By Will Stafford
Well, here goes what will be a little from memory and a
little from actual documents I have. The documented part will be accurate and I'll specify
when I have taken something from a document by enclosing it with asterisks * *. The memory
part- - - well, I guess we all know what the fog of thirty years ago has done to our
In December 1967 when I arrived, the 48th was part of the
*10th Combat Aviation Battalion APO 96377, 1st Aviation Brigade, APO 96384* stationed in
Ninh Hoa, *APO 96240* and had been there for about seven or eight months. With the
exception of a couple of wooden buildings, the company was still living in GP Medium
tents. Several of the pilots still had vivid memories of the days in Phan Rang and told
the new guys all about the hardships of the early days and nights in the mud and sleeping
in aircraft and how we had it so good now that the company was at Ninh Hoa. This didn't
exactly make us appreciate the tent city.
The company was organized into three flight platoons plus
a maintenance detachment which was almost as big as the 48th itself. There was also a
small avionics detachment and a medical detachment. The first and second platoons were the
slicks (Blue Stars) and the third platoon was the gun platoon (Jokers). I was initially
assigned to 2nd platoon but cannot remember who the platoon leader was at that time. I
stayed with the slicks until April or May 68 when I went to the gun platoon.
As a newbie WO1 they stuck me in sort of an overflow tent
because all the spaces in the 2nd platoon pilot's tents were full. My check-out flight and in-country orientation was conducted by CWO2
"Tiny" Rice. He was one of the best pilots I ever flew with. Over the next two
to three weeks I flew as copilot on several regular resupply missions and did one combat
assault. Then, one day, I was assigned to fly copilot with a Lieutenant Correll. I later
learned that his nickname from flight school days was "Crash Correll". Well that
is exactly what we did on a resupply run to a Korean outpost. We lined up for a down wind
approach to a pinnacle even after I told Correll I thought we were landing down wind. At
the bottom of the approach he ran out of left pedal, aft cyclic, airspeed, altitude, and
ideas all at the same time which turned the aircraft into a ball of wreckage on top of the
mountain. The only good thing was that everyone got out without serious injury. I remember
thinking, as it became obvious we weren't going to make it, this is going to be a very
long tour if I survive the crash. Ok, back to some documented facts.
The company commander in *June 1968 was Major Jerry L.
Fleming, Armor and the executive officer was Major Henry A. Douglas, Infantry*. I have no
idea what happened to Major Douglas later in his career. I think Major Fleming was the
company commander when I first arrived in the 48th but I cannot document that. Major
Fleming went on to retire as a Colonel and at one point, while a Colonel, was director of
the Armor & Engineer Board at Fort Knox. I met him later in my career when he was a
LTC at Fort Knox and I was a Captain attending the Armor Officer Advance Course. During
the Advance Course, LTC Fleming was my academic advisor. As I remember it, Major Fleming
was not very well liked during his command of the 48th. Some of that dislike may have been
because a previous commander was idolized and apparently Major Fleming was nothing like
the other commander. I got along with Major Fleming pretty well or at least as well as a
WO1, at that time, gets along with a Major. I think Fleming liked me because he had brow
beat me into taking on the extra job as property book officer. I wasn't worth a hoot as a
property book officer and didn't have any real interest in it but, somehow managed to get
the company and detachments through a 1st Aviation Brigade IG inspection. The only reason
we passed it though was because the Major and two sergeants they sent down from 17th Group
to inspect were more inept than me. At least I had done a little homework and used the
truth only when nothing else worked.
In *October 1968, Major Robert E.Harris, Infantry was the
company commander* but, I cannot document when he actually assumed command. A few of the
other officers in the 48th during the period December 1967 - January 1969 were:
1. Captain Katahara (I am not sure of the spelling- - -
was a section leader of 1st platoon).
2. *Captain James T. Thompson, Transportation Corps*(he
was a platoon leader in October 1968 but I do not know which platoon).
3. Captain John Wiliford (At one point John was platoon
leader of 2nd platoon).
4. *Captain James A. Letson Jr., Medical Corps, Flight
Surgeon* (I ran into Doc. Letson at Fort Knox, Kentucky after I finished the Armor Officer
Basic Course in April 1969. Doc was the Flight Surgeon at Godman Army Airfield until
sometime in late 1969 when he left the Army and I think went to Columbia University
Medical School as a teaching resident).
5. CWO2 John Gallagher (Gun Platoon).
6. 1Lt Larry VanNortwick (Gun Platoon Leader - - - Larry
and I were flying together when I got shot).
7. Captain "fluffy" White (Administrative
Officer - - - he is the only pilot I ever knew that was cleared to fly daylight, VFR, with
an Instructor Pilot only).
8. 1Lt "Crash" Correll (I think he left the
company a month or so after the crash and subsequent accident investigation board. I
believe he went to HQ, 10th Battalion.
9. CWO2 "Tiny" Rice (2nd Platoon and later gun
10. Captain William E. Smith, Infantry (He was a platoon
leader at one point but I do not remember which platoon. *He was also the acting company
commander on 8 December 1968*).
11. Captain Larry Gardner (Larry was 1st platoon leader).
12. CW3 or 4? Pappy Wright (Pappy I think was in
the 48th but spent most of his time with the 390th Maintenance Detachment. Pappy, it was
rumored was an old WWII bomber pilot. It is probably true because he certainly was old
enough to have been in that war. He was a hack of a nice guy but could get moody at
12. CW3 Grubbs (Grubbs was a real supply Warrant Officer
who became our property book officer). Grubbs said after about two days of looking over
the property books that he first, didn't know how we had passed an inspection and second,
that it would take all the skills he had accumulated in a 17 year quartermaster career to
keep me from going to jail. He was good at his job because the supply room began to run
smoothly and I got to go home at the end of the my tour without a Military Police escort.
13. SP4 Terry Rolinger (Terry was Crew Chief of the
gunship Murder Incorporated)
14. *WO1 Laurence D. (Larry) Worthington, W3161620, Killed
In Action 11 January 1969*. (Larry was killed southwest of Nha Trang in the general area
where, six months earlier, I had gotten shot. He was the only 48th AHC combat death I
remember during my tour and it was just a matter of about a couple of weeks before my tour
ended). It really is sad that those are only people I can remember from that time. There
are a lot of memories of things that happened but the names just aren't there anymore.
Throughout my tour we supported the 9th Korean Division
(White Horse). The Division Headquarters and one of the three combat Regiments was
headquartered at Ninh Hoa. I think it was the 29th Regiment headquartered at Ninh Hoa.
Another of the Regiments, I think it was the 28th, was at Tuy Hoa (not sure of the
spelling) and guarded the American Air Force base and the areas north and west of there.
The other regiment, which I believe was the 30th, was south of Nha Trang and covered Nha
Trang and south and west to about Phan Rang. The vast majority of our missions were in
support of the 9th Korean Division. There were times when we sent aircraft to assist other
units in places as far away as Ban Me Thout (spelling may not be right) in the west and
Qui Nhon up north (the Korean Tiger Division).
As I remember the company area, the flight line and runway
was west of the company compound (sleeping quarters, mess hall, dispensary, operations and
orderly room which were all tents). The runway basically ran north and south and consisted
of some pierced steel planking (PSP) and just plain dirt with revetments on the east and
west sides. A couple of O-1 Bird dog aircraft used the runway sometimes but they were not
part of the 48th's assets. Everything else was rotary wing. There was no traffic control
tower at the airfield. The operations shack gave out traffic pattern advisory information
and decided on which way to take off and land by the very scientific method of looking at
the wind sock. All of the revetments for the gunships were the L shaped type. There was
also a sprinkling of the parallel type revetments used by the slicks. All the revetments
were made of PSP with sandbags or 55 gallon drums filled with dirt.
When I first arrived, all the slicks were D models and all
the guns were B models. Sometime around the middle of 1968 we got two C model gunships and
three or four months before I left we began to get some H model slick replacements. To the
northwest of the company area by a thousand yards or more was the Korean Divisional
Headquarters. They seemed to be almost a world unto themselves. I guess the 48th command
elements got up there some for briefings and such but down at the pilot level we normally
just dealt with the Korean liaison officers and interpreters. Every one of these guys
seemed to be named either Kim, Lee, or Pak.
We continued living in the tents until sometime in late
1968 when we finally moved into some wood buildings. The new wood structures for the
company had been built north of the runway and on a hill of sorts. For some reason I never
did like the wood structures. I guess after putting so much work into tearing ammo boxes
apart and nailing them back together in different forms to make a room within a tent, well
I just felt the wood buildings were impersonal. By this time I was in the gun platoon and
had worked my way up to being an Aircraft Commander and sometimes light fire team lead.
The gun platoon tent was always off limits to any of the slick drivers and if one was ever
caught in the gun tent they got coated with shaving cream or such. The gun drivers were,
by our own estimation, the cream of the pilot crop, the Toco Supreme-O. The fact is, most
slick drivers had better pilot technique than we did because of the tight LZs they had to
land in. After escorting them in we just set up a dog track and waited for trouble or the
replacement gun team to arrive. I will say we were better at taking off over loaded than
I delayed moving to the new buildings until I came back
from flying one day and they had pulled the tent down and my stuff along with the stuff of
several of the other gun pilots was setting out in the open. The old man had been warning
us for over a month that we had to move - - - but we didn't think he would actually tear
down the tent. It took a couple hours in the dark to get those prized possessions up to
the new building. One thing about the new area that was just like the old tent city. We
still didn't have hot water for showers.
During the time I was with the 48th we never did get hit
hard with ground attacks. There was only one that I remember and it was pretty lame. It
didn't seem to be well coordinated and was beaten back in less than thirty minutes. There
were three mortar and rocket attacks and those all happened while we were still in the
tent city. The attacks never did any real damage to us. I think some of the Koreans got
hit in one of the mortar attacks but can't confirm that. One attack actually hit a place
we called the dump which was where we kept the junk vehicles and unusable equipment. Thank
heavens the bad guys right around Ninh Hoa were the VC and NVA equivalent of "F"
Troop. Even Tet 68 fighting was comparatively light in our area. Tet was the first time I
ever heard that distinctive whack as rounds impact the aircraft. That was also the first
time I actually realized the other side had guns and didn't like us. What the hell though,
I had just turned 27 on the 12th of February and as everyone knows, when you're 27, you're
I always felt I couldn't be hit or hurt and that feeling
stayed with me until the *10th of July 1968*. 1Lt Larry VanNortwick and I were flying gun
lead with a light fire team in support of a Special Forces outpost southwest of Nha Trang.
The outpost was surrounded and they had taken several casualties. It was on either the
third or fourth pass that several rounds came through the floor and chin bubble. Three of
the rounds hit me in the right foot and left leg. Two round went through my foot and broke
it in half. The one I took in the leg must have been almost spent because it went in just
above my ankle, traveled up the bone and came out just below my knee. Other than making a
couple of holes and scraping off some small bone chips, that one didn't do much damage. We
made two more passes at where most of the fire was coming from and dumped the rest of the
ammunition we had. At about this time the secondary gun team arrived and I was beginning
to hurt plus I had lost a lot of blood. We flew to the Nha Trang evacuation hospital which
was pretty convenient since it was only about twenty minutes away. I was in the hospital
for about two and a half weeks before I got to go back to the company but it was another
two weeks before I was flying again and I still had a cast on. The old man hit the ceiling
when he caught me flying with the cast but after a good butt chewing, he looked the other
way and I kept flying. Some guys in maintenance rigged an axle for me and put little
wheels on it. They drilled a hole in the rubber heel of the cast and put the wheels
on which let me roll along the floor and work the peddles. When I got on the ground, there
was a pin I could take out and remove the rig so walking was easy. Give soldiers a
challenge and they will come up with just the right rig. If those two maintenance types
ever read this, I thank you again for your invention. Of course the rig cost me a couple
of cases of beer at the time but it was worth it.
A little while after I got out of the hospital I was
offered a battlefield commission. The paperwork took months but in January *I was
commissioned a 2Lt., Armor branch with a date of rank of 14 January 1969. I left the 48th
and Vietnam on January 29th*.
I ran across the Jokers again in 1971 but I was flying
Chinooks for C/159th, 101st. The Jokers had come up to support the Lam Son 719 fiasco.
They were still flying the C models and said they even had one of the B model guns left.
It was hard to imagine flying those old ships against the anti aircraft fire we were
taking in that battle. There were some very brave men in those aircraft.
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