My War Stories by Greg Jayne Crew Chief

Posted on March 24, 2013

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Camp Evans Ammo Dump Conflagration:      It was Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday, May 19, 1968, I was at Camp Evans over in D Co 15 TC Bn as a OH-13S and LOH-6A mechanic. Camp was pretty rough, there was no mess hall, we’d been scouting up C-ratioins for about a month and now we finally had hot food, I was in the chow line with my mess kit when a mortar hit. Then two more  hit, so we ran into the bunkers and after a little while they said it was all clear and we came out. I got my food and ate it, washed my mess kit, went back to my tent and sat down and started to write a letter about the mortar attack we just had.My bunk was on the side of the tent that faced the runway and the ammo dump, up on a nice little knoll, the Chinook company was down below us in a bowl that we could see from the bunker. I had just started writing my letter and all of a sudden a giant explosion blew our 20 man tent down on top of us hard. That is not easy to do because they were hurricane and Chinook proof tents, the explosion was so strong it blew everybody from my side of the tent.We all ended up scattered on the far side, my head and ears were ringing and the tent had collapsed on us. We thought a mortar round had hit right next to our tent and were surprised there was no shrapnel. We crawled as fast as we could into our bunker which was in the middle of the tent, then there were more big explosions. We did not know what was happening, but they had hit the ammo dump, though we did not figure that out for a while.

The thing just kept blowing up and blowing up, giant explosions rocked the camp and we realized they must have hit the ammo dump. There was a slit in our bunker where we could watch everything blowing up and see black smoke from the POL burning. We stayed in our bunker for hours, at one point some one came and told us “under no circumstances” come out of there because one trooper, Davidson had already been killed.

Tracers were flying everywhere, giant pallets of C-4, 105’s, 55’s, 8 inch artillery, LAWS, Mortars were blowing up, it was the most spectacular pyrotechnics, with bullets going off like strings of firecrackers, you could not even imagine.  Later on that night, we could see all the armed Chinooks torn up with shrapnel and burning, about 20-25 were totally fried. The next morning was eerily quiet, there was nothing flyable that day.We were afraid they were going to come through the wire but it would have been suicide for us to be above ground at that point. We hung in the bunkers and took turns watching the explosions, we were lucky we did not take any direct hits. The next day when it finally quit, they came and told us to saddle up and go to the jeeps and trucks (that still ran), they took us and everybody to the perimeter.I think we stayed there all the next night and the next day we came back and there were unexploded artillery shells everywhere. Every one of our helicopters on the flight line were Red-X’ed full of shrapnel or destroyed. We started putting the company back together and put our tent back up and waited for the suckers to come through the wire, but they never came.After that, loads of shot up helicopters came in from everywhere, we worked our asses off, that was my Ho Chi Minh Birthday 1968 experience.

How I Tricked the Army to get my Mustache:

In January 1968 the First Cav moved from Ahn Khe to camp Evans, we had not been there very long, I was still in D Co15 TC Bn, filling sand bags and building stuff. In the Army nobody was allowed to have a mustache unless it was on your official i.d., and nobody in D Co would give you permission to grow a mustache and put it on your official i.d. So I stayed away from the officers and NCO;s for about 3 days and did not shave that part of my face.

Now it was my chance to make my new mustache official, the i.d. orderly was one guy by himself in a tent, before I went in I got some good ol’ Camp Evans red dirt and darkened my mustache with it. I went in and told him I needed a new i.d., and he took my picture, “wah-lah” official i.d. with mustache on it. I was one of only a few mechanics then to have a mustache and have had a one ever since.

Scouting Around on the Ho Chi Minh Trail :

I used to love to fly on the Ho Chi Minh trail, there was always a lot of action there. One day we were scouting around in a Loach close to the Cambodian border, I was the Observer (for a change) up front with an M16. We were flying in dense jungle mixed with open areas, the trail went every which way, it was dangerous territory. The NVA right on the trail were usually no problem, it was the ones off to the sides, hidden in the bushes, trees, bunkers, spider holes, and trenches with arms and gun emplacements that we had to watch out for.With enough scouting fast and low, we would surprise groups of 10-20 FNG NVA traveling on the trail, pushing bicycle loads of arms (mortars, RPG’s) and rice. They always traveled with their AK47’s slung over their shoulders. When the soldiers would first see us, their eyes would get really big, it was probably the first helicopter they had ever seen in real life. They would try to unsling their weapons, but could not fire in time to get us before we got them. If we were lucky, we would get them all, but if it got too hot, the gunship Cobra would come in.So this day, I was Observer in the front seat and all of a sudden a guy jumped out of the bushes, right into the center of the trail, and shot us with a shotgun. It blew a big hole in the windshield and I had shards in my face but nobody got hurt. It surprised us and was really weird that he had a shotgun, he only got one round off. Anything (but a shot gun) would have got us, we laughed because we knew how lucky we were and how stupid he was.

The pilot spun our Loach around and the gunner got him with his M60. It happened so fast we did not have a chance to get scared. We headed back to our base at Phuoc Vinh for a new windshield. I liked being a door gunner a lot better than the Observer up front. That night we spent an extra hour on the flight line calming down.

Loose Map:

We were flying out of Phouc Vinh on a white team mission, I was the crew chief / door gunner in the chase bird an LOH-6A up at about 1000 ft. My pilot asked our observer to check his map, he started to open it up and it flew right out of his hands and out the open door. I heard over the radio “Oh Sh_t” We called the lead bird and told him what happened.

He came around and started circling low looking for the enemy, I think. I was looking down at the map with my mouth open, it was so pretty, it opened up all the way and started floating in great big circles. We watched it seemed like for 20 minutes, and we

were going “Oh no not the trees, not the trees” while waiting for tracers to come up at us any second from the tree line.We circled it and watched it and timed so we would touch down at the same time as the map. It came down to rest in a big field opening close enough to the trees for small arms fire. The pilot had to land between the map and the opening, he could not get between me and the trees. He had to land far enough away so the rotor wash would not blow the map closer into the trees. I was ready to jump out with my seat belt undone my M60 on the floor, and helmet cord unplugged. When he touched the ground I was gone and ran a hundred yard dash in nothing flat. Grabbed the map and we got the hell out of there as fast as we could. We all chuckled about it after and vowed never to do that again. I heard later that they took the maps away from the scouts.

Unusual Scout Mission :

We flew out of Phouc Vinh our home base, and headed towards the Cambodian border, flying two LOH-6A’s as a white team, I was the crew chief / door gunner in the chase bird. I thought we were on a regular reconnaissance mission in the fishhook area. Soon I realized we were not stopping in Vietnam and we crossed over into Cambodia, I could tell because all the bomb craters ended. We were ordered not to fire unless we were fired upon while we were in this area. We flew for quite a while into Cambodia, I wondered what was going on, we were flying tree top level, following a trail. I did not know where I was because I had never been there, and was not told. All of a sudden we came upon a huge NVA camp. I saw several wooden structures with tin roofs, vehicles, and a parade yard. The entire compound was surrounded by concertina wire and a fighting trench.

We made a hard right bank, we could see NVA marching right below us in new uniforms, new helmets, new guns and new boots, we held fire, it was hard. For a scout it was amazing to see, we looked at them and they looked at us right about the same time. Neither ship fired on them, we just got the hell out of there. I could see behind me that they could not get their rifles unslung fast enough to shoot at us. It was pretty wild looking, I thought it can’t be real, it was what I had been scouting for my whole tour, but we could not shoot! Damn it!

We headed straight back to Vietnam, on our way the pilot dove down into the trees because we had been picked up by radar from an anti aircraft gun. To my recollection (I may be full of it) the pilot said there were beeps that came through the radio of an anti aircraft gun lining up the cross hairs on us. The first beep was the horizontal radar target line the second beep was vertical and the third beep would be the direct hit on our ship. The pilot heard two beeps, dove down into the trees and we never heard the third beep. We continued low as we could go and again heard the beeps, so we went even lower and stayed below the trees for a long time before we came up and got the heck out of there. We were glad to get back to the safety of Vietnam.

Later on after the war, I read about a camp that Charlie Troop had found in Cambodia when they went in, the compound sounded just like the one we found that day (maybe Saigon port) where there was a Navy supply ship. We had heard they would feed Army guys, so we went and asked them if we could eat lunch with them and they said “Sure, come aboard”. We had a great lunch, all we could eat, really good food. I can’t remember what we had, only that it was the best military meal I have ever eaten.

So there I was, one night I had a serious craving for chocolate milk. I went to the mess hall and knew you could get in the back door (near where I washed the pots and pans during KP duty). It was pitch dark, darker than I thought, I was feeling my way into where they had the big giant refrigerators and suddenly I tripped over a guy who was sitting on the floor. He yelled and I yelled and we scared the shit out of each other, then he turned on his flash light and said he was the guard. I said “What? Guard? There is no Guard, I am not a Gook” I think he was an FNG, I did not recognize him. Then he said he had to take me to the CQ and led me back out of the mess hall, he turned to the left towards the CQ, and I turned right and ran off. It was really dark, he did not bother to chase me and I disappeared never to be seen again.

The next day I thought I was going to get in trouble, and was waiting to be called into HQ to have a talk with Top about what I was doing in the mess hall after hours, but I guess the guard was too embarrassed to tell anybody because he had lost his prisoner. I weighed 155 when I went into the Army, when I got done with Vietnam I was down to 135, I should have joined the Navy!

Superior Fire Power:

When flying scouts we were always well armed, we had to be.Scout Crew Chief essentials: M-60 with spare barrel and at least 1000 rounds of standard issue ammunition with full tracers, M-16 with bandolier of ammo, .45 Cal automatic side arm with three 9 round clips, army issue knife, fragmentation grenades, white phosphorus grenades (Willy P’s), red, green, yellow and purple smoke grenades, CS gas grenades, sometimes Chunker and grenades, and if we were going after a bunker complex (and knew it) I’d pack a Bunker Buster or two, Pilot willing.On our M-60 machine guns we removed the hard plastic butt stock and used a large C-ration can clipped onto the feed mechanism, instead of the cumbersome box that they originally came with, for flying we had already taken the bi-pod off. I held it on my lap and shot left handed, always behind the pilot on the right side of the helicopter (same for both OH-13 and LOH-6A). I shot with the gun slightly twisted down so the rounds would not hit the door frame and bounce back into the receiver, that was a common cause of jamming. When flying you could fire almost continuously, because the wind would keep it from overheating.

For a brief while we mounted 7.62 miniguns, but they did not work out too well for us, they jammed a lot and were hard on the aircraft and loosened rivets. As a crew chief I did not like them, they were real noisy in the back seat and when shooting them I remember seeing the helicopter gauges going into the red

I always kept my smoke grenades on the floor in a box (in case they were hit), I never hung them from a wire because I did not want them blowing off in my face. I kept my Willie Petes and fragmentation grenades on an extra chicken plate on the floor stacked in a couple of wooden boxes. I strapped a chicken plate under my seat and I wore a chicken   plate vest, with no plate in the back, just the front. I also had my flight helmet with “Flower Power”, a peace sign and “WAR IS HELL” on it. I never was hit but I had lots of close calls.

If we went out and knew we were going after bunkers, sometimes we would pack a bunker buster or two. We always made sure we were going fast enough and high enough before we dropped one. To do this we would practice making bombing runs with grenades, dropping them into holes, practicing the timing and aiming of them on old bunkers and other targets. We did it at different heights and speeds to get a feel for it.

When we made a direct hit with a bunker buster, it would blow the top off to hell, anybody that was in there was dead for sure. It was dangerous, but the most fun ever in the life of a scout. My air craft never took a hit from our shrapnel, though once I had a Pilot shoot the skid tip with his .38,(that’s another story).

More Random Firepower:

One nasty weapon I remember from when I was in Phuoc Vinh was a fragmentation CS grenade, they were new to us in scouts. This grenade had a totally different way to arm it, you had to push down on the button, then pull the pin out, and when you let the button up it was armed, and you only had like 6 seconds before detonation.When we first got fragmentation CS grenades, they made us nervous. One crew chief did not do it right and it went off inside the helicopter next to us that we were flying with as a white team just outside the perimeter. They were all blinded, nobody in their helicopter could see, so we guided them back by radio. Flying next to us they made it back safely, but they took the crew chief away, I heard it blinded him. This was a powder CS, really nasty stuff and we had to wash the helicopter out with milk to neutralize the gas, it lingered and lasted a long time.I remember we used fragmentation CS grenades on a bunker, then the Blues went in to check it out and got gassed from the powder. We continued to use them with caution after that.

One time I took out a Thompson machine gun somebody said to “Try this thing out” but the bullets were so slow you could see them when they were flying arching down. By the time they hit the ground they were barely moving, it was no good from the air.

Another time somebody gave me a captured AK-47 to try. The one (and only) time I used it, the Blues on the ground freaked out from the sound (sorry) they got on the radio and asked us what was going on “Are we taking fire?”. I did not use that gun again.

Then there was the time somebody gave me a modified barrel to try out, it was an M-60 barrel with the flash suppressor removed, (I also brought along two good barrels just in case). I did not have much faith in that thing, but the guy who gave it to me said “Yeah it works great”. When I put it on my M-60 and shot it, the thing was really loud, the flames flew out of it about 5′ and the pilot said “What the hell is going on?” I said “I am trying out a new barrel”. I shot it a few more times and we decided it too wild with no advantage whatsoever so I dumped it out the door. When I got back that night the guy who gave it to me said “I never used that thing, I just wanted to see if it worked” and laughed.

We also tested grenades and found that a fragmentation grenade would not go off underwater, but a white phosphorous grenade would. A fragmentation grenade would not go off without arming it when dropped on hard ground from the air, but a white phosphorous grenade would. They were the scary ones, and if they got hit by a bullet they would go off for sure.

Reply from Dave Keel:

Greg, I was the pilot of the scout bird when the CS grenade went off in the back seat with the crew chief. Can’t remember his name but he did lose sight in one eye. I believe you were flying with either Tuttle or Mathis. At any rate, none of us on our ship could see or breathe. I flew it back sideways so we could get some air rushing through the ship. I had Tuttle on one side and Gary Mathis on the other guiding us back to Phouc Vinh. We made an emergency on the main runway and the medics came up to get the crew chief. Only problem was that when they approached the ship they caught wind of the CS and couldn’t see or breathe either. Had us strip down and hosed us off.

Another one of your stories brought back some memories of old. Except for the loss of an eye, it was a pretty eventful day that we laughed about later. Dave Keel Cavalier White 68-69

My Time as a Blue:

When my time was short, I had about two months left in country, I transferred to Charlie Troop 1/9th Blues to see what it was like, and maybe it was a little safer than flying scouts (I thought). One of my first missions was on February 19, 1969 we went on a recon and landed in the bush, our Platoon leader Lt. Guthrie split us up into two columns, that made me nervous because now there were only 10 guys on each side and we would have to be careful where we fired.I was carrying the radio in the middle of our column, a Lt. the platoon leader from the 2/7th was behind me, reconning for his company. I noticed that he had a small little hand held radio, that was the first time I had ever seen one of those. We went forward but not very far, I heard some yelling that they had something, shortly after that they hollered for the guy to “Chu Hoi”. I heard on the radio that they wanted to get a prisoner from the guys in the front. I was with Sgt. Blankenship’s column, the NVA hollered back “F@%# you GI!” and then the place erupted in heavy fire and there were RPG explosions.

We hit the deck, and took cover behind a log. I looked around and the Lt. from the 2/7th behind me was dead, shot in the forehead. The battle went on I fired on our right flank, the left flank was our other column, I believe Pat Bieneman was over there with them at the front. Lt. Guthrie may have been over there as well, there were some big explosions, one of our troopers SFC Guzman ran by, he was shot up pretty bad, I do not know how he was running but he did.

I called for extraction, “Get us out”, they said “Get a prisoner”, I called back, used some choice words to “Get us *%#@ out”. They told me I was using improper radio procedure and to get off the radio. I could hear Pat’s radio transmission too, he was saying “There’s people wounded, get us out”, they told him same thing get a “Chu Hoi”. The thing blew up again big, we got really heavy fire and they finally decided to get us out, when they realized we were not going to get a “Chu Hoi”.

Our platoon leader Lt. Guthrie came by me he said “Pull back” he went ahead and grabbed the Lt. from the 2/7th threw him over his shoulder and we headed out. I followed him back and I believe Pat and Doc Hipple were the last ones to make it to the LZ, they both were wounded but were still popping smoke as we retreated. As we were pulling back the 2/7th was coming into the LZ, we loaded our guys onto the helicopters and got out. They found out it was a large concentration of enemy, a lot more than 20 guys could handle.

Another Blues mission I remember was when we went to pick two prisoners from the LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol). There was a river with an island, on the other side of the river were the LRRPs where the jungle was too dense to land. So the only place they could put us in was a shallow part of the river next to the island. As soon as we stepped out of the helicopter we all slipped and fell into the water, the rocks were really slimy. All of the radios got wet, mine included, we lost all communications.

We got out of the water onto the island and headed over to the swift side of the river. Across the river were the LRRPs with the prisoners, as we were doing this I am thinking we are sitting ducks, we are on an island and we can’t get off. Looking at the river we did not know how we were going to get across, it was really swift. I think the first one to try to go across was Lt. Guthrie and it swept him way down the river, we all thought he was going to drown. His steel pot was floating over his head, it was amazing how he made it out of there on to the other side, way down the river.

We threw a rope across to the LRRPs, and another guy tried to cross, but lost hold of the rope and got swept away down river, almost drowning in the process. That was it, they called off the mission and picked us up off the island, we did not get the prisoners that day.

I was proud to have been with the Blues in Charlie company they were an amazing bunch of guys, and Lt. Guthrie was a great leader.

Pulling Guard Duty:

Pulling guard was one of the worse duties we EM’s had in the Army, I had to do it as a Scout Crew Chief, as an infantry Blue, as a mechanic, in basic training, and in Texas when I got back to the states. I did not have to pull guard at Fort Rucker, aircraft school was easy duty. It was always hard to stay awake after a long day, especially when I was in the Blues, we pulled guard duty almost every night, that was one of our main jobs, guarding the perimeter.We did our guard duty in shifts, two of us slept in the bunker, and one of us stayed awake up on top, and would only get about 4 hours of sleep on guard duty nights. During our turn we passed the time looking through the starlight scope watching for movement, trying to stay alert smoking cupped cigarettes. If we saw movement we could shoot at it (after getting permission) or call the 50 cal. jeep over to shoot at it, we could also request from the CQ to have artillery shoot flares outside of the wire in front of our bunkers.Radio procedure was to call in to the CQ every hour and identify ourselves with our bunker number and give them a SITREP. We also passed the time talking to each other on the radio, not just to stay in touch, but with funny conversations, telling jokes, chatting, killing time, sometimes we got in trouble for too much talking. They would come over the radio and tell us to shut up, at those times we were anonymous.

One night in April ’69, Phuoc Vinh I had to pull guard duty out on the perimeter, that night for some reason Charlie Troop was having a barbeque, and they brought us guys on guard duty 2 steaks each. I ate one steak and left the other one laying on top of the bunker on no lights since we were on the perimeter, we went by feel and the light of the stars. I sat down on the bunker to eat my steak, it tasted pretty good but something was odd, it was too crunchy. In the pitch dark, I took a chance and lit my authentic Zippo (that had engraved on it “Yay though I walk through the shadow of the Valley of Death, I fear no evil because I am the baddest Mother F_ _ _er in the Valley”) lighter to see what it was. My steak was crawling with big red ants, completely covered. So without hesitating, I wiped off the ants and finished eating, boy was it good.

Another night I was really worn out, it was only 2 weeks before I DEROSED, there I was pulling guard duty on top of the bunker out on the quiet part of the perimeter (not in front of the artillery which was noisy all night) struggling to stay awake. I must have drifted off, because the next thing I remember was Major Felton waking me up and writing me up with an Article 15, he fined me 50% of my $280 pay check for two months and confined me to the company area. I felt bad about it but I had been there a long time, 18 months, and was pretty damn tired, I had done the best I could.

After the war back in Fort Hood, Texas our guard duty was to walk around the commissary in a big old parking lot with no cover for 4 hours, walking around and around in the middle of the night, it was so boring. I hated it. That was the worst guard duty I ever pulled, worse than Phuoc Vinh, but I was glad to be home.

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Posted in: Greg Jayne