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Juri T.’s Story
Shared on June 7, 2017
Easter Sunday in Mekong Delta
When I walked with my copilot, warrant officer Watson to my helicopter to get ready for another troop insertion mission, I noticed a couple of rabbits hopping in the field next to our parking ramp. This reminded me that it was Easter morning. I told Mr. Watson that we should see if the bunnies had left any Easter eggs for us when we return.
We were going on another mission in support of a Vietnam infantry battalion, which had been given the task of finding and destroying Vietkong units that had been attacking them.
I was assigned to lead a long flight of helicopters to Landing Zone Alpha, a rice field amidst tree-lined fields. For the sake of ARVIN soldiers I was hoping that the mud on the field was not too impenetrable – it was that time of the year.
On such troop-lift missions we never actually landed. As the choppers neared the ground, they slowed down to allow the troops to hop off from the side doors. As I was dropping off the troops, the familiar whiplash sounds signaled, that we were taking fire. Bullets penetrating the helicopter sound pretty much like whiplashes.
As I started to climb for departure someone announced on the tactical radio that the ship behind me had crashed in flames. Then all hell broke loose. It became quite clear that we had landed in close vicinity of major VC firepower. Colonel Dempsey, the Commander, called in airstrikes and ordered our helicopter gunships to rake the tree line with machinegun and rocket fire, and then asked the Dust-off, the medical evacuation helicopter, to attempt rescue.
The Dust-off chopper was also shot down. After more airstrikes, gunship fire and covering of enemy positions with smoke from Smoky, the smoke generator quipped chopper, Colonel Dempsey attempted to rescue some of downed crew members with his own command and control ship. As he made his attempt, his copilot reported that they had been hit by a rocket, The ship crashed in flames. Lieutenant Colonel Harper, his deputy, assumed command.
Air strikes and gunship fire on enemy positions continued. As I was leading a flight back to the home field, LTC Harper called for a volunteer to attempt another rescue effort. I told the next chopper in line to take over the lead, turned around and told LTC Harper I was on the way. As I neared he battlefield, the gunships kept giving me covering fire and Smokey obscured the visibility of the enemy. Even then, the “whiplashes” got quite frequent. I consoled myself with the knowledge that it takes quite a few bullets to bring down a Huey. Of course, only on suffices if it hits a critical spot or between the eyes of the pilot. Hovering among the wrecks I ordered my crew chief and gunner to pick up the wounded. It was no easy task, the sticky mud was knee-deep and the VC were pouring machine gun fire in our direction. When they were unable to pick up a severely wounded fellow-aviator, I gave the controls to my copilot and jumped out to lend a hand. With three wounded on boar d, I again took the controls and headed to the nearest field hospital.
The enemy fire eventually ceased, the rescue operations lasted all afternoon. When we parked at home field, the rabbits were again hopping in the field, but we weren´t really in the mood to look for any Easter eggs. However, after washing off the sweat, the mud of the battlefield and the blood of the wounded, a cold beer felt great.
A month later I was ordered to go to Saigon for an awards ceremony. A parade with the Eight Army band had been arranged, When General Westmoreland pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on me I could not quite understand why carrying out normal duties deserved such recognition.
Many years later I received a call from a man who asked me if I remember Easter Sunday in Mekong Delta. It turned out to be the same major I had pulled out of the mud. He thanked me and apologized at having cursed at me while in pain. That call gave me greater pleasure than any award I had ever received.
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Retired Officers’ Corporation at Freedom Plaza
Production Credits: THE VIETNAM WAR is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington D.C. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward. Produced by Sarah Botstein, Lynn Novick and Ken Burns.
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