Robert J. "Mo" Moberg
"Bandit 26"
 
1966 - 1967

Shot Down With Robbie
CWO Lucious Theodore Untalan, Deceased

Helicopters in Vietnam

Red Bar Line

Shot Down with Robbie

 The crew - WO Johnson, Crew Chief Smith, Gunner, I can't remember for sure, I thought it was a young man named Gourley, myself in left seat. SFC Doc Simpson operating hoist.

The Recon team had been pursued on the ground for 2 days. Major (Eldon?) Smith was flying the C&C with "Bruiser". The Team could not find an LZ on the ridge line. The FAC spotted the team through small opening in canopy. King went in and pulled out 3 members, 1 American and 2 Viets, by jungle penetrator hoist under heavy fire and taking numerous hits. Bruiser and Smith called the aircraft off and ordered Robbie the Team Leader on the ground to "Get your Shit in order and find a safe LZ!" Robbie replied, " I got my shit in order I'm just lookin' for that slick you promised would get us outa' here!"

Knowing the team could not defend itself for long with only 3 of them left I requested the C&C vector me to them as I hovered down the ridge with skids in the trees using the triple canopy for concealment. The C&C gave us directions. right 3 degrees, left 5 degrees, hold heading, etc. It worked. I looked down and there they were. Doc ran the hoist down full length. Over 200 feet. They couldn't quite reach it. I settled 'til the blades were just starting to clip the top of the trees as the gunner and crew chief reported receiving heavy fire. Doc reported Graves on the hoist. We couldn't move for fear of dragging Graves into the trees.

About that time I felt the aircraft rise as the bottom windscreens disappeared and the cockpit filled with blue smoke. My right leg was knocked left off the pedal by the buckled radio consul. I am sure we were hit by a B40 rocket but can not confirm. The aircraft still at a hover started to drift left. As I tried to correct I glanced at Johnson's death grip on the cyclic. I screamed "I got it!" The aircraft still started drifting when I realized I had no cyclic or pedals. I made the decision to crash in the trees versus from 500 feet over the valley. I bottomed the collective and saw the brush spinning around us as the aircraft went nose down and then rolled upside down stopping about 6 feet from the ground.

I couldn't get the door open and screamed "Where the hell is my gun!", when Doc poked me with his M16 from below and said "Here take mine and get the hell out of there!" I crawled out through the nose. Doc and Smitty were thrown out sustaining broken ribs. Johnson, the gunner, and I climbed out sustaining broken pride! Doc and I climbed back up into the aircraft to shut off the inverters that were still whining and Doc removed the M-60s and survival kit. I also found my Car-15. Graves came over and kissed me on the head and said, " I knew you'd come get me!"

Robbie came over and asked me if I wanted to take command and reminded me of the policy that as Recon Team leader he was supposed to remain in command. I gladly told him he was doing a fine job, to keep truckin', and asked him what he wanted us to do. Robbie assigned us positions and fields of fire in the ambush above a trail running well below the downed aircraft. Bruiser advised us by PRC 25 to stay put until he could find an LZ to send in a Platoon from the 93rd Ranger Battalion assigned to Delta for backup. I divided the water and ammo from the survival kit as Doc set up an M-60 above and behind me.

It became real quiet and as I lay there looking at my field of fire I heard Vietnamese jabbering and saw a man stop running about 20 yards from me looking away and down the hill. As he stopped the rest of his squad ran into him bunching up. I was expecting the rescue Rangers but realized the pith helmet and crossed harness looked strange. I glanced over at Robbie who was licking his lips and slowly taking careful aim with his CAR. As I looked back at the bunched up men in front of me the leader spun around. The red star on his helmet stood out like a rotating beacon. Seeing the Huey hanging above us he pointed and started to scream as my first burst hit him. As I was trying to change magazines I was aware of the constant M-60 fire over my head and numerous hand grenades being tossed into the now totally decimated squad of NVA in front of me. Robbie gave a pullback signal and I helped Doc carry the M-60 and extra ammo back up the ridge North of the aircraft where we set up a small perimeter defense in a clump of tall elephant grass.

As we lay there unable to see 3 feet in front of us we could hear enemy troops coming up the other side of the ridge and firing into the trees above our heads. One of the crew started shaking violently. Afraid he may start firing and give our position away I quickly crawled down to him, grabbed him hard by the shoulder and whispered, "Just remember, if you have to die, there is no better way than fighting as a soldier for your country." He shook his head yes and immediately settled down. I have pondered that moment in similar circumstances many times since and wondered what the hell prompted me to make such a statement!!! There ain't no good way to die!!! And if your fighting for your life that is exactly what your fighting for! Not your country!

A few minutes later Robbie crawled over and told me the Rangers were in-bound and to follow him North. As we were pulling out we heard Vietnamese screaming back and forth at each other and then heavy firing to our front. Graves told me later that they were saying we are un-armed as he and the Viet Lieutenant opened fire on them. The Viet Lieutenant later told me they were saying don't shoot, we are out of ammo! I have often wondered if we could have taken them prisoner???

We kept moving and started sliding down the hill to the East away from the NVA. I could see Smitty having a problem carrying the other M-60 so I took it and gave him my CAR. We fought our way through the under growth for what seemed like 3 or 4 hours until Graves made contact with the Viet Rangers. The Rangers set up a blocking force and we passed through to a small LZ in a stream at the bottom of the mountain. A Marine CH-46 came in and I started helping everyone aboard. I stood there in a daze from exhaustion and adrenaline let down watching the ramp of the 46 being closed and trying to take off with some small saplings caught in the ramp. I realized I was NOT aboard when the aircraft settled back, the ramp opened and Robbie reached out grabbing me by the back of the harness dragging me in the aircraft like a sack of potatoes. We took off receiving a couple hits as the gunners on the 46 were firing in all directions. One of them even pulled out his .45 and fired out the window. I often wondered if he knew the Rangers we right below us. We landed at Dong Ha for refueling and inspection of the hits when I realized I was mostly naked from the waste down. Those cheap Tiger fatigues had been completely torn off in the brush. I have worn skivvies and two pair of "issue" pants on every operation since!

Slicks from the 281st picked us up and took us back to Phu Bai. Major Smith met me as we landed, put his arm around me, welcomed me home, and escorted us to the TOC for debriefing. After a short debrief Bruiser ordered us all to Marble Mountain for more debriefing, rest, to let the medics dig the thorns out of our asses and tape up Doc and Smitty ribs.

I guess if we had brought back documents Robbie would have got the Silver Star instead of the BS w/V. I received a ACM w/V, the crew received an AM w/V. I think.

 
 Red Bar Line

CWO Lucious Theodore Untalan, Deceased
281st AHC 1968 – 1969

I did not know Ted in the 281st. I knew him at Fort Bragg and again in Project Delta at Nha Trang in 1965 when he was the only man to return from an over-run Recon Team working for Col. Charley Beckwith in the An Lo Valley. The next time I met Ted was at Ban Khay near Moung Soui, Laos on 24 June 1969.

I was on ground duty as the Senior Advisor to the Lao Neutralist Army at Moung Soui when a reported eight Battalions of NVA attacked at approx 0100 hrs 24 June. My Call sign was “CITY HALL”. I was a FAG! That's right! FAG (Forward Air Guide), not FAC. The FAC accreditation was authorized only for U.S. Air Force personnel. I was validated to put in Air Strikes from the ground, not from the air. But no one really paid any attention to the rules in heavy combat situations because everyone knew my voice. When the smoke from over 200 A1E and F4 sorties was clearing in the valley around my headquarters with the Thais during the morning of 24 June we found the NVA in the wire and that we had lost all of our artillery. The artillery positions to the East had fought bravely with enemy PT76 Tanks in the wire, as  well  as  numerous  wounded,  when an

F-4 with a hung bomb flew overhead and accidentally dropped the ordinance in the middle of the 155 Howitzer position causing 30 casualties. In my compound we had sustained 35 wounded and 5 KIA. SFC Pompili handed me the PRC 10 and I heard, "City Hall, this is Gravel Voice! (Major Michael Werbiski, “SKI”) I'm over here at LS108 (Moung Soui). What do you want me to do?" ... While the rest of the ARMA staff in Vientiane had been setting around listening to what was happening to old Mo on the radio, Ski had put on his combat harness and rushed to the airport, commandeered an Air America helicopter, and ordered the pilot to drop him off at Moung Soui.

About that time the U.S. Army Attaché (ARMA) Huey flown by Ted Untalan on TDY from the 70th Aviation Company at Korat, Thailand flew overhead carrying the Attaché and General Thep (Commander of Thai Forces in Laos). Ted asked the same question. I asked him if he could land and get the “blood” out of my “front yard”. I advised him we were still receiving periodic small arms fire and to make a tight spiraling approach from the North and be prepared to make a quick “go-around” on my command. There were a couple Air America helicopters circling overhead who would not or could not land in a ‘hot’ LZ. Ted landed, dropped off the Thai Commanding General, and made four more trips getting all the wounded out. While Captain Bessilieu, SFC Pompili (my Arty Advisors), and I were helping with one of the loads Ted said; “Major Mo, I have been chasing you since I left the 281st. The ARMA people told me I might find you ‘fat-catnip’ it up here! What the hell did you do to piss off the North Vietnamese Army?”

After learning the Neut Battalion providing security next to us had ran away during the night my Thai counter-part reminded me I had recently set up evacuation plans and requested I propose them to the General. I advised the Colonel that we had "bloodied their nose" in round one and I thought the fight had just begun. He reminded me that he was there to provide artillery support for the Neuts, they had run, and he had no artillery. He made a good point, so I agreed to ask the General to look at my evac plans. When I approached the 5’2” General he jumped at least 2 feet in the air, screamed “F--k you Moberg, F--k the US Ambassador, F--k ARMA, and F--k the President of the United States!!! We are Thais!! We don't retreat!! We fight!!” With that little lesson in Thai military doctrine we organized the 85 or so troops we had left into an Infantry Platoon and put them on the fence. Ted took me to Moung Soui, approx 4 km to the West on his last flight out so I could evaluate what was left of the Neut Brigade and coordinate with Ski. Ted took the ARMA to General Vang Pao’s Headquarters at Site 20A to try to get us some help and plan my future.  

He dropped me off on the wrong end of the strip and as I was running along the hill side of the runway, where the good guys were supposed to be, I could see Ski walking from hole to hole jerking the troops up and pointing toward the NVA in the rice paddies on the other side of the strip. I then noticed the O-1E Bird-Dog used by the Thais as an artillery spotter was tied down in its revetment. The shacks around it had been burned down and were still smoking. I asked Ski if he had looked at the plane and he said he had and he hadn't seen any holes in it so I told him to hang in with the Neuts and ran back to the Bird Dog. My pre-flight consisted of cutting the tie down ropes with my trusty K-Bar (not SF issue) as I ran to the door, climbed in, and held the start button on while screwing in the battery connector. It kicked over after a couple rotations. I ran up the engine and checked the oil pressure as I lowered flaps and took off from the revetment 45 degrees to the runway, and flew 20 feet over the heads of the NVA in the rice paddies. I then did a recon of the whole area trying to locate the Tanks that had been reported and landed on a little road back in front of Ban Khay stopping just before hitting the front gate. 

As I climbed out to report to the General I noticed a body move in the mud just in front of the wire. I waded in to it and rolled him over. He immediately sat up and threw his hands up! I held my Browning 9mm on him and grabbed him by the collar dragging him away from his AK 47 lying in the mud. I motioned for the Thais at the gate to come get him. The other 6 members of his sapper squad were lying dead in the wire. The best we could make out through one of our officers who spoke some Vietnamese was that he and his squad had practiced breaching the compound many times during the previous five or six days with orders to kill the Foreign White Devils (Bessilieu and ME? Pompili was Black!). He said his job was to crawl up and pull the wire aside after his partner blew it up with ‘satchel charges’ so the rest of the squad could run through the breach. But his partner was shot immediately when he crawled up to the wire and then it appeared everyone in the compound started shooting at him so he just laid there in the mud while the rest of the squad ran into the wire and were killed by the hand grenades and machine gun fire from the Thais. I have always surmised that his commander forgot to tell him that the soldiers in the compound would not like anyone blowing up their wire!!

After advising the General of my intentions to locate the enemy from the air I left Captain Bessilieu in charge with the “City Hall” call sign and changed my call sign to “Jacks”. I took off again, with an anxiously tight rectum, barely clearing the building at the other end of the road. I found one PT-76 Tank dead in the wire at our 155 Howitzer position 3 kilometers to the East and continued to search for the three other reported tanks. I made contact with the Battery First Sgt and told him to try to get his wounded back to the road in front of Ban Khay headquarters. All of the Battery officers had been KIA or WIA. Ted came back after dropping off the ARMA at Site 20A to try to get more wounded out and act as radio relay with the General while I continued my search for the tanks and more friendly troops fighting their way back to Hqs. He also helped me coordinate airdrops of ammo from the Air America C-46s who had started arriving overhead until the weather started to deteriorate. 

Running low on fuel myself I radioed Ski to find the hand pump at Moung Soui and landed just before dark to pick him up and refuel. Ski and a Neut refueled me in pouring rain while I talked to the Neutralist Colonel (the Brigade Commander, I will not mention names) who assured me he was in charge of the situation and would drive the NVA back to Hanoi!! With that interesting information I considered staying with him for about "10 seconds", but decided if I wanted to keep my airplane for the next day I had better take Ski to 20A. It was dark when we took off and raining like hell. The lightning looked pretty bad to the South and out of the dark sky came 3 Raven O1s on the radio saying 20A was socked in and asked me if I knew where LP (Luang Prabang) was located. I welcomed their arrival to the fight as they had not been there all day or the night before and advised that LP was 35 minutes flight time on a heading of approx 345 degrees. They advised they had no maps of the area. I gave them the LP Beacon frequency and told them to remain above 6500 feet and they should pick up the signal 15 minutes out. They said their ADFs didn't work well and that one of them was almost out of gas. I advised there was plenty of gas at Moung Soui and how to get it. I turned on my lights and asked the Raven out of fuel to follow me down over the strip, which is big, wide, and yellow laterite, even in the rain. 

Numerous buildings were still burning around the strip outlining it fairly well. The Raven found the strip, landed, and refueled while I led the other 2 aircraft toward LP. When the LP beacon came in strong and I was assured they had locked on I returned toward MS to make sure the Raven who had landed got out. I made radio contact with him on the way back and asked him to turn on his Nav lights and watch for my lights. He then said he had contact with LP. Ski cursed and I turned back for LP.  We heard the AIRA ground personnel on the radio saying they had Jeeps parked on each end of the runway with lights on to mark the airstrip. As we came over head there were no lights. I landed with my landing light and found no one at or near the strip. Ski and I walked a couple kilometers and found a Samlor who took us to the ARMA house. Ski was still cursing the Air Force for not waiting on us and wanted to make an assault trip to the AIRA house but I talked him out of it because it was almost midnight. I wanted to be back in the air by 0500 in order to be back over Moung Soui by daylight to watch the Neuts drive the NVA back to Hanoi!

I hope the above is accepted for what it is. I have nothing but the greatest admiration and appreciation for the Ravens and what they did for me for many years. I had some great friends in the Ravens. I don't know what those pilots were thinking that night. They obviously knew nothing about the situation at Moung Soui. So I guess they assumed that I being an Army dumbass was going back to Moung Soui for dinner. I heard the pilot was awarded the Silver Star for landing and refueling at Moung Soui after dark?  More power to him.

Later, the ARMA called me into his office and requested I confirm recommendations for Silver Stars for the pilots of the Air Force helicopter that had a landing accident while evacuating the Thais from Ban Khay on 27 June as well as a Raven pilot that had landed at Moung Soui for fuel on the night of 24 June. As I read the recommendations I asked if any of them had been  wounded, bled, or received a Purple Heart? The answer was no so I refused to sign. He chewed my ass and ordered me to recommend Capt Bessilieu for a Silver Star and put myself in for a DFC. Again I refused and was sent to Sam Thong to replace the Senior Advisor who had been killed with Ski on 19 August. Captain Boon Heng, my dog-robber and back seater, was MIA near Ban Ban as a back seater for a Raven after a mid-air with an F105 on 18 August. I sent Ski to 20A to try to gather up his personal belongings. He was killed with the Air America Porter pilot and the Military Advisor on Skyline Ridge.

I don’t know if everyone got their Silver Stars? I assume they did. And I don’t have a problem with that. Everyone worked fearlessly hard during the attack on M.Soui 24 thru 27 June 69 and the subsequent evacuation of the SR on 27 June. I received another DFC in the mail. I think Ski was posthumously awarded another Bronze Star to add to his collection, at which I am sure he would have laughed, chewed it up, and washed it down with a swig of Chivas from the bottle he and I kept in the Bear Cage at 20A. The same bottle that I finished the night before I climbed Skyline Ridge to carry his charred remains down the hill and escort it to Udorn. .

After the Moung Soui fiasco Ted remained TDY to Laos and supported me at Sam Thong when I replaced the Senior Advisor to Military Region 2 who died with Ski. The Air Force took my O1 Bird dog away from me citing a shortage of aircraft. My protest that I had found the aircraft abandoned as a combat loss went unheeded until USAID RO and Air America decided they had an extra U10 Helio Courier they didn’t need. They gave it to me with free fuel and maintenance. I checked myself and Ted out in it and kept it until forced to turn it in for sale as salvage six years later. I almost bought it back myself. While at Sam Thong Ted would bring the ARMA Huey to support me a couple days a week or during special operations when I needed a helicopter to go where Air America refused to go. As I was also on flight status I would tell the R.L.O. flying with Ted to get in the back while Ted signed me off as current for flight pay. General Vang Pao, the CG of Military Region II and the leader of the ‘Barrel Chested Mong (Meo) Tribesman’ loved it when Ted arrived because he knew we would take him anywhere he wanted to go in any weather without a SAR backup aircraft. On numerous occasions we would get caught in bad weather with VP out on the Plaine de Jars. Totally ‘socked in’ Ted would hover down the river at 20 knots with the rotor blades seemingly a couple feet from the walls on each side until we safely arrived back at Site 20A.  

I tried to extend my tour with Project 404 but the CG USARSUPTHAI at Korat said I was the only dual rated Major in the area and demanded I take command of the 70th Aviation Company at Camp Friendship, Thailand. The CG let me remain TDY to Project 404 for an additional 90 days at the request of the Ambassador to Laos.  I checked out CWO4 Bob Filipowski in the Helio, got a haircut, bought some new fatigues, and reported to the CG as directed. It was a total disaster. When I took command of the company we had 21 airplanes and helicopters of which 3 were flyable! I fired the maintenance officer, shipped 36 over strength personnel to Korea, and received an Article 15 from the CG for using the “MF” word directed at the Provost Marshall for writing delinquency reports on my pilots and crew chiefs coming through the gate 5 minutes after “Bed Check”! I fought the ridiculous midnight curfew because there was no war in Thailand and most of my pilots and crew chiefs were highly decorated and spirited Vietnam veterans who liked to party once in awhile. As long as they reported for work on time sober I didn’t care if they stayed out all night! Unfortunately, the CG and COS didn’t see it that way and instructed the Provost Marshal write up anyone coming through the gate between midnight and 0600. It was an ineffective order because you could come through the gate at 0601 hours in plenty of time to be at work by 0700 resulting in many young troops staying out drinking all night and reporting for work drunk because they couldn’t get to their quarters without a Delinquency Report.

After getting rid of the do nothing maintenance officer I put a young captain and Ted in charge of maintenance. When I transferred back to Project 404 three months later, again at the request of the Ambassador to Laos, we had 18 aircraft flyable and 3 down for maintenance thanks to Ted Untalan.

While still in command at Korat I sent Ted back to Laos on TDY in support of the ARMY Attaché. The DCG of ARPAC. LTG William Yarborough made a trip to Laos to observe Operation About Face in which General Vang Pao and his troops caught the NVA strung out in front of their supply lines and literally defeated them. They captured tons of supplies, weapons, tanks, and artillery effectively extending the war for another 3 years. Ted and I were flying the Ambassador and the General around the PDJ looking for VP. We landed at the famous ‘Jars’ where Ted and I taught the general and ambassador to fire the AK47. We were shut down in defilade behind a small hill when a firefight broke out just over the hill. Ted said, “You stay here and I’ll go see what the hell is going on.” Reluctantly I agreed and cranked up the Huey as an apprehensive ambassador and general climbed in the aircraft. A few minutes later a NVA PT-76 Tank towing a 85mm Field Gun came rolling out of the trees with General Vang Pao and Ted Untalan standing next to the gun in front of the turret!! The Ambassador and General didn’t know what to do except get out of the helicopter and stand there clapping their hands!

In late 1970 I was asked to form the UTT Flight Detachment with three UH1H Hueys and my Helio-Courier, courtesy of the RO (USAID) and Air America. I immediately requested Ted as my Maintenance Officer. We were located at Udorn AFB, Thailand for maintenance and security purposes and flew daily into Laos in support of the Army Attaché, Project 404, and the U.S. Embassy. Colonel Charley Brewington had replaced me at Sam Thong and the NVA had now got into position to put rocket and mortar fire around Sam Thong and 20A. Ted and I flew up to 20A to support Colonel Brewington who had got caught under heavy mortar fire at a site just north of Sam Thong. As we circled overhead talking to Charley on the radio I could see there was a lull of a few seconds between the incoming mortar barrages. I advised Charley that he was going to have to get some air strikes on the enemy mortars before we could land. He said he would if he could but didn’t know where the hell they were coming from. Ted looked at me and asked how many seconds between barrages? I answered about 30. He said, “Well, come on Boss, we can get in there and out in 30 seconds!” I advised Charley that we would be on the ground approx 10 seconds and to get his ass in the chopper if he wanted to have dinner with us that night. We landed. He did. During takeoff a round exploded under the tail boom causing enough damage for us to return to Vientiane. Ted calmly turned around to me after takeoff and said, “You took 11 seconds!” We made Charley pay for the steaks in Vientiane that night and took the aircraft back to Udorn for tail boom replacement the next day.

One night during a heavy thunderstorm Ted and I was having a few beers in my little house by the pond in Udorn when the ARMA called me from Vientiane. He said the French Charge de Affairs had crashed in a light aircraft at a location called “Grove Jones” just across the border in Laos Northeast of NKP. He told us the Air Force Jolly Greens at NKP could not or would not go get them and asked if we would try to make the rescue saying he would fly overhead in the DIA U21 for moral support! Ted and I took off IFR to NKP for refueling. I asked NKP radar if they could vector me to the area about 78nm Northeast. They agreed and after refueling and wishing we were flying one of the many CH54s parked on the ramp with Tacans, VORs, weather radar, and everything else available in those days (you name it) we took off at midnight with our fluctuating ADF and inoperable transponder in pouring down rain. The U21 advised they could see the vehicle lights at the crash site through the cloud cover. 

When we arrived overhead Ted started a tight 15 knot spiraling descent through the clouds landing next to the fool who tried  to take off in a light Cessna with the Carburetor Heat on. I knew the pilot well who now had a bloody knot on his head, as did the Charge’. We took them back to NKP where they were transferred to the U21 that took them to Bangkok. The Air Force Base commander came out in the rain while we were refueling and congratulated us on a job well done. I advised the Colonel it was just another routine flight for the UTT Flight Detachment. The following day Ambassador Godley summoned the crew and me to his home in Vientiane. After pouring all of us a cognac to go with the morning coffee he said we had done more for US / French relations that night than his whole staff had done since the Indochina War in 1954! I asked him to put it in writing for the crew chief and Ted, I would just as soon have some more of his French Cognac. I don’t think he ever did put it in writing.

My philosophy on golf during those days was, “If you had time to play golf, you were not doing your job”, especially soldiers drawing combat pay! Until the JUSMAG A&R sent an airplane full of sports equipment to us which included  three sets of golf clubs. I advised Ted who had also ever swung a club  that if we were ever going to join the generals in Bangkok and Saigon we would have to learn to play golf. We both got the fever immediately.

The Meo at 20A had killed and beheaded a NVA sapper during an attack on the site. Somehow the head with a bullet hole through the front teeth and a big exit hole out the back. It out wound up behind the Bear Cage Bar where actually sat on top of a bear cage wherein two large Black Bears resided.  When a new Chief of Station took over he ordered they get rid of the skull. Ted was there at the time and someone asked him to dispose of it. Ted brought the skull back to Udorn, cleaned and polished it, and placed it above his bar at home with two golf balls in the eye sockets! Ted’s wife was unhappy but finally accepted her fate. One day we were playing golf at the Udorn Army Course, which was a pasture with criss-crossing fairways when Ted hit an iron shot off a par three Tee that had a lot of rocks in the dirt. He had his eye on the ball and a chip of a rock came straight up hitting him in the eye which filled with blood instantly, scaring the hell out of both of us. I rushed him to the hospital cursing myself for ever having started the game and was sure he had lost his eye. A doctor removed took the rock from his eye, put him on medications for a couple weeks, and his eye healed as good as new. But the next time I went to his house I noticed the skull with the golf balls was gone and his wife was smiling and saying “ I told you so!” Ted actually became a scratch golfer in later years.     

In early 1971 I was asked to organize and form the “White Horse” Gun Platoon with 10 UH1M gun ships of my choice from Vietnam. All the pilots and crews were Thai. I flew to Vietnam and picked out the best 10 of 14 “Mike” models in the country. While the aircraft were being prepared for transfer I sent ten Thai Army, fourteen Thai Air Force, and three Thai Police pilots along with twice as many crew chiefs to Vung Tau, Vietnam for transition and training in the UH1M with the XM21 gun systems (7.62 Mini-Guns and rocket pods). After they had completed training I flew back to Bein Hoa, Vietnam to lead them to Udorn over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, refueling and arming at Kontum enroute. I became a bit  nostalgic as I walked around the old Project Delta FOB compound where I had been with the 281st in 1968. It was deserted and only a few ARVN soldiers were there to provide security for our stopover. One of the aircraft had a severe vertical vibration and the Thai crew didn’t want to fly it. Determined to get all 10 of my aircraft to Thailand I decided to fly it. The ‘vertical’ was so bad I couldn’t go over 50 knots without permanent damage to my eyeteeth and hemorrhoids. 

As we were staggering along over the ‘Trail’ at 5000 feet I thought I had made a severely bad decision. We were supposed to have A1E escort across the ‘Trail’ but the “Sandy’s” never showed up until we were on short final to Pakse, Laos. My Thai counter-part (a Thai Air Force Colonel with no rank insignia!) wanted to spend the night at Pakse. I insisted that we continue on to Udorn arriving after dark. When I had the runway at Udorn in sight I ordered “Go Trail” and we were cleared for landing to the median next to runway 36. After landing  to a hover and starting to move toward our parking area I could hear a lot of excitement over the radio. Two aircraft had landed in a rice paddy outside the approach to the Air Base, two had made it to Udorn AFB with me , the three Police Pilots had landed at the Border Patrol Police airstrip on the other side of town, and the two others had landed in the middle of Udorn town at the main intersection. We didn’t  find the last aircraft until the next day. He had landed in the local prison football field with a 40 foot wall around him and the crew had been arrested. It was apparent to me that the U.S. Army had not trained these pilots to fly simple night operations much less combat operations in Laos. I needed help! So I requested Ted Untalan as my Deputy and maintenance officer. After the sad loss of an aircraft with five crewmen due to vertigo when returning from Laos in bad weather I demanded a halt to operations until Ted and I had given 25 hours under the ‘Hood’ and a check ride to each White Horse pilot.

During an operation at Xieng Lom in Northern Laos Ted and I took three Gunships to support a Thai battalion commander (West Point graduate) who later became the Commander of the Thai First Army and then Permanent Secretary of Defense of the Royal Thai Government. The General is now a Privy Counselor to the King. The Battalion was backed up on a ridge with many KIA and 7 WIA with the Colonel. We had been requested to provide gunship support for Air America helicopters working in the area to get the wounded out. An Air America pilot had been killed in the area previously by one round in the head as he was taking off. The AC of one of the AA H34s refused to fly into the LZ. The Captain of the other AA chopper wanted to fly but could not under company policy if the other aircraft was not in the air acting as SAR. I was irate and demanded the pilot who refused to fly with White Horse support be terminated. (He was not!) After some cross words with reference to our mothers Ted grabbed the Air America Captain firmly by the head, looked up at me, and said “Boss, what do you want me to do with this #%&# coward?" I told him not hurt him and let him go back to Louisiana to fly for BHI..

Ted had mounted a .50 Cal machine gun in one of our aircraft because we were having so many maintenance problems with the mini-guns. I dropped the rocket pods off of my gunship and made the pick up of the WIA while Ted placed a wall of .50 Cal fire around me. I was never shot at that I know of.

I retired in 1972 and went to work flying Pilatus Porters for Continental Air Services, a company owned by Continental AirLines in Laos leaving Ted in charge of the White Horse Gun Platoon. The powers that be brought in another Major at a later date and Ted retired also. He went to work for Bell Helicopters in Iran until the revolution. He and his wife came to visit me in Bangkok while I was the DEA Senior Advisor to the Thai Police Aviation Division. I was the operations advisor to the Division, which had an assortment of 92 fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Availability rate was about 3 percent due to lack of parts and maintenance. So it was easy to justify a Maintenance Advisor. The U.S. State Department hired Ted as my assistant and maintenance advisor. In 1981 I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse in the Oil Patch. I resigned from DEA and Ted assumed both my job and his. As usual he performed in such an outstanding manner he could still be there. But after about seven years he decided to retire to personal business at his home in Guam. I returned to Bangkok with my youngest daughter from the Sudan in 1990 because of the Gulf War. I was living in a room above the Lone Star Texan Bar in Bangkok with my daughter in an adjoining room. I wondered what the hell I was doing with a 12-year-old girl among the temptations of Bangkok nightlife. I finally got her enrolled in a boarding school at Penang, Malaysia but she just could not take the regimentation and called me twice a day crying and pleading with me to come get her. Worried and frustrated I came downstairs for breakfast a couple mornings later and Ted Untalan sat down beside me and said “Bro, I have come for our daughter! My old lady has told me not to come home without her!” I took her to Guam where she stayed with Ted and his family for two years until graduating from Grade School.

Lucius Theodore Untalan passed away at Guam after a long and painful bout with cancer of the colon in December 1998. Ted is survived by his wife Penny and son Patrick, who I have not been able to face for not having gone to his funeral.

Ted and I used to sit on the curb in front of the bars at Udorn after organizing all the street children in a ‘column of fours’ and buying them a bowl of noodles. He would ask me to recite Kipling.

“ Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you, by the livin’ GOD that made you, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

RIP Bro!  

 

 Red Bar Line

Helicopters in Vietnam
written by 
Jim Morris (former SF officer)
gymmo@earthlink.net

Ground warfare became three dimensional in World War II with the introduction of the parachute and the glider. With these developments came the ability to introduce troops to the battlefield at almost any point, and with very little warning.

From an offensive standpoint that was the good news. The bad news was that parachutes spread troops all over the battlefield with little or no regard to unit cohesion. Paratroopers found themselves alone in the dark in enemy territory. First mission, find some other allied paratroopers before the enemy finds you, form a squad, find some more and form a platoon.

Paratroopers are highly individualistic and trained to fight on their own. Frequently the confusion factor worked to the allies benefit. But it often took three days to a week before an airborne division could fight as a unit. As a rule generals do not like to leave the outcome of a battle to privates. Not for three days to a week.

And while parachuting has its disadvantages gliders were an outright disaster. Any landing was a controlled (sometimes) crash that did more damage to glider troops than the enemy.

After World War II the army reduced its parachute force to two divisions, and abandoned the glider altogether.

Korea started with a well developed doctrine of vertical envelopment, carried out entirely by parachute. The 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, commanded by Brigadier General William Westmoreland made two combat jumps.

But a new factor had been introduced in the third dimension of warfare, the helicopter. In Korea the only choppers available were light observation craft, used as air ambulances, and command and control helicopters for corps commanders and above. But it didn’t take a genius to see that bigger helicopters with greater lift capability could serve to restore that much needed factor of unit integrity and command and control. A few real visionaries even dreamed of the helicopter as a gun platform.

When the U.S. Air Force was separated from the Army in 1947 it was not contemplated that the Army would have no aircraft at all. But each service is jealous of its prerogatives. Obviously strategic bombing went to the Air Force, also fighters and fighter bombers. To the Army were left observation aircraft, air ambulances for ground troops, fixed and rotary wing command control aircraft for senior officers. The Army was even allowed twin engine transports for short runs around the battle area.

But, in 1947, the Air Force did not want the Army to fight with airplanes. That was their job. That meant that the Army, unlike the U.S. Marines, could not fly its own close air support. That mission was performed very bravely by Air Force pilots, but without command emphasis. The Air Force, in its heart of hearts, wants to fly high and fast. Close air support requires the airplane to fly low and slow, armored from ground weapons, carrying huge amounts of bombs, rockets, and machineguns. Not the Air Force idea of a glamour job.

From the end of World War II until the start of Vietnam this discrepancy of emphasis was not much of a problem. Regardless of the Air Force’s desire to fly high and fast, there were plenty of low, slow prop-driven fighters ideally suited to the close air support mission.

But by the start of Vietnam the Air Force flew so high and fast that they had to buy A1Es back from the Navy to support troops. The last aircraft available for close air support were the Navy’s A1Es and T-6s, a plane developed as a trainer that never was intended to fight at all.

But if technology taketh away, it also giveth. While the Air Force was developing higher faster jets the Army was developing bigger, faster, stronger helicopters, some of which were capable of serving as a stable weapons platform. The only problem was political, the agreement with the Air Force not to fly those missions that the Air Force jealously guarded, but didn’t much want to actually perform, unless it could do so at high speed and from a great height.

In 1957 Lieutenant General James M. Gavin wrote an article which envisioned a new form of cavalry, without horses, which performed the classic cavalry mission of arriving unannounced in the thick of battle and raising hell. General Gavin, who had commanded the 82d Airborne Division in World War II had become one of the Army’s foremost strategic thinkers, and he had long been a proponent of the doctrine of vertical envelopment. The idea caught fire.

A board was convened, under the leadership of Lieutenant General Hamilton Howze, Chief of Army Aviation, to implement General Gavin’s vision. From the Airmobility Concept Board emerged the concept of an airmobile division. Like the cavalry division of yore it would consist of dragoons, which are troops that move to the battlefield mounted, then dismount and fight on foot, and pure cavalry, which fights mounted. In the classic cavalry the dragoons fought with rifles and bayonets, and the cavalry fought with pistols and sabers. In the new cavalry the dragoons still had rifles and bayonets, but the cavalry was airborne, armed with rockets and machineguns.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand helicopter warfare was being waged for real, with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam going into battle in bumbling old H-21 Flying Bananas, and H-19s. The results were not highly encouraging. Granted the helicopter was faster than walking, and more secure than coming in ambush-vulnerable truck convoys. But seldom in history has an army or a government been more riddled with spies, quislings, collaborators, and traitors than that of the Republic of Vietnam.

A major factor in heliborne warfare is surprise, and that factor was totally absent in Vietnam. The enemy always knew when the ARVN was coming. When they arrived either the battlefield was empty, or there was a world of hurt lying in wait.

So while the dragoon part of the Air Cav equation was limping along unsatisfactorily, the cavalry part was lacking altogether. Close air support, what there was of it, was provided by the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) through a clumsy and cumbersome command and control apparatus that routed every request for support through a joint staff in Saigon which dickered, dawdled, and kept the enemy fully informed.

Meanwhile, at Ft. Benning GA the Army’s home of the infantry, the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) had been formed to measure the recommendations of the Howze Board. The 11th AADT had two things a conventional division lacked. The first of these was its own organic heliborne transport. The conventional division, lacking these choppers, is in the position of a family which is entirely dependent on public transportation. The 11th AADT was like a family that owned a car, and SUV, a pick-up, two motorcycles, and bikes for everybody. They were ready to fight a rich man’s war.

The other thing that the 11th had which a conventional division lacked was its own close air support, in the form of huey gunships, which had rockets, miniguns, conventional machineguns, everything but bombs.

The ability to arm the gunships was purchased at a dear price. The agreement to arm helicopters had to be negotiated with the Air Force. The Army got gunships; the air force took over the Army’s twin engine transports. Army advisors in Vietnam soon found that the Caribou, which had been developed to land on short dirt strips could no longer do so. The U.S. Air Force likes to fly high and fast, and also likes long hard runways.

The 11th AADT spent a year perfecting its new craft at Ft. Benning, performed splendidly in a monster exercise against the 82d Airborne Division. Almost as soon as the 11th had cleaned its weapons and washed its vehicles it found itself redesignated the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and on its way to Vietnam.

Very soon after settling in at their new headquarters in An Khe the Cav learned one of the most disheartening facts of modern war. Although the heliborne soldier goes to combat on a first-class ticket, once he’s off the chopper he’d down there in the same blood and mud as any other grunt. And in Vietnam this was a nightmare world of grass that cuts like razors, wait-a-minute vines, and triple canopy jungle that confines movement to narrow, easily ambushed trails and cuts visibility to about three feet in any direction.

Another disheartening fact is that in the entire history of warfare there have been few targets as lucrative as a lumbering transport helicopter, settling slowly into a hot LZ to discharge its troops.

The Cav had not been in Vietnam very long when it faced its first significant test against a real enemy. In November of 1965 the U.S. Special Forces camp at Plei Me was besieged for _____days. The siege was broken when the NVA proved unable to dislodge the defenders, who had been augmented by a force from Project Delta commanded by then Major Charlie Beckwith. A battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division was brought in to give chase, 1st Bn 7th Cavalry, George Custer’s old outfit. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, the 1st Bn found itself vastly outnumbered by the NVA. The 2d Bn was committed and, in spite of the tactical blunders which might be expected of a newly deployed division, inflicted casualties on the enemy in a ten to one ratio. It was a victory, but a costly one. Thus was revealed the first lesson of heliborne or any other type of war. Regardless of all the wonderful stuff, in the final analysis it all comes down to basic infantry tactics.

The Cav learned its lessons fast and well. It went on to many splendid victories and no defeats at all. In 1966 and ‘67 the 101st Airborne Division was converted to Airmobile and joined the Cav in Vietnam.

While the Cav and other conventional units were perfecting the art of pouncing on the enemy from dozens of helicopters Special Forces units were perfecting the art of sneaking reconnaissance units on one.

Strategic intelligence was always at a premium in Vietnam. Even Americans who spoke Vietnamese, few as they were, did not look Vietnamese, and had to defend on their thoroughly infiltrated counterparts for information. The intelligence gathering apparatus had to be brought under American control.

Tasked to achieve this end was a specially created Special Forces detachment designated B-52. Code name for the project was Leaping Lena. Leaping Lena required considerable specialized equipment. For ease of shipment the supply officer on the project, Captain Larry O’Neil, started marking pallets designated for B-52 with a chalk triangle. Before long the experiment, which is what it was in the beginning, became known as Project Delta.

Like most experiments Delta began with a few false starts. The first teams were all Vietnamese. The quality of the intelligence was still suspect and their casualty rate was appallingly high. So Americans were added to the teams.

The first infiltrations were by parachute. For years Special Forces had been fascinated by an infiltration technique known as HALO (High-altitude Low-opening) by which small highly trained teams could be inserted without detection by getting out above the sight and sound of human perception, in teams too small to be detected by radar. A good HALO team can land very close together, within say, a twenty-foot square. But in triple canopy jungle that’s still too far apart. A few men landing at night in the trees in thick jungle have the devil’s own time getting together before first light, recovering their parachutes and hiding them from detection.

But a small reconnaissance team alone in enemy territory was highly vulnerable. They couldn’t just fly in on a loud and highly visible helicopter and get off like commuters at a bus stop.

And as soon as a technique would be developed which worked, the enemy would develop countermeasures.

The Vietnam War, as a whole, was a game of cat and mouse. But in recon the NVA were the cats and the recon teams were the mice, albeit mice with teeth, mice allied with eagles.

Usually the teams sneaked in at dusk on one chopper, settling quickly into small breaks in the trees. Low to the treetops a chopper was usually overhead and gone before the NVA could react. One deception technique was to go in with two choppers in trail, the first carrying the team. The lead chopper would settle into the hole, drop off the team and come back up as the second chopper passed overhead and all the NVA would see was two choppers in trail.

The wise NVA commander, and there were many of them, staked out likely clearings in his area of operation, so it became increasingly difficult to get a team in undetected. The team itself would have to perform its lonely mission hunted by a knowing enemy.

Sometimes, to evade detection teams went into bomb craters by rope ladder or rappelled into clearings too small for the chopper to land.

On their own they developed devices to lift themselves by helicopter straight up through the jungle. Known as McGuire and STABO rigs, after their inventors, Sergeant Major ________McGuire and _________, _________, and__________ the rigs added a James Bond element to operations already death haunted and eerie.

In spite of these extremely dangerous limitations Project Delta and the other operations it inspired were highly successful. Teams on the ground were in contact with an airborne Forward Air Controller, and were able to direct Air Force air strikes against enemy installations that were politically forbidden to conventional ground troops and invisible from the air. They gave allied commanders a picture of what the enemy was up to that was otherwise unobtainable.

By 1966, with fewer than 50 American assigned Delta was providing 60% of tactical intelligence for the entire Republic of Vietnam. It was time to expand. Delta gave birth to Sigma and Omega, to cross border operations Command and Control North, South, and Central, and to the MACV Recondo School, which trained long range reconnaissance teams for conventional brigades and divisions.

All these teams had appallingly high casualty rates. Fifty percent for Delta, which operated principally in the northern half of South Vietnam, and up to 115 % for the Command and Control teams of the Studies and Observations Group.

For every man they lost they killed roughly 100 enemy. For every man they had on the ground the enemy had roughly 500 out looking for them. Seldom in history has the individual soldier been able to make such a huge impact on the conduct of a war.

Realizing that a vastly expanded helicopter inventory was going to require large numbers of pilots the Army initiated a new and unique program. It created the Warrant Officer pilot program.

In the American army a Warrant Officer is a special grade between non-commissioned and commissioned officers. The four grades of warrant officers are equivalent in pay to second lieutenants through majors. They are considered technical experts, and do not command troops, although they may manage a staff section devoted to their specialty. But unlike junior officers they do not spend their entire careers with stars in their eyes.

Opened up to men as young as nineteen these young warrant officers were given a hot rodders dream to play with, and they set a record for élan, skill, and courage which rivals that of the very best in the history of warfare. Perhaps their closest historical precedent was the doomed and carefree fighter pilots of World War I.

Possessed of superior hand and eye coordination, and (at first) too young to believe they could die they flew their birds into hot LZs with little or no thought for their own safety, and made their aircraft do things they were not designed to do.

This writer has seen the young pilots of the legendary 281st Assault Helicopter Company load their gunships with so many rockets, and so much ammo that they had to lift and bounce, lift and bounce on their skids to get their ships airborne.

Slick (unarmed passenger) pilots learned to ease their birds down through triple canopy jungle to extract a casualty. Taking signals from his crew chief the pilot would go over a foot, down two feet, left a foot and a half, down six inches, until they were low enough to drop a cable to pick up the wounded. This required superb coordination, and complete trust in the crew. They risked their lives daily for their fellow soldiers and paid a heavy price for it. At no time or place have their been better men than these.

When Vietnam started the helicopters were laughable Rube Goldberg contraptions; the H-21 Flying Banana, the H-34, a big clumsy, slow and obvious target. In 1962 Bell Helicopter of Ft. Worth TX initiated a rushed program to develop a light, powerful, maneuverable chopper that could carry a squad of troops into combat, and do a multitude of other tasks, from command and control to flying ambulance. Their was the HU1A, quickly dubbed the Huey.

In time the Huey had models through H. it was the workhorse. Loaded with rockets and machineguns it became a gunship. Loaded with troops it became a bus. Pretty much retired now, the Huey will be remembered with the C47 and the P51 as one of the great airplanes.

In a sense the helicopter crews and passengers in Vietnam got a free ride, although one might not think so from their casualty figures. Throughout most of the war the enemy had nothing to bring them down with but small arms.

On a different battlefield, against an enemy armed with decent anti-aircraft weapons this would be a very different story.

Consider, if you will, the experience of the Russians in Afghanistan.


"All the choppers were from the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, which for 
my money was the best chopper outfit in Nam. They were very proud of their 
association with the Project (Delta), wore camouflage fatigues and put their 
lives on the line continuously. They had a tradition of disregarding any 
regulation which interfered with the performance of their mission. They were 
mostly young guys, almost all of them were Warrant Officers...The 281st put 
so many rockets on their choppers that they would barely lift off. They 
would lift a little, go forward some and thud against the ground, gaining 
more momentum from the thud than from the rotors. After two or three repeats 
of this they would finally limp airborne and gather enough speed to gain 
altitude." 


[From the book, "War Story" by Jim Morris, a three tour SF Officer. The 
author was on the ground with the 91st Ranger BN (later the 81st) during what 
appears to be Operation Pirous that was run out of the FOB at Hue-Phu Bai. Summary submitted by Bob Mitchell, "Bandit 24"

 

 

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