If you remember Vietnam, you remember the Bell UH-1.
- By John Sotham
- Air & Space magazine, May 2000
US Army photo. NASM 9A00345
(Page 3 of 7)
At the same instant, the uniformed regulars from the North decided to spring their trap. From at least three different directions, they opened up on our three ships and the off-loading grunts with machine-gun crossfire. The LZ was suddenly alive with their screaming bullets. I tensed off the controls, involuntarily leaning forward, ready to take off. I had to fight the logical reaction to leave immediately. I was light on the skids, the troops were out. Let’s go! [Dan] Farris [Mason’s squad leader] yelled on the radio for Yellow One to go. They didn’t move.
The grunts weren’t even making it to the trees. They had leapt out, screaming murderously, but now they dropped all around us, dying and dead. The lead ship’s rotors still turned, but the men inside did not answer. I saw the sand spurt up in front of me as bullets tore into the ground. My stomach tightened to stop them. Our door gunners were firing over the prone grunts at phantoms in the trees.
A strange quietness happened in my head. The scene around me seemed far away. With the noise of the guns, the cries of the gunners about everybody being dead and Farris calling for Yellow One to go, I thought about the bullets coming through the Plexiglas, through my bones and guts and through the ship and never stopping. A voice echoed in the silence. It was Farris yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”
I reacted so fast that our Huey snapped off the ground. My adrenaline seemed to power the ship as I nosed over hard to get moving fast. I veered to the right of the deadly quiet lead ship, still sitting there. The door gunners fired continuously out both sides. The tracers coming at me now seemed as thick as raindrops. How could they miss? As a boy, I made a game of dodging raindrops in the summer showers. I always got hit eventually. But not this time. I slipped over the treetops and stayed low for cover, accelerating. I veered left and right fast, dodging, confounding, as Leese had taught me, and when I was far enough away, I swooped up and away from the nightmare. My mind came back, and so did the sound.
“What happened to Yellow Three?” a voice said. It was still on the ground.
The radios had gone wild. I finally noticed Farris’s voice saying, “Negative, White One. Veer left. Circle back.” Farris had White One lead the rest of the company into an orbit a couple of miles away. Yellow One and Yellow Three were still in the LZ.
I looked down at the two ships sitting quietly on the ground. Their rotors were turning lazily as their turbines idled. The machines didn’t care, only the delicate protoplasm inside them cared. Bodies littered the clearing, but some of the thirty grunts we had brought in were still alive. They had made it to cover at the edge of the clearing.
Farris had his hands full. He had twelve more ships to get in and unloaded. Then the pilot of Yellow Three called. He was still alive, but he thought his partner was dead. His crew chief and gunner looked dead, too. He could still fly.