"Oh, no, I like that. Sam Walker."
"I always wanted to be named Sam Walker, but my mother never did anything to change it."
"Well now you can live out your dream through your stories."
He laughed and agreed.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is a story from Sam Walker. (My favorite lines in the whole work are those last two sentences.)
A persistent early morning rain dripped from a slate gray sky. Helicopters lined both sides of the An Khe airstrip and men were slowly stirring to cook their breakfast of C Rations over low fires. Other fires from halved oil drums serving as latrines were burning nearer the perimeter. These brought a foul smelling smoke drifting across the entire strip.
“Damn! Sure wish they’d wait till after breakfast for the crap cremation,” groaned Sam to no one in particular.
Bart stood about ten feet away, shaving out of his helmet, the white lather a stark contrast to a dull gray/green scene.
“They seen their duty and they done it,” said Bart wiping the lather from around his ears. “Ah, where else but in the beautiful Central Highlands of lovely Southeast Asia, and all this sponsored by the United States Army.”
Bart was the C.O. of Charlie Battery, Aerial Artillery – Gunships. He was a major and his command consisted of Regular Army Captains and non-drafted professional solders. Discipline was not a problem. Bart knew this and treated his men with the respect they had earned.
“Sam, brew me up some coffee and if you don’t mind, smear some grape jelly on the cracker. I’m going down the line and make sure everybody’s up. Thanks.”
He smiled as he pulled on his fatigue shirt, barely hearing Sam mumble something about not being the frigging cook.
Sam was recognized as being the unit’s second best pilot. Bart was the best. Sam had finished first in his helicopter instrument school class and indeed had set a record for both academic performance and flight performance. His record still stands.
Everyone was up, and most were ready. Some were conducting their pre-flight inspection and others were already loading their 2.75” rockets. A few kidded Bart about not being a good example by sleeping in so late.
How can morale and esprit be so high in these men when things were the worst, thought Bart. Back at Benning (Fort Benning, Georgia) where they had trained, conditions were far better but morale only mediocre. Now after forty-five seasick days on the Baltic Ocean and a week sleeping in pup tents, shallow bunkers and under helicopters, suddenly these men were ready to take on the world. How do you figure?
A few minutes later he briefed the aircraft commander on the morning’s air assault.
“Ok, this is a biggee,” he began. “Eventually, by the second lift, an entire brigade will be involved. The LZ’s, as you can see, are at the northern end of Happy Valley. As usual, we’ll provide the preparatory fires and then orbit until the LZ’s are secure. We’ll take five of the ten ships here, Gen and I plus 2nd Platoon.” Each platoon had four choppers – two sections.
“We’ll expand half load for preparatory fires and heap a half of our orbit. GZ’s not sure of the size of the VC force but could be as much as a battalion. An L-19 was hit by some 14.5 millimeter anti-aircraft fire over the area, so be on guard.” Actually, Sam and he were going to attack that target during the preparation.
“Ok, frequency for F1 (Fire net) is 35.6 fm. Also be up on Battalion Flight net on UHF and no listening to AFN on the way.” The pilots laughed and made their way back to watch this aircraft. Like most professionals, they appeared relaxed, but their minds were already rehearsing the violent scenes ahead.
Promptly at 0755 Bart got the radio message to crank. “Fire in the hole!” Sam shouted as he pressed the starter button. Slowly the blades began to rotate picking up speed as the engine caught. In a few seconds, optimum RPM had been reached and he picked up to a hover. He swung the tail ninety degrees right so that Bart could see that every one was ready.
They were flying UHIB (Hueys) with XM-3 rocket pods loaded with thirty-six High Explosive (HE) 2.75 inch rockets. On each door hung an M-60 machine gun manned by the crew chief on the left and an infantryman attached to the unit on the right. These were used to provide suppressive fires as the gunships were breaking from their rocket runs. Most people think that shooting a helicopter down would be as easy as shooting ducks, but it’s much harder when the ducks are shooting back.
As the gaggle of gunships rose above the tree line and began heading east, the jungle clearing serving as the division base camp appeared on their left.
|"Oh Shit! This is NOT the place to be stopped. East Bound from Pleiku to QuiNhon, truck on the An Khe pass loses its brakes, takes a curve too fast and overturns.... This is, most certainly, a VERY bad development"|
Image: Steve Shepard vie VHPAMuseum