|"So Crash, do you
remember doing a medevac near Katum where you chopped
down a couple of trees getting in? Asks Frenchie
Gibeault sitting in my living room. "The
night medevac deep in a hover hole where I destroyed a D
model getting out the wounded?" "Yep, that's
the one." The Frenchman replied. "I did
not think we were going to make it home, in fact, I did
not think we would ever get off the ground."
We laughed at ourselves, thirty-two years after it
happened, it still scared the shit out of us to talk
Here is the story Robert "Frenchie" Gibeault
and I put together Thursday
night. It is interesting to me how so many details
come to light while talking with some one who was there
in the helicopter with me watching things unfold with a
Here is our story.
The 187th Assault Helicopter Company had been given the
mission to re-supply the 25th Infantry this day, and as a
member of the First Platoon (later known as the Maggots)
my instructions had been simple. "Blackhawk
54, Contact Manchu 6 on his ground push, don't let them
keep you past 1900 hours." Growled Major
Bauman. After our evening briefing my platoon
leader Captain Billie Presson was next to get my
attention, he assigned me an aircraft and gave me a list
of frequencies to contact the ground troops. I was
happy to get Roger Gilbert for my Crew Chief and Frenchie
Gibeault for a Gunner both from Boston, both with thick
Boston accents. It would be fun to hear them talk
on the intercom, some of men from the Deep South needed
translators just to work with these two.
The second platoon was doing Eagle Flights. I was
happy to be doing single ship resupply rather than
hopping tree lines inserting Grunts into hot poorly
prepped Landing Zones.
We started early in the morning, just at daybreak.
Hauling water and ammo. "Blackhawk 54 is inbound to
your location with a load of ammo over," the voice
on the radio controlling the re-supply effort came back
with "Blackhawk 54 you have no traffic things are
still quiet clear to land."
I could see the red smoke coming up through the hole in
the Jungle. We were out near Katum. It was a long
flight from Tay Ninh to that hole in the jungle.
I made a high pass over the Hover Hole and looked down
into the dark green eerie pool, I could see nothing in
the darkness and the smoke coming up made things
worse. I was light, having burned quite a bit of
fuel going up there and the crew loaded us light for our
first trip in so we could get a feeling for how much
power it was going to take to get in and out.
I approached into the wind and when I got right over the
top of the hole my crew started clearing me down.
About half way down my eyes had a chance to adjust to the
dim light in the Jungle and I could see between my feet
the Grunt with the rifle over his head guiding me in to
touchdown. The red smoke flair at his feet puking
out clouds of the acrid red smoke that burned my eyes and
lungs at the same time. The rotor wash turning the
air pink all around us.
Once I had the guide on in sight, the rest was easy and
they had a pad marked and markers for us to land on.
I went to flat pitch and had a look around. The
Grunts were dug in, but the only light was from straight
over head, it was dark under triple canopy jungle early
in the morning.
The crew helped the Grunts take the ammo off while the
Sargent I would be working with came up to the helicopter
to shoot the shit. I told him this helicopter was a
good one and we could take seven men. With simple
hand signals the Sergeant pointed who was getting on and
with a thumbs up and a big smile it was time to go.
I pushed the mike button the cyclic to the first
détente, the intercom, "Coming up" I was
telling my crew to clear me on the vertical
departure. "Clear right" from Frenchie,
"Clear left" from Roger. The UH-1D
started to climb straight up. With help from my
eyes in the back we threaded our way out into the bright
sunlight. At the top of the hover hole I eased the
nose over and gently started to get enough airspeed to
Time after time we went in and out of the hover hole
until very late in the afternoon just before sundown when
Manchu 6 let us go.
That last trip out of the hover hole empty was like being
born again. With an empty chopper and the radio
playing "Please release me let me go" we were
all singing along with the radio grabbing some altitude
on the way home.
"Mr. Coe, you said I could get some stick time
if" I cut him off " well get up here
Frenchie" was my reply. Usually after a long
day of flying, I would let the crew fly home. Some
of them like Frenchie became pretty proficient flyers.
I always thought teaching the crew to fly was
insurance. The 187th Assault Helicopter Company
already had a time where both pilots were hit and the
helicopter was flown to the hospital by the crew chief
saving all their lives.
With the Flying Frenchman at the controls and clearance
from the Tay Ninh tower, we terminated at a hover twenty
feet over the top of POL. "I've got it" I
said, and I hovered down to a refueling nozzle. I
was about to take my helmet off when the call from
operations came in over the company frequency.
"Blackhawk 54 we have a medevac for you, shut down
on the operations pad."
After hovering over and shutting down in front of the
Operations tent, I climbed out and made the short walk to
the inner sanctum, Blackhawk 6 territory. Major
Bauman always talked very formally to the Warrant Officer
pilots in his command, "Mr. Coe, the troops you have
been supporting today were hit hard just a few minutes
ago. They are requesting medevac. They have
at least two very seriously wounded men that need medical
attention immediately. You have been operating out
of that Landing Zone all day and know the area, so I am
sending you back to get the wounded. Grab something
to eat while the gunships work over the area, this could
be a long night."
I felt sort of numb on my short walk back to the
helicopter, the thought of flying down in that hover hole
in the dark was not what I had in mind for this evening.
I told the crew of the mission we had been given; they
were ready to go, not one second of hesitation. I
felt better; they obviously had faith in my ability to
get in and out of the hover hole one more time in the
Major Bauman's runner found us all at the mess hall.
" There is a break in the action, you need to depart
now." And he turned on his heel and was out of
the tent in a flash, we looked at each other and dropped
what we were doing and ran back to the helicopter.
We were in the air in minutes, the darkness closing in
around us as we left civilization and headed out over the
jungle. I checked in with Paris Radar and they
started vectoring me to my target. I could hear the
Guns on Victor coordinating their attack; I broke in with
"Blackhawk 54 inbound for a medevac,
over." The Rat Pack fire team leader came back
with "Roger 54, they seem to be pulling back, I
would not call it quiet, but we are not taking fire at
this time." Rat Pack 18 had my life in his capable
I switched to FM ground frequency and called the ground
have two hit very badly and five that will make
daylight." Was his comeback, I knew I could
get all seven, we had been hauling that many all day.
Rat Pack 18 called for flares, and the Grunts responded
by shooting one out the top of the landing zone.
The wildly swing flair clearly showed the hole in the
trees and I was over the spot in seconds.
Searchlight and spotlight on and at first look down I
could see tree limbs that had fallen across the opening
to the landing zone during the battle. My crew was
clearing my tailboom, and about half way down our rotor
wash dislodged a large branch sending it through the main
rotor. To up the pucker factor, the Viet Cong
started shooting at the light in the trees with
everything they had. I could clearly see the
landing pad had a large branch leaning out over it, I had
not chopped my way in this far to pull pitch and leave
without my wounded Grunts. I chopped and chopped
until I got on the ground. When I shut off the
light we were plunged into an inky darkness with the only
light coming from tracers criss crossing the landing zone
and the dim red light of the instruments.
My D model blades were thrashed. I had lateral
vibrations, I had vertical vibrations, and it seemed as
if she was going to shake herself to death. We were
taking a huge volume of fire on the ground, and everyone
with a weapon was using it. The Sergeant I had
been working with all day ran up to the door and told him
to just put on the critically wounded patients, my beat
up blades would not lift very much.
The Grunts loaded two very badly wounded men and a medic
to keep them alive. I called out "Coming up"
and as I started pulling pitch I knew we had big problems
with the main rotor.
As soon as I broke ground I turned on the lights, that
seemed to focus the tracers on us. We still had
some chopping to do to get out. By the time I got
to the top of the hover hole I was pulling all the pitch
we had. The Rat Pack was working out on the steady
stream of tracers coming up from the jungle.
I was trying to get some altitude, but the old girl had
given her all chopping in and out to get the wounded
Grunts. I was able to get some forward airspeed and
with the pitch pulled under my armpit we limped back at
40 knots low level the aircraft shaking so hard I was
afraid we were going to come apart in the air. I did not
lower the collective until we were over the hospital pad.
"Blackhawk 54 turn on your position
lights." The call from Rat 18 boomed in my
ears. I turned everything I had on.
"Tally ho" was the response and soon a light
fire team accompanied me on my slow trip home.
It took an eternity to get back to Tay Ninh. I made
a straight in controlled crash at the hospital pad, my
Rat Pack escorts streaking over the top of us low level,
in 90 degree banks, thumbs up, a salute from the Bad
Dogs. I started to breathe again.
The 45th MUST hospital triage team swarmed our chopper
and I shut her down after cooling the engine for the
required two minutes. As the blades turned down I
could see the end piece was gone off of both
blades. When I climbed out to have a look myself,
my knees got a little wobbly from what I saw. The
blade leading edge had been beaten flat, and about the
last three feet of both blades was gone, they just had
the flat lumpy leading edge, and the rest was gone.
We had a couple of bullet holes and the dents in the
leading edge went all the way back to the rotor head. The
tail boom had dents all over it and the tail rotor
leading edges were all flattened and dented. We had also
broken out one of the greenhouse windows, and my chin
bubble. If I had not flown it in myself, I would
not have believed that a helicopter would fly in that
© Wayne R. "Crash" Coe "Blackhawk
187th Assault Helicopter Company 67-8