192nd Assault Helicopter Company
it Snowed in Vietnam
(Christmas in Vietnam, 1969)
carols played in the mess hall at supper and the calendar
said "December 24, 1969," but it didn't feel much
like Christmas Eve. We were tired from a long day of flying
many missions picking up infantrymen and recon patrols from
field locations. We brought them back to the big airfield
at Phan Thiet for the Christmas cease-fire. Gunship helicopters
had escorted us because they were frequently needed on other
days, but today not a shot had been fired in either direction.
It seemed that soldiers on both sides of this war were glad
to allow the cease-fire to start one day early.
It had been
a hot day, and even in the evening, after the withering sun
had dipped below the horizon, we sat sweltering in T-shirts
in the pilots' hooch. The air was somber. The usual discussions
of recent close calls and superior airmanship were subdued
by the subject on everyone's mind, but nobody would talk about:
the recent loss of four pilots and four crewmen. We joked
about the cease-fire and wondered how long it would last.
One man predicted that the base would be hit with mortars
just before midnight. It seemed that there was nothing to
celebrate. One pilot tried to change the mood. "We have
to do something happy! Let's sing Christmas Carols!"
he said, almost in anguish.
But no one
my copilot, finally blurted out, "Let's take up a collection
for the Project Concern hospital!" I thought back to
the first time I saw that hospital at Dam Pao; I was copilot
for Ted Thoman. A medic showed us a baby in desperate need
of medical care, suffering from convulsions and dehydration.
Flying that Huey helicopter at top speed, Ted soon had the
baby girl and her parents at the hospital at Dam Pao. That
"mission" made me feel good; it was the only one,
so far, that was not part of making war. The memory was vivid
because only hours before we had extracted a recon team under
fire. The bullet holes in the aircraft had been counted, but
not yet patched.
my shoulder to wake me from my reverie. "Hey Jim, let's
ask to fly the Da Lat Macvee mission tomorrow to take money
that we collect tonight." Under his crewcut blonde hair,
Mike's boyish face lit up, and I had to remind myself that
he was among the older Army helicopter pilots; he was 22.
was contagious I jumped up, said "Great idea,
let's go ask!" and almost ran out the door. We stopped
at the crew chiefs' hooch and asked Bascom if he would like
to fly tomorrow. He and Dave quickly agreed, also wishing
to escape the prevailing sadness.
the company commander, was in the operations bunker. I explained
our plan but he answered: "We don't have the Da Lat Macvee
mission. In fact, there are no missions; there's a cease-fire
tomorrow . . . remember?"
It had been
Mike's idea, but the prospect of not being able to make this
mission was too much, so I pleaded the cause: "Please,
Sir, could you call battalion and see if some other company
has Da Lat Macvee?" Macvee, the Military Assistance Command
Vietnam was the US Army unit of advisors to the Army of the
Republic of Vietnam. One or two US advisors were assigned
to small military compounds in almost every large village.
A Macvee mission usually meant flying the province Senior
Advisor around to visit the villages. Macvee missions were
a respite from the tension and danger of combat assaults or
recon team missions, but had their own risks of weather, wind,
and being without gunship escort. Flying near the beautiful
city of Da Lat, up in the cool mountains, was an additional
The CO picked
up the phone and then started writing on a mission sheet form.
He handed it to me and said, "Da Lat Macvee helipad,
oh seven thirty; We took the mission from the 92nd."
He opened his wallet, and handed me some money. "Here.
reached the gunship platoon hooch three pilots looked on sadly
as one man raked a pile of money across the table towards
himself. We made our sales pitch about the hospital. The lucky
gambler pushed the money towards us and said: "Here
take it! I'd just lose it all back to these guys anyway, Merry
responses began to fill our ammo can with money of all denominations
as we roamed among hooches and tents, collecting money from
guys whose generosity began to make me a believer in the Christmas
spirit again. At one stop, a pilot gave us a gift package
of cheese. Food! We could take food! We decided to make another
pass through the company area, asking for cookies, candy,
and other things. As we left one hooch with our arms full,
the men inside started singing "Deck the Halls,"
and soon those in other buildings were competing. Christmas
Eve had arrived in this tropical land of heat and snakes and