Tommy Pepper by Ross Rainwater and others

Posted on November 16, 2019


My “Mr. Pepper” story . . . .

During one of our many sorties out of Tay Ninh west into Cambodia in spring 1971 (don’t remember the exact date), I was the “3d pilot liaison (with an ARVN counterpart)” in a C&C ship covering the Pink Team for crew extraction, extra support, etc.

That area of Cambodia had very wide, open spaces where the Bad Guys could see us coming and going for long distances vs. the heavier jungle in Vietnam.

During one sortie, it was necessary for us to hightail it low-level back “across the fence” with Mr. Pepper’s Loach at our 9:00 position. I must’ve been because he took fire and damage because after a bit, he reported he had to put the aircraft on the ground.

We landed the Huey close by at Tommy’s 3:00 o’clock so the door gunner could give covering fire if needed, but not so close as to cause rotor-wash problems to the Loach. I was sitting in a out-facing jumpseat on the left side of the Huey, ready to assist getting the crew aboard.

Tommy’s gunner and observer “beat feet” in a hurry toward the Huey because the area was so open and we were the proverbial “sitting ducks.”

I watched in amazement — and no small “pucker factor” — as Tommy unbuckled, stepped out of the aircraft, and then took his sweet time (!) leaning back into the pilot’s position,  with his back toward us, even after his crew were both on board! I was yelling out him to di-di NOW and let us get the h*ll out of there!! He didn’t seem to hear me and maybe he couldn’t . . . .

After what seemed an ETERNITY, he finished what he was doing and then just sort of loped casually toward the Huey, calmly climbing aboard, after which we finally “got the h*ll out of there!”

I asked him — probably with not a lot of calm — what he was doing that seemed to take that “eternity” for him to start toward the Huey.

His calm answer, “I needed to secure the flight controls to prevent any further damage.”

I wanted to “beat him about the head and shoulders” for giving us all heart attacks, yet was amazed by his professional concern for his aircraft!

That was Tom Pepper!

A slow, respectful “Hand, SALUTE”!

Ross Rainwater
C-1/9, 1970-71
“We Can, We Will” and “We DID!”

Barry Sipple adds the following:

That was the day Chuck Frazier and I (can’t remember the gunner) responded to the downed bird alert and duked it out with a .51 cal close to Tom.  Most gooks I’d ever seen. We quit flying after that day.