I can't remember how many times, when we would have a two or three day stand-down, I'd go up to the helo deck and flag down a bird. It really didn't matter where it was going, I knew if it was going there today, there would be one coming back tomorrow.
One trip really stands out in my mind. It seems they forgot to tell me they were on a fire mission, so I'm sitting in the middle rear seat on a huey, looking out at the scenery when all of a sudden the bottom falls out, the bird banks hard left then hard right, then straightens up and dives, nose down toward the ground. The missiles start slinging off the rails, left side, right side, left side, right side. (do I have to tell you I was scared out of my freakin' mind?) I thought we had been taken under fire.
Then when the missiles were all gone, we went into a hard banked circle and the left door gunner starts rattling rounds - when his ammo can runs out, the ship banks right and that gunner starts rattling rounds. Empty, bank left, he's reloaded - then he's empty, back right for more. Bird filled with smoke, gunners yelling like rebels, Spratt's eyes as big as saucers.
Then, as quick as it started, it stopped. The chopper leveled off, climbed to a reasonable altitude, and we continued on to Dong Tam. They were planning on spending the night, and heading back to the YRBM in the morning. They asked if I wanted to join them for a drink or two (or a dozen).
While we were at the club, we got to telling war stories. When I told them what I did, those chopper guys told me there is no way in hell they would want to ride boats. When I asked why, they said, "Man, you guys are so slow, you are sitting ducks down there. We got speed on our side!"
To that, my reply was "I'd much rather be on the boat than a chopper. Never yet heard of a Swiftboat falling out of the sky."
On that note, we drank a toast to our respective jobs, then drank to each other, then drank to America, then drank to Jody, hell, we were drinking a toast to everything and everybody we could think of. Before I went dead on the floor, I vaguely remember someone toasting John Wayne.
We were all pretty wasted the next morning, but my newfound friends managed to stuff me in the back of the helo for the ride home ... thankfully a very quiet, uneventful trip back to the YRBM.
Just another non-war story from the Nam.
Terms used in this story:
Stand Down - a period of down time for repairs, rest and resupply.
Huey - type helicopter
YRBM - Support barge and base of operations
Jody - that mythical guy who is taking care of your girl back home while you are gone