If you remember Vietnam, you remember the Bell UH-1.
- By John Sotham
- Air & Space magazine, May 2000
US Army photo. NASM 9A00345
(Page 2 of 7)
I think this was my first as a command-ship pilot, and I was for survival. I would’ve been very happy flying the brigade commander up there at 5,000 feet, or [General William] Westmoreland to his apartment in Saigon. It’s amazing how many places I considered being besides there.
In assaults, we usually started drawing fire at 1,000 feet, sometimes at 500. This time we didn’t.
At 500 feet, on a glide path to the clearing, smoke from the just completed prestrike by our artillery and gunships drifted straight up in the still air. There had to be one time when the prep actually worked and everybody was killed in the LZ [landing zone]. I hoped this might be it.
Fighting my feeling of dread, I went through the automatic routine of checking the smoke drift for wind direction. None. We approached from the east, three ships lined up in a trail, to land in the skinny LZ. But it was too quiet!
At 100 feet above the trees, closing on the near end of the LZ, the door gunners in Yellow One started firing. They shot into the trees at the edge of the clearing, into the bushes, anywhere they suspected the enemy was hiding. There was no return fire. The two gunships on each side of our flight opened up with their flex guns. Smoke poured out of them as they crackled. My ears rang with the loud but muffled popping as my door gunners joined in with the rest. I ached to have my own trigger. With so many bullets tearing into the LZ, it was hard to believe anyone on the ground could survive.
The gunships had to stop firing as we flared close to the ground because we could be hit by ricocheting bullets. Still no return fire. Maybe they were all dead! Could this be the wrong spot?
My adrenaline was high, and I was keenly aware of every movement of the ship. I waited for the lurch of dismounting troopers as the skids neared the ground. They were growling and yelling behind me, psyched for battle. I could hear them yelling above all the noise. I still can.
My landing was synchronized with the lead ship, and as our skids hit the ground, so did the boots of the growling troops.