"Charlie the Chicken"
(and other missions)

Subject: [281AHC] Maintenance
From: Lou Lerda <Lou.Lerda@faa.gov
To: <281AHC@onelist.com
Sent: Monday, January 24, 2000 8:06 AM

It's about time you throttle jockeys recognized the fact that the guys  with the wrenches were really responsible for helping you to keep the  proper side up! The 281st was really fortunate to have some of the  finest, most inventive maintenance folks in RVN! I don't know of many  units that maintained an 80% availability rate with Hueys and didn't  work round the clock to do it . . . the original maintenance team of  the 281st did. There are a lot of crazy stories that came out of that  initial batch of wrench benders. Anybody remember Terry Richmond and  his under water flight, or Rick Bouck and "Do turbine engines backfire  in flight?". 

Anybody remember the "Charlie the Chicken" incident or our "Chocolate" reports? Can't spend a lot of time on the keyboard right now but will refresh your memories later. Yeh Fred, I do remember Darvin Flanders, our ship was backup the day he got the boot shot.

 The "original" Service Platoon Leader.
 Lou Lerda

Subject: [281AHC] Re: Maintenance
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 04:11:56 EST
From: FredPhillips@aol.com
To: 281AHC@onelist.com


Lou Lerda used to piss me off sometimes, and it seems he hasn't lost his touch.

He asks if anyone remembers the "Charlie the Chicken" incident, and I cringe, hoping that the Statute of Limitations has finally expired.

For those of you who weren't there, it was just another Field Trip From Hell at some Montagnard village called Boun Blech. The weather sucked, and we didn't get to fly much, but when we did it was ugly, not because of the VC, but because we kept getting lost in the clouds.

Still, that wasn't a great problem, thanks to a Major (who I'll not name here, as he is not currently among us) who acquired a pet chicken and promptly appointed an E-6 as the Head Chicken Wrangler. "Charlie" was the chicken - a foul and obnoxious creature if there ever was one. I had an extremely difficult time keeping a couple of the Wolfpack WOs from killing and frying that f***ing bird and, for that matter, the Intruder Major that owned it.

But the Ops Sergeant (E-6) certainly didn't mind when the Wolfpack proposed letting Charlie the Chicken lead us to some good targets. He was happy to tie a smoke grenade to the Major's pet and toss him out the door at 3,000 feet. Damndest smoke grenade I ever saw. We all know that they usually fall straight and true toward the target. This one, however, was all over the sky, leading our tracers toward the enemy emplacements on the ground.

Back in Nha Trang, the Major wondered where his pet had gone and then threatened to Court Martial the entire Wolfpack when he heard a rumor that we had helped Charlie make the supreme sacrifice.

What the hell was the Major going to do, send us home?

After a while, the incident blew over, or so I thought. A year or so later, I ran into that Major in a barbershop at Mother Rucker. In the middle of a shave and haircut he asked me: "Did you really shoot my chicken?" 

To this day, I admit nothing. But if there ever was a chicken who really didn't need to meet the Wolfpack, it was Charlie.

As far as the Major was concerned, we bailed his ass out at Song Be about three weeks later. He survived, but we probably would have just left him in the jungle if he had still owned that frigging chicken.

To some of us, DFC still means: Dirty F***ing Chicken.

Fred Phillips 

Subject: Re: [281AHC] Re: Maintenance
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 07:15:39 -0600
From: "Gary & Nicki" <cooter@charter.net>
To:  <281AHC@onelist.com>

Boun Blech is one of the first FOB's I was on. I also Had an engine failure on this trip. C & C ship picked us all up, along with guns, radios & ect. I do not remember who the pilots were, but they set the aircraft down in a rice paddy, and didn't even get water splashed anywhere. This scorched the tailpipe cowling. It was a 3 &4 Bearing failure. I ended up helping maintenance change the engine beside the air-strip. What was really fun, was changing the oil cooler, which was located in the Hell Hole. The engine failure happened after we had flew over some real rough country, and turned
to fly up a valley.
Gary Stagman

Subject: [281AHC] Re: Fred P & Charlie the chicken
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 12:03:50 -0500
From: "Lou Lerda"<Lou.Lerda@faa.gov>
To: <281AHC@onelist.com>

Come on Fred, I wasn't going to use any names, the story was indicative of the humor/lack there of (on the part of some people who shall remain nameless) that formed that initial esprit de corps that we know as the 281st. Now that you brought up that whole "Field Trip from Hell", I still can't figure out how the flight got home in one piece after going inadvertent IFR and "breaking up on command". How the devil we got out of that one without having a serious mid air is beyond me. Thanks for the Charlie the C. input. I can still hear the O-4 screaming at the top of his lungs "I'll court martial you bastards, You just wait till I get done with you!" Wish I could remember the Ops Sgt's name. He deserved a commendation medal for putting up with the nonsense for as long as he did.

Lou Lerda

Subject: Re: [281AHC] History, Grandkids and all that
Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2000 07:51:44 -0600
From: John Hyatt <jhyatt53@airmail.net>
To:  281AHC@onelist.com

Hi Lou and Fred

It is great to hear from the "old timers". I enjoy all the stories but I have some trouble relating to those after 1966.  After the 281st I did a 2nd tour in 68/69 flying Chinooks with the 101st Abn Div. All these stories are jogging my pitiful memory. 

You are right Fred, Ron Palascak was the one of the best and coolest gun pilots I ever worked with.

Fred, I remember the Chicken well. The major (who shall remain nameless) kept him tied to a tent pole - smelled terrible and crowed early every morning. It is surprising that a chicken of that caliber had the courage to do what it did - a real hero. I believe that was the same major who was leading the flight back from extracting the teams in the valleys and gullies (you remember the weather was very bad) when he claimed his windshield wipers broke and told me to take the lead. Of course I wasn't paying attention to the map. We finally got back to the base - but only after taking the long scenic route.

Wasn't that about the same time that Bill Hale ran into Titty Mountain? Has anybody heard from or about him since? I know he survived.

Song Be was where we made the night emergency evac. It is amazing how much a star looks like a UH-1 tail light. If it wasn't for my cockpit mate I would still be climbing. Fred, that is where you blew down the poncho walls of the outhouse and left me sitting on my throne in full view of all the villagers coming in to the market. A traumatic experience.

Does anyone remember Sgt Buckalew? He was the 25th Div Door Gunner Platoon Sgt. I believe he was with the 6th when we moved to Nha Trang or did he come later? Fred, I think he flew with you quite a bit.

A bit of trivia: The first Super Bowl was in January 1967. At my house in Ozark, Al that day to watch the game was Fred Phillips, John Parziale, and Jim Jackson. Carol, bride of 35 years, who has a wonderful? memory reminded me of that. I believe Fred and Jim were TDY from Hunter working on the Cobra NETTeam.

Take Care,
John Hyatt

Subject: [281AHC] Re: Stagman - Boun Blech
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 08:34:45 EST
From:  FredPhillips@aol.com
To:  281AHC@onelist.com

I remember it well, when your bird went down.

Ron Palascak was the aircraft commander, and I'm not sure who the peter pilot was, but I think it might have been Gary O'Connor.

I was the Wolfpack team leader and Ron was my wingman. The weather sucked, we had maybe 100 feet or so between the treetops and the bottom of the overcast. You, I suspect, were too new to fully understand just how scary that was. But Ron was cool. I still believe that he was perhaps the Finest Army Aviator Of All Time, with the possible exception of John Hyatt, who was another amazing dude and was flying with me on that fateful mission.

I'll quote Ron's radio call: "Three Two, Three Five's going down at this time." It was classic Ron - matter of fact, with a somewhat laconic tone. Never mind that he had to do a 180 autorotation, from 100 feet or so, on fire, into a marshy area in no-mans land. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. I wondered "Huh?? We're already as low as we're going to get." I got turned around just in time to witness the last 90 degrees of the 180 auto, which was sort of a pedal turn, with flames spouting from the engine compartment, into the muck.

But Ron always did stuff perfectly, and nobody got hurt. To this day, I guarantee that you still don't fully appreciate just how lucky you were to have him driving your bird at that moment. If I had been the pilot (and I was pretty damned good) we wouldn't have made it. No way. Only Ron could have pulled that off.

After we got you and the rest of the crew out, a Chinook hooked up your Huey, lifted it back to Boun Blech, then dropped it on top of a water trailer. Ron and I, and Your Friendly Maintenance Officer - Lou Lerda - watched and groaned as the aircraft bounced and tumbled down the side of a hill.

But hey, that was nothing. As you may remember, we went to Song Be and Tay Ninh a couple of weeks later, and things got worse, much worse, but we somehow survived.

Good to hear from you, big guy. 
Fred Phillips



Subject: [281AHC] Re: SGT Buckalew
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 05:48:35 EST
From: FredPhillips@aol.com
To:  281AHC@onelist.com


John Hyatt asked if anyone remembers SGT Buckalew. I sure as hell do. He was the original Wolfpack platoon sergeant and an unforgettable character who 
saved my ass. He got the first Silver Star awarded in the 281st - for shooting a VC who had just emptied most of his AK-47 clip into our B-model, severing a hydraulic line and causing a cyclic hard-over. Nothing too remarkable about SGT Buck getting after the bad guy, except for the fact that he was outside straddling the gun pylon, at an altitude of less than 100 feet, and the aircraft was inverted. I'm still not too sure how he hung on or how we managed to avoid crashing right there, but it's amazing how hard you can yank a cyclic when the adrenaline's pumping.

It happened on May 7, 1966, north of Tay Ninh. I was Joe Thurston's wingman 
that day. If you don't believe that anybody could have done what SGT Buckalew did, ask Joe. He was there.

Vietnam wasn't SGT Buckalew's first war. He also served during the Korean War and had a scar running up the side of his face - from a Chinese bayonet.

Starting in about 1970, whenever I was in in an unfamiliar city, I would always check the phone book to see if I could find anyone I knew. Occasionally I succeeded. I always looked for SGT Buck, but without success. Then the Internet White Pages appeared and I figured that it would be easy to find a guy named Mahlon Buckalew, but again I was wrong.

I finally found his name on the internet, in the Social Security Death Index.  He died in 1978, at age 47, but it didn't say where or why.

I haven't forgotten him, and I won't. But for him, I wouldn't be here.

Fred Phillips