I Got Shot Down
Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.
- By Phil Scott
- Air & Space magazine, May 2004
(Page 6 of 8)
NAME: Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Maslowski (U.S. Army)
AIRCRAFT: UH-1H Huey
CONFLICT: Vietnam War
SHOT DOWN OVER: the Parrot's Beak region of Cambodia, west of Tay-Ninh, Vietnam
I graduated flight school in February 1970, got into Vietnam April 1, 1970, and got shot down May 2, 1970, the day after the U.S. invaded Cambodia. As a new guy in-country, they put me with an experienced pilot who'd fly in the left seat. Near the end of that day, at around 1600 hours, we took on a load of parts, mail, and four passengers.
We were supposed to fly to a fire support base by the name of Bruiser, right over the Cambodian border. After we got in the air 20 to 25 minutes, a monsoon came in. We had to plunge into the squall. Initially we heard something hit the aircraft. I looked down to my right front and saw what appeared to be red basketballs. It turned out to be radar-controlled .51-caliber fire.
I had been flying the aircraft, but the pilot, Mike Varnado, grabbed the controls immediately, and he's trying to make S-turns to break the lock from the radar-controlled gun. We lost the hydraulics, and the tracers caught the hydraulic fluid on fire. The back is on fire. The guys, I see them choking and pushing stuff out the doors. I hear “Oh shit.” All this hydraulic liquid filled up the chin bubble on the pilot's side, and within a couple of seconds fire is engulfing the whole [port] side. I take the controls while he tries to get away from the fire and puts out “mayday” calls.
As we broke out of the squall, I see a rice paddy 200 or 300 feet below me. I put it into a tight 360-degree turn and brought it down in the center of this paddy. Six people in back of the aircraft are not waiting to get the hell out. The aircraft commander got out of the left door, but mine was jammed. The crew chief, Fred Crowson, helped me crawl out through a window. I looked off to the right and I saw black pajamas [Viet Cong] running toward us. Someone yelled, “Here they come.” I pulled out my trusty .38 revolver.
I kept firing at bad guys as I ran toward a dike. I dove over it and within a few seconds somebody came and landed a foot from me: Captain Robert Young [one of the passengers]. Six or seven bad guys were in front of us. I fired, reloaded, and the third time I reloaded, two bad guys with AK-47s took a running jump over the dike and one stuck his barrel in my face, one pointed at Bob's face. A third guy said, “Surrender or die.” I dropped that .38 damn quick.
They took us just past the tree line and took our boots off and pulled the laces out and tied us up with the laces. They used our socks as blindfolds. Within a couple of hours they walked us into a POW camp. There turned out to be about a dozen Americans in there. Later that night they brought in Varnado. Mike had been shot in the chest and above the knee cap, and it looked like it had shattered his knee. A week or two later they took Mike away because he had been wounded. We only saw him once again in July and he looked absolutely terrible. Bob Young, he survived for two and a half years. He was a six-foot-tall, 190-pound ranger, a brilliant guy, but he got so sick he dropped down to 75 or 80 pounds. On a Sunday, it was drizzling, and [a guard] unchained me and another guy to pick up the dinner bowls. Somebody yelled, “Go check on Bob.” I kneeled down and said to him, “We got to get a little food in you.” The poor son of a bitch, he died in my arms. Of the last four guys in the helicopter, it turned out that one of them hid in the jungle and made it back to friendly territory in three or four days. The other three were listed as missing in action and have since been declared killed in action.