Courtesy of US Army Trans. Museum and Ralph Young, Author









The 573rd Transportation Detachment was the very important maintenance unit within the 33rd Transportation Company/ 118th Assault Helicopter Company. Normally commanded by a Transportation Corps officer, the Detachment was responsible for all the second and third echelon level maintenance on the helicopters. The front line maintenance was accomplished by the Crew Chief. Then he was backed up and supported by the 573rd Transportation Detachment.

Original 573rd pocket patch

The original 573rd pocket patch worn by members of the 573rd at Ft. Ord, CA
before deployment to Vietnam in Nov. 62 and for some months after arriving
in Vietnam. (62)
(Photo of patch courtesy Michael "Mike" Hall)

MG Robert "Bob" Brandt, the first CO of the 573rd remembers:

"Major Joe Henderson the CO of the 33rd at Ft. Irwin placed me in command of the 573rd the day we were alerted for deployment to Vietnam (1 Aug 62). I remained the CO as a 1LT until my successor, CPT James R. Hughes, took over in August 1963."

"Until we arrived in Vietnam, the unit was armed with .45 cal pistols for aviators and my troops had M-1A2 carbines(Full or Semi-auto)750 rds/min. type. The M-14 was too large to use effectively in the H-21's as a personal weapon, so the carbines were issued to the crew chiefs as well as some of the aviators. The unit's first kill was made by one of these carbines(a full magazine into the poor fellow). On arrival, the unit was issued 2 ea. .30 cal M1918A6 Browning machine guns, per helicopter. We had to set up our own gunners school and the instructor was CWO Billy Reneau who did a great job training the crews."

"The 573rd began with a TO&E of 55 enlisted personnel and one officer(Me) and one warrant officer(CWO Schommer). It grew to over 80 personnel with one officer and two warrant officers. I do believe that I was the only 1LT to command one of the maintenance detachments."

"We arrived in -country with 20 CH-21B & C "Shawnee" helicopters. When I departed in August 1963 we had 18. One crashed south of Bien Hoa(Long Binh) after an engine failure and upon landing the right main landing gear hit a rather large ant(termite)hill and rolled on its side. The 611th Transportation Company(Direct Support) in Vung Tau took responsibility for the recovery. They chopped it in half and delivered it back to Bien Hoa!! MAJ. Henderson was not happy with me for letting the 611th "destroy" one of his helicopters and I never made that mistake again! The second CH-21 was lost in the area of the Ho Bo woods after an engine failure and the VC destroyed it before we could recover it."

MG Brandt also remembers that the 33rd or the 573rd did not have fixed radio call sign dedicated to a maintenance aircraft during the early years. However, it seems by 1965 the call sign was fixed and exclusively used. It is clear that from the first, the maintenance/recovery aircraft was a flying mini-machine/ parts shop complete with test pilot, TI and mechanics. The maintenance aircraft always flew with the unit on Company sized missions and was immediately available to address hostile or non-hostile maintenance problems that arose.

Note--Thanks goes to 1LT Robert Brandt(now MG Robert Brandt, Ret.) for his detailed information above.

Service Platoon

Sign indicating the Service Platoon HQ(65)
(Photo courtesy Harold "Chip" Austin)

The T O & E for the 118th Aviation Company(AML) included a Service Platoon which, as can be seen by the above sign, an aircraft maintenance section. In addition, there was the attached 573rd Maintenance Detachment to augment the service platoon, thus insuring sufficient personel and expertise to provide needed helicopter maintenance. In the later years(68-71) the Service Platoon was blended into the 573rd Maintenence Detachment and basically eliminated.


573rd Maintenance Detachment


Detachment CO

Detachment NCOIC

 1LT Robert J. Brandt
(Aug 62-Aug 63)
MSGT James E. Mathis 

 1LT Robert J. Brandt
CPT Frank
CPT James R. Hughes
(Aug 63-Aug 64)
 MSGT James E. Mathis

 CPT James R. Hughes
CPT Charles E. Gahm
(Sep 64-Jun 65)
 SSG Eugene Lambert

CPT Charles E.

MAJ Malcolm S. Schryer

(13 Sep 65-Sep 66)


CPT James W. Griffin
(Svc Plt Ldr)
(Sept 65 -Dec 65)

MAJ. Phillip E.
(Jan 66-Aug 66)
 MAJ Donald
(Sep 66-Sep 67)

 MAJ Donald
(Sep 66-Sep67)
CPT George H. Fasching
(Sep 67-? 68)
 SFC Lawrence
F. Cole
1SGT John R. Huffman
(?-Dec 67)

CPT Ken Dolan
CPT Dewey J. "Jack" Shelton
 SFC Tillman C. Davis
(Jan 68-Sep 68)

CPT Dewey J. "Jack"
(Birdwatcher 6) 
CPT Debo
CW3 Leroy B. Spivey
(Birdwatcher 4)
CPT Jim Olafson
(Jun 69-Sep 69
SFC Julius D. Baratz
(Sep 68-?)
 MSGT Fair

 CPT Greg Gibson
(? - Feb 71)

 CPT Robert F. Cochran
(Mar-Apr 71)




By early 1965 the name and call sign of the maintenance/recovery aircraft was known as "Load Master". According to CPT James W. "Bill" Griffin, the 573rd Maintenance Detachment CO from Jun 65-Dec 65, his call sign was "Load Master 6" and the aircraft was called "Load Master". CPT Griffin had replaced CPT Charles E. Gamm as the CO of the 573rd. It is possible the name "Load Master" began with CPT Gamm. The name and call sign "Load Master" apparently remained until about six months later. See info on "Bird Watcher" below for info on the changed name. It is believed that SGT Westcott was the Crew Chief of "Load Master" when it was replaced.

(Photos courtesy James W. "Bill" Griffin)

SP4 Jimmie Pirtle who flew with "Load Master" as a crew member. SP4 Pirtle was in country and with the 118th for close to 4 years. During that time he served in most of the flight platoons.

NOTE: Why does the "Load Master" UH-1B above have only ONE windshield wiper? Was this airframe actually a modified UH-1A?

(Photo courtesy James W. "Bill" Griffin)





Jimmy Pirtle, the "Load Master" Crew Chief,
with a 573rd Maint. Det. mascot. (65)
(Photo courtesy Don Roof)









The "Load Master" aircraft on the left showing no door-gun mounts
and the Thunderbirds are painted in "red". On the right the
"Load Master" crew having a cup of coffee.
The tallest fella is Jimmy Pirtle and the others are
not yet identified.(65)
(Photo courtesy Don Roof)




"Bird Watcher" became the call sign about mid-1966. Billy Blankenship, who was in the 573rd during that time in 66-67, remembers:
 "I was the clerk in 573rd Maintenance that kept the time on each helicopter, as well as other records. It was MAJ. Phillip E. Williams and CPT Niles C. Clark who renamed the maintenance recovery aircraft to "Bird watcher" in May or June of 1966. We had received some new "D" models and one was designated for the new recovery ship. The old recovery ship, a "B" model, was called "Load master". SP4 Elsinger was the proud Crew Chief on the new "Bird watcher". SP5 Tauer flew as a mechanic and SP5 Ryal flew as an engine mechanic. The Technical Inspector was SP6 Hawkins and he flew along too.


"Bird Watcher" all slicked up showing the red,blue,
black on the vertical fin.(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)
A close up of the vertical fin showing the red,blue and black
and the "Bird Watcher" name.(67)
(Photo courtesy Charlie Milan)

573rd Trans. Det. "Bird Watcher" officers:
L-R : CO, MAJ. Donald P. Wray, CPT George Fasching,
CW3 Wallace L. "Wally" Sherwood and CW2 Robert L. D'Agostino (66-67)

(Photo from "First in Vietnam, A Pictorial History of the 145th CAB", pub. by Bn Info Office and Edited by CPT John W. Gordy, Jr.)


Possibly the last "Bird Watcher" aircraft UH-1H, 68-15490 with
Crew Chief Robert Springer in late 1969. She came to the 118th
new 4-69 and stayed until 8-70 flying 790 hours.
(Photo courtesy Robert Springer)

"Charlie is getting Personal"



MAJ Donald Wray, CO of 573rd Maint. Det. from Sep 66-Sep 67, points out shrapnel holes from mortar or rocket attack. Mortars were lobbed into Bien Hoa Air base fairly indiscriminately, at night . Rocket attacks were also launched at night but, due to their low trajectory, often produced more damage by "spraying" shrapnel over a much larger area.
(Photo courtesy Donald Wray)

The newly constructed "Huey" hanger of 573rd Maint. Det. There was no hanger large enough for
the CH-21's. But, with the arrival of the UH-1B's in late 1963, a hanger was constructed by 20
Vietnamese from materials readily available(looks like ammo boxes). Unclear where in the
Bird Cage area the building sat or how the overhead wires were dealt with??
(Photo courtesy "Red" Sparling)
SFC James Bailey outside the 573rd Maint. Det. Office.(64)
(Photo courtesy Jim Larson)

Tribute to the Night Crews

Few people in the 118th, other than the Officer of the Day (OD), comprehended the amount of maintenace accomplished while many were asleep. Bill Langan, aka "Sparky" was one of the aircraft electicians in the 573rd Maintenance Detachment during the 66-67 time period and worked much of his year long tour at night.

About the only time many pilots saw the work being done at night was when they drew the additional duty Officer of the Day. One of their main duties as OD, other than dozing in a chair in the Orderly Room between guard checks , was to have the duty driver take them to the flight line to run-up or hover a repaired helicopter back to its revetment. That was always a hoot, especially at night with only the pilot up front!



View from the office which overlooked the hanger. (66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)


Bill Langan "Sparky" (L), and Billy Blankenship (R), two members of the
night crew. (66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)

An engine change at night by members of the 573rd engine crew.(66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)
A very busy night for the night shift of the 573rd Maint. Det.
Here we see 6 aircraft in for maintenance of some sort.(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)
Back Row L to R: Larry Serber, SFC Larry Cole, ?, ?, ?,Ted Metzner, Walter Myers, Tom Wolfe(bike), ?
Squatting L to R: ?, Sugamoto, Jerry Needham, Swargert, Bill Langan.
According to Bill Langan(squatting on far right, next to Swargert), SSG Lawrence F. Cole,
the Night Crew NCO, knew how to get things done! SSG Cole, (back row, second from left) would
often motivate the night crew by offering free beer IF they got all ships repaired and past the Technical Inspectors (T I's)! Wonder how many of these men were of legal age?? Who cares! (66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)

Men of the 573rd Transportation Detachment


Loading up in a 2 1/2 to go to lunch back at
118th mess hall . SP4 Dietz on far right.(66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)

Unidentified PFC scratches his head as he
reads the sign on Red 4's skids, "No more cannibalization allowed." Bill Langan
remembers how there once was an order to
"go by the book." Inside of 3 days, all aircraft
were grounded due to a lack of parts and
no cannibilization was allowed.
The order lasted about 3 days!(66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)


L to R: Ray Ernst, Felice and William "Smitty"
Smith who all worked in the 573rd Maintenance Det. (66)
(Photo courtesy L. E. Glover)


Roger Zimmerman, Maintenance Clerk
in 573rd Maint. Det.(66)
(Photo courtesy L. E. Glover)


573rd Maint. Det. bunker for protection from rocket
and mortar attacks.(65)
(Photo courtesy Don Roof)


"Load Master" the first Thunderbird B-Model maintenance aircraft.(65)
(Photo courtesy Don Roof)


Willis Long standing on bridge across a gully
behind the old 573rd maintenance hanger.
The bridge provided a short-cut from the barracks
to the hanger. Built from two rotor blades
(D model and C model, 540 system)the sign says:
"Your tax dollars at work--This bridge cost $12,871.52"! A lot of money in 1967, one
would wonder what it would cost today??(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


SP5 Richard Back, one of the night crew,
takes a rest on a transmission cradle.(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


Lou Vacarro who worked in the balance shop
getting ready to balance a tail rotor.(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


SFC Roscoe "Pappy" Batton, in OD t-shirt,
and unidentified night crewmember working
on top of C-Model. SFC Batton was
second NCO under SFC Cole.(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


573rd Maint.Det. guys taking smoke
break out-side the big hanger rear door.
L to R: ? , Scalise, Mike Corrigan , ? (66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)


573rd Maint. Det. "Head Shop"
L to R: Penrod(Shop Chief), Farr and Bill Langan. Note the UH-1C rotor head(aka. 540)
on balance/work pedestal.(66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)


Blue 8 gets new window as door is
reattached. (66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)


A great view from inside the 573rd hanger
looking NW. Time was almost sunset and after
a thundershower has just passed with clearing
in the west.(66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)


SP4 William "Smitty" Smith, Maintenance
Clerk of 573rd Maint. Det. (66)
(Photo courtesy L. E. Glover)
 Waiting on your photo,
so send me some from your tour in Vietnam
with the 118th AHC "Thunderbirds".


Daniel Elway sitting in "Bird Watcher".
Note red tool chest and wood frame to
hold it in place.(Sep 67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


In foreground, Bandit 7 getting new tail rotor.
In background is the 190th AHC
maintenance hanger showing hole in
roof from Tet mortar attack.(68)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


SSG Lawrence Cole, NCOIC of night shift,
manning the wrecker to install a
Bandit engine. (66)
(Photo was taken just prior to day break,
but has been lightened.)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)
 The Bandit engine being installed
by 573rd night crew.(66)
(Photo was taken just prior to day
break but has been lightened)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


L to R: Barr, Vaughan and Farr in front of the
machine shop van next to the hanger.(66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan)

A little lean-to shop attached to the rear of
the hanger was the "Head Shop"! Of course,
we are talking about the ROTOR HEAD !
L to R: Joe Penrod , ? , Farr. (66)
(Photo courtesy Bill Langan) 
Parts & Tool Supply in 573rd hanger at Bird Cage.
Home to Willis Long who worked the night shift
the last year he was in the 118th/573rd.(67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)

The "Birdwatcher" crew getting ready to eat melons.
L to R: ? (cutting melon), ? (red hair), CPT George Fasching(squatting), CWO Rick Donaldson, ?.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little) 


Looking S.E. from back of 573rd Trans. Det. hanger. Note water tower at Bien Hoa gate(68).
(Photo courtesy Jerry Bratcher)


Tet 68 created the need for a new bunker as a high priority. Note rotor blade boxes stacked and new sand bags.(68)
(Photo courtesy Jerry Bratcher)


A TI checks out an aging "D" model prior to going back on line.(68)
(Photo courtesy Jerry Bratcher)


"Pop" Welker installs new windows
on"Red 2" (68)
(Photo courtesy Jerry Bratcher)


L to R: SP4 Terry Wade, 573rd Maint. Clerk
and SP4 Bahrs.(68)
(Photo courtesy Ted Metzner)


L to R: SP4 Ted Metzner and SP4 Bahrs.(68)
(Photo courtesy Ted Metzner)


SP5 Paul Pierce a crewleader on one of
the night crews taking smoke break
at EM barracks second floor balcony.
Note the unfinished bunker in
background made from
main rotor blade metal containers.(Late 67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


Bandit 4 in 573rd hanger with doors off. (67)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


Hard at work in new 573rd Maint. hanger.(68)
(Photo courtesy Lewis Lorton, DDS 145th CAB )


"Bird Watcher" Crew Chief Robert Springer
beside UH-1H, 68-15890. The aircraft came
to the 118th new 4-69 and stayed until 8-70.
She flew a total of 790 hours in the 118th. (69)
(Photo courtesy Robert Springer)

Harold Tanner in front of
573rd Maintenance hanger. (67)
(Photo courtesy Harold Tanner)



Harold Tanner with "Birdwatcher-4" (67)
(Photo courtesy Harold Tanner)
573rd Trans Det. in front of Maintenance hanger
Old "Birdcage" at Bien Hoa
(Photo from "145th CAB, A Pictorial History, Vol II.")
Night Crew Roster of 573rd Trans Det. for 2 Oct 67 showing names of men
and their assigned work duty for that night.(67)
(Roster courtesy Willis Long)

Seasons Come and Go!

573rd Trans. Det. hanger during dry season.(1968)
(Photo courtesy Jerry Bratcher)
573rd Trans. Det. hanger during monsoon or rainy season.(68)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)


Bird Watcher aka "Rainbow 6"---DOWN !!





(Photos above from official US Army photos, courtesy Lanny Hansen)
Remembrance of SP5 Lanny Hansen
 I was with the 118th from Aug 67 to Aug 68. Initially, I was the Crew Chief of Red 8 but, spent 6 weeks in Japan (7th field Army Hospital) from 27 Nov 67 to 15 Jan 68. I returned to the 118th and was Crew Chief of Red 7 and after being shot on (March 23rd 68), I became the Crew Chief of the Bird Watcher Rainbow 6. My name is Lanny M. Hansen and I was a SP5.
We got the new ship 66-17082 on 16 Feb 68. Rainbow 6 was an H Model with a D Model engine and only 84 hours on it. It was the only new ship I ever had. The compressor section of the turbine engine blew, maybe from ground fire, and we went down hard and totaled the ship.
From my personal diary I wrote "1 Mar 68- Today started off good then went bad. First off, the ships were going into the first L.Z. and they took fire. No ships took hits but one Crew Chief was killed also an ARVN on board. Both got shot in the neck." Then at 11:15 am , we were flying at about 2300 ft. when something exploded somewhere around the engine. The ship rocked and down we came. The pilot apparently flared out to soon and we stopped about 30 ft. above the ground and dropped. The blades swooped down and chopped off the vertical fin. Then everything, from the synchronized elevators back, flew off. Both pieces hit with in 10 ft. of my side of the ship and the skids were collapsed. We all got out OK".
I do not know what ARVN unit was being inserted that day or who the ground troops were that secured the area of the crash. We stripped the helicopter of guns and other equipment and were picked up by one of the slicks fairly quickly and were gone before the ground troops showed up.

That morning when we got up a Crew Chief, SP4 Stanley R. Lewter, was white as a ghost and said he was going to die that day. Several of us told him not to fly. He said it was his destiny. We pitched in and gave him several chicken plates. The first flight in, he was shot under the chin and was KIA. Moments later was when we went down. This was all north of Vung Tau around Xuan Loc, some place.
New Rainbow 6 in 1970. Tom Morley states, "the one time I
was allowed to fly it
I brought it back full of holes!! " Note the shiny skids,
cargo hoot and sling load mirror
under the nose.(70)
(Photo courtesy Tom Morley)

573rd Hanger, Before and After!

The photos below show contrasting images of the 573rd hanger in 1968 and 1973. It is the same hanger, however in 1973 the hanger had been in the possession of the VNAF for approximately 2 years. The 118th AHC stood down and turned over their aircraft and the hanger about April 1971.

According to Willis Long, a VNAF bomb storage in an old concrete revetment behind hanger exploded...reason, unknown. The 573rd logo has been painted over but can still be faintly seen just below the roof on the tin area between the two hanger openings. If anyone knows more details, contact the Web master.

Jan 1968
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)
Front of 573rd Maintenance Hanger after blast from the rear.(73)
(Photo courtesy Willis Long)
Two views of the 573rd Maintenance hanger as seen from revetments in
Spartan Heliport to the East. Apparently, some of the revetments were used
for ammunition storage by the Vietnamese.(73)
(Photos courtesy Willis Long)

Hang in there....more to come!