The Pale Major
Flying for the Special Forces was part of my every day life. Some of the Pilots in my unit, the 187th Assault Helicopter Company, were regular supporters of the B-36 team at the old city landing strip in Tay Ninh. I was the fortunate pilot sitting on the B-36 pad this morning at flight idle.
Everyone in Vietnam has a tan, or Freckles, the sun is so hot and intense it burns exposed skin in minutes. So, seeing a white as a ghost Major running up to my chopper with his Dink counter parts closely behind. Was a sight to see. The Pale Major climbed in the helicopter and plugged in to our intercom. I could see the WestPoint ring knocker hanging loosely on his ring finger. He keyed the mike and very pleasantly, with a very deep voice, said, "I haven't been out of the bunker in six weeks, I must look like shit." I liked him already.
The Major unfolded a map on the console of our D model and told us he wanted to see some of the troop buildup he was getting intelligence reports about, and wanted to fly low level in several areas to see for himself. I learned low level flying from the master himself, CW2 Sam Bose, and considered my self to be as good as it gets at going fast down in the weeds.
We broke ground at first light. Climbing to 1500 feet for the first part of the journey would save some fuel and we could make sure we were on course and looking at he correct location. The air is still this morning and I can see the cooking fires making little smoke trails all across the city of Tay Ninh, and the smell was wonderful as we climbed on course.
The area the Pale Major wanted to look at was right on the border, Cambodia on one side of the river, Vietnam on the other. The sun was just coming over the horizon and it made the smoke coming up out of the trees glow, it looked like the whole jungle was oozing smoke there were so many fires. From the looks of things, there was no need to fly low level, they were building a city under the Jungle canopy. The Pale Major then wanted to fly down the river low level, and land at one of the SF camps to the south. I lowered the collective and dropped the nose, soon we were screaming along the treetops by the river bank. Some open areas, but mostly trees. Nothing moving below but the birds and monkeys. The Major informed us that they had lost contact with one of their recon teams and they were hoping it was a radio failure, not a wipeout. They were last heard from close to this area. I dropped down to go across a large group of rice paddies, and right in front of me as I look up is purple smoke just starting to come up, at 120 knots indicated, you go over the target like a streak. I could see there were some Americans in the group as I went by, I banked hard and low out over the river to blow off the airspeed and landed right beside them as fast as I could. The Pale Major jumped out of the helicopter and started loading the wounded. A very large man had a small man over his shoulder. He was last to get in the aircraft. The big man sat the small man on the seat beside the Major and put his arm around him to hold him up, still talking to the small man like he was alive and going to get treatment for his wounds any second. It was obvious the small man had been dead for quite a while. I looked over my shoulder and the sight is still burned into my memory banks. That big fucked up sergeant had the look in his eyes of a man who had died with his buddy out there in the bush, and he could not give up. We landed at the hospital and dropped the wounded men off. The big sergeant would not give up the body, so I volunteered to fly them to Graves Registration 75 miles away.
The flight to Graves
Registration was uneventful, the Pale Major was screaming
in the ear of the Big Sergeant the entire trip. When we
landed the Sergeant carried the small man to the
processing area and gave him up to the men with the
rubber aprons. I waited while the Pale Major picked up
the personal belongings and the paperwork was started.
This should be the end of the story, however, I was invited to a wedding out on Cape Cod last year. The Bride is a close friend, when her father stepped out of the house to welcome us, it was him, the Pale Major, after a short conversation I confirmed, yes, he was the one in the back of my helicopter. We never had time to talk about the past, we were both involved with the wedding, however just before the party hit overdrive he came over to me and said. You were the craziest pilot that ever supported the Special Forces, we always ask for you when we had a mission. Welcome back Crash. I was speechless.
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