It was evening on January 12, 1971 in Phouc Vinh, Republic of Vietnam. I was assigned the night standby mission in support of the "Phouc Vinh Follies". This was the term that we aviators of Co C, 227th AHB, 11th CAG, 1st Cavalry Division, used to describe air support of the various infantry units that provided base camp security. My crew and I pre-flighted our UH1H aircraft, loaded up on M-60 ammo, and then settled in to watch a movie on the outdoor "drive-in" movie screen in our Company area. We were relaxed, entertained, and happy. The night standby aircraft was very rarely scrambled.
Twenty minutes into the movie we got an immediate scramble alert. A long range recon patrol had called in a request for immediate extraction. Upon reporting to our TOC (tactical operations center) we learned that the 7 man LRRP team was in a firefight with a much larger NVA unit. The LRRP team was surrounded and wanted to be extracted before they were overrun. We were given a quick mission brief and met up with the Cobra gunship pilots who would provide aerial gun support for the extraction. Our first thoughts were "how are we going to find these guys"? The map coordinates we received indicated that they were "just" west of the village of Xuan Loc, but it was pitch black outside, too dark for us to be able to identify any terrain features. The only way we had to get near their "ballpark" was via FM Homing which is very primative compared to today's GPS technologies.
We took off and headed east. It was about 2230. Vietnam at night was a very spooky place. It was mostly black with very few lights except near larger villages. As we got near Xuan Loc we contacted the LRRP team on their FM frequency to get a "track" to their position and to get an update on their tactical situation. As the radioman spoke with us we could hear the pop-pop of small arms fire in the background. We could hear the fear in the radioman's voice and we still hadn't pinpointed their PZ. He described the PZ long access for landing as well as obstructions. We must have flown around at 3000 feet for about 20 minutes before we finally pinpointed the PZ. We could see both red and green tracers flashing about as the team exchanged fire with the NVA. The Cobra pilots, who were over us at 4500, asked us how we were going to get these guys out....."Ghostrider 24 what's your plan"? We had to come up with one PDQ.
We decided to turn off all our exterior and interior lights to make ourselves less of a target. We would make 1 pass through the PZ but wouldn't land the aircraft due to stumps in the PZ. The LRRP guys would have to jump aboard through the open cargo doors as we hovered thru at 4 feet. I told my crew chief and gunner not to fire off even 1 round from the M-60s or they'd give the bad guys our exact position. The Cobra guys would come in on our wing to lay down suppressive mini-gun fire. My co-pilot, Capt. Art Pope, held a red flashlight beam on the instrument panel as we made our approach. I told him to be ready to jump on the controls if I got hit. We made our approach, the AH1G with guns blazing on our wing. We got in low and the seven LRRP guys jumped in as fast as I'd ever seen a grunt move. They had 1 wounded. We got outta there like a bat outta hell while the Cobra continued to shoot up the place.
The 227th Battalion TOC folks had been listening into all our radio communications so when we landed back at Phouc Vinh we had quite a reception committee. It was almost 0030. The LRRP team guys threw their arms around me and my crew, some of them crying. I was really proud of my crew and the Cobra crew.
Later on January 13, the CG of the 1st Cav, MG George Putnam, awarded us the Distinguished Flying Cross. All in a night's work in the RVN.
Great story as most civilians don't realize the War doesn't stop at sundown! I was there in '67 & '68 and we had more firefights in the middle of the night than we did in the day time! Your story also shows how we all put our lives on the line for our fellow Soldiers. All that crap about fighting for God and Country was just that CRAP! We did what we did for each other, as each other was all we had! It was our job, and we did it to the best of our ability. Letting our Brothers down was unacceptable. Combat changes one's life forever. It's something we carry for as long as we live. The Bond between Combat Soldiers grows as the Battle intensifies. We will NEVER trust anyone like we did our Brother Soldiers. "Welcome Home!"
Charles-Thank you for your wonderful story. A daughter of a Vietnam Vet I have been putting pieces of my dads story together. My father Capt. Duane Perkins-FAC USAF '67-'68 causually mentioned a few years back that he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross medal but never received it. Our local Vet Service office in Union County,Ohio helped me get my dads cross. My father kept all the paperwork and everything and I now have his updated DD214 that reflects that he did receive the cross. I'm sure he wouldve been pleased. Thank you for your bravery and service to our country.
Teresa I'm glad you finally got the DFC awarded to your dad. It means a lot to me because of what it represents. I'll never forget that night. I feel compelled now, after all these years, to tell about some of these incidents because age is creeping up. When you're in such a situation you don't think much about the danger. You think about your brothers- in-arms and what may happen to them if you don't do your job.
These stories mean a lot to your family. My dad didnt talk about Vietnam much. I didnt even realize what a Forward Air Controller was until I joined this site and vets starting giving me information. I was just 10 years old when he left so I had no clue how dangerous it was. Now that I'm older I understand. I want my son and someday if he has children to know what his Grandfather did for his country. I really enjoy all of your stories- it helps me understand what you all did and we need to remember it...Thanks