SemiREMF Stories, Americal 69-70


Dave Nisse


 The Huey UH-1 helicopter banked hard and started descending towards the dried clearing several hundred feet below. Around the clearing were spread several ACAVs of Charlie troop 1/1 Armored Cavalry of the 23rd Americal Division. When the ungainly aircraft neared the center of the clearing, the pilot lowered the tail down in a maneuver called flaring. Flaring allowed the pilot to use the big blade's lift to slow the machine rapidly rather than lifting it. When enough of the machine's forward motion had been scrubbed off, the pilot leveled and set the chopper down in the clearing. The last few feet before the chopper set down, the gusts from the huge blades sent a blast of dirt and loose vegetation flying into the dark green cloud from a smoke grenade used to mark the temporary landing zone (LZ). The troopers standing nearby turned their heads and covered their eyes.

 When the pilot eased off on the pitch and throttle after the ungainly machine had settled to ground, the flying debris slacked off. The troopers then moved forward carrying and dragging 2 small figures dressed in black. A diminutive man and woman were roughly heaved onto the floor of the helicopter with numerous curses and dark grumbling. The small man wore black pajama pants and was bare from the waist up. He was gripping his stomach fiercely with his hands and groaning loudly. In the helicopter, were seated a lieutenant colonel (the cavalry squadron commander), a young major (his deputy), and an even younger artillery captain, me. When I had heard we would be picking up two prisoners in the LZ, I had moved off the floor of the helicopter into the seats next to the XO and checked my M-16 to make sure I could use it quickly if needed. After looking at the 2 prisoners, I relaxed a little. The man had slid to roughly the center of the passenger compartment when thrown in the door. The woman had skittered across the floor to the other side of the bird and was gripping the back of the peter pilot's seat with white knuckles in obvious terror. She had fixed her gaze on the back of the pilot's seat and other than quivering wasn't moving at all.

 The man lay still in obvious pain after hitting the floor and groaned loudly but was unable to move. As our bird lifted off, we headed for Tam Ky to turn these prisoners over to the South Vietnamese and their MACV advisors there. Once we were in the air and had started to climb up to altitude, the man on the floor began to move and speak in Vietnamese. He was talking to woman who steadfastly ignored him, staring at the peter pilot's seat and maintaining her grip on it. He reached towards her with one of his hands obviously imploring her for help. I could see his hand was covered with blood and realized that he had been shot in the stomach. After the woman had ignored him for a few seconds he was struck with a spasm of pain and quieted for a moment. When the pain subsided, he looked at the three Americans setting in the web seats above him. He looked into each of our eyes in turn, first, the cavalry squadron commander, then his executive officer, and finally myself. The man apparently saw little mercy in any of our eyes as after a moment he looked back over at the woman began to implore her again.

We were at the end of what had been a largely fruitless mission, which had lasted 2 long weeks, and we had little to show for our efforts and casualties. The troop had flushed a small VC squad lugging ammunition and medical supplies down towards Chu Lai. They were all killed trying to evade except for the woman and this gutshot man on the floor of our helicopter. When the slowly bleeding man once again failed to get even a look from the woman, he reached towards the colonel. He was the closest and as the smallest of us had probably mistakenly seemed the least threatening. The colonel angrily yelled at him to shut up and batted his hand away. The wounded man then looked at the major, as did I out of the corner of my eye. The major was shaking his head and looking as hard as he could at the man, obedient to the colonel mood as all good executives usually are. So the wounded man turned to me as his last chance and the only thought that came to my head was, "Something is really wrong with this".

 I got out of the seat and duck walked across the floor over next to the man. He increased his chattering in Vietnamese, which I couldn't understand a word of. I reached to the small pouch on my pistol belt containing a battle dressing, opened the snap flap, and pulled out the cardboard box inside. I tore it open quickly and as I reached towards him he moved his hands. I briefly examined the small wound, it wasn't bleeding too badly and so I put the battle dressing on it and placed his hands on it, showing him with my hands that I wanted him to put pressure on it with his hands. I then gently eased him up on his side so I could look for an exit wound and found none He had quieted instantly when I had produced the bandage and even though we didn't speak a common language, I could see the gratitude in his eyes.

The woman never took her eyes off back of the peter pilot's chair through it all. I couldn't understand what was going on with her. The only thing I could think of was that she was terrified of the flight or perhaps thought that if she tried to help her wounded comrade, we would punish her somehow. In any event, as I returned to my seat I looked a little defiantly at both the colonel and the major full expecting to see anger or chagrin at my actions. Instead, after a moment they both looked away and in a few minutes we dropped both the VC prisoners off at the MACV compound in Tam Ky.

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