Bill Rutledge, Det 8 – War Story

Larry Bradshaw

by Bill Rutledge

I was the POinC of Det 8, and had flown 500+ missions in 6 months off the Hunterdon County and out of the Rach Gia Short Strip. We had a bunch of great guys, OinCs Chris Thomas, Jerry Weber and pilots Bill Beltz, Butler, Jim Curtis, Rick Harmon, Gary Findley, Ken Lowe, Kevin Delaney(ADM), Mike McNaul and Tom Parret. The gunners were GT Decker, Ron Chitty, John Bazan, L'heureax, Farley, Fargher, West, Timothy, Davidson, Breen, Schmitt, Hart, and Henning.

I was called in to be one of three Natops gunners with Lee Hicks and Ken Wheeler. We went to all the dets and flew, certifying gunners for their seats, and when the dets were short of gunners, we flew as a det gunner and acting POinC. It was a great job, and I could come and go from det to det as I wished. AMS1 Hicks was in charge of Natops gunners and he didn't know where I was most of the time, but when the commanding officers Twite, Borgstrom or Mulcahey had a special op they were going on, Hicks could find me and I would be picked up to go with them.

Most of the missions were pretty hot, and I say this from experience, we were led by some brave COs who led by example and not from behind a desk, flying body snatches, SEAL inserts, extractions and hot medevacs. I sure felt naked flying in the Sealords birds on these OPs with only two sixties and gunner extraordinaire Hicks, even though most of the time we were covered by two Det Gunships. There is nothing like the love and warmth of a strapped on gunship with a minigun or 50 cal flown by pilots that were as crazy as the gunners.

I cannot praise our groundpounders and staff personnel enough. They were the best and without them we aircrews couldn't have done our jobs. They deserve credit for every mission we flew, for without that armed Huey, I can just see the pilots and gunners carrying the rockets and weapons running across a paddy putting in a strike.

I'm going to relate a few tales that were out of the ordinary daily missions for me. Its been 31 years and I can't remember all the names, dets, or places these Incidents happened.

Det 8, early 1970, south of Rach Gia, daytime, free fire zone, we came in off the ocean over the trees and caught a group of 20-25 VC out in a large clearing. They ran to a small tree line and we took them under fire and put in two strikes. Still out in the open was one VC, with his hands in the air, so while the trail bird covered, we went down to body snatch him. There was no time to see if he had any weapons on him, because we started taking fire again, so we threw him in the bird and took off. We tied him up and I when started checking him for weapons, I found a large bulge the size of a grenade where his right pocket would be. OH Shit! If I pull it out he's probably pulled the pin and the spoon will fly off and blow us out of the air.

We didn't throw him out, we wanted to get what intel he had. Plan alpha, the other gunner held his 45 to the mans head, "no Decker, not the head, for the round will go through if you shoot and hit me."

I related my plan to the crew. I was going to cut the cloth around the captives grenade and throw the cloth and grenade out the door with one smooth move. I would make the cut, I'd get a good grip where the spoon is so it won't fly until I make my throw. I did it, and all I threw out was the cloth and as I make a second grab, I see the grenade, but somehow it has turned into a large growth on his leg. Wheew, close call. We took him to Rach Gia and turned him over to the SEALs.

Det 8, Rach Gia, myself and another Gunner need a ride to Binh Thuy. He's going home and I'm in for the Gunners Symposium (party time in Binh Xe Moi tonite!). We were waiting for anything flying going our way, and then a CIA Air America bird landed, we took the offer of a ride and jumped in. On the way in, the pilot got a call and let us know we're making a detour to pick up a couple of people at another location.

We landed at a long strip, with a village about a half mile away and hills in the background. The pilot kicked us off to make room for this Army Col. and several Vietnamese. As the door was being closed, the Col. told us to watch out, for this place has been under siege for two days. I had the only weapon, a 45.

The village at a distance starts taking mortars, and here we are, no bunker, only four posts with a thatched roof on it and a nearby unmanned shack with antennas sticking out.

Army gunships started putting in strikes on the hills. We made our way to the shack, and it had a military radio with power. We could see the helos flying right over us. I got on the radio using every frequency, trying to get someone, yelling "MAYDAY! MAYDAY! we are right below you!" I probably had every Bird in hearing distance looking down but none were landing.

We even saw two Seawolves go over and I was calling them #@*# to come get us as they flew on. As it started to get dark, a shot up Army slick came in and before he landed, we grabbed the skids and climbed in. He wasn't there for us, but landing to check battle damage.

He had a tail rotor chip light on and can't fly, Army regulations. The other wolf and I climbed up, pulled the chip detector, wiped it off, and put it back in. The chip lite was off and we got airborne. Then I noticed the bad vibration and on the wind screen the pilot had written about 10 things that were wrong with the bird. We went into Can Tho and I was not only happy to get out of that place, but off that Helo.

Det One, morning patrol. I was on the right door on the 50 and I believe Eltman was the other gunner left door with a free 60.

We caught two bad guys in a sampan on a canal, with open paddys to the east and trees on the west bank of the canal. The bad guys with no visible weapons, jumped into the water, ran up the west bank and into a small exposed bunker.

We put a strike in on the trees behind the bunker and received no fire. It's body snatch time. The lead bird flew slow and low, with the trail bird covering. I pounded the bunker, chipping it away. We came back around, hovered, and I shot a few more rounds of 50.

Two sets of hand showed out of the bunker and one VC came out. When we motioned him to our bird, he went into the water, up on the skid and into the bird. Eltman tied him to the back wall.

I watched the other VC, who went back into the bunker, but a few rounds of 50 brought him out again, into the water and onto the skid. He braced himself, and as I tried to pull him in, he tried to pull me out of the bird but couldn't because I was on a short gunners belt.

He jerked me off balance, ducked under the helo in the water, and headed for the east bank. Eltman grabbed an M16 from back of the copilots seat and jumped into the canal. The VC was going up the bank and getting away, so Eltman opened up on auto and almost cut the enemy in half. We got out of there and turned the VC we had over to someone at Solid Anchor.

Det One, mid morning scramble for ARVNs with a Green Beret Advisor in contact. I was along in the trail bird giving one of the gunners his Natops ride under fire, and an ARVN was aboard the lead bird to talk on the radio to the friendlies on the ground if needed.

When we arrived, the area was layed out with forest behind us, troops ahead in the open, enemy farther ahead in a tree line, and a village to the left of the enemy position. The advisor had been hit and couldn't talk or tell us where to put in the fire. He was still in command, and to our amazement, the troops used their bodies layed down in the formation of an an inverted V, pointing to a spot in the treeline. We got the idea this is where they want the fire, so we rolled in, door guns only. An ARVN on the ground got on the radio.

The lead bird was not receiving the signal, but the trail was, so we pulled off target and away to a cleared paddy where we both landed. The VN in the lead Bird ran back to get in the trail bird with the good radio, and I was to go to the lead and balance the load. When the VN got to our bird, I jumped out and he got in. The trail bird took off, kicking up swirls of rice chaff and dust, and to my amazement, the lead follows him out LEAVING ME IN THE PADDY!

When the dust cleared, I was standing there waving my arms for them to come back. No such luck. I saw the villagers on a dike line watching me and I could hear their voices. I got down and tried to look like a snake in that 6 inch stubble.

Scared sh--less, I watched the villagers as the whole world seemed to erupt and Det One rolled in with rockets and all guns blazing. What a sight. Being this close was bad, and I can't imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end of all that ordinance. But Charlie was shooting back and the fire team put in two more strikes and silenced the enemy.

I guess that is when they found out I wasn't with them, for the lead asked the new trail what Natops thought of this little action. "What? He's not with you?", "Well he's not with us either!" Then they saw me in the paddy and the old lead bird came back, hovered and picked me up. #$@&*$% "Why did you leave me? Communication problems? Right!" That was the first and only time I ever certified a gunner for his seat from a rice paddy.

Det One, 1971, special op Sealords bird. AMS1 Lee hicks and myself were the gunners. The usual SEAL insertion / extraction. Everything had gone OK on the mission, and after a debrief we headed back to Binh Thuy.

Fifteen minutes out of Solid Anchor, with Hicks on the left door and me on the right relaxing, forest behind us, open rice paddys and a few tree lines here and there ahead, and suddenly we had a problem.

A Banded Krait snake had crawled out about 6 inches from the sound suppressant over the pilots head and was hanging down about to drop down his neck. One of us told the pilot what was happening, and to zip up his flight suit all the way and lean back where the snake won't bite him. When he did, the snake disappeared back out of sight.

"OH CRAP! Where is he now?" I was more scared of the snake than the VC. We autorotated to the deck and landed. Hicks, the pilot and I jumped out, leaving the copilot in the Bird. The pilot stood guard with a M16 while we tore out the sound suppressant to find the Snake. We had on the thick gloves used to change hot barrels and ripped out every piece we could. Hicks saw the snake going down the door post on the left side and tried to grab him but he was gone again.

We grabbed a cherry smoke, popped it, and held it below where the Krait was last seen. The smoke must have gotten to him for all of a sudden he fell out on the deck of the bird. I grabbed a spare 60 barrel and punched holes in the deck trying to kill it. I wanted to make that thing look like a stepped on worm, but Hicks grabbed it between my swings and threw it out. The bird was full of red smoke and about to suffocate the copilot.

Then, we started taking fire from some distance away. We jumped into the bird, left all the sound suppressant on the ground and took off with red smoke trailing behind. More great news. Someone mentioned that Kraits travel in pairs. "WHERE IS THE OTHER ONE?" You can bet we were alert all the way back. We never saw another one and when we landed at Binh Thuy, we got out of the bird fast and let maintenance know there might be another one in there. I still hate snakes today.

Chau Doc, 1970. Det 5 Fireteam. Night intel strike near the Sisters Mountains. I was on the right door, can't remember who was on left door, but AO1 Nesby(short timer) in the middle.

When we headed to the target, an American voice came up on the radio saying, "HEY NESBY! Is that you and those P_ _SY assed Seawolves? If so bring it on a little closer and we will show you what we have for you." More talk came to Nesby as we approached the Sisters Mountains, and all of a sudden someone opened up from the there and green tracers were coming down at us.

We did a 180 and got out of there. No one was on the mountains but Charlie. I believe the guy must have been a POW and the VC were having him talk to us to get us closer, but instead, he was warning us away and had them open up early so we could get out of there. Scared us all especially Nesby. We don't know how they got his name.

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