June 23, 1969
A LRRP team was most vulnerable when they were inserted. A single
helicopter just flying in and dropping us off would alert the enemy to our
location and presence. To give us a chance we would fly with an entourage
of gun ships and other helicopters. The gun ships would start flying low
and fast across the tree tops near our landing zone. If the gun ships
didn't draw fire our helicopter would drop into the LZ while the gun ships
continued to fly at tree top level to distract the enemy. The four of us would
clear the helicopter as quickly as possible so the helicopter could return
to the air and not give away our location. We would disappear into the
brush and the helicopters would soon disappear also. We would normally lie
still and quite for about an hour to see if the enemy would come to the LZ
to check out the commotion.
One of our worst fears was to have a team member on the ground with no communication. How many lives do you risk to save someone that might already be dead? I carried the radio as part of my 45 pound pack for my team. I always told my team I didn't mind jumping first with the radio, but I wanted to hear 3 thumps right behind me.
Some days we would spend hours at the pad waiting for the helicopters to pick us up for insertion. There was always and excuse for why we were left on the pad to ponder the fate of our next mission.
Sgt. Hathaway and I talked about our missions as we both waited for our teams to be picked up by the helicopters. Although we were on separate missions, we had been briefed together since we would only be a few miles apart and our goal was to learn more about some recent enemy activity in the area. After an eternity the helicopters arrived and it was time to go to work. As the helicopter left the pad, it became more difficult to suppress the intensity and speed of my heart beat. From our helicopter I watched the gun ships work the treetops as Sgt. Hathaway's team was inserted first. With his team in place, the helicopters returned to the skies and made the short flight to our area.
The gun ships began working the tree tops again for our insertion. As our helicopter dropped into the LZ we each slid out onto the skids of the helicopter. Still over 5 feet from the ground, the tall grass was blown back and I picked out my spot to jump to. I bent my knees and turned loose of the helicopter. The instant before my feet left the runner, I heard machine gun fire and the pilot pulled up and I was thrown into the air. I hit the ground feet first and stomach second. The wind was knocked out of me completely. As I gasp for air I was grabbed by both arm pits and pulled to my feet. I was relieved to see it was my own men. I told them I heard machine gun fire. They said, "No", the helicopter blades just hit a tree limb and the pilot adjusted. I was relieved I would not have to fight in this condition.
I turned on the radio to let the helicopters know we were on the ground safely. I picked up the radio transmitter and said "This is Delta Tango." The response was quick and abrupt. "Roger Delta Tango, CLEAR THE AIRWAVES". I turned the radio off to conserve batteries and went into silent mode. As I watched, listened and felt my heart and breathing return to normal, I could feel the rage building inside as I thought about how the helicopter pilot ordered me off the radio. The pilot must have seen my men help me up, and he left without even checking to see if I was injured.
After two hours I made my next radio check. Before I could register my complaint about the pilot, I was told they had some news. During our insertion, Sgt. Hathaway's team made contact. The helicopters had cut our insertion short to respond to Sgt. Hathaway's call for help. Three of the team members were wounded, and should live. Sgt. Hathaway was dead, and his body had been recovered.
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