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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  • Everyone Walks Away!!
  • Exotic Mascots of the Thunderbirds
  • Rocket Damage
  • Camp Alpha
  • Aircraft Nicknames
  • Psychological Warfare (PsyWar)
  • Thunderbird "Victory Dance"

    Everyone Walks Away!!

    Red 3 (63)
    (Photo courtesy "Red" Sparling)

    Aircraft and auto crashes are usually very disturbing looking scenes. When the crew and passengers walk away it is not only very AMAZING, it is a MIRACLE ! That was the situation with this story related by Harold "Red" Sparling, the Crew Chief of an almost brand new UH-1B (Red 3) in the 1st Platoon of the 118th Aviation Company (AML). The registration number of the aircraft was 62-2042 and it had only been in the unit for a very short time when the incident happened. Because this incident occurred so early (apparently in very late 1963) it is not listed in the Aircraft Histories and Incidents portion of this web site. Records were not kept until late in 1965 or if kept, have not yet been found.


    Red 3 Crew Chief, "Red" Sparling remembers,
     " I was on the helicopter when it went down. With me was the Gunner, who was from the 25th Inf Div. out of Hawaii, the Pilot and Co-pilot plus two Vietnamese Advisors. We were coming into a village to let the Vietnamese off when we started to receive ground fire. We changed directions and came around, seems like landing with the wind. We were very fast and the pilot pulled collective but there was nothing. We slammed into the ground, very hard, and flipped on the right side. I don't remember the names of the pilots or gunner or where it happened. We all walked away, although I hurt my back some. I never applied for anything medical, because I was 20 years old and invincible!


    Evidence of the impact (63)
    (Photo courtesy "Red" Sparling)






    118th Commander, MAJ David B. Hayes pointing to ? (63)
    (Photo courtesy "Red" Sparling)
    Another view of Red 3 rolled on its right side(63)
    (Photo courtesy "Red" Sparling)
    Hey, no problem checking the "Jesus--Nut" this way!!
    (Photo courtesy "Red" Sparling)

    Note--If you have knowledge of the date when this incident took place or who the other crew members were contact the Webmaster .

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    Exotic Mascots of the Thunderbirds

    Many military units in Vietnam had mascots. Often it might be a dog(which wouldn't last long in the Vietnamese countryside....food) or monkey or even a tiger(Soc Trang Tigers). The 118th Thunderbirds had several and here they are:


    (Photo courtesy Richard H. Stevens)

    George is the snake, not the GI. The GI is Richard H. Stevens and the photo looks like it was taken at Tay Ninh West when the 118th Thunderbirds moved up there for a month in about Dec 66. Anyway, George was 1SGT Ermal Sparks' snake which he kept in the orderly room or very nearby. On Sunday afternoons men from the US Air Force, and 173rd Abn would gather and place bets on how many minutes it would take George to eat a small pig or chicken that SP5 Snyder would throw into the cage!!





    The 118th "Thunderbird" Hawk, "Melvin Bird",
    with handler in front of Operations (Early 65).
    It is not the same hawk seen below
    in 67 and 69
    (Photo courtesy Ted Jambon)






    "Melvin Bird", the Company mascot on the gloved
    hand of CPT Jack Waters, 1st Plt Cmdr. "Melvin Bird"
    messed up one day and flew through the helicopter
    rotor which lopped-off 1/3 of his right wing.
    He recovered and was friendly and healthy. His
    flying days were over, however. At first he didn't
    eat, but finally did. One night someone left the
    cage door open (or an ARVN had a meal)overnight
    and he was never seen again!(65)
    (Photo courtesy Jack Waters)







    Louis Palumbo acquired an Ocelot kitten from
    somewhere. No word of how long he kept it!(65)
    (Photo courtesy Tommy Thornton)








    "Smokey", the mascot of the guys of the
    573rd Maint. Det. at the hanger
    with PFC Ted Metzner. Not only was he
    the mascot, he was a GREAT rat catcher! (66)
    (Photo courtesy Bill Langan)





    CPT Jim Thorne, Bandit Plt Ldr with
    "Thunderbird" hawk (not the same hawk as
    above in 1965 but probably the same one in
    1968, below. (67)
    (Photo courtesy Jim Thorne)





    This bird of prey, a large hawk,
    was a mascot of the 118th Thunderbirds
    in the 1967-69 time. The bird was in a
    large wire cage sitting outside of Thunderbird Operations building. No
    name is known or any more details. If
    you know the story and some of the
    details, like name, when
    acquired and how long it stayed,
    notify the Webmaster.
    (Photo courtesy Ronny Ross)
    The same "Thunderbird" hawk as seen
    in 1968.
    (Photo courtesy Bob Rich)
    Small pup called "Bandit" that was a mascot
    of the Bandit Platoon.(65)
    (Photo courtesy Joe Newsome)
    1LT Tommie Elliott with same Bandit
    mascot a little more grown-up.(65)
    (Photo courtesy Pat McLarney)


    "Snowball" the Bandit Rocket-Dog!






    "Snowball" the Bandit mascot, was a young pup in 1967. It is possible she was an offspring of
    "Bitch" in the photo below. Anyway, as Richard Little (holding "Snowball"in one of the photos in
    front of Bandit 5) says, "I called this dog "Snowball." I forgot who I left the dog with when I
    DEROSed. Another dog saved from Bien Hoa resturants." How true!
    (Photos courtesy Richard Little)


    What appears to be "Snowball" and "Bitch" seen resting in front of the Bandit HQ.(67)
    (Photo courtesy Richard Little)


    "Bandit Dog" grave site complete
    with Bandit logo and collar!
    Unsure which dog it was. On right
    arm are dates "1968-1969"(69)
    (Photo courtesy
    Dick "Teeny Bopper" Rissman)

    "Home Sweet Home" to female dog named "Bitch"!
    who lived in the 118th Company area and was taken
    care of by Ken Simpson. "She was a good friend to me.
    She would come to the Birdcage when we came back
    from flights. We would go back to the Company area
    together. I fed her and she would sleep in my
    Hooch, under my bunk."(May70)
    (Photo courtesy Ken Simpson)

    "Spot", for obvious reasons, a small puppy held here by Bill Hirtle
    and asleep on the floor of an aircraft. Not sure if "Spot" was for real or survived
    to adulthood or was a Vietnamese meal.(69)
    (Photo courtesy Bill Hirtle)


    J. D. Badgley's puppy named "Combat" nuzzles with an unidentified pilot.(70)
    (Photo courtesy J. D. Badgley)


    "Combat" being held by J. D. Badgley. The other guy is believed to be Mark Overbee. Can you help ID him??
    "Combat" was an offspring of "Bitch" above.(70)
    (Photo couirtesy J. D. Badgley)
    “Combat” went with J. D. Badgley to the 240th Grayhounds at Bear Cat when the 118th Thunderbirds stood down and their aircraft were turned over to a VNAF Squadron at Bien Hoa in March 1971. "Combat" flew with J. D. everyday. He rode the map case at the end of the radio console. When hauling ARVN troops, he would just sit there staring and snarling at them ‘til they were out of the A/C. When J. D. got his DEROS date, He started the process to bring "Combat" home with him, but with all the red tape & quarantine days, he ran out of time. However, another of the Greyhounds continued the process and finally got him back to California.

    Puppy Eaten by Employee!!

    J. D. Badgley with an unnamed puppy.
    According to J. D., this poor little black & white puppy was stolen and eaten by one of the Vietnamese
    civilians that worked on base. "My hooch maid told me, but would never point out which one.
    Probably because she new what I would have done to them."(70)
    (Photo courtesy J. D. Badgley)

    A small hawk that was adopted as a Thunderbird mascot in 1970. Apparently the hawk
    had flown through the rotor and was injured and saved by some crewmembers.(70)
    (Photo courtesy Duane Speirs)




    The Beloved Bitch! She was a mascot for many years around the Thunderbird barracks. She obviously had several litter of pups, too. (71)
    (Photo courtesy Michael Breaux)

    Michael Breaux "lounging" with his favorite Bitch just outside the Thunderbird barracks. (71)
    (Photo courtesy Michael Breaux)

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    Rocket Damage


    In December 1968, Lee Beavers, who flew with the 3rd Platoon Bandits, was out on a mission one day and experienced a strange turn of events. Following a rocket pass, suddenly there was no audio in his helmet ear phones and his controls were ineffective. What had happened was a rocket had apparently detonated not far in front of the aircraft and they flew into some the shrapnel pieces. He remembers, "There was an identical hole on the other side of the aircraft where pieces came out. The shrapnel on its way through the aircraft below the floor had cut my controls plus a lot of wires for the radios and intercom." Hey Charlie is supposed to be the one damaged, not our own aircraft.

    Thank goodness the shrapnel had not cut BOTH sets of push pull tubes for the controls and the other pilot was able fly the aircraft back to Bien Hoa for repairs.

    Lee Beavers(68)


    Note hole just below collective, on armor and side door post.


    Damage to left skid just below step-plate.

    (Photos courtesy Lee Beavers)


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    Camp Alpha


    In the beginning of the Vietnam conflict and war, the city of Saigon was the main point of entry for most US military personnel. In those early years the numbers were quite small and Tan Son Nhut Airport and the nearby replacement facility, called Camp Alpha, was sufficient to handle the incoming and outgoing military personnel plus lucky R & R people. Somewhere around the 1965-66 time period the military build-up began to accelerate and additional sites in Vietnam were established. Bien Hoa, Cam Ranh Bay, Quin Nhon, and Da Nang were established as sites for incoming and outgoing military personnel. Thousands of replacements a week arrived to replace the thousands of rotating personnel from the many US Army and Marines Divisions and units as well as US Airforce bases.



    Camp Alpha in mid-1965 with nice sidewalks and grass. Note no sandbags, but double bunks with
    mosquito netting. Warren George in photo on right. This was obviously the dry season!
    (Photos courtesy Warren George)

    No one seems to know why the replacement camp(Repo-depot) at Saigon was called Camp Alpha. Initially, and for several years from about 1962 to 1964 it was nothing but a city of GP Medium wall tents neatly arranged with sidewalks and narrow streets. Waist high sand bags surrounded the tents and the sides were usually rolled up for ventilation. Mosquito netting was mandatory for each cot significantly limiting air flow. Plus, trenches were dug around the perimeter of each tent to handle the monsoon rains as it cascaded off the slopping tent roof. The place smelled strongly and often stunk to new arrivals. While many thought it was a rude introduction to Vietnam, to many it would be the best accommodations they would see for a year.


    Main Street of Camp Alpha with latrines on right.
    Must have been dry season!
    (Photo courtesy Warren George)


    Sometime in early 1965, the GP Medium wall tents were replaced with wood framed sheet metal buildings which sported cement floors and much nicer latrines and showers. There was screen on the outside of the slatted walls to deflect the monsoon rains. Now, the mosquito netting for each bunk was not needed, but was usually still there. Things were looking much better by August 1966, but still better accommodations were to come.



    Obviously during the monsoon season!! We see the tin roofed
    frame buildings with screens and ditches for runoff water.
    Aug 1966.
    (Photo courtesy Tom Payne)


    Camp Alpha in dry season(67)
    (Photo courtesy Richard Little)

    Probably about 1969, the tin roofed and wood framed and screened buildings were slowly replaced by "beautiful" cement block buildings all painted white. Many had air-conditioners for luxurious comfort in the tropical heat and humidity. The entire grounds of Camp Alpha was paved eliminating the need for trenches. Quickly the water was gone as the rains flowed underground in storm sewers and ditches. Wow, this was a comfortable major improvement.

    Most everyone remembers Camp Alpha as their first memory of coming into Vietnam and often going on R & R. Many remember the seemingly endless hours waiting and dozing on the cots only to be brought to reality by the load speaker announcing names to come to the office. Or time was spent just sitting and visiting with other "New be's". And, if an "old guy" would talk, there would be a ring of guys sitting around, listening to his war stories. Everyone longed for the day when they would be going back to the "World"! However, not many seem to remember much about Camp Alpha when going home. For some reason minds were several days ahead to arriving home and it just didn't matter anymore how you lived....because you would soon be gone.



    Camp Alpha, in the foreground, showing single story and two story permanent barracks buildings.
    The large open area in the middle of the photo is "Hotel-3" the main heliport for Tan Son Nhut Airport.
    The large asymmetrical roofed building to the right center is the maintenance hanger of the 56th
    Transportation Company,(DS).(69)
    (Photo courtesy Lee Beavers)


    Camp Alpha and and example of the new barracks
    built for arrivees and departees. Photo taken in late 1970.
    (Photo courtesy Tom Payne)
    Recreational yard at Camp Alpha in Saigon.
    Building in in distance is PX and Canteen! (70)
    (Photo courtesy Tom Payne)

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    Aircraft Nicknames

    Unit Commanders usually hold the key to allowing their unit's aircraft to be painted with nicknames. The practice seemed to come and go, depending on commanders or "Chain of Command." Since WWI, aircraft and weapons of war(tanks, artillery pieces or trucks) have been given favorite names. These names often signified love, fondness or respect for loved ones or cultural icons back home. In the case of bombs and rockets names of hate or disdain were printed or painted on the device. What we are concerned with is this study is the name or logo on the outside of the helicopter door or nose. The practice of nicknames ultimately personalizes war and adds a depth of emotion which can tremendously add to the unit or individual's moral!

    Standardized unit logos were painted on all of a unit's aircraft as a means of identifying the unit (ie. Thunderbird, Rattler, Top Tiger, Hornet, or Tomahawk)from a distance. After 1965, the practice of painting a standard geometric design on the tail boom of the aircraft clearly showed what Battalion and Company the aircraft belonged to. The 145th CAB used the white diamond with a smaller colored diamond in the middle. In the case of the 118th Thunderbirds, the small diamond was red. The 11th CAB used an elongated vertical white rectangle with a colored vertical strip down the middle. (Note, see Ralph Young's great book, "Army Aviation in Vietnam," Vol I and II for photos of unit and tail boom geometric designs.)

    Helicopter units in Vietnam were often allowed to have nose art and nicknames painted on aircraft doors. This is what we want to examine. If you have photos of 33rd Trans/118th Thunderbird aircraft during your tour that would illustrate the unique aspects of this art, consider sending them for adding to this page. If you have a photo of your aircraft with its nickname painted on it, send it to the Webmaster.





    "The ARCH ANGEL" a UH-1D model
    belonging to the 2nd Platoon.(65)
    (Photo courtesy Don Roof)








    Warren George beside "Tinker-Toy" a UH-1D
    obviously in the 2nd Flt. Plt of Thunderbirds.
    It is unclear if the name was selected by the Crew
    Chief or the Aircraft Commander assigned to
    the aircraft. (65)
    (Photo courtesy Warren George)
    "Tootsie Roll", again from the 2nd Flt. Plt.
    The kids were always around when flying missions
    for the III Corps Senior Advisor to remote
    villages throughout III Corps.(65)
    (Photo courtesy Warren George)
    "Arleen's Clown" graces this 2nd Platoon
    aircraft. CE SP5 William R. "Bill" Stewart
    stands beside his UH-1D with HF (SSB)
    radio antenna on the tail boom.(65)
    (Photo courtesy Warren George)
    Bandit 4 ready to depart from the Bandit
    area of the "Bird Cage" with its name
    plainly painted as "EXECUTIONER"
    Aircraft names often were not
    light-hearted and cute! (66)
    (Photo courtesy Richard Little)


    Bandit 6 , aka "PACIFICATION", sitting on
    pad in the Bandit area at
    Bien Hoa Airbase(67)
    (Photo courtesy Richard Little)








    CWO Jim Campbell and CWO Mike Erwin standing beside
    Bandit called "El Devastor". AC was WO Donaldson,
    CE SP4 Little and Gunner PFC Crawford.
    Pouches around their neck are SOI's that
    had to be checked out daily from Operations.(67)
    (Photo courtesy Richard Little)












    J. D. "Dan" Badgley in front of "The Assassin" a Bandit gunship.(70-71)
    (Photo courtesy J. D. Badgley)








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    Psychological Warfare

    (PsyOp or PsyWar)

    2nd Platoon "Chopper" UH-1B with special PsyWar l
    loudspeaker system on right side of the aircraft.(64)
    (Photo courtesy Harold "Chip" Austin)

    PsyOp and PsyWar techniques in Vietnam were launched by the government of the Republic of Vietnam to try and convince the Viet Cong and NVA to give up their guerrilla existence and accept safe passage from a path of insurgency. Involvement for the U.S. Army helicopter companies, was primarily by the broadcasting of loudspeaker recordings and the distribution of printed leaflets. By 1965, when the UH-1D aircraft replaced the UH-1B's, the mission seemed to cease for the 118th Thunderbirds and move to fixed wing aircraft controlled out of the office of the III Corps Senior Advisor.


    1st Plt "Scorpion" UH-1B set up with loudspeaker
    on left side(64)
    (Photo courtesy Ralph Orlando)

    Another part of the PsyWar story was the use of Chieu Hoi leaflets. Chieu Hoi is translated as "Open Arm" and was a main element in a Safe Passage campaign by the South Vietnamese government. Seen below is a copy of several Chieu Hoi leaflets courtesy of Ron Childress and Richard Little who saved one and brought them back to the US. Normally this leaflet was dropped from several hundred feet by the same aircraft that was broadcasting with the loudspeakers. However, often they would climb to a higher altitude and throw out the leaflets to cover a larger area.

    (Chieu Hoi leaflet courtesy Ron Childress)

    Chieu Hoi leaflets dropped to the Viet Cong.(66)
    (Leaflets courtesy Richard Little)

    (Two leaflets above courtesy Willis Long)

    There were many, many leaflets printed for use in Vietnam. Some of them were more threatening and brutal than this one. A very interesting web site is available on the internet called "Psychological Operations." To see more examples of leaflets used in Vietnam, click their crest below.

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    Thunderbird "Victory Dance"

    Since the beginning of warfare, warriors have celebrated victory with some type of display of emotion and pride following a battle or confrontation where they defeated their enemy. Early on, the celebration took the form of a dance,camp fire or feast which told others of the victory and expressed personal pride in a great accomplishment. Fighter pilots and bomber pilots of past instituted the mini-air show which included wing wagging, zooming the tower or overhead approaches to landing. The 118th Thunderbirds were no different.

    Sometime during the earliest years of the 33rd Trans. Co/118th Avn. Co. (AML), probably about 1963, someone within the Thunderbirds came up with the tradition of making the final approach to landing at the "Bird Cage" at Bien Hoa Air Base a high overhead approach from trail formation. From the ground, it was a grand maneuver to observe, especially for a bunch of helicopters. For the pilot or crew member new to the unit, is was an exhilarating experience. All newbe's or FNG's to the Thunderbirds remember the event with fondness.

    The 3rd flight platoon, Bandits, added a personal touch to the over head approach. They tied smoke grenades to the skids on each side of the aircraft and pulled the pins as the formation came over Cong Ly street on approach to the Bird Cage. Red colored smoke, signifying blood and thus "kills" by the Bandits. It was a grand sight and added great drama and emotion to the maneuver. Anyone remembering the origins of the Victory Dance formation and overhead approach and exactly how and when it began and how long it continued with the Thunderbirds is asked to write the Webmaster with the details.









    "Victory Dance" formation of Thunderbirds
    (red smoke) approaching Cong Ly Street and
    Bien Hoa for landing at Bird Cage.(64)
    (Photo Harold "Chip" Austin)


    Another view a few seconds later in-bound to
    Bird Cage for overhead approach.(64)
    (Photo courtesy Harold "Chip" Austin)



    Bandits coming over Bien Hoa for the Bird Cage
    and an high over-head break to landing. The
    tradition was still alive even in late 67.
    (Photo courtesy Carl Garrett)


    The formation flight approached directly over the
    "Bird Cage" at 500', indicated in trail formation. As soon as
    the lead aircraft was over center of "Bird Cage"
    they made left break and
    circled around to land. (66)
    (Photo courtesy Charles Milan)


    Second aircraft flying beside lead aircraft after he made left break.(66)
    (Photo courtesy Charles Milan)


    A couple seconds later.......! (66)
    (Photo courtesy Charles Milan)


    A couple seconds later........!(66)
    (Photo courtesy Charles Milan)

     This space waiting on your photo!!1



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