So we were all siting around Vandergrift, (LZ Stud), playing mumbleypeg, or scraping up dirt with the toes of our boots, and generally indulging ourselves in some important stuff while we waited for the fog to burn off. There were some Army Huey drivers in the crowd, too. Well, the poking fun interservice rivalry is never far away when military folks get throwed together like that, and of course it wasn't that day, either.
The Huey drivers were out of their area. I forget why. But they were all fired up to get on with the war for some reason. They got to talking amongst themselves about doing a quick "weather check" run up the valley towards Khe Sanh to see if they could get clear of the fog out there, but they weren't familiar with the countryside and didn't want to get lost and maybe dinged. They got edgier and edgier, and it looked like one of them was going out and see if suicide was a better option than gabbing with a bunch of jarheads. Fact was, there was no place up in that entire part of Viet Nam that we considered a "safe" place to get dinged.
We Marines knew he wasn't going very far, (too many been there done that's among us), but he was of no mind to listen. Instead he made a smartass remark about how the Marines could sit on their laurels if they were of a mind to, or somebody could go with him and help him get familiar with the country. Oooohhhweeee, The glove had been throwed daon!! But guess what idiot drawed the short straw and was nominated to go with the pore lost Army guy and keep him out of trouble, and maybe even keep him from killing his self..
And he wouldn't even let me sit up front. I was pointed to a place on the floor in back and told to let my feet dangle over the side, "like all our troops do". I even had to bring my own helmet to plug into the intercom. The dare just kept getting better and better. So him and his copilot got the thing running, and away we go, with the rotor blades up in the fog, and the skids dragging through the boonies, and me with my stupid feet hanging out in the wind, and wishing I was somewhere else. Back home with my mommy would have been nice.
So we go trolling up the valley floor towards Khe Sanh, and the good visibility underneath the fog goes south. Now we find ourselves slowed down to a crawl, and they're both lost, and I'm not so sure myself any more. But I got my butt up off that floor and squeezed in between the pilots so I could see which way we would be going if, and I was more sure it would be "when" than if, we hit a big old rock. I figured a long time ago it was time to get on the instruments and climb that sucker straight up and get on top of the fog and go somewhere it was safe. But they was neither one qualified to fly instruments.
And if that wasn't enough, the radio starts crackling that LZ Hawk could hear a Huey down in the canyon, and they wanted to know if we could come up and pick up some critical WIA's. Well, it was time to fish or cut bait. Playing was over. The request was not unheard of by the Marine pilots. But at least we knew the general layout of the terrain. LZ Hawk was on a ridge north of the canyon, way up above us in the soup, and to get up there we'd have to climb a hill that leaned just damded near straight up, and then walk the ridge to the LZ.
At first they answered they weren't familiar enough to find the LZ. But with a little coaching from their "guide", they finally agreed that if I could show them the way, they'd try to climb the hill, treetop to treetop in the fog and get the WIA's. So that's what we did. They walked up the mountain in the fog, and between me knowing the hill, and the guy on the radio on top of it talking to them about the helicopter sound getting closer, or moving to one side, we found the LZ and picked up three very needy Marines.
Then it was back along the ridge and down the hill again, treetop to treetop, turned sideways so the tail rotor wouldn't get hung in the trees as we went by, and eventually we got back to the creek at the bottom, got under the fog again, and found our way back to Vandergrift where we dropped off the medevacs. Both pilots were wringing wet. Then they told me the entire "weather check" flight was a put-on, and that they had been hoping no one would take the dare to go with them. If none of us would have gone along, they sure wouldn't have been fools enough to do it.
A day or two later I was asked to make a statement about what we had done. I don't know if the crew was court martialed or if they got a couple of medals. But somewhere there are three Marines who should include the US Army when they count their blessings.
There is also one very humble Marine who learned not to crowd Army Huey pilots when discussing the size of gonads.
Sometimes things "just happen".
I liked this one and wish Bits would tell the one about the bullet that passed in front of him and out the window...arrow