|Download PDF of this full issue: v48n1.pdf (140.6 MB)|
February 5, 1968
By Robert Traller
Gooby and I weren't flying our usual helicopter. Ours had been out of commission since the first day of the Tet offensive and we had been assigned a different aircraft. There had been casualties to both people and helicopters and we were paired up with a gunship from a different unit to make a team. Their call sign was Centaur, we were Diamondhead. It was a clear, sunny day.
Flying in the pilot's seat (which was always the right seat in my experience) was Parker, a young warrant officer I had flown with before. He was young but not a rookie. In the left seat was a Lieutenant Henard. I had not flown with Henard before. He had recently come to B Co. from A Co. (Little Bears). While he seemed to be the ranking pilot, he was flying the left seat. I thought perhaps it was because he had less experience with a C model Huey than Parker, but he was in charge of the mission.
I was just an E-4 working as a door gunner. Unless one of the pilots briefed Gooby and me with details about the scramble, we wouldn't know much before we got to where the problem was. When we got on site, the pilots and the ground commander would decide on the target and we would attack it. We were the lead ship with Centaur providing cover. We would dive at the target firing rockets, grenades and machine guns and break away while our cover was still firing at the target. That was the routine. After making a run I heard Centaur on the radio say that they were receiving .50 caliber fire and they were going to pull back.
As far as I could tell, Henard had not heard Centaur. He seemed to be very occupied and focused on making the next gun run. I got on the intercom and said something like "Sir, Centaur said they were receiving .50 caliber fire and they're pulling back. We don't have any cover." I believe I tried to communicate with him at least one other time but he was so focused on making another run that before I knew it we were making another run. I had to get up and start shooting. The target was a building at the junction of a tree line on the edge of rice paddies. As we broke left, I continued firing at the target for as long as I could. We were right about at the limit of seeing the target when there was a tremendous explosion.
I was on my ass in the middle of the floor of the helicopter. I was deaf. My first thought was, "have I lost my hearing?" It was like being alone in the woods in the snow: dead quiet. My whole body was tingling and there was no sound, but otherwise, I seemed to be OK. I looked around. The helicopter seemed to be flying normally which struck me as amazing. I got up to see what had happened. Looking down out the door, I saw bright, white smoke spewing furiously out of the lower portion of the rocket pod. It was spewing down and to the right. I'm not sure how many rockets were in the pod but there were some left. I could see the high explosive heads sticking out the front of the pod. Evidently, there was an explosion in the propellant section of the rockets in the pod. I could not see the damage, only that there were burning rockets and it did not seem like a good idea to keep them attached to the helicopter.
A lot had been going through my head but very little time had actually passed. My hearing was returning as I could hear sounds emerging from a white noise. Everyone's intercom connection was broken in the blast as we were all so tossed about our helmets came unplugged. I scrambled to get plugged in and tell everyone we had a fire on board and needed to jettison the starboard rocket pod. When Henard got plugged in, the first thing he said was "Is everybody OK?" Parker turned, looked at me and said, "No, Trailer's hurt." I looked down and realized for the first time that I was bleeding quite a bit from somewhere on my upper right arm. The sleeve of my fatigue shirt was soaked in blood.
The pilots can't see the rocket pods from where they sit. Dropping a rocket pod with X number of unused rockets is not something they are inclined to do, but I was able to convince them of the danger and we dropped the smoldering pod somewhere in a rice paddy. My wounds were minor. I got a Purple Heart and one day of light duty.
Henard has written a book in which he describes the February 5th action. His account is way more heroic than I remember it and he ends up getting a Distinguished Flying Cross. The book is called Victory Stolen. I had to read the book because I'm in it. I didn't like the book and I told him so. Dave, I am sure, is a nice person but he is a conservative Christian who thinks the only reason we lost the war is because the politicians didn't have the guts to let the military do their job. After all, we were fighting for the good Catholic South Vietnamese against the godless communists from the North. Then, of course, there were those hippie protesters that spat on us when we came home.
Robert Traller is a retired Engineering Associate at Stanford University. He was in Vietnam from '67-'68. He was active in VVAW in the 70's