The Saga of Darkhorse Three Zero


Donald Hodges My name is Donald Hodges and back in my day you couldn't just hang around the house after you graduated from high school and wait to see what might happen next. There was a draft on and Uncle Sam had a job for you to do in Viet Nam.

So I went to talk to the Army recruiter, and as I had worked as a draftsman in a surveying office, I asked about joining up to be a map maker. Which he assured me that the Army could find me something like that. (I didn't realize at the time that he was thinking 'combat engineers'). Then he said "But, how would you like to fly helicopters, be an officer and make a lot more money?" He hooked me with the part about flying helicopters and so with never even having been off the ground, I joined the Army for their helicopter flight program.

While in the army's flight school in Ft Walters, Texas I heard about a gun ship called the "Cobra". Without hesitation and without ever having seen one, I knew that was what I wanted to fly. If I'm gonna be shot at, I might as well be able to shoot back, right? Luck and circumstances allowed me to get a Cobra assignment.

After I arrived in Viet Nam, I was assigned to C troop of the 16th Cav. I was pleased with this assignment because it was in the Mekong Delta. I figured that there wouldn't be as much action down in the Delta. Little did I know that C/16 had the most enemy contact, lost the most personnel, and lost the most aircraft of any unit in the 13th Combat Aviation Battalion. After I received my assignment, I boarded an Air Force "Carabou" twin engine propeller driven plane for the trip from Saigon to Can Tho where I was to be stationed. While enroute to Can Tho we lost an engine and had to land at Binh Touy Navy base up the river. From the Navy base we called to Can Tho and have them send up a truck for us. Riding in the back of the truck from Binh Touy to Can Tho the kids along the way shouted obsenities at us.

I knew it was going to be a long year!


In C/16 we flew a type of mission called Hunter-Killer. Two LOHs (Light Observation Helicopters) would fly at tree top level making right hand orbits. Each LOH had one Pilot and one Door Gunner and they sat on the right side of the aircraft. The Door Gunner shot at anything and everything on the ground. Whenever they came across a houch (small grass hut) or bomb shelter (stick and mud) the pilot would fly directly up to the open doorway or window and flare the helicopter in a way that would assist the Door Gunner in throwing a small bomb into the opening. The Door Gunner would be firing his machine gun right up to the point of throwing out the bomb.

The bomb was made by attaching two or three sticks of C-4 plastic explosive around a concussion grenade using good ol' Army Aviation Duct Tape (when available - string used here). This was the glamor job!

At an altitude of about five hundred feet above the two LOHs was the C&C ship (Command and Control). This was a UH-1H Huey flying in a left hand orbit just opposite of the rotation of the two LOHs below. The C&C ship helped guide the LOHs as well as coordinate all communication between all other aircraft in the Hunter-Killer team.

At 1500 feet were two Snakes (UH-1G Huey Cobras). They flew in left hand orbits. They were there to pound the enemy (shoot into the trees) with Rockets, Nails, 40 Millimeter Grenades and Mini-Gun fire to cover the escape of the LOHs when they got shot at and when directed by the C&C ship.

We also flew escort for the troop carrying Hueys that landed ARVNs (Viet Namise soldiers) onto the battlefield when it was determined that there was enough enemy activity to warrant it.

Things could get pretty hectic. When the LOHs did take fire, generally they radioed in a voice about an octave higher "TAKING FIRE! TAKING FIRE!". You could see the LOHs nose down, pick up speed and get out of the way of the rockets from the Cobras that were surely coming.

Flying the cobras at 1500 feet may seem like the safest job and I wouldn't trade for any of the others, but when it got too hot for the LOHs and the Hueys, we were the ones that remained on station.

Now those LOH pilots and crews were a wild bunch. They delighted in blowing stuff up and were always looking for new ways to do it. Tapeing C4 explosives to a concussion grenade was just one way to make a bomb. At Toi Ben one morning, a LOH pilot decided to make a bomb from a 17 pound rocket (normally carried by the cobras). He twisted the fins off and removed the propellent then took a barrel from an M-60 machine gun and pierced the rocket with the front sight of the barrel. Then he proceeded to break the rocket by beating the nose of the warhead on the ground like swinging an ax. Well, that was more than I could stand! I turned tail! They assured me though that it wouldn't go off. The LOH pilot then packed a little C4 into the barrel of the rocket and plugged the end with a concussion grenade. Homebrew bomb!

One of the LOH pilots (I think it was the LOH platoon commander at the time) took a notion to put rockets on his LOH. He found a two tube rocket launcher used by observation aircraft and bolted it to the right skid of the LOH. Without a dedicated button to fire the rockets, the rockets were wired into the landing lights. That didn't last very long as I remember. I think the LOH ended up being too close to the explosion.
I had known Miller at Ft. Rucker, Alabama where we became friends. We both got Cobra school and so we rented an apartment together when we went to Savannah, GA for cobra training. By chance, we stayed together all the way and ended up together in C/16. Again, by chance, the call came down for C/16 to transfer one of their cobra pilots to a unit up north. Who do you think they are going to pick? The new guy of course. It just so happened that on that day I was flying and Miller was not. He got picked to transfer out of C/16. One day he's here, next day he's gone!

Our platoon scheduling officer Wayne Burke, Darkhorse 30, had his Cobra to go into a scheduled 100 hour maintenance. He snatched one of the side panels off the cockpit and had "Tubber's Tiger" painted on it. Tubber's Tiger was a pet name he had for his wife. When his helicoper came out of maintenance he put the painted panel back on then both he and I took a picture. Early that afternoon, both he and Darkhorse 33 (Wayne Holshof) (2 cobras) got shot down. One of them caught on fire and I remember seeing the rockets cook off and explode.

After Burke got out of the hospital (I know Holshof went to the hospital, I remember that he was wounded in the back) he had "Tubber's Tiger" painted on both sides of his new cobra. Shortly after Burke rotated home, some major stress rivets in the ammo bay worked loose and that sent "Tubber's Tiger" on an extended vacation to Corpus Christie, TX (junked).

The downing of Burke and Holshof curtailed our flight operations for awhile. With the loss of two cobras and two crews, we were left under strength. Rather than getting new cobras right away, one of our cobras was transfered to a unit in the northern part of South Viet Nam. My roommate Tom Daley and I flew a cobra from Can Tho along the east coast of Viet Nam all the way to Dong Ha, 5 miles south of the DMZ. I was like a sight seeing tour. I took lots of pictures (most of which didn't turn out very well).

Guess who was in Dong Ha when we delivered the cobra? Miller!

And let me tell you, they lived in a different life style than we did. In Can Tho we had hooch maids to do the washing and house keeping. In Dong Ha they were afraid that any maids that they hired would be VC. They lived in tents and had bunkers dug everywhere! In Can Tho we had one attack. A single rocket hit near the end of the runway early one morning and woke us up. We used the bunker to climb up on and get a better look! The bunkers didn't go to waste though. The hooch maids used it to hide out in and play cards. Some of the guys thought it was great fun to throw in a smoke grenade and chase them out.

BooRay

A new guy came to C/16 shortly after I did. Right away he found his way into a card game and emerged with the nickname "BooRay". (That seems to be the name of the game they were playing). BooRay was a nice enough guy but he was writing letters home telling his wife that he was in a safe area and everything was OK. In reality, he was flying LOHs and his job in life was to get shot at!

One eventful day, there was a reporter aboard the C&C ship. On the way to the AO (area of operation), I was asked to come along side and do a wingover for the camera. Of course I obliged, I've never been shy about showing out. A wingovers is a maneuver that I did every day. What made this one different was that the reporter was on the right hand side of the C&C ship and therefore, I had to do a wingover to the right which is backward to normal practice.

That day our mission was to search for some bad guys that were setting mines along the Dong Hong canal just north of Thoi Binh. That was what the LOHs were out doing when BooRay crashed. The reporter got a good picture of him and his crewchief sloshing through the mud to get aboard the C&C ship.

Well, it just so happened that BooRay's wife worked for a newspaper and when she saw the picture of her husband being rescured, she called her congressman and raised some stink!

Now, the LOH had to be secured and sling loaded out. CW2 Kent Crisler, a HUEY pilot, has an attack of young and stupid so he up and volunteers to do the job. He grabs up an M16 and away he goes with a few ARVN troops. While he was in the process of removing the rotor blades and taking out the radios, the ARVNs capture the bad guys that were setting the mines! Mission accomplished!

So now, it comes time for the LOH to be sling loaded out. A HUEY lifts the LOH out by a sling. All seems to be going well until the LOH begins to swing wildly left to right and the HUEY pilot had to punch it off (release it in flight) and the LOH fell back to earth and crashed into a useless pile of rubble.

So how do I fit into this picture? Just a few months ago, there was a program on the history channel about helicopters in Viet Nam. There was a picture of a cobra doing a "right handed" wingover in the Delta area. Now, I can't prove that that was me ... but I'm claiming that it was!

Early Success

While I was still new I was flying front seat with Lt. Robert Green and from 1500 feet I saw a guy in a kakhi shirt dive under a bush! When I told Lt. Green, he cleared the LOHs out and wanted me to fire the 40MM grenade launcher into the place where I saw the guy.

In flight school they taught us not to point the gun sight and then depress the actuator bars. This would jerk the turret with all that hydraulic pressure and was not good for it. You are supposed to point the gun sight straight ahead, depress the actuators, aim the gun, then depress the trigger to fire the weapon. So, I pointed the gun sight straight ahead, depressed the actuators and hit the trigger! I had failed to aim the gun and I launched one 40MM round straight ahead! When I looked up, the C&C ship was flying straight across the line of fire. I thought, "I've shot down the C&C ship!" About that time, Green, getting impatient said, "Go ahead and shoot!" I swung around, aimed the gun sight in the proper direction this time and fired a string of 40MM rounds. "Boom ... Boom ... Boom ... Boom!"

All of a sudden, the gun sight flew out of my hands toward the top of the cockpit! Green had suddenly and violently gone into a steep dive. The 40MM attack had sent VC (viet cong) scurrying in every direction. We had stumbled upon a VC battalion headquarters.

A nice place to visit but ...

We did a lot of work out of Dong Hong, just a clearing along the Dong Hong canal. It was conviently located to where the bad guys were. There was no runway. Just a nasty, muddy strip along the edge of the canal. We generally had to take off from the strip directly over the canal. With no runway, the amount of fuel and the number of rockets that we could take off with was limited. I learned to load the top half of one rocket pod and the bottom half of the one on the opposite side. This gave at least one rocket every time the firing button was pressed.

A Huey gunship rearmed there once. The crewchief threw on a couple of extra rockets that he was going to use to rearm in flight (by hanging out the door). The extra weight was too much though and they crashed in to the canal. The whole helicopter was under water except that the main rotor blade was sticking out.

The refueling point was about 50 yards back from the canal. Fuel to these forward bases was stored in large bladders and run to the helicopters through hoses along the ground (I suppose there was a pump involved - I just fly them). One day while Kent Chrisler was refueling, a new bladder was switch on. At the time, the valve was under water and Kent got a load of mud and water. He had an engine failure right there on the refueling pad!

One day Chuck Crowder pulled a rocket out of a tube at the re-arm point and heard a loud "sping". The VC had slipped in and planted a grenade in the tube. Chuck instantly recognized what the sound meant and ran and jumped in the canal. A new guy would probably have been killed. Come to think about it, I'm not sure I would have recognized it myself. (By the way, a grenade doesn't cause the whole ammo dump to explode). The mission for that day continued and Chuck had to fly all wet and funky.

One fine morning, we arrived after a rocket attack the night before. Just across the canal was a rocked still setup on a bamboo rack ready for firing. Joe Hudson, one of those green beret types, got a lift across the canal and secured the rocket.

"Lash" and the Disappearing Rockets


Another day I was flying front seat for Richard "Lash" Larue. We were in a ship that had just come out of maintenance. That day's mission was to VC lake. Now, VC lake was a BAD place.

Later in my tour when I referred to it as "VC lake" over the radio, the C&C guy told me to that we were no longer to refer to it as VC lake. It was supposed to be pacified and we were to refer to it by it's proper name. When I asked what the proper name was, he told me, but it was an impossible Viet Namise name. I said "Roger, no come home lake" ... I was never called on the carpet for that little bit of insubordination.

When you went to VC lake you flew a little higher and a little faster and it didn't take ANY time for the LOHs to stir up some action - like 10 seconds! Well, the LOHs go down, and right away they take fire! "Lash" rolls over and fires a pair of rockets. Usually, you can watch the rockets all the way to impact. This pair however took a nose dive like I've never seen before or since and headed straight for the LOHs! "Lash" goes frantic and screams over the radio "Watch the rockets! Watch the rockets!" Like you could see them coming at you!

The rockets hit just behind the LOHs and almost knocked them down. One of them got something like 157 shrapnel hits. It's a wonder no one was killed. The only good thing to come of it was that our mission to VC lake was curtailed for the day. Whew! And we had to bring the ship home to have the rocket pods aligned.

Ham for Christmas

CW2 Donald Hodges To protect the helicopters from rocket and morter attack,the helicopters were parked in revetments. The ones we used were "L" shaped and made of walls of dirt held in place with a frame work of 2 by 4s and tin roofing material that was about 18 to 24 inches thick.

One day the maintance crew was "boresighting" a rocket pod and accidently fired off a pair of rockets. One of the rockets punched it's way through the revetment, scurried off to the end of the compound. The other rocket glanced off the top of the revetment and flew off into the wild blue. It finally landed in a school yard and killed a pig!

To make amends, and because it was close to Christmas, Cpt Hageman had to buy gifts for all the kids, dress up as Santa Clause and throw a Christmas party for them in the mess hall.

Help from the Navy

We were located in IV corp of Viet Nam. In the Delta region. We didnít have any patrolling fighter jets that we could call upon if we needed some extra help. Our heavy support came from the Black Ponies stationed in Binh Thuy Naval Air Base. They flew OV-10 Bronchos which were twin engine observation aircraft and they provided support for anyone that needed help.

We sometimes swapped rides with them. There pilots would fly front seat with the cobras and our pilots would fly in the back seat with them. Anytime that they were patrolling near us, they would check in to see if we needed any extra firepower.

Compared to the Broncho the cobras were slow. The Bronchos were capable of a steep dive and a quick pull ups back to altitude. Our cobras carried 2.75 inch rockets but the Black Ponies carried 5 inch Zuni rockets which made a bigger splash.

The most interesting ordinance they carried though was the Propane Bomb (CBU-55). The Broncho would go into a steep dive and at about 500 feet it would release the bomb. The bomb would break into two parts. The cannister which contained the propane and a flare on a parachute.

The cannister would release the propane and the flare would drift down and touch it off. The trees would jerk and that would be about it. Except, if you passed by the area a couple of days later. The whole area would be brown!

They gave me a number and took away my name

After I had been flying front seat for four or five months, I got to thinking that it was about time for me to be promoted to back seat (the front seat is the co-pilot). I happened to mention this to Kent Crisler.

He simply asked, "Are you ready?"

My answer was, "I don't care."

"Your ready", he said.

Shortly afterwards, Cpt Merlin Olsen the platoon leader walked over to me one afternoon on the flight line and said, "You're going to be Darkhorse 30, Sullivan is going to be your crew chief and that's going to be your ship" pointing to a cobra that we had just gotten in from another company.

Sullivan looked the ship over and said, "That thing looks pretty pitiful, let's paint it." So, he went to maintenance and got some paint, a spray gun and a duce'n'half truck. We taped up the windows, hooked the paint gun to the air brakes of the truck and gave Army helicopter 15035 a fresh coat of olive green paint. We, however, neglected to paint "US ARMY" or the tail numbers or anything else on it.

The very next day I was flying back seat in 15035 for the first time and Cecil "Sleazy Chuck" Crowder, the unit instructor pilot, was checking me out. This was a fateful day! Chuck and I were in the second team so we weren't flying this mission. We were in the hooch with the local military advisor at Vinh Long listening to the mission over the FM radio when all of a sudden "The LOH is destroyed" screamed out over the radio. The C4 bombs in Lukow's LOH had exploded!

Chuck and I raced to the helicopter. He took the back seat and I got in the front. We hurried out to the area. Once there, all the action was over. Our instructions were to remain on station while everyone else went to Ca Mau to refuel and regroup.

So here we are, Chuck and I by ourselves (that day we went to the AO with only three cobras) over the area where the bad guys had just scored a major victory and what do you know, we have an engine failure! As we were going down, Chuck was desperately trying to radio for help and I was searching the area around where we were going in for the enemy!

In flight school they had showed us a picture of a cobra that had crashed. The rotor blade had flexed down and de-capitated the guy in the front seat. That picture was in my mind when I locked my shoulder harness and leaned my head back as far as I could.

We hit the ground hard. It was the monsoon season and when we hit, water and mud went everywhere! I had already seen a cobra catch fire and cook off the rockets so I was only interested in getting away from the thing. I threw open the cockpit door and in one motion leapt from the helicopter and landed in the mud on all fours. To this day I don't know how I did it. Getting into and out of a Cobra is like getting in and out of an Indy race car! I jumped up and ran away. The mud however was so deep that I only got about 20 feet or so before I ran out of breath. That's when I noticed that I had lost my revolver. All I carried at that time was a Smith & Wesson issue 38 caliper six shooter with five bullets in it. (I kept the cylinder under the hammer empty. There was rumor going around about a guy that had dropped his piston, it landed on the hammer and discharged. The bullet lodged near his heart and he almost died.)

My cousin had sent me a shoulder holster from the states. It was more comfortable in the narrow cobra seat than the standard issue side holster but it had let the pistol pop out. I went back to where I had landed in the mud and there it was. I had lost my billfold too but didn't realize it at the time. Then I went around to the other side of the cobra and Chuck was still in the cockpit trying to raise someone on the radio. I said in a voice that was not very kind, "Get outta there!" Chuck crawled out and we set off without discussion in the direction of Ca Mau. And wouldn't you know it, some guy had the nerve to shoot at us! The novelty of getting shot at had worn off a long time ago, but that was personal!

Things worked out well because the battalion commander who was flying nearby heard our distress call and flew in and picked us up after a short while. To this day, I considered myself lucky to have had Chuck, an instructor pilot, fly us to the ground. After that experience I straightened up a little. I started carrying a rifle and a few clips of ammunition as well as some smoke grenades.

Well, that ended up being my back seat check-out ride. I flew back seat from Can Tho to Vinh Long and rode an engine failure to the ground in the front seat. The next day I was Darkhorse Three-Zero and took out my own ship.

In the military you are known by your last name because it is on the front of your uniform. Now, Viet Nam was an "other world" type of place where the pilots were known by their call sign and not their real name. Captain "Silver Tongue" Todd started calling me "dirty thirty". The name stuck and that's how I was known for the rest of my tour.

Well, they slung 15035 back to Can Tho. She was in bad shape! The skids were broken, the transmission had sheared into (really! I got pictures to prove it!), the control rods to the main rotor blades had snapped, one of the main rotor blades had bitten into the tail boom and sheared the tail rotor drive shaft into (it was strange to see the tail rotor spinning around with the blades stopped), not to mention the engine was bad. Into the maintenance hangar she went and there she stayed for a long, long time. She looked extra pitiful sitting there with no tailboom, no engine, no transmission or blades and all the panels stripped away. I have a feeling that she was canabilized more than once for spare parts.

Finally she was ready to go back into service. Everything on her was new and she was the strongest and fastest ship on the line. There was just one problem, there were still no "US ARMY" or tail numbers or any other markings on her (after all, she did have a new tail boom). Well, I flew that plain green cobra for quite awhile. Things rocked along until I got accused of flying for the CIA (get it? no markings!). Finally the platoon leader (by this time it was Cpt David Hendrix) started nagging me to get her painted. So, we hired some Viet Namise "artisans" to paint her up with all the markings.

Well, those guys worked all day, and when the sun went down, 15035 was beautiful. She had shark's teeth and "Pale Rider" for her name. Our company slogan was "And lo I beheld a pale rider astride a dark horse and the riders name was death." There was just one problem. The painters didn't finish and she was left with no "US ARMY" or tail numbers. Hendrix was hot! My only defense was that "I didn't know they couldn't finish the job in one day or I would have had them start with the tail numbers."

So, it was agreed that I would fly something else the next day and Hendrix would stay behind and see that the paint job was finished. The next day we had a cobra develop a maintenance problem and had to return from the field. So, Hendrix cranked up the "Pale Rider" and came down to Dong Hong to help us out. He promptly got shot in the engine, the oil leaked out, and she had to be slung back to Can Tho (again).

I never took a picture of the "Pale Rider". I seemed as though paint and photographs were bad medicine for Darkhorse 30.

Many years later, I was in a hobby shop in Birmingham, Alabama. On the shelf was a book "gunslingers" showing how cobras were painted up in Viet Nam. I of course couldn't resist. Low and behold, there was the "Pale Rider" featured in the book. Within the next few days, my sister-in-law's business was burned by arsons. Yes sir, Darkhorse 30 and photographs of our helicopters just don't seem to mix.

"Lash" and the Lightning Bolt

"Lash" was flying lead and I was the wingman coming home from the AO one afternoon in tight formation (the two helicopters were very close together). We punched into a light rain shower and the visibility began to get a little bad. I decided that it might not be too cool if "Lash" decided to make a sudden turn so I dropped off him a little and I got back far enough that I could no longer see him for the rain (but I knew just about where he was).

All of a sudden, lightning struck just about where he was! My first thought was, "Well, that's it for him."

The radio keyed, and "Lash" shreaked, "DID YOU SEE THAT?"

Ya Don't have to Repeat That!

One of the most amusing radio messages I ever got occurred one afternoon about time to call it a day and go home. I got an extra mission to go down to "such and such a place" and provide fire support for a Viet Namise company on the ground that had made contact. The radio contact was the company commander and he spoke pretty good broken English. He directed us where to fire our rockets. I made one pass and fired a pair of rockets. "No", he says, "one tree line over." So I roll in and fired a couple of pairs of rockets. "Number one ... number one" (meaning that I was on target) "VC shoot you now!"

Take That!

Once, during the insertion of a flight of HUEYs, I was on a long slow rocket run. I had only fired a couple of pairs of rockets and began to get a little low to the ground. It was time for me to break out and let the wing man take over. I called "dirty thirty out left" and made a sharp left hand turn. Just as I rolled over, this guy jumps up "dead in my gun sight" and starts shooting at me and I'm too low to turn back in on him! Besides, my wing man is behind me ready to starting firing.

If I ever find that guy, I'm gonna pin a medal on him.

Now that's what I like to hear!

One of the beefs I had with the cobra was that the mini gun ammunition feed had been upgraded(?) from a ammo box arrangement to a ammo drum type arrangement. The ammo drum never worked right and usually when the trigger was pressed, the gun would fire but the ammo drum (driven by a speedometer cable) would not feed more ammunition. Consequently, the ammo belt would break. The net result was a short burst of fire then nothing! Usually a cobra had a right hand minigun and a left hand 40mm grenade launcher. On the Pale Rider the 40mm got to be un-reliable. Prowling around in a storage bin one day I found a minigun ammo box system. I had the 40mm pulled out and a left hand minigun put in. Now that thing would talk! It was just a few days ago that I realized that the ammo box had come out of Tubber's Tiger (the second).

Fire in the Cockpit

One afternoon we take off from a staging field on yet another scouting mission. On this day Captain Jackson is in the front seat. Just as the LOHs are about to go down to tree top level, the cockpit starts to fill up with smoke. Fire on an aircraft is bad!

I quickly radioed ďDonít let the LOHs go down, Iíve got a fire.Ē I turn off the electrical system and headed back to the staging field ready to set it down at any sign of flames.

Hueys have a stabilizer bar that allows smooth control but it limits the speed of the aircraft. Cobras have an electronic stabilization system called SCAS. Itís electrically powered and of course now itís off too. Iím fighting to control the aircraft and frantically pulling circuit breakers which is the emergency procedure.

With power off, Jackson and I canít communicate with each over the intercom so I yell for him to get the fire extinguisher out and ready for use. Its mounted by his right leg.

Wrestling with the controls I make it back to the staging field and bring the helicopter to a safe landing. Once down, I try to turn off the engine but canít with the power off. So I have to turn the power back on momentarily to turn the fuel switch off so the engine can be shut down. When I do, I can hear the company commander talking to Chuck Crowder asking why I wonít answer the radio. Chuck tells he that Iím probably following emergency procedures.

Captain Jackson gets out and finds an smoking, oily rag that the crew chief had left in the front battery compartment. He then squirts it with the fire extinguisher.

Jackson later complimented me on a smooth landing without the SCAS on.

Day to Day Survival

My eating habits went from bad to worse in Viet Nam. One day I went to the PX to buy some cokes. They didn't have any. However, they did have a special on some orange sodas that had been left in the rain for awhile. So I bought some of those. Some of the cans were rusted thru and the contents were flat, but so what?

I could only get breakfast at the mess hall after my choper was pre-flighted and only if it didn't have to be repaired. If it rained during the night, the canopy would leak water into the VHF radio and it had to be replaced. That meant a can of orange soda (possibly flat) and a cigarette for breakfast.

There was this little place that we used to stage out of called Thoi Binh. It was only a raised dike where the skids of the helicopters barely fit. There was a little village near by and kids would come out and sell us cokes. If you wanted a coke, the kid would run home and return with a coke in a plastic bag! It had a chunk of ice with a straw sticking out and was tied up with a rubber band. (Evidently the bottle was very valuable).

The people of Viet Nam were strange compared to us. Children and adults alike would stand at close range and stare at you. One day at Thoi Binh I was eating a can of C rations. These two kids were just standing there staring at me. I thought they were hungary so I gave one of them about half a can of food. He looked in the can then tossed it into the mud! I never did that again.

Most times, by the time we got back from the AO, the mess hall was closed. Somewhere along the way I got hold of some LRP (long range patrol) rations. Freeze dried food that you added water to. Those were good! Otherwise I could sometimes get somthing to eat at the Officers Club - usually pizza. When all else failed, it was a can of orange soda (possibly flat) and a cigarette.

On rare occasion, I went downtown to eat. There was this one Viet Namise restaurant that had really good shrimp. The beef and rice was good too. I wasn't till much later that it occured to me that there were no cattle in Viet Nam.

Going downtown was not without it's hazards however. The local kids ran in gangs. About a dozen of them would come running up to you at one time and all of them would start patting you with their hands and making an awful racket. One of them would have a razor blade taped to his fingers and before you knew it would have your pocked sliced open and your wallet would be gone! That's why I carried my wallet in my lower leg flight suit pocket. For years after that I would have a "self defence" attack when approached by a bunch of kids.

To this day I can't understand why the guys getting shot at couldn't get a decient meal at the end of the day. That wasn't my only complaint about being a pilot. Often there was no water for a shower. And there were shows at the Officers Club from time to time which most of us enjoyed. However, by the time we could get to the club, all the good seats were taken up by "bureaucrats".

Lunch was usually my main meal. Nine times out of ten that meant C-rations. I bought C-rations a meal at a time. Now a case of C-rations had breakfast meals in it which had a can of fruit. Most people liked the breakfast meals best. However, if you got there late, it was heaver meats and peanut butter and crackers instead of fruit.

It was common practice for us to toss the can of meat into the tail pipe of the choper engine when it was being shut down. This heated the meat up perfectly. It took a little practice to get it just right though. If you threw the can too far into the engine, you could damage the engine. If you threw the can into the engine too soon, it would blow the can out onto the ground.

Failing the engine exhaust method, we could get a pinch of C-4 plastic explosive from the LOH pilots. All you had to do was to strike a match to the C-4 and it would burn with a hot flame for several seconds and that would heat the meat up.

One day I got my food all heated up, all the cans of food open and was ready to enjoy a leisurely meal on the re-arm pad at Ca Mau when the flare went up. Somebody got shot down and we had to take off right then! I had to leave my food where it was! From then on, I only opened one can at a time and I ate it as fast as I could. To this day I eat too fast.

I have to say though that some of the best food I have ever had was served to us on the run way at Vi Than out of green mess hall cans. I'm sure that the rolls they served us were the best I ever had. The Army had some good cooks.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed my war stories. I probably have more that I will remember later. If you find any misspelled words please forgive me. I have always been a poor speller and I can't seem to find a decent map of Viet Nam. If you have some of those tactical maps that we used, I would really appreciate one. Also, I would like to have one of those Cobra pins that we stuck in our hats.

Just receintly I found out that of all the helicopters that were sent to Viet Nam, half were lost. I'm glad I didn't know that while I was there.

To this day I look back and say to myself, "I can't believe I did that" ... but I did.

Dirty Thirty Out
drHodges(a)FormSmithSystems.com


Tribute to my Military Family Members

Well, I'm not the only one. In my family, there have been many soldiers. Six of my ancestors qualify me to be in the Sons of the Revolution (not all confirmed).

Sargent John Smith

First Rhode Island Regement
Sergent John Smith was my Fourth Great Grandfather on my mother's side. He fought at the battle of Red Bank during the defence of Philadelphia. Although Philadelphia was lost, at the battle for Ft Mercer where Sgt Smith fought, 377 Hessians were killed with only 14 American lives lost. After the battle of Red Bank the army moved to Valley Forge. He helped with the construction of cabins. He left the only known surviving diary of a non-conmissioned officer from the revolution. His diary (pictured here) is housed at the American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609

Freedom Ain't Free

Excerpt from John's Diary

thirsday the 13th we Loaded our Baggage into the Waggons & Carts & Paraded in thee Rhoad here we Left our sick and about 11 oclock march'd forward the Snow Melting Made the traveling Exceding Bad the Rhoads Being of a Clay Kind was Become Morter & many of our Soldiers had [no] shoes to wair was obligd to Lace on their feet the hide of the Cattle we had kill'd the Day Befor we march'd in this Pleight about 10 or 11 miles to a township Called Bedminster where we was overteaken By Willm Bradford who was Sent to stop us from Genll Lee who had stoped Back about 5 miles at a Place he Design'd we Should halt this night But our Officers Leading us as if the Devil had Sent for them Caried Us thro thick & thin Untill Dark we march'd into a wood on a hill Where we Pitch'd our tents & Drew Provisions to Cook & Lay Down to Sleep at this wood honey was Brought to our tent By one or two of our Company that was out on a Patrole for somthing to Eate one of them went to Teak a pece of the Comb out of the hive was stung in the Eye & to Be Reveng'd took the whole family of them & Put them to Death & shard the Spoil amongst Us

Sargent John "Jackie" Hodges

1st Sergent Company C
Mead's Partisan Rangers
Calvery
Jackie Hodges is my 2nd Great Grandfather and he qualifies me to be in the Sons of the Confedracy.

During the raid on the Paint Rock Bridge he took his 11 year old son James. After the battle, James got himself a pair of yankee boots and was strutting around in them. The other men got to teasing him with the name Jim "Strut" and the name stuck with him the rest of his life.


Brevet Lieutenant William W. Smith, III

Company H
Alabama 55th Infantry
William Smith is my Great Grand Uncle. His brother Theodore, my Great Grand Father, was too young to have served.

William was joined in Company H by two of his brothers, Douglas "Dudley" Columbus and George Henry. Dudley is believed to have been killed at the battle of Peach Tree Creek near Atlanta.
William was captured and held as a prisoner of war at Ft Delaware, Delaware. This is the oath William signed swearing allegence back to the United States before his release.

William Lloyd Smith

Military Police - Manila, Philipines
Lloyd Smith is my first cousin once removed on my mother's side (my mother's first cousin). Lloyd was captured by the Japanese on Bataan and survived the infamous death march.

Historians estimate that 1,000 Americans perished or succumbed to the harsh conditions or were killed by their Japanese captors on the death march.

Lloyd was held as a Prisoner of War for the duration and suffered a broken leg working in a coal mine in Japan.
Of the 10,000 soldiers that were forced on the death march, only 987 made it home after being liberated from prison camps.

Sargent Howard Hodges

351 Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, 8th Army Airforce
Howard is my Uncle. He served as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17. He was shot down over Berlin taking heavy flack and crashed near the Russian lines. The Polish underground got them safely out of danger. By the time they made back to their own lines, the war had ended.


Howard is second from the left in the group picture.


Sargent Telford "Ted" Hodges

Patton's 3rd Army
Ted is also my uncle and Howard's brother. He was the BAR (Browing Automatic Rifle) man in his squad. They were among the first to go up against the Sigfried line and made the Rhine river crossing into Germany.

After the end of the war in Germany, they began training for the invasion of Japan.


First Lieutenant James Thomas "Tommy" Brewer

Company B 4th Battalion Mechanized 25 Infantry Division
Tommy is my first cousin. He was a company commander in a mechanized infantry company.

On his last day in Vietnam he went out in a jeep even though he didn't have to and they hit a mine. His condition gradually got worse and he spent the last several years of his life in a wheel chair.