chi tower clears me direct to the Medevac Pad and I come in hot flaring sideways to clear the tail boom, and I am almost down and on jumps Big Bill Giles and he takes charge.   Bill strips off the loaded weapons and explosive devices, gently lifting the men on to stretchers waiting by the open doors.  Bill does his work like a mad man, but every move is practiced.  Bam, Bill hits me on top of my helmet to tell me he is jumping off and I can pull pitch.  Total time on the pad maybe two minutes, but probably less.

We lift to a high hover and ask tower for permission to go to the ammo bunkers, and they clear us direct.  The ammo humpers know what is going on and have our load waiting, we watch them put it on in the aircraft, then a quick call to the tower and we are staggering into the air again.  We have enough fuel, and I would like to be light going in, to help with the control of the aircraft down low behind the perimeter of Burt.

Doc and I start to hear the radios first, things are bad, looks like one of the Stinger gun ships has been shot down, in the dark.  I see the fast movers laying down Napalm, lights things up, kind of pretty, and deadly at the same time.  I can not see Burt yet, but the fire works were spectacular coming from a concentrated spot on the horizon.  As we get nearer we call the ground and ask for status, they wave us off, too hot.  Now fuel was a problem.  It took a few minutes to find a gun team, they had one down, and were pissed off big time.  I think they would have escorted me into hell if I had ask.  They called the fire and I made the approach, we turned this one around in seconds, not one mistake, in and out.  I called Big Bill on the radio and Doc Warden went to work on the men in the back of the helicopter.

Doc and I flew all night, and in the morning we landed by the shot down burned Stinger gunship so Captain David Royal Warden Jr. MC could perform his duties as a Flight Surgeon and issue a Cause of Death for the crew.  The men in the Stinger gunship had been burned very badly by the fire, I know it was a shock to Doc, his whole demeanor changed.   Fight hard all night and then in the morning perform autopsies on the men who had been covering your ass that night, is a tough one.  Doc had to load each still hot crewman in a body bag, after figuring out who they were.  Doc Warden says "some smells are with you for life."

Doc Warden and I flew into Burt numerous times that night, but what we really remember, are the aviators we lost, not the men we saved.

Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
Blackhawk "54"
187th Assault Helicopter Company 1967-1968
1997 Wayne R. "Crash" Coe.

 

The following is a message received from Frank McGann.   A grunt who experienced this battle first hand.
I just came across your web page.   In particular, I appreciated the story about FSB Burt.

I was on the ground there that night and I was not aware that any helicopters got in that night.  I often wondered where all the ammo, (especially the beehive rounds) came from.  Now I know --- thanks for the story and THANKS for the deliveries.  If it hadn't been for the beehive rounds, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be typing this right now.


By the way, that battle (Soui Cut) was "memorialized" in the last battle scene in the movie "Platoon".  Oliver Stone was also there that night as a grunt with Bravo Company 3rd of the 22nd Infantry.  He was hit and eventually medevac'd.   I think he caught the morning stage though.

Frank  McGann
Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion,  22nd Infantry

 

Mike Pectol's letter to Crash Coe about the Battle at Soui Cut

On December 31. 1967, after coming off of my shift in the Radio Teletype Rig, since I didn't have any perimeter guard I sat around talking with the guys in my section about the usual things for awhile and had a few beers.   We talked about where we were last year, and where we hoped we would be nest year, after going back to the World.  I had a green bunch, as most of the guys who were in the section when I  got there were veterans of the Soui Tre battle and they had rotated.  I think Fontanelli got out his guitar and we may have sung a few verses of the song he had written for us to the tune of SSG Barry Sadler's GREEN BERETS.  He did that to lighten up some of our days.  Great guy to have
around. I can remember everyone singing along:

"Fighting Soldiers of the R-T-T,
Always wanted to be an 05C,
We operate from dawn to dark,
But the Fucking Rig just falls apart"

Humor, you got to have it.  I was beat, so I turned in almost right at 23:00.

"Sarge, wake up!" At about 23:45 from one of the men.  I just rolled over and went back to sleep.  "Sargent Pectol, this is Sargent Fowler, wake up man, it's going down now!"

I sat bolt upright.  Damn!  I should have known it!  "You have been out like a light!  Slept through direct hits on our roof!  They've been throwing it at us really heavy."

Fowler said, "Damn straight!  This is it!"  We knew we were going to be bait.  'Hodges and Wheatstone sent me over to tell you to get your men saddled up and wait right here and I'll come back and give you your reaction force assignments.  Charlie and another battery have already been over run, and they had to fight to get the gun back, just barely made it as the gooks were trying to spin it around on us!  They think this is the softening barrage before the next wave try to come in.  The Infantry Night Ambush Patrols, only two men left, came running back in yelling, they met them going out and they were right behind them at the time."

Okay, guys, get your jackets, helmets, and web gear, bandoleers on.  Everybody takes at least two bandoleers."

Fowler said, "Where is your spare ammo?  I said it is in the truck. I'll go get it while you go see Wheatstone.  You guys just saddle up, lock and load, and sit tight.  Keep your eyes peeled.  We have already been overrun, so you can't tell."

Fowler left "Don't go anywhere else, Sarge till I come back and let you know where you and your men are supposed to go."

I distributed the spare ammo, we settled down again to wait.  It was the greatest fireworks show I had ever seen in my life.  I was sitting in the entryway, waiting when the little voice inside said, "You had better pull you head back under the overhang, just as a 5 inch piece of hot shrapnel with a hooked barb on it landed between my legs where I was sitting Indian style.  It was red hot, whew, another close one.

Fowler came back and said, "your section has medical reaction.  Report to
the aid station and do what the medics tell you.

"Right, good luck Fowler.  Okay guys, be paranoid.  Keep your heads down, stay locked and loaded, don't stop rubbernecking, 360 degrees, watch the shape of the helmets, and let's go.  We'll probably be split up into teams by the medics, so don't forget what I told you, even if I'm not there to remind you."

At the aid station, we were in fact split up into teams.  The first thing one of my men and I were sent over to one of the gun pits, Charlie I think, to Evac the wounded from there back to the  aid station for triage.  Our first on was a kid, who had half of his right leg it looked like blown off.  As I remember we had to shoot for our right to claim him, helped him up between us and beat it back to the station, looking back and firing, and him shouting am I going to die?  No, you're not gonna die, we'll take care of ya.  We'll take you back to the station, and they'll put you on a helicopter out of this hell.  You will be fine.  Probably gonna go home. I WANT MY MOMMY!!  Almost all of them say that or wife.

Here is where I get a blank spot.

The next thing I remember was coming into the station with a wounded man and some of the medics telling me  "they are sending ordinance on helicopters, and we are going to Evac the wounded on them after we unload the ammo and stuff.  So another guy and me grabbed a litter, and beat feet to the helipad on the South side of Burt.  Feets,  pleeeaase don't fail me now.

As the first helicopter flared to land, we were leaning into the rotorwash and ran to grab the rope handles on the cases of ordinance, and I remember thinking "if I jerk these things out of here and let them fall, maybe it will save time opening them. Guess it worked, don't remember any complaints.  We grabbed the litter, and as we were trying to lift it, I remember a couple of pairs of hands in the helicopter reached out and grabbed the litter and helped lift it in. It was a lot easier that way.  I don't think the helicopters were actually landing, but just hovering 2 to 3 feet off the pad and only stopped long enough for us to unload and load, then radical speed increase as the body went up and the nose went down.  With all the dust and smoke, I would say that once it was out of an area of 40-50 feet across, I could not see the helicopter anymore.

At this time, you've got people running back and forth, and I know everyone was shouting at the top of their lungs to be heard, with the running helicopters and all he shooting going on I couldn't hear anyone, so we all started using hand signals. I thought I lost my voice and went numb it seemed like an endless stream of choppers.  Out of view, into view, low hover, run up.  Jerk the crates off.  Ease the litters on, FASTER!  I GOTTA WORK FASTER!

I remember being in intense pain from a biological need, look around, can't remember where the latrine is, and can't spare time to go look for it.  Go in my pants, not a chance.  I will be damned, these little fuckers may kill me, but I'll be damned if they will humiliate me before I'm dead.  So I run a little way out in the dark and dropped my pants and let it rip.

During a pause in the action, I remember thinking "You're gonna die tonight, we are all probably going to die tonight.  Fuck it, nobody will give a shit anyway.  With all the stuff in the air, if your bullet is coming there ain't no use in tryin to duck it will find you. Besides, my back hurts.  If I get greased, Krista will probably cry for an hour then get horny for the Jody who tries to "Comfort" her and forget me in two weeks max.  So, I decide that since I was going to die anyway I might as well stand up straight, so from then on until the next chopper would come in I would stand up straight.

The next thing I remember was watching the last helicopter I loaded pull up and head for "home."  I stood up and arched my back with my hands on it, like people do with back aches and noticed, that about now I should be halfway through unloading the next chopper but there wasn't any.  I started "Coming to" a little more, and it was starting to get light.  There was something else wrong. Wrong?  Not wrong, it is just quiet, so I went and checked out the enemy body count for awhile.  Found an AK-47, I figured that since I had blown at least one face off, I deserved a souvenir.  The Military Intelligence Captain I met on the way back didn't see it that way, so instead of hitting him with it for his starched fatigue rudeness, I figured it would be better to just let it pass. 

I saw the turret blown off 3 of the 13th's self-propelled Howitzers.  We had one or two guns wrecked, too.  The tracks turned out to be some of the major fireballs I had seen during the night.

There were pieces of bodies that had been blown everywhere and were hanging in the trees, including one head that was stuck way high in the trees by my radio station.

Stories

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