Dustoff

Furnished by John Freiberger

 

The afternoon at Qui Nhon was waning and I wanted to get back to Tuy Hoa before night fall. A ship from the 48th dropped me off earlier with instructions to contact the Air Force for a flight home. As fate would have it, the Air Force did not oblige me. Frustrated upon leaving their Operations building, I spotted a Huey increasing rotor speed for takeoff. It was a Medivac. I rushed over and questioned the crew chief where they were going. "Will you take a passenger," I asked? The crew chief said it’s up to the aircraft commander and started talking on the intercom. Then he turned and said, "The Major wants to talk to you!" Here it comes I thought, a chewing out for trying to hitch a ride on a Dust-off.

I faced the aircraft commander for my punishment. From behind his open window the Major hollered: "We’re going to Tuy Hoa North to pick up a wounded soldier." "We’ve never been that far South -- Can you take us in?"

"Sure," I answered. "Follow the coastline south until a specified landmark, then turn right and head inland -- You can’t miss it." "Hop aboard," said the Major, "but there’s just one other thing -- if his wounds are bad we’re going to leave you there and fly to the hospital." "Otherwise, we’ll drop you off at your company on the way back." "Fair enough," I said. The helicopter lifted off the ground with me having no idea where we were going. Still it seemed as if any place in Tuy Hoa was closer to my tent than the airfield at Qui Nhon. I can always catch a truck ride in the morning, I thought.

We flew south and then made that right turn. As the ship raced inland, the crew chief began talking. "I’m glad you’re with us," he said. "We’re unarmed." "Many times we’re fired at and have no way to defend ourselves." "This time we have you and your rifle." My rifle, I completely forgot about it. The nine pound weapon cradled between my knees was the ticket for this ride all along. What did I get myself into.

The answer came soon enough as we approached a remote clearing. The helicopter settled down next to a small building. A 105 howitzer stood in front of us with many shell casings strewn on the ground. There was no one in sight until stretcher bearers brought the wounded man outside. He was Vietnamese with blood soaked bandages wrapped around one leg. Two other people walked beside him. One was an American in fatigues and the other was a young Vietnamese woman wearing a white smock. Both seemed to be consoling the soldier that everything was going to be okay. After some final good-byes, the bearers placed the stretcher in the helicopter. I saw two needles pinned to the man’s collar and figured that was my signal to jump ship.

"Where are you going," the Major asked? "To find a place to stay for the night," I answered. "Get back in," he said. "We’ll take you to your company." Minutes later we were over the coastline again and the 48th’s camp lie just ahead. What service! The helicopter landed as close to my tent as one could wish. I jumped off and couldn’t think of anything else to say but thanks and asked the Major if he wanted some fuel for going out of his way. He smiled and said, "No, we can make it OK from here."

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