Nov 1967 to April 1968

"Blues" Platoon Leader


Excerpts from a letter from Blueghost Blue to his parents dated 20 March 68

 It all started on the 11th of March 1968. That day the Troop was called upon to lend assistance to an infantry company which had been surrounded by a battalion of NVA about 3 miles from our forward base. The infantry company was taking numerous casualties and the medivac helicopters were on station but could not get into the landing zone the infantry had set up because of a wall of automatic weapons fire put up by the NVA. The infantry requested our gun ships  escort the medivac ships in and out of the  LZ . The  weapons ships arrived on station and with guns pouring out fire at 4,000 rds a minute, the first medivac helicopter made it in and out of the LZ with only 2 hits in the ship. The two escorting gun ships each took in excess of 5 hits and were temporarily out of action. 

The second escort went in a few minutes later. The medivac made it. Our gunships took hits again this time with one pilot injured. WO1 Sprinkle received one bullet wound in the forearm and shrapnel wounds in both legs. His copilot took control and flew the ship back to the aid station. I met Sprinkle when he landed. The doctor at the aid station examined the wound, put a temporary bandage on it, and connected a bottle of plasma to his other arm. In the meantime a medivac ship was called to the aid station. Mr. Sprinkle was then taken to 2nd Surg. Hosp. at Chu Lai. He stayed there for two days and was taken to Japan enroute to the States.

 The third escort went in and took a total of 18 hits – at least 15 of them in the pilot’s compartment and the engine compartment. One drive shaft was almost cut in two and one mast was hit. (The “mast” is the hollow tube which connects the rotor blades assembly to the fuselage of the aircraft. If the mast breaks, the blades go one way and the helicopter goes straight down). Miraculously no one was hit. The pilots had glass and medal and bullets flying all round the cabin. One pilot had 3 bullets miss his head by 1 ½ inches. If he had his seat elevated or if he were tall we would now be dead.  

By the time the day was over the Troop had 8 ships shot up. Three ships had to be repaired out here, four ships were ok ed for a one time flight back to Chu Lai, and the ship with the hole in the mast had to be lifted back by a Chinnook helicopter.   

All the medivacs made it and undoubtedly saved many lives. Throughout all this only one of our men was injured. God is sure flying with this troop. All this took place only 4 days after the day we lost PFC Consavage.  

The 13th my platoon was put in with a platoon of tanks and we spent the day searching a couple of villages, but we didn’t find anything. The 14th and 15th we had small half day missions which didn’t net much.

 As I’ve said before one of my platoon’s main missions is to act as a reaction force in case a ship gets shot down. Well it seems our 4 months of waiting was finally to end on the 16th of March ’68. We were needed and we were ready.


The Rescue 

16 March 1968, an ordinary day, at least it looked that way. Cpt. Buckley, or Blue as he’s known in the Troop, struggled out of bed at 0600. It was a nice morning. Dawn was just breaking and the temperature was 70 degrees outside. After washing and dressing, putting on his web gear (which included 1 canteen of water, 1 compass, 1 night signaling lite, 1 flare of green smoke, 4 fragmentation grenades, 1 spare case of classes, 1 gas mask, 1 first aid bandage, 1 bayonet and 12 magazines (19 rds per mag) of M16 Ball Ammo) and  picking up his steel helmet and M-16 rifle, Cpt. Buckley walked the 150 yards to operations and checked with SFC. Stephens, the Blues’ platoon sergeant. Thirty-one men would be going forward; 28 would be available for a platoon mission. 

The flight plan was made up, the infantry loaded up and after a quick cup of coffee, Cpt Buckley and SFC. Stephens climbed aboard different ships. All ships took off at 0700 on schedule and arrived at the forward fire base 20 minutes later. 

The morning routine went into effect. Everyone was asking for coffee cups and those who had already found them were lined up at the thermos of coffee.  

By 0800 the maps had been posted with the latest friendly positions, the infantry had been assigned specific aircraft in case of a “scramble” (an emergency mission) and in preparation for the mission to take place at 1030 hours. 

AT 0815 the first team was sent out to screen around the flanks of an infantry unit moving on the ground. The area was bad so the infantry wanted someone in the air to prevent them from walking into an ambush. 

The team chosen was WO1 Shanahan (call number, 26) and WO1 Nicely (call number, 14). WO1 Shanahan was flying a gunship and WO1 Nicely, a scout  bird.  

At 0845 most of the platoon leaders were sitting around the radio room listening to the radio crackle and talking about anything but getting shot down. At 0850 WO1 Rock called on the radio that he (call number, 29) was enroute from Chu Lai to the forward base. PSG Stephens was standing outside talking to a couple of the guys in the platoon.  

At 0855 the radio sounded again “3ALFA (operations); this is 29. I think I heard 26 call 14 and say that he was going down, over.” “26 this is 3ALFA, over.” No response. 

Immediately the rescue began. Cpt. Buckley ran out of the bunker yelled down to the Blues that we had an emergency scramble – 26 is down. The lift ships began their engines, Cpt. Grooms, the weapons platoon leader, ran for his ship. Major Earwood, the X.O., ran for his gun ship. Cpt. Buckley grabbed his gear and dashed for his ship. Sp5 Carney, the medic climbed aboard, Sp4   Dennis Wood, climbed aboard with his radio, SGT Carrillo, Sp4 Pugh and PFC Plamondon jumped on, all with rifles and plenty of ammo. 

Cpt. Asay, the senior pilot, pulled on the collective and the 6,000 lb. helicopter lifted up off the ground with the rescue team.  

In the meantime, operations called 14, got the location, 29 changed course and opened up full throttle for the crash sight. 

Maj. Earwood and Cpt. Grooms in separate ships lifted off the ground. The other two lift ships with 18 infantry aboard lifted off.  The time:  0857. 

In 3 minutes, 4 ships were over the crash site. Cpt. Buckley spotted the debris of the downed gunship out the left front of the lift ship. We turned a hard left headed due west, swooped down, turned 180 degrees and landed in a rice paddy/swamp. We jumped off the ship. The burning aircraft was at the base of a hill on the edge of the clearing. Sitting and laying about 20 yards from the wreckage were the 4 bloody crew members. 

Sp4 Woods with a radio on his back sank into 3 feet of mud. Sp5 Carney sank about 2 ½ feet, struggled to get free and ran and fell, clutching his medic’s bag the 40 yards to the injured crew. SGT Carrillo and Sp4 Pugh ran to the right front to provide cover, PFC Plamondon ran, fell, and crawled to the right rear to provide cover. Cpt. Buckley jumped into 2 ½ feet of mud and water and stumbled and fell and crawled and ran the forty yards to the crew. Sp4 Wood covered the left front. 

Six men, all now covered with thick mud, on the ground, one lift ship in the paddy, sinking in the mud. The back of the tail boom resting in the mud. Three gunships circling above ready to land if they’re needed. Time: 0900. - six minutes after the first  call. 

Carney, Wood, and Buckley worked their way over to the wounded. WO1 Shanahan had a two inch gash on his forehead and his face and shirt were covered with blood. WO1 Bushette, the co-pilot, had shrapnel wounds in both legs and a broken ankle. SP4 Crites, the door gunner, was laying in the mud unable to feel or move his legs. Sp5 Brady was the most serious with two bullet wounds in his back. As Cpt Buckley moved over to Sp4 Crites he realized the engine of the crashed helicopter was still running full throttle and flames were shooting out the back. At any second the aircraft could have bust into flames, spewing its fuel over a wide area. Since the wounded were only 15-20 yards from the flames, the first move was to drag  the crew  further away from the wreckage. This was done; however, it used almost all the strength we had. We moved about 15-20 yards further away. Sp4 Carney was administering first aid and gathering information on the extent of injuries and wounds. 

Cpt. Buckley called Sp4 Wood over and got on the radio. Several times during the events so far it seemed like we had been sniped at from the thick growth on the opposite side of the paddy. It was impossible to tell for sure because the metal of the burning ship was snapping. Cpt. Buckley’s estimate of the situation: call for the other two loads of infantry to be inserted and a medivac to be called because he felt he needed stretchers for the leg and back injuries. Maj. Earwood decided against such a move and decided to evac the wounded on the lift ship. The lift ship in the meantime had extracted itself from the mud and moved across

the rice swamp to get out of range from the exploding ammo inside the burning aircraft. Upon hearing Maj. Earwood's instructions to Cpt. Buckley, Cpt. Asay moved his ship back across the rice paddy to within 30 feet of the wounded. 

Cpt. Buckley, Sp4 Wood, & Sp5 Carney carried, pulled, and dragged the wounded over to the ship. Since it was impossible to get any footing in the mud and water, for every 3 feet we moved we fell in the mud-all the time carrying our weapons and waiting for the enemy fire that we were sure was going to open on us. The door gunner climbed down from the ship and helped us lift the injured men aboard. WO1  Shanahan managed to climb aboard by himself. 

Sp4 Pugh hurried over from the right front and climbed aboard. Sp4 Wood climbed aboard and radioed SGT Carrillo that there wasn’t enough room for Carrillo and Plamondo and that one of the other lift ships would be in to pick them up. 

With the four wounded and Carney, Wood, Pugh, and Buckley aboard we took off for the aid station. Time: 9:15 am. 

A second lift ship immediately landed and picked up SGT Carrillo and PFC Plamondo.

During the 5 minute flight back to the aid station Carney and Pugh continued to administer first aid. 

We arrived at the aid station at 0923. The injured were given additional first aid and a medivac helicopter called in to take them to the hospital at Da Nang. 

The Blues landed at the forward base at 0930 and again sat waiting. The waiting was not long. At 0945 WO1 Nicely called in that his door gunner had been hit. Immediately Cpt. Buckley jumped into the jeep and drove to the aid station. WO1 Nicely landed in his scout ship. The doctors put a bandage on the wound which was in the left wrist and started a bottle of plasma flowing in the man’s other arm. I jumped on the helicopter, held the man’s arm steady so the needle would not come out and held the bottle of plasma. We took off for the field hospital at LZ Baldy. We landed 10 min. later. The wounded man Sp4 Ventura was put on a stretcher and put aboard medivac ship for Da Nang.   

We returned to the forward base and attempted to piece together the events of the past hour. 

After talking to WO1 Shanahan later in the day, we found out that two machine guns had opened up on him and ripped his ship right down the belly, destroying the controls and the engine. The power lever was broken off in the crash and the fuel shut off switch was shot away so that it was impossible for him to turn the engine off after he crashed.  

 Sp5 Brady was in surgery all afternoon. The bullets collapsed one lung and tore him up pretty bad inside but the doctors said he’ll pull through if no further problems develop. He is staying at Da Nang for 10 days and then will be flown to Japan. 

Sp4 Carter tore some ligaments in his knee when he was thrown out of the aircraft. He underwent an operation in Japan on the 18th. He’ll be ok in a couple of months. WO1 Bushette had a broken ankle and was sent to Japan enroute to the States. WO1 Shanahan will be back in the Troop in about 3 more days – as soon as the doctor takes the stitches out. 

The aircraft was totaled: it broke into 5 pieces by the time it finally stopped. 

All four men will be alright. No one can really believe that they all got out of the aircraft. All four were conscious all during the rescue.    

The rest of the day was quiet.  

The 18th we had a short uneventful mission in the afternoon. 

The 19th we set up for a mission with the tanks and APCs for a search and clear mission in a village. At 1030 hours the lead tank hit a 500 lb. bomb. Thank God none of my infantry were riding the tank. I had 5 men on an APC which was a few yards behind the tank. They didn’t get hit. The tank protected them from the flying shrapnel. To let you know what a 500 lb. bomb will do, read on. The explosion picked the tank up 5 feet in the air and threw it 20 feet through the air. A tank weighs 52 tons. The four men in the tank were all evacuated with moderate to serious injuries. Had an APC hit the mine, everyone riding in or it would have been killed. We were lucky again.



Excerpts from a letter from Blueghost Blue to his parents dated 5 April 68

My last night with the Troop ( now F Troop 8th Cav ) was Wednesday evening, 3 April.  The Troop threw a big going away party for me – champagne and all.  

 I felt so bad about leaving Thursday morning; I had tears in my eyes as I walked down the flight line at 0700. I shook each pilot’s hand and said good bye. When I finished, everybody took off together. I saluted each aircraft and crew as they passed by. It was really beautiful: Four gunships, four scout ships and three lift ships with my infantry platoon aboard. 

Each day I had also taken off with them; but Thursday morning was different.     They were going out to fight a war and perhaps be shot and killed and I was no longer going to be with them.  

I got the impression that I was watching a squadron of jet fighters take off from an aircraft carrier at sea. It was very sad and very lonely standing there by myself. I felt very lucky to have served with such a truly great group of brave men.  Any one of us would have sacrificed his life for a member of the unit without hesitation. 

At 8 am my flight took off for Cam Ranh Bay.  I still had six more months to do  -  in my basic branch  -  Transportation.


Page 1  Excerpts of letters home in 1968  Page 2  Page 3

Personal Pages