Arrival by George Durden

After a 24 hour trip to Bien Hoa Air Force Base the plane doors opened to the smell of human waste being mixed with diesel fuel in cut down 55 gallon drums, a smell none of us would ever forget. We loaded up and were bused to Long Bin, the embarkation point to the various units in Vietnam. The bus had bars and chicken wire over the windows like a prison bus to prevent grenades being tossed inside. The ride through Long Bien was terrifying. The driver was pedal-to-the-metal-damn -anyone in his way.  More than one small child wandered out to see the bus on roads too narrow for them to be there. I couldn’t wait to get to the base. We were assigned a barrack and told to settle in for the night. The cockroaches were huge and all over the place. There was outgoing artillery and incoming rockets that night. Mortar flares never seemed to stop. A bunch of us were unable to sleep, so we sat for a while on the blast barricade looking at them as if it was a Fourth of July fireworks display. Once I did go to bed, I was awakened to reveille at 0500 watching rats the size of cats on the rafters scurrying around.


My first emergency landing came after dropping off a load of supplies to the furthest firebase in our sector while returning for another mission. The pilot yelled into his mic: “Chief, number two has lost oil pressure!” I looked out to the rear and saw red everywhere. My first instinct was that we were on fire and I alerted everyone to it. As the pilot reached for the fire bottle handle, I yelled, “Don’t pull; it’s oil,” and directed him to take the engine to ground position and stop. The Chinook can fly on one engine but has a tendency to overheat because of the strain. The pilot asked all of us to look for place to put down safely. The gunner saw a landing strip to the left and that’s where we set down. Once on the ground I opened the #2 engine cowling and discovered that the oil filter had popped out. One of the tabs holding it in was missing.


This set me off, since my bird had the “25 hour” crew do a service the night before that included changing engine oil.  We buttoned up inside the bird and made calls on the emergency channel in hopes of being heard and getting assistance.  Vietnamese children showed up from nowhere. We knew better than to give them anything, but they were persistent and began tampering with the sling load hook on the bottom of the helicopter. The pilot shot a couple rounds from his pistol which drove them off. Since our home station had not heard from us in over six hours, they announced that all helicopters be on the lookout for us. That night, we heard an aircraft. We called and were heard this time, informing them of our situation and what we needed. Early the next morning, they arrived with parts and oil. I fixed the engine and off we went.


I was later called to the flight platoon office for reasons unknown to me, selected to try a new approach to killing VC in their tunnels. I was there with another flight engineer called Murphy. We would become bombardiers of nine 55 gallon drums filled with foo gas which was mostly used as a perimeter effort to explode and coat attackers with the sticky goo. This would either burn or suffocate them to death because it robs the atmosphere of oxygen. They wanted us to spot the target without practice. We were to hook our internal winch to one corner of the netting holding the barrels. The other three corners were hooked in normal fashion to our sling load hook, which we could open at our discretion.


We’d be flying with a Cobra loaded with white phosphorus. It would shoot its rockets to spot the location where we were to drop our load. I had the second mission so I waited for my turn. After Murphy’s bird landed I noticed his large bushy mustache was scorched and singed. He told me they’d been flying at 500 feet at a slow rate of speed when he dropped his load. The first barrel exploded after reaching the white phosphorus and the flames cascaded up the barrels towards the helicopter and came up through a hole in the floor. If it hadn’t been for his goggles and flight helmet, he’d been scorched even more.


I was informed that the procedures were changed as a result of this. We would fly at 3000 feet and at 75 knots, higher and faster than the first mission. We arrived at location and I readied myself. On the first pass, I wasn’t convinced I’d hit the target. I didn’t have much time to determine angle and speed for impact after the pilot indicated the site was approaching under the nose of the bird. I asked for a second pass and this time I released the barrels. I was off target, but the Cobra ignited the barrels and we saw VC running around in the flames.