“The Day I Flew Naked!” by Edd Hogeboom”

Posted on November 22, 2020


It was probably September ’69 or so. I was off flight status due to recovering from injuries involving a round through my OH-6A engine while hovering at about 150′ above ground, over triple canopy, having just located our LRRP Team that had been compromised earlier in the day.

It was probably around 8:30 or a quarter to eleven or so in Phouc Vinh, hard to remember now. I was walking back from the “showers” when the “Down Bird” alarm went off. I started to run toward my hooch to get my gear. My back muscles began telling me a fast walk was all I was going to get that morning!

I hit the door to my hooch, grabbed my helmet, my “chicken plate with my shoulder holster attached,” and my .45 cal. Greaser. I was half way to the flight line when I lost one of my “flip-flops” and my towel that had been wrapped around my waist fell off. I got to my LOH and my crew was loading the back and hoping for a pilot. Until that point in time, I don’t think I really gave any thought to the fact that I wasn’t wearing anything but a single “flip-flop.”

My Observer was the only person to acknowledge my lack of a flight suit with a quick, “You flying that way today, Chief?” “Yeah, let’s get it off the ground,” I responded.

I’d already taken my morning dose of muscle relaxers given to me by our Green Beret Flight Surgeon, so I don’t recall my back muscles cramping up too much at that point. We cranked and pulled pitch and I started looking for a Cobra that hadn’t linked to a little bird yet. When none were available I was told by ATC that all extra aircraft were cleared to LZ Buttons, so off we went.

Once we got to Buttons I was able to pick up a Cobra to fly with — sorry I don’t remember who the “Snake” crew was. We headed out and found our “down bird.” The Crew Chief and Observer had already been evac’d. Three or four ARVN’s were standing around the downed LOH and one appeared to be going through our pilot’s pockets. I told my Crew Chief to put down an M-60 perimeter around our pilot. The ARVN’s “moved out smartly.” I stayed on station with our pilot, who was still in “the straps of his Bird.” We had already been told that he had checked out to “The Big Six in the sky,” so there was nothing more we could do but say a prayer and wait for Med-Evac to return with their body bag.

We finally got back to LZ Buttons and we needed to refuel before the flight back to Phouc Vinh. I got clearance and hovered over to “gasoline alley” and put it down on an empty refueling pad. My Crew Chief commenced refueling while we were still “hot.” My observer was dozing or lost in thought none of us ever liked a “down bird” mission where we didn’t bring them all back alive and relatively OK. I was filling out my log when a Huey did a straight in landing at the refueling line just to our left. I guess he was trying to impress someone with his flying expertise. I knew immediately that he was going to rock my little bird with his rotor wash. I dropped the “Green Book” in my lap (OUCH!) and grabbed the controls and went on “hot mike” to warn my crew. I kept my rotor mast from slapping and had a few unkind thoughts about the “yahoo” driving the slick.

Once he was on the ground, I went back to my log. About a minute later, my Observer hits me on my left shoulder and points to the bay of the Huey that had just landed. Having just gotten to the ground, aided by one of the slick’s crew members, were two “Donut Dollies.” They were stooped over trying to avoid decapitation, I’m sure, and carefully picking their way across the muddy refueling area. The one behind was the first to look up and straight into our cockpit. She froze where she stood, like a deer caught in the headlights! She reached forward and caught her partner’s arm and pointed straight at me. Her mouth kept opening and closing as she held onto her partner’s arm. I hit the mike button and said, “Gentlemen, I think a hand salute is in order!”

And that we did, my crew dressed smartly in their new Nomex flight suits and acoustic helmets and I in my “chicken plate” and helmet, presented our snappiest hand salutes and smiled. The lead “Dolly” finally grabbed her partner by the sleeve and dragged her on by. The second one’s mouth was still opening and closing and she was still staring into our cockpit as her partner pulled her towards the tents.

I’ve often wondered over the years, if some grandmother is telling her grandchildren about the day she saw a helicopter pilot “fly naked” in South Vietnam. Hey, just another day in the AO

Posted in: Edd Hogeboom