by Lonnie Heidtke

CCN Mission Got pictures.. so it's TRUE !
It was a fairly easy morning insertion. My helicopter was flying chase
so I wasn't to worried about today's missions. We would fly toward the
LZ after the second insertion ship, but didn't land, so we just over
flew the LZ and then hurried to join back up with the other two ships.
The gunships went back to re-arm and the three slicks flew low level
back toward Quang Tri in a loose formation with about 20 seconds or so
of separation between birds. As it crested a ridge the lead helicopter
spotted a deer that was spooked by the noise of the low flying
helicopter. While the chase ship pulled up to 1500 feet above the ground
level to watch out for bad guys and attract any fire, the other two
ships took off in pursuit. I was thinking to myself how lucky those guys
were as we watched them try to fly along side of the running deer so the
gunners could shoot it. My Aircraft Commander today was Tom Sweeney my
usual AC; the peter pilot was a new guy, this was his first CCN mission
so Sweeney was letting him burn the circles in the air over the two
wildly maneuvering ships below. I also had a new gunner today, so maybe
it was just as well that we weren't one of the ships down below that
looked like they were having so much fun. They were also lucky that the
lead ship had jumped the deer in the foothills, not only was it a little
safer, there were less trees and bushes for the deer to hide behind; it
was all most like a prairie down there. Well, maybe it just looked like
that from up here in the Ionosphere. After what was probably 1000 rounds
or so per helicopter, one of the AC's of the other two ships announced
the deer was down and they both were going to land and pick it up. Tom
instructed the peter pilot to start to close up on the two other ships,
we started down, listening to the roar of the pilots of the other 2
ships laughing on VHF, as the four crew members tried to lift the deer
and found they couldn't. The lead ship announced they would use a
MacQuire rig rope and sling load the deer back. They picked it up and
back we went to the CCN pads at Quang Tri. The deer in a MacQuire rig
drew quite a bit of attention that day as we landed. I've even got a
picture of a SF dude starting to skin it out. (So it did happen).

We didn't get to share in the barbecue that night, as I will relate. The
pilots were called in to the operations shack as soon as we had landed
and as we tied down the blades. As I had stated, I had a new gunner
this time out, he was Jessie James the gunner whose bunk was right
across from mine so we did know one another a little bit, he had been
flying about 2 weeks now. First time with me and also the first CCN
mission for him. The Platoon Sargent of 2nd Platoon, liked to have our
new gunners fly with me, I was 2nd platoons official Magnet Ass. I was
the only guy to have been shot and return to the company and I always
managed to get shot at, a lot! That was great for new gunners as they
would get first hand experience at what an AK-47 sounded like when you
were on the receiving end, and I wasn't shy about letting them know if
they didn't shoot back fast enough. It also lead to no end of amusement
for my AC Tom Sweeney as he explained how this worked to new peter
pilots. Tom had "Mr. Lucky" painted in big letters across the back of
his flight helmet, right above the "Dead Man's Hand" of Aces and
Eight's. I guess after flying with me all these months, and not getting
shot down that qualified him for the handle "Mr. Lucky".

As the pilots came out of operations, I could tell we were going on
another mission. Tom explained that the mission was going to be a "Milk
Run". In fact it would be so easy we were going to only be taking two
ships and we would have observers on board to see how smoothly
everything worked. The observers came out to the helicopters and as the
helicopters ran up, Tom explained the mission to Jesse and myself a
little more. We were going to pick up 3 former NVA's that had came over
to our side. They were sent back out to pick up information about one of
the NVA units in the area and they had called in and were ready to be
picked up. We would rendezvous with them about 1 to 2 miles Northwest of
the old Marine base Khe Sanh. It would just be two of our helicopters
Mr. Karins would be flying the lead ship and Sweeney would be flying
chase with my helicopter. We would be flying low level, because they had
reports of .51 caliber guns in the area. We would have two teams of
Gunships and they would be low level also. Also we would have a flight
of fast movers orbiting overhead. Seemed to me like a lot of firepower
for a "Milk Run".

We lifted off from the CCN pads and headed off North and West. It didn't
take very long and we were in the area of the PZ (pick up zone). We were
flying at about 50 feet and 100 knots; the ground below was mostly open
with small stunted trees and brush. Suddenly on one off the radios,
somebody blurted out, "There are Gooks in the open on the road". The
road in question was a trail several hundred yards to the left of our
current position. I yelled into the intercom, "Let's get them before the
Gunships do!" Seems like they always got the easy pickings. As we
started to break left, I hear Jesse screaming "Ship down, Ship Down!"
well there goes the "Milk Run" concept I thought. Tom immediately breaks
back to the right and starts asking the gunner where is it. Jesse is
doing real well for a FNG. "3 O'clock, 2 O'clock, 1 O'clock..." Tom
spots the downed ship and says to the gunships that we got a bird down,
and we are on our way in to pick them up. We start flaring and are
getting ready to sit down, Jesse and I are clearing the ship in to a
tight little clearing, I notice that the main rotor blades will contact
some small trees on the left side. I let Tom know, and he asked how bad
would it be if we clip them some, I tell him fuck it they are pretty
small, so down we go.

We touch down, I am scanning the left side for bad guys and suddenly
here come the gunner from the ship that went down. He throws himself on
the floor of the helicopter like a major league ball player, sliding
headfirst into home plate. About the same time I see another crewmember
stumbling toward our helicopter. I tell the Tom, "I'm getting out to
help" I heard a garbled "You had better not..." as I unplug my helmet
and run out to help the guy stumbling around. Its Dave Hansen, the
peter pilot from the other helicopter, he has suffered numerous gashes
to his face and forehead from the shattered windshield. He has no idea
where he's going he was just heading toward the sound of a helicopter. I
grab his arm and guide him back to my ship. The area around the downed
helicopter started to get pretty noisy now as the gunships started
making gun runs around the crash site. As I turned away from the
helicopter, my gunner joined me and we started toward the downed
helicopter. About half way there we both stopped and looked back as our
helicopter takes off with out us. Talking to Tom later, he said the
gunships told him to get the hell out of there as he was taking way to
much fire.

As I approached the downed ship, I remember my brain registering dumb
things, (I was on the rescue team that would go in and rig helicopters
for sling loading out.) the tail boom was broken off and about 20 feet
from the rest of the fuselage. I also noticed the transmission was
ripped from its mounts and laying half out of its normal position. The
bird was lying on its left side with the nose just over a B-52 bomb
crater. Lying on the ground at the edge of the bomb crater was the
pilot. He was unconscious and I noticed a bullet wound in his right fore
arm, at the same time that I got there and started attending to him,
Jesse goes inside the downed ship. Things were happening really fast
now, one of the observers that had been on my ship was a Special Forces
medic, he had gotten out and was along side of me assessing the pilot's
wounds. I decided we probably shouldn't hang around the downed ship so I
suggested we take the pilot to another bomb crater that was about 50
yards or so away. We started carrying/dragging him toward the crater.
God, he was a fat ass! I heard Jesse yelling my name so I yelled to him
to be quiet and I would be right back. We got the pilot to the edge of
the other bomb crater and I left him and the medic there and went back
to the downed bird. Jesse was just getting the SF observer out of the
ship and we carried him back to the crater. This time back I noticed
that an NVA looking dude was in the crater with the medic and the pilot,
and the Special Forces medic was talking to him. For some reason he
didn't seem to have a firearm so I took Jesse's M-16 that he was
carrying and gave it to the NVA looking dude, and I gave Jesse my .45.
Jesse and I headed back to the ship where we find that the crew chief is
trapped in his gunners well. When we got back to the ship I remember two
things that amazed me. One, the aircraft was in such a sad state that we
walked right in through the nose of the ship. Two, as I was standing in
the ship I noticed that JP-4 was spraying out of the fuel cells in the
floor and on to my face, (I remember thinking to myself, "I'm sure glad
I'm not smoking a cigarette right now"). Jesse told me later, that those
holes in the floor had just magically appeared as he was standing there
looking around, that was when he started yelling for me. He said he was
about to lose it, when I told him to be quiet and I would be right back
to help him.

The crew chief was trapped in his gunners well and some how Jesse was
able to disconnect the crew chiefs riser pole from the floor and ceiling
and we were able to get him out. We carried him out of the ship and back
to the bomb crater. Another NVA looking dude has shown up and was in the
crater with the increasing number of people, although he had a gun, a
beat up looking AK-47. (I found out later that these to Vietnamese were
2 of the guys that we had come to pick up.) I decided to take off my
flight helmet as it was getting hot and so did Jesse. Both of the NVA
looking dudes scoop them up and put them on. Jesse and I headed back to
the downed ship to look for some firepower. Jesse went inside and handed
out an M-60, I sent him back in looking for more ammo and other weapons.
He tosses out a 9mm Swedish-K and I ask him if there were any shells for
it? When he said "No", I tossed it down to the bottom of the bomb
crater. Next he threw out an M-79, "Any Ammo?" "Nope", I set it down.
Then he tossed out an M-2 carbine, "Any ammo" I asked, "Nope" he
responded, I tossed it to the bottom of the crater. He brought out some
more M-60 ammo and as we stood there linking the belt together with the
small part already on the M-60. Jesse asked me, "What's with that dirt
flying up by our feet?" I responded "You Fucking New Guy! that's the bad
guys shooting at us!". As we started back to our bomb crater perimeter,
I noticed only E model Marine gunships were still making gun runs and
they were only using their door guns. I found out later that all the gun
ships had expended during their runs, making the NVA keep their heads
down. As they are pulling up from their gun run we could hear lots of
AK's firing back at them, We set up a perimeter on the bomb crater, I
had the M-60 in the center, with the two NVA looking dudes with flight
helmets on, one on either side of me, Jesse and the .45 on one end and
the SF medic and all the unconscious guys on the other end.

After what seemed like a month, but was probably just a few minutes a
beautiful Marine CH-46 landed and we grabbed everyone and headed out.
The crew chief and the SF observer were able to walk with help from the
two Vietnamese, the SF medic and Jesse carried the pilot and I did my
best John Wayne imitation walking backwards covering everyone with the
M-60. We got on board that lovely, noisy, son-of-bitch and flew out of
there. On the way out of the PZ, I got the attention of the gunner or
crew chief and told them to have the pilot radio everyone was out and
send in the fast movers. They must have gotten the message because they
napalmed the area. The next time I flew over the site the only thing
left was the tail boom and a big burnt spot on the ground.

I settled down on the floor next to Jesse and told him that we were
finally safe and all I got back from him was this blank stare, I yelled
louder at him and punched him in the shoulder before I got a response.
It was like he was in shock. We landed at the Medi-Vac pad (CRS keeps me
from remembering where) and we got off the CH-46 and the aids off loaded
all the guys that were injured. We ended up standing around waiting,
because my pilot had gone back to pick us up at the crash site and we
waited while he turned around and came back to get us.

In the mean time Jesse and I were talking to the 2 Vietnamese that flew
back with us they were also very happy to get somewhere safe. While we
waited, we told them they could keep our flight helmets as we had plans
to get new ones when we got back to Phu Bai. When my helicopter landed,
we loaded on board and flew back to "C" company. When we got back, I
don't remember how, but I found out that the Operations Officer wanted
to chew out my AC. I went with him to the Operation Hootch to help
explained to the operations officer what went down. He was one of those
RLO's that gave RLO's the bad rap they sometimes had among EM and
Wobblies's. We called him Captain Krunch, after the cereal. I obviously
wasn't speaking slowly and distinctly enough for him to understand what
I was saying, because he started to chew me out for destroying the other
helicopter. I was getting really agitated now; I walked over to the map
on the wall and pointed out where the crash site was, 1 klick from the
DMZ and 1 klick from the Laotian border. I explained that the
transmission was ripped out of the downed bird and that to sling load it
back the rescue team would have to rig it to the transmission mounts. I
also explained that the Special Forces had told us the crash site was in
the middle of a regiment of NVA, I was a member of the rescue team and
that there was no way in hell that I was going back there to get that
ship. About that time company commander walked up to us and calmed us
down by telling me that I had done a good job. Well that really pissed
off Captain Crunch and he and I would have additional run ins, but
that's another story.

That evening, after doing my helicopters post flight and getting it
ready for the maintenance department the next day (it was grounded to
have the rotor blades replaced, to many bullet holes) and then telling
everyone about the excitement of the day. I remember Dave Hanson walking
up and offering me a beer for saving his life. While drinking the beer,
I told him wasn't no big deal, as I know he would do the same for me. I
then had to listen to Sweeney chew me out and tell me what he would do
to me, if I ever again got out of the helicopter and left him with to
guys dressed as NVA behind the guns. I guess they didn't do a very good
job of clearing the ship, they just fired the machine guns all the way

That's it, to this day I can't seem to put a time value on how long I
was on the ground in Indian Country, but I know it was plenty long for me.


Lonnie R. Heidtke Crew Chief Black Widow 474
Project Manager C/101st AHB - Phu Bai RVN 68-69
Cray Research/SGI E-mail to
Chippewa Falls WI.