Letters from the field
19 Mar 67
I was flying a mission from a Special Forces outpost to DakTo. We heard on the radios that a convoy on highway 14 was being hit eight miles out of Pleiku. We got there and made gun runs on the enemy. There were so many of them they were running all over the road around the trucks. I saw a tank truck and the truck behind it get hit with B40 rockets and blow up. The guys in it were on fire and ran out of the trucks right into the enemy. They were cut in half with machine gun fire. We did all we could do and the fire was so heavy that we couldn't land on the road until it let up so we could take out the wounded. It didn't take long for jets to come in and drop Napalm and machine gun fire on both sides of the road then the helicopters with rockets and twin mini guns that fire 6,000 rounds per min. each finished the job. We went in and got the wounded out. There were four of our red tail ships that went in. No one else wanted to and the MedEvac ships said it was too hot. I had to change barrels on my two machine guns after it was over cause they got so hot I was afraid they would melt and blow up. I found out today that one of my friends that used to be in the 815th and was transferred to the 70th Engrs. was in that ambush. He got shot five times and is still alive to tell about it. He said his rifle was shot out of his hand as he jumped out of the truck. A Lt. came up in his jeep to try to get the convoy moving and was shot in the head. The jeep rolled once and my friend grabbed the Lt.'s 45 pistol. He cocked it and he saw a North VietNamese soldier aim at him from about twenty feet away, he tried to shoot him but the pistol wasn't loaded. He got shot twice in the arm and once in the leg. He laid on the road while a South VietNamese soldier (ARVN) took the stuff out of his pockets (money) and kicked him to see if he was dead. We don't know for sure if the enemy was dressed as ARVN or if the allies had turned on us which has happened a lot. There have been lots of ambushes in about the same place and yesterday we flew in some 173rd [ ] to try to get at them. We got the wounded out and it was quite a mess. Two died in my ship before we got them to the 71st evac hosp. Others with their arms and legs blown off and shot up so bad weren't very far from it. I have been sleeping in the bunker lately. It offers a little protection.
Well I'll close for now and clean my shot gun. I am fine so don't worry about me.
Give my love to the family.
28 May 67
You asked about the M16. Well we have them, we got them just before we left the states. They are a sweet piece of equipt. There are a few tricks that I use to keep mine from jamming. They take a real beating over here but if you do two things to them they will fire as fast and as long as you can feed it. No 1.is take the bolt out and rub it with steel wool until all the blueing is off it and it shines. No.2 is don't oil it like you do in the states. Over here oil is a bad thing for this rifle except in a few places. Things here are getting tight. The infantry is getting their teeth knocked in most of the time. The VC call the shots here and we play by their rules. I sit out on guard just about every other night and wonder if I will see the sun rise again. I know they are sitting out there watching me I can feel it. I think of home quite a lot now. I never used to. I always tried to think of what I was doing and when I was off duty I'd think of home. I am not afraid but there are so many things I'd like to do.
11 July 67
Now there is something I am going to tell you and you won't like it but it is something I must do. Three days ago I talked to the CO of the 170th Assault Helicopter outfit near here at camp Holloway. I want to be a gunner on a chopper and he gave me a letter of acceptance to put in with my 1049 request for transfer. If I am able to get my request through in about seven weeks I'll be flying as a gunner. Now don't write the Pres. 'cause I will never give up until I get it. I know you don't like it but I am sorry.
15 Dec 67
We have been flying long hrs. up at DakTo and have seen lots of action in the past week but other than a few slugs in the ship nothing serious has happened.
We caught a bunch of N.V.A. troops with elephants about two miles from the Cambodian Border a few days ago bringing down supplies. We shot them up pretty bad but we had to get back to DakTo for fuel so we don't know how bad we got them.
25 Feb 68
[Tet offensive began Jan. 31, 1968]
We have been flying missions for the Special Forces lately and have been staying three to four days at a time with them about a hundred miles from here at a place called BanMeThout. I just got back from three days there yesterday. We got hit with mortars one night and the next day I had to go in and get the co-pilot and gunner out of one of our ships that went down. The pilot and crew chief were crushed under the ship as it landed on the left side. The pilot was my permanent pilot and for some reason I didn't fly with him that day. There was also some other people killed that I knew that we have been working for on that mission. The pilot had five days left before he went home. I had to dig around in the nine bodies and make sure none was alive. We then took off and rushed the two survivors out of there to the hosp. The pilot was able to crash it in a small meadow the only clearing in the jungle for miles. If not we might have never found them and if so we couldn't land and pull them out. It was bad and we feel awful but we have to expect it.
I flew all night last night looking for Charlie and when we spotted him we threw out flares so the people on the ground could shoot.
2 Mar 68
Well today was just like all the rest. I got out of my little bunker after a long night of mortar rounds landing here and there in our area and went to the flight line about five thirty. I put my machine guns on the ship and checked them to see if they would work. We took off about dawn and flew north towards DakTo to fly for the Special Forces on a mission into Cambodia. We only had been flying for about fifteen min. when some wiring in the cockpit caught on fire. We made an emergency landing on a soccer field at a small VietNamese school in Kontum. We were picked up and flown back here to Pleiku while the maintenance outfit fixed it. We didn't fly anymore today.
18 Mar 68
Today I am just sitting around in the ship waiting to see if we have to go in and get the guys (infantry) out that we put in on a mountain this morning. There is a Regiment of N.V.A. in the pass between here and Kontum on the road to DakTo. They have been knocking the stuffings out of the convoys so today we put troops in there to try to get them.
31 Mar 68
I didn't fly today 'cause we have a new gunnie that they wanted to break in. In a few days we will stop flying in support of the fourth inf. Division in DakTo and fly secret missions into Cambodia, Laos, and North VietNam for the Special Forces. I can tell you more about it someday when I get home.
18 April 68
Well I have changed jobs again so now instead of flying a troop movement ship with only two machine guns I fly on the gun ships now. They have rockets, grenade launched and twin mini guns that fire 6000 rounds per min., plus the two crew members have a regular machine gun. The first day I flew with them was Easter Sunday and we got into a big fire fight up by DakTo. It is a pretty sight to see a gun ship swoop down with the guns and rockets going and I fired my machine gun so hard it burned holes through my gloves. We put the hurt on 'ol Charlie and only took a few hits on our ship that didn't amount to much.
3 May 68
The VC raided the Arvin Officers Club and barracks a few nights ago in town and caught the no-fighting slobs by surprise.
8 May 68
Well I finally have some new news to tell you for a change. Before I tell you I don't want you to get shook, I am fine. On the 3rd of May I crashed into a rice paddy near Kontum. We all got out without a scratch and we had plenty of air gun cover. We went down because the big rotor blade cracked almost in half and it just threw us to the ground. If it had happened when we were at a few hundred more feet altitude it would have broken all the way off and then we wouldn't have had a chance. If it had happened ten minutes later there wouldn't even have been a body to send home 'cause we were on our way over the border and deep in Charlie country.
The next day the enemy hit a convoy near Kontum and killed about twenty four of our guys. We made gun runs on them and received so much enemy fire that it was like a rain storm. We came out of that without a dent just like we could do no wrong. Two gun ships from another outfit were shot down but they got out ok. We were credited with 75 and 100 enemy killed. There isn't any reason on earth why we weren't shot down as thick as the fire was but someone was with us, I guess. On the 6th of May I was shot in the knee while in a fire fight with the enemy. It didn't amount to much and I went to the 71st evac. Hosp and had it taken out. It went in my left knee and the knee cap and lodged in the skin about half an inch before it came out. I am a little stiff but it isn't bad and I will still go on R&R the 12th. I will get it stitched up tomorrow. At least I will get a new ribbon to wear, the Purple Heart. Like I said don't worry I am fine. [Gene never received his ribbon.]
2 June 68
I have gone back to flying after a little rest and it is good to be back in the heat of things. We went back to supporting the 4th div. a few days ago after two months of escort work for the Special Forces. There is a big buildup in the area and we are looking for another big battle at DakTo where we fly for the 4th. Also the enemy is closing in on Pleiku and is building up for a big one. The big rains have started a few days ago and while on guard the other night four gooks tried to get thru my area but after about an hour of exchanging fire I changed their minds for them and I knew for a fact I got one of them. I fired over 1,000 rounds thru my machine gun and it never let me down once even in the rain and mud. It's like no other gun I have seen before. It acts alive and has saved me more times than I care to think about.
6 June 68
We got hit with rockets last night and it did some damage but not much. There aren't many places that can protect you from them if you take a direct hit. If they hit the ground they make a hole about five feet deep and seven feet around. They sound like a freight train when they come in. I flew a few nights ago against an enemy mortar position that was hitting the engineers where I used to live. It was raining hard but we finally knocked them out.
15 June 68
I just got back from An Khe where we are working for a Special Forces outfit. On the tenth my ship was shot up pretty bad and while on our second run on the enemy we shot a rocket and just as it left the tube on my crew chief's side an enemy bullet hit it and it blew up. My buddy was hit in the face with pieces of metal and lost one eye. It threw him onto my lap and the ship was full of holes. We made it back ok but just by luck I guess. The ship is going to be used for spare parts it can't be salvaged. I am on duty tonight and if anything happens we will go up and see what we can do about nine o'clock we had to go up over by where I used to be stationed where a patrol ran into a large force of enemy. We waited 'til they got on a tank and their wounded were taken out on a MedEvac ship then we rolled in and shot them up. It is now about twelve.
27 Aug 68
We had a pilot from Alameda hit in the leg while flying on a ambushed convoy near Kontum. Most of the compounds around here have been hit and the enemy has in several cases snuck thru the wire and run around shooting and blowing things up.
4 Sept 68
The enemy is here but you don't know who they are and they don't do much except look around to see what they can see and hear.
You asked if I was in on Duc Lop. Yes I was there and you can't believe how bad it was. We flew air support and I think it was one of the worse battles I have ever been in. Eight gun ships were shot down in one day but none of them were from my outfit and we didn't have any casualties even though we got the ships shot to pieces. We got lots of kills including a slope I shot out of a tree. The enemy burned the little villages around the camp and killed lots of men, women and kids then after they went to the camp for protection the enemy went after them. There were thousands of them in little spider holes all around the camp and you couldn't see them. After it was over a few days later there were dead all over the place and even though the enemy took part of the camp we were able to run them off. There are still lots of enemy there but they have pulled back about a mile across the border.