Don Coshey’s Vietnam Memories

Posted on February 2, 2018


I left Ft Benning GA in Aug of 1965 with Warrant Officer Green. We sailed from the port of Mobile Ala on the USS Croatian Aircraft carrier. We were the only personnel from the First Squadron, Ninth Calvary, First Cavalry Division. While sailing on the Pacific Ocean en route to Vietnam, I worked in the laundry room for the first two weeks during the course of the trip. We broke down twice but you have to consider that the ship was brought out of mothballs for this mission. The bathrooms were plugged up most of the time and you would sleep on the fantail or deck if you could, because of the smell in the sleeping area. After my stay in the laundry room I was assigned to the galley. This was one job I was not happy doing but as a Private you have no choice, you follow orders. One day I really got upset because I had to go to the food storage area below and (I mean below) the water line of the ship, now that is scary. I do have to say one thing I did not get seasick.

Upon arriving at Qui Nhon Bay in Sept 1965 my air craft UH-B Gun Ship (930) was unwrapped and readied for flight. When it was opened it was musty and moldy, it really smelled rotten and I almost ask to take a boat ashore, but Mr. Green and myself prepared to fly it off the carrier. Once we left the deck we dropped and I thought we were going to hit the water, boy was I doing some praying but we got our lift and headed for the airstrip. We had no radio communication of any kind so we used hand signals to communicate with each other. We flew around the base for a while trying to make contact with the air controller (no luck) so we headed on into the airfield. I bet the controller was really upset with us but you do what you have to do. We landed by the CH-47 Chinooks and shut down the aircraft. We were told to move our helicopter to the west side of the field and when Mr. Green started the engine a fire came out of the tail pipe about three feet long and the engine temp was rising fast. To try and stop the engine from continuing to operate I disconnected the battery, and the fuel line but the engine continued to operate, so I grabbed my fire extinguisher. I told Mr. Green that if he saw someone running past him to leave the helicopter fast because the extinguisher didn’t work and that will be me unassing the area. The extinguisher worked and the engine started to shut down but the engine was burnt up. I stayed at Qui Nhon for two weeks before they slung loaded my helicopter to An Khe. It was really rough sleeping in the helicopter but it had to be done to prevent troops at Qui Nhon wouldn’t steal parts from my helicopter. My own unit was doing enough of that part here part there.

When I arrived at the Squadron area we had no buildings at this time so we lived in two man tents. The area was on a hillside and we were told to dig a trench around the tent because it was the beginning of the monsoon season (a lot of rain). My partner and I dug a foot deep trench around our tent. We thought we would be okay (not) when we came back from a flight one day during a rain storm we went to the area and found our air mattresses, sleeping bags and everything we had in the tent washed down the hill it wiped out the whole tent. So that goes to show you can’t beat Mother Nature. Our baths that we took were with cold water and usually in the evening after missions so you had the cold air also. You talk about feeling like an ice cycle well you did and you moved faster than you ever thought you could to get done.

When my helicopter was repaired and put back in service with C-Troop, Weapons Platoon the Plt Leader was Cpt Marshall became my pilot and I was the head man’s Crew Chief his call sign was Thirsty Red and I was Thirsty Red Charlie Charlie my Co-Pilot was LT Rhoden and my Gunner was SP/4 Johnson. The engine they installed in my helicopter was a Lycoming L9A and it was a very weak engine that is until a few adjustments were made (we won’t go into that HA! HA!). In Oct 1965 I went down in my first helicopter (988) which was SP/4 Haggrud’s helicopter it was a hog ship (48) rockets. What happen was that we were on recon with an OH-13 observation helicopter and we had stayed on station a little too long. We started to return to home base when the twenty minute warning fuel light came on. In a short while we had exhausted our fuel and started to descend in auto-rotation and WO , S asked LT, H how he was on auto-rotating and replied not good so WO, S took the controls, as we landed on a hillside the rotor blades struck the ground and the helicopter rocked from side to side. The helicopter settled down and we started to set up a parameter and a group of mountain yards started the hill towards us when I pointed my machine gun at them they turned and went back up the hill.

During the Ia Drang Valley conflict, we were very involved as a unit. My helicopter was hit several times with ground fire. We were in what we called the Plantation area. We captured many weapons and medical supplies as it was their hospital area.

Those times were very active and it is hard to remember all that was going on. We lost our first helicopter in this operation WO Tally, WO Bayron, Sgt Riley and SP/5 Knight. Were Killed In Action. We were enroute to replace them on station when I thought I saw a helicopter crash but I did not throw my smoke grenade to mark the spot. My big mistake. We turned around but could not find the spot so we continued on our mission. I didn’t know till later that there was no contact with the helicopter or crew. When I heard this, I really felt bad that helicopter could have been ours. I dealt with that on my mind for over thirty or more years thinking that if I would have mark the spot it could have been different.

During one operation when medivac wouldn’t go into a landing site to pick up wounded or dead. We were ask by CPT Marshall if we wanted to go in and pick-up the wounded or dead. We always replied those are our guys so let’s do it. Our unit motto is (WE CAN-WE WILL) and in our eyes (WE DID).

During some conflicts we were so engaged that we did not have time to sit on the ground and load our weapons so we would load ammo and rockets inside the aircraft, fueled up and loaded the rockets and ammo in-flight. We would have to crawl out on the gun pods to feed the 7.62 ammo to the machine guns and stand on the skid to load the rockets in the pod.

I also remember that one time we had an OH-13 go down and the observer was badly injured with a stomach wound. Medivac said that they could not land in the pick-up zone because of brush and stumps so Cpt Marshall and the crew decided to go in and pick him up. We went into the area. There was no clear area to land because it was filled with tree stumps and brush, so we found a reasonable spot and I went out on the skid and guided CPT Marshall by intercom to land the helicopter. I had to guide us so the transmission access hole (HELL-HOLE) on the bottom side would set over a stump we made it with no damage. We picked up the observer and I talked to him all the way to the Qui Nhon Hospital. I do not know what happen to him I hope he made it.

While we were in-flight to our Area of Operation one day, I saw some elephants going into a tree line. The NVA and VC used them for transport animals. When I saw them they looked pink in color that was because of the dried mud and the reflection of the sun so I said to CPT Marshall that there were some pink elephants on the ground. Well you can imagine the response. We reported this back to our rear operations and believe me I didn’t live the jokes down for months. They wanted to know what I had to drink or was I on something. While on another mission during this operation, we used a hastily put landing zone we sat down on weeds and brush. We were in for the night and while setting in my helicopter George, Andy and I were talking and eating goodies I was tapping two 45 Cal rounds together and one hit the premier and it went off in my hand no injuries but my fingers were really numb

CPT Marshall and 1LT Young were to fly down a valley (I can’t remember the name) the mission was to locate a suspected enemy machine gun or bigger weapon set up on the hillside. While flying down the valley we received fire from the hillside we turned to make a run on the target and received fire that tore up the center of the helicopter radios, lower center console, between the windshields and upper center console. When they tried to shoot no rockets, no machine guns only Johnson and me to provide fire to protect us. They wanted to try again but we said no we have no weapons so they decided to return to base.

While on our way back, the collective control did some bouncing so we landed on a sandy area by the river. I got out to see if I could locate the problem and sure enough the first round that we heard hit had hit the control tube in the hell hole. So with my little P-38 opener, a rations can, wire cutters, two clamps and green duct tape I repaired the tube temporarily to get us home. Needless to say, it was my secret till I told Dick Marshall some thirty some years afterwards. You do some amazing things when you need to. We call it Crew Chief initiatives and a lot of praying. Well we made it home.

On another mission the weapons platoon was attacking an anti-aircraft gun position and being the platoon leader we were in the front of the chain. While we were on the turn-around the last helicopter was a hog ship and it broke from the chain firing right in front of us that helicopter was WO , M Cpt Marshall saw the rockets in front of us and put the collective d and full down right cyclic to put us out of the line of fire. This action caused the gunner and me to leave and onto the weapons pods and the door gun ammo to fall to the ground. Needless to say it scared the s–t out of me.

I would like to say that while we were flying out of Ple Me Special Forces Camp we spotted three North Vietnam Soldiers waving a flag. We believed they wanted to surrender. So we landed in a valley to pick them up and that was scary because all I could think of is being overrun from the hillsides and being destroyed. Cpt Marshall, SP/4 Johnson and I got out of the chopper to capture the enemy soldiers. We captured them and two were put in my helicopter and one in Maj William’s chopper. Just to let you know if you don’t know what enemy ammo looks like! LEARN I was throwing stuff in the chopper which later I learned were Chinese hand grenades when I heard that I almost s–t in my pants.

There are some funny times and things that also happened like the time we refueled at Ple Me. When you land the chopper, you are to ground the weapons system with a grounding rod than remove the gun barrels. When done refueling you return the gun barrels in place and lock them in if you don’t you lose your gun barrels. Will to tell the truth both of us forgot to secure the latches and we lost our gun barrels. Funny now but not then. SOME DAYS IT DOESN”T PAY TO GET UP HA! HA!

While we were on an operation in the Bon Son area we landed at the airstrip after receiving fire and I noticed a hole in my engine cowling cover after more inspection a bullet hole was noticed in the engine compressor section of the engine. The helicopter was stripped of all not essential equipment and was ready to be taken back to the maintenance group. At base camp the maintenance officer, Mr. Prouty, would fly it back on a one time flight but SP6 Parmerly the technical inspector (TI) would not but I was told to get in because I was the crew chief. I really hoped that we would get back in one piece.

I also remember the times when SP4 Glisson, Sp4 Hagerud, Sp4 Gavaria and myself would be excited when George Gavaria got a package from home it meant real food. We got tired of the spam from the mess hall. Spam this spam that. Got the idea the group mentioned above were just like the musketeers we were always together.

Some of the troopers had monkeys for pets. They sure are nasty animals. Mr Mooney had one named Mandrake and he was very nasty. He had a habit of playng with himself at any time. He would also pee anytime and anywhere. One day mandrake disappeared, sorry.

I was held over in Vietnam for a month past my rotation because of no replacement. What a tale right, but I was held to help train some of the new arrivals. This was okay, I was a single guy and was proud to think they put hat much faith in my stabilities it made me feel good.

In Aug/Sep 1966 we were on an operation in Phan Thiet where I was Crew Chief for the Troop CMDR Maj. Richie. We had a new UH1-C model with a new rotor system we call (the 540 System). The rotor head it had a flat design. We were out on station when we received fire, upon returning to camp I notice a bullet hit the rotor head. It did not go through but put a dent in the head, so the bell representative grounded the helicopter for stress on the rotor head.

Finally, with time getting close for my return home, I said this was my last flight boy was I wrong. Still being assigned to the weapons platoon SSG Utz, my Platoon Sergeant, told me that I would be the crew chief on helicopter (032) because the regular crew chief was on kitchen Police (KP). Well one more flight and I will be done. We took off that morning CPT Burke, Mr. Heath, the gunner I can’t remember who he was and myself. The pilots were both new in country and we were the trail ship. While enroute we heard a bang it sounded like a compressor stall so the pilot tried to restart, no such luck, nothing happened so we were on our way down to the ground. The pilot radioed the lead ship and at first he did not know where we were. Copt Burke told him to look out his left window and to the rear because we were going down.

On the way down the tail boom hit the trees and was ripped from the helicopter, we hit the rice patty and slid till we hit the dike, the fuselage went up about a forty five degree angle and as it did the gunner and I jumped out. You have heard about adrenaline surge well the pilots ripped the doors off the helicopter hinges and all. They did not pull the emergency releases and they were out, so we were all out safe and sound. Well it was time to set up the perimeter. Me being the more experienced person set everything up. Then I went to change the radio channels, put the guns inside the helicopter and get ready to destroy the aircraft if need be. This was accomplished by dropping a grenade wrapped with masking tape in the fuel cell. I would have done this with no hesitation because after seeing the hole in the helicopters engine area I knew we were hit with a large caliber weapon and any time we encountered a large size weapon there was at least a platoon or company size NVA unit around. Our lead ship was orbiting the area and had made the call back to the operations of our crash. It was nice to see them up there but I was still scared to hell. I thought that this was it for me and I was just about to go home. I tell you I would have blown up the helicopter and took as many as I could have before being captured. During the time we spent on the ground, Mr. Heath being young and new in country really kept me going. He heard everything in the world and I had to always calm him down and tell him everything will be okay.

After what seemed to be a life time, the lift ship with the Blue Platoon (Infantry) arrived and secured the area. The maintenance ship came in next to drop off the crew to prepare for the AC to be slung loaded out. We got in the chopper and returned to the base camp. I was covered with mud and stunk to high heaven from the rice patty slop. SSG Utz came running down to the AC saw me and said that I will not fly any more. To tell the truth I was not going to fly anymore even if I had to disobey an order. This was it for me. This was number four crash and I was not looking for number five.

On another day during this operation, we were camped near a flight line for fixed wing aircraft and we heard a Beaver fixed wing aircraft getting ready to take-off. When the aircraft started down the strip we heard the engine sputter, but the pilot keep on going when he lifted off the ground and started to climb we heard the engine sputter again and then quit. The pilot tried to turn back to land on the airstrip so he made a sharp turn and the aircraft started to fall from the sky (he had lost his lift). It was a horrible sight to witness the craft burst into flames when it hit the ground. A bunch of us ran with extinguishers from our helicopters but we could not get the fire under control. We all felt bad because we could not reach the pilot and get him out. We were helpless and I know this may sound cruel but we all prayed that he had died in the crash so as not to be burned alive. It was a very horrible sight to see and to know you can’t help.

Posted in: Don Coshey