114th Aviation Company Association
AN HEIP - 1966Story and Photos by W. Bailey Jones
114th AHC - Cobra Platoon, Republic of Vietnam
We had been flying day and night for the past couple of weeks.
Night before last we were out so late that none of us even went to bed. We were
all dragging ass, but no war has ever stopped so that bone tired soldiers
could catch up on their sleep. In fact, fatigue has always played a major
role in determining the outcomethis war is no different.
AN HEIP ( 29 January, 1966 ) - Turned out to be one hell of a place and time. Most of the platoon members were about to fall on our faces from the lack of sleep, including myself, and, in order to get the maximum rest, had scheduled our takeoff for the last minute.
An Heip, an old "New Life" hamlet due east of Ben Tre, had been harassed during the past couple of days by the local VC, and this operation was designed to clear the area temporarily, while an ARVN engineering battalion moved in and rebuilt the outpost there.
We didn't stop at the stage field, as usual, because of time and the slow refueling at the field site. Before we arrived, the jets were already bombing the mangroves near the proposed landing zones. We orbited south of the strike area for about fifteen minutes and, when the jets had finished, moved in to recon the LZs.
My fire team had the left (north) side of the platoon "Daisy Chain," and my side of the area looked quiet. On our first trip around, the other fireteam on the right, started receiving fire from all directions. The number one man, Captain George O'Grady, called "Receiving fire," and that he had troops running in the open. He requested permission to take them under attack, but the platoon leader told him to hold his fire...we had slicks on final and our job was to protect them first.
I could see the door gunners of O'Grady's fire team shooting at the Viet Cong anyway.
We were told by the platoon leader to go out and pick up the slicks, so we broke off the LZ and headed out to escort them in. We got the slicks in and out without any of them taking any hits, and then turned our attention towards protecting the troops they had just dropped off.
Instinctively the platoon attacked the Viet Cong soldiers who were trying to escape to the east. We had already made several runs on them when the platoon leader discovered what we were doing. He came over the radio and gave us hell for shooting at them and told us that he had seen some women and kids near the area.
I could tell by the tone in his voice that he was plenty pissed off.
There was a brief conversation between him and O'Grady about the number of Viet Cong and why we should have been shooting at them. Miller didn't believe what O'Grady told him. I could feel what all the others in the platoon were thinking, including me...we didn't like getting shot at without being able to shoot back!
He told the rest of us to get out of the area and that he would over fly to see if there really was that much shooting. O'Grady again warned him about the danger, but Miller insisted.
I took my fireteam over to the west to see if I could find any VC trying to slip out of the operational area. I circled and watched as the platoon leader started over the area in question.
I could plainly see a large gray-colored smoke come out of the rear of his helicopter, and then it started into a violent, turning dive.
"Lead's receiving fire....good Lord I'm hit....I'm going down!" Captain Miller shouted over the radio.
About at the same time, the aircraft righted itself and Miller's co-pilot, WO Larry Willer, came over the radio.
"Lead's hit, and we are going in.!"
Larry was now at the controls and had made a turn down-wind and away from the VC-infested area they had attempted to fly over. Larry had picked a large open rice field in which to make his forced landing.
The rest of us started towards them to give them some cover and to help if the aircraft happened to crash and roll up into a little ball.
Right away, and realizing that we had been on station for about the limit of our fuel, Captain O'Grady had the rest of us report our fuel status. Everybody in the platoon was in pretty sad shape fuel-wise. I had about 100 pounds left, and I had the most.
O'Grady told me to take over and to get them out.
The rest of the platoon, except for my wingman, headed for the stage field.
I immediately called for the "Dust Off" that I knew was overhead. My radio transmission was in the blind because there was so much traffic on the radio. I told him we had an aircraft down in LZ "Lucky One" and to make his approach on a zero-six-zero heading.
I marked the LZ with a colored smoke, and "Dust Off" was there in less than one minute. He had been monitoring our radio frequency and knew what the situation was and had started down to the aircraft before I called.
I called "Knight Six," Major Frank McChesney, the company commander and told him of the situation and told him that we would need "Road Service" for our downed helicopter.
I circled overhead until the medivac was complete and then headed for the staging area and fuel. I had no idea where the staging area was so I asked, and "Knight Six" told me it was due west. I looked over in that direction and was glad to see that it was only a couple of minutes away. We made it without running out of fuel.
While refueling, we found out what had happened. Captain Miller had accidentally fired a pair of rockets while meaning to launch a smoke-grenade to mark the area where he had just received fire. His right doorgunner had already started returning fire and was leaning out of the aircraft just far enough for the rocket fins to strike the barrel of his machinegun. The impact knocked the gun back inside the aircraft, and before the gunner could get his finger off the trigger (he was now holding the entire gun by the trigger with his right hand), he fired several rounds throughout the cockpit.
Captain Miller was hit twice; one round took off two fingers of his left hand, and the other round went through the back of the seat and through his heart. One of the other rounds passed through the window divider and severed the mass of electrical wire that fed engine information to the cockpit.
We heard by way of the CO that Miller died before he reached Saigon.
After inspecting the aircraft, I found that the round that killed Miller passed through the 1/4 inch space between the two pieces of armor plating protecting the back of the seat. It was a-million-to-one shot that had gotten him. Two other rounds hit the back of the seat and hardly dented it. I'm glad I had the opportunity to look at Miller's ship before we had to go back out on our next mission, because the H-37 crew that sling-loaded it back to Vinh Long, had to drop the aircraft when it started spinning out of control.
I recall the rest of his transmission clearly.
"Cobras.I'm hit....it's been good working with you."
There was about a thirty-second pause. "I've enjoyed it....good-by."
Then he said to his co-pilot, still transmitting on the platoon VHF frequency so we all heard him, "OK partner, you've got it.take us down." That was the end of Carl Socrates Miller.
Captain Miller was a good man. Never drank, was soft spoken and hated to kill Viet Cong. It really wasn't the job for him to command a gun platoon, and we all knew it. A man has to live hard and kill hard so when he goes, people can say that he enjoyed his work and took a lot of the bastards with him. No soldier wants his life to be a waste. This can never be said of Carl Miller, father of two sons, happily married and nearing retirement.
He had feelings for the damn slopes, and they killed him. Not directly, but they killed him. One thing for sure, he knew he was dying and said his good-byes. I wonder if we all know when we are going?
We finished reloading and went back out there plenty pissed off at this goddamned war. Each one of us wished we could get the support to fight it to an end...once and for all! We didn't have any mercy on the bastards and shot at everybody we saw in the target area for the rest of the day. The goddamned men were hiding in the damned mangroves.
We killed for seven and a half hours.
After the operation was over, we headed for Vinh Long in a real tight formation, something Miller never would let us do. Like I said, Miller was a good man, but he was no "Cobra."
When we got to Vinh Long, we had a briefing and were scheduled for night recon. The briefing was held after chow, and we headed for Rach Gia at 2145 hours. Our mission was to check out all the local rivers and canals and to shoot the hell out of anything we found.
We had a OV-1 "Mohawk" working with us, and he picked up a lot of traffic for us. We had a lot of luck because the area had never been worked by helicopters at night. We sank twenty-five sampans of various sizes.
Miller's aircraft was airlifted by an H-37 from Vung Tau. They
picked it up at the Go Cong staging area which was down stream from
My To. His co-pilot, WO Larry Willer flew it from the forced landing
location to Go Cong after determining that there was nothing wrong
with the aircraft except that the bullet that passed through the
windshield divider had severed the electrical wires feeding engine
information to the cockpit gages. The H-37 dropped Miller's
helicopter, Cobra IV, on short final to Vinh Long airfield, because
the chopper began to spin violently. I did have a chance to inspect
it at Go Cong before it was lifted out. These are actual photo's of
Miller's aircraft after it was dropped.
Story Copyright © 1997, W. Bailey Jones, All Rights Reserved
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Created by Terry A. Dell, White Knight Crewchief 69-70' Republic of Vietnam
in association with members of the 114th Assault Helicopter Company
who served May 1963 to February 1972.
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