This is a war story about a brave warrior from Helicopter Attack Squadron Light 3, Detachment 6 Seawolf Crew Chief/Gunner Joe (Jose) Ramos, who hailed from McAllen, Texas. This story takes place in late July or early August 1970; Joe was gone most of the month of August for his extension leave, so I think I have the timing right. We flew together on this particular scramble, a Scramble 2 (ARVN wounded) so this is from first-hand experience. Joe has been nominated for the "Enlisted Combat Role of Honor" and this story is in support of that nomination.
Det 6 was staging out of Song Ong Doc. It was going to be a dark night with no moon, so as we watched the sun slip below the horizon, we knew we would be flying that night. Sure enough, the scramble alarm went off around midnight. The AMY, a series of support barges for PBR's, was the command post for our area of operations. The AMY activated the alarm. Scramble alarms were different for each type of scramble; Scramble 1, 2 or 3, so we knew there were wounded involved. In our bird, Mr. Peoples, Seawolf 61 and OINC, was the Fire Team Leader (FTL), Bob Goddard, Seawolf 64 (I think) was the copilot and Joe and I were in the back. I don't recall who was in the trail bird, but Red (John Cummings) or Pappy our POIC, (George Valdespino) was most likely flying the .50 cal.
Joe and I were in the mini gun bird with free guns, M60's. Now understand, all gunners took great pride in their 60's. Many Gunners beefed-up their guns with extra springs on the operating rod and feed tray covers. As I remember, a government issued M60 fired about 675 rounds per minute. Both Joe and I were probably cranking out 800 to 900 rounds per minute, maybe more. The theory was, the more lead you sent down the less that came up.
Shooting was sort of like a contest between Joe and I. A standard door box had just over 2,000 rounds. These boxes were measured not by the number of rounds but by weight. I believe the weight of each box was approximately 108 pounds. I can remember on more than one occasion during a hot re-arm, Joe running with a door box. I liked using a .50 cal ammo-can because I could get about 3,000 rounds in it. Actually, Joe and I were on the same rotation, and he was usually the crew chief in the other bird. Ah, a productivity measurement! Over a one month period we kept track of how much 60 we shot. I remember the numbers; Joe shot around 275,000 rounds and I shot about 260,000 rounds.
Outpost Hotel was to the east, beyond VC Lake. When we arrived on station, Mr. Peoples got a situation assessment from the lone U.S. Advisor on the ground, a Green Beret. There were around 30 ARVN soldiers at the base which was about 50 yards square. Pop flares were in the air, so this helped visibility.
When we arrived, the base had a couple ARVN's wounded and the VC were coming through the second perimeter of concertina wire. We could see an occasional claymore mine being set off by the ARVN's at the outpost, but according to the advisor, most of them had already been expended. The base was surrounded, but the heaviest VC concentration was from a tree line on the east side of the base.
We were armed with 12-pound HP rockets! We would roll in from the west to the east, drop two rockets and break right; then would get an accuracy report from the advisor. By then the tail bird would be in position and fire several HP's. When we rolled in, Mr. Peoples fired. The sparks from the rockets and rocket caps were like sparklers in the night. When the rockets impacted we heard "Cease Fire ". We had dropped the rockets inside the compound; but close to the concertina wire. We had slightly wounded a couple more ARVN's. This was real close support! Seawolf 61 asked the tail bird to break off, which it did.
A decision needed to be made quick, as we needed to lay down fire right now. Support fire would be so close to friendlies that Mr. Peoples decided to use the "Wagon Wheel" technique, and moved both gunners (that's us) to the right door. We would circle the outpost at about 500 feet and lay down M60 fire from each bird.
Understand, the door is about 4 feet wide in a B model Huey. Joe's "pussy pole" was in the way, so he took it out while I lengthened my gunners belt. We each had about 2,000 rounds in our door boxes plus 3 feed trays of mini gun, which was the same caliber as our M60's. In total, we had 8,000 or 9,000 rounds. Less than a minute from the "cease fire" yell, we were circling and firing.
Joe was sitting on the right seat and I was on my knees with my door box in front of me. Two of the fastest free 60's in the Delta, at night, from the same door. What a rush! We were laying down cover fire and the advisor was talking us in. Pinpoint accuracy, I might add, just yards from the friendlies. When fresh pop flares went up, we had a pretty good view of VC, but they were running low on flares and depended more on talking us in. Of course, flares worked for Charlie too and lit up the compound. I can recall trying to keep my fire in the wire, but there was a lot of muzzle flash from the outside relines. Joe decided he would take care of those positions when they shot, and I would keep an eye on the trail bird and cover it as necessary. The tail bird would have the same plan of attack.
Joe was out of ammo first; remember the contest! He slid back and reloaded his door box from the mini gun feed trays. Joe was a big man, but quick and agile. He took great pride in being physically fit! It didn't take long for him to throw about 1,500 rounds in his door box. Since we had loaded the mini gun feed trays earlier that day, long and short rounds in the belt were not a concern. We were both cracking away in concert, watching our tracers and having a ball.
Mr. Peoples advised the tail bird that we would be the first to break away and re-arm and refuel at the Ca Mau long strip, about 20 klicks away. The trail bird was conserving ammo so they could cover the base in our absence. We were probably on station less than 25 minutes before departing for Ca Mau. We would be gone another 15 to 20 minutes. When we lifted off from the long strip, 61 got a radio report of the ball game from the tail bird and advised them of our ETA.
As we got near the area, we could see the Seawolf blazing away. They were low on fuel and nearly out of ammo, so they broke-off to reload and re-arm at Ca Mau. Charlie was still doing his best to overrun the outpost. One of the "kicks" gunners got was putting 50 or so tracers in a row on a belt. A standard belt has a tracer every 5th round. We had two of these belts in the aircraft so on our way back to the outpost Joe and I each put these on our belts for the first burst. Yes, we knew would need to change our barrels right away, but it looked so cool! Psychologically (we hoped literally), this would blow Charlie away, thinking we now had a door mounted mini gun. Those came to Det. 6 near the end my tour. The Advisor got a kick out of the tracers too.
So the night went on, rotating with the trail bird for 3 or 4 hot refuels, re-arms that night. On one of our trips to Ca Mau, there was an Army Cobra shutdown near the ammo dump. Mr. Peoples asked me to run over and enlist his help. After all, it was an Army base and it was still a pretty hot fire fight. I remember climbing up on the Cobra, we had awakened the pilot and co-pilot from a sleep. Over the roar of our gunship I yelled through their cockpit cover which was closed. "We need your help, an army base is under heavy attack." The pilot said or did nothing. I yelled again! I stayed for about five seconds. Yeah, he knew I was pissed the way I looked at him. To this day I would like to believe he chose not to help because of another mission.
As the dawn was breaking, the VC were retreating. Back to the vill's to become friendly farmers, I suppose. We knew they were a small outfit, because we saw no tracers and just a couple B40 rockets go off. But, they sure had a lot of automatic weapons, probably AK47's, as most of the muzzle flash looked like it was from small arms automatic weapons. At this point, both det gunships were now on station. It was then that the Army reinforcements started to arrive. A few slicks with ARVN replacements and Dust-Off for the wounded. As the day brightened from the sun, we circled for a little while. When 61 was comfortable everything was in control, he called the advisor to say goodbye. The advisor thanked us seven different ways and fifteen different times.
The fire team went to Ca Mau to reload and refuel one more time before going back to Song Ong Doc to remain on standby. When we got back, we debriefed, post-flighted the helo's and I believe we may have had to patch a hole or two. It was time for the next crew to take over! After the adrenaline slowed down and our guns were cleaned and ready, we laid down in our racks to get some rest. I can remember Joe laughing from his rack, as he replayed the events of the night.
I believe Joe was recommended for a Single Action Air Medal for his actions that night. You have to know, Joe was driven to be the very best, and committed to his role as a Crew Chief and Gunner on Det 6. "No greater love has anyone, then they lay down their life for a friend! Do you have such a friend?" My answer is an absolute YES, and it was Joe Ramos. Joe's last flight as a Seawolf was 15 September, 1970. He was KIA in a ball game by VC Lake. I think of Joe often and I say a prayer for him each Memorial Day. No enlisted man deserves to be on the Combat Role of Honor more than Joe.