Last night, I spent about two hours on the telephone with
Jimmy and I used to fly quite often together. Jimmy
Ballard is one hell of a crew chief and has a set of
balls like the Jolly Green Giant.
This net has allowed me to find many of the men I used to
work with, and every one of them seems just the same as
he was in 1967.
Jimmy has a favorite pilot, Joe Burns, the very guy that
used to love to chew my ass over any little infractions
of 'the rules.' Of course at age 19, I thought the
rulebook was just a waste of time.
I am having lunch tomorrow at Major Joe Burns's house,
and for the first time in 30 years we are going to talk
about our tour with the 187th Assault Helicopter Company.
The last time I talked to Joe Burns in 1968, he was
chewing my ass.
I hope he has mellowed.
Medevac with Jimmy Ballard
0300 Tay Ninh base camp, Viet Nam.
The tempo of the outgoing artillery has picked up
It sounds to me lying in my bunk that all of the
artillery batteries are shooting TOT at once. In
the dim recesses of my sleep addled brain I know the men
in the field are stepping in shit. Even half asleep
I know what will happen next, and I pull on my pants and
lace up my boots, only to fall over on my cot and go back
to sleep half dressed in the heat and humidity of my GP
medium tent shared with five other Warrant Officer
When the orderly pulls the tent flap back it brings me
instantly awake, it is time to go flying.
At the same time in Maintenance Jimmy Ballard and John
Carter are working on one of the company aircraft in for
a 100-hour check. Jimmy met the aircraft when it
came in from a day of courier work at 1500. Major
Stewart wanted the aircraft ready for work at 0600 and
Jimmy and his crew put the finishing safety wire on the
aircraft, getting ready for the tech inspection.
Working all night was the norm for the RoadRunner
Maintenance men, and a 12-hour shift was nothing for
Jimmy and John.
Our Operations tent was alive with activity when I walked
in the door. I threw my helmet and flack vest on
the counter and signed for the SOI and the survival
radio. Major Burns had a map spread out with the
Landing Zone marked and all the ground frequencies
penciled in for me. "We have a medevac for you
tonight, but are having trouble getting a crew
together. Your regular crew is too intoxicated to
fly according to the runner. Go ahead and use my aircraft
and crew tonight." Said Major Burns. A
generous offer that would save some time in getting
airborne. Warrant Officer Kirk Nivens was just
opening the door as I was heading out for the
revetment. I grabbed him still half asleep and
towards the Helicopter.
Major Burns had already sent for Carter and Ballard, and
as Kirk and I started the run for the helicopter we could
see our crew running for it at the same time, each
carrying their flying gear and a M-60 machine gun.
Blades untied, M-60's getting mounted, Kirk is going down
the checklist, while I wait for electrical power to turn
on the radios. The second I have power I call Tay
Ninh tower for takeoff instructions, and before Kirk can
get enough rotor RPM to fly I am cleared for takeoff.
We fly under the artillery barrage and as we get a little
altitude Paris Radar starts vectoring us to our target,
while keeping us clear of the artillery rounds in the
Our wounded Grunts are in a Landing Zone right on the
bank of a river. From the map it looks like this
one is going to be easy.
From 1500 feet the river stands out against the dark of
the trees like a ribbon of silver. I call the
ground commander and get a long count to home in on, but
it is unnecessary as the tracers and parachute flares are
clearly marking the battle. As we get closer the
flash of the explosions are clearly visible and
concussions of the artillery rounds shake the
I call to have the artillery lifted, and after the last
rounds splash we made our approach to the hot Landing
Zone. "Get on the controls with me Kirk, you
know the drill. You guys in back ready to
go?" I hear two rogers over the intercom.
We came in over the river, clearing the trees growing
next to the river. I turned on the landing and
searchlight. I was expecting to see a small rice
paddy, but instead I see stumps and fallen trees.
We terminated at a high hover while every fucking dink in
the province took a shot at us.
"I can't see where to go, there is no one marking
the Landing Zone. Any one see where we need to
go?" Jimmy Ballard sees the Grunt with his
rifle over his head out the left side of the
helicopter. "Left, come left is the command
from the crew chief." There he is, I can see
him in the smoke and dark and put my searchlight on
him. "I don't see any where to set
down," As I brought the UH-1D to a hover right
in front of the guide on. "We got stumps and
trees on the left" from Jimmy, "looks bad on
the right" from John. The Grunts know we
can't land and start handing up the wounded to the
hovering helicopter while we blew dust and branches
everywhere. While John watched my tail rotor, Jimmy
climbed out on the skids to help drag the wounded into
the cargo bay. Jimmy is a small man 5 feet 7 inches and
maybe 120 pounds dripping wet, but he muscles the wounded
men into the back like they did not weigh anything.
Pop, pop, pop, in my earphones, fuck, we are getting hit.
I can't see the tracers with the lights on and the rotor
wash kicking up so much debris.
It takes an eternity to load the men one at a time.
I am sweating so profusely it is running in my eyes and
burning but I can't take the time out to wipe them.
Kirk is on the controls so lightly I can see his
hands but cannot feel him.
"How are we doing back there?" My voice
creeping up a few octaves over the intercom "One
more Sir, and we have them all." Was the
reply. The aircraft was getting harder to handle as
the weight increased. My eyes in the back were
continually up dating me on my position, keeping me from
sticking the tail rotor into something solid.
As Jimmy dragged the last man into the cargo bay, I added
power and started to head for the river but we did not
have enough horse power to jump the trees with all the
wounded grunts in back, and had to hover back and take
another run at it.
We hit translational lift and cleared the trees by the
river with inches to spare. Kirk had doused the lights as
soon as we made the run at the trees and we were flying
blacked out down the river pulling all the horsepower we
could produce. Medevac flying is a race against time,
lives are saved or lost in minutes. I pull as much
power as the engine would produce and fly low level so as
to not waste time going up and down.
Jimmy and John were doing their best to stop the
bleeding, giving first aid to the severely wounded
men. One of the men with a head wound started
thrashing around and for a moment it looked like he might
kick one of the other men out of the open door.
Jimmy had him in a vice grip hold restraining him for the
rest of the ride to the hospital.
We crossed Tay Ninh low level in the dark. I had
already been on the radio to the 45th MUST hospital, and
I knew they would be waiting on the pad for us.
I cut across the active low level and had my helicopter
on the ground as fast as I could. The nurses and
orderlies had the men off the chopper in seconds.
It took four orderlies to take the thrashing head wound
patient off the helicopter; Jimmy had been holding him
down by himself.
The flood lights on the Hospital Pad would help us
find the bullet holes in the aircraft, and we shut down
to have a look. When Jimmy came forward to pull my
seat armor back, I got a look at him in the light; he was
covered with blood from his feet to the top of his
helmet. When I got out to look the chopper over,
the first thing I noticed was the blood dripping out of
the open cargo bay. The rotor wash had covered the
inside of the helicopter with blood and it had dried to a
dark brown red color.
We found the bullet holes, and they had hit nothing
vital, so we cranked up and flew back to Maintenance,
ordering a water truck to help clean out the mess while
Jimmy started hosing out the cargo bay with the two inch
water hose. I got all my maps, guns, and
paper work out of the helicopter, and asked if I could
help with the cleanup. Offering to hold the hose
while Jimmy and John washed the blood from their
equipment. One thing led to another and once the
water fight got started we started throwing red mud and
then wet clothes at each other, blowing off a little
steam after our brush with death.
Kirk Nivens headed for the showers, but I still had to
turn in the SOI and survival radio.
Dripping wet and stripped to the waist I was hesitant to
enter the inner sanctum also known as Operations.
This was real RLO territory. Major Burns was a by
the book officer and I knew I was in for some verbal
abuse. I peeked in the door, and did not see
Major Burns. I quickly put my SOI and radio on the
counter and made a break for the door, but before I could
put my hand on the doorknob, the deep voice of Major
Burns stopped me in my tracks. "Where are you
going without signing in your radios, Mr.
Coe?" I turned around with a sheepish grin,
expecting an ass chewing for being out of uniform, the
water fight, putting holes
in his aircraft or one of several dozen things I knew I
was guilty of. "I heard it was a tight LZ and
you still got seven wounded out, good work Mr.
Coe." I nearly floated out the door.
I looked at my watch while walking back to my tent, 0430,
great, I would have time for a cold shower and a nap
before having to crank up and fly a combat assault with
first platoon at 0630.
Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
187th Assault Helicopter Company 67-8