The 1st Cav and other units had been ordered into the Parrot's Beak region of Cambodia in April/May 1970 to search for NVA arms caches and COSVN, the central office for South Vietnam. The units met heavy resistance as the NVA tried to protect the huge arms caches from capture. The incursion into Cambodia caused an uproar at home and American ground units were pulled out before the job was done. ARVN units remained in Cambodia and American aircrews provided support for several months. I flew a number of these support missions in UH-1H aircraft. We flew ARVN troops in and out, carried out their WIAs, and transported captured arms and supplies. We were briefed before every mission to avoid getting out of the aircraft when on the ground in Cambodia as members of the media might notice, take a picture, and a PR nightmare might ensue. We even had to fly support at night because VNAF (Vietnamese Air Force) pilots would not cross into Cambodia at night.
On one morning mission, we took off from the 1st Cavs huge base at Phouc Vinh headed for Tay Ninh. We were the 5th aircraft in a flight of 5 UH-1H helicopters. The flight leader ordered us into a "tactical trail" formation for the trip to Tay Ninh. "TAC Trail" was a loose formation flown at treetop level at 100 to 120 knots with the aircraft weaving back and forth but generally maintaining our slot positions. Our crew chief, a sergeant E-5, and door gunner, a Spec 4, were the only ones in the rear cargo area. They were manning their M-60 machine guns and to facilitate movement they wore "monkey harnesses". The Monkey harness fastened around the torso and had a strap with a hook which they would attach to a o-ring on the transmission housing. This way they could move around instead of being strapped into a seat belt. About 40 minutes into the flight I told the rear crew, over the intercom, to try to follow our progress on their maps for training purposes and just in case we had a problem. I got a quick "roger sir" from the crew chief but nothing from the gunner. I said "yo Perkins, did you get my last?". Still no answer. I said to the crew chief, "Sarge, scoot over there and wake up Perkins". The crew chief and door gunner sat on opposite sides of the transmission housing and usually could not see each other. Sarge came back frantically on the IC, "Sir, Perky is gone", he's gone and his strap is flapping around". Me and my co-pilot were stunned! What the hell had happened? We radioed the rest of our flight and conducted a 5 aircraft search but we had no idea where Perkins had fallen out. We had covered 70 miles of triple canopy jungle along a ragged route. We never found his body. The snap hook which fastened the strap to the o-ring had failed. Specialist 4 Perkins was 19 years old. We lost a brother. We didn't even have time to mourn. Too much was going on. I did attend a memorial service conducted by our Group chaplain.