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JACK W. SERIG, Sr.
"Rat Pack 16"  10/66-3/67
Miami, FL

(Click on the title to go to the story.)
2nd Tour - 1st Two Days
Guardian Angel
Seven Hills S.O.G. Operation
Enemy Capture
Yellow Smoke
Fleeting Memories
Another Look At Covert Actions In Indochina
Why Didn't I Receive A Purple Heart Medal?
Chief Warrant Officer Walter F. Wrobleski
The Saga of the Exploding Toilet
Sapper Attack

 (More of Jack's personal stories can be found at: http://www.angelfire.com/fl5/jackserig/)
Red Bar Line

2nd TOUR - 1st TWO DAYS!

I departed the Huey ¡®slick¡¯ with my duffel on the west side of the Nha Trang airfield on a Sunday afternoon,  December 2, 1966, starting my second tour.  The 281st Assault Helicopter Company operation¡¯s shack was a short walk from the drop-off point.  I opened the screen door to the Ops office and mentally noted that the door hinges squeaked.  My combat boots made plenty of noise walking toward the Ops counter on the hardwood mahogany floors.  There were two persons present. But, even with the racket of the door hinges and the noise my boots made on the wooden deck it was strangely evident that I hadn¡¯t been heard or noticed.  The two occupants of the office, I observed, were obviously in another world looking off into space.

I tapped my knuckles on the wooden; homemade Ops counter and said, ¡°Excuse me!¡± I startled the two people there.  Then I said, ¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± The major behind the counter, in jungle fatigues, jumped up and said, ¡°What do you mean, what¡¯s wrong?¡±  I replied, ¡°The screen door squeaked and my boots made considerable noise, and you guy¡¯s never heard me.  What¡¯s wrong?¡±  The major replied, ¡°I¡¯m sorry!  I¡¯m Pat Sheley!¡± He extended his hand and I responded. ¡° We just got word that we have a ¡®chopper down, all aboard lost, all crew and passenger killed, shot down over Laos.¡±  Then I understood.  In their own way they had been mourning the loss of comrades they would never share stories with again, never have a drink with again, never fly with again, but yet remembering the good times and fun times and the flying times they had shared. 

Then, Pat introduced me to the young private, sitting at his Ops typing desk, also handmade.  I don¡¯t recall the kid¡¯s name but he was  visibly saddened by the terrible news.

I thought to myself, ¡°What a way to start another tour!  And what¡¯s this about being shot down in Laos?¡±  As if reading my thoughts Pat explained that it was a Special Forces  extraction operation.  A ¡®slick¡¯, protected by gunships, had attempted to lift out a long range recon team which had been compromised, running for two days to evade capture. There were wounded among the ground team.  The ¡®slick¡¯ got hit severely by ground fire in the extraction attempt and crashed into Laos killing all on board.

Pat called for a jeep to take duffel and me to quarters.  What a pleasant surprise after the terrible news at the Ops shack.  A villa guarded by Chinese Nungs, a two-block walk to the beach.  A lot of my ¡¯62 first tour was spent in Nha Trang with the 18th Otter Company, so I was familiar with my surroundings.  But a villa?  In ¡¯62 I initially had a tent but it had some sophistication with the ¡®pricey-in-USA¡¯ mahogany floors.  Also in ¡¯62, we were allowed to purchase $35.00 palm roof huts with woven reed mat siding.  It was much cooler than the tents, with metal water pitcher and basin for shaving and French baths.  Showers and privies  were nearby, really too close to each other to be termed ¡°sanitary¡±.  But an air-conditioned villa?  With hot and cold running water?  3-minutes to the beach?  What an uplift¡ªin comparison to ¡®62! 

Later, when the crews returned from the extraction operation I met the rest of my villamates led by Major Bill Griffin, our company commander who was  Special Forces trained.  His trademark mountain climbing rope was slung over his right shoulder. 

Bill explained that he would lead a team into Laos the following day in an attempt to retrieve the bodies.  That I would report to Ops for local training with no further explanation.  After dinner; we had three housemaids who did the laundering, cleaning, bed making and cooking; we relaxed and went over the day¡¯s operation and the next day¡¯s recovery attempt.

The next morning I reported to the Ops shack.  I was advised that I would join some Special Forces types  who were getting checked out on riding  an extraction rig made up from a series of mountain climbing ropes.  (Electrical rigs with cable were added to our fleet of slicks several months later)  One end of the rig was tied to the Huey¡¯s floor tiedown rings and slung below the ¡®chopper.  I noticed a S.F. master sergeant attending to the rig in the cargo compartment.  I thought, ¡°They want me to watch this operation from the ground so I can see how it looks when I¡¯m flying the aircraft.¡±  Wrong!  The officer-in-charge of the training said that Major Griffin required all of his pilots to ride the rig so they would have a better understanding of what the guy¡¯s on the rig had to endure.  Two burly S.F types started for the rig.  I followed.  It was a 3-seat rig.  We were further advised that the pilot flying was getting his checkout on the procedure, but not to worry, as there was an experienced instructor pilot in the left seat.

The procedure was for a ground crew to secure the seating end of the rig ropes to prevent them from flying into rotating blades.  The ¡®chopper would lift off hovering at about 75 feet altitude or the length of the ropes.  There were three side-by-side canvas seats attached to the ¡°U¡¯s¡±  the ropes made.  The three riders would sit their buttocks over the canvas seats and intertwine arms and legs.  When the pilot got the signal  that all was ready at the bottom of the ropes  he would continue his hover upward until his rig passengers were sufficiently clear of ground obstacles, then lower the aircraft¡¯s nose, picking up  airspeed and altitude.  What a ride!  We ultimately viewed the city of Nha Trang in a wide circle eventually climbing, and dangling, 500 feet above the multitudes, literally, ¡°at the end of our ropes¡±, sans parachutes. 

After about 15 minutes riding the rig we noted the pilot-in-training was on final approach to the training site, which happened to be the mud flats south  of the S.F. compound.  On low final we could tell that the pilot was coming in TOO low.  Feet first, we were all three dragged through the mud so we unraveled our limbs from each other, let go of the ropes and slid on our backs through the mud. Better than any slide I ever made in a baseball game.   I returned to the villa for a shower and a change of clothes.

Upon returning to the training site, approaching the Huey for my turn as ¡°pilot-to-be-trained in the rig extraction process,¡± I again observed the S.F. Master Sergeant in the rear compartment attending the rig ropes.  As I got closer I noted a machete, without scabbard, lying beside him.  I asked what the purpose of the machete was.  The surprising answer was that  if the engine quits in flight the sergeant would chop the ropes to allow the aircraft to autorotate, hopefully saving the aircraft and crewmen on board.  I swallowed pretty hard, glad that I had already ridden the rig, then headed for the right pilot¡¯s seat, introducing myself to the IP.

I had arranged with the ground crew, prior to boarding that I would load my rig-riders up, and drop them off, from the top of a dike.  This would prevent them from being dragged through the mud if my flying proficiency permitted.  I was able to do the intended and was signed off by the IP, certified to fly the rig, if any future occasion demanded.

Later, while preparing for some sack time and mentally reviewing the activities of only the first two days of my second tour, I recognized that the pace of the war had significantly increased since my first tour in ¡¯62.  I hoped that I would live through the second tour intact enough to write about the experiences. 

  Red Bar Line

GUARDIAN ANGEL

On returning to Vietnam for a second tour of duty, December 1966, I reported to my assignment at Nha Trang airfield, with the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, commanded by Major Bill Griffin.  It was a weekend.   The unit was in direct support of the 5th   Special Forces Group.

On Monday I went through the normal unit processing  which included drawing an M-15 semi-automatic rifle, magazines and 7.62mm cartridges from our unit supply office.  The Supply Sergeant was busy with someone else and his supply clerk attended to my needs.

A few days later, Major Pat Sheely, our Operations Officer, advised me to hop on a local ¡®slick¡¯ flight, which was to take me to a free fire zone to test my weapon in the mountain jungles nearby. The flight was routine.  I had a headset on and was able to hear all of the communications between pilot, control tower and crew.  About a ten minutes into the flight the pilot alerted me that it was O.K. to fire my weapon into the terrain out of the left passenger door.  I pressed my intercom transmitter button and ¡°rogered¡± into the headset mike.  I  re-checked the M-15 safety insuring it was on the ¡°safe¡± position and inserted a full magazine into its recess.  Chambered a round.  Sighted the rifle on the tip of a treetop.  Pressed the safety to the ¡°fire¡± position.  Placed my trigger finger on the trigger concentrating on the selected target and began the trigger-squeeze process.

At that very moment a suprisingly loud inner-voice emphatically told me, ¡°Don¡¯t pull the trigger!¡± The strange, distant voice really shocked me.  It certainly wasn¡¯t mine.  It was a voice that seemed to come from deep within an unexplainable dimension of my being.  I lowered the weapon, safety to ¡°safe¡±.  Released the clip and removed the chambered round from the barrel.  Advised the pilot that I¡¯d fire another time, without explaining the unexplainable. Upon returning to the helicopter pad I thanked the crew for the flight and headed for the Supply Room.

The Supply Sergeant was present.  I asked him for a rifle cleaning rod which he provided.  I checked the weapon again to insure it was ¡°safe¡±.  Placed the butt on the floor, barrel end up.  Inserted the cleaning rod into the barrel.  Something hard, down into the barrel, abruptly stopped the cleaning rod. Why had I performed these automatic actions, seemingly without thought? 

The Sergeant¡¯s face became visibly alarmed as he turned toward his clerk.  ¡°Didn¡¯t you issue this weapon to the major the other day?¡±  The clerk responded, ¡°yes!¡± I could sense the Sergeant knew where he was going with his questioning.  ¡°Isn¡¯t this the same weapon that Lieutenant Blank turned in a few days ago?¡±, the Sergeant continued  The supply clerk¡¯s face turned red and scared as he again answered, ¡°yes!¡± ¡°I told you to put a red tag on this piece when the lieutenant turned it in, didn¡¯t I?¡±, the Sergeant queried.  ¡°Yes,¡± again from the chastised clerk, seemingly realizing the serious consequences of the tragedy he might have caused. 

The sergeant turned to me and offered his deep apology.  He explained that Lieutenant Blank had turned the weapon in several days prior because a round had somehow gotten stuck down the barrel of the rifle.  Due to a busy supply room the clerk had failed to follow the sergeant¡¯s instruction to ¡°red tag¡± the weapon.  The red tag would have made it visibly apparent that the rifle could not be issued.

Fully realizing that had I pulled the trigger of the M-15 rifle on my earlier flight either myself, or one or more of the ¡®slick¡¯ crew, might now be dead or critically injured as a result of a rifle blowing up in my face.

I have never learned where that inner voice warning came from, telling me, ¡°Don¡¯t pull the trigger!¡±

You just have to believe in Guardian Angels!

   

Red Bar Line

WARNING!!! This story is distasteful! Unfortunately, it did happen. Others who for years have held back similarly  distasteful, UNTOLD stories are encouraged to use this Newletter and other outlets to help clear their conscience. And, to advise the pubic that such unsavory acts have occurred to our military personnel inadvertently placed in positions of trust where they face moral judgments in which they become entrapped.  Such as happened to the young Special Forces captain in this story.

SEVEN HILLS S.O.G. OPERATION

It was early 1967.  We were sitting amidst the broken outer walls of a Buddhist temple ruins close to the Seven Hills area deep in South Vietnam¡¯s Delta region.

Our security was provided by elements of a battalion of ¡°soldiers of fortune¡± under the advisorship of a young U.S. Special Forces (S.F.) captain. The captain produced two one-gallon pickle jars and invited me to my choice of enemy pickled human ears or fingers.  I was astounded by the offer but remained calm and asked for an explanation. 

A few minutes before, I had dropped off the enlisted elements of his S.F. advisory team at one of the seven hills, near a cave entrance.  Their mission was to explore the cave and see what it contained.  A tall, burly S.F. African-American master sergeant led his team into the cave as I lifted off from the sloped hillside in a UH-D ¡®slick¡¯, property of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company headquartered at Nha Trang.

After landing back at the temple site we could hear the team leader as he described, via radio, each turn and twist deep inside the cave.  Also, he reported capturing large quantities of enemy supplies which he described in detail.  I marveled at the clear transmission and the captain explained that their equipment was special, supplied by SOG {Special Operating Group}.  Surprised me again!  I had no idea, as no one had told me, I¡¯d be supporting a SOG mission until I surmised it as events were unfolding.

I was the platoon commander of a ¡®slick¡¯ platoon.  The other ¡®slick¡¯ platoon in our company was always teamed with the ¡®gunship¡¯ platoon.  Their mission¡ªinserting and evacuating the 5th S.F. B-52 Delta Project Force throughout South Vietnam for intelligence gathering purposes. Project Delta was under the operational control of the 5th S.F. Group co-located with my 281st Assault Helicopter Company(AHC) at Nha Trang.  The 281st was also under the direct operational control of 5th S.F..  Administrative control of the 281st AHC rested with the 10th Aviation Battalion at Dong Ba Thin located on the west side of Cam Ranh Bay.

My platoon of ¡®slicks¡¯ was split into four detachments. Each detachment was in direct support of S.F. operations in each of the four Corps¡¯ areas, generally flying combat support missions, moving people, equipment and supplies in and out of the far-flung S.F. camps. On occasion we provided emergency aerial supply support when the camps came under attack.

I would visit each detachment, for seven to ten days at a time, by hopping on Air Force or Army fixed-wing aircraft for DaNang, Pleiku, Ban Me Thuot, Bien Hoa and Soc Trang, some of the main areas from which S.F. operations were conducted.  There were no platoon relief pilots, except myself. So, my main task was to relieve each detachment¡¯s pilots allowing them to take a hard-earned break, sleep in, or R&R locally to get them away from constant 10-12 hour flying, seven days a week.

I had proceeded to Soc Trang to provide relief for my ¡®slick¡¯ crews there when I found myself at the Buddhist temple ruins where this story began.

In response to my request for an explanation of the pickled body parts the captain explained {to the best of my recollection} that he was advisor to a special unit put together by SOG {CIA}.  There were three companies of infantry, each commanded and staffed by persons from their same ethnic groups. There was one company each of Cambodians, Montagnard and Chinese Nungs.  These troops were in effect ¡°Soldiers of Fortune¡± paid to seek out and kill the enemy in their assigned region of operations.  There was a battalion commander and staff organized from the persons recruited. However, the S.F. captain explained that he was the ¡®de facto¡¯ commander of the battalion.

The captain further explained that the battalion¡¯s troops were paid extra for DEAD enemies. Since his unit couldn¡¯t carry enemy bodies around on extended hit-and-run field combat operations,in order to confirm body count {REMEMBER! NcNamara¡¯s DOD REQUIREMENT!) they kept either a finger or ear of each enemy killed preserved in the pickle jars until they could be turned in for the extra pay.  His ¡°they do it, so we do it¡± attitude surprised but did not impress me. But pickled ears and fingers? What happened to the idea of an officer¡¯s word and integrity?                    

During the time of the captain¡¯s explanation there were occasional breaks for radio talk between his team leader in the cave and himself discussing the new findings of enemy supplies within the cave. The captain continued:  The Chinese Nungs had a special religious ceremony over dead enemies after combat action subsided.  They would cut out the heart of the enemy and pray that the enemy spirit would be saved for the after-life.  They would then cook and eat the enemy heart. {I do not recollect the religious significance of this act.}

I asked the captain,¡±WHY,that if he where, in fact, the ¡®de facto¡¯ commander of this battalion, how could he, as an officer, allow such acts to happen?  He responded that the Nungs were performing a RELIGIOUS ceremony.  To the Nungs it was nothing more than that.  A centuries-old religious act.  He claimed that had he or any of his American advisors interfered with the Nungs¡¯ religious customs the Nungs would likely kill him and his advisors and he could not permit that possibility to happen.

When the operation inside the cave at the Seven Hills had subsided the captain asked me to retrieve his team. I flew the team back to the Buddhist temple from the cave site and returned to Soc Trang.  Though I never saw the captain again I heard several years later that he had received two fast {5%} promotions since our temple meeting.

Why have I written this story?  I confess that over the years I have suffered some guilt for not reporting the incident acknowledging that it probably wouldn¡¯t have gone very far with the pressure from Secretary McNamara¡¯s bodycount policy. Had this incident been reported the press would have undoubtedly looked for scalps, as they did in Lieutenant Calley¡¯s My Lai incident.  Thankfully, several persons did report the Calley event, among them a courageous helicopter flight crew.

Should I have been so bold!

Red Bar Line

ENEMY CAPTURE 

IV Corps, South Vietnam, early 1967. 

As our Huey ¡®slick¡¯ approached the newly constructed MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) camp there were about two-hundred Vietnamese civilians between the camp gate and the new  PSP (pierced steel planking) airstrip outside of the camp perimeter.  It was unusual to see so many civilians at such a small, ordinary camp appearing as if they were waiting for a ride to somewhere.   

As soon as we delivered supplies and mail to the American infantry lieutenant in charge, the large group ran, enmasse, as if on cue, surrounding our aircraft and seemingly all trying to board at once.  As they surged closer it was clear that they were experiencing mass hysteria.  They were all either talking  hysterically, or screaming in some instances, faces agonizingly twisted and the enlarged eyes of all expressing extreme fear.  Bodies pressed hard against bodies pushing the uncontrolled masses toward the two  rear compartment openings. 

I had never experienced anything like it!  Before or since! 

We had been on a normal milk run, on a beautiful VFR day, carrying passengers and supplies having originated out of Bien Hoa.  We were one aircraft of a two-chopper detachment operationally assigned to the 5th S.F. camp co-located at the large Bien Hoa complex.  Our 281st AHC (Assault Helicopter Company) headquarters was located at Nha Trang adjacent to the 5th Special Forces Headquarters where we supported the Mike Force operations throughout Vietnam. Also, we provided aircraft for the S.F. detachments in each of the Corps¡¯ areas.  This is why we were so far from home base. 

I was a ¡®slick¡¯ Platoon Commander  of the 281st and traveled to all of the four Corps areas to relieve our pilots from their daily flight routines so they could enjoy an occasional local break .

That¡¯s why I was flying this mission while one of our overworked pilots was taking a rest. 

After realizing that a number of the unruly mob had forced their way on board, I advised our two  doorgunners to clear their rear compartment of the intruders, advised the other pilot. WO Walter Wrobleski, to take over the controls, as we were hot, and I entered the rear compartment to help remove the unwanted, out-of-control passengers. 

The American lieutenant, observing the turmoil, came back to help, issued a couple of orders to his people and the mob moved reluctantly back  toward the camp gate when some limited force was applied.  But they continued to rant and rave in uncontrollable fear. 

Strapping back in and after a 180-degree hovering turn I lifted off , empty, except for crew, following the direction of the airstrip toward the north.  As we cleared the airstrip boundary I noticed a movement and something black in the sawgrass just ahead and brought the ship to a hover alerting the crew that we would check out the movement.  I advised the right door gunner to lock and load; that he would be in a position to fire, if required. 

I hovered sideways toward the location where I had seen the movement.  Suddenly, a young boy, probably mid-teens, arose out of the sawgrass about 50 feet away.  He wore a conical straw hat and black pajamas.  He didn¡¯t appear to be armed.  I directed the left doorgunner to retrieve his own personal weapon, insure a round was in the chamber and bring the suspect, under guard, into the chopper, after a thorough body search.  This was done.  During the time this was happening my ¡®thinking¡¯ was racing overtime wondering if his hiding in the sawgrass, as a probable enemy lookout, could have anything to do with the mob reaction we had just observed.  Was the camp going to be attacked ?  Was that why so many civilians simultaneously went berserk and tried to get on our aircraft?  Well then, let¡¯s take our potential enemy spy back to the camp and let them try to find out.  I had heard the Vietnamese Army intelligence types had ways of  gleaning secrets from the enemy. 

Dropping off our suspect to the American MAAG lieutenant, I suggested that the kid might have been a Viet Cong lookout, as he had tried to hide from us.  We proceeded on our mission, finally returning to Bien Hoa after a long day of flying. 

The next day we got the word that the new camp WAS attacked the night before and the camp cadre had held off the enemy forces successfully.  

Our crew all hoped that the actions we took the day before had wetted the resolve of the camp¡¯s soldiers to fight hard as they had their civilian families to protect as well.  Those same hysterical civilians that we were unable to evacuate. 

We may very well have helped save the camp!  Never realizing then, that it would ultimately be in vain. 

Red Bar Line

YELLOW SMOKE

It was May, 1967.  I was the 10th Aviation Battalion¡¯s  Safety Officer.  One of our battalion¡¯s Huey ¡®slick¡¯ helicopters had been shot down, the day before, about ten minutes flight time from our headquarter¡¯s  at Dong Ba Thin, which was located on the mainland across the bay from the large Cam Rahn air and naval base.  

As the Safety Officer, I was invited to fly to the site of the downed aircraft to determine what disposition could be made of the helicopter, i.e., try to have it lifted out or destroy it in place by an airstrike.  Our Assistant S-3 (Operations) and our S-2 (Intelligence) climbed into the two pilot¡¯s seats of the Battalion Commander¡¯s ¡®slick¡¯ which was not armed with the usual two 7.62 cargo compartment  machine guns.  I sat in the left side by the cargo compartment door and another battalion officer sat on the right side.  There were no enlisted  crew  on board.  Our total weaponry were individual sidearms carried by the four of us.

The downed ship had crash-landed, upright, after being shot down,  in a large open area south of Dong Ba Thin.  I don¡¯t recall if there were any injuries to the crashed ship¡¯s crew but my shaded recollection is that the crewmembers were all recovered.  As we circled the crash site at 1,500 feet the intercom was busy  with the other three occupants exchanging banter about whether or not we could save the downed ship or destroy it.  All of us were hooked to the  intercom.  The officer across from me had positioned himself, standing, between the two cockpit seats.  He and the two pilots concentrated their conversation and their eyesight on the crash site below.

I was swivel-heading in all directions out both sides of our ¡®chopper watching for potential enemy fire.  After all, we had lost the ship we were looking at just the day before.  As our pilot leveled our ship after a long turn in the southwest quadrant, their three sets of eyes still glued to the downed craft, yellow smoke popped below us on the right side from a dense, green thicket .  I went to the right doorway and watched the smoke for several seconds, mind racing , thinking, ¡°A trap, perhaps how  we lost yesterday¡¯s ship!   Should I share the information?¡±  I hesitated!  The other three had decided to call in an airstrike for reasoning I missed once I had concentrated on  the yellow smoke.

I didn¡¯t share the information with my contemporaries.  Instinct told me it was a probable trap.  We were a single ship with no armament.  I¡¯ve always prayed that my instinct was on target so we wouldn¡¯t become one.  Then , again!-------------???

Red Bar Line

Fleeting Memories of Vietnam, 1966-67

Some fleeting memories come to mind as I'm in one of my pensive moods hovering over my trusty COMPAQ MV500 which is much more difficult to operate than a Huey slick. In fact, I checked out in the Huey much faster than on the COMPAQ.

On Sunday, 2 December, 1966 reporting to the 281st AHC operation's shack at the Nha Trang base to begin my second tour to learn that a slick (UH-D 65-10088) was lost in LAOS, all on board KIA. Crew members were WO Daniel Sulander and WO Donald Harrison, pilots, and SP-4 William Bodzick, CE and SP-4 Lee Boudreaux, Jr., Gunner. A six-man S.F. team was also lost in the crash.

The next day reporting to the Recon School to get checked out in how to lift others out on a McGuire rig, attached to a slick, to learn I would ride at the end of the rig before I could qualify to ride in the cockpit. Finding myself enjoying the ride dangling from a rope 500 feet over Nha Trang on the bottom of the rig with legs and arms wrapped around two husky Special Forces types. The three of us were dragged through mud on landing approach. Later learning that the Special Forces Master Sergeant attending the rigs in the rear compartment would cut the rig ropes with a machete if the engine failed in flight.

When sighting on a target with my newly issued rifle in a local free-fire zone having an inner voice tell me not to pull the trigger. Lucky I didn't, as a round was jammed inside the barrel.

On the ramp at Nha Trang when a crewman was extracting rockets from a gunship dropped a live one that went off inside of the ammo locker spewing phosphorous and the brave GI's who rushed in to help carry away the boxes of grenades and other munitions that started to catch fire. Running about 30-yards to the crash/rescue station, alerting the fire crew and watching them hurriedly dress in their fire-retardant gear, then rushing with them to the rocket fire with their heavy equipment bravely advancing with their hoses successfully putting out the fire. Tragedy averted!

Single ship mission approaching the Nha Trang Intruder pad west to east seeing a black pajama clad person with conical straw hat dive into the river about a mile west of the compound. His dive was instantaneous as he saw us. It was obvious he was trying to avoid being seen. He never came up as we circled. Team from the S.F. camp searched the area, couldn't find anything. I suspect they had tunnel entrances beneath the surface level of the river. Likely part of the sapper team that occasionally attacked the compound.

Recalling vividly the arrival and assignment of WO Walter Wrobleski because from the moment he arrived he hounded me to transfer him to the guns. Sent him to Bien Hoa to ride with some old hands on ash and trash missions. Shortly after he made it to guns he was shot down on May 21, 1967 with WO Don 'Corky' Corkran, and crewmen Craig Szwed and Gary Hall flying UH-lC 65-09480. Walter is the only one of the crew not to survive and is still carried as MIA.

Transferring an entire Montagnard village from the hills of II Corps to a safe relocation camp flying with WO Bill (Joe) Brennan. Having to go on instruments as the dust was so thick and having the crew chief call of distance in feet from ground. Women and children first to be evacuated giving them a few new thrills by increasing airspeed to max, pulling up the nose in a steep climb and watching the looks on their faces change from "scared with bulging eyes" to "big, broad toothy grins" when they saw our smiles. Returning to the Yard village many times carrying their crude arms such as spears and bows and arrows, furnishings for their huts and piles of bags of rice that never seemed to diminish. On this mission also saw another VC try to avoid us by diving into a jungle pond and never surfacing.

Again flying with Joe Brennan arriving at Ban Me Thuot after dark in a driving rainstorm with a full load on board from backcountry camps. Fortunately, I could just make out the dirt road that led to the S.F. compound. Joe never saw it until we were on short final. Hairy, but not extreme.

Flying a S.F. SOG team into Seven Hills in the Delta being offered pickled ears or fingers by the team commander. Ears or fingers to supplant actual "body count". Ugh! But uncovering huge caches of enemy supplies in the caves of the Hills.

Another single ship flight in the Delta surprising four persons dressed as civilians either putting in or taking out weapons from a canal dike. Didn't know whether they were "good guy" militia or "bad guy" VC. Didn't stay around to find out.

Another Delta mission we flew some paperwork and supplies into a new MAAG compound. About 200 VN civilians tried to board our single slick. They were stricken with fear. We had to bodily throw many of them out whom had managed to fight their way on board. Upon takeoff we spotted a person hiding in the grass outside of the camp perimeter. Our rightside gunner was directed to hold his weapon on the suspect. The leftside gunner made the capture with his personal weapon. We flew the suspect back to the camp turning him over to the young U.S. Army lst Lieutenant. We suspected that the person we captured was spying on the camp and that the people inside the camp knew some battle was imminent which caused their hysterical attitude. Sure enough, that night the camp was attacked but it held. Perhaps our captured suspect spilled the beans that allowed the camp's soldiers to insure their defenses were well defined. All of our crew thought we might have contributed to the victory.

While flying near Dong Ba Thin received an urgent call to pick up a wounded Viet Army soldier. Signals for colored smoke exchanged. Poor guy had stepped on a dung encrusted pungi stake, which was left intact through boot bottom, foot and boot top, until medical attention could be administered. We took him to Nha Trang for treatment.

A sapper attack occurred at a nearby villa in Nha Trang, which was occupied by fliers from an L-19 unit. The sapper threw a grenade into the villa. An alcohol-sedated pilot picked up the grenade throwing it into the nearby bathroom and falling on his drinking partner, knocking them both to the floor. The partner hit his head on the dining table enroute to the floor, the only villa injury. The grenade landed in the toilet which caused me to write a story about the incident titled: "The Saga of the Sapper's Crapper."

Being selected to fly General Westmoreland and party in a 281AHC slick to a remote location west of Nha Trang to visit a regiment of the South Korean White Horse Division. The regiment had seriously hurt the VC operation in their assigned area. We saw many, many captured weapons and equipment and a few VC prisoners in holding cells constructed with bamboo. The general personally complimented the unit for their successes. At the general's direction we could fly no higher than 500 feet because he had an ear infection. {When I saw the general in Miami, mid-70's as guest speaker at the Republican Club we reminisced about the event.}

Selected to fly Martha Raye and her guitarist to several S.F. camps. As soon as she entered the slick she dug in her purse, pulled out a can of scented aerosol and sprayed the interior exposing her ear-to-ear toothy smile. When we arrived at the camp at dinner time she was supposed to be the guest-of-honor at an elaborate table setting. However, she got in the mess line with our crew and insisted on eating with us. That's Martha! Ray Oksa, 281st X.O. and I, were her pilots.

The night before Major Wm. (Bill) Griffin was to turn over 281st command to Al Junko, sappers attacked our compound adjacent to 5th S.F. headquarters at Nha Trang. The sappers had set explosive charges beneath 12 Hueys totaling 4, causing 4 to be sent to Okinawa for overhaul and 4 that could be repaired locally. One of the sappers fired a 7.5 RPG rocket round at the pilots coming out of their 2nd floor barracks doorway to join the battle. Fortunately, it was a dark night and the sapper didn't notice a dark fence post that the rocket hit causing it to ricochet into the eave of the barracks wounding no one. One of our roving GI's on patrol fired at the sappers and was believed to have wounded at least one as blood splotches were found later on the getaway path the sappers took. Puff the Magic Dragon (C130) happened to be overhead but could not obtain permission from Viet Army Commander to fire on the sappers, which Puff had in his searchlight beam. So, they made their getaway by sampan on the river west of the compound. As unit investigating officer of the incident I came down hard on the 5th S.F. administration because they were supposed to protect our outer perimeter. They had failed to protect a wide opening between their compound and the adjacent South Viet compound leaving an open corridor of several feet between our helipad and the river. Al Junko let us know that he was fortunate that the incident didn't happen on his watch.

I spent a few days as X.O. of the 281st before being assigned to 10th CAB as Adjutant. During short X.O. tenure the 1st Sgt. advised me he had caught an EM crewman with marijuana. The crewman was scheduled for an immediate flight and the 1st Sgt. suggested that the man should be permitted to take the flight and we'd deal with him for his infraction when he returned. The Gunner, in a Huey, was killed on that flight firing John Wayne style with both his feet on the skid. He was the only crewmember killed in that action. His marijuana infraction went unreported. He was credited with pretty much single-handedly shooting up the VC patrol he had engaged. (I'd appreciate it if anyone can remember this crewman's name.)

Sometimes you wonder if you made the right/wrong choice. I was asked to participate in an administrative mission with three other members of the battalion staff using the C&C ship, with no guns. One of the battalion's companies had a Huey shot down which was only a ten-minute flight south from headquarters at Dong Ba Thin. The crew had been extracted. When arriving over the site the attention of the other three staff members was on the downed ship as we circled at about 300 feet. They were discussing whether we should order a recovery crew or have the Air Force destroy the ship. My concern was flying so low with no guns and our potential as a target from the same people who shot down the other craft. Therefore, my head was on a swivel when I observed yellow smoke beneath us and a little to the right as we were in a left turn. Personnel could not be observed in a relatively open area with some foliage. I pondered whether I should advise the other three on board. We had neither automatic weapons nor personal weapons. I elected to keep the information to myself and this is the first time I've ever repeated the story. Right or Wrong? Were we being led into a trap like the crashed Huey below? I'll never know.

As 1st Platoon (Rat Pack) Commander I flew to each of the four Corps' S.F. locations on a rotating basis to relieve the pilots at those camps for a little rest and recreation. We had no extra pilots to fly the seven day 10 to 15 hour of flight daily. I sat on an extra flak vest and over time, flying many hours, I wore a boil on each cheek of my buttocks. When they became infected I had to return to Nha Trang. The S.F. surgeon lanced them and today I still carry those two wounds, which I proudly show my children and grandchildren as "my war wounds."

My tenure with the 281st was interrupted for a 60-day assignment with General Westmoreland's headquarters to process backlogged U.S. Army aircraft combat loss and accident reports. The only thing of consequence that happened in Saigon was the worst illness I've ever had. Ate something at one of the well-recommended restaurants that had me using both means of ridding myself of my misery. I crawled around my room between bed and toilet for four days before I got enough strength to go to sick call. But I did process 144 reports for staffing and ultimately the general's signature.

I believe it was mid to late September, 1967, that I voluntarily joined Jack Mayhew and the 281st for about two weeks for a Project Delta operation at Khe Sahn. (Jack and I had served in 7th Army Aviation Staff together just before our second VN tours.) LTCOL Crooks, 10th CAB C.O., was vehemently against my volunteering stating that I had five children and I had served my time in the field. I argued that he had freed me from Battalion Adjutant's duties resulting from my replacement reporting early, and I had nothing better to do than to join my old unit. He finally relented. At Khe Sahn I participated in some insertions but we were never called to extract anyone for being on-the-run. I remember one burly S.F. master sergeant that we inserted as a loner. The elephant grass must have been 15-20 feet in height. When he jumped in we couldn't see him in the thick grass. It was such a long drop to the ground we were afraid he might have broken something. He finally radioed that he was O.K. What guts and dedication to our cause. All alone! One night, returning from an insertion, one of the gunners opened fire, without permission, on the Khe Sahn campsite which held civilians. Most all of the gunners and CE's began firing. I ordered, "Cease Fire!" And that was done. When we landed, the gunners who opened fire thought the civilian camp had opened up on them because they saw the flickering of lights coming up through the holes in the palm thatched roofs. And that's all it was. I was later advised that we had sent an 'emissary' to the head civilian at the camp to determine if anyone was hurt. They weren't. Thank God!

Please note: The above are summaries of events that occurred during my second tour in South Vietnam. More specific details relating to some of these events will be forthcoming in article format.
  Red Bar Line
 
    Another Look At Covert Actions In Indochina 
By
  Jack W. Serig, Sr.   
Published in VHPA Newsletter, May/June 1999
 

The November/December VHPA Newsletter feature article, "Pilots Rewarded With Laos Mission," submitted by Harry Nevling and William Ailes, brought back vivid memories of the day I reported to my unit assignment in early November 1966, my second tour in South Vietnam.

I was surprised to learn that the unit had just lost an UH-1D "slick," shot down over Laos, all occupants killed in action. My first confused thoughts: "What were we doing in Laos?" … "Was our war being expanded into areas unfamiliar to the American people, and certainly to me," 14 years a soldier at the time?

To recover the bodies from the shot-down chopper the next day, my unit commanding officer, Maj. Bill Griffin, led the air assault part of the recovery effort, carrying a 40--man Special Forces Mike Force team commanded by an experienced Special Forces infantry officer. The combined air/land assault team set down in Laos, recovering the 10 deceased personnel - 6 Special Forces team members and our unit's 4 air crewmen. [ See 281st KIA webpage, Incident Date 661202 ] But not with-out cruel, predictable, enemy cunning.

The communist enemy had booby trapped several of the 10 deceased beneath the armpits and the crotch areas. But our SF rescue team, professionals that they are, looked for, found, and defused, the secreted explosives. It was small consolation to know that our recovered sol-diers would not be carried on the rolls as missing in action.

Maj. Griffin advised me that his policy would not allow me to participate in the recovery mission into Laos because, having just arrived, I lacked the local checkouts required. Our unit, the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, 10th Aviation Battalion, had a unique assignment - operationally assigned in direct support of 5th Special Forces Group at Nha Trang. Supporting them meant inserting and extracting their Mike Force unit or elements of the unit, providing close air support with our gunships during insertions and extractions all over South Vietnam, routinely carrying passengers and cargo between far-flung Special Forces camps and evacuating wounded.

On occasion, our pilots and crewmen were asked to "volunteer" for missions into Laos for undetermined lengths of time. These missions were controlled and directed by the Studies and Operations Group (SOG)*, headquartered in Saigon.

When our "volunteer" aircrews were preparing for mis-sions into Laos, they were required to "sanitize" them-selves. That is, no identification, no dog tags, no personal effects that would identify them as American military, and no insignia. Aircraft, weapons and accouterments likewise were "cleansed."

The possibility of our government being blamed for mil-itary incursions into countries we weren't technically sup-posed to be in was somewhat lessened by the "cleansings," assuming casualties and downed aircraft would occur. On the other hand, our military "volunteers" could be, and would be, treated as spies, if captured, because our government would not admit responsibility for these covert missions.

There was an unwritten, covert-related rule, made known to all of us, that if lost on such a mission, we would be persona non-grata, disclaimed by our government, because people and equipment could not be allowed to be identified as "American." Upon being shot down or crashing, if we weren't imme-diately rescued nor our bodies recovered, we would be car-ried as MIA, unless "hard evidence" would allow other abbreviations like "KIA" or "POW." Fortunately, our unit's personnel and choppers always came back.

I personally never "volunteered" for missions into Laos, considering a wife and five children waiting at home for my hopefully safe return from the "legal war" occurring within both Vietnams. Besides, flying Special Forces missions within the legal boundaries of South Vietnam could be hot enough to dis-suade many of us not to volunteer for the additional uncer-tainties of Laos. With the knowledge we have today that our covert "vol-unteers" did intrude into Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam routinely, as occurred in my unit with respect to Laos, surely there were covert-related survivors from aircraft shot down.

Sen. John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran himself, as chairman of the Senate committee looking into MIA/POW potential for survivability several years ago was correct in his comments in a Miami Herald arti-cle, that: "The Pentagon was knowingly wrong in asserting in April 1973 that there was no reason to believe Americans remained behind after the release of U.S. prisoners of war."

Requiring "hard evidence" that there were POWs left behind was a cop-out by official, political Washing-ton. The "hard evidence" should be the files of the U.S. forces' units operating in and over Laos and Cambodia, who reported their personnel losses when and where they occurred, unless covered up by some higher authority. Even if the percentages of POW survivability were min-imal, considering the long war and large numbers of people operating in the covert areas over many years, common sense alone would tell us that there were probably live POW survivors when the war ended. Other evidence is perhaps entrapped within the minds of those who operated covertly, and survived, who have not yet told all they know.

As the result of long-term political ineptitude with regard to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, our armed forces ended up fighting three enemies. First, the remarkably persistent and resilient commu-nists' forces we confronted in all of the war-torn areas of Indochina. Second, the extreme adversarial relationship those American servicemen found prevalent in many of our bitter citizens (the toughest to stomach). And finally, the political reality that we could not depend on our politicians to bring the combined forces and power of our great nation, and that of all our allies, to convince world opinion to help us bring all of our POWs home when the war ended. Our politicians, once understanding the war was impos-sible to win, on retreating, surely, left POWs behind.

Our losses in Vietnam, South and North, were bad enough. But the extreme, painful experiences suffered by the families, friends and comrades-in-arms of Americans missing in Laos and Cambodia, "spying" for their country as loyal "volunteers," is unconscionable. Let us hope and pray that patriots such as Sen. Kerry will finally bring the correct answers home to its deserving citizenry.

NOTE: In their book "Secret Intelligence," the authors, Ernest Volkman and Blaine Bagget state: "But secret wars involve real problems of accountability and control, the two areas that were to cause much trouble for America's secret war in Indochina. The first alarm rang in 1964, when the secret war was expanded yet again, this time by cre-ation of the Studies and Operations Group (SOG), which combined personnel from the Green Berets, the CIA, and the four military services in an organization that was to conduct subversion, sabotage, and other covert operations in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It was under a broad mandate known as OPLAN 34-A, which authorized SOG to conduct 'clandestine operations in denied areas.' In other words, SOG commanders could do just about what they wanted."

Jack W. Serig Sr.
9021 SW 140th St.
Miami, FL 33176-7108
(305) 238-3915

  Red Bar Line  


  Why Didn't I Receive A Purple Heart Medal? 
By
  Jack W. Serig, Sr.   
Published in VHPA Newsletter, July/August 1999
 

I have esteemed regard for those who have earned the most sacred and prestigious Purple Heart.

This is just a humorous story that happened to me which may give you a laugh or two. It is not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings, especially those of you who earned the medal. If I have, I herein sincerely apologize.

In 1962, 1 flew Otters for the 18th Aviation Company the length and breadth of Vietnam. There was no armor protecting us except for our issue flak jackets.

There wasn't too much shooting going on as yet and the enemy's aim was particularly poor in the early war stage. But every so often ships landed with bullet holes the crew didn't usually know about until post-flight inspections.

I was able to purloin an extra flak jacket to sit on, thinking that protecting that part of the lower anatomy that lay between the flak vest and me was a high, personal wartime priority.

Fast forward to 1967. There was a lot more shooting going on and the enemy's aim had improved considerably. I was determined, again, with much more reverence than in 1962, to protect "My Boys", as Seinfeld's Cosmo Kramer has humorously called "the family assets."

It wasn't long after my arrival that I "found" the extra flak jacket. Even though the Hueys had much improved armor plating, including the seats, I was determined to provide myself, and my spouse, with the extra protection.

My assignment was flight platoon commander, 281st Assault Helicopter Company. My platoon was split into four detachments, each supporting the Special Forces A camp commanders in each of the four corps.

My job was to hop on Army and Air Force aircraft to get to my split-up crews and provide some flying relief so they could get some rest. I always suggested that my crews purloin extra vests for the very same purpose I have explained, thereby doing my duty to provide the greatest protection I could for my troops. I never surveyed them to determine if what happened to me happened to them.

Now, as you can visualize, sitting on a flak vest in a fixed-wing provides an altogether different effect than sitting on one in a rotary-wing.

In the fixed-wing, your buttocks may slide a little bit back and forth as you decelerate and accelerate. This does not appear to provide any unpleasant problems, as proven by the year I flew the Otter while sitting on a vest. Fixedwing pilots who sat on extra jackets never complained of any problems to my recollection.

However, not so in a Huey helicopter. I flew hour after hour after hour, like so many of you, but I sat on my flak jacket with the knowledge that I gave my "Boys" the utmost extra protection that either the Army, or 1, could afford.

The problem with sitting on a flak vest in the Huey is that you get a perpendicular movement in relation to your direction of travel and my buttocks wasn't up to withstanding that circular motion, unlike that direct back and forth which the fixed-wing provides.

After many days strapped to Huey cockpits in one corps area or another, the friction from the metal in the vest, against my soft baby-skinned behind, caused, over time, a golf ball-sized boil to eventually form on each cheek, almost perfectly placed one to the other.

I stayed out at the detachments apparently longer than I should have and the boils became abscessed. My butt hurt!

As soon as I got back to Nha Trang, I went immediately to the 5th Special Forces Group surgeon. Now this is when I got hit.

He "shot" the surrounding area of each wound with a needle full of local anasthetic and, when that took effect, he lanced the affected areas. He grounded me for two weeks and issued me a regulation doughnut piilow for my seating comfort.

To this day, 32 years later, I still carry a rounded wound on each buttock. They look like repaired bulet holes' entry markings.

In summary, I have two wounds that occurred while I was in combat or combat support mode flying Hueys in support of the war effort. Even though, so they tell me, I'm not entitled to a Purple Heart, I can show my grandkids where I was "wounded" during the war.

Jack Serig, Sr.
  Red Bar Line

  MEMORIAL DAY, ’94: A HERO REMEMBERED
By   Jack W. Serig, Sr.   
Printed on Memorial Day, May 30, 1994, in the Miami Herald
 

For twenty-seven years I have cherished the memory of serving in South Vietnam with an MIA soldier/warrior whose hometown was Freehold, New Jersey. Chief Warrant Officer Walter F. Wrobleski, 21 years young, fresh out of Ft. Rucker, Alabama’s army helicopter flight school, was assigned to my flight platoon of UH-1D Huey ‘slick’ helicopters in early ’67.

The “D” model was termed ‘slick’ because of its lack of armament, a 7.62 mm machine gun protruding from each of two doorways of the passenger/cargo compartment manned by two enlisted gunners, one who also served as the aircraft’s crewchief. The senior pilot of the crew was the “aircraft commander” while the other logged time as “pilot”. The ‘slicks’ usual missions in this war were carrying troops and cargo, often substituting as medical evacuation carriers when regular medevac ‘choppers were not immediately available.

Walter was shot down on May 21, 1967, by then having graduated to piloting the more sophisticated, and technically more difficult to operate, UH-l “B” model gunships, because their usual takeoff configuration was ‘overweight’. The ‘B’ models protected the ‘slicks’ by using their miniguns, air-to-ground rockets and aerial launched grenades, when the lightly armed ‘slicks’ were inserting and extracting the 5th Special Forces Mike Force ground teams our unit, the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, supported.

Walter is still officially carried as MIA---missing in action. The irony is that the other three crewmembers flying with him were all rescued over the next several days after being shot down, none with serious injuries. In the extensive air and ground searches that followed the loss of his aircraft, Walter was never located, as hard as the rescue teams tried to find him.

How best to pay tribute to his memory has caused me a lot of soul-searching over the years since Walter’s loss. He wasn’t the only person our unit lost that year but his disappearance hit me the hardest because, as his platoon commander when he first arrived at our unit, my approval was eventually required to transfer him to the gunship platoon, the platoon he was serving in when he was shot down.

I don’t know that his family ever found out the story surrounding the circumstances of his loss, which my weathered memory will attempt to resurrect. I’ve always remembered Walter’s and my first meeting on the airfield tarmac at Nha Trang, the home base of our unit, located next door to the 5th Special Forces Group headquarters where many of the Mike Force missions were planned and briefed. Walter and I pre-flighted a “D” model, performed our cockpit check and flew locally for Walter’s first orientation flight. Upon landing and after the engine shutdown procedure and postflight check, we sat in the hot cockpit for longer than usual. Walter had a personal agenda to pursue. He asked me to approve his immediate assignment to the gunship platoon. I was surprised, but appreciated, Walter’s directness, formality and serious tone.

His youthful facial features from that long-ago cockpit conversation are imbedded in my memory, even today. Freckled face, reddish-brown hair, youthful vigor. A fine young man and soldier, I was to learn, epitomizing the best among the youths that America would sacrifice in an unpopular war. In my counseling session that followed his request, while we remained in the cockpit, I asked Walter to be patient, that his time would come. I explained that our unit policy required that newly arrived aviators would fly ‘slicks’ (Huey D models) initially, and with time, training and experience, he could eventually get a gunship assignment.

Walter and I flew on several more occasions, in the delta area, flying out of Bien Hoa, near Saigon, where his ‘slick’ detachment supported the local Special Forces camp commander. Each time we flew together he reminded me, rather emphatically, that he wouldn’t be completely satisfied with his job assignment until he was finally transferred to the gunship platoon. I admired his persistency and continued to monitor his flying carefully by periodic checks with his detachment commander and by flying with him when the opportunity allowed.

Finally, an opening occurred in the gunship platoon and I approved Walter’s transfer. He was ready! But I never saw him again as I was ordered to Saigon for a 60-day special assignment before returning to our battalion about 1 July, 1967. A few days later I made it a point to meet with Walter’s company commander to find out about the circumstances regarding Walter’s loss, as his gunship had been shot down in action on May 21.

The following was his company commander’s account of the rescue attempt, as I recall: Gunships were supporting an extraction of Special Forces Mike Force personnel in an area heavily defended by enemy anti-aircraft and smallarms fire. The gunships were making their passes, firing their rockets, miniguns and grenades, attempting to suppress the enemy fire to protect the Special Forces people on the ground, and the ‘slicks’, which were involved in the attempted extraction. Walter’s gunship was hit critically, and the two pilots fought the damaged controls causing the helicopter to land hard, but upright, near the extraction area. The aircraft had hit the ground so hard that the vertically aligned transmission, which gave support and power to the main rotor blades, came smashing down through the center of the rear compartment, where the two enlisted side-door gunners were located, on into the center of the cockpit area, which housed Walter and the other pilot.

All four men were observed exiting the downed bird by other aircrews supporting the mission. Each of the shot-down crewmen selected a different direction of travel from the crippled helicopter to enhance cover and concealment, and hopeful evasion from the nearby enemy ground forces. As the enemy ground fire was suppressed, an air search began, using all immediately available taskforce aircraft, for the four downed crewmen from Walter’s ship.

Toward dusk, one of the enlisted door gunners was located against the dark green of the jungle. He had made his way to the top of a small rise in the terrain as he recognized that he wouldn’t be easily spotted. He remembered he had his last military pay slip in his wallet, which was pink. He opened up the pay slip to its full size and held it up as high as he could, over his head. One of the search aircraft’s crewman spotted the pink pay slip, quite visible against the contrasting green of the surrounding vegetation. The downed crewman was rescued by one of the ‘slicks’ assigned to the operation while the gunships provided covering support during the extraction.

The air search for the other crewmen continued until nightfall but had to be temporarily halted until the next day. On returning to the area early the next morning, the day’s air search was successful in finding the other enlisted door gunner. He also recognized that the jungle green was detrimental to his being spotted, remembered he had on white boxer shorts, took them off and waved them over his head, allowing for his successful spotting and helicopter extraction. Day-2 ended without either pilot being found.

A 40-man Mike Force team, consisting of both American and South Vietnamese Special Forces personnel, conducted extensive ground searches on Day’s-3 and -4. My recollection is that on Day-4 , the other pilot, located in tall elephant grass---by his own later account to me---did not know whether the force he could hear, but not see approaching his position, were enemy or friendly. But he stood his ground with his .45 cal. Automatic pistol loaded and ready to fire aiming in the direction of the noise made by the friendly South Viet ‘tracker’ stealthily approaching his position. The elephant grass parted directly in front of the scared pilot and he recognized the South Vietnamese Special Forces uniform, with a smiling face he would never forget, which said in nearly perfect English, “Do not shoot! Friends!” The pilot was safely extracted with the Special Forces rescue team. This was the third, or perhaps fourth time, that he had been shot down, and survived.

Both ground and air searches continued through Day-4 and were finally called off when no trace of Walter could be found. For years I have toyed with the idea of getting in direct touch with Walter’s family but always hesitant that it just might be too painful for them---and for me. They have had to suffer the additional agony, for twenty-seven years, of a son---and perhaps brother, cousin, nephew---missing in action.

Some weeks ago I called the Army Casualty Section in the Pentagon to confirm that Walter’s “missing” status had not changed. The call was prompted from my review of a recently obtained updated copy of the MIA listing from the Vietnam conflict, with Walter’s name still listed. Also, I was prompted from watching Senator John Kerry’s POW/MIA Senate Committee’s investigation on C-Span.

The thought of finally writing a story on the limited information that I had after so many years of soul-searching, was beginning to materialize, not sure of where or when to send it. Walter’s loss and memory have been on my conscience ever since his disappearance. But more recently his loss and the kind, pleasant memories that I’ve always retained of him, have come to mind more often as a result of the terrible and tragic suicide of another true American hero. Severely disabled Vietnam veteran, former Marine lieutenant Lewis Puller, another of the Vietnam War’s casualties.

Acknowledging the personal hurt and pain that most Vietnam veterans hid in the deep crevices of heart and mind---mental wounds---causes of which have been debated for many years, we find through Lieutenant Puller’s death that the mental wounds can be just as deadly---and even more tragic---than physical wounds. Of course, Puller had the double burden of suffering from both. Though the mental healing never stops with the tragedies of war, being able to tell the hidden stories is a good antidote toward an endless recovery. Telling Chief Warrant Officer Walter Wroblesky’s story, somewhat helps to ease the pain of both losses.


  Red Bar Line  


  THE SAGA OF THE EXPLODING TOILET 
By
  Jack W. Serig, Sr.   
Published in LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association.

PROLOGUE

This story is about Viet Cong sapper attacks.

In mid-1962 the 18th Aviation Company (Otter Aircraft) home base at Nha Trang, South Vietnam, came under night attack from a Viet Cong sapper unit believed to be quartered somewhere west of Nha Trang.

It is almost inconceivable that the maintenance crews of the 18th, working under bright night-lights on the east side of the airfield, came away unscathed. The entire company (-) didn’t get any sleep that night as they occupied their perimeter defensive positions awaiting whatever the enemy decided to throw their way. Fortunately, the only loss suffered by the 18th’ soldiers that night was lack of sleep.

My second ‘Nam assignment, in December ’66, put me back at the same airfield in Nha Trang with the 281st Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) which supported the 5th Special Forces Group on the west side of the airfield.

In mid-67 the sapper unit attacked, again at night, destroying four Hueys and putting eight more out of commission for extensive repairs. The only thing that saved our crews from the automatic weapons fire and a shoulder-mounted RPG-7 rocket attack, was their poor aim and a fence post that deflected the rocket aimed at the doorway as our troops were exiting to take up defensive positions. The rocket round ricocheted harmlessley into the barrack’s roof eaves in lieu of exploding into its intended target of troops exiting the second-story billet area.

The following sapper-attack story, which occurred about the same time in ’67, was related to me by a Chief Warrant Officer Drummond, an Army pilot. He was assigned to an 0-1 “Birddog” aviation unit supporting the III Tactical Corps at Nha Trang, when the action supporting this story unfolded.

I visited Drummond’s unit at their villa for several reasons. First, their villa had been attacked, by sappers, with a grenade and I was curious to learn the facts as senior pilots in my 281st AHC unit were also living in a villa, nearby. Also, I wanted to meet Drummond because I had heard humorous stories, over the years, about his brother “Ace” Drummond, also an Army pilot.

This drama is about two of the 0-1 pilots in Drummond’s unit, drinking late at night in their villa and how one of them probably saved his villa-mate from serious or fatal injury from an enemy grenade explosion. The story also exemplifies the dangers all military personnel faced in South Vietnam from terrorists’ units and Vietcong sappers that struck quickly and sometimes deadly.

Although serious consequences could have evolved, the story is written in a light-hearted, sometimes humorous manner, as there were no injuries and the principal character was a braggadocio fellow-until it really counted, when he showed his true mettle.

The city of Nha Trang was one of the best-kept secrets of the Vietnam struggle. One never heard or read very much about this lovely, tranquil city several flight hours up the coast from Saigon---several flight hours south from Da Nang---the latter two from which constant wartime news was initiated.

The much-heralded Cam Rahn Bay Air Base was about a forty-five minute jeep ride south if one was willing to risk the potential for ambush.

Nha Trang had been a French-styled seaside resort area, with French colonial architecture prominent along the wide, palm and tree-lines boulevard, which separated the buildings from the white-sanded beach lining the South China Sea to the immediate east. A few miles distant to the west, a moderately high mountain range, steep and jungled, blocked out the western horizon. A narrow strip of river curved lazily between the mountain and the western edge of the city.

Vietnamese and French-built villas were prevalent, mixed in among the colonial architecture of the more prominent government buildings along the beachfront, continuing westbound for several blocks inland from the water’s edge. There was a pleasant mix of restaurants interspersed among the buildings, whose food all GI’s found agreeable to the palate and a necessary respite from the messhall chow. Good French wine and Bami Ba beer were reasonably priced, as was the food.

Many of the villas were rented by the various services’ logisticians to house the vastly growing numbers of U.S. and Allied Forces personnel, especially when III Corps headquarters and its support elements, and growing numbers of aviation units were assigned to make this exotic location their home. Nha Trang was a 24-hour R&R paradise. Nice town, quiet people. Beachfront, swimming, sunning and snorkeling---an ideal isolation from the war zones our aviation personnel flew into daily from the local air base located on the city’s western side.

Personnel assigned to the villas would ante up several dollars each month and hire Vietnamese mamasohns to perform household chores---cleaning, cooking, laundry, shopping, and other tasks.

In one such villa lived a group of army fliers assigned to an aviation company of 0-1 “Birddogs”, a tandem cockpit, single engine Cessna, which served as command/control, artillery observation and fire direction. Pilots of this aircraft were able to identify enemy targets with their beneath-the-wings missiles for air strikes and other missions. When I visited CWO Drummond and others at their villa one evening in mid-1967, this is one of the stories they related about their close encounter with villa-style combat.

THE STORY

One of the pilots was an outgoing, loud, rambunctious, hell-raising type who kept everyone in their unit on their toes by his wild actions and wilder stories. He was, admittedly, a great booster of local and unit morale. As often happens among buddies when finished with a long day, they downed a few cocktails or beers in the early evening. If an individual had to fly the next day, he was honor-bound to limit his drinking. If not, and could sleep in, he might imbibe to a greater degree.

One such evening, our hell-raiser and a close flying buddy, having no flights scheduled for the next day, decided to drink on into the night. “Loudmouth” was as gregarious and fun loving as ever. The problem with “Loudmouth”, because of his persistent manner to magnify the truth and to cut-up, no one know when he was serious or when he could be believed. On this particular night all of the villa’s flyers had been in their sacks for some time. “Loudmouth” and friend, hollering out wild stories to each other between gulps of lightly-diluted whiskey, were having a close-to-drunk blast.

“Loudmouth’s” buddy got up to freshen his drink, passing near where his friend sat, close to a wooden dining table. “Loudmouth”, even in his near-inebriated state and blurry vision, was suddenly alerted to something that was changing and electrifying the room’s atmosphere.

“Loudmouth” screamed: “GRENNAAADDEEE!”---simultaneously sobering and leaping at his buddy, who thought: “Loudmouth” must be playing one of his many formidable capers.” Knocking his buddy to the floor “Loudmouth” , with sudden and sober quickness, seized the small, round, metal object, smartly tossing it through the open door of the downstairs bathroom. “Loudmouth” jumped on top of his friend to protect him. The object he had retrieved and thrown, bounded off the bathroom wall and landed perfectly within the water-filled toilet---“BULLSEYE!”

The explosion was deafening. It shook the two-story villa as if it had been hit by an artillery round. When the explosion subsided, “flyboys” erupted from the bedrooms on both floors in all sorts of combat-undress holding on to whatever weapons they had at their immediate disposal.

Their first task---to determine where the probable enemy was, set up a defensive perimeter and engage the unknown enemy, if necessary. The villa gendarmes found no enemy in the immediate environs of their war-scarred home.

Next priority---attend the wounded. “Loudmouth” was OK. His buddy, still beneath him, was slowly coming to his senses and hollered at “Loudmouth”: “Get the hell off me!” “Loudmouth” was happy to hear his friend’s response. The kid had taken a shot on the head from the edge of the dining table as he was falling, while being tackled by his quick-to-sober friend. His head wound wasn’t serious and would soon heal. No other soul was hurt in the blast, but the toilet could not be identified. It was klobbered-in-action. The wounded water pipe, which fed the toilet, was bleeding water profusely from its severed wound. The PLUMBER EMERGENCY MEDEVAC UNIT was called and the bloodied water pipe was finally medicated and brought under control toward the wee hours of the morning.

WHERE HAD THE GRENADE COME FROM?

The backside of the villa could be reached by sampan where the canal water behind the villa lapped up against the building’s concrete foundation. Protective chicken-wire fencing had been placed around the outside of the porch to protect the building’s occupants from enemy sappers or terrorists from just such an attack that had occurred. However, there was one small opening in the protective wire where a concreted gutter, a few inches lower than the porch floor level, allowed water to be broom-swept into the canal when the villa’s porch was being cleaned. It was through this small opening that a sapper, in a sampan, had rolled a grenade with strength enough to reach within range of “Loudmouth” and his buddy.

“Loudmouth’s” popularity with his unit soared even higher as a result of his heroic actions in protecting his buddy and villa-mates without regard to his own life. But only as “Loudmouth” could jokingly say it, his very own title to the story that you’ve just read, would probably be: “THE SAGA OF THE SAPPER’S CRAPPER.”


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  SAPPER ATTACK
"Published in September/October 2000 edition of the VHPA Newsletter."

Nha Trang, RVN Early 1967.  

The small sapper unit beached their dugout between the two Special Forces (S.F.) compounds one moonless night just west of the Nha Trang airstrip, along the riverbank. There was about a 2-3 yard gap between the two camps’ fences which was clear of obstacles and led directly to the tarmac of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, which supported the 5th S.F. Group’s countrywide operations. The northernmost compound held the headquarters and Mike Force of the 5th. The south compound contained the equivalent South Viet S.F. camp.

At least two, or more, of the sappers prepared to provide covering fire to a lone sapper, who crossed the perimeter road, worked his way through the wire protecting our parking apron, then, ran in a crouch toward our unit’s parked ‘Hueys’.

The lone sapper carried a woven reed basket of explosives. He began placing explosive packages on the asphalt directly under each helicopter’s cockpit.

Internal night security of the 281st tie-down area consisted of two unit roving guards carrying their personal, loaded weapons. One of our sentries, during the rounds required of his post, spotted the bad guy with the explosives, took a firing position behind some barrels and began firing at the intruder.

The lone sapper, who had been placing the explosives, ran toward his sapper team once the firing began. Covering fire from the rest of the hidden sapper team joined the melee.

Initial explosions of the charges the lone sapper had set beneath the Hueys began, adding to the confusion of our barracks personnel who were grabbing weapons and rounds to join the battle.

A huge explosion, that erupted just several feet above their heads in the eave of the roof, met the junior officers, stacked up at the 2nd story doorway of their barracks as they tried to exit through the outside stairwell.

Investigation would later reveal that one of the sappers in the covering team had indeed fired a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) apparently aiming directly into the mass of junior officers streaming from their 2nd floor home. But, because of the near total darkness where he lay in waiting, the sapper with the RPG, failed to note a wooden fence post which ricocheted the round away from the officers exiting through the doorway, which is why it ended up in the eave.

Both Special Forces’compounds’ towers were guard-mounted on a 24-hour basis? Neither towers’ guards, equipped with searchlights and weapons, were effective in cutting down the sappers although there was a blood trail, found later, which indicated at least one enemy was wounded.

Explosives under the Huey’s continued going off intermittently as the sappers made their escape, reverse of the way they had arrived, between the fences of the two S.F. compounds back to their dugout.

The U.S. Air Force happened to have a “Puff the Magic Dragon” C-123 aloft over the town of Nha Trang, with loaded Gatling Guns and a cannon, which quickly got into the action through communications with Corps staff also located at Nha Trang. The staff was unable to obtain the local Vietnamese commander’s approval to allow “Puff” to fire its weapons even though “Puff” had the dugout and sapper crew in the beam of her searchlight. We never learned why the local VN commander refused to give the order to “fire”.

In reviewing the damage with Major Bill Griffin, our outgoing commander, and Al Junko and other company officers, in the aftermath, the total tally of our Huey losses was twelve. Four were complete losses, four required major repairs and four could be repaired locally. Had the sapper known to place the charges beneath the gas tanks of all the ‘choppers we would likely have had twelve totals. Fortunately, and luckily, we had no KIA or WIA’s.

The irony for Major Griffin was that it was his next-to-last day of duty before rotating. Our new incoming C.O., Al Junko, let us know of his relief that the sapper attack hadn’t happened on his watch.


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