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. Sure enough, 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 nearby village of Hai Yen was under heavy fire after making contact with a regiment of VC (confirmed by a captive VC) and 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 arrival, the SEALs pinpointed the VC positions with tracer fire and our gunners began a heavy barrage of fire. After getting a good fix on the friendlies, our gunships 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. This time, the SEALs were in big trouble, and we 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.
The "B's" weren't able to carry a lot of fuel, and 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."
It was time to start the refuel shuttle. Leaving our 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 he could also refuel and rearm.
Upon arriving back on station, a two-ship rocket run was quickly organized and all rockets were 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 routing of alternating orbits to share the ammo expenditure of the door gunners, a call was received from Solid Anchor. The fuel 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, dawn was coming, the SEALs were still in contact and the VC were still trying to get at them.
Det 3 had not been heard from, the SEALs were running out of ammo, and as the Chief in charge of the SEALs urgently stated, "Please don't leave us! If you go we will be overrun as soon as it gets light!" He knew exactly what was going on.
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 a choice that I'm sure he was going to make anyway, the pilot asked, " Well boys, we've got a problem, any suggestions?"
By that time I had been on 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. He said "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. Then we could replenish their ammo and make a stand. Time was now very important, our low fuel light was on. This meant that, if we were lucky, we were 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 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 headed to the nearest landing site available, which was about 6 miles at Hai Yen. The low fuel light had been on for what seemed like 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 of hours later, the refueling pump was back in action at Solid Anchor. Our sister ship soon arrived and we siphoned fuel from them and returned to base for another day of flying.