by Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
The Pale Major

Flying for the Special Forces was part of my every day life. Some of
the Pilots in my unit, the 187th Assault Helicopter Company, were
regular supporters of the B-36 team at the old city landing strip in Tay
Ninh. I was the fortunate pilot sitting on the B-36 pad this morning at
flight idle.

Everyone in Vietnam has a tan, or Freckles, the sun is so hot and
intense it burns exposed skin in minutes. So, seeing a white as a ghost
Major running up to my chopper with his Vietnamese counter parts closely
behind. Was a sight to see. The Major climbed in the helicopter and
plugged in to our intercom. I could see the Westpoint ringknocker
hanging loosely on his ring finger. He keyed the mike and very
pleasantly, with a very nice voice, said, "I haven't been out of the
bunker in six weeks, it is nice out here." I liked him already.

The Major unfolded a map on the console of our D model and told us he
wanted to see some of the troop buildup he was getting intelligence
reports about, and wanted to fly low level in several areas to see for
himself. I learned low level flying from the master himself, CW2 Sam
Bose, and considered my self to be as good as it gets at going fast down
in the weeds.

We broke ground at first light. Climbing to 1500 feet for the first part
of the journey would save some fuel and we could make sure we were on
course and looking at he correct location. The air is still this
morning and I can see the cooking fires making little smoke trails all
across the city of Tay Ninh, and the smell was wonderful as we climbed
on course.

The area the Special Forces Major wanted to look at, was right on the
border, Cambodia on one side of the river, Vietnam on the other. The
sun was just coming over the horizon and it made the smoke coming up out
of the trees glow, it looked like the whole jungle was oozing smoke
there were so many fires. From the looks of things, there was no need
to fly low level, they were building a city under the Jungle canopy.
The Pale Major then wanted to fly down the river low level, and land at
one of the Special Forces camps to the south. I lowered the collective
and dropped the nose, soon we were screaming along the treetops by the
riverbank. Some open areas, but mostly trees. Nothing moving below but
the birds and monkeys. The Major informed us that they had lost contact
with one of their recon teams and they were hoping it was a radio
failure, not a wipeout. They were last heard from close to this area. I
dropped down to go across a large group of rice paddies, and right in
front of me as I look up is purple smoke just starting to come up, at
120 knots indicated, you go over the target like a streak. I could see
there were some Americans in the group as I went by, I banked hard and
low out over the river to blow off the airspeed and landed right beside
them as fast as I could. The Pale Major jumped out of the helicopter and
started loading the wounded. A very large man looked like an Indian had
a small man over his shoulder he was last to get in the aircraft. The
big man sat the small man on the seat beside the pale Major and put his
arm around him to hold him up, still talking to the small man like he
was alive and going to get treatment for his wounds any second. It was
obvious the small man had been dead for quite a while. I looked over my
shoulder and the sight is still burned into my memory banks. That big
fucked up sergeant had the look in his eyes of a man who had died with
his buddy out there in the bush, and he could not give up. We landed at
the hospital and dropped the wounded men off. The big sergeant would not
give up the body, so I volunteered to fly them to Graves Registration 75
miles away.

The flight to Graves Registration was uneventful, the pale Major was
screaming in the ear of the Big Sergeant the entire trip. When we
landed the Sergeant carried the small man to the processing area and
gave him up to the men with the rubber aprons. I waited while the pale
Major picked up the personal belongings and the paperwork was started.
Two ramrod straight Special Forces Men got on my helicopter for the ride
back to Tay Ninh. The Pale Major had found his recon team, and the Big
Sergeant had that look that I knew was death for the Viet Cong, the big
man had done all he could for the little man.

This should be the end of the story, however, I was invited to a wedding
out on Cape Cod last year. The Bride is a close friend, when her step
father stepped out of the house to welcome us, it was him, the pale
Major, after a short conversation I confirmed, yes, he was the one in
the back of my helicopter. We never had time to talk about the past, we
were both involved with the wedding party.

Wayne R. "Crash" Coe