|I just returned from an early morning
"scene" call and not being able to
go to sleep, thought I might pass on a "flash back" I had while I was waiting for my medical crew to load the patient.
It all began just prior to touch down in the LZ. We train our crews to look for and report anything during our approach and landing phase that might be of a safety concern. Just as we were about to touch down the paramedic casually mentioned that we were landing in an area that appeared to be sloping off to our right. I too, had noticed the slope and had compensated for it on landing. No big deal.
After my crew had left the aircraft however my mind began to drift back to an event in RVN which had been brought to mind by my paramedic's comment. Whenever I have had thoughts of this " event " over the years it has always brought a bit of a chuckle with it. I think you may chuckle too.
As I recall it happened in August, or there about, of 1969. We were working in an area I would estimate as about 20 klicks NW of Lai Khe. We were working with the ARVNs. I can't remember what unit it was. Never paid much attention to the ARVN units we supported anyway.
As my mind went back I could vividly recall the LZ as we were on final. The area was large enough but was interspersed with small trees and termite mounds. This required each of the nine ships to pick their our landing sites on short final. I believe we were in a staggered left formation and I was chalk two. The day to this point had been uneventful and all of our insertions had been without suppression. All in all a quiet day.
The landing area that I had selected had a large termite mound on final that we had to clear which required about the last ten to fifteen feet of our approach to be a vertical or near vertical descent. As we were just about to touch down my gunner said in the same casual way that my paramedic had earlier tonight "Sir, your landing on a slope." I remember being a little surprised because I hadn't noticed a slope during the approach and I really couldn't make one out as he spoke. However, since the pace of the day was a casual one and since maybe he had noticed something that I had not, I said OK and instead of putting the full weight of the aircraft on the ground I picked up and moved a few feet to the right and began to come down again.
Now comes a more forceful reply from my gunner. "Sir, your landing on a slope!" Now I begin to feel the first hint of confusion creeping into my, by that time in my tour, battle hardened mind. Again I say "OK," and once again I pick the aircraft up, move to the right a few feet, and begin to come down. By this time I'm starting to wonder what the big deal is about this slope anyway!
Now comes the most forceful comment from my gunner. "G_ _ damn it Sir! you're landing on a slope!!!!!!!" Well, now I'm really pissed and totally confused about this GD slope. I pick the aircraft up and with emphasis move as far as I can to the left in my little LZ and put the aircraft down. As our Pax leave the aircraft I turn to my right and looking across the rear of the aircraft, I look my young gunner in the eyes and say "what's going on?" I probably didn't say it that nicely, but I did notice that my gunner also looked somewhat confused and uncomfortable. As I learned later he couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting the picture.
Although this event seemed like it had taken forever it really only took a couple of minutes. The saving grace was that others were having trouble finding places to land too. However, I didn't have time to explore what had just happened at that time. Lead was pulling pitch so off we went. I let my peter pilot take the controls on the way back to Lai Khe and told my gunner that we would talk on the ground.
On the way to Lai Khe I went over what had happen trying to make some sense of it. I believe it was at that time that several things which I hadn't paid much attention to during the heat of the moment came to mind. First, I realized that each time I had attempted to land the crescendo of the ARVN's chatter would intensify. Secondly, as I had turned to talk to my gunner I had noticed out of the corner of my eye that the ARVN's that had come off my ship had appeared to go over and pick up one of their own and carry him off. I had to admit to myself that the whole thing was confusing.
Finally on the ground in POL at Lai Khe the whole story came to light. In talking to my gunner, the following had just unfolded in the LZ. Apparently as we were making our vertical descent into the area an overly zealous ARVN had jumped out at about ten feet. Lying stunned on the ground he looks up to see our Huey about to land on him. At this time my gunner reports I'm landing on a "slope." Trying to get out of the way the hapless ARVN tries to crawl to safety only to have me pick up and follow him and try to kill him again. The next "slope" alarm comes from my Gunner. Desperately my target again tries to crawl to safety. And again the not to be denied Willy Pudd pursues his pray. Finally the most impassioned plea from my gunner puts a halt to the silliness.
I really don't know how badly my little ARVN was hurt. I never did put the full weight of the aircraft on him but I'm sure I nailed him pretty good a least once. Rumor had it that once he recovered from his "helicopter lashing" he defected to the other side and asked for duty in an anti-aircraft unit. This however, could not be confirmed.
I informed my Gunner that in the future, a least when he was flying with me, to please not call the Vietnamese " slopes " I didn't use that term so it hadn't registered. To me a slope was a change in the terrain, ether upward or downward, however you looked at it.
One positive thing did come out of this however. I proved that slick drivers could get " kills " too. It's my opinion that the Army would have employed this tactic on a regular basis had it not been so labor intensive.
This is a true story. I can't recall who my other crew members were. So if you were with me that fateful day please comment.
Warren "Willy Pudd" Willis
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