100th Helicopter Landing
T-152-2 & T-152-5
(Name?) Boat Captain / T-5 ~ Pilot - Pilot ~ David Davey /Boat Captain T-2
~ Cake Inscription ~
T-152-2 & 5
It seems like the 100th Landing took place in early June of 1969. Please help me if you know the correct date. Tangos 2 and 5 had been "Aid Boats" since around September of 1968, so between the two of them they landed an approximate average of (12) helicopters per month. When one subtracts the "stand down" times then this total could escalate quickly during operations in enemy infested territory. Tango 2 was the initial Aid Boat, so she landed the bulk of the helos.
The Red Crosses on each side of the inscription denote that these were used as Medical Aid Boats. They seemed to do everything. The critically wounded would receive additional first aid as they were brought in from the jungles. A U.S. Navy medical corpsman and/or a Vietnamese Army or Marine doctor would travel along on operations in order to dispense their professional abilities. As the Medevac helicopters saved many from death in Vietnam, so did these medical aid boats. The crew of each boat played key roles in helping save lives and limbs throughout the year. It may have come by holding an IV bag or supplying the proper dressings for the wounds. Hundreds of U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, Vietnamese Army, Vietnamese Marines and civilians are thankful today for the efforts of those brave men who often put their lives in danger trying to save others.
Amidst all of these serious life and death matters we always seemed to find some kind of humor to get us through the hard times. I'd like to share a personal story regarding the 100th Landing. Uh....or was it the 101st Landing? I'll let you be the judge. First, here's a recent quote from Bill Janes who piloted Hueys for the U.S. Army 191st Assault Helicopter Company:
"What did you guys call them boats that had the elevated helipad installed on 'em? We called them 'Hell to land on' because we figured that somebody had gone out and measured the skids on a Huey, and gave us six inches on each side. It took both pilots, the crew chief, and the door gunner burning up the intercom to get us down on one of 'em without falling in the water."
Those mini-flight decks must have looked like postage stamps to the pilots from any elevation above 100'. My guess is that they were 17' wide by 22' long. Does anybody have the actual dimensions? If so, then please pass them along so that I can stand corrected.
Ok, here we go. I was determined to see Australia while I was overseas. Soon after arriving in-country I found out that the waiting period for R&R to Sydney was approximately 10 months. I wasn't daunted. My name went on the list and I began my wait. There were many times that I thought about changing my destination, but I continued to wait month after month. My unit had been in-country for about 9 months when I finally hopped onto that plane for Sydney. Now that's a story in itself that I may post here later.
I found out upon arrival back to the Mobile Riverine Base (MRB) from Sydney that my boat was out on a combat mission. The powers that be told me that I would have to go "TDY" (temporary duty) on another boat until T-152-1 returned to the MRB. I quickly chose T-152-2 because several of my buddies were aboard her. That was ok with the staff since she had just lost a crewman. My heart sunk. Later I found out that Bob Buchanan's mother had passed away and he had traveled stateside on emergency leave. I was relieved to hear that there were no casualties, but I also felt bad about Bob's situation as his father had died several years previous.
I took over Bob's "rack" (canvas stretched over a pipe frame that served as a bed) and settled in. While talking to the crew I learned that the 100th Landing was to take place the next day. The River Assault Flotilla staff had decided to make a big deal out of it by preparing a cake. These situations sounded awful strange in a war zone, but the thought of cake sounded ok when lined up next to C-rations.
There were two "ladders" (steps to civilians) that led up to the flight deck from either side of the boat. I positioned myself on the starboard (right) ladder at deck level as the 100th bird descended towards the boat. I forget whether someone was hand signaling the pilot in or not. Usual protocol was to have a guy down on one knee on the flight deck guiding the pilot in.
As the Huey eased closer to the deck I noticed that the pilot seemed to be a bit short. I was right. By the time he reached the boat he had the nose high and his tail was pointing down towards the murky brown water. When the metal skids hit the 90 degree edge of the steel flight deck the chopper had enough momentum that the nose literally skidded quickly upwards. Guess what happened to the tail? It dropped just as fast towards the water. I would guess that the chopper was at about a 45 degree angle to the deck at that point. I'm told that if the tail rotor would have become submerged in the water then the entire ship would have gone out of control. The rotor narrowly missed being dunked by inches. I'm sure that my hair would have stood on end even if there was no backwash from the main rotor.
The event was all taking place right in front of me at a very rapid pace. I remember looking right into the eyes of the pilot as he rode the ship like a rodeo bull. I could also see the eyes of the copilot. All four eyes were as wide as .50 cent pieces.
The pilot gunned the engine in order to lower the nose. I'm sure that a big percentage of what was on his mind at that moment was that tail rotor. While frozen to the ladder like petrified wood, I watched as the pilot over compensated when attempting to level the ship out. The bird shook with the increased RPMs. Now her nose was pointing downward and her tail was at the top end of the 45 degree angle.
The only direction the ship could go was down. I'm sure that the main rotor was very close to the boats superstructure at that point. We would always take down the main mast and tie the radio antennae down before we landed a chopper. The rear gun turret still stood about 4 feet higher than the flight deck.
As the ships nose dropped the few feet I remember thinking about how "short" I was in-country. Still frozen in place, I watched as the front tips of the skids banged on the steel deck. They did, however, prevent the nose from making contact. The pilot gunned the engine to top speed. This caused the skids to drag across the entire width of the flight deck. The bird was shaking as she dropped off the port side of the deck and down towards the water. I held on as the rotor wash pushed me backwards. Guys had been blown off decks by the artificial wind before. The pilot barely pulled the chopper out of her downward motion just before she hit the water.
Everything became still as the pilot took the bird around for a second try. I decided that I would watch from the fantail on his next attempt. I bet that he was literally shaking in his boots as he descended upon the boat once again. This time he made a perfect landing much to everyone's relief.
Ok, you be the judge. Would the 2nd attempt be the 101st Landing? At any rate, it was nice to be there for that moment in history even though it could have turned out catastrophic.
T-152-5 Crew Members
David Willenberg, Larry Smith, "Red", John McCurdy, Barry Duschanek and Alex Lincoln.