AO1 Fred T. Stark (2)

Larry Bradshaw

by AO1 Fred T. Stark

AVIATION ORDINANCEMAN FIRST CLASS, FRED T. STARK was assigned to Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron Three in the Republic of Vietnam from August 1970 to August 1971 as a Helicopter Combat Aircrew Door Gunner on a UHIB Huey gunship light fire team at Det-1.

Petty Officer Stark's aircraft was heavily armed with rockets, door mounted and side mounted 6 barrel mini guns, door mounted 50 cal machine gun, grenades, M-16 rifles, and free M-60 machine guns. His Fire Team flew close air support for the SEALs, River boats, and all other allied forces. They did insertion and extractions, medevacs, and intel gathering by landing and capturing enemy troops (body snatching).

His two Gunship Fire Team staged from the Advanced Naval Tactical Support Base, (NTSB) Solid Anchor located at the southern tip of Vietnam on the west bank of the Cua Lon River. Solid Anchor was surrounded by the U Minh Forest, dense and triple canopied jungle with canals running throughout. This was the only base in the U Minh, a VC/NVA stronghold. The enemy tried to get rid of it daily with mortar, rocket and ground attacks.

Also staging from here were the Brown Water Navy River Patrol Boats, a contingent of Navy SEALs and Kit Carson Scouts. Petty Officer Stark was the Petty Officer In Charge(POINC) of Det-1. He not only flew as a door gunner, but he also had to ensure all the gunners were properly trained, weapons ready, and aircraft maintenance performed. Flying out of Solid Anchor brought fear to brave men's hearts and raised the pucker factor to red line. Petty Officer Stark flew 629 combat missions during his tour with HA(L)-3.

On the morning of 30 January 1971, Petty Officer Stark was the right door gunner on his aircraft. His weapon was the door mounted mini gun. His fire team was assigned to fly close air support for a planned SEAL insertion to capture a VC tax collector and his body guards. These tax collectors were hated by the local villagers because they used whatever force necessary to make the local farmers, fishermen and businessmen pay up. They traveled all over a district collecting and when one of the locals got brave enough he would pass the intel along to the U.S. Forces and a mission would be planned, such as the following action.

One of HAL-3's, Sealords (slick) was to insert the SEALs while the two guns from Det-1 would provide air cover. Upon entering the pre-assigned area, the Sealords bird with the SEALs dropped down to make the insert and came under heavy automatic weapons fire. As the SEALs off loaded to snatch the tax collector, one of them was seriously wounded.

Petty Officer Stark's fire team was taking hits in their birds. As he was returning fire, he spotted the enemy behind a dike line where most of the fire was coming from, and with his mini gun he laid down a devastating barrage of fire killing several of the VC gunners and making the others keep their heads down. His accurate fire allowed the SEALs to load their wounded man aboard the slick and extract, aborting the mission.

On the way out, Petty Officer Stark kept firing, protecting the slick and his gunship fire team from further damage. On returning to Solid Anchor, Petty Officer Stark and his crewmen refueled, rearmed and checked the battle damage. The wounded SEAL was taken for medical attention, and another insertion was planned.

The next morning, Seawolf guns and the slick loaded with SEALs again arrived at the same insertion site and Petty Officer Stark prepped the area with his door mounted mini gun with 4000 rounds a minute from treetop level. The SEALs were inserted again, they and the three aircraft came under heavy enemy fire from all sides.

Petty Officer Stark spotted the machine gun fire coming from a clump of banana trees. As he opened up on the enemy gunners position, his weapon malfunctioned and he grabbed his free M-60 from the deck and continued firing hundreds of rounds. Silencing that position, Stark took another position under fire and was firing so fast his M-60's barrel overheated and was cooking off rounds. With the ability to rapidly change barrels Petty Officer Stark was back shooting in seconds laying down suppressing fire as the SEALs again boarded the slick for extraction.

Covering the slick with fire until it was clear, the fire team then put in several strikes with all weapons blazing, devastating the enemy. Petty Officer Stark's action on this mission undoubtedly saved the lives of the SEALs, pilots and fellow Gunners. He was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross (his third time) and again he received a lesser award.

At Det 1, we were flying missions that melted into each other and in retrospect, in another theater, would have been considered "medal" material on nearly a daily basis. We on the other hand, only knew we were doing a job to the best of our ability, under often hazardous conditions, with the ultimate goal of always being there and getting our "Brother Warriors" out of trouble safely so they could go home to their loved ones. Sometimes this wasn't so easy, but then we would find out we were capable of the "impossible" and the "Legend of The Seawolves" would receive another chapter.

On dark nights you could be sure that "Charlie" would be on the move.

Late one night in early 1971, the radio came alive at 2:00 am with the now famous call of "SCRAMBLE THE SEAWOLVES!" A SEAL patrol from the village of Hai Yen was under heavy fire after making contact with a regiment of VC (confirmed by a captive VC) and they were in immediate danger of being overrun and a certainty of being overwhelmed as the sun came up.

Det 1's two UH1B gunships arrived on station minutes later after once again executing a "full asleep to airborne" scramble in 2 minutes. The situation was nearly out of control as "Charlie" was getting braver as it became more apparent that the SEALs were a small group. Immediately upon Det-1's arrival, the SEALs pinpointed the VC positions with tracer fire and the door gunners began a heavy barrage of fire. After getting a good fix on the "friendlies" our gun ships rolled in on our first rocket run.

Normally gunners would retreat back into the aircraft as the rockets started firing because of the intense field of sparks, rocket caps and molten slag in the air. But this time, the SEALs were in BIG trouble and the gunners stayed outside and continued to concentrate fire on the VC position all through the rocket run and break off into the "wagon wheel" (a technique of covering our wingman and continuing to keep the VC under fire).

After about 45 minutes on station and another rocket run, the VC had been slowed to rendering only "intense" fire as opposed to "overwhelming fire" and it was time to start the refuel shuttle.

Leaving the trail ship to stay over the SEALs and continue putting in fire on the VC positions we went back to Solid Anchor to refuel and rearm . After a quick 3 minute hot turnaround we were back on our way to relieve the lone Seawolf on station so that he could also refuel and rearm.

Upon arriving back on station a 2 ship rocket run was quickly organized and all rockets expended from the "trail" ship before leaving for Solid Anchor for what should be another quick turnaround. "Charlie" was still in contact and it was obvious from the amount of fire coming from the VC positions that he wasn't prepared to break off.

Det 3 was scrambled as it was becoming obvious that this was going to be a "HOT" extraction right at dawn or the SEALs were really going to be in serious "Kim Chee".

Just as we were settling down to a routine of alternating orbits to share the ammo expenditure of the door gunners a call was received from Solid Anchor .... The refuel pumps there had broken down and it was impossible to refuel our sister gunship. Now we had a real situation!!! We had nowhere to refuel, the dawn was coming, the SEALs were still in contact, the VC were still probing the area trying to get to the SEALs, Det 3 had not been heard from yet, the SEALs were running out of ammo, and as the Chief that was in charge of the SEALs urgently stated (he knew exactly what was going on)---" Please don't leave us! If you go, we will be over run as soon as it gets light !!!"

By now it was nearly 4:00 am, our fuel state was becoming critical and a decision had to be made. Trusting us to make the choice that I'm sure he was going to make anyway, the pilot asked, "Well boys, we've got a little problem--any suggestions?"

By that time I had several hundred missions and there was no way I wanted to leave. "Well Sir, I'm not very hungry and these guys need us."

My left gunner agreed "No way, We stay!"

The copilot was new but he was there for the whole show -- "me too, we stay!"

The die was cast, we would conserve all the ammo we could because when we became critical on fuel we would make one last rocket run and then land next to the SEALs where we could replenish their ammo and make a stand. Time was now very important, and now, our low fuel light was on. This meant that we were now, if we were lucky, 20 minutes from flameout.

The SEAL Chief had been informed of our intentions and the quiet "thank you" said it all--- if relief didn't arrive soon, we would make our stand together.

Several orbits later, as the sky was starting to show the coming dawn, we got the call we awaited "Det 3 is inbound, 5 minutes ETA, Det 6 is also inbound". We stayed on station, still at the 500 foot or less altitude as always, and awaited relief.

Thankfully, Det 3 arrived soon and after one quick orbit to orientate the gunships, we left to the nearest landing site available which was about 6 miles at Hai Yen. The low fuel light had been on for what seemed an eternity but somehow the old gal got us down safely yet another time. About 45 minutes later the SEALs had been extracted and arrived at Hai Yen with us. I'll never forget the tears running down that Chiefs face as he thanked us for not leaving them.

A couple hours later, the refueling was back in action at Solid Anchor. Our sister ship soon arrived so that we could syphon fuel from it return and base for another day of flying.

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