In 1968 a well-known war correspondent, Charlie Black, rode with Silver Spur 6 - Maj. Jenks and his crew - on several missions and wrote several informative articles (below) featuring the Silver Spurs.
The articles we have are courtesy of John Connor.
LONG BINH, Vietnam - Troop A's helicopters and men live in comparative luxury here at this big base with two story wooden barracks, a good mess hall, and other refinements which come with such huge U. S. military concentration.
They don't get to see much of all of the things outside of their little corner of the Long Binh world except while flying over it. Their work is done elsewhere and takes too much of their time end energy to allow touring the base facilities.
I ate breakfast at 6:30 a.m., coffee and doughnuts and a stolid stare at a cigarette burning down toward my fingers, and walked down a duckboard walk to the barracks nearest the helicopter pad.
A few jeeps were out front. A sign said this was the headquarters and orderly room of Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry, commanded by Maj. John D. Jenks (whose late father was once a reporter for The Ledger-Enquirer Newspapers) with Maj. Michael D, Pierce as executive officer.
I drank some coffee in a paper cup while sitting on the ubiquitous brown, plastic-covered sofa ranged under a display of war trophies presented to Troop A, by the 9th Division and 199th Light Infantry Brigade which they have assisted in fighting in recent months.
There is a sample of about every North Vietnamese weapon in the book in Jenks, office. The brass plates on them are compliments sent from the infantry units they helped out of a jam or toward a victory.
They are impressive because the military is a competitive world in which units don't often give glowing praise to other units, especially unofficial praise. These in-family, unofficial mementos of esteem are the truest form of praise.
There are three valorous unit citations end two nominations for a Presidential Unit Citation pending, originating from the same units which sent the wall trophies. The unofficial awards back these up.
The week before I came, a brigade commander put Jenks in for a Silver Star and the division commander - jealously proud of his own outfit but so impressed he was almost at a lack of words at what he had just seen - told Jenks that the "aero-rifle platoon from your troop is the best infantry platoon I have ever seen since I've been in the Army."
Jenks and Pierce finished up a discussion of administrative business about the time I had finished touring the little military museum. We went out to Jenks' jeep, me carrying a chest protector (called a chicken plate in the vernacular here) and a helmet both too large and making me feel clumsy.
Sitting in a helicopter presents a different problem than moving on the ground, however, so the things wore sensible enough.
I've never liked helmets of any description - a personal eccentricity, I find, as most infantrymen sweat by them in a fight but simply hate to wear them to get to the fight - but the chest protector felt good before the day was done.
Even the fact that it was two sizes large and too long was OK when the right moments came along.
I took pot luck on sizes. With borrowed gear only too small can be turned down. Too big is acceptable. There is a kind of courtesy to be observed when borrowing gear. Take what is offered if you can get into it and make do. (If it can be improved on, your Army host will notice it and try to help with a second choice. If there isn't any second choice, you should be happy with what you got.)
The jeep marked "A-6" took us out to the helicopter Jenks uses a UH-1C stripped of its gun mounts but with crew chief and doorgunner using their M-60's. Jenks said he took the guns off because he is "supposed to be the commander and I was going in and shooting too much."
There were the usual quick introductions to copilot and the crew. I missed the manes, as always, knowing they would become familiar after a few hours. They were just young faces and varied forms then.
The door gunner was a young Negro who was shyly polite. The crew chief had a mustache but looked like a teen-ager with a mustache. The copilot a lieutenant who had a mustache but looked about as youthful as the crew chief. He was tall and lanky, the crewmen were short.
Is On Second Tour
Jenks is athletically built and tall, and like most men of his rank who are professional soldiers and aviators, is on his second tour here.
One was with the Special Forces in the Mekong Delta, working with "Mike Teams," the quick reaction forces sent out to help camps in trouble.
He started this one in March. He has it just about half finished.
I spent just this one day of this tour with him. It wasn't the most exciting or the least exciting he has had or will have.
But during the day spent with him I watched the deaths of 17 enemy soldiers very carefully, five of them killed by the young, bashful doorgunner; three prisoners of war taken; idled along while some more or less peaceful aerial police work was done; was shot at by a man I could watch close his eye to aim an AK47; saw three helicopters hit; saw the rescue of a Special Forces Camp CID company after it was put to rout in the beginning; heard a young Special Forces officer live out the peculiar end horrendous problems of an adviser in trouble; saw two Viet Cong units simply wiped out of existence; watched a science-fiction intelligence gadget actually work, and finished 12 hours of actual flying in the chopper by taking part in a night extraction of a U.S. infantry company down in the Rung Sat Zone swamp.
The war went under me, by me, around me, and was sometimes in the chopper with me, as if I were sitting in some kind of a planetarium equipped a thousand different views of Mars.
It commenced immediately after the chopper took off from Tan An, accompanied by two LOH Scout ships and two Cobra gunships, on a search mission for the 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry of the 9th Division.
Jenks had landed and had gone up to the battalion operations center, then came back with the scout mission for the day. There was very little said except, to tell the others where we were going and why and we took off.
(ENQUIRER EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles explaining the encounter which lasted from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.)
LONG BINH, Vietnam - A Charlie Model Huey without doors is one of the windiest vehicles invented by man. It cruises at 80 knots or so and the resulting hurricane is whipped and eddied into the passenger compartment.
I sat on a small seat with a plate of steel zipped into a canvas cover for a cushion - it was comfortable, it was armor, it was where one feels most absolutely vulnerable in a helicopter. I approved of it - with a bag of spare machinegun barrels hung on the wall behind me about where the small of my back felt them if I leaned back.
There was a box of smoke grenades on the right side of me, a row of smoke, CS teargas, and White Phosphorous ("Willie Pete" as it was called in the trade) grenades hung in a row on a wire behind my neck; a can of 7.62 mm machinegun belts by each foot, a water cooler between them, some C-rations and a tool box under them, a nd a view to either side and straight ahead between the pilots of whatever war came our way during the day.
SP/4 John Russell, the doorgunner was on my left. SP/5 James Reese on my right: I was leaning ahead, trying to find a quiet spot in the currents and cross winds of the back of the ship to get a lighter to work, when Maj. John D. Jenks began talking about business. His co-pilot, Lt. Ralph Barber, solved the lighter problem by handing his cigarette, already lit, back to me.
We were just going to work, 7:30 a.m. or so, just fairly out of the landing pad at Tan An where we had stopped to lay out the day's operations with the 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Divisions 1st Brigade, when Jenks suddenly whipped into a tight, low circle.
I saw a small village beside a fairly good-sized country road, paddies to the east, the road north and south, the village indented by a finger of paddy running beyond the road to the west. A narrow paddy extended on up the road on the west with the village scattered in hedges and trees beyond that. All of the paddy dikes seemed full of hedges and brush and were old, highly built up walls.
Conversation is mixed in with radio calls in the rubber-padded earphones of the helmet. A jet at Bien Hoa talking to the tower, a helicopter gun platoon in a fight and ground units make a background.
"Witch Doctor Three-Eight taking off from Tan Son Nhut...Pin Boy Six Two-Three, this is Pin Boy Six One, over... Alpha Sir... Mayfair, Six... damn it, get on the push Alpha Six..." the channels being monitored on the helicopter's complex radio system chatter in a dozen different tinny voices.
Over the chorus, Jenks' drawl came on the intercommunication system.
"Hey, watch that cat in the brown trousers. Keep your eye on him, he looks too skittish to me," Jenks says.
I spotted the skittish man. There were half a dozen women trotting along the dikes within view, a couple of boys with water buffalo, then this one man in khaki trousers and off-white pajama jacket with what looked like a khaki shirt under it. He was furtive, walking quickly, sneaking looks over his shoulder at the chopper,
Jenks quit the circle and then he jerked the helicopter as if he were flying the copter around.
The man was just ducking down into the big eastern paddy, scurrying off the dike and diving into the water under the thick, green rice plants.
"Look at that, he's going to play hide-end-go-seek," Jenks said "Lets not disappoint him. We'll go play too,"
We flew over there, 10 or 12 feet off the paddy, the blades flattening the rice, one helicopter at some village 21 miles southwest of where I'd eaten breakfast at Long Bien,
The man had opened a swath in the stuff, floundering and crawling, he lay very still, face down his face pressed into his arms, turned aside to keep his nose above water, the rest of him pressed into the mud and water of the paddy.
He ignored us as we circled and circled over him.
Jenks moved a few feet to the right,
"Door gunner, shoot some rounds right in front of him, Don' t hit him, let him know not to run. See if he'll came on out and talk like a gentleman," Jenks drawled.
He hardly was done talking when the shattering racket of the M-60 doorgun fired by Russell added to the other noise available.
Bullets Churn Water
I leaned over and watched the bullets churn water and muck in front of the man, spattering mud on him when Russell got his fine adjustment made. (The guns aren't aimed, they are hosed by the line of tracers, shot by pointing and adjusting in one long burst.)
The man closed his eyes more tightly, I could see his left foot jerking with a rhythmic reaction to the bullets near him, but his eyes were squinched shut and no other movement came,
"All right, we'll. just have to get him there. O.K. now when I land, Crew Chief, you move smartly out to the right of the chopper with your machinegun and cover Russell. Russell you take your pistol and you move out then and scoff him up and bring him back," Jenks said,
"He had something in his held, like a grenade or something," Barber said.
"Is that right?" Jenks said.
"Yes, air, I saw it, too" Russell said, not implying anything, just offering information.
"OK, you watch it. A man can get into a world of trouble out here, I think, so don't take any chances if that guy has something and moves wrong," Jenks said,
We went down, Reese, the crew chief moved out to the right of the chopper. Russell was getting out on the left, the rotor wash beating at him as he struggled through the mud.
The thought of one men going out on that chore - I'd seen whatever it was he was holding gripped in his right hand, too - got to me, I tapped Jenks pointing at myself. He nodded. He also didn't like sending Russell by himself. I jumped out and ran off to his right. Russell zigzagged through the paddy, I went over to the dike and ran along it to be a little out of range of whatever happened and still be close enough to help - and because I always like to move close to dikes in those flat paddles, they are comforting to me.
Man Still There
The man was still lying there, eyes still screwed shut, hand still holding whatever he had. Russell come in on him straight up. I stopped to the right. Russell yelled something, there was too much rotor noise and I had that plastic helmet pulled down around my head muffling my hearing. Then he fired his .45 into the mud, yelled again, fired again.
The man suddenly stood up and almost got shot. He brought both hands up high - one of them clutching a bath towel.
Russell indicated the rag of a towel and the man dropped it. Then the gunner grabbed his arm and ran him toward the chopper. I delayed until he got close then I ran as fast as all that bulky stuff would let me and fought the mud and rotor wash to get aboard.
The man sat between my feet, I kept a hand on his collar, thinking about all of those grenades and things. He. was wiry, young, sad when I twisted his shirt and jacket collar to get a hold I could see the raw marks knapsack straps make on his shoulders.
He looked ahead, very sullen, very angry, but still jumpy and full of terror. I could feel him trembling, He was wet, muddy, with his shock of black hair browned by paddy muck, rice stalks stuck to him, barefooted.
"Watch him. He's one. We'll take him back to Tan An and let the G-2 find out which one," Jenks said.
The day had started.
I was puffing, as nervous and jumpy as the man whose collar I held identifying the same feelings in myself which he had to have.
The helicopter full of war captives was lessened by one at Tan An. A G-I wearing rubber shower shoes, jungle fatigue trousers cut Bermuda short length, a slouch jungle hat, but with nametags, patches, etc. all neatly in place on a brand new jungle fatigue jacket, took over my collar hold and led the man to his jeep.
We took off again.
We had almost gotten to the first search area, some scrofulous patch of swamp outside of Saigon in the Rung Sat Zone, when a call came for Jenks, identified as "Silver Spur Six" on the radio.
"Silver Spur Six, your prisoner is a Viet Cong. He is a squad leader. He is a real hard core. He got shook up being snatched out of that paddy by a helicopter like that, though, and he was ready to talk. You guys scared him to death! There's about 12 more of his boys right where you got him. Six-one (the battalion commander) says go get'em," the caller said, obviously the S-2 of the battalion and feeling good at these quick results from his own morning's first chore.
Map coordinates, locations of critical huts (always "hooches") and paths, all followed. The man had talked very long, very quickly and very much in detail.
Jenks was already talking to his scout helicopters and the two Cobra gunships between calls to the battalion.
We were over there, I believe, by 9 a.m. and Jenks drawled on the intercom again.
"Well, that was a hooch. It has a red roof right there."
(ENQUIRER EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles explaining the encounter which lasted from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.)
LONG BINH, Vietnam.. The rotor blades took on a flapping snap of a noise as the little vista of paddy trails and village canted and slid by the plexiglass front of the chopper and wheeled around to the left door.
Maj. John D, Jenks made precise, fast, tight circles over the hut, Off by itself from the rest of the hooches, the finger of paddy running up on one side, brush edging in close to the bank.
"OK Gangbusters", that’s the area right there, go down and do your stuff. Look it over good, there's supposed to be 12 of them" he said.
The “Gangbusters" two little egg-shaped LOH 6 choppers with a youthful warrant officer driving each one with an observer beside him, were suddenly bobbing and wheeling in a kind of crazy aerial dance, poking along hedgerows, cantering over to actually look inside of huts.
SP/4 John Russell,. the left doorgunner, was suddenly yelling into the intercom system.
''VC...running...he’s got a weapon, right up the trail..."
“Well, now.. yep...there he is, and he’s got a weapon. Kill him,” Jenks said
Russell was shooting, gun thrust forward almost against the chopper’s side as the ship wheeled.
I saw the man running. Tracers stormed into the dust around him. He had black trousers and a blue shirt and a web belt. He had a AK 47 automatic rifle angled across his chest. He was close to the chopper, so close I could see his eyes rolling. The tracers were tearing into the ground all around him. He dived for the brush, fell short, then rolled to a squat. I could see the muzzle flashes on his rifle and hear them close by the chopper, on the left, near Russell, who was walking a read stream of tracers carefully into the VC.
“Hey...he’s shooting back, how about that?” Jenks voice came.
The man was flung over the bank held up by hedge brush, beaten down out of the brush, a leg still visible, then it was lighted by the red tracers and slid over the bank.
Russell sat back in the chopper, checking his ammunition belt. Brass and links were littering the floor, getting caught in the cleats of my jungle boots. I pried them out with an empty cartridge. “That’s the way to shoot, Russell,” Jenks said. “He was right at you too.”
Russell grinned. “Those AK 47’s don’t mean anything,” he said. “They aren’t much against my M-60.”
He turned back, not appearing to look more than casually at the ground a few yards below or at the brush going by. The M-60 rested comfortably on the strap he had it hung from, one hand just holding it loosely, not alert looking at all.
Best Eyes I’ve Seen
“Russell’s got the best eyes I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how he does it. I’m a good scout, there’s good scouts all over this troop, but I’ve never seen one like him,” Jenks said, talking to me but audible to Russell and making him grin again.
He didn’t quit grinning, but he grabbed the microphone button.
“Right there, right under the brush, weapon and man,” he shouted.
“It’s the one you shot,” someone said.
“No, there’s two of them...another guy...”
“Well shoot...shoot him...”
There was firing down below even as Russell’s tracers streamed into the paddy water. An LOH bobbed more erratically, taking hits from the man Russell was shooting at. We were 50 feet high, it was 15 yards to the place the tracers were hitting.
I could see the dead man under the water, his face up out of it, blood seeping up through the paddy water, tangle of arms and legs. Then I saw a shiny, wet, black trousered leg and a bare foot. They kicked convulsively and a man slid down, a blue shirt again, another AK 47 sliding down into the water by him. He fell onto the corpse in the water.
The bullets kept hitting him, he kept jerking and rolling, the other body came up and was shot under again, Russell kept shooting and leaning back to put more rounds into the bodies until the chopper was in his way.
“All right, that’s two of them. We picked up one, that’s nine left. Russell, you did it again. That LOACH (vernacular for LOH) got hit, I don’t think anybody’s hurt. Got another one sitting on station, he’s going in,” Jenks said.
He had been on the radio, I hadn’t noted what he said, but I remember he was talking to the pilots and his operations officer even as he piloted the helicopter and the shooting was going on.
“I think we’re in business, Charlie,” he said to me.
Caught In The Open
“They’re caught in the open,” I said. “They’re in a bad way.”
“While the shooting was going on, the scout over there spotted one running for the hooch. The Cobras got him. Caught the hooch on fire, see it? He’s right in front,” Jenks said.
As I looked, we were rocked suddenly by an explosion. A big, black, mushroom of smoke went into the air and the hut disintegrated, burning straw and coals flying. A big, crumpled mud bunker which had practically filled it was exposed, wrecked by whatever had exploded inside of the hut.
“Silver Spur Six... Cobra three... you see that secondary?”
“Silver Spur Six, Cobra... that’s a rog! It must have been loaded with something big. That took care of the magazine, let’s get after those people, they’re down there, let’s hunt ‘em out,” Jenks said.
The injured scout bobbed up into the air, then zipped for home. Another scout came on the air and introduced himself, then commenced buzzing along the brush on the trail.
He was shooting quickly, not waiting for Jenks, his bullets marking a bush just under the new scout seemed to explode. The second scout was caught by a line of tracers just as Russell’s bullets hit the man shooting.
Does Half Spin
The VC stood up and did a slow half spin. I could se his weapon, it was a AK 47 but it had no stock that I could see, strangely bobtailed looking (it turned out to be a new type, with a folding stock which interested intelligence quite a bit). Then the weapon was not in his hands, it was in the air, spinning away from him as he made his turn. The tracers were all turning in on his chest and then he was gone, beaten down into the paddy, back under the ripped bush in the water.
“That LOACH got hit. (It was Lt. Gary Hibb’s ship). That’s two for them. Nobody got hurt, though. How many times I have to tell you you’re great, Russell?” Jenks went on the radio then. “Calm down there, Gangbusters, if my doorgunner can see them from way up there at 50 feet, you ought to see them. You’re right on top of them. Let’s start finding these people, now!”
“Roger... roger... this is one eight... we got one under us...” That was from Warrant Officer Russell Scudder flying a LOH.
“Kill him, damn it...”
There was a rip of mini-gun fire, the LOACH circled and it’s mini-gun burped again. (Scudder’s LOH, had been hit several times but he was still flying as if nothing had happened at all.)
“Silver Spur Six... one eight... he’s dead. Another VC down here.”
(ENQUIRER EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles explaining the encounter which lasted from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.)
LONG BINH, Vietnam - The inside of the helicopter was bedlam now, noise in the earphones from radio talk, yelling on the intercom, noise from the doorguns, from the men on the ground firing back at the helicopters, from the little LOH scout ships shooting just six feet off the ground, from the roar of rockets and as the shark-nosed Cobra gunships rolled in... a constant storm of noise.
Maj. John Jenks made an impossibly violent turn and the hundreds of empty M-60 machinegun cartridges and the black belt links rolled and clattered. People were yelling without using the intercom now.
Jenks' turn had spun us around and SP/5 James Reese, the crewchief, was shouting something about "...two guys, carrying a weapon, it took two of them to carry it, big machinegun, pointed right at us when they went in that hooch..."
"Which hooch, damn it... yeah... that one... hell, look at that bunker in there..."
"Which hooch, damn it... yeah... that one... hell, look at that bunker in there..."came over the intercom as Jenks rolled us into another skidding turn. He was on the radio. A Cobra came on in replying, "...rolling in... rolling in!..."
The offending hut blew up in a thunderous and spectacular fashion as the red rocket bursts blossomed into the innocent straw thatch. Another big mud bunker was revealed, then black smoke billowed with another explosion, more ammunition was blowing up down there.
Man Running Hard
I looked out the left door, we were very low now, almost on the rice tops, and I saw a pair of men in blue shirts running parallel with us on the trail, both with weapons, running hard. "Get 'em Russell... shoot those..."
Jenks was drowned out by the sound of SP/4 John Russell's M-60 almost as he spoke.
One man dropped a weapon, it splashed into the paddy, he went to one knee grabbed his left arm, blood was showing. The tracers arched away from him at the other men, 10 feet in front of him and racing death now as the red tracers came up.
A scout LOH, WO Russell Scudder with SP/5 Michael Binder in the observer's seat sped into view, its red streak of tracers pouring from the mini-gun mounted on the left side. Bullets danced and bounced all around the running men. He turned right, slipping and falling, then rolling. He shot one burst, aiming at nothing, being torn apart by both streams of tracers as he fired.
That Got Him
"That got him... let's see... two down in that bunker, one trying for that other bunker in the other hooch, two back by the dike, tow there, one there, one in the bush, on the Loach (the LOH scout ship) got over in the paddy... one we captured this morning... that's nine out of the 12. Three more down there," Jenks was saying.
Russell was watching the dike, he pressed his microphone button.
"That one I winged is coming in. He's finished in this war," he said.
Sometime in this uproar Jenks had called his Rifle platoon and the UH-1H Lift ships had set them down in the paddy. There were in a line now, running toward the dike with the trail on it. I could pick out SSG. Roy Wooten and SSG Mike O'Reilly's squads. Lt. Doug Daly and PSG William J. Barber were maneuvering men down there. The infantrymen were grabbing up weapons, searching for documents.
The man holding his arm, the left sleeve of his blue shirt glossy with blood from Russell's bullet was walking very quickly down the dike toward Wooten, who watched him. Somebody with an M-79 moved over toward the hurt man. He put one hand up and waved it, then held his wrist again. The two G-I's motioned him down behind the dike with them. I saw a medic move over to work on him.
"Hell, the grunts have them running," Lt. Ralph Barber, the co-pilot yelled. This man was just breaking from some brush on the opposite side of the dike, further down from where the prisoner had come in, running diagonally along the front of the Rifle platoon, firing his AK 47 in bursts, trying to make it in some scrubby nipa palm 20 yards away.
The platoon seemed to fire all at once. An M-79 made a flash and crack just as all of those bullets hit. It was sudden and very thorough. The man was torn almost in two by the fire. He lay on his stomach and the paddy water turned red around him.
"That ten... wait a minute, that VC said he had 12 more men down there. That still leaves three if I don't count him. I can't keep the count straight, it's too hectic," Jenks was saying.
I'd been hearing the battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, on the radio talking to "Silver Spur Six" as Jenks' radio alias goes.
I saw more helicopters, a company lift. "Ten Pin Six" as the battalion commander identified himself, had been scolding his operation staff about their radios being weak and hurrying them to get "Alpha Six on the way" and occasionally talking to Jenks.
"Silver Spur Six, Ten Pin Six, over..." "Silver Spur Six, go ahead, over..."
"Silver Spur Six, my Alpha element is on the ground, I'll have them sweep the village very thoroughly. I'm worried about those two hooches burning. My Charlie-Alpha Oscar (Civil Affairs Officer) will come out and see about making some reparations. I understand about the fire from them and that there were secondary explosions and VC killed in them, but sometimes the people don't have any choice. We'll try to check it out and maybe get some reparations for them if it's that way. Good shooting, a real good action, over..."
There was some arguing about the progress of the infantry company then. Then there was the sound of shooting over the other side of the village, a lot of shooting.
The infantry company had killed three Viet Cong who tired to spread out of a little patch of hedge, the radio said when the shooting stopped.
"That's the squad he said he had. That VC we got told the truth, he had 12 men in that village all right," Jenks said.
It made his mathematics come out neatly. Eleven men dead, two captured, all of the weapons accounted for.
We headed back to Tan An. It was about 10 a.m.
(ENQUIRER EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in a series of articles explaining the encounter which lasted from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.)
TAN AN, Vietnam - The 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry lives in a kind of a permanent flood disaster area here on the west edge of the Rung Sat Zone, south of Saigon on the river which feeds ships into that inland port.
Helicopters working this area refuel at Due Hoa, a nice enough area where the ARVN 25th Division has a compound but an oily, dusty, muddy, fuel smelling junk heap of a place at the refueling pad. A kind of estuary has been heaped up with a truck road down the center and fuel tanks and hoses on either side, a line of chopper pads by them.
Water, dappled on the bottom with ammunition cans, brass, other litter from choppers, and with the white plastic packing used for rockets floating like little boats on its surface, surrounds this strip of whirling rotors.
The crew chiefs and doorgunners jump out and pull back armor and open doors. Usually the pilot will get out and stretch and walk and smoke, the bird idles while it is refueled by the crewchief. One man stays at the controls.
Maj. John D. Jenks was restless when we landed there. He got out and walked up the line, past Cobras and Hueys and LOH's. His rifle platoon was back from its first tour, some of the men stretched in the shade of the three UH-IH choppers they ride. They were down at the end, parked in a line, ready for takeoff, the crews and infantrymen already on standby for whatever came next.
I was already tired I noted when I got out and stretched. He came back and we took off again. The morning had been high tension all the way so far, a kind of kaleidoscope violence and human tragedy whirling by the chopper. Jenks flies low and violent. I felt as if I had been on a wild horse since sunup.
The rhythmic flap of the rotors put me into a kind of a stupor. We settled in on the dirt pad at Tan An and I stripped off the flight gear and walked up with Jenks to the sandbagged dungeon of the Tactical Operations Center. It's secret in there and it isn't proper to go inside without an invitation from the landlords so I sat on some sandbags and smoked.
Somebody poked their head out.
"We've got some coffee in here if you need some," he said.
I went into the gloom, maps and bare light bulbs, telephones, radios, men in T-shirts sweating, crouching at tables and around charts and maps, talking, arguing, tense - a low mutter of a unique kind of war noise always fills a TOC.
I sat on a water can out of the way and drank a paper cup of coffee. Jenks had a map and was following what a couple of officers said on the map.
"I think it's peaceful there, a dry hole, but I'll check it out. I'm going to put my sniffer ship right over there on the creek while we're doing it, though, just to see what we can stir up. Maybe they've come back in there. We'll see what we can find for you in both places," Jenks said.
The "people sniffer" is one of those science fiction gadgets which keep showing up in this war and even sometimes work. This one works. Not as it was designed to work, but as it commenced to be used over here.
It was an idea drummed up to help a point man scout out an ambush, I suppose. A kind of vacuum cleaner nozzle poked out of a plastic suitcase that sniffs the air and detects chemicals, men, animals, or smoke into the air. It turned out to be too tricky for a walk in the bush, the wind had to be just right and it kept being overwhelmed by the friendly aroma when it wasn't, but mounted on a low flying helicopter, it is a genuine marvel. It give readings of various intensity and men get skilled at deducing what it means with various reactions to what it sniffs out on the ground.
I've learned to deeply distrust gadget claims over here, but the Sniffer works. I've seen it work. Most of the gadgets don't do nearly as well as publicity would have one think, but this one does better. It isn't any help around villages or such, but it's good around lonely spots where humans are an automatic enemy. Jenks was sending it in a place like that.
I finished my coffee and went back out in the sun. Jenks was going to be busy for a few more minutes as the next events of the battalion's day were plotted. I saw the prisoner we had captured early in this day, an intelligence specialist and an interpreter talking to him over at the little confinement area, a circle of concertina, a kind of shed roof for shade and shelter.
Felt Man's Fear
The enemy isn't faceless at all on some days of this war. I'd felt this man's fear, shared it with him, seen his despair, his hope at hiding and escaping the inevitable fall apart, even assisted in spoiling it in a kind of supportive role.
He was dry now. He wasn't sullen and frightened but he was still wary and had the quick, animal moves of a man not yet through with the reaction to bad combat luck. He recognized me, he put up his hand to the back of his neck where I'd twisted his collar, but the recognition was simply in the look he to me, no expression on his face showed it, just the quick, hard study he gave me when I went over.
He squatted, smoking, looking the other way. A lean man, in his twenties, slight as an American boy half his age, Oriental handsomeness under the bristling shock of crow black hair, still muddied from the paddy he'd burrowed into to try to get away from the helicopter.
Where wasn't much to be learned from him, really.
He'd been born in the village. A long time ago he'd become angry at the dead end lot of your country men. He wanted his own land, not that owned by his landlord around his village, mostly he said. He saw nothing in how things were going that spelled out an answer to any of his restless dreams. He couldn't define what he really wanted.
Some men came to the village when he was 15 and a Viet Cong hand was recruited. The political debacle in Saigon caused it to be undisturbed. It was a group of village heroes, strutting and strong men with weapons. He listened, watched, envied, and was recruited.
Was Made Chief
He did well. The experienced men in the group died during the Ted ['68] offensive. He was made chief and he recruited new men and trained them.
He had a wife and two children, a boy and a girl, very young children. His parents, cousins, the village was his family, his world, they were all there.
There was a veneer of sophistication to him, you could feel it, put there by the men who educated him to their ends - but he was a village man, a farmer, and a peasant under it.
But at about the time he struck sympathy, questions commenced commenced about executions, assassinations, the grip of terror he had held on the village where he was born, raised, fought and lost.
"They've terrorized that town a long time. We've had word on them. Our Civil Affairs Officer and our Two (Intelligence Officer) have sweated over that village and he is why. He ran it like a small Al Capone," the man asking the specific question told me.
The man answered the questions, no hesitation at all.
Jenks came out, I left before the answers got into any details of how a policeman had been cut to pieces with rice sickles or how the school teacher in the village had been shot and buried head down.
We went down to the chopper. Another ship was just settling in. There was an old man on it with an officer with him.
Owner of Hooch
"That old fellow owns the house those guys took over and built the bunker and ammunition magazine in, the first one we hit. They took it away from him. He lived with some relatives, his family was moved out. We'll pay for the hooch, but the Viet Cong aught to," Jenks said. "At least he'll be able to build one he can use for himself and keep now."
I was still very tired when I got back into the armor and helmet and strapped into the steel-plate cushioned seat in the back of the Huey, but it was cooler flying than it was on the ground and the next hour was simply a low level tour of a peaceful part of the country, looking at the men and women at work in the paddies or moving around the villages, kids moving, water buffaloes stretching their necks out low on the water at the chopper noise. The war had been fought and gone on by in the sector we went over.
Then the radio brought word.
The sniffer ship had a "reading of 50... and the scouts went down and there is verification, they saw six people running for a bunker."
The war was starting again someplace...
(ENQUIRER EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the sixth [and last we have obtained] in a series of articles explaining the encounter which lasted from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.)
LONG BINH, Vietnam - We flew out into a world of muck, water, nipa palm and the marks of some old fierce battles scarred even that, and made it uglier.
"We had a big fight here, all around this area. We had a good contact right along in here," Maj. John D. Jenks said.
There was a very shocking sight then, just under the left of the helicopter. SP/4 John Russell, the door gunner, and I saw it at the same time.
There were bodies littering the area. Bodies swollen and grotesque, on lay on its back, arms and legs stretched, lifted, like no body should look. Some were in mud and water, some under the browned brush ripped aside by the fighting.
"They didn't come back for their dead even, " Jenks said. "They never used to leave their dead like that. They always tried to get their dead and bury them, hide them from us. They're not what they were before!"
The corpses disappeared, they were impossible not to stare at but the sight of them being relegated to the limbo world behind the helicopter was something to be thankful for. Russell and I looked at each other and then the new problem came up and blotted out whatever it was we might have thought to say at the moment.
There were dead men behind us someplace, lost in the swamp out there, but we thought of live men in front of us, waiting in the swamp to fight for their lives. Now they were hiding and they had to be found.
The problems of the living wiped out the feeling those dead had brought back there.
Too Apt Reminder
They were too apt a reminder of what some small mischance could deal to any man to dwell on, just then. They were easy to forget, until later reflection, when the day was over and the next one coming.
WO Russell Scudder and his observer SP/5 Mike Binder were already working. There isn't any adequate way to describe what a scout in an LOH does. He taunts, dares, harasses, in a kind of sneering little aerial dance within feet of suspected enemy positions. He flies in buzzing little swoops and goes off, then rushes back like some yapping dog deviling a bear.
Scudder had been given the Distinguished Flying Cross the day before for some piece of unbelievable bravery, which included landing his little scout right under enemy guns, picking up a wounded and trapped soldier, and moving him back out of the fire, then going back into it to find the men shooting.
I'd watched him then, slight, young, a kind of hair-trigger tension showing in his face, very quiet but half-contemptuous of all the people and things around him, visibly unimpressed at the medal. He flew like that now, looking for men, his rotor blades snapping at low brush, very contemptuous of any risk involved, with no respect at all for any threat aimed at him.
He was showing Jenks where he had spotted the six men, hovering over the spot, circling and using his little helicopter as a pencil to trace it all out.
Infantry from the 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, were landing out beyond this patch of palm. There were scrubby trees. A broad creek cut the grove. Ditches and channels cut the terrain up, feeding into the creek, a row of nipa palm and hedge bushes cloaking them. The wooden piles of an old bridge were in the creek, the bridge long gone as a war casualty.
The scout kept calling up bunkers, locating them, then the Cobra gunship flown by CW2 John Knox with CW2 Thomas Wie as pilot-gunner would dive in and knock holes in them with 17-pound rockets, the equivalent of a 105mm howitzer shell and valuable for flattening brush and "opening up" this kind of area.
Suddenly something caught Scudder's eye and he hopped over the creek and went into a circle.
He radioed Jenks that "I've got a new bunker here and there's a RPG rocket launcher and two rounds laying just five feet in front of it. I'm not going to let them come out to get it, either."
Then he commenced his circling and buzzing, holding the RPG captive. He tired of that. He had Binder drop hand grenades on to the bunker, he would zip out of range and as soon as the explosion came, he would rush back. He did that for a long time. Another scout had shown up, CWO Stephan Leon with WO Barry Tronstad as his observer, had taken over the other side of the stream, flirting with whatever the enemy was there as Scudder had been doing.
Somebody leaned over to me, SP/4 John Russell, the door gunner, I think, and yelled at me.
"You notice that fancy the Cobras were doing all day? That's the best man in Vietnam, he's a legend here, that is Spur 36, Capt. Jerry Thiels and WO Walter Koslosky. That other gun there is Spur 38 and he can make them talk too. That's Capt. John Malowney and WO Thomas Hennessy. They're the reason we can do this stuff, those Cobras," Russell yelled.
He had great respect in his voice as he told me the names and individual reputations and specialties of the men in the Cobras. From a man with phenomenal shooting ability - I'd seen Russell kill four men and wound another by simply catching a flashing glimpse and shooting with tremendous skill with his M-60 machinegun - it was the highest praise the men in the Cobras could get.
Russell already had two medal he'd earned while walking with the Rifle platoon of A Troop. He'd been pulled over to be Jenks' door gunner when tales of his hey and M-60 skill commenced being joined with speculation over how long he would live with his complete conviction that a man with an AK-47 was harmless when faced by a man with an M-60.
"He just didn't give them credit for being able to hurt him. He didn't have any respect for them at all. That can get you killed in the Rifle platoon, even when you're as good at it as old Russell. We couldn't believe he'd make in on the ground, he was too damned brave," one of the Rifle platoon's NCO's had told me. "We were glad when the Old Man got him for door gunner. Now, seeing how Six flies that bird of his right down with the scouts, we'd all rather be in the Rifle platoon, though, so maybe Russell ain't no better off, either."
Scudder came on then, his voice angry over the delay of the infantry in getting through the brush and mud and get the weapon and men he was holding captive.
"Hey, now I've got two guys in another bunker. We looked inside and they're in there with a big machinegun of some kind. We'll shoot a little and keep them occupied," he said.
The Cobras got into it then, Scudder would dance in and shoot or throw a grenade then dash out, a Cobra would shoot, then Scudder would go back.
The problem under us 50 feet or so wasn't as neat as the teamwork of the scout and gunship, though.
See additional articles uncovered below! UPDATE 9 July 2002:
WO RUSS SCUDDER FILLS IN THE BLANKS
UPDATE 9 July 2002:
WO RUSS SCUDDER FILLS IN THE BLANKS
I recently came across your web site, it brought back a lot of memories.
I don't know how much of Charlie's articles actually made it into print, but I asked him if I could have a copy of one as a souvenir. The night before he left, he stopped by and gave me a copy of his sixth article. I'm not sure if it was his last one on the unit or not, I don't believe it was.
"The Cobras got into it then, Scudder would dance in and shoot or throw a grenade then dash out, a Cobra would shoot, then Scudder would go back.
"The problem under us 50 feet or so wasn't as neat as the teamwork of the scout and gunship, though." (End of article)
I believe the last paragraph refers back to the Cobra team that Sp4 Russell had pointed out earlier in the article. They were working the original A.O. just south of the river with Steve Leon and another LOH crew (sorry I don't remember which one). The LOHs were working low, 15 to 20 feet, the Cobras were making gun runs from about 2000' Spur Six (Major Jenk's Slick) was orbiting just above the Cobras. At the time, we only had one hunter killer team working north of the river. I was working low with one Cobra overhead. The two areas were probably four to five miles apart, so Major Jenk's crew and Charlie Black would have had a clear view of both operations.
As I remember it, the original area of operation was something of a dry hole. A lot of old bunkers with no enemy activity. They were all in good condition but probably hadn't been used in long time. By mid morning, all efforts had shifted to the new complex with our rifle platoon and elements of the 9th Infantry inserted to block enemy escape routes. All scouts were flying perimeter and the Cobras were softening up the cpmplex. Once the area was contained, a larger force from the 9th was brought in and completely encircled the complex. The infantry then made repeated sweeps through the complex in a cleanup operation that lasted well into the night. The 9th did a good job of sealing off the complex that day, and began setting up night ambush operations to shut down any remaining enemy activity in the area. Several weeks later Major Jenks told me that we were still picking up stray NVA squads that hadn't gotten the word on the fall of the bunker complex. He said the complex turned out to be a relocation center for the NVA. They were coming down from the north through Cambodia and reporting into the complex for reassignment throughout the delta. We had shut them down so quickly and so completely that they hadn't been able to get word back up the trail and stop the flow of replacements.
Hope my memory is accurate. There were so many engagements in so many different areas that they all just seem to run together. I don't believe article six was the last article written by Charlie, because he was in the company area for several more days, and article six ends rather abruptly at the beginning of the day and the start of the operation. It might be interesting to see if someone can get you copies of the actual articles published in the Columbus Enquirer. If you have any contacts in Georgia, they should be able to get a complete copy from the paper's archive.
As a way of personal thanks to A Troop, Charlie Black wrote the following poem on 2 Sep 68.