As I Remember

As I Remember……… Al Owen - "StageCoach 20" 26May1968 to early Dec.1968 As I read the Unit History for the period I had the honor to fly for the 155th, several events that were mentioned seem to jump out at me and bring forward memories that I haven't dealt with in a long time. I'll try to keep it brief… 8 Sept. 1968: A UH-1H (67-17149) assigned to the 1st lift platoon crashed just north of Duc Lap taking with it two of our pilots. Warrant Officers Koppel and Harwood. My crew, WO-1 Jerry Green and I, were called to fly to the crash site and airlift the bodies out. It was very dense jungle cover and the hole that their aircraft had made was the only way we were able to nose into the mountain to get them loaded aboard. I wish I could remember the crewchief and gunner's names, just to be able to thank them again. Their direction was the only thing that enabled us to back out of that hole successfully. 23 Sept. 1968: During a combat assault in the Duc Lap area, my platoon leader was shot down in the LZ. This has quite a bit of untold circumstances that resulted in this happening. The 2nd lift platoon was sent south to insert troops in the vicinity of Duc Lap. I was the AC of the 2nd aircraft in the flight of 3 on our lift. My platoon leader, a Captain and if I remember this too, was a former Mohawk driver, and who's name just won't come back to me was the lead, and naturally I can't remember who was flying the 3rd aircraft. We landed at a firebase or camp PZ, met up with a Major who was involved in the operation, and a fairly new in country 1Lt. who was flying the Major around in a LOH (OH-6). After a short briefing, we boarded our aircraft, loaded the troops and then followed the LOH to the Area. Not being familiar with the area and the LZ, lead agreed to follow the LOH into the LZ. Up until now, the LZ had not been considered "hot". Much to our surprise and the ignorance of things you just don't do, the 1Lt LOH driver flew us directly over the LZ, without telling us it was the LZ, made a wide circle to the left and lined up on final. After we called the LZ in sight, he bailed and got out of our way. As we crossed the tree line on final, all HELL broke loose. The flight lead called heavy fire and his aircraft caught fire. He was able to get about 2/3rds up the LZ before they had to abandon the aircraft and run. I'm sure glad they ran the right way. The bad guys were behind us, and the friendlies were at our right front in the tree line. My aircraft took hits as well, and we continued in and landed just behind the flaming landmark that they left us. When we touched down, our troops bolted from the aircraft and ran to the tree line. I don't think that any of ours were wounded, but chalk three took more hits than we did and made a go-around and headed back to the PZ. We followed chalk 3, after what was the most rapid application of collective pitch and departure from an LZ that I ever made. When we arrived at the PZ, the LOH was just shutting down, I immediately ran to the aircraft and exploded in a verbal assault on both the occupants, explaining just how stupid they were, and that they were the reason my boss was shot down in the LZ. When I had exhausted all of the expletives I could remember, the crew chief advised that he had inspected the aircraft and determined that it was good to go. We headed back to BMT and hoped to get another aircraft to return and get the boss and his crew out. Major Poole met us as we landed, and approved us to return to the area. He sent 2 slicks and a much, appreciated Falcon gun team to cover us this time. We got back to the area just after sunset, but with just enough light to distinguish the LZ. It didn't take a genius to know not to approach the LZ from the north this time. We elected to approach from the west into the southwest corner where our guys had identified as their position. The area we were directed to was covered by elephant grass, and it became almost impossible to judge where they were. About the time I thought I was almost there and broke to a hover, I called for a hand flare to make certain. The cockpit lit up as the flare came straight up through the rotor blades. We had arrived. We were able to sit down and as I turned around to welcome my boss aboard, they were loading their wounded. We extracted all of their wounded, and the second slick was able to bring out our other crew. We returned to BMT post haste and landed at the medivac pad. When I turned around this time, I had what was the most satisfying moment to date. Several of the wounded, by their looks, gestures and words, said "THANKS". I hope I've remembered it as it happened, but after almost 33 years, well…you know… maybe I shouldn't have waited so long to put it down in paper. 30 Sept. 1968: Darlac sector, We had just flown from Ban Me Thuot to a Special Forces camp, that I believe was a short distance east of BMT. As we started to break to a hover over the pad, the turbine started to unwind. We landed without incident and got to spend some time with the SF A-team. I have a picture of the front gate with the name of the camp, if I can locate it. Subsequent investigation about the engine failure revealed that the crewchief had just finished an inspection, which required the removal of the oil wafer filter on the engine. In the 155th tradition of having the cleanest aircraft in R.V.N, either he or the gunner had inserted a shop towel or rag into the hole to keep oil from dripping on the engine deck. The rag was not removed prior to the filter being reinstalled, resulting in a little problem with the oil flow.