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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Man from Outer Space? or,

"I can't see with this damn thing on !"

Jim Ellis with latest "handy-dandy" pilot gas mask. It appears that it was adapted from a USAF oxygen mask with the hose and canister added and held in Jim's hand.(1965)
(Photo courtesy of Jim Ellis)
The purpose of this story is to try and chronicle the use of gas masks in the 118th and their evolution throughout the 9+ years the "Thunderbirds" were in Vietnam. Also, there will be an attempt to document the specific dates and operations that gas masks were actually used while flying, and we know they were.
It seems that some people remember specific missions were the gas masks were worn and most of them are entirely different missions on different dates. If you can help, let the Web master know of missions you flew with the mask and what type they were. Please try to provide as much detail as you can, given the fact that it has been over 30 years ago! Most importantly, if you have pictures of the actual gas masks, they will aid in setting the details for posterity.




 Pat McLarney who flew with the 118th remembers: "In 1964, either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years (I'm quite sure it was a holiday) a large assault, every UH-1 in the 118th was involved, went into the jungle/forest between Tay Ninh and the border. The announced purpose was a surprise visit to a POW camp where it was believed U.S. personnel were being held. Gas was going to be put in and we and the troops were issued the masks. It was a sun-up ETA at the LZ and there was lots of moisture in the air. "

"There were three dimensions that I remember. First was the sound. We had the masks on and they were designed for ground folks and had no microphone within the mask. So, our mikes were outside the mask and when someone spoke "into the microphone" the audio result sounded muffled and hollow...like a gagged person at the bottom of a well. About the only thing you could recognize was voices replying, 'Say again, over!' Swearing could also be heard....but the words were unclear."

"Second was the sunrise colors that turned the entire sky into a featureless yellow-orange haze that introduced a degree of intermittent vertigo into most of the flight crews. This was evident by the slow dissolution of the tight formation into a spread out collection of slow moving singular Hueys that began to disappear from view in the hypnotic haze. The hollow gagged sounds of the radio really increased during this period of time. Eventually we closed up, but it was very strange. The poor visibility from within the mask must have been a big contributing factor."

"Third was the moisture build up on the windshield and also on and in the
masks as we descended. It was pretty hard to see the instruments and to see the subtle movements of the other aircraft in the formation. This resulted in some difficult moments keeping the aircraft instruments in the green and keeping the tight formation. I don't remember ever actually seeing the ground before the grass popped up through the low ground fog. The heat and sweat from our faces added to the anxious moments."

"After dropping off the ARVN (could have been Rangers on this mission) we took off and soon a clear voice barked through the radios that we were clear of the tear gas and could remove the masks. I didn't throw mine out the window, but can't speak for the others."

"The camp was empty. I heard later that the VC knew about this "secret" rescue mission and had DD'd much before."



 Bob Hoffman said, "I recall a CA we flew with gas masks in mid/early 1966. We discussed both pilots wearing them or not and finally settled on one-on-and-one-off. I think the crew chief and gunner wore theirs. I can't recall which operation or where it was, but I think that it was around Tay Ninh or Song Be. Seems like we hung the canister out of the window to see if it made it any cooler. It banged around too much. I can't recall if any gas was actually used or not. Does anyone else remember it?"


 Reed Kimzey 1st Plt pilot and Tom Payne, 2nd Plt pilot, both remember a Company sized CA in Aug or Sep 66, where gas masks were worn.

Tom remembers, " We checked out the long black rubber gas masks which seemed fairly new and didn't smell to bad. They had powder on them, as I recall. There were two eye pieces and an internal microphone with plug-in. You unplugged the microphone on your helmet and then plugged in the cord from the internal gas mask microphone. The depth perception was so terrible that I think we made a few approaches and tried to hover with them on before the day of the CA."

"The reason we were using the gas masks was that the LZ was considered so close to Saigon that no Tac-Air or Artillery could be used for support. Both crew members wore the masks and only one pilot. The mission was with the 1st DIV."

Reed Kimzey adds, "We flew out of Di An. Yes, it was decided that
one pilot would wear the mask, Naturally, most of the ACs opted NOT.
It was another 1st DIV "We got COSVIN pinpointed" goat -rope. The CH-47s were carrying the CS in 55 gallon drums, but none was dropped."

SP4 Richard Stevens, who often flew as a gunner remembers: "the 55 gal drums of CS was a real screw-up. I was a door-gunner that day (usually I worked in the orderly room or flight opns). It was thought that the drums did not burst open on impact like they should have. We flew over them, trying to shoot some of them open. But, when we came in close, it become evident the gas was indeed in the air. Not a wise move."
 Tom Baca, 2nd Plt pilot recalls, "I remember the mission to be prepared for CS. We had the masks and were somewhat pissed at the stupidity of the whole thing. Remember not using the masks. I believe this was in August or September of 66. The masks were in poor repair and a lot of work was done to get them ready in case we ever needed them again."


Jack Swickard, 1st Plt. pilot and 118th PIO says, " I do recall a CA in 1967 during which CS was stirred up in the LZ near Saigon, resulting in the passing of controls back and forth on final.

I remember it well because the Thunderbirds were training a new unit in country, so most of the Peter Pilots with us had never flown a combat mission before.

During a descending turn, my seat dropped with a thud (I had not securely latched the locks when I climbed into the cockpit that morning), which scared the hell out of the Major in the right seat. He heard a loud bang when the seat hit the floor and saw me drop out of sight.

I was on the left side of the formation and could no longer see the aircraft I was flying formation on, so I started yelling at the Major to take the controls. He just stared at me with eyes as big as hubcaps. Finally, he took the controls long enough for me to yank the seat backup and lock it.

By then, we were in short final and the CS started coming up, stirred by the rotor wash. I tried not to rub my eyes. Fortunately, the CS was pretty weak after being stirred around the LZ.

That night, I wrote a press release about the mission and passed it along to the battalion S-1. I remember later being questioned about the CS because the incident had not shown up in the after-action report. My understanding is the report was amended to include the CS gassing.

Thinking back, it seems the VC had gotten hold of the CS and started popping it when the lift aircraft started approaching the LZ.



 Vern Watts, 2nd Plt pilot remembers, "We participated in a CS prepped LZ somewhere near Duc Hoa in the summer of 67. As I recall, we had one guy wear his mask and attempt to fly while the other acted as a safety. It wasn't very successful. I thought we went through the exercise on only a single mission."

Thunderbirds and Movie Stars

"Raymond Burr with Bandits "
The Bandits got the mission in early 1964 to escort the slicks carrying Raymond Burr around III Corp.
Burr is holding some locally made souvenir in his right hand.
Here they were at some village in the Phan Thiet area.
L to R: Bob Walch, Gerald Peffers, Granville Couey, Raymond Burr and Josue "Josh" Gomez(64).
(Photo courtesy Josue "Josh" Gomez)



Robert Mitchum and Ron Madsen discuss last
nights party in the Thunderbird Club! Mitchum
visited the 118th on Cong Ly street for a couple
of days. He also visited the 173rd and the Aussies.
Hey Ron, why does your shirt look like prison stripes?(1965)
(Photo courtesy Ron Madsen)



Bob Hope comes to Bien Hoa Air Base,
Christmas 1965
(Photo courtesy Warren George)




Carol Baker and Bob Hope at Bien Hoa
Air base, Christmas 65.
(Photo courtesy Don Roof)




George Jessel and two other
unidentified performers giving a
show on stage set up in the 118th maintenance hanger.
The show was probably for
anyone on the airbase.(66)
(Photo courtesy Tommy Thornton)




What a lucky guy!! WO Jim Ellis in
a clean uniform with Ann Margaret
standing outside the Thunderbird
Villa Dining Room on Cong Ly Street.
(Early 1966)
(Photo courtesy Jim Ellis)





Jim Larson, wounded in the 1 Nov 64 mortar
attack on Bien Hoa Air base, has a special
visitor while in the Navy hospital in Saigon.
Audrey Meadows, of "The Honeymooners"
on the Jackie Gleason show, stopped by to
see the troops. The flight nurse, LT Connolly,
is not bad herself. Larson received multiple
shrapnel wounds in the back and both legs
when a mortar landed behind him as he
rushed from the 118th barracks.(64)
(Photo courtesy Jim Larson)


1LT Tom Payne in a "warm embrace" with Lana Turner. Most of the 118th helicopters and crews were out on "pigs and rice" missions when Lana Turner appeared at the 118th Operations. The only folks other than 573rd Maint crews in the Bird Cage was the Bandits who were on stand-by. Ms Turner had her escorts drive her down to the Bandit area in a USAF sedan where we all got our picture taken with her. Note she had a "shower cap" on and was using a cane. I never see an old movie with Lana Turner that I don't think, "I shook her hand in Vietnam " (Mid 1967)
(Photo courtesy Tom Payne)
Very same day and very same pose as above. Richard Little, Bandit
crew member, with Lana Turner.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)
Carl Garrett with Lana Turner on very same day.(67)
(Photo courtesy Carl Garrett)

Bob Hope talking to someone on radio with Ann Margaret(on right) and possibly Joey Heatherton
(on left) at Bien Hoa Air base,
Christmas 1968.
(Photo courtesy Dennis Surop) 

Personal remembrance by Bill Hirtle

 "I can't say exactly when this happened - I would guess around the end of 1969. I was on standby for ash and trash one day and received a call up from operations that we had a VIP mission to fly. We were going to be dedicated to a visiting Colonel for three days to fly "her" anywhere she wanted. "She" was Colonel Martha Raye, WAC. We spent the rest of the day getting old Blue 7 spiffied up for the mission - replacement seats with Thunderbird logos on them - washed and polished the ship - reinstalled all the internal sound insulation panels - and of course clean "pressed" uniforms for the crew."

"The next morning we landed at Long Binh VIP pad as scheduled and took our places - AC and Pilot on either side of the nose and the crew beside their positions - all at a position of attention. After a few minutes wait we heard a scream - or maybe a shriek - and a diminutive figure in jungle fatigues came running out of the ready room and made a mad dash for our aircraft. Before we had a chance to react - salute - report - whatever, "Maggie" was sitting in the aircraft, strapped in, saying, "Let's go, guys!"

"We flew her all over Three Corps, stopping at camps and headquarters wherever US troops were stationed. She had a full itinerary laid out and, usually would just say "OK, now let's go to ___." Sometimes, I have to admit, she had locations on her schedule that I had never heard of. Then she would give us map coordinates or, sometimes, just a soldier's direction "Couple of klicks west of ___." She was amazingly well briefed and prepared and was traveling without any aide or guide at all."

"After shuttling around Three Corps for most of three days, she gave us the "Head for the house" and we headed back for LB. We were sorry to see her go. She was everything her Hollywood image had led us to expect - funny, unpredictable, and yet very serious about her responsibility to the troops she was visiting. The only one ready to see her go was my crew chief. On the way home, she had written thank you notes, funny sayings, and hugs and kisses all over the inside of the aircraft - in lipstick!! We were a week getting it all cleaned off!!"

Bill Hirtle Thunderbird 3-Bravo


Note: If you had an encounter or met a celebrity or movie star, send the picture and a short story to:
Web master


Tet 1968 Foretold



PLT SGT John W. Kelley
December 17, 1967

In December of 1967, I was serving as the Platoon Sergeant, 2nd Plt, (Choppers) 118th Assault Helicopter company "Thunderbirds". This particular day was a Sunday and I had seen the flights off earlier that morning. The day's mission was a combat assault into an area called Bao Tri, not too far from the Cu Chi area, Go Da Ha, etc. About 10 o'clock that morning the CQ tracked me down and said my Platoon Leader, CPT Leach, had called and wanted me to get Blue 2 ready and find a gunner and for me to crew the ship. He said they had problems at Bao Tri. Blue 2 was the platoon "Hanger Queen." This day it happened to be flyable, so I proceeded to get the ship ready and got a gunner, SP4 Hughes from Huntsville, Alabama (I think).

Soon CPT Leach arrived at the Birdcage in the C&C bird. We cranked Blue 2 and took off en route to the Bao Tri area. CPT Leach informed me that all the company's guns were either down in the LZ, or down at the Bao Tri air-strip with bullet damage and that we were going to fly cover over the LZ to try and keep the VC/NVA beaten off the LZ until our guns, or TAC air, got on station. No sooner had we arrived on station, orbiting around 1500 - 2000', when a light fire team from 3/4 Cav (Call sign Centaur) came into view. CPT Leach informed the fire team, on-guard frequency, that it was extremely dangerous and that we had ships down in the LZ. The Centaur lead informed him that they were just passing through and would be out of the AO in a couple of minutes. About that time Centaur lead's wingman took fire and smoke began to billow from his engine compartment! The aircraft went down in a controlled landing to the center of the LZ. The Centaur lead ship did a 180 and picked up the downed crew.

A few minutes later a fire team from the Bandits was back on station. On their first gun-run, one of their ships (I think the lead ship) was hit and smoke started billowing from it! This time it was not a controlled landing, but a crash! The aircraft rolled when it hit the ground, and the tail boom separated from the aircraft. At that moment CPT Leach said, "we have to get the crew". We went into an autorotation and approached the site of the downed aircraft. I told CPT Leach that I was really worried about survivors because the aircraft was in pieces. About the time we flared and the gunner and I were getting ready to jump out and approach the wreckage, four wet mud clad figures popped up! For an instance I thought they were VC, but to my surprise it was the Bandit crew. They were all well except for being badly bruised, minor cuts, and having the Hell scared out of them. Once we cleared the LZ and were at a safe altitude headed for the Evac Hospital at Cu Chi I can remember us hugging and shedding a few tears of joy that we were all safe.

Looking back, we now know why there was such ferocity of fire and activity at Bao Tri and so many other areas in Vietnam....the TET 68 Offensive was on the way. We had been mixing it up with one of the units positioning for their coordinated attacks which shook Vietnam a couple weeks later.

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Usually, very little reason was needed to have a party for the pilots and men of the 118th Thunderbirds. At least once a month, while the pilots lived on Cong Ly Street in Bien Hoa, there was a party to Hail the new arrivals(FNG's) to the unit and to bid Farewell to those who had reached that magical point in time called DROS(Date Return from Over Seas). And oft times the 145th CAB had a Hail and Farewell especially when a number of new Commanders were involved.

On rare occasions the number or high rank of those leaving would demand that a cake be baked or perhaps purchased from a Vietnamese bakery to commemorate the event. Such was the case as seen in the photos below when Jack Seliskar, Commanding Officer of the 118th reached his DROS. In addition several other officer pilots were departing as listed on the cake.




Hail and Farewell hosted by the 145th CAB with among others, Orlie J. Underwood, and Chuck Honour.
(Photo courtesy Ted Jambon)







Departing 118th Thunderbirds being recognized at the 145th CAB Hail and Farewell. L to R: Jack Seliskar, CO 118th, Fred Cooper and Kenneth Chien(65)
(Photo courtesy Ted Jambon)






Special cake for a large group of 118th Thunderbirds departing on or about 1 Nov 65.
(Photo courtesy Ted Jambon)



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Ted R. Jambon
Thunderbird 3

The Thunderbird officer housing on Cong Ly Street like much of Star Trek was in the "neutral zone." Insufficient room on Bien Hoa Air base was the reason officers were quartered in town. Since all of Vietnam was a war zone, it might seem that living among the "enemy" was foolhardy, but it seemed to work for everyone concerned. We were not restricted by "regs", and living in a villa was a hell of a lot more comfortable than living in barracks or hooches. The arrangement was good for the VC also.

There was no doubt in anybody's mind that the Bien Hoa Chief of Police was a closet VC. Part of the agreement for being allowed to live in town was that we had to have a "White Mouse" at the gate. That was the term for one of the Police Chief's policemen (they wore white shirts and pants). Officially they were there to protect us from VC attacks. The reality was that they were there to let the VC know that we were paying our "blood money" and were therefore immune from attack. The "blood money" consisted on one US dollar per month for each person living in the villa. For twelve bucks per tour, you could be reasonably sure that you could sleep safely at night. In addition to protection on the street, the deal extended to keeping some local hot shot from firing at passing helicopters. Every couple of months crews would report taking fire from within the city of Bien Hoa. A message to the Chief that unless it stopped the neighborhood might just end up being a target for rocket fire from one of the gun ships. Within a matter of days, the "one-shot Charlie" would be eliminated…we never asked how, and were just glad the pot shots had stopped.

As the buildup of forces continued in the Bien Hoa area, other units began to move in to Cong Ly street; the 197th after they left Tan Son Nhut, the 145th HQ. group, the 68th, and an Engineer unit. As new comers came to live on Cong Ly, we would explain the "rules and fees." The Engineers were either super-patriotic, cheap or just plain dumb, because they informed the Chief that they had no intentions of paying "blood money." The Police Chief called on us and asked the CO to speak to the Engineers, explaining that his poor Policemen were badly underpaid and that guarding us was a way for them to make an extra buck or two to support their families. Yea, right!

The attitude of the Engineers concerned us, but we were also interested in seeing if they would get away with it. Hell, if they didn't pay and got away with it, then why should we pay. We didn't have to wait too long to find out. On this particular day I had decided to stay at the office and work a bit later than usual, as I wanted to get some awards recommendations finished and sent out in the next days mail. Arriving at Cong Ly at dusk, it was obvious that something was up. First the checkpoint at the entrance to the street was unmanned (any vehicle entering the street normally was searched for possible bombs and or booby traps), but that had happened once or twice previously and so was no great cause for alarm. As I turned into the compound, I realized that there was no White Mouse at the gate. That too was not too unusual, they did take latrine breaks once in a while, but I thought I had better mention it to the Orlie J. Underwood, the CO.

As we walked out to the gate we saw civilians heading away from their homes with bags and suitcases and wasting no time getting out of there (Vietnamese civilians also lived on the street and most of them worked for American units on the street). Now that was unusual! A quick search revealed that the guard was no where to be found. Orlie gave to order to break out the weapons, and sent the XO, Fred Cooper, to make a phone call to the Chief. Fred came back and said that we were to close the gate and stay away from it and that no matter what happened, not to shoot at anyone. That too was strange. So with orders not to fire without the expressed permission of the CO, manned the walls surrounding the villa. By this time it was quite dark.

Within minutes the Chief arrived and said we were to call the Engineers and to tell them that if they were attacked that they should not fire back, and to stay indoors until the firing stopped. Now that was really interesting. We made the call and the Engineers responded by telling us to relay to the Chief to go get F-ked!
At that time some of the guys on the wall reported seeing armed individuals in black pajamas going by our villa and heading toward the Engineer compound. Within moments a fire fight broke out, grenades were going off and the Chief was yelling at us not to shoot. After a few minutes the firing faded out and all was quiet. The Chief left, and with minutes our White Mouse showed up and giving us a dumb smile which said don't ask me, I was just following orders.

The next morning early, our Vietnamese help showed up on time and acted as though nothing had happened. When asked why they left, they gave as their reasons such things as they had to go help a sick friend, they were visiting relatives, etc., but no mention of the attack or that they had had any prior knowledge. At about 6:30 am, we got a call from the Engineers asking how to go about contacting the Chief of Police, and what the terms were for getting their own White Mouse.

No one had been serious hurt on either side. The Chief had made his point; the Engineers developed an appreciation for the Oriental mind, and for everyone else on the street things were back to normal. Everyone went down to the Engineer compound to survey the damage (mostly superficial) and then went about their jobs.

Several years after the end of the Vietnam debacle, someone who was familiar with Bien Hoa told me that the Chief's dual role had been publicly exposed and that he had had to run for his life. Don't know if that was true but it sounded good to me, but I have to admit he did keep his part of the bargain. We did sleep safe and (most of the time) soundly.

While I was there, I often wondered why Bien Hoa never came under VC attack, and that there was no major attack against the base, which was vulnerable to an attack by a large-scale unit. My conclusion was that the VC were using Bien Hoa as means to finance their war efforts. Sure there were occasional grenade attacks, and some sporadic firing in and around the town, but nothing really serious. What a hell of way to fight a war, we fought them, we lived with them, we financed them … it was a nutty war.

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George Owens
Thunderbird 5 & 6

On July 19, the 118th was commanded by MAJ Robert Sauer. I, MAJ George Owens, was the XO. Major Sauer had taken the command from MAJ Orlie J. Underwood just 13 days prior to the 19th (July 6th).

The 118th had been heavily involved in combat operations for 2 to 3 weeks without let up. On this day the 118th was released after inserting troops for an operation at about 11:00 AM and assigned "pigs and rice" runs for the afternoon. The unit arrived back at Bien Hoa approximately 12:00 for lunch and refueling before the "pigs and rice" missions the rest of the day.

As XO, I met the Company upon their return at Operations. MAJ Sauer told me to monitor the refueling operations. The pilots and MAJ Sauer had just departed for Villa for lunch when I received a call in Operations from 145th Bn. TOC(Tactical Operations Center) to, "get all flyable aircraft in the air ASAP." I called the Villa just as MAJ Sauer arrived and briefed him on Bn's orders. He turned the bus around and they all returned to the flight line. When he arrived in Operations, he called Bn. and was told to proceed to Cu Chi for a briefing ASAP. We told Bn. that we had 17 flyable' but did not have enough pilots to put them all in the air. MAJ Sauer instructed me to bring the Company to Cu Chi as soon as all A/C were refueled and additional crews arrived from the 68th. It seemed that they had insufficient flyable aircraft to utilize all of their pilots.

Approximately 30 minutes after MAJ Sauer departed, I got 16 A/C in the air. With MAJ Sauer's bird, we had a total of 17. As we were about 5 minutes out of Cu Chi, MAJ Sauer contacted me and told me to keep the Company airborne and he would lead us in to the pickup zone. We were told to go to a new frequency for the operation.

We no more than got on that new frequency when we heard transmissions from A Co. on the ground belonging to the 25th DIV. They were filling the air with radio transmissions and taking heavy fire----one transmission was "get me out of here, I am hit in the foot". The 118th flight of 17 aircraft was about a half mile out on final and beginning to take heavy small arms fire. I could see one of the 25th's aircraft was still in the PZ. MAJ Sauer continued straight in to "green smoke."

The nearer we got to touchdown the heavier the ground fire became. We sat down in an old peanut field at the edge of the jungle in War Zone C. A number of dead GI's were lying on the ground that I assume had been cut down as they ran for the 25th DIV. aircraft. As we sat there on the ground you could see the bullets hitting the dry dirt as the VC walked the fire up to our aircraft. A few Infantrymen raced to the waiting aircraft and dived aboard. MAJ Sauer's lead aircraft come up to a slight hover for take off and suddenly, jerked backward . I heard MAJ Sauer tell Rudy DeFrance, the 118th Operations Officer, "take it Rudy, take it". As the lead A/C began to leave the PZ the flight of 16 aircraft followed. I was trail and MAJ Sauer asked me if all birds were up and out. I told him all were out, but he had better find a safe landing zone quickly because he was spewing fuel out of numerous holes in his fuel tank. I told him I would follow him in case the aircraft would have to be put down.

As we were departing the area I noted green smoke about 500 yards from our pickup point but did not know what unit nor had we been briefed on another unit in the area. Since we had troops aboard, I had only one, we did not put down to find out if they were to be picked up. After what we had just been through we didn't need another PZ like we had just left.

Major DeFrance headed for an ARVN compound about a mile away. I followed him into the compound and rushed over to MAJ Sauer's aircraft. It was then I saw he had been hit in the left shoulder just above the "chicken plate." I could also see a couple of holes in his flack jacket, but no harm done there. I assisted in getting him out of the aircraft and we laid him on the ground. An Advisor to the ARVN unit in the compound ran out to help and we called for a Med Evac I soon discovered that my aircraft was no longer flyable due to many bullet holes.

As we were waiting for the Med Evac and the 118th Maintenance crew to arrive and determine if my A/C could be made flyable, I noted five Thunderbird aircraft pass over-head going back in the direction we had just departed. I rushed over to my ship and called on the radio for the Thunderbird flight of five to report their mission. Ted Jambon came back and said there was another Platoon of troops to be extracted. I knew then who had popped green smoke as we passed over their position. I later learned that they really wanted us to know that they were friendly, and for us not to fire on them. I told Ted Jambon to report airborne after the pick-up. He came back shortly and radioed that all ships were out of the PZ with the troops and no fire had been received.

Later, after we were returned to Cu Chi, I learned that the flight had only 5 A/C still flyable out of the original 17! MAJ Sauer was evacuated to the United States the next day and I assumed command of the 118th Thunderbirds. And, as I said, "All in the day of a Thunderbird."


The Infantry portion of the story

The Bn. Commander of the Rifle Co. that we helped to extract decided to give the Rifle Co. some training in Air Assaults. I guess to help pass the time for this particular Company.

The plan was that A Co. would insert the 3 rifle platoons in separate DZ's and set up a perimeter defense. Unfortunately the Bo Loi VC Bn spent the night at the edge of the jungle and were asleep and the center rifle platoon was inserted right into the middle of them. The VC immediately started firing into the surrounded platoon. The right hand platoon, as you face the jungle, fought it's way in to the center platoon to reinforce them. Both platoons were taking casualties and could not retreat. I never knew what took so long for the decision to be made to extract them but we didn't get the order until about noontime. I understand that 26 died in the battle zone that day.

I asked MAJ DeFrance, who had moved up from Operations Officer to XO, to write MAJ Sauer and Ted Jambon up for the DFC on the day following. I then informed the Bn. Commander about my recommendations for the awards and he told me that the 25th Division had informed him that they were going to make recommendations for everyone. I took that as meaning that it would be for individual awards as that is what I told LTC Jones. The result was that no individual awards were made for the 118th, but instead the Company was awarded the Valorous Unit Citation.

That should end the tale of July 19, 1966.

George Owens
Thunderbird 5 & 6

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Thunderbird Honored

by RVN Government


In 1969, the process of "Vietnamization" was well underway. For a number of years, U.S. aviation companies and Assault Helicopter Companies had been transitioning Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) pilots into the UH-1 "Hueys". Through the years many Thunderbirds had done their share by flying with experienced VNAF pilots in the UH-1. Usually they would receive around 100 hours of flight time.

Ronnie Ross, who flew with the 118th Thunderbirds during 1968-69, was one of several who was awarded the Air Service Medal at a special awards ceremony at the Bien Hoa Air Base. According to the orders dated 22 Aug 1969, a total of 17 U.S. helicopter pilots received the Air Service Medal.

Ronnie Ross receiving the Air Service Medal in ceremony at Bien Hoa Air Base from unidentified VNAF officer.(69)
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Ross)

Others receiving the award were: LTC John J. Top,

MAJ's Thomas G. Moody, Jr., Barney P. Hancock, Donald A. Roberts, Wallace R. Napier, William E. Callender,

CPT's Gerald W. Allen, Douglas R. Terrell, Timothy Phalen,

LT Howard M. King,

WO's John P. Daum, Charles F. O'Connell III, Scott R. Alwin, Patrick J. Politi, Donald R. Barnett and David L. Rietmyer.


If any other former 118th Thunderbirds received this or other awards from the government of Vietnam, please contact the Webmaster with details.

To view many other awards and medals awarded by the Government of Vietnam, go to excellent website at: Awards

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