Mission Number 4 – Down Bird

Posted on February 1, 2010


On December 29, 1968 another helicopter was shot down. Once again the Blues were scrambled to secure the site and extract the crew. As we drew closer to the site, we were told that the helicopter caught fire and that there weren’t any survivors.

When we got there the chopper was still in flames and there were bodies encircled by the flames. We had to put out the fire before we could get to the bodies. First we called up to all choppers in the area to send down their fire extinguisher. We used them up and then we poured our canteens onto the flames. Finally we peed on the flames so we could get to the bodies.

The bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Those damnable black body bags were brought up. We took the first body and did what was necessary to get him into the bag. It was only when we reached the second body that we found out who had been in the chopper.  As we started to move that body out of the hot spot someone saw a dog tag in the middle of his chest area. It said, Kingman, Barry. I still have tears come to my eyes when I think of this. LT Barry Kingman, SSG Victor Austin and SSG Ronald Roberts were Charlie Troopers. The night before we had eaten steak and drank a beer with them. We recovered the third man and left.

Loosing your fellow man in combat is a traumatic event. In the 12 months that I served in Vietnam, we Blues never lost a man. This is due to the leadership of our Platoon Leader, LT Peter Guthrie. Charlie Troop did lose pilots and their crews but when we Blues were sent out we always made sure that no member of the team was left behind.

The following is a comment by John Sacca:

I had been a door gunner before joining the Blues, so I had some close relationships with the Red and White crew chiefs and door gunners. SP5 J.R. Svaran, from Montana, was a White crew chief and close friend. You may remember him as the crew chief who wore his hair in a Mohawk while at Camp Evans in I Corps.  He was hard to miss. We drank beer together at the party and J.R. mentioned that he was going up at first light in his LOH. So when the alarm sounded for a downed bird the next morning, I thought of him. When I arrived at the crash site, all that was left was the tail assembly and the three bodies, as described above. Thinking the third body was that of  J.R., I assisted in lifting it into a body bag. I wore my leather rappelling gloves and the flesh came off in chunks. And there was so little room on the lift ship, I had to sit on the body. The heat was intense. Later in the afternoon, J.R. made an appearance. Unbeknownst to me, he had been asked by a fellow crew chief to take his KP in exchange for the first light mission. Thus the two crew chiefs exchanged not only duties, but fate. Such were the consequences  of mundane circumstance in the cavalry.

Posted in: Missions