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Featured Item:
The Deer Hunter
Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Other Movies:

Good Morning Vietnam

Apocalypse Now

Full Metal Jacket

Hamburger Hill


Marshall Darling,
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Within a few weeks after the start of that cross-country offensive we were told that we would be pulling out--destination unknown. Our crew was ordered to "button" up the radar and transfer all equipment to the temporary runway on LZ English to sit and wait. To move an Army division containing thousands of men is a major undertaking, even for the 1st Air Cavalry, Airmobile. The only picture that I can conjure up to illustrate this experience is a multi legged, belly crawling slug that flails all its legs around but really moves on its gut in a "hunching along" series of motions. The head moves by stretching its self out to its maximum where it's forced to stop while waiting for the tail to catch up. The "dance" is then repeated until achieving its destination. Anyone who has been in the military is ever so familiar with the slogan "Hurry up and wait!" The night that we got our orders to move our section was spent on a rainy runway, under our two-ton radar, after being "Hurry Upped" for the prior two days. Finally, at first light, a wave of what seemed like 150 "Hooks" (Chinook twin bladed cargo-carrying helicopters) settled down amongst us. The waterlogged warriors ducked under the whirling blades, scrambled up the rear cargo ramps and were lurched into the clouds.

I was the last person on our "bird" because I had pulled the short straw that trip. The effect of this draw placed me on top of the radar while 20 tons of helicopter hovered above me on a hurricane-force column of air. From that position I had to attach the radar's sling cables to the hook under the belly of the helicopter (one of the origins of the nickname "Sh-- Hook"). Now came the fun part--climbing through the moving hatchway above me and past that damn hook. Every "slinger" knew that as soon as you touched that hook you became the ground for the static electricity generated by the two whirling blades. The resulting megajolt that passed through you made your legs buckle but there was no way of avoiding it. It was the only way in. (You can see why we drew straws for the job.) I could smell scorched hair for days.

On the flight we learned that we were on the way to a ominous place called Khe Sanh, an infamous on-going battle that had become the obsession of LBJ, the Brass and the world wide media. The actions of North Vietnamese Army had convinced the generals that this battle could be THE major turning point in the war and that we must win it at all costs, (which include sacrificing my a--!). The NVA were pounding a Marine combat base located in a mountainous region at the extreme northwestern corner of the country. This was the Ho Chi Min Trail's entry to South Vietnam and the main route that they used to infiltrate troops and supplies. The ensuing battle had become one of the fiercest of the war so the 1st Cav was sent in, of course.

I don't remember how long we flew with our radar slung under our "Hook" but we put down once, spent the night, rehooked and roared back into the sky the next morning. This time it was for real. Within an hour I saw the column of Hooks ahead of us lining up on a hillside, quickly liberating their cargoes and spewing troops out of every door. The surrounding hillsides arched out bursts of tracer fire, spewing out death wishes at our choppers while rocket impacts tore at my future home with regularity. My "bird" finally flared out over the hill as the crew chief guided the pilots as they lowered the radar into position. The chopper jerked upward as it released its load and our million-dollar machine hit the ground, hard. Now it was our turn. Bullets were coming through the floor and the Chief lowered the aft ramp while yelling "Get the f--- out of here! We are taking hits!" I looked down into the area that he was pointing and I saw a 50ft drop into waves of elephant grass. (The pilots in the nose of the chopper might have been close to the ground but the tail was hanging its a-- over a nasty cliff.) "Bull sh--!" I yelled back. "I'm not going out that way!" and pushed him aside as I drove my way to the front and over to the side of the door gunner. There was space to exit behind his bucking machine gun position and I looked down into my immediate future with a fatalistic mental shrug. My mouth was dry with dread but it was my reality of that day and I dove out, praying that the bullets wouldn't cut me in half before I hit the ground. I pushed off and fell the 15-ft. towards the awaiting arms of the razor sharp grass--and into what ever was hidden within.

My anticipation of that 5-second drop was the purest terror I had ever experienced. I envisioned either being killed by the enemy machine gunners or the explosion of a buried land mine if I made it to the ground at all. Even if I did make it down, I would still be directly under that multi-ton helicopter that could drop out of the sky at any second as a fireball. I held my breath, hugged my M-16 to my flack jacket and fell. My feet hit. I rolled onto my back and dug in my boots so I wouldn't go over the cliff and finally came to a full stop. To my surprise I was looking back up into a surrealistic movie.

The madly whipping grass that surrounded me blocked everything out but the underbelly of that huge twin bladed green "grasshopper" that was suspended over me. I could see orange tracers coming from my exit door. The green tracers of the NVA fire made deadly X's in the sky against them with some disappearing into the chopper. The prop wash from the Hook was hitting me and flattening out my grass wall of subjective security that surrounded me. I was down! I was alive! -- and very relived. The illusion of safety made me want to not move, just lay there, quietly, snuggling my rifle as if it were a favorite toy and maybe everything would just disappear. Suddenly out of that "movie" appeared a very real pair of Dan McCracken's boots as he followed me to the ground--missing me by inches and rolling back on top of me. My moment of relief was quickly shattered as I untangled from the terrified hug of that Washington lumberjack and we pushed as fast as we could up and over the crest of the hill. This put some heavy dirt between the green and orange firefight and us. Momentarily we were safe from harm as the last of our crew hit the ground and the Hook banked left and roared out of the area as quickly as it could. (They were back the next day dropping supplies so I guess they were none the worse for the holes that had been punched into them.) Next >>

Jim Schueckler
"Soon we were heading towards the mountains with a Huey full of mail, food, Christmas cargo, and two American young women."

Tom Fowler
"Fortunately, the firefight, such as it was, did not last long and nobody inside our company area was hurt."


The average cost per B-52 mission during Vietnam was $41,421, with an average of 27 tons of munitions dropped.
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