Not long after POINC Robert Hunt was wounded, some time in 1969 while flying as a door gunner in the U.S. Army Loach (also know as a SPERM to us Seawolf doorgunners), I had the opportunity to replace him. Operations would use the Loach as part of a Hunter/Killer Team, with the Loach flying low level, and I mean below the tree top (scout position), and the Seawolf gunships flying high and fat, out of sight and earshot. The Seawolves were still flying off of one of the LST's at the time, near the Ca Mau Peninsula. As I recall, Roland Habicht was the "O in C" and McThomas and Marty Chamberlin were some of the junior pilots during this time. Robert Christensen was one of the gunners on Det-1 and I believe Hicks was the "POINC". The pilot of the Loach was the same pilot listed in Dan Kelly's book, "Seawolves First Choice".
On one particular mission, the Loach flew to our LST early in the morning, just as the sun had begun to rise. The plan was for a gunner to fly as the primary gunner for the US Army pilot. The pilot had no crew chief flying with him on this particular occasion. One of the major problems with shooting the M-60 from the Loach was the tendency for gunners to brass the tail rotor and cause damage to it. We took off from the LST while the sun was still rising and the tide was at it's lowest. Our mission was to scout for "Victor Charles" and scramble the Seawolves if we found any major activity in the area. When flying Lima/Lima (low level) in the Loach, you were right in on the action. The advantage was you could smell the different smells and actually live track the enemy, in real time, and take away the enemies advantage of concealment and stealth. The Loach was very maneuverable and could turn and climb at the drop of a dime, literally. The disadvantage was lack of firepower. Because Seawolf door gunners shot the M-60 free hand, we were able to cover the helicopters six o'clock position effectively (the most vulnerable position of the attack helicopter). When the enemy fired at the Loach, they threw an incredible amount of firepower up at it, thinking it was alone and not knowing the two Seawolf gunships were in the immediate area, circling like birds of prey and awaiting a radio call from the Loach pilot for assistance. Once contact was made, a smoke grenade was tossed out by the gunner to mark the enemy positions. The skill and courage of the Loach pilot and the helicopters' manuverability saved our bacon more times than any of us care to remember.
On one occasion, we were flying Lima/Lima and noticed a sampan filled with field gear and documents, which had very recently been abandoned off the jungle shore line. Apparently "Mr. Charles" had heard us or seen us coming or just knew instinctively we were hunting. There were fresh foot prints from the occupants of the sampan (Mr. Victor Charles we presumed) leading into the triple canopy jungle tree line. The immediate mission was to recover the sampan, documents and whatever else was inside the sampan for intelligence purposes. The uniform of the day for me that day was tiger stripe fatigue top, blue jeans, combat boots and the freehand M-60 (Seawolf Style). The pilot put the Loach in a hover and the plan, formulated right there on the spot, was for the Seawolf gunner to insert a very short distance from the sampan and retrieve the articles located inside it.
When the pilot hovered close to the sampan, I jumped out carrying my M-60 and a couple hundred rounds of linked ammunition. Since we were deep in "Mr. Charles" held country, the pilot and I were very watchful of the triple canopy tree line, located a short distance away, where the footprints from the sampan occupants led to. As I jumped from the Loach, I immediately sank up to my shoulders in mud (not a good sign). The pilot hovered the Loach closer to me, and I was able to throw my M-60 into the rear of the bird. Now the jungle tree line was a secondary problem and being stuck in the mud was a life threatening situation and the pucker factor was exceptionally high. As I struggled to get out of the mud, I only sank deeper, with the mud now up to my shoulders and I was still sinking fast. The more I struggled, the deeper I sank. The situation was a classical FUBAR and the pilot and I were beginning to get a little nervous.
The pilot knew I was in trouble when he looked at me with that "Oh, Shit!" look on his face. With the helicopter engine churning, we were unable to communicate verbally but had to rely on hand signals and instinct. The pilot then hovered the Loach on top of me and I knew what he wanted me to do instinctively. I grabbed one of the skids and tried to pull myself out of the mud. The Loach was a very powerful small helicopter compared to the Seawolf UHlB models when they were fully loaded with armament. The Loach was able to lift straight up from the LST, with power to spare, but the Seawolf gun ships had to rely on transitional lift when topped off with fuel and fully armed. No problem right? Wrong! I wrapped my arms around the skid of the Loach and the pilot pulled up but was unable to get me out. It was like taking a plunger to a clogged drain that didn't want to become unclogged. All I was able to hear and feel was suction. This really got my attention and as I looked at the Army pilot, my eyes told him we were really in trouble now. To make matters worse, the rotor wash was spraying me and the chopper with salt water and the windshield of the Loach was also becoming covered with mud and salt water.
The pilot tried several more times to pull me straight out of the mud but the mud kept me sucked in. I could hear the jet engine wind to its maximum pitch, which was not a good sign. To make matters worse, the tide was starting to rise at a rapid rate and if I didn't get extracted soon, I would most likely drown with the high tide salt waters. Now I knew two things for sure, the Army pilot would never give up and neither would I. I knew that by the time he started sucking water the Seawolves and SEALS (his shipmates) would be scrambled to get me out of this jam. Now, my hands were very muddy and I was becoming weaker and my grip on the skids kept slipping when the Loach tried to pull me out of the mud. After what seemed like an eternity, I started to make some progress when I grabbed the skids and the pilot moved forward instead of trying to pull straight up. Eventually, by pulling me forward I was able to get out of the mud, climb up on the skids of the Loach and get inside the rear of the aircraft.
We made our way back to the LST and I was a sight to behold. The Loach pilot and I just looked at each other. No words needed to be spoken. We both knew how close we had come to not making it back. For the next month I was picking mud from my nose and other extremities. The SEALS later retrieved the sampan and the bounty of documents and supplies it contained. It was indeed a good find.
Several of the Det-1 Seawolves flew as gunners in the Loach on occasion, but Hunt & Olby were the two who flew most of the hunter/killer missions. The Army Loach pilot was one of the bravest people the Seawolves have ever worked with and was a helicopter pilot extraordinare. He flew many missions with the Seawolves on Det-1 and his heroism and instincts were legendary. (That's a lot of praise to an Army Pilot from us Navy guys) We later heard that the Army pilot was seriously wounded in a scouting action up north with other Army units.
Ammo Cache Explosion
This story took place some time in 1969. Some of the gunners involved were Robert Christensen, Keith Jasmine and possibly Bob Hunt. The "O in C" at the time was LCDR Roland Habicht. We were working off one of the LST's near the southern tip of Vietnam. There was a US Army spotter plane patrolling the southern tip of Vietnam between the Nam Can Forest and the U-Minh Forest (the forest of assassins). The Army spotter plane had spotted a large cache of suspected ammunition out in the open and was unable to get any Army units to check it out or get any "fast movers" to destroy it. The Army pilot informed the Seawolves that he had flown low enough to observe the wooden pallets had markings on them. The Army spotter pilot was concerned that if this cache was not destroyed ASAP, "Mr. Charles" would have it moved before morning. Shortly before dusk, the spotter plane had the Seawolves scrambled to see if they could destroy the large cache located literally out in the middle of nowhere in Mr. Charles owned country.
The two Seawolf helicopter were scrambled off the LST shortly before dusk and proceeded to the coordinates provided by the spotter plane. This was the Seawolves area of operation (AO) and it didn't take long for our pilots to communicate the with the Army spotter pilot on where this huge cache was located. The Army pilot informed the Seawolf Fire team leader that it would not have to mark the caches as it was so large a marking round from the spotter would not be needed. The daylight hours were closing and there was no mistake on seeing large wooden ammo type boxes stacked as high as a one story house. We were not sure what was inside these wooden boxes or how this cache got there. There was a small canal a short distance from the cache which led directly to the South China Sea. The cache may have been transported there by helicopter. The Seawolf pilots and gunners were amazed at they size of this cache located out in the middle of nowhere. None of the Det-1 Seawolves had seen anything like this before.
The Seawolf Fire team Leader, LCDR Habicht wasted no time in setting up firing runs, trying to destroy the cache. The Army spotter pilot had to leave because he was low on fuel. Now, it was up to the Seawolves to destroy the cache before "Mr. Charles" could put the cache to use against us. We made rocket run after rocket run on the large cache but were unable to get any explosions. The copilots used their 7.62 MM flex guns after all the rockets were expended, trying to ignite the cache. To make matters worse, it was starting to get dark and our time on station was running out.
The pilots put the gun ships in wagon wheel formation and the door gunners tried to ignite a secondary explosion. The gunner working out the left door started one of the ammo crates on fire with M-60 tracer rounds. Fuel now was at a critical level for both Seawolf gun ships but the pilots knew the gunner had one of the crates burning. All of a sudden, the biggest explosion we had ever seen erupted. It almost appeared as a mini atomic bomb blast in these dark hours. Secondary explosions continued and they were so intense it appeared to be light outside and inside the gun ship cabins, even though we were now flying in complete darkness. The LST later informed the Seawolves that the explosion was so intense that they could read the tail numbers on the Seawolf gun ships several miles out at sea.