281st ASSAULT HELICOPTER COMPANY
The origin of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam began with the 145th Airlift Platoon of the 145th Aviation Battalion which arrived in this theater during 1964, and was stationed at Phan Thiet, RVN, in support of Special Forces operations in that area. The platoon moved to Nha Trang and was assigned to the 52nd Aviation Battalion on 6 January 1965 to provide aviation support to Headquarters, I Field Forces, Vietnam.
On 25 December 1965, the unit was assigned to the 10th Aviation Battalion by General Order Number 256, Headquarters, USARV, dated 30 December 1965. In early February, the 145th Airlift Platoon and the 6th Aviation Platoon, 171st Aviation Company were combined into 2nd Platoon, 171st Aviation Company per General Order Number 4, Headquarters, 12th Aviation Group, dated 25 January 1966. The mission of the 2nd Platoon, 171st Aviation Company was to provide helicopter support as directed by 5th Special Forces Group (ABN) with headquarters at Nha Trang, RVN.
The 281st Aviation Company (AML) was activated by General Order Number 318, Headquarters, Third U.S. Army, dated 7 October 1965. This order activated the company headquarters; service platoon; 499th Signal Detachment and the 483rd Transportation Detachment for the 281st Aviation Company (AML). The advance party of this unit arrived in Vietnam on 23 May 1966, and the main body closed at Nha Trang on 4 June 1966. The company received the assets and assumed the mission of the 2nd Platoon, 171st Aviation Company per General Order Number 27, Headquarters, 17th Aviation Group, dated 14 July 1966.
Unit Photo at Ft. Benning, GA - March 1966
Recollections of 281st at Ft. Benning - SFC David E. Bush
[Pages from the 10th Combat Aviation Battalion history.]
John W. "Jack" Green III
"Mardi Gras 26" 8/65-8/66
"I was there in the beginning. There was alot that happened early on. Most of the assets were in place before the "Boys from Benning" arrived. The 145th/171st/281st invented, perfected and shared all the early lessons about LRRP operations.
"Fang 9" 10/65-10/66
6th Avn Plat/281st AHC
"I remember the 281st mission like most of the others do. Of course, we were there early on and I am sure some things changed - but not that much. The only folks who flew Project Delta missions was the 281st. We (6th Plat) flew some other strange 5th SF Group missions just before we moved to Nha Trang and joined the 145th Avn Plt. But after that we only flew Delta and C Team support.
To the best of my recollection: The 6th Avn Plat was part of I Corps Avn Co (Prov) which was in Danang in 1964. About Sep 65 the Plat moved to Saigon where it was attached to the 145 Avn Bn and the 120th Avn Co. I joined them there in Oct. In early Dec 65 the Plat moved to Bien Hoa where it was attached to A/501st Avn Co. In Feb 66 the Plat moved to Nha Trang where it joined the 145 Avn Plat and became either the 1st or 2nd Plat of the 171st Avn Co. The 145th Plat already had the SF support mission and we joined with them. The 281st came in country in June 66 - I think(our first D models). We joined them and formed the unit as we all know it.
The 145th Plat call sign was MARDI GRAS and the 6th Plat was FANGS. As I recall we rotated between flying Delta missions and supporting the C-Teams. Pete Frazier and I took an aircraft to Pleiku (Det C-2) for about a month in the spring of 66 and then we came back to fly Delta for a while - I can remember Ple Mei, Song Be, and Tay Ninh. He and I then went down to Bien Hoa (Det C-3) I think for about 6-7 weeks. That was my last mission prior to returning to Nha Trang and coming home. Just before we left Bien Hoa the replacement crew crashed into an old French minefield trying to take off at night in the fog."
"Mardi Gras 632 Yankee"
"I met Jack Green and Fred Mentzer at the begining. I was station with the 145 Avn Plt A/L at Nha Trang in mid '65 as a member of Operation Shotgun (Doorgunners). All Helicopter units were short of doorgunners at the time (I believe it was a TO&E thing) and someone came up with the brilliant idea of training gunners in mass at Schofield Barracks HI and sending them to VN to be parceled out by MACV. The 145th was actually at Vung Tau at the time but kept one slick and one gun at Nha Trang for special ops (laugh if you must). The rest of the unit joined us some times later."
David E. Bush
Sergeant First Class (E7)
United States Army (Retired)
I served with the unit from the time in started forming at Fort Benning, GA in late 1965 until approximately December 1966 when I transferred to the 223rd Avn Bn (Qui Nhon) while in country.
When the unit was forming up, I believe I was one of the first fifteen or so members on board. We flew to Oakland, CA where we boarded the USS W.S. Gordon and went to Nha Trang, RVN. The aircraft were shipped by an aircraft carrier (or) carriers. I remember many of the personnel were seasick before we even left port. Off the coast of Okinawa we hit a typhoon which created even more personnel suffering being seasick. As I recall, when we left the ship in Nha Trang it was similar to the landings of World War II. We went over the side of the ship into LSTs and then on to shore.
At that time, the unit consisted of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company and the 483rd TC Detachment of which I was a member. Our quarters consisted of cement pads with screened walls and I believe GP medium tents stretched over them. Showers were made from 55-gallon drums, although some people showered in the company street areas when it rained. Initially, personnel kept their rifles in the hootchs, until some got liquored up at the 5th Special Forces Club (Playboy Club) and started trying to have western style gun fights with each other in the company streets. Shortly thereafter, weapons were locked in a conex unless either on guard or during alerts.
The first sergeant was 1SG Cooley who made first sergeant during the trip by ship. He was still an SFC when we left Fort Benning. The 483 TC Det had a separate first sergeant (whose name I can't recall). He and Cooley didn't get along, and once I witnessed them come to blows. Cooley wasn't particularly liked by anyone in the company that I am aware of.
I recall our company being levied for personnel to aid in building a handball court for the 5th Special Forces commander. It was located close to the area were the 281st was billeted. I still have black and white photos of the unit right after they basically got settled in in Nha Trang. Some consist of 1SG Cooley conducting a guard mount and others are just of the unit area and some of the personnel at the time. We had the responsibility of guarding the airfield were our birds were located. At times however, we were farmed out to stand guard at such places as the PX warehouse and other locations.
I somehow got assigned as the Unit Mail Clerk prior to leaving Fort Benning. When we arrived in country, no one bothered to tell me that we had absorbed another unit that was basically all in the field. When their mail started arriving, I was sending it back as "unknown" or something or other. I remember that HQ in Saigon contacted the unit and wanted to know what happened to all these people. 1SG Cooley was hot over that one.
I was an SP4 when I was assigned with the 281st and made SP5 with the 223rd Cbt Avn Bn prior to returning to the states.