by Wayne R."Crash" Coe
"So Crash, do you remember doing a medevac near Katum where you chopped
down a couple of trees getting in? Asks Frenchie Gibeault sitting in my
living room. "The night medevac deep in a hover hole where I destroyed a
D model getting out the wounded?" "Yep, that's the one." The Frenchman
replied. "I did not think we were going to make it home, in fact, I did
not think we would ever get off the ground."
We laughed at ourselves, thirty-two years after it happened, it still
scared the shit out of us to talk about it.
Here is the story Robert "Frenchie" Gibeault and I put together Thursday
night. It is interesting to me how so many details come to light while
talking with some one who was there in the helicopter with me watching
things unfold with a different perspective.
Here is our story.
The 187th Assault Helicopter Company had been given the mission to
re-supply the 25th Infantry this day, and as a member of the First
Platoon (later known as the Maggots) my instructions had been simple.
"Blackhawk 54, Contact Manchu 6 on his ground push, don't let them keep
you past 1900 hours." Growled Major Bauman. After our evening briefing
my platoon leader Captain Billie Presson was next to get my attention,
he assigned me an aircraft and gave me a list of frequencies to contact
the ground troops. I was happy to get Roger Gilbert for my Crew Chief
and Frenchie Gibeault for a Gunner both from Boston, both with thick
Boston accents. It would be fun to hear them talk on the intercom, some
of men from the Deep South needed translators just to work with these
The second platoon was doing Eagle Flights. I was happy to be doing
single ship resupply rather than hopping tree lines inserting Grunts
into hot poorly prepped Landing Zones.
We started early in the morning, just at daybreak. Hauling water and
ammo. "Blackhawk 54 is inbound to your location with a load of ammo
over," the voice on the radio controlling the re-supply effort came back
with "Blackhawk 54 you have no traffic things are still quiet clear to
I could see the red smoke coming up through the hole in the Jungle. We
were out near Katum. It was a long flight from Tay Ninh to that hole in
I made a high pass over the Hover Hole and looked down into the dark
green eerie pool, I could see nothing in the darkness and the smoke
coming up made things worse. I was light, having burned quite a bit of
fuel going up there and the crew loaded us light for our first trip in
so we could get a feeling for how much power it was going to take to get
in and out.
I approached into the wind and when I got right over the top of the hole
my crew started clearing me down. About half way down my eyes had a
chance to adjust to the dim light in the Jungle and I could see between
my feet the Grunt with the rifle over his head guiding me in to
touchdown. The red smoke flair at his feet puking out clouds of the
acrid red smoke that burned my eyes and lungs at the same time. The
rotor wash turning the air pink all around us.
Once I had the guide on in sight, the rest was easy and they had a pad
marked and markers for us to land on.
I went to flat pitch and had a look around. The Grunts were dug in, but
the only light was from straight over head, it was dark under triple
canopy jungle early in the morning.
The crew helped the Grunts take the ammo off while the Sargent I would
be working with came up to the helicopter to shoot the shit. I told him
this helicopter was a good one and we could take seven men. With simple
hand signals the Sergeant pointed who was getting on and with a thumbs
up and a big smile it was time to go.
I pushed the mike button the cyclic to the first détente, the intercom,
"Coming up" I was telling my crew to clear me on the vertical departure.
"Clear right" from Frenchie, "Clear left" from Roger. The UH-1D started
to climb straight up. With help from my eyes in the back we threaded our
way out into the bright sunlight. At the top of the hover hole I eased
the nose over and gently started to get enough airspeed to fly home.
Time after time we went in and out of the hover hole until very late in
the afternoon just before sundown when Manchu 6 let us go.
That last trip out of the hover hole empty was like being born again.
With an empty chopper and the radio playing "Please release me let me
go" we were all singing along with the radio grabbing some altitude on
the way home.
"Mr. Coe, you said I could get some stick time if" I cut him off " well
get up here Frenchie" was my reply. Usually after a long day of flying,
I would let the crew fly home. Some of them like Frenchie became pretty
proficient flyers. I always thought teaching the crew to fly was
insurance. The 187th Assault Helicopter Company already had a time where
both pilots were hit and the helicopter was flown to the hospital by the
crew chief saving all their lives.
With the Flying Frenchman at the controls and clearance from the Tay
Ninh tower, we terminated at a hover twenty feet over the top of POL.
"I've got it" I said, and I hovered down to a refueling nozzle. I was
about to take my helmet off when the call from operations came in over
the company frequency. "Blackhawk 54 we have a medevac for you, shut
down on the operations pad."
After hovering over and shutting down in front of the Operations tent, I
climbed out and made the short walk to the inner sanctum, Blackhawk 6
territory. Major Bauman always talked very formally to the Warrant
Officer pilots in his command, "Mr. Coe, the troops you have been
supporting today were hit hard just a few minutes ago. They are
requesting medevac. They have at least two very seriously wounded men
that need medical attention immediately. You have been operating out of
that Landing Zone all day and know the area, so I am sending you back to
get the wounded. Grab something to eat while the gunships work over the
area, this could be a long night."
I felt sort of numb on my short walk back to the helicopter, the thought
of flying down in that hover hole in the dark was not what I had in mind
for this evening.
I told the crew of the mission we had been given; they were ready to go,
not one second of hesitation. I felt better; they obviously had faith in
my ability to get in and out of the hover hole one more time in the
Major Bauman's runner found us all at the mess hall. " There is a break
in the action, you need to depart now." And he turned on his heel and
was out of the tent in a flash, we looked at each other and dropped what
we were doing and ran back to the helicopter.
We were in the air in minutes, the darkness closing in around us as we
left civilization and headed out over the jungle. I checked in with
Paris Radar and they started vectoring me to my target. I could hear the
Guns on Victor coordinating their attack; I broke in with "Blackhawk 54
inbound for a medevac, over." The Rat Pack fire team leader came back
with "Roger 54, they seem to be pulling back, I would not call it quiet,
but we are not taking fire at this time." Rat Pack 18 had my life in his
I switched to FM ground frequency and called the ground commander. "We
have two hit very badly and five that will make daylight." Was his
comeback, I knew I could get all seven, we had been hauling that many
Rat Pack 18 called for flares, and the Grunts responded by shooting one
out the top of the landing zone. The wildly swing flair clearly showed
the hole in the trees and I was over the spot in seconds.
Searchlight and spotlight on and at first look down I could see tree
limbs that had fallen across the opening to the landing zone during the
battle. My crew was clearing my tailboom, and about half way down our
rotor wash dislodged a large branch sending it through the main rotor.
To up the pucker factor, the Viet Cong started shooting at the light in
the trees with everything they had. I could clearly see the landing pad
had a large branch leaning out over it, I had not chopped my way in this
far to pull pitch and leave without my wounded Grunts. I chopped and
chopped until I got on the ground. When I shut off the light we were
plunged into an inky darkness with the only light coming from tracers
criss crossing the landing zone and the dim red light of the
My D model blades were thrashed. I had lateral vibrations, I had
vertical vibrations, and it seemed as if she was going to shake herself
to death. We were taking a huge volume of fire on the ground, and
everyone with a weapon was using it. The Sergeant I had been working
with all day ran up to the door and told him to just put on the
critically wounded patients, my beat up blades would not lift very much.
The Grunts loaded two very badly wounded men and a medic to keep them
alive. I called out "Coming up" and as I started pulling pitch I knew we
had big problems with the main rotor.
As soon as I broke ground I turned on the lights, that seemed to focus
the tracers on us. We still had some chopping to do to get out. By the
time I got to the top of the hover hole I was pulling all the pitch we
had. The Rat Pack was working out on the steady stream of tracers coming
up from the jungle.
I was trying to get some altitude, but the old girl had given her all
chopping in and out to get the wounded Grunts. I was able to get some
forward airspeed and with the pitch pulled under my armpit we limped
back at 40 knots low level the aircraft shaking so hard I was afraid we
were going to come apart in the air. I did not lower the collective
until we were over the hospital pad.
"Blackhawk 54 turn on your position lights." The call from Rat 18 boomed
in my ears. I turned everything I had on. "Tally ho" was the response
and soon a light fire team accompanied me on my slow trip home.
It took an eternity to get back to Tay Ninh. I made a straight in
controlled crash at the hospital pad, my Rat Pack escorts streaking over
the top of us low level, in 90 degree banks, thumbs up, a salute from
the Bad Dogs. I started to breathe again.
The 45th MUST hospital triage team swarmed our chopper and I shut her
down after cooling the engine for the required two minutes. As the
blades turned down I could see the end piece was gone off of both
blades. When I climbed out to have a look myself, my knees got a little
wobbly from what I saw. The blade leading edge had been beaten flat, and
about the last three feet of both blades was gone, they just had the
flat lumpy leading edge, and the rest was gone. We had a couple of
bullet holes and the dents in the leading edge went all the way back to
the rotor head. The tail boom had dents all over it and the tail rotor
leading edges were all flattened and dented. We had also broken out one
of the greenhouse windows, and my chin bubble. If I had not flown it in
myself, I would not have believed that a helicopter would fly in that
Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
187th Assault Helicopter Company 67-8