Webmasters Note: There have been many post to the VHFCN network concerning the battle at Lam Son also know as Lam Son 719. Much of the discussion generated concerns of purported orders by commanders to leave downed air crews on the ground and continue the mission. These discussions have brought many memories of being downed to the pilots who flew in Vietnam. This is one of them.
I have read the posts of "leaving behind" with a personal interest. I can't imaging having not to go after a downed brother, but, I also understand that the decision might have to be made sometimes.
My personal story was really weird.
I was flying C&C for an operation in lower III Corps, near the end of the Plain of Reeds, actually further SE, near the Thumb and the Testicles, if you know the area. Our Company XO, a fairly new Captain and aviator and a great guy, was my PP.
Based on the mission briefing, and the ground commander in back's commands, I had the Greyhounds insert a good size Infantry unit earlier. I don't remember how many lifts we did, but, there were three units on the ground, one on the South side of the river, and two others, one each, East and West of a forested area North of the river.
I kept the Maddogs on station for awhile, but at first nothing was happening, so I told them to go back with the Slicks and shut down - along a road someplace.
I told them I would come and get them with a fly-over and a crank sign if I needed them, and that if they didn't hear anything form me for "x" amount of time (CRS), they were to come up company push and ask for instructions.
I was left alone with my crew and the ground command guys in back (the mission commander) with their radios. No sooner than my Slicks and Guns were shut down than the ground unit came under heavy fire. They ran into a serious fire fight.
The Colonel in back was trying to get his company commanders to close on the enemy. He was trying to talk the unit on the South side to come up closer and move over so that they would be a blocking force on the opposite river bank, and he was trying to get the two units on the North side to try to move up around the top, join up and push the bad guys toward the river and the Southern company.
I wanted to try and go back and get the Maddogs, but, the Colonel couldn't get his company commanders to maneuver into the positions he was ordering, so we had to stay in the AO. It seemed clear to us in the air what they needed to do, but, the poor ground commanders couldn't see shit because of the dense foliage they were trying to operate in.
About this time, the Colonel's radios in back went dead. He was with two of his other guys, both Captains. They lost contact with the ground commanders. I still had radio contact with the ground commanders, but, the Colonel was hosed.
He ordered me to command my "door gunners" to give him their mic cords, so that he could use my radios to communicate with the ground units. I objected because I felt I needed my crew connected. He over-ruled (as the mission commander - and a Colonel to a WO1, and my XO concurred), so I ordered my CE and Gunner to give him and his #2 their mic cords. They were pissed, and I felt I had lost connection with the back of my aircraft. Because I didn't have anybody in the air, it didn't interfere directly with me yet, it just pissed me off too.
He still couldn't get his ground guys coordinated, So he ordered each company commander to drop back with their RO and find a clearing so they could see "his helicopter". He then told them he was going to have me fly low and slow over them and he would "point" the direction he wanted them to move their unit. TINS.
I told him that this was "dangerous" - I think I actually said, "stupid". We had no contact with other aircraft or gun cover, and the ground units were in contact. He "over-ruled" me again - XO was pissed at him, but concurred, so I descended to basically tree top level and flew over the company commander's positions.
The first unit worked OK. He saw the Colonel point, ground commander gave us the thumbs up, rejoined his unit and started moving them in the right direction. However, I got screwed at the second unit location. As we were moving into position over them, I started taking hits in the tail boom and the ship starting shaking, and I felt I was losing power. I had no communication with my crew in back, so I was guessing as to what was going on 50 feet or so behind me. I was trying to find someplace away from the ground fire that was open, and was slowly settling into the trees.
All of a sudden I heard my crew chief SCREAM over the noise (remember no commo with them), "LOOK OUT FOR THE TREE, SIR !!!!!!"
WHAP !!!!!! The tail rotor struck the top of a tree. I yanked in whatever power I could muster to clear the other tree tops, but, the helicopter felt like it was shaking completely apart. The CE said later, it looked like the tail boom was rotating 45 degrees side to side, twisting the tail boom like a pretzel.
I got over the immediate tree line and dove the ship to the ground before it shook apart. It was in the rainy season, and I ended up splashing into a flooded rice paddy. The ship settled up to the cargo bay loading floor in the water.
The Colonel screamed a Mayday to his ground commander as we went in, ordering them to send a couple squads in the direction of where the helicopter was going in.
As soon as we hit the ground, my CE and gunner grabbed their 16's and set up a defense, me with my 38. The Colonel and the two Captains in back didn't know whether to shit or go blind. I got the distinct feeling they had never been on the ground in an actual combat area before. You could tell they were scared shitless, and I was SO PISSED I couldn't be scared.
We didn't take any fire, and it was only minutes before the ground unit came over and set up a perimeter around my helicopter.
I was too busy screaming at the Colonel for overriding my discretion as the Aircraft Commander, and in so doing fucked up everything. He didn't say much in return, and my XO finally got me to back off.
About this time, the realization set in that we were completely ALONE. Nobody knew that we were down. Nobody.
We couldn't raise anybody on the radio. What an alone feeling.
We could hear the fire fight going on a short way away, and the Colonel was using my radio to stay in contact with his guys. They were all scared (as well as us), because we were a real tempting target.
I don't remember how long this lasted - it seemed like an eternity. I knew that if things held out long enough, and if the Greyhounds and Maddogs couldn't raise us, somebody would come out looking. I KNEW it. We wouldn't be alone long.
After what seemed like an eternity, with the Infantry fight see-sawing in the distance, I heard that beautiful sound of Huey's beating the air coming at me. A Huey coming at you low level is either the scariest, or the most beautiful sound on Earth. This was a symphony to me.
All of a sudden two Maddog Charlie models burst over the tree line and started circling us.
I jumped on the radio, kicked the colonel off it, and was NEVER so glad to hear another pilot's voice before, as I was giving them a Sit-rep and working logistics for the pick-up.
I always KNEW my Guys would be there - I can't imagine thinking maybe nobody would come.
To make a longer story less long, I had the Maddogs go crank the Slicks. The fire fight stopped, and, to this day, I was so relived and concerned about our situation, I didn't know or care what happened there anymore.
I was coordinating things now from my downed bird, with the flight above me. I had one of the slicks pick up the Colonel and his guys. You should have seen them sloshing across the rice paddy - up to their waist - with all their maps and shit, sort of like their tails between their legs.
I had one of the slicks pick me and my crew up, and then I passed C&C officially over to Lead, as I sat in the back with the rest of my crew; cold, wet, still shaking - but, REALLY HAPPY NOBODY HAD GOTTEN HURT.
As the LZ got cold, we brought out a shit-Hook to get my ship. I wouldn't leave the AO until my bird was safe too, so I had the Slick I was in stay in the area and oversee the extraction.
They tied the Hook to my ship and started to TRY to lift. I could see the Hook actually shaking trying to break my Slick free of the mud. The Hook almost sank back to the ground, but, then the Slick started slowly coming out of the ooze. It must have had tons of water in it. It just poured out as it was lifted. I was afraid we might not get it out, and have to leave it which meant we would have the Maddogs blow it up with rockets in place.
I was happy to see my bird make it back too.
Even though none of the guys are on the net - yet, I want to thank anybody that went and got somebody that went down. The helpless and naked feeling is staggering. That's another reason I always respect the Infantry who were there all the time.
Also, I learned to NEVER let anybody over-rule the AC again, at least this AC. They would have had to court-martial me after, but, I WAS IN COMMAND OF MY SHIP. Luckily, in the future, when I exercised this prerogative, nobody nailed me later on the ground.
Sorry for the bandwidth. I don't remember ever relating this story to anyone before.
Rob Glasier - Greyhound 19
©1997 - Robert Glasier
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