By Bill Kelbaugh
The 48th was based at the 9th ROK Infantry Division headquarters in Ninh Hoa. One of the Korean regiments was there while the other two were at Cam Ranh City (across the bay from the large Cam Ranh Air Force Base) and at Phu Heip (just south of the Tuy Hoa Air Force Base. A slick and a gun team would spend a week's rotation at the outlying regiments. In the late afternoon, flares were loaded into the slick and we all were on a standby status for the night. We had the aircraft "cocked" and ready to go. We would go through the preflight and start procedures to the last item before actual start. We would then turn off the battery. In case of a scramble, all we had to do was turn on the battery and pull the trigger and with practice we could be off the ground in only a couple of minutes.
One week about mid 1967, I was at Phu Heip and we had several scrambles. We were sitting around in the hooch watching Armed Forces TV out of Tuy Hoa. The slick crew had to listen all night to the gun pilots explain all the difficulties of taking off in a "heavily loaded UH-1B, etc., etc., etc." We all went to bed at a decent hour and were soon sound asleep.
We were awakened a couple of hours later by a sound. You could tell everyone was awake, but nobody said anything. Then we heard the next sound. It turned out that enemy had set up a recoilless rifle on the top of a rock pile (300 feet high or so) that was on the beach some distance south of the Korean compound down toward Vung Ro Bay. When we heard the second round go off, someone yelled "INCOMING". We all got up pulled on our clothes and ran for the door. The first 3 or 4 guys all got to the door at the same time - it looked like the Keystone Kops with all the guys wedged in the door. They finally got separated and out the door.
The rounds were impacting down at the other end of the compound that was separated from us by a long parade field. The slick pilots and one of the gunships had enough sense to turn off the rotating beacons and navigation lights before turning the battery on. The other gunship just turned on his battery and there went his rotating beacon in all its glory. Of course with such a good target, the rounds started walking over our way. I remember watching and thinking that at the rate they were moving toward us, I was going to have to unstrap and run away with about two more rounds. Somebody finally turned off the lights and the impacting rounds moved away from us. I was about ready to pull pitch when I looked over to se e one of the "heavily loaded UH-1B's" that supposedly "couldn't ever make a normal takeoff" taking off almost straight up, over the revetment, and downwind. Perhaps motivation improves pilot technique.
We went down to where we saw the muzzle flashes and started dropping our flares and the gunships did their thing. The enemy had landed on the beach in a boat to set up the recoilless rifle. We flew almost a fuel load looking for anything that looked suspicious. The Koreans finally called and told us to come home.
The Army Air Field at Phu Heip was closed so we landed at Tuy Hoa Air Force Base to refuel. We certainly got some strange looks and more than a few comments from the Air Force when one of the gun pilots got out of his aircraft wearing only untied combat boots, boxer shorts, a chest protector, and a flight helmet.
The next morning we were awakened very early to fly the Korean regimental commander. Of course he wanted to check everything out and meet with some of his company commanders out in the field. Due to a lack of sleep, we were exhausted. I wondered what the Colonel thought when every time he came back to his aircraft that day, he had to wake up the entire crew. However, he was very complimentary to us about our flare mission the night before.
Some nights later, we were hit again. We went through the same drill except we managed to avoid the traffic jam in the door and everybody got their clothes on and the aircraft lights off. We climbed to altitude and started to drop our flares. After a while, I was starting to get frustrated with my crew because they were having a difficult time getting the flares out in a timely manner. I was startled when I finally looked in back and only saw one crew member. I just knew one of them had fallen out, but what actually happened was the door gunner did not even wake up and the crew chief didn't want him to get in trouble so he didn't say anything. The next day the Colonel had to wake us up at every stop again. I was really wondering what he thought of us.
On the last day of our week of flare standby, a Korean NCO told me to bring the entire crew to see the Colonel before we went back to Ninh Hoa. We landed at the regimental headquarters and noticed an Air Force "Pedro" helicopter parked there. We went into the office and saw the NCO. He went to the door and said something to the Colonel and waved us in. There were two Air Force Colonels from Tuy Hoa Air Force Base in the office discussing perimeter security when the Korean Colonel turned his back on them, jumped up and shook our hands, thanked us for our work that week, and told us to sit down. He asked us about our families and made small talk for a while. I looked over and could tell the two Air Force Colonels were not real happy about being upstaged by two 20 year old Warrant Officer's and two Specialist 4's. After about 20 minutes of small talk, our host went over and unlocked a cabinet, handed us each a bottle of high quality liquor, and sent us on our way.
Within several weeks, the Koreans built a bunker on top of the rock pile to keep the enemy off. The helicopter pad on top of the bunker and the ocean breezes made for some exciting approaches.
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