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HMH-463, Heavy Hauler
Stories
 
 
 
     
 
TITLE
AUTHOR
POSTED
Pilotage
Morris "Moose" Lutes
23 NOV 2007
Operation Tailwind
Larry Groah
16 DEC 2005
A Crew Chief's Story
Will Reeves, Jr.
1 SEP 2001
The Body Snatcher
Will Reeves, Jr.
30 AUG 2001
Early History of HMH-463 and the CH-53
Howard Poole
30 AUG 2001
Early Engine Air Particle Separator Tests
Howard Poole
30 AUG 2001
Barrel Bombing; a CO's View
Charlie Block
26 AUG 2001
Barrel Bombing; a Pilot's View
Doug Raupp
26 AUG 2001
The Black Hand
Charlie Block
20 JUL 2001
8 October: Thirty Years Ago
Bill Beardall
17 JUL 2001
Memories of Flying a Thrash Light
Dwight (Skip) Burns
17 JUL 2001
     
 
 

Pilotage

As I read these humor items, one that I had happened to me comes to mind.
On one of my early missions after arriving at Marble Mountain in August 1967 I was running some supplies up to Quang Tri for our detachment located there.

I had assigned as my co-pilot (whom I will not name) a new in-country replacement 1 L/T and this was his first flight in country and my first one with him.

Returning to Marble Mountain after the re-supply drop a call came in from one of the Purple Fox 46's south of Danang who had experienced† hostile fire and was having to sit down in a rice paddy. I responded to the radio calls and headed to the site to try and pick up the crew. Upon arrival we began† taking some small arms fire as was the crew on the ground. I was in contact with the crew on the ground and informed them we would sit down and pick them up and† I did not want any delay. I sit the big bird down in the paddy and the wheels went into the mud as we sank up to the belly of the 53. The 46 crew got loaded and we started to take more small arms fire, knew we were going to need some extra power due to the bird resting in the mud, so as I pulled up the collective I Yelled "full power" to the co-pilot who with great expertise "pulled power" and shut down both engines. I of course was speechless and very puckered, the 50 cal door gunners kept the small arms fire under control and we got the engines started and managed to get back in the air. We broke free from the mud and muck it sounded like pulling a boot out of a thick mud hole. I could not tell you the amount of the overboost required to make the takeoff. The co-pilot at this point in time was informed to sit on both his hands and not touch anything in the aircraft without express approval from me.

I am sure if he is with our group he will enjoy reliving this as much as I do.

Morris "Moose" Lutes

Editorial Comment: "Moose" asked me to put this under "Humor", and though admittedly humorous, I chose to put it here under "Stories", as it is a true story.

Semper Fi!

Mike Amtower Web Master

 
 

Operation Tailwind

OPERATION TAILWIND In July of 1970, I arrived at the Marble Mountain Air Facility, Marble Mountain, RVN. where I was assigned to HMH-463 as a structural mechanic and began flying as an aerial gunner aboard our CH-53 helicopters. As the largest helicopter in the Marine Corps inventory, we flew many different kinds of missions from re-supply to insertion/extractions of troops and even moving USO shows from camps to camps. But some of the most dangerous and interesting missions were known as Mission 72. Mission 72's were those missions, where we would insert MACVSOG troops into Laos, also known as "going over the fence." These would normally consist of one CH-53 and one CH-46 as our chase bird. But then a Mission 72 in September 1970 would change everything.

September 1970 was just another month closer to my RTD back to my family and "the world." But it would turn out to be the most exciting and rewarding time of my tour in country. On 4 September 1970, HMH-463 was alerted for an upcoming Mission 72. I knew that this mission was going to be something huge and I wanted to be part of it. It would consist of 5, CH-53's and 4, AH1G Cobra's from HMA-367. At first the maintenance chief was only going to assign one metal smith to this mission ( Sgt.Ron Whitmer) but I finally convinced him that he really needed two "tin benders" to take care of these birds. So from 4-7 September, we gathered our equipment, received a quick brief and were put on a one hour standby. On the afternoon of 7 September, we launched out to a place unknown to me at the time. A place called Kontum. It was an Army Special Forces base under the command of the 5 th Special Forces and located real close to "the fence." Our first night was interesting in many ways, but that's another story. We were given some of the best chow that I had eaten in awhile and later enjoyed a few cold ones in the E-club. Later that night we were welcomed by the VC with a mortar attack. What a way to be awakened in the middle of the night. On 8 September we received a brief about this mission. We were told that we would be inserting 16 Special Forces troops along with over 100 Montagnards troops to an LZ located about 60 miles in Laos. And we were also told that we could expect very heavy enemy fire with the possibility of many casualties. Later after the brief, we launched out to an old Army air strip called Dak To, which would be used as our staging area. We shut down and waited for the word to go. Bad weather at the drop site held us back, so most of our time was spent sitting around talking or taking a nap. I decided to catch a few winks lying down on the troop seat's using a bullet bouncer as a pillow. I was in a deep sleep, when I was awakened by the sound of a large explosion. The VC or NVA, had launched a rocket attack at us, trying to hit our aircraft. Needless to say, I was up and running with my M-16 attached to my hand in a death grip. In my hurry to get out the chopper I had forgotten to grab my bandoleer of ammo for my M-16 so I had to quickly return and retrieve it. There was basically no cover for us run to as our choppers were the target of the attack. I found an old crater near by and jumped in. I had counted 5 rockets as they passed over my head. It was then that I recalled what my father had told about his experience in WWII, "Son, it's the one that you don't hear that gets you" so I was very pleased to hear those "telephone poles" going over my head. One of our Cobra's took a direct hit on the rotor head and soon its ammo was cooking off. We never did launch out that day due to the bad weather. It wasn't until 11 September that we were able to launch and deliver the package.

All the birds involved took many hits during the insertion, except the SAR bird which I was assigned to. Thank God we didn't lose any birds that day.

Now came the 13 September were I learned how to make my backside "as tight as a nat's ass". We were on our way to extract the wounded and again I was assigned to the SAR bird, nick named "Bit's & Pieces" by the crew chief, Sgt.Spalding. I was the left door gunner with Sgt. Ron Whitmer on the right gun. Lt. Mark McKenzie was the HAC (Helicopter Aircraft Commander) with Lt. Raul Bustamante as the co-pilot. Capt "Chip" Cipolla, who was our maintenance officer, jumped on board just prior to us taxing out of Kontum. He said that he didn't want to miss the action and later he would get his wish. While in route to the pick up site, I was admiring the beautiful county side and just couldn't help thinking about all of the "bad guy's" down there waiting for us. When we got to the pickup site (LZ), we staged in our marshalling area, while the other 4 birds started to make their approach to the LZ. It didn't take to long before we got the call that the first bird in had gone down and we were needed for the rescue. Our SAR bird was equipped with a 120 foot aluminum ladder, which we had attached to the rear ramp of the bird. If needed, all we had to do was roll it out the back and the troops below could hook up to it with their "D" rings and away we would go pulling them through the sky hanging below the bird like a kite's tail. (All of the aircrew members wore a parachute harness minus the chute, with two "D" rings attached.) The lead bird, side number YH-14, with Major J.Carol as the HAC and Lt. Bill Beardall as the co-pilot. Sgt's Henderson and Follin and Cpl Quesada were the enlisted crew. Also in their bird were the Army's medics and the Special Forces Commander, code name "Crossbow". They had found the LZ to be to restrictive for the large CH-53 and as they were pulling out of the zone they were taking numerous small arms fire and direct hit's from B-40 rockets. They were now going in and a call for help went out.

A command of 'Don Gas Mask" came over our ICS. We had been briefed that CS gas would be used for this extract, so we had our mask at the ready. Now I really started to think about what was going to happen next. Could we make it in time to save our guys who were now on the ground and fighting for their lives? Would we be knocked out of the sky also? Who could save us, since we were the only one with a pickup ladder? A thousand "what ifs" ran through my mind? I donned my aviation gas mask and made sure that it was properly seated and hooked up to the ICS. In only a matter of seconds, one of the pilot's gas masks was not working properly and I had to give mine up. Now I had to use the standard issue M-17 mask. After donning it, I must have cleared and checked my mask a thousand times. I sure didn't want it leak and have to barf in the mask. And now that I couldn't communicate, how could I tell anyone if I got wounded? My heart felt like it had moved up into my throat and it was racing at a rapid fire pace. As we made our descent to the pickup site, my senses were at their best, my finger was on the trigger of my M-60 ready to go to work. The zone was surrounded by gas/smoke laid down by the Cobras of HMA-367, call sign "Scarface" to help protect us and the downed crew. Just about the time we came into our hover over the downed crew, it happened. BAM, BAM, BAM, was all the sound I heard as the NVA opened up with a .51 cal AA gun on my side of the aircraft. They were only about 25 yards away from our bird when they opened up. The muzzle flash from their gun was huge and seemed to be about the size of a basketball. Without a second thought, I pulled back on the trigger my M-60 and didn't let up until that AA gun crew were silenced. We started to bounce around now and I knew that we had taken some bad hits. I took a quick look towards the cockpit and saw both Mark and Raul were on the controls fighting to keep us in the air. Only latter we learned how bad it was and how every lucky we were to have been able to make it out of there in one piece. Numerous rounds had cut our hydraulic lines to our tail rotor and one round had almost cut the main drive shaft in half. The round had hit next to a "Thomas coupling" which is what holds the drive shaft sections together. Sgt Whitmer was working his gun on the left side as Capt Chipolla and Sgt Spalding were at the rear ramp throwing out the extract ladder for the downed crew to hook up to. All during this time, Scarface was lying down protective fire from their 40 mike-mikes and rockets. Scarface pilot's were at their very best that day and thank God they were. We were able to get the downed crew hooked up on the ladder and pulled them out to safety. Only now we were worried about our bird making it back do to our battle damage and we sure didn't want to go down with the men still on the ladder. Lt. Mckenzie radioed the Scarface commander, LtCol Sexton that we needed to set down to check our damage and to let the men off the ladder and get them into another bird. Scarface prepped a clearing that was to our 12 o'clock position and then Lt. McKenzie set the bird down. After the men got off the ladder, we set down and Sgt.Spalding made a quick check of our damage and determined that we could make it back. We did, but it was a wild ride as we had one really huge "beat" as we bounced through the sky. Once back at Dak To, cheering, high fives and lot of smiling faces were the order of the day as the rescued crew ran over to great us. Those smiling happy faces were a joy to see and made all of us feel so proud that we were able to save our fellow Marines, Special Forces CO and the medics. Ron and I spent the rest of the day repairing what damage we could and waited for another two birds from Marble Mountain to arrive with parts to repair our bird and another to replace the lost bird, YH-14.

14 September was going to be the last hope to pull out the Special Forces and the "Yards" who were now surrounded by the enemy. Since my bird was out of commission, I wasn't assigned to participate in that days extract and was preparing to finish patching our battle damage. Ssgt Sherwood, who was assigned as a gunner to another bird, asked if I would go in his place as he was due to rotate back to the States in a few days. I jumped at the chance and was assigned to the lead bird. I had him pull his guns off and replaced them with mine. I knew that my guns would always work as I took care of them like they were my babies. The HAC for the lead bird was LtCol R.Leisy and Capt Art Picone as the co-pilot. Ssgt Baker was the right gunner and I was on the left. Sgt's Edmonds and Meng were the other two crewmembers. The weather wasn't going to give us a break that day but we didn't have any other options. We had to go as it was the last chance to get the Special Forces out of there. We donned our gas mask and headed towards the LZ. The first LZ was a "no go" due to the large enemy force around that LZ. So we had to wait until the Special Force's had moved to an alternate LZ. As we approached the LZ and making our descent, I could see some of the troops crouched down waiting for us. LtCol Leisy gave the command that we would be going in "hot" meaning that we were to lay down suppressive fire as we were coming in. We landed and boarded over fifty of the troops. I recall one of the Special Forces team leaders was carrying a framed picture of Ho Chi Minh as his war trophy. While in the LZ we were taking some hits but it didn't seem to be too bad. Once on board we lifted off and made a power climb out to our right, mowing down some small trees that were in the zone. We sure did bounce around on the way back due to the damage to our main rotor blades. I had two "Yards" crouching down on both sides of me and as I ran out of ammo, they handed me their CAR-15 so that I could still provide some protection. The number two bird came in and reported that he was taking fire but was able to get out okay. The number three bird, with Lt. Don Persky as the HAC, with crew members Stevens, Snipes and Bell, made their approach and reported that they were taking heavy fire. While in the LZ loading the last of the troops, they lost an engine. They were able to lift off with over 40 troops. A short time after lift off, Lt.Persky made a May Day call, reporting that he had lost the second engine and was going in. Lt. Persky was able to make a successful auto rotation and landed near a ravine and rolled to his right. All personnel made it out and were picked up by the SAR bird, commanded by Lt. A.Aamold. Lcpl. Stevens who was the right gunner had taken a round to his neck and had been treated by the Special Forces medic (Rose) on board the bird prior to the crash and was later airlifted to Pleiku were he made a full recovery. After returning to Dak To to drop off the troops, LtCol Leisy and I were able to check out our battle damage to our bird and found out what had caused our bumpy ride back. We had major damage to all of the main rotor blade tips and some to the tail rotor blade tips. Needless to say we were lucky again that day. A few week's later, a party invitation came through secret channels, from the CCC Special Forces. They had invited us down for a BBQ with lots; of cold beer to show special thanks for our part in the operation. It was quite a party that I'll remember for ever. We were made honorary members of the Special Forces, given a Green Beret with their emblem and flash and also a Swiss Army knife. I've always been honored to have been able to work with these brave men of "B" Company, 5 th Special Forces and needless to say, my fellow Marines who were magnificent during this mission. I have to say a special thanks to the pilot's of my aircraft on both days, "thanks for bringing me home safely."

Semper Fi. SgtMajor Larry Groah USMC (ret)

 
 

A Crew Chief's Story

By November 1967 the war had escalated and I was ordered back to Vietnam, and my problems began.  In January 1968 I checked into my new squadron at the USMC Marble Mountain Air Facility Helicopters near Da Nang.  We had 24 Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters, which is a big helicopter.

I was given another 60-pound toolbox with tools.  I swear that damn tool box was getting heavier and me older.  After three days there I wasn't feeling well, a little dizzy, a little fuzzy, and figured I'd have a couple of beers and hit the rack early.  Three beers later, around 21:30 hours, I was sleeping like a baby, when suddenly, Ka-boom!  Ka-boom!  Ka-boom!

Inside the bunker, someone said: "Those rounds aren't hitting us! The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army are hitting Da Nang." So we crawled out of the bunker, stood on top of it, looked over that way, didn't see anything so I went back to the hooch (a little four-sided, screened-in cabin very close to the bunker that held anywhere from six to eight men) and put my trousers on.  I grabbed my cigarettes, lit one up, opened a beer, looked at my watch, saw it was 22:45 hours and went back to the top of the bunker and sat down.  About that time the bad guys unloaded about 20, 122 millimeter rockets at Da Nang Air Base and that whole place lit up like a huge sun.  The bad guys had hit an ammo dump and a fuel facility.  Things did eventually quiet down and we hit our racks and slept.

Ka-whump.  Ka-whump! Inside the bunker someone asked the time and it was 01:30.  It's estimated we were hit with 60 rounds... a mix of mortar and rocket fire.  Welcome to the Republic of South Vietnam and a Happy Tet!

The bad guys had broken the cease-fire for Tet, which is like Christmas and New Year's all rolled together in Vietnam, and all major installations were being assaulted simultaneously.  That was unusual because guerrilla warfare consists of hit and run tactics not sustained en masse frontal assaults.

Many major operations were occurring and I found myself in charge of six CH-53 helicopters and the men associated with those aircraft.  Not only that, I was flying again, and those gamma globulin shots I was given for local diseases still hurt.  I mean, 9cc total and that serum is very thick.  I walked around several days with two golf ball sized knots on my backside.

And if that wasn't bad enough, there was always those darned malaria pills.  We had to swallow these nickel-sized pills once a week and fight off mosquitoes daily.

War, with its constant seesaw operations has a grueling routine that you become accustomed to and being numb is no exception to that aforementioned fact.

I was in Khe Sanh replacing a shot-out tail-rotor cable and our Marine gun ships were doing a good job keeping those bad guys away.  We were able to salvage that CH-53 and fly it back to Marble then return it fully operational to a serviceable flight status.

For four months that same routine continued and I was feeling about 8O percent and I guess everybody was feeling the same way.  Some days I was less effective than others, just feeling miserable and I came to the conclusion that I would request a transfer from flight status to a ground position.  Then I was informed I'd have to give up my section.  I told my maintenance chief that the vibrations - noises from the engines and gear-boxes - just made me feel disjointed or like a man within another man's body and at times I'm numb all over from it.

He then asked if gunfire was affecting me the same way.  I looked at him for a few seconds then replied; "Nope, it just scares the S... out of me and increases my laundry bill."

I then reported to Maintenance Control where I worked the night crew daily, 12 hours on, 12 hours off.  Talk about stress! The Mud Marines had broken out of Khe Sanh in the north of South Vietnam and were in hot pursuit of the bad guys.  Their bodies were all over the place, stinking up the area.  We must have killed thousands of them during the siege there at Khe Sanh.

Combat operations continued at a fast pace.  All those UH-34s and CH-46s were in and out of Marble from predawn on into late night not to mention Medevacs and emergency insertions and extractions.

After being on night crew for a while I began feeling much better.  Night crew had its own hazards besides dodging incoming mortar and rocket rounds and the same old lack-of-spare-parts routine.  One particularly quiet night, I was sitting at my desk and shuffling that damned old paperwork when I heard the next-door squadron with CH-46's light off (start) the engines on one of them.  I got up and walked outside to watch one of their mechanics standing in front of the helo with a radio-headset on that is attached to a 50-foot long cord.  He was talking to the pilot over the intercom system and after both engines were operating for several minutes he gave the pilot the signal to engage the rotor blades for a full system checkout.  The mechanic was standing in front with the pilot at the controls, the rotors turning, and the wheels barely touching the surface of the parking area flight line, when all of a sudden the nose of that helo started jumping up and down with the hind-end remaining still.  The mechanic's eyes bulged and he took off running for the nearest bunker and didn't look back.

I stood there just peeking around the corner from our building and I saw that helo going into all sortsí of weird gyrations.  It ate itself-up! That damn thing broke in half with the rear-end remaining in place and the fore and aft rotor-heads turning.  The front-end (cockpit) dragged itself around by the front rotor-blades tips, digging into the tarmac and almost wound up inside its own rear-end.  Of course, scrap was whizzing out in all directions like shrapnel from a shell burst.  Incredibly, nobody was hurt.

The bad guys reverted to the old hit and run tactics following their defeat during the Tet offensive and my days didn't get any easier.  I was not feeling right and had developed a clop-clop in my walk and had to make a conscious effort to walk right.  This condition came on when I was physically or mentally tired but I thought it was something everybody was going through.  I sure as heck wasn't watching other people's feet.

Sir Victor Charles & Company (VC/NVA troops), the bad guys, liked to toss mortar and rocket rounds at us in cluster shots or like a double ought buckshot (gunshot) pattern.

One night at 01:30 a.m. our officer in charge was walking across the hangar-deck.  He passed beneath a CH-53 main rotor blade when one of those mortar rounds impacted the hangar roof directly above that helicopter.  The concussion hit the blade and it tapped him on the head.  He dropped like a sack of potatoes and stayed there during the entire attack.  Me? I was in a bunker!

After that attack, he said, "I just lay there in a stupor and didn't feel a thing.  I was in another world."

I said to him, while laughing, "Now you know at times how I feel, Lieutenant.  Rough ain't it?"

Earlier that day, we had received a brand spanking new CH-53 and it was parked in the number one revetment.  That revetment was next to our hangar.  We knew what was going on in our leader's mind.  We were going to cannibalize every component from that helicopter which would give us four additional helicopters to operate.  However, the bad guys had other ideas and planted a mortar round on top of it.  Bullets zipped in and out.  Helicopters flew in and out.  Men transferred in and out.

February 1969.  Color me - stateside.

EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE:  This is an extract of an article published in CMT, a publication for those with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.  Gunny Reeves suffer from this disease, which was diagnosed before his retirement.

- Author: GySgt Will Reeves, Jr., USMC (Ret),  Posted: 1 SEP 2001

- Submitted by Col Charlie Block, USMC (Ret)        

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The Body Snatcher

The Navy had been experimenting with an "Emergency Aerial Pick-up Procedure" and after a number of successful " aerial pick-up's" with fixed-winged aircraft snagging a cable sent aloft with a helium-filled balloon and then "SNATCHING" the individual attached at the end of the cable with a special harness, the (downed) crew-member was winched aboard the aircraft and (supposedly) rescued.

The "NAVY BRASS" decided to try the same thing with a Helicopter.  Better yet the Navy decided to have a "FULLY INSTRUMENTED DUMMY" on the very first trial-run.

Picture a CH-53, staged on the ramp, both engines turning and burning with a 500 foot cable trailing out of itís rear-end with the expensive instrumented dummy laying on the deck.  The Pilot pull's in collective, tilts the cyclic forward, adds a little more collective, gently applies a little (left) peddle to compensate for the "TAIL-ROTOR TORQUE FORCES" and to maintain forward flight.

Then He lifts-off...

Then climbs straight-up to 500 feet with the "DUMMY" trailing beneath the CH-53 when the cable begins to oscillate in a circular motion coming dangerously close to striking the main and tail rotors.  The crew chief, William Nalley grabbed the guillotine slapped the (open) gate of the "cutter" onto the cable and FIRED IT.  The Instrumented Dummy impacted the water from over 500 feet North of the Service Test Ramp in 75 feet of water.  Last time I heard it was never recovered nor was that test continued!!

- Author: GySgt Will Reeves,  Posted: 30 AUG 2001

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Early History of HMH-463 and the CH-53

HMH-463 was the first CH-53 Squadron in the Marine Corps.  A Sub unit was sent to Nam in December of 1966.  The object was to gather info on any operational problems prior to the entire squadron going over.  There were four '53s in the sub unit.  The remainder of the squadron went over in mid 1967.  There were 12 of us from HMX-1 that went through Sikorsky H-53 Service School from March to July 1, 1966, moved to California and became part of '463.  We sailed for the majority of the month of May 1967, to get to Nam.  We stopped in Hawaii for fuel and spent two days there for shore leave, etc.  Some of the original problems were engine and rotor head sand abrasion related.  The sand ate up the cuff seals in the self-lubricating rotor head and we had to impose restrictions to limit the leakage to two hours.  We installed EAPS on our trip across.  We discovered Foreign Object Damage (FOD) in the first engine we installed the EAPS.  We had to disassemble all of the units and inspect them for FOD.  I remember there were over 1100 screws that had to be removed and replaced to accomplish this feat.  We found hardware inside the EAPS so the effort put forth saved several engines.  I transferred to H&MS with the first shot up aircraft.  By transferring damaged aircraft out of '463 we reduced the plane count in the squadron.

- Author: MSgt Howard Poole, USMC (Ret),  Posted: 30 AUG 2001

- Submitted by GySgt Will Reeves, USMC (Ret)        

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Early Engine Air Particle Separator (EAPS) Tests

It's my belief that the Engine Air Particle Separators were the finest add-on's for the CH-53 Airframe.  In the early part of 1970 after my second tour in Viet Nam (HMH-463 68-69), I was crewing "722" out of Pax River on Accelerated Serviceability Trials at Onslow Beach North Carolina, with a Hybrid Engine Installation of a GE-T-64-6b (engine) positioned on the starboard station and a GE-T-64-413 (engine) positioned on the Port side.

The test involved a routine early morning flight for 11 days to Onslow Beach, North Carolina and doing a series of patterned landings with five hops into a landing zone.  In other words we'd circle the zone and make an initial landing.  then we'd (Leapfrog) five times with separate landings; then we'd take-off like a stripped-ape and make that pattern again for about twenty cycles (of 5 landings) per day.

This went on for 813 landings and more time was spent separating the engine compressor halves and examining those components and transmitting those measurements of erosion to Sikorsky, Stratford than anything else.

- Author: MSgt Howard Poole, USMC (Ret),  Posted: 30 AUG 2001

- Submitted by GySgt Will Reeves, USMC (Ret)        

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Barrel Bombing; a CO's View

My memories of Barrel Bombing.  This is as I saw it from the CO's seat.  Those of you who were there may have views that are quite different.  I invite you to write down your views.

In the summer of 1970 I was flying near Football Island and observed an Army CH47 helicopter rolling barrels of what appeared to be fuel off the ramp and then igniting them.  It looked like they were trying to burn the grass in the area.  On return I thought about what I had seen and came up with the idea of doing something similar.

I approached LtCol. Andy Andrus, the MAG 16 S-3, and several members of 463 about exploring the use of napalm barrels as a weapon.  Andy gave me the OK to continue.  I'm not sure who came up with the specifics on how to rig the net in the helicopter, but I would guess it might have been Capt. Chip Cippola.  At any rate we decided to secure two of the four corners of the net to the aircraft with tie down chains and secure the other two corners on the cargo hook.  In this way when the cargo hook was released, the barrels would fall out of the net.  On the first series of trials we discovered that the empty cargo sling was hitting and damaging the cargo ramp.  As a result the ramps were removed.

The next challenge was to develop some type of sight system.  I approached Lt. Bob Coday with the challenge of developing the ballistics for a free falling barrel at various heights and airspeeds.  I believe we settled on two combinations of altitude and airspeed (I don't remember the numbers, but I believe the altitude was 1500 feet).  The calculations were made, and the chin bubble was marked with two cross hairs to indicate the desired release points.  We tried the sight, and it was, in Art Picones' words, "Amazingly accurate."

We started small with several 2-4 ship flights using another aircraft to try to draw fire (skunk hunting), and then we would lay down the barrels.  We found that firing M-60 tracers into the broken barrels after impact did not ignite them readily so we started to use OV-10's or Cobras with white phosphorous rockets.

We continued to improve our tactics and got most of the bumps worked out.  One thing that did evolve was the mixture we used in the barrels.  In the beginning we used 20 barrels filled with napalm.  We found that this was difficult to ignite due to the low flash point of napalm.  We then went to 4 barrels of motor gas and 16 barrels of napalm and had better success.  The culmination of our efforts was a mission that involved 12 CH-53's on a mission to drop what turned out to be over 400 tons of fuel on Charlie Ridge.

Charlie Ridge had NVA that were dug in.  Attempts to clear the area with fixed wing bombs had failed.  Assaults attempted by ground Marines resulted in heavy casualties.  It was decided to use the fuel barrels.  The mission was nicknamed "Thrash Light" for MG Thrash the Air Wing CG (The USAF B-52 bombing missions were called Arc Light, hence the name).  Fixed wing aircraft also participated in the effort.  The day after the mission, the infantry mounted a ground assault without resistance.  All of the enemy found on Charlie Ridge were KIA.  The infantry walked the ridge and counted bodies.  Many were burned, but most were in deep bunkers and had died from loss of oxygen.  The body count was approximately 135 (that is my memory of that statistic).

After the Thrash Light we continued with several small "skunk hunting" missions but never again performed a large-scale operation.  I don't know why.  Skip Burns relates that after he left the squadron for a FAC tour he had convinced his Battalion Commander to use a Thrash Light on an assault in the Arizona area.  The Regimental Air Officer, who was a fixed wing Major, vetoed the mission.  Remember, "Napalm is Nature's Way."

- Charlie Block, 26 AUG 2001        

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Barrel Bombing; a Pilot's View

Barrel Bombing: Doug Raupp's memory of Thrash Lights.

I flew several of these missions, and we always got secondary explosions and almost never needed the OV10's or snakes [Huey Cobra's] to light off the drop.  It seemed as if the barrels rupturing and scrapping together created a good fuse and light off.  Beyond the Flights mentioned I remember flying a mission in support of the ROK Marines [Republic of Korean Marines] with one CH-53 where we naped Football Island.

This took all day since we dropped seventeen loads of napalm each, and we had to refuel and shut down in the LZ for a while.  I think Kent "Spider" Lebo was FAC [Forward Air Controller] with the ROK Marines, and he may have requested the mission.  We got secondaries of ordnance on every drop except one where I let the crew chief pickle the load from his hell hole station to make sure that system would work good and to give him a thrill.  He took too long to react after I called the mark, so barrels landed long and some went in the water where they also ignited.  We had flames on the water for a while.  The OV-10 driver noted a poor BDA on that pass, and we allowed that we were after some Vietnamese which we observed there.  I would think one aircraft dropping seventeen times -- 11,000 lbs. of napalm each drop -- in one day would be a record.

I have related this story to A4 and F4 drivers and have taken the position that we dropped more nap in one day with one CH-53 than any Marine FW squadron ever did in a day and probably more than they did in a month.

- Doug Raupp, 26 AUG 2001        

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The Black Hand

There was a place at Marble Mountain that Lieutenant's feet rarely tread, it was called the Bunker. This is the place that the Heavies met to worship and share tales of gallantry.  It was also the place that the leaders of the various warrior clans met to discuss the next assault on Valhalla.  Scheduled meetings were normal weekly occurrences, but called emergency meetings were reserved for monumental occasions.  During my time as Dimmer Six there were only two "emergency meetings." The first was to plan the largest night helicopter strike in the history of the USMC, but that is another story.  The second was to discuss a dastardly deed that pre-warned of eminent disaster in MAG-16.

It seems the CO of the Cobra squadron (Scarface Six) found his utility cover in shreds in a cigar box with a piece of white paper with a "black hand" imprinted on the paper.  Scarface Six was concerned (if not downright scared) that he was being singled out for retribution by a Black Panther organization or some such other militant group.  He shared his concern with our Group CO who being sensitive to militant groups within MAG 16 reacted and called an emergency meeting in the Bunker.  All squadron CO's were to report in short order regardless of other scheduled activities such as flying! All of the CO's dutifully assembled in the Bunker at 1000 hours to be briefed by Col Haywood Smith on the threat to our livelihoods.  The briefing proceeded to discuss the presence of militant groups in MAG-16 to include the display of the shredded cover and the Black Hand.  As soon as they opened the cigar box and I saw the Black Hand and the shredded cover, I started to laugh.  Col Smith saw nothing funny about the situation and asked what I found humorous.  Not wanting to remain a permanent LtCol.  I promptly stopped chuckling and tried to act serious (which was very difficult).  I followed with this explanation:

Two or three days before I was in the '463 Ready Room grumbling about the fact that my utility cover had been lifted from the Officers Mess and that I suspected it was a couple of Lieutenants from the Cobra squadron in that they had been behind me in line (the removal of O-5 cover's was a regular occurrence).  Unbeknownst to myself, one or more of my Lieutenants/Captains retaliated by lifting the cover of the Scarface CO from the Officer's mess.  At about the same time several of the officers in the squadron with Italian surnames had come together to form a 463 Mafia.  Not sure if the names Valuzzi, Picone, or Cippola ring a bell, but look at page 30 of the cruise book and you will see what I'm talking about.  At any rate they thought it would be great fun to take the utility cover, place it under the wheel of a jeep and run over it several times, place it in a cigar box, and add the imprint of a hand in black.

After suffering the stares of Harry Sexton, the CO of the Cobra Squadron, and the very unpleasant look of Col. Haywood Smith, attitudes softened and all started to laugh.  I don't think I'll ever forget the Bunker for lots of other reasons, but to this day when I watch an old movie that refers to the Mafia, I have to smile and think about the Ď463 version of the "Family."

- Charlie Block/"Dimmer Six," 20 JUL 2001        

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8 October: Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago I came tumbling out of the sky in my rotary winged aircraft.   Struck by fiery rockets that caused a fatal hemorrhaging of vital fluids.  Barely able to control her flight I flew to what I hoped was a clear and safe site.  On short final she gave up all she had and started the inevitable slip to the right.  The tail of this sweet bird could no longer help keep her direction of flight.  A quick roll of the cyclic (stick) and a nose forward attitude was carried off.  The landing was swift; much is a blur.  The crew exited quickly to the rear, found the initial site of impact and formed a defensive perimeter.  They began to return fire at the Asians; who angered at having their turf invaded and heavily damaged sought retribution.

Rendering my aircraft secure and benign, I exited.  Razor-like briars tore at my flight suit making movement difficult and painful.  I paused to free myself of equipment to make my passage easier.  I heard and saw branches and twigs mysteriously being sent flying.  That too familiar and ominous sound grew louder in my ears.  Rounds, bullets, small arms fire, lots of small arms fire, like so many disturbed, angry hornets were flying all around me. Small arms like the size means anything when it strikes.  I stood there in amazement; the rounds were close, yet none seemed to be called to me.  Shaking myself out of a stunned trance I moved forward through this milieu of steel and lead to join my comrades.  Wondering if a piece, a fragment would find me.

Rescue came quick. Mark, Raul, Chip, Larry and others, like the heroes in the old Western movies, had swept in on their Sea Stallion (CH-53), come to a hover and thrown out their lifeline, a ladder.  The Army medics, my crew, mounted quickly, all but Mario and me.  The sound of firing rockets and gunfire around us was intense, Cobras, Spads were pounding the enemy forces trying to keep them at bay.  I could still hear, see, feel the fire being directed at us.  Mario clambered aboard and I followed.  As we cleared the zone I realized that whatever cover the surrounding vegetation had provided us was to be lost and again, I wondered.

I looked down and saw our wounded stallion, rotors turning slowly, as if she wanted to fly away to safety too.  Soon Tom's wingman swooped in and destroyed our aircraft, leaving nothing to be used and removing as much of the evidence of our presence as possible.

CH-53D, Bureau number 15661, Number 14 ceased to exist.  The action continued, enemy fire was being directed at our rescue ship in an attempt to bring it down. Marine Cobras, Army Cobras, Air Force AD-1's (Spads) continued their relentless, suppressing fire.  The Marines placed themselves between us and the enemy ground force's fire.  I waved, grateful for their presence, exhilarated at the moment, adrenaline coursing through my body, a high not to be experienced again or so I thought.  We returned to our home base, after a brief stop to move from our battered rescue ship to another.  September 8-14, 1970 are days that have marked me forever.

The monsoon rains of October would bring the 'Cao Dao River Bounce', a nearly fatal encounter with a river, swollen, swift, raging, while trying to avoid a possible mid-air collision.  The 'Fire over Phu Bai', an encounter with a round at 1500 feet that caused a fire in our electronics compartment and forced us to make an unscheduled landing.  The disastrous Lam Son 719, the ARVN's attempt to take on the NVA on their turf.  This was our squadron's first encounter with missiles, very large caliber rounds and rockets.  This nightmare caused losses of men in our squadron and reinforced my own nightmares, taking what was left of my peace of mind.

The days that followed were tense, strained.  I withdrew, lost my edge, and flew apprehensively. Every bump, odd noise kept me on the edge of my seat wondering if this aircraft would fail me, pretending not to know I was failing myself.  Finally I spoke to my C.O. and found the respite I needed.  A lesson learned in Vietnam was that I had the courage to accept my strengths and my weaknesses.

A sense of peace came many years later as I relived those moments and gained more strength, confidence and a willingness to be as open as I could.  Tomorrow the 9th of October is my 57th birthday and the 30th anniversary of becoming a HAC, Helicopter Aircraft Commander.  It will be a very good day and one to celebrate.

- Bill Beardall, 8 October 2000        

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Memories of Flying a ThrashLight

I was a 1stLt. copilot in HMH463, and had only been in-country for a month at the time.  I was assigned to the flight schedule for the nape drop, and was very excited to be going on one.  I had heard about them, but this was going to be the biggest.

Charlie Ridge was our target.  The NVA there were in tight, and didn't want to move.  Attempts to clear the area with fixed wing bombs had failed.  Marines were taking heavy casualties.

Fixed wing aircraft and artillery also participated in the effort.  At 0300 in the morning, artillery from all of the fire support bases within range (Danang, Ross, Ryder, An Hoa, Baldy, etc.) started firing into the area with 105 mm, 155 mm, and 175 mm.  The goal here was to keep the enemy pinned down.  At daylight the fixed wing bombing started, with 500 and 1000 lb. bombs.  When the first flight of three CH53s hit the initial and started inbound, the fixed wing attack lifted.  Then OV-10s would mark the target with Willie Pete for each of the four flights of three CH53s.  Each of the wingmen would pickle their load when the lead dropped, bringing sixty 55-gal drums of napalm raining down (3300 gallons).  When the last flight of CH53s returned to reload, the fixed wing started again.  That day HMH 463 dropped 2000 barrels (110,000 gallons) of napalm.

We were dropping at 1500' AGL (above ground level), and an airspeed of 135 knots.  At that altitude we were just a bit concerned about the possibility of radar 37s being in the area.  That turned out to not be a problem.

After the first run, the rest of the day just seemed to be same old, same old.  We dropped, returned to refuel, reloaded, dropped, etc.  It was really awesome to watch the aircraft ahead dropping, and the resultant flames and explosions.

I went down to join 2/7 as FAC for several months (thanks, Skipper).  We were going after MajGen Binh, CG of the NVA Front Four, and intel had placed him in a mountainous area of the Que Son mountains.  An area that was perfect for a major ThrashLight.  I recommended to the Battalion Commander that we use a ThrashLight combined with the arty and air.  After the ThrashLight, we would insert troops into strategic areas.  The CO was all for it, but the Regimental Air Officer, who was a fixed wing major recommended against the ThrashLight, so the Regimental Commander said no.  That operation resulted in seven Marine casualties, and Maj Gen Binh managed to slip away.  We later learned that he had been in the exact location that we had planned the nape drop.

Barrel Bombers, Forever!  Semper Fi!

- Skip Burns, August 2000        

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