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117th Assault Helicopter Company, Plantation Airfield, Special Missions Unit
Out of Cu Chi - north along the Cambodian border, the Parrot’s Beak. Republic of Vietnam
January - March (early) 1971
The 117th AHC was a “Special Missions Unit” and we furnished single ships (and sometimes multiple aircraft if requested) to work with any number of outfits in a variety of missions and operations. We worked with Navy Seals, Seawolfs, Special Forces, MACV, 25th Div, among others and spent much time across the border in Laos and Cambodia. We did insertions, extractions, psy-ops, med-evacs, C&C, and flew the occasional Donut Dolly. One of the missions the 117th had was the Firefly (Night Hawk “light-ship”) along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
After about 7 months or so in country, I was offered a different mission; Firefly. It was a night mission. My new job was primarily to fly, low and slow, along and across the Cambodian and Laos Borders at night, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with floodlights, to identify enemy movement, activity, and to report it , draw fire from it and return fire. We did all of the above. We also provided illumination for other activities, including medical evacuations.
I flew in my specialized Hotel Model HUEY with a Charlie Model gun ship with very remedial infrared night vision equipment, infrared tracers, and a fire-support base or 2 following us with their artillery as we hovered along. When we would draw fire, which would be pretty much weekly, we would kill the lights, roll out of position, followed in by the gunship with everything firing. If the situation warranted it, we would be able to call in some artillery fire to further soften the target. Sometimes we would not be allowed to return fire, no matter what.
On occasion we would light up an LZ for a medevac ship extracting injured for medical attention. Every evening, we would first meet up with the gun ship in the vicinity of Cu Chi or Phouc Vinh airfield, then proceed to report to a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and get our orders for the night’s AO (the area in which we would work) One evening in particular, still provides an eerie memory, as it was out and out spooky. Our Firefly Team was radioed to cover an ongoing mortar attack as medevacs were needed ASAP. We hovered high above a fire-support base (maybe 100 feet in the air) while the gunship circled softening the surrounding tree lines. The base had been under a barrage of mortar and rocket attack just moments before; a couple folks were hit during this attack. They needed to leave to receive needed medical care.
The medevac flew in below us; some more incoming fire began, particularly targeting the medevac. He flew out, I do not know if he was hit or not. No one said. What was strange is that we were there alone, there were no jets around, no one but us and it had to be 3 in the morning. Dark.
We proceeded to scope out the area in search of who may have fired these rounds. As we flew among and along rice paddy dikes in the darkness we came across one lone man running along the dykes. We could have blown him away with one shot. He “chu hoyed” (surrendered). I chose not to shoot him. We captured him. In hindsight, I am surprised we could pull it off. We did. Suddenly this guy found himself in the center of 2 heavily armed helicopters with pretty much everything trained on him. He quickly surrendered, my door gunner, I believe, and another couple of guys stepped on the dyke and we brought him onboard after frisking him and tying his hands.
We brought him to the Cu Chi TOC out of which we operated.
Later we heard through the grape vine that he had been some regional commander or the like. I do not know how the evaced guys made out. At the time, I was not very much into awards and as a result never played things up the way we have heard of some doing. We received a handshake from the night operations officer when we returned to the company area that morning and went to bed.
There are virtually no records of any actions that were kept by the 117th during this time period. (Not uncommon as I am learning) Perhaps this is a result of the type of mission the 117th was known for. Now, however, I know that this event warranted at least a bronze star witha V and I plan to make inroads into how to correct and rectify my military records regarding this for my future family members.
Anyone with knowledge of this event please let me know.