I knew the drill--get as many of the helicopters in the air as you can, and if you can scrounge a crew take a gunship. Warrant Officer helicopter pilots can and will fly just about anything that has rotor blades on it and I was running full speed through the confusion to the heliport to get at least one helicopter out of harms way.
Captain Pane is waving both arms over his head standing in front of his Razorback C model gunship--she was running and I dove in and strapped the chopper to my ass and we pulled pitch off the Hog pad. We are into the inky dark in seconds looking for mortar tube flashes, but what we see is a sea of little lights showing thousands of NVA and Viet Cong heading for the airfield--the lights stretched out into the night. I don't scare easy. This sight was unnerving.
We can see a huge volume of fire concentrated on one of the Gates, and we open fire on the human wave attack. We are expended in seconds. Flying low over the bunkers dropping hot brass on the Air Force Security Police, cutting swaths in the wall of NVA. I finally get the SP's on the radio. They are pinned down fighting for their lives, we tell them we will be right back and make the two second trip to rearm just across the runway.
The Security Police did not have replacements, and neither did we, so we fought hard and smart. We rearm as fast as the crew and the armors can lay the linked ammo in the trays. The rockets all have to be seated, and extra M-60 barrels for the Crew Chief and Gunner, we are off.
We fight hard and the volume of fire from the NVA never lets up one bit. I am worried about the SP's, but I can see the tracers coming out of their positions. We covered a slick full of ammo, so they could keep fighting.
As day was starting to make the sky pink in the East, we finally took so many hits to that helicopter that we could no longer keep oil in the engine and she started to burn on short final to Hotel-3 helipad. Now I am out of the Gunship business.
The 120th AHC flew most of the generals and dignitaries around Saigon and the South part of Vietnam, and so had some beautiful new UH-1 H Model C&C ships with center radio consoles and leather seats. So when the company ran out of Gunships, with the help of the Crew I took the center console out of the C&C helicopter and made a ammo hauling monster out of that clean new ship. Now I needed a copilot, so I fly the helicopter down to the Long Binh area to look for Doc Warden. Doc was the Flight Surgeon for our aviation group, and had flown 500 plus hours with me at the 187th Assault.
I hated to admit it but he was as good as any line pilot in Vietnam, and better than most, and Doc had never been to flight school. Major David Royal Warden Jr. MC was sitting in his ambulance on the Black Jack Pad, I had him strapped in and on the intercom in seconds. Doc, we are out of pilots again. Can you fly today? Doc looks over and smiles, when the chips are down, Airborne Ranger Doc will pull you through, I was already pulling pitch.
I knew the men in the BOQ were almost surrounded and trapped inside with no weapons (a ruling coming from drunken fights in the back area). I could hear them on the radio, so we loaded cases of pistols, clips, rifles, and ammo. We had to hover over the roof and drop the heavy boxes--right through the roof--to the men below, while a Playboy Cobra gunship flies cover for our exposed hovering helicopter. The NVA open up with a .51 cal and hit the cobra killing the pilot, one of my roommates from Flight School Class 67-3, WO Roger Cameron. It is starting to be a long day. We land right behind the new Cobra, Doc checks Roger, we put him in a body bag and got right back in our helicopter and went back to work just like every one else. Every man that could fight, was in the fight.
The SP's have fought hard and are still holding the perimeter, bodies everywhere. We finally get a chance to pull the wounded back from the outer bunkers and move some larger machine guns out. Our usually spitshined SP's look like grunts in the field, and fight like grunts in the field. They made us proud. The NVA threw everything they had at the SP's and could not budge them. The fight was not over by far, but we knew we could handle anything they could throw at us and hold. That's when the 25th Infantry Mech. men rolled down Highway 1.
The 25th Infantry Mech. rolled through Saigon and had two big Dusters in the front of the column. Twin 40 mm guns that could, and did, chop the scenery to pieces in seconds. They had Scout ships out in front, C&C over the top, and gunships prowling the sidelines looking for a fight. They came to kick ass, and man did they ever get that job done.
Any way, I was medevacing a wounded grunt from the column that had been hit by a sniper, I said to the ground commander, "Did you get the sniper?" He replied no, but he was turning towards that target now. From 1500 feet up, two Dusters unloaded on a small hamlet just off the road. The hamlet disappeared. Gone. Never existed. Over the radio I hear the strong voice of the Commanding officer and a loud diesel engine, "Dean Ship, you have a Cold Landing Zone, Over." Man alive, they came to kick ass and I landed my chopper right beside the track and took off the wounded men. Then they waded right into the middle of the NVA and linked up with the SP's. They came right down Highway 1 and through the O51 Gate Bunker that had been overrun. The SP's, I'm sure, could feel the ground shake as the 25th made their entrance."
With the aid of Doc Warden, I flew 26 straight hours in a helicopter, got four hours of sleep on the floor of the helicopter and cranked it up for another 20 hours. I am sure I could have never survived with out the help of Doc Warden at the controls. We took hits on one helicopter until something vital was hit, then we would find a replacement and keep on flying. I knew from flying for the Blackhawks, the most important thing in a fire fight, is to keep the ammo coming to the men in contact in the line bunkers.
We flew 20 hour days and slept in the helicopters at night to guard them, while the crews serviced the aircraft. I flew until the flight surgeon pulled me at 195 hours in 10 days, Tet was a wild one for me too.
At the memorial, I flew in the missing man formation to honor the men lost in the fighting--yours and ours. I lost my best friend. I flew the missing man slot. We all had tears in our eyes and flew a sloppy formation because we could not see very well through the tears.
I never looked at military police the same the rest of the time I was in the military. The ones I knew held against impossible odds and a volume of fire unknown before the Tet offensive. If they had not have held, we would have been overrun--no doubt about it. When you have seen a SP standing on a bunker radio in hand directing fire, like I have, not caring about his own safety, you know why they held.