I remember when......

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This page is devoted entirely to interesting stories provided by former members of the 33rd Trans Co. or 118th AHC. It might be safe to say that the stories are true but in some cases "the names may have been changed to protect the innocent"!!

I remember when......

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Return to "The World" Letter

DROS (Date Return from Overseas) was what every guy hoped for and anticipated during his tour in Vietnam. Several ways were used to mark that significant DROS date. Pilots utilized a DROS Board with individual name tags that hung in the Thunderbird Lounge. Both EM and pilots often used the 30 day "Short Timers" calendar. And, many used a tongue-in-cheek official looking letter to "warn" the folks back home, in the world, that the returnee was changed forever and would need some special consideration upon arrival on good old American soil. The letter below is typical of that "Warning Letter" and gives all the ways the Vietnam Vet was changed.

(Letter courtesy of Willis Long)


(Table of Contents)

Gunner Rescues Four from River


While those who flew in Vietnam would insist that "it was no big deal" or "we did stuff like this everyday", it still remains, the actions of SP4 Jerry Mangers, a control tower operator turned helicopter door gunner, were very heroic and definitely important to the four men he rescued! The incident even made the "Stars and Stripes" on Tuesday, August 15, 1967.

The article apparently combines two incidents which makes it rather confusing. In the second paragraph it talks about another incident the day before when five crew members were drowned in the Dong Nai river when a gunships "lost its tail rotor and flipped into the . The article says 250 miles Northeast of Saigon, but it really means 25.(the Dong Nai River was between Bien Hoa and Saigon).

(Article courtesy Willis Long)

1LT Vern Watts, as an Aircraft Commander hamming
it up and ready to "pull pitch"(67).
(Photo courtesy Vern Watts)


Vernon Watts, the pilot of the rescue helicopter on that day remembers:

 "The mission was the same as many other combat assaults(CA's) flown by the 118th during my tour of duty at Bien Hoa from Nov. 66-Nov. 67. We were in an area Northeast of Cu Chi and had made several insertions that morning when this happened."

"I was the assistant platoon leader, Bluebird 22 of the 2nd platoon and my assignment for the day was to fly trail position for our normal 10 ship slick formation. We were supported by a 2 ship Fire team of Bandits."

"We had just dropped our troops off in a tree-lined LZ and were climbing out in a W. heading and forming up in trail. I don't think I had yet reported to Lead that we were out of the LZ before I observed one our ships dropping out of the formation. Immediately we heard some radio traffic(probably from the aircraft taking fire)and watched the aircraft disappear below the tree line . Almost immediately from overhead,, Major Hayes our XO in the C & C ship, advised that we had a ship down! He instructed Trail (me) to pick up the crew. I rogered the transmission and confirmed that we would land and pick-up the crew. "

"We quickly located them in a narrow N-S canal with the Red bird crew floating in what appeared a dazed and shocked condition in the water. The aircraft was completely submerged, so I hovered over the struggling crew members. I looked at and asked my young, skinny door-gunner SP4 Jerry Mangers to help them. He pulled off his helmet and flack jacket and jumped from the aircraft about 10-15 feet into the brown and muddy water!"

"SP4 Mangers was a Control Tower operator from the Spartan Heliport Tower at Bien Hoa and was filling in and flying as a door gunner that day! This was not even his normal job."

"I hovered over a small tree line(which always lined any river or canal) and landed in a clear area. I told WO Bob ?, my co-pilot, to remain at the controls while the Crew Chief and I ran back to the canal some 20 meters away. When we got there, we helped the crew out of the canal and up the steep bank back to our waiting aircraft. Thankfully, we did not take any fire!"

"After we were all back in my aircraft, I called the Bandits and told them we were coming out and what direction. The only member of the almost drowned crew I can remember is WO Ricky Mattern, the AC of the submerged Red Bird aircraft. Unfortunately, Ricky Mattern was later killed when the cargo door came off his aircraft in flight and the entire crew and passengers of the helicopter died."

Vernon Watts, LTC (Ret.)
Anchorage, AK

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"Thunderbird" becomes a

71st AHC "Firebird"

How many of the old "War horse" B models made it back to the States? Surviving records show that not many did! Those that did were used for training, law enforcement or were sent to the National Guard. Then, at the end of their second life, a small percentage of them "escaped" the scrap yards to become displays around the US so the public might see a real authentic Vietnam era "Huey".

One such UH-1B belonging to the 118th Thunderbirds did return. It was involved in an apparent engine out incident with subsequent autorotation on December 29, 1964. The records reveal that no one was killed or injured in the incident and no passengers were on board. UH-1B 62-02104 was landed near to a Vietnamese village and sustained some fairly severe damage to include "smiled" skids. In addition, it appears some small palm trees were "chopped" off by the main rotor.

Records also show the crew to have been:

AC-WO1 Barry H. Semon
P- 1LT John "Jack" P. Clark
CE-W. N. Paradis
G- Lloyd A. Kerns

Personal Remembrance of Jack Clark

 The Crash of Thunderbird 62--02104

Until the arrival of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and an Aussie battalion at Bien Hoa, in late 1964 and early 1965, the 118th sent a Huey and crew on week-long assignments to Phouc Vinh and Tay Ninh. The mission was to support the local American advisors and their Vietnamese counterparts and troops, to be on call at any hour day or night.

During the third week of December 1964, WO Barry Semon, Specialist W. N. Paradis, Crew Chief, a gunner Lloyd Kearns and I were sent to Tay Ninh. For the most part it was a quiet week of "ass and trash." One notable event was our return from Trapan Roban (sp?), perhaps a dozen clicks west of Tay Ninh, with a very heavy load of unused barbed wire. At the controls, WO Semon accelerated at low level to 60+ knots and then did a rapid cyclic climb. Very unnecessary in a relatively safe area. I could feel my butt eating my seat cushion and imagined the "Jesus-nut" was feeling the same Gs. I certainly overstepped some boundaries when I asked WO Semon not to do that again -- I was only a few weeks in country and he was an experienced Aircraft Commander. He must have resented my criticism, because from then on he did all the flying.

Later in the week, he pulled the same maneuver coming off the Tay Ninh airstrip - a totally safe area. I pushed the cyclic forward to make my point - don't do that again! He must have understood, because he didn't say a word. A day or so later, again leaving the airstrip, he did it again. I was just about to call in our mission to Saigon when, at about 800-900 feet, the engine quit. I recall seeing the rotor rpm drop below 200 and we plummeted as our rate of descent climbed to over 3000 feet per minute - so fast my foot couldn't catch up to the floor microphone button as we fell out of the sky.

I assume WO Semon realized that we had so little rotor momentum that a normal flair and landing wouldn't work. As we very rapidly approached the ground, he evidently decided to make a running landing on a cart-way between some hooches. Good choice, except 1) we were going some 60 knots when we touched down, 2) the cart-way was no more than 15-20 feet wide, and 3) on each side of the cart-way was a drainage ditch. Amazing how, in the worst circumstances, time seems to slow down and details become very clear.

As we ran out of right pedal, the Huey slid toward the left-hand ditch. In slow motion in my imagination, the left skid was going to drop into the ditch and we would tumble tail over nose. Instead, the best possible thing occurred:: the ditch was just the perfect depth so that when the skid dropped in, it broke off cleanly. The belly skidded along the ground on the other side of the ditch, the right skid dropped into the ditch, and the Huey stopped in a perfectly level position against a post.

It was a wild ride, but everyone came out uninjured. However, our egos were tarnished a bit and the local children came out in huge numbers to "gawk" as they always did!

Above: Unidentified shadow looking at the damaged UH-1B and "smiled" skids.
Also note the kids looking on in the background.(64)
(Photo courtesy Chuck Carlock through Ron Waters)

The main rotor blade chopped off a small palm tree.(64)
(Photo courtesy Chuck Carlock and Ron Waters)

SP4 W. N. Paradis, the Crew Chief of the aircraft, showing how "low" she sits to the ground.
Note the post at the nose and the bent FM homing antenna post.(64)
(Photo courtesy Chuck Carlock and Ron Waters)








The photos above were found at web site http://www.1-5th-m-25th-inf-1966.com/
They were apparently taken by the 25th Div "Shot-gunner" Lloyd Kearns who was on the aircraft at the time.

What 62-02104 looks like today sitting on a three axle trailer used to carry
it around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area by the 71st AHC Association.
Looks like the skids are still "smiling"(03)
(Photo courtesy Chuck Carlock and Ron Waters)
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Combat Flight Hours

("Pacific Stars and Stripes"article courtesy of John "Jack" Todd)

One thing is for sure...if you were in the 118th Thunderbirds in Vietnam, you flew a lot. As the war progressed and the number of combat units increased in country, the demand for aviation support increased tremendously and pilots and crews flew ever increasing numbers of hours.

In their first year, when the 33rd Transportation Company flew the CH-21's, flight time was directly effected by the huge amount of maintenance required for the aircraft. And remember, the only combat troops in Vietnam were Vietnamese. Aircraft availability was really very good even though the machines required lots and lots of attention. And, many missions were flown with two aircraft, for safety.

The whole picture changed when the UH-1B's arrived in late 1963. The Huey required much less maintenance per flight hour because it was not nearly as large or complex due to the turbine engine and only one main rotor system. Plus, U.S. combat forces were just beginning to arrive in Vietnam. So, with the arrival of the Hueys, the Vietnam war began to take on a new image....what we now know as the "helicopter war" was underway.

This piece about Combat Flight Hours is intended to illustrate how the flight time flown began to escalate with time as the Thunderbirds were operational in Vietnam for almost 9 years. We will list the names and flight hours of pilots AND crew members who flew in Vietnam with the 118th. Remember, everyone is on the honor system! Everyone is requested to tell the truth about how many flight hours they flew while in the 33rd/118th Thunderbirds, ONLY! No doubt some of the crew members will win the total number of hours, assuming they kept track of the hours, simply because some of them spent 18 to 24 months in the Thunderbirds and most pilots did not. So, get out those old DA Form 759's and see exactly how many combat hours you flew while in the Thunderbirds. Send your name, dates you were in the Thunderbirds and, of course, the number of flight hours to Webmaster.





James Harvey(62-63)--260 in H-21s
Leo Morawski(62-63)--300 in H-21s

 Jack McKnight(63-64)--722
John "Jack" Todd(63-64)--720
Alan Laya(63-64)--800

Donald Parrish(64-65)--1,000
Frank Zipperer(64-65)--1,050
Jack Clark(64-65)--1,076
Jerry McKelvey(64-65)--1,150


Reed Kimzey(66-67)--1,500
Bob Hoffman(66-67)--1,315
Tom Payne(66-67)--1,246

 Bill Moline(67-68)--1,200

 John R. Wrinkle(68-69)--1,300+
 Roger Brockman(CE, 1st Plt. 8-69)--1,400
David "Killer"Evans (Gunner, 1st Plt. 9 1/2 mos)--948
Dave Norton(CE, 2nd Plt. Sep68-Dec69)--1,624

 Dale J. Moore(Dec 68--June 70 or 18 mos)--2,010
Lawrence B. Smith(69-70)--1,210
Glenn Clark(July 69--Dec 70 or 18 mos)--1,914
Tom "Tailspin" Morley Jr (Jan 70--Dec70)--1294+
Jim Olafson(Opns Off & C&C(Apr 69-Apr 70)--820
Dennis"WTF-Over" Gulich(70-71)--1187

 Ken Simpson(G,2nd Plt.70-71)--650


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Belle Plaine, MN

Proudly Displays

Thunderbird Huey!

Designed as a park to honor those who served our country in war as well as in peace, the Belle Plaine Veterans Memorial Park is meant to be a place for reflection. The park’s design and construction were almost entirely funded by donations and volunteer labor. The Belle Plaine Veterans Club solicited the donations from local citizens and businesses and volunteered over 2,000 hours of labor. Many local merchants donated equipment, labor or supplies towards the park’s construction. The park is highly visable to travelers along State Highway 169 across from the famed "Emma Krumbee's" Restaraunt.

The focal point of the park is a retired U.S. Army UH-1H Iroquois "Huey" Helicopter. The Huey (tail number 68-15369) was brought to the park from Fort Rucker, Alabama. It was in service from 1968 to 1987 and saw time in Viet Nam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Blackhorse) and the 118th Assault Helicopter Company (Thunderbirds). After the war it served with NASA, the 1st Armored Division at Ft. Knox, KY and for 13 years as a training helicopter for students at Ft. Rucker, AL.

68-15369 was originally purchased by the US Army in Feb 1969 and served initially with the 11th ACR where it flew approximately 422 hours. It suffered a hard landing from an apparent engine failure and was returned to the US. Following a year back at ARADMAC and at the Bell Helicopter plant for repairs, it came to the 118th AHC in Sep 1970 and stayed only three months until Dec 1970 and flew 417 hours for a total of 842 hours. Then because it had over 500 hours, it was not turned over to the VNAF in early 1971 and again returned to the US. where it served primarily until 1987 as a trainer at Ft. Rucker, AL.

(All three photos above courtesy Steve Jones who served in Vietnam in 1968-69 with
1/1 Armored Cavalry Regement, and who spotted the Huey in Belle Plaine, MN. Many thanks, Steve.)
(Anyone having questions or comments can contact Dave Spalding, City Councilman and American Legion Post Commander at: 505 Chatfield Lane, Belle Plaine, MN 56011-1134 or email him at: datsbp@frontiernet.net)

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Gen. Westmoreland's 1966 Thanksgiving Menu

For Thanksgiving in 1966, US Army Vietnam(USARV) made an attempt to insure that every man under its command received a "homestyle" dinner including a specially printed Thanksgiving menu containing a short personal note from the Commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland. Anyone else remember this?

(Front Cover)

Inside of Menu

(Menu above courtesy Willis Long)

(Table of Contents)

Tactical Aerodrome Directory(TAD)

By September 1967, Vietnam, and especially Bien Hoa and Saigon areas, had become rather like "Stateside" when it came to flying procedures. Above is the front cover of one of the very first editions of the DoD Tactical Aerodrome Directory(TAD). On page 350 was the page for Bien Hoa helicopter traffic patterns for landing at the Bird Cage (118th AHC "Thunderbirds"), Scabbard (334th Aerial Weapons Company), Soccer Field (III Corp Advisor HQ) and Frizzell Field(190th AHC "Spartans".

Note in number 2 of the instructions it says, "or over shell (South RP) for landing North.....". The South RP, or shell, meant the Shell gas station right outside the Bien Hoa Air base and within the town of Bien Hoa. Below is a photo of that Shell gas station known as the South RP as the aircraft passed overhead and the CE took a picture.(67)

(Photo and DoD TAD pages above courtesy Willis Long)


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