James B. "Jim" Agnew
6th Avn Plt "Fang" Door Gunner 4/65 - 4/66
By mid 1965, the 6th Avn Plt (I Corps Provisional) "Fangs" were ready to leave Danang. Our last few days were spent helping to train Marine Corp. flight
crews and clearing out of our billets. You could do a lot worse for military accommodations than the Danang Hotel.
There were Saturday night steak barbeques/beer busts and after dinner for entertainment, Fang movies. Also Mr.
Meadows would sometimes play his guitar and sing funny songs.
Our next duty station, Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon, was at that time the busiest airport in the world. We were now small fish in a much bigger pond.
We spent a fair amount of time on standby in a "Ready Room" at the AB waiting for someone to call for a fire team. Among the very miscellaneous furnishings in this room was a pilot's seat from a scrapped Huey. To pass the time of day you could talk about almost anything, except war stories, no war stories! If you absolutely could not resist the urge, the standing rule was you had to sit in the pilot's seat, put on your flak vest, flight helmet and buckle the seat belt. Then you could proceed. Needless to say this kept the B.S. and hot air down to a minimum.
We stayed in Saigon only about a month. In an attempt to cut air traffic congestion, the army moved most of the helicopter units out of Tan Son Nhut. Our next duty station was Bien Hoa AB, where we flew with the "Thunderbirds." During this period we did a couple of "TDY" missions into the Mekong Delta. We had heard so much about this area that I was surprised when these overnight trips turned out to be mostly uneventful.
In Nov. 65 we took part in the opening day of what has become a famous battle in the Ia Drang Valley. It seemed to me to be not much different from dozens of other operations we had been part of. At the end of the day, some officer came out and turned us loose saying they had more gunships than were needed.
The book that brought fame to this battle was called "We Were Soldiers Once" and has recently been made into a big Hollywood production movie starring Mel Gibson.
I recently read this book and did enjoy it, but found it a little tedious in spots. Military history is often difficult reading. They get bogged down in details. On pages 109-110, the author describes the loss of a "Douglas Skyraider." This made the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I was an eye witness to this event. We were flying directly behind and slightly above him when he went down....an absolute bird's eye view. It is uncanny how the description in the book parallels my own memories. The Air Force investigators claim the pilot probably flew through some debris from one of his own bomb explosions. I'm not qualified to argue the technical aspects of this incident, but I would be more suspicious of small arms fire. We had been in and out of this area all morning and the place was alive with automatic weapons fire.
We stayed at Been Hoa for quite awhile and you didn't have to get very far from the AB to find serious trouble. The jungle was mostly controlled by the NVA. We hardly ever saw Viet Cong anymore. Suddenly they were all wearing fatigue uniforms and steel helmets. The war seemed to be getting grimmer and uglier.
How ironic that the worst thing I saw in a year of getting shot at almost daily was an accident. One day we were flying armed escort for a large troop movement when two of the "D" model slicks tangled up in the dust while trying to lift out together. How Tragic! Eight Americans were killed and many more were injured. We were close enough to see it happen and it really was upsetting. In my mind I can still see the black smoke, the yellow & orange flames and the broken rotor blades flying directly beneath us. We immediately landed to see if we could be of any assistance. I remember the sound of ammunition cooking off in the heat of the fire. What frustration! Of course there was nothing we could do. After more than 35 years I seldom think of these things anymore. Perhaps its just as well.
Around March 1, 1966, we were assigned to 5th Special Forces Headquarters at NHA Trang. The aircraft were disarmed and turned into slicks. We went on several flights to Cambodia and other places, mostly at night, to insert or withdraw Special Forces people. You had to leave behind your wallet, dog tags, name tags, shoulder patches, etc. The whole thing just seemed very sneaky. Until I found this web site I had never heard of "Delta Ops." Obviously this must have been part of it.
I had come to Vietnam via the "Shot Gun" program from the 25 Inf Div in Hawaii. I remember very little of Hawaii. My year with the aviation company I regard with a great deal more affection.
I really didn't carry any emotional baggage home with me. Life has been very good. Louise, my wife of 34 years, and I recently retired. We live in the Northern California and have a 27 year old daughter. I try imitating a golfer 2-3 times a week while Louise volunteers for our local police department and scuba dives. Hope to meet some of you this Sept. in Las Vegas.