By Jim Hudson
Here is my history of the 48th Jan 1, 1967 to Dec. 24, 1967. There are of course a lot of blank spaces, Hopefully some other BlueStars will fill in the blanks and make corrections as necessary. I arrived at Phan Rang on January 11, 1967 having come through Saigon, Camp Alpha and Long Binh. We were the last group to enter the country through Camp Alpha. Upon arrival at the 48th home base at Phan Rang I met Jesus Moreida, from Harlingen, TX. Jesse as he preferred had arrived only hours before me. We were shown where to bunk for the night and told to report to Sgt. Zeek at 6:00 am the next morning. We woke up at about 7:30 am and reported in to 1st Sgt. Zeek. Sgt. Zeek was the typical 1st Sgt. He had that top kick persona and since we were late reporting he put us both on guard duty for 24 hrs. Guard duty meant two grown men sitting in the shack at the entrance to the camp. The shack barely allowed both of us room to sit at the same time and since the entire company was up north no one came into camp or left camp, at least not by way of the driveway. I have no other memory of Sgt. Zeek.
On 1-13 we flew to Tuy Hoa where the company was currently living in tents and supporting the 4th Infantry Division. Tuy Hoa was rather barren at this time, only a tent city. The mountains to the south of us were constantly shrouded in fog at the summit, or so it seemed. I would later find out that one flew around this mountain and not over it. That fact would provide many a crew some frightful moments. It was the monsoon season and I recall that it rained for the first 28 days I was there. In place of Sgt. Zeek we found MSGT S.H. Arp, A large red faced man with the requisite southern drawl, a Texan I would guess. He was a decent enough guy and we all got along rather well. Being 19 years old I remember Wayne Beam well. He was a real Indian and after all I was but a couple years removed from all my cowboy heroes. Wow, a real Indian. Wayne went home 1-29-67. He had been a crew chief and I remember how happy he was to be leaving. I had too many days to count. Still there were the company dogs which gave a brief respite of normalcy, there was Mutty, Ringo, Soup Bone, Michelle and Pepper. A dog was another warm heart beating and provided some gentleness to our situation.
The company left for an operation in the Iron Triangle (Tay Ninh) on 2-17 and returned on 2-20. shortly thereafter we left Tuy Hoa and moved back to Base Camp at Phan Rang, the date was 2-25-67. We were doing some limited operations with the 101st at this time.
Base Camp was nice compared to the tent city in Tuy Hoa. The weather was much warmer yet the wind blew hard most days making working on helicopters and eating food in the screened mess a real challenge. I suppose Rich Klein and Terry Bernero two guys from Chicago found our "Windy City" rather homey. David Besse was our mail man a happy resourceful fellow much like Radar O'Reilly. David flipped a jeep one afternoon in Ninh Hoa but survived without serious injury. The jeep was KIA. This guy was always smiling. I cannot recall that he every had a bad day. If you were down at all, just watching Besse deliver the mail could pull you back up. (I did run into David upon returning to the states, It was at Ft. Meade, Md. It appeared the good times continued, however this day that I saw David, the party had ended. Maybe hell write about it sometime.
John Young, received the Air Medal w/V Device for his actions in Tay Ninh. One of our ships had gone in to medivac some wounded and John the crew-chief, jumped off with his M-60 to allow one more wounded to get out. John as I recall in the citation, lay down a blistering rain of fire, protecting the ship and the wounded until he was later recovered by another ship. John was from New York a thin blonde haired blue eyed kid who looked older than his years. Maybe that should have been noted in his citation.
Mr. Hanley was shot today. That was my only note, I looked for his name on the internet wall and thankfully he was not there. I think it was Clifton Calvert, Terry Bernero, Tony Alves and Don Burke and I who went into Thap Cham to the strip. (By the way if you were at Phan Rang and walked or drove into the strip, (there is a web site, "Historic Sites in Vietnam" and it features the Cham temple that sits on the hill just outside of the Phan Rang base camp.) Our favorite bar was, "Papa Sans A GoGo" and the sign above it read, "Good food takes time Your's will be ready in a minute." I always wondered if the owner was in on the joke.
Anyway we were sitting in the bar along with some locals when a Vietnamese police officer walks in the door pulls his service revolver and shoots one of the locals sitting next to us. Not a word was said he just started shooting. Of course all the Hookers took off and were never seen again. It was probably our last visit as well. That was April 8th. Tom Arsenault had been in the army for some 20 years although he was only a Spec 4. I imagine he had been busted a few times. Arsenault ran the EM Club and was in charge of the locals who worked on base. Arsenault spoke fluent Vietnamese. I suspect that he had been in country for several years. He was tall and gangly with crooked teeth yelling a lot was his style of communications. When we left for Ninh Hoa Arsenault did not come along and we never saw him again.
On April 24, 0369 Exploded in flight I believe this ship arrived at the 48th one day and shortly thereafter a full bird colonel showed up and claimed the helicopter belonged to him. There was some question, maybe accusations, as to how it got to us in the first place. He and three others flew away in "our" new ship. Later the same day it was reported the main rotor froze and the colonel and his entourage were killed. Well, at least four members of the 48th were indeed the luckiest people in Vietnam that week.
SSG William Braden arrived in company about April 27th. Braden was a well seasoned career soldier. he was a stout fellow with a muscular torso but his legs were a little too short. He had done it all, seen it all and got his way with the enlisted personnel with wit and charm. It was hard not to want to please Braden. Although Al Ratta and I gave it a try more than once. Captain King was unhappy about something and he sends Braden to talk to us, Ratta and I, Braden says, "Captain King says you guys got two choices, One you will be promoted to Sgt. E-5 and youll be expected to get you teams in line with the army way. Or both of you can be sent to Long Binh prison camp for the rest of your tour." Ratta looked at me or I looked at him and one of us said, "Well think about it." Braden, short little legs starting kicking dust like a major league manager at the feet of an umpire following a bad call. We laughed and grudgingly told Sgt. Braden, "Okay, promote us." Like I said it was hard not to want to please Sgt. Braden. On April 28 a Chinook was sling loading one of our gun ships I think it was 087. The Chinook landed and our company commander Major Robert E. Young walked out to the flight line as the Chinook pilot walked towards him holding the sling as if it were a burnt offering, in reality he wanted the Major to see that the Sling had snapped in flight. The fully loaded gunship was said to have made quite a crater upon impact.
On May 3 the company packed up to move to Ninh Hoa. Ninh Hoa was about a 100 miles north of Phan Rang and about a 100 miles south of Tuy Hoa. We would be supporting the White Horse Division of the ROK. The ROKs were an interesting bunch, pretty fearsome fighters who seemed to enjoy killing. They were quite entertaining as each morning a brass band played and the ROKs would march into formation behind the band. An inspection would follow and invariably something would be amiss and the major would slap the captain who punished the lieutenant who kicked the sergeant etc. etc. and this went on almost daily.
There was a POW compound on base which held maybe 20 prisoners. A prisoner somehow obtained a grenade pulled the pin and bent over holding the grenade to his body. Those of us sitting on the flight line saw the results of the grenade when his body was blown some 30 feet into the air. As we walked back to the mess tent later that day a large part of his rib cage lay on the road. Someone eventually collected it and another day was over in Vietnam.
About May 10 Freeman Button, a crew chief, learned that his brother had been killed up around Pleiku, (There was a lot of dying, up around Pleiku) Freeman went home with his brother, I don't think he returned. May 22, Aircraft 985 crashed, it was a total loss but there were no injuries. This ship, if memory serves me correctly went down near the free fire island southwest of camp. I went out on recovery and had my first experience on the ground with incoming fire. It was either Captain Sky King or Mr. Sword who called for air support. The air support was four F4C Phantoms and anyone who ever heard the scream of the Phantoms twin Ges in a slow turn understand why the jet was originally called the banshee. There was a VC quad 50 spotted in the mountain near us. It may have been this gun that brought 985 down. Our recovery efforts were put on hold until the Phantoms had strafed the area thoroughly. We stripped the ship and evacuated the area in about two hours. Upon our return I opened the stripped radios and retrieved some AK47 rounds. tick, tick, tick. Spec 6 Poncho Cuellar reported for duty at the 48th. He was a tech inspector. He was another Braden and like Braden, Poncho didnt take life in the army all that serious. Poncho's brother played major league baseball, but that is not my forte and that is all I know.
On June 1 Rosie and the Chicks performed at base camp. It was pretty bad. We had a cookout that evening, real steaks, the only time in Vietnam that I ate real meat. I mean you could not call that red stuff hamburger and the mutton was all fat, I guess there was the occasional liver served, but it never touched my lips.
On June 4, Captain Moore's ship caught some VC in a tree line. He reported a large number of confirmed KIAs.
On June 21 , 941 crashed during a CA near Nha Trang. No injuries to the crew.
June 23 Mr. Harvey was killed he was 20 years old, so was I. (Wall 4471) Hostile.
June 26, 087 was shot down. About this time the "Bluestar Singers" that would be Al Ratta and Bill Hamnett along with their guitars were flown to Nha Trang to play at the Officers Club, after one song the Officers (Officers and Gentleman they be) said one was enough, thanks guys. Obviously these Officers has been spoiled by the melodic rhythms of Rosie and the Chicks.
On June 29, Roland Gamache a new crew chief on 811, his second or third mission was shot in the knee, he went home as a result. Gamache lives in Massachusetts. I tried to locate him on the net. I thought how many Roland Gamaches can there be? Apparently in Massachusetts the name is as common as Nugyen is in Vietnam. 974 took several rounds at the same time, tick, tick, tick.
July 1 was the worst day in numbers for the 48th in 1967, 774, 785, 786, 837 and 778 all took rounds. Mr. Davis broke his back, Hansen broke his arm and Lingle had a broken wrist.
On July 29th Hanoi Hanna broadcast that the 48th Bluestars and the Jokers would die tonight in a horrible mortar barrage. The flares fell all night but no mortars. One flare did fall through the roof of one of our tents, a good thing that no one slept well that night and the person who's bunk was destroyed was awake and saw it coming.
On August 3 Major Young turned over the 48th to Major Ellis. I remember all of us standing in formation for what seemed like several hours one day. We were waiting for this colonel to fly in from Tuy Hoa (17th Gp.) to pass out a few medals as a result of the operation mentioned above. The only one we had any qualms about was the Bronze Star given to the CO. While everyone else flew in took rounds or crashed (they received Air Medals) the CO who "Without regard for his personal safety guided the attacking force into the Hot LZ etc. etc. etc. without regard for his personal safety HOVERING AT 3000 feet) Oh well I guess thats how one makes Lt. Col. (Reminds me of a MASH episode.)
On Sept 3rd a ROK ran into the tail rotor of 779, tore the tail rotor clean off and of course killed the ROK. Somehow the dead ROK's M-16 found its way into 779's storage compartment. A ROK colonel retrieved it after telling the pilot he, the colonel, would kill him if the weapon was not immediately "located". It was. If you recall at the time not too many, if any, Bluestars had an M-16.
On 9-15 Mr. Runnels crashed 779, Rich Klein and Poncho were onboard, no serious injuries but the a/c was a total loss.
On 9-18 Mr. Dickinson was wounded in an operation near Tuy Hoa.
On 9-22 CWO 3 Pappy Wright came to the 48th. Pappy must have been near 60 years old. He had flown bombers in WWII. It was fun flying with Pappy. Whenever you flew over water Pappy went into character, he was in his Liberator flying over the English Channel on his way to Dusseldorf. He called to the gunners when he spotted the Luftwaffa, he saw the flack and open the Bomb-bay doors released the bombs which never missed their target. When we landed he climbed into the back of the ship and went to sleep until it was time to bomb Germany one more time.
On Oct 13, 851 went down and was a total loss, no injuries.
On Oct 16 we were sent to Phu Bai on a special operation. I'm getting short and there was a real war going on here. We were assigned to a Green Beret outfit near to the 3rd Marine HQs. There was a steady stream of APC's which traveled the road a few feet from our tent. The backs of the APCs lay open stacked with bodies of dead marines. The bodies would be stacked five high probably 20 dead marines in each APC each on their way to Graves Registration. Occasionally a young marine would stop in our tent to visit. They were always battle worn, dirty and looking for a drink and some calmness, they stayed for maybe an hour thanked us for a free beer and walked on down the road. Years later watching yet another MASH episode, the one in which the young soldier was walking around camp after he had died, trying to get people to talk with him, I thought back to the young marines that stopped by for a visit and like in the this episode finally disappeared down that dusty road. I of course wondered had a spirit visited me? This operation was suppose to be Top Secret.
We were taken into an underground bunker enlisted, warrants and officers alike. A rather fierce looking green beret colonel told us, "If you take any photographs, note any compass directions or ever reveal this mission to anyone, I will kill you", He also mentioned an island where other Americans had been sent for failure to follow orders. The mission, which I will only reveal now because hopefully this colonel is dead and he won't hunt me down and kill me, was to fly green berets and mercenaries into Laos.
On the day of the lift the green berets with their "employees" climbed aboard the ships. The Mercs carried all kinds of weapons, the likes of which I had never seen before, greaseguns, grenades, shotguns it seemed everyone had multiple weaponry. One Merc I recall ran toward the ship and never stopped running until he bounced off the pilots door. His eyes were glazed over and not from hitting the ship in full run. He fell to the ground got back up reached out found the ship in front of him and climbed aboard. Nothing was said and I got the impression I was the only one to notice he was either drunk or smoked up, or both. I arrived at this conclusion because the night before two of these fellows rode a motorcycle into our bunker at about 3:30am at about 35 mph.
On 10-22 Sgt. Horner our armor was off loading a 2 1/2 ton truck full of ammo and 55 gallon drums of CS when he, or John Skimbo, apparently pulled the pin on a smoke grenade. This resulted in a fire which set off the ammo and the drums of CS. Those of us on the flight line took of running just as one of the drums went off. It raised a plume of CS a 100 feet into the air. I thought well we are not a secret anymore. I don't remember seeing Horner after that, I guess that Colonel killed him.......... just kidding, ......maybe. As an aside while this deuce and half was on fire, fully loaded Sgt. Braden jumped into this truck and drove it off the flight line away from the helicopters. No medal for Braden, afterall this mission did not exist, nor did the truck.
On 10-26, 904 and 892 took rounds, no injuries but both ships would return to Tuy Hoa via C-130 and then sling loaded back to Ninh Hoa via Chinook. Braden had me fly back in the C130 with the ships, as we flew into Ninh Hoa there was a major fire fight going on just south of camp with the ROKS and the NVA. Back in Phu Bai, or wherever, McKenzie a Joker gunner was wounded. We were unusual at the 48th we had the McKenzie brothers both in the same company, both were Joker Gunners, both had volunteered for extended duty. We also had the Johnstons, they were not brothers but first cousins, big young men bright red hair and faces. one was the company cook the other a crew chief. Most of the time you would have thought the crew chief cooked and the cook crewed.
10-28, 085 hit 5 times, all in the blades (Phu Bai).
10-29 mortars hit the ROKS 2 killed 2 wounded (Ninh Hoa).
10-31 Major Ellis leaves the 48th our new CO is Maj. Fordham. The Phu Bai mission is completed on November 6th. 973 took 7 rounds on the final day, as did 084 and 083. Sgt. Wood, one of the green berets I came to know was killed in Laos.
On November 10 a hurricane hit Ninh Hoa. The officers tents were gone by 4:00 am and the rest of the compound was gone by sunrise. The 48th had to be rebuilt from the dirt up.
11-17 Barry Huff was wounded.
Dec 3 was a very sad day for me. I was crewing for someone else that day as I needed to go to Tuy Hoa any how to sign some paperwork and pick up my orders to return home. We were at the fuel depot. I was filling up the ship when Jesse's ship 811 landed behind us. Jesse was fueling his ship and we had said we would meet in Tuy Hoa as Jesse was going home the same time. That was the last time I saw Jesse or 811. As we approached Tuy Hoa later that day we had to fly low and around the fog shrouded mountain. On this day the fog was very heavy and we flew so low that the water from the South China Sea was no more than a couple feet below the skids of our ship. This was not the first time I had made this particular trip under these conditions, but never this close to going home it was scary. I guess maybe Mr. Leeper took the same route and maybe his skids hit the water. 811 was never found. Mr. Wallace Leeper W3 age 27, Richard Crosby, gunner and Jesus Manuel Moreida died. I don't remember who the copilot was. Crosby was declared dead on 7-17-74, Jesse on 3-27-78 and Mr. Leeper on 7-17-74. Roland Gamache guess that knee shot you received in 811 was the best thing that ever happened to you.
On Dec 8, a memorial service was held for the crew. In 1995 I finally looked for Jesse's name on the wall and saw it for the first time. I remember when the POWs were returned I sat up late into the night hoping that Jesse would have been one to return. Their bodies were never recovered, the crash site never located. I know these memories are not the script of a hollywood movie. Thirty years has dulled too much, but maybe someone else will come along and fill in the blanks or have their memories refreshed to add to the history of the 48th. Some others who served:
Bill Hammnet, N.H, Alan Ratta, Scottsdale, Arizona, Anthony Alves, Yonkers NY
Don Burke, Newport RI, SSG William Braden, Lima Ohio, SP6 Chas Laabs, Cleveland OH.
Larry Lingenfelter made those M60s sing. Jas T. Alexander, Newton NC, Capt. Robert "Sky" King, Ft. Myers Fla.
Robert Bosse, Madawaska, Maine, WO David Swords.
Mr. Runnells, Texas, Ronald Ray, Barberton, OH., Levi Phillips, Houston Tx.
Jon Farquhar, Idaho, Pete Perna, Seattle Wash., Bill Godfrey, Youngstown, OH.
Alfred Weber, Upstate NY., Thomas Sevech, Louis Morgan, Billy McKenize.
John J Dolan, SSG. Paul Adkinson, Charles Collins Simmons, Neal, Stone, Paul Morse, Robinson, Hauptman, Clark, Petty, Johncox, and Jimmy Bland, Gunner via 9th Light Infantry Brigade, what a kid. As we all were Whatever happened to Private Dry?
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