John Wayne Always
I like this kind of war story for the home page because it is from a "former" Crusader . This one will have more meaning also since we knew him. Ron, even as a baby (which he was; ... he was 19, when he and I were in flight school together and when he first came to the Crusaders) was ALWAYS the one that EVERYONE knew they could count on. Initially we thought he was on a mission to get the Congressional Medal of Honor, but regardless of intent he was the one that everyone knew would always come back . . . no mater the odds. With age and maturity weve since found out that he wasnt after any medals...thats just the way he is.
Pat Dougan (Rat Pack 5)
13 May 1972. Monday mornings another anniversary, that brings back lots of memories. I didnt like getting my Scout shot up, or shot down. Paul Murtha was shot in the butt when I was covering him, and that was as close as I came. The BatMurtha had his gunner help him fly back to Mace, took some time off, got a nice indention for his wallet to fit into, and came back to the Troop.
Other guys we were losing did not come back. Earl Delp scouted well, was as lucky as they came, and confirmed some neat shots for me. (Ahh, yeah. Youve got either nine or fourteen dudes in this APC. Im trying to count right hands.") He was never shot, but was short by May, and I couldnt operate with him every mission, anyway. Harwin and Onion were pretty good Scouts. They were new, and you guys know how we used to be around new guys. 1LT Dey was the new Scout Platoon Leader, after CPT Joe Harris died on 8 April. CPT Lassiter had been the platoon leader before Harris, and hed died in February. Quite a tradition we had going, and by May, it just didnt seem worth putting a Scout down into an area where we knew there were plenty of bad guys, and where I thought I could get about the same information with less risk.
Away from An Loc, we used the Scouts. If we were going close in to An Loc, I started to do the scouting myself, and I took a lot of heat for that. I didnt mind the heat from the NVA; they usually missed anything critical; but the criticism from our own side bothered me. It didnt bother me as much as losing a Scout, though. Some people dont like to do anything differently. By that time, we had taken the best tactics and techniques from all the Air Cavalry scouting before us, and refined our tactics to what worked under the conditions we normally met. If things heated up, we adapted our tactics to the situation, but few people felt that a Cobra should go lower than an orbit or a gun run. If you scout with a Cobra, its different, but if you do it with speed, know what to look for, and come back for the kill from a different direction, the risk is minimized, and the results can be fantastic.
That particular morning, it was important to someone to know the disposition (Both definitions are applicable.) of the NVA just west of the city. Andy Kisela, Sabre 27, was my wingman, and MAJ Hewlett, MAJ McDevitts replacement, was our C&C. I dont recall if we had a Scout with us, but we probably did. We were running out of "old guys". Tom Jones was gone, or was at least out-processing. Andy was a brand new AC. He was a super guy, and one of my favorites. Hed been in my front seat a week or so before, when in the misty dawn, we delivered the bill to some trucks and a re-supply by bicycle, of the siege of Minh Thanh, the village by the rubber, west of Thunder Road, south of An Loc. I have the photo, made from a slide, of the mud covering the front of our windshield. Other slides show burning trucks, killed from low level. We think we got the last of them, just as one rocket sent part of Viet Nam high enough into the air to cover our windshield, and make my rocket sight useless. So we got enough altitude for Andy to take some of his excellent photos, and ended that sortie. Andy wouldnt have time for photos on the morning of 13 May.
We didnt use our C&C in an aggressive manner. Ive learned since being on this net that some troops used the C&C as a real member of the Hunter/Killer team. Ours stayed in orbit with an ARVN liaison officer on board, and came in handy for things like saving the crew off the occasional C-130.
My copilot was a new guy, and not only was he not rated in Cobras, but he was actually on his first Cobra flight, and first real combat flight. Quite an initiation. We went to the deck west of the rubber that was west of An Loc. Caught a convoy of bicycles right off, and kept some supplies from getting through, then found a truck. It burned after the rockets hit, and I either found another truck, or the same one again. No matter, if it was the same one, it died again, and Andy was keeping track of that. (Ah, the irresponsibility of being the Scout!) The An Loc log says there were two trucks killed. I was sending constant spot reports for C&C to log, and was commenting on the bunkers below me, as I banked right, at treetop level. Had about 80 or 90 knots in the bank, mentioning that I was taking a bit of fire, but telling 27 not to roll, when the bullet came through the 40mm ammo drum, through the floor, through the back of my knee (Popliteal area.), and out the top of my canopy. Really good penetration, and surprised the hell out of me.
John Wayne almost always had time to duck out of the way when they shot at him, but I didnt even start to duck. It was so QUICK, and it HURT!! The low RPM audio went on as the bullet went through, and there we were, almost touching the treetops, with our helicopter telling us wed lost RPM. Quite an initiation for my front seat, and for a while, I thought he was dead. Wasnt dead, but he was certain he was about to be. The prettiest Cobra in the Troop kept flying, and I headed for the little ARVN firebase west of An Loc, something like Choung Du Chon, or Toung Du Choung.
Except for the noise from the low RPM audio, and the lack of noise from the front seat, everything but the pain was doing fine. I told Andy to land beside me when we got to the little firebase, and put his Cobra-qualified copilot, Burdette Townsend, in my back seat, to fly 064 home. When I landed on the dirt strip, I said some encouraging words to my front seat, grabbed my Cav hat off the wet bar behind the seat, and got out to check for damage. Dropped trou to check my knee first, and was happy to see that it went sort of across the back of it, from about 6 oclock to 4 oclock, instead of taking out the bone and kneecap. Felt good about that, relatively speaking. Pulled up my pants, leaned down to check for holes under the bird, and as I stood back up, sort of passed out. I didnt hit the ground, I think Townsend caught me, and the crew from the C&C took me to their bird. Still had my helmet on, death grip on the hatband of the Stetson.
The crewchief plugged in my helmet as we climbed out, and cut my Nomex away from the knee. Lot of emotion on his face as he worked on me, and some tears. In fact, the only unemotional face on the bird was the ARVN liaison officer, who looked down at me for a lot of the trip. When we got some altitude, the conversation was interesting. MAJ Hewlett was talking first with operations, telling them I was on board, and a Line 2. Then Lou Breuer came on. He was calling off Bien Hoa with every flyable aircraft in the Troop, on the way to get me out of the rubber. They had been told I was down in the rubber trees. It was such a good feeling to hear him like that, and to know that the Troop was on the way. Six told him my status, and stood all of them down, except for a replacement for my bird and me.
When things settled down, I went on the intercom to MAJ Hewlett, and asked him if I could ask for a favor. "Anything, Two-Zero." Then I said never mind, because it really wasnt very Cav of me to ask. He bit, almost begging me to ask whatever it was that Id wanted. With the blood on the floor, and the crew chief working on my leg, I finally asked, "Well, sir, can I have the rest of the day off?" He almost broke the glare shield, banging on it as he was laughing. He had tears, too, especially after that.
Six took me as far as Lai Khe, where they transferred me to a Dustoff bird. Someone took photos of that, and it turned out it was a crew Id covered, so for part of the way back, they discussed how important it was to amputate the leg in time, and began to sterilize a P-38 for the operation. It would have been funnier if I had not been so ticklish. Even at the hospital, when they had to shave around the wound before putting me out, I was miserable with the pain, but even more with the fear of being tickled. Turned out that they found that the saphenous vein was flopping around loose in the wound channel, and theres no telling how it didnt rupture. Bleed out from that is about two minutes.
My flight log shows only an hour that day. I forgot to sign the log when I left the bird, but at least I did sort of a post flight.
Why the bandwidth for
this? Because the guys on this net have already found
Andy Kisela for me. One of my all time favorite guys, and
weve talked several times. He took the C-130 photo
thats in Slonikers office, but took it with
my camera, so had never seen it until you guys got us
together. I was surprised to find out how many of you
knew The Animal. Hugh Mills and he were close, and that
makes me feel closer to Hugh, who Ive never met or
talked with. You guys have put me onto Bob Monette. He
was Two-Zero after I was, and I never saw him again,
except for a couple of photos published with him in an
Apache. As I read the posts of guys describing their
feelings that I thought that only I felt, it really
strikes home. As I read posts of guys saying something
that I agree with from the very depths of my heart, like
Glasier, or new guy Bud Harton today, or a bunch of
others, it takes me back to a time we will not relive,
but must remember.
©1997 - Ron Timberlake
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© 1997 2001 WMH