A web site that shares the emotional and spiritual experiences of the Vietnam War through poetry, stories, and photos by combat veterans.
Hosted by Vietnam Veteran Bill McDonald
A HELL HOLE
It was while I was very new to Nam, or as they used to say, still a "FNG", that we happened to be in an area next to the "Parrots Beak". This is the part of Nam were Cambodia sticks out into South Vietnam. This is also where the all those trails from North Vietnam used to empty into the south from. The weather was hot and dry. The blades from our rotors would kick up a ton of dust every time we landed or took off. It made it lousy for those troops living in tents on the ground. But it was not much better for the helicopter crews either. I would be sitting there in drenched in a pool of dirty muddy sweat. Your face would be boiling under the flight helmet, even in spite of the cooling air from the rotors blowing on you all day.
This was one of my first weeks of flying combat missions in Nam. I was pushed right into the middle of "Operation Cedar Falls". We had been conducting operations in and around a large mountain that over shadowed the whole flat area below. This was around the beginning of 1967 and I was but 20 years old. I was the crew chief / door gunner on a UH1-D model helicopter, better known as a Huey. The 128th Assault Helicopter Company, which I was a part of, was actively engaged in supporting the operation. Our company had been taking lots of small round fire. There was damage from the hits to several of the aircraft. But so far that week, none had been shot down.
On this particular day, we landed at a small forward base camp. It was being used to supply the forces in the area. There were 6 large flat bed trucks of ammo sitting parked inside the camp waiting to be unloaded. This was not a very secure area at all. There were no fences or large bunkers, and no watch towers, just a few strains of barbed wire with a few men sitting behind a few piles of sand bags.
We had landed to take a break , refuel the aircraft and eat a meal. We were about 100 yards from the flat bed trucks, when we heard and felt a blast. We looked up and saw a sudden ball of fire, followed by many more explosions. A VC (Viet Cong) had penetrated the airfield and had thrown some kind of explosive devices on the beds of the trucks. Now they were all on fire and exploding.
The force of the blasts knocked us off our feet. Several of the trucks had large artillery shells on them, so that hundreds of rounds were now heating up and firing off from the bed of the truck. They were going in every conceivable direction; up, down, sideways and right at us. It was a living hell, as fire exploded everywhere. What made it bad, was that there were also hundreds of cans of rounds for the machine guns (7.62mm) that were also getting hot and firing off in random directions, making every place dangerous.
Some of the artillery rounds were shooting straight up into the air and coming back down on the camp. The rounds were hitting the ground all around us. We could not take off in the helicopter, since the sky was full of danger and fire. We decided to make a run for it and take cover, so my door gunner and myself, ran for a nearby hole in the ground, just about 25 yards away from the aircraft. We covered that distance in a what seemed to take a lifetime. Machine gun rounds were zipping right past our heads, as the ground shook from dozens of explosions all around us. Dirt was flying in our faces. We could feel the heat of the fire on us, as we jumped into the nearest hole.
We were shaking and out of breath, as we rolled to the bottom of the hole and tried to cover up with our arms and hands. But once I had found the safety of this hole, I felt an urging to get out of there.
Not only get out of there, but get out as fast as I could. My whole mind and body was working to get us out of this hole. My buddy did not wish to leave this secure hole. He did not want to venture out once again in the open killing fields just to look for another hole. He felt we should stay where we where , which made great sense at the time.
I told him we had to move out of the hole right now. He fought my suggestion and thought I was crazy for even thinking about it. But I was determined to follow my inner feelings and grabbed him by the uniform and pushed him out of the hole. He fought me every inch of the way. But I continued and finally we both were exposed to the open rounds around us.
I pointed at the direction of another hole and off we crawled and ran. We hit the other hole and roll into it. There were already two guys in this hole. They wondered why we were crowding them. It is one of those rules of combat, that you do not put all your men in the same hole this way, one round can not take everyone out of commission. So there we all were with everyone yelling at me for being so crazy. I was trying explain myself when there was a flash of light. This was followed by a thundering force of energy that came right at us from the other hole. It seems that an artillery round had come directly down on that hole.
We peeked out from our new hole to see smoke and fire rising out of the enlarged hole where we had just evacuated from moments before. The hole looked like an entrance to hell, with fire and smoke billowing out of it. Everyone became very quiet and just sat there with their own thoughts. We had come very close to cashing in our chips and we knew it. Just a matter of a few moments separated us from instant death or continued life.
My friend was no longer angry with me but he had a very puzzled look on his face. He asked me how I knew we should leave the hole. I did not know what to tell him, but that I knew we had to. The feelings inside me were so overwhelming that I had no choice but to take action and follow my gut feelings.
As soon as we could move once again we ran back to the helicopter, which for some odd reason , did not take any hits. We got it started and flew out of there while the smoke still curled up into the skies around the camp. The ammo had destroyed the trucks and a big part of the camp, but we were all okay and safe. We flew around the mountain and headed back to our airfield at Phu Loi. Inside the crew was still shaking and afraid. I could see their eyes. They were still wide open like an owl in the daylight. But inside, I was feeling something else altogether. I was feeling alive and blessed by events. I knew that someone had been looking after me this day. There was no other explanation for any of it. Somebody up there, loved me and I could feel it. I felt loved and at peace as we returned back to our base camp that night.
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