I remember when......

Page 8

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......

 Page 1

  Page 2

 Page 3

  Page 4

  Page 5

  Page 6

 Page 7

 Page 8

 Page 9

 Page 10

 Page 11

 Page 12



Brothers Who Served in the Thunderbirds


We have all heard about how, in war time and particularly during WWII, twins or brothers served concurrently or together in the War Zone. It was not a very common thing, but did happen. Serving together was not the problem, of course, and was even allowed for compassionate reasons. However, if and when one was KIA, the other sibling was usually returned to the U.S., ASAP!

There are several incidents of siblings serving in the 33rd Transportation Company/ 118th Assault Helicopter Company over the almost 9 years the unit was in Vietnam. One of the most unusual stories might be the Olsen twins, Richard J.(Dick) and Donald R, who not only served together in the unit but deployed to Vietnam in Sep 1962, together.

Dick Olsen remembers, "In 1960 I was in the 57th Trans. Co(120th Avn Co)at Ft. Lewis, WA and applied for a 'compassionate transfer' to the 33rd Trans. Co at Ft. Ord, CA. where my brother Don was assigned as a helicopter pilot. At that time, U.S. Army regulations allowed for any twin brother to transfer into his brother's unit. I did so and signed into the 33rd Trans on 1 Jan 1961."

Don and Dick Olsen in high
school in the very early 50's
(Photo courtesy Don Olsen)
The two "Oles" in 1957 as varsity wrestlers
for the University of Wisconsin(57)
(Photo Courtesy Dick Olsen)
Don and Dick Olsen getting ready for some steaks being
cooked by Tommy Cruz at the Thunderbird Lounge.(62)
(Photo courtesy John Ness)

Don Olsen(L flower shirt) and Dick Olsen(R)flower shirt) at VHPA
Las Vegas Reunion 2002.
Flanked on left by Bob Brandt and Fred "Fox Peter" Cullen on right.
(Photo courtesy Dick Olsen)


Both Olsen brothers served a full tour with the 33rd Transportation Company flying H-21's and returned to the U.S. to pursue civilian careers. Don lives in Silicon Valley, CA and works in sales, while Dick lives in GA where he is an artist and retired Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of Georgia.

If you know of other cases where brothers served in the 33rd Trans. Co. or the 118th as Thunderbirds concurrently or at different times, contact the Webmaster with the details.



Table of Contents

Thunderbirds Train VNAF Pilots

Throughout most of the Vietnam War, American helicopter pilots and instructors were involved in training and transitioning the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) helicopter pilots so they could join their own country's Air Force in the War effort. Early on, most of the VNAF pilots were trained in small numbers in the U.S. by adding one to six to the flight school classes at Ft. Wolters, TX and Ft. Rucker, AL. Then when they returned to their country they received transition training in the CH-34 flown exclusively by the U.S. Marine Corps because that was the helicopter flown by the VNAF helicopter Squadrons. There seems to be no evidence that they were trained in the CH-21's.

Later, as the War effort escalated(1968-1973), much larger numbers of VNAF pilots were taught English and then sent to the U.S. for full and complete training from 0 hours through 200. By 1970 complete class sections at Ft. Wolters, TX were all Vietnamese.

Personal Remembrance of Tom Payne

 "I was a Flight Commander for C-10 flight at Downing Heliport at Ft. Wolters in very early 1970(Jan-Feb). My flight, C-10 was selected to train the SECOND all Vietnamese(VNAF) flight class. C-12 had begun to train FIRST all Vietnamese flight class only a couple weeks earlier ."

"The second class had 35 Vietnamese students. They had received English language training and some classroom instruction on flying and in particular flying in the TH-55, manufactured by Hughes. This had taken place before they arrived for their flight training. Most of the students could understand and read English, barely! Many had a more difficult time of speaking English. No doubt the English training emphasized the written English more than the spoken. This "handicap" would play a big part in getting them soloed because their standard reply to an instructor when asked if they understood instructions was, 'Yes, Sir!' It never seemed to be 'No, Sir!' They didn't understand English nor could they speak it sufficiently to be able to verbalize their questions. All to them were highly motivated and probably 'scared as hell!' "

"The instructor pilots assigned to C-10 were almost all U.S. CW2's. A couple were not that experienced as IP's. All however, had all flown a tour in Vietnam. To deepen the IP experience of C-10, the C Division Commander, COL Thaxton, infused about 6-7 Southern Airways IP's in C-10. These men each had several years of experience instructing students and much more experience in Primary techniques and training.(first 50 hours)."

"The English language was the biggest obstacle for the VNAF students. Mechanically, they seemed to understand the systems and were able to manipulate the controls of the TH-55. But, understanding instructions from their IP was the problem. Many would become confused and panic stricken if something didn't go right. Most of them had difficulty with orientation while in the air or in the traffic pattern at the stage field. To help with this, we devised continues classes when not in the cockpit. For instance, when I was in the tower at the stage field, I would bring from 2-4 VNAF students to instruct. I would teach and quiz them about where each helicopter was, ie. final approach, base leg, downwind leg. In addition, they had to identify lane numbers, pad numbers, take-off pad, etc. This drill was also repeated and re-repeated in the stage field "house" on a chalk board by some of the IPs. It seemed, if we could keep them oriented to and from the stage field from Downing, and while in the flight pattern at the stage field, the less excited and less likely to panic they would be when they soloed! It worked!"

"Our techniques seemed to work because we soloed 32 of the 35 students. It was a wild ride, too, because the last 8-10 students were marginally capable of soloing. As flight commander, I had to ride with most of them and make THE decision. I would wait until EVERY other TH-55 had departed the stage field for Downing and then ride around the pattern with the student once or twice to help make the decision. I may have ridden with the student before when an IP would wanted someone else to check him out. The fire truck would remain as well as someone in the tower(usually his IP). If I thought he was able to solo after a couple times around the pattern, I would sit him down on the take-off pad, on lane 1 or 2, and get out. His IP would be in the tower and establish radio contact. I would then unplug my helmet and head for the tower. The IP would talk him to a hover and off he would go! It was sometimes very scary for us all."

"Those last students to solo were often approaching 25+ hours of instruction, I think. They had to solo by 25 hours or be washed out and return to Vietnam. They had a lot of pressure on them and their pride and "face" was on the line. Of the 35 students in that second all Vietnamese class, 32 soloed. Of the three who did not....two tried to commit suicide in their barracks. They just were not willing to go back to Vietnam marked as a 'failure'."

By 1970 the 118th became heavily involved in training the VNAF pilots in the UH-1H. The plans were already to turn all helicopters over to the VNAF Squadrons through the "Vietnamization Program." Most of the U.S. assault helicopter units were involved in this program and often had a number of VNAF pilots assigned to the unit. Bill Hirtle, a 118th CWO who received a direct commission to 1LT, spent 2 years in the 118th and other units within the 145th CAB. Upon his return from the U.S. for his "extension" he spend considerable time working with VNAF pilots.


MAJ Lac, VNAF pilot, assigned to the 118th in 1969 for
transition and experience training.(69)
(Photo courtesy Bill Hirtle)
(Note-If you flew with any VNAF pilots while in the 118th
and have a story or photo of them and would like to
have it included here, please contact the Webmaster)

Below are some photos Bill Hirtle took in late 1969 of an accident involving two VNAF pilots assigned to the 118th. According to Bill Hirtle, the two VNAF pilots were cranking up to go on a training mission--no crews on board--they would have been U.S. Both VNAF pilots used the standard VNAF request for hover, "This VNAF 12345, I go now!" They both picked up from adjoining revetments at the same time and the main rotor of one struck the tail boom of the other. Both aircraft beat themselves to death right there on the 118th flight line in very close proximity to the Maintenance Hanger. Both pilots were killed. The rotor blade of the second aircraft came right through the cockpit! It was a mess. No U.S. were killed in the incident.







Table of Contents


Note: "1ATF" (center of map) on Route 2 below the number 2
and north of Hoa Long. This was Nui Dat where the
"Aussie" HQ was located.

The 1st Australian Task Force arrived in Vietnam in early 1966. Initially HQ, 1 ATF was located at Bien Hoa at the Bien Hoa Airbase. In late '66 the entire unit was located at Nui Dat(Hill Dat) in Phuoc Tuy Province where it remained until Dec 71. Their AO was Vung Tau north to about Xuan Loc and either side of Route 2. Phuoc Tuy was a province very active with Viet Cong for years(Note the Ben Gia Campaign). The 274th and 275th NLF Regiments and D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion , a local force with strong links to the population, made up the Viet Cong. They apparently used the area to hide and train for intermittent harrasment and attacks on Bien Hoa, Saigon and the Xuan Loc area as well as along Route 2 and Route 15 to Bien Hoa and Saigon.

The Aussie AO was about 50 square miles in physical size and the Aussies were relentless in their search and destroy activities throughout the area against the Viet Cong. The Aussie Task Force HQ was near Route 2 and the name of its airfield was Luscombe. Their HQ was situated within a rubber plantation which afforded a much cooler location for the troops and support personel. Locating within the rubber plantation made great sense. Too bad the US combat units didn't do the same.

Often the Thunderbirds, along with other assault helicopter companies of the 145th CAB, were privileged to work for the Aussies on combat assaults and combat support. It was a mission all crews looked forward to with relish. The Bandits drew many missions and on a more frequent basis. Working for the Aussies was a joy because not only did they have good missions with top-notch briefings, but they treated the crews to great food, refreshments and recreation in their clubs after a meal.



The walking path from the heli-pad to the
Aussie Task Force HQ for briefings.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)


Troop tents of the Aussie Task
Force HQ and base camp.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)

Upon arrival at the Task Force HQ, the pilots walked a path through the dense shade of the rubber trees to the TOC. There they were treated to refreshments and a detailed briefing of all that was going on within the AO. The briefing always ended with the briefing officer pointing out, and having the pilots mark off one (1) grid square on their maps, what was a NO FIRE ZONE. Anywhere else was free fire after giving the TOC a radio call with the locations! If you took fire or saw anything suspicious you were free to engage first and ask questions later, usually. Needless to say, the AO was quite "pacified"!

Now, you may ask, why did the Aussies declare one (1) grid square to be a NO FIRE ZONE?? Well the reason was a LRRP team was somewhere within that forbidden grid square!


The Task Force permanent mess hall
beside the main street.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)


The Task Force main street looking
the other way.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)

Table of Contents


The Aussie Who Stole the

Bandit Flag!

Many strange things took place in Vietnam. And, many have been forgotten or lost in the decades since. However, this story of one Aussie who did a "dirty deed" has not been forgotten! At least, not by him! Now, after all the years, he has decided to confess and make things right! Meet Peter Seaward.



My name is Peter Seaward and I served as a Sgt. in the Australian Army at Bien Hoa in 1965/66. I was an Electronics Technician at the 1st Australian Logistic Support Company, supporting the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment attached to the (U.S.) 173rd Airborne.

While on R&R in Bangkok, a couple of us Aussies became friends with a Ron Madsen, who was a WO pilot with the 118th. As a result of this friendship with Ron, we spent a few very enjoyable evenings in the Thunderbird Lounge, usually “writing ourselves off” with much enthusiasm and great fellowship. Sometimes I got the feeling that we may have stretched the friendships just a little with our loud and crazy ways, but nobody ever suggested that we were not welcome, or that they didn’t enjoy our company.

In about May 66, we (the Aussies) left Bien Hoa to join up with a new Australian Task Force that was being deployed in Phuoc Tuy Province, and as my memory serves me somewhere about that time we had one of our drinkin’, singin’, dancin’, tomfoolery type evenings at the 118th. As we were leaving, after this celebration, I’m afraid we yielded to temptation, and stole the brand new flag of the 118th Bandits being displayed proudly that evening. It has been in my possession ever since. (photo above)

The Iraq war, and the fact that our SAS troops, Airforce and Navy are serving once again with the U.S. Forces got me to thinking about Vietnam and chuckling to myself thinking about a whole new bunch of Aussies coming home with “ souvenirs” stolen some night from their U.S. friends . We can’t help it you see, it’s part of our makeup, probably a throwback to the establishment of our country way back in 1788 as a British convict settlement.

So a couple of evenings ago I decided to punch 118th Bandits into my Internet search engine to see what happened, and up you guys came!

As I think 38 years lost in the “wilds” of Australia is enough for any flag, and as I’m now 63 and worried that this flag needs to be treated with ongoing respect in the future. As (hopefully) somebody is still wondering “what the hell ever happened to that flag?”, and as an act of respect for the 118th, the mateship we experienced in the Thunderbird Lounge” and in particular the friendship shown us by Ron Madsen, it would give me a great deal of pleasure to return the flag.

Regards…… Peter


Photos documenting the set-up before the "dirty deed"!!

A photo taken in the Thunderbird Lounge the night of the heist of the Bandit flag.
L to R: Ron Madsen, Bryan Nicholls, Sid Cheeseman, John"Jack" Clark(118th),
Limey(Decca Tech-Rep) and Gordon Keown(NZ Kiwi). Peter Seaward asks the question,
"When you look at the poofie drinks we were drinking(What the hell were they?)
no wonder we lost it that night and resorted to thievery!"
(Photo courtesy Peter Seaward)
A gift Zippo lighter being presented to Ron Madsen by Peter Seaward
and Bryan Nicholls the night of the "heist" in the Thunderbird Lounge.(66)
(Photo courtesy Peter Seaward)
Photo showing the Bandit flag on the wall at the Aussie
unit's mess hall while still in Bien Hoa.(66)
L to R: Bryan Nicholls and Sid Cheeseman.
(Photo courtesy Peter Seaward)

Table of Contents

VFW Post Honors

Thunderbird "Slick"

After many months of preparation, VFW Post 3006 dedicated helicopter 66-16236 as it sat proudly on a cement pad beside their building at Salisbury, NC. 66-16236 served in the 118th Assault Helicopter Company from 4/67 until 11/68.

As can been seen from the photos below, the aircraft was in fairly "rough" condition when VFW Post 3006 received it in 2001. Several industrious members of the VFW Post scrounged paint to completely repaint the aircraft and then applied the decals and colors to accurately reflect how the aircraft looked when it was flying in the 118th in Vietnam. I think you will agree, they did a wonderful job.

Preparation Photos






(Photos courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


Dedication Day

The ceremonies took place Saturday, November 9th, 2002 (Veteran's Day weekend). Many local dignitaries, veterans and local government officials attended the dedication ceremony activities. A social time with food, drink and enjoyable activities preceeded the dedication ceremony which begin at 3:00 PM. VFW Post 3006 is located at 1200 Brenner Ave., Salisbury, NC. (across the street toward the railroad crossing from the Salisbury VA Medical Center and National Cemetery extension).

According CW4 Robert L. "Bob" D'Agostino; "When Gary Foster of the VFW Post 3006 contacted me we talked about the aircraft, I told him that the aircraft was the last of the replacements following the LZ Gold events of 19 Mar 1967. This aircraft was also designated as Thunderbird 6's aircraft and was assigned to the 2nd Platoon(Choppers). I told him it was the aircraft used to transport "Miss America" from a base camp north of Bien Hoa to Cu Chi were she joined the Bob Hope Show around Christmas 1967. The reason I know this is because MAJ. Hostler, Thunderbird 6, had assigned the mission to me and possibly Charlie Prather. We were sitting in the Thunderbird Lounge at the Cong Ly Villa, enjoying a glass of "milk", when MAJ Hostler came in saying BN had assigned the 118th a mission. He asked for volunteers to fly the mission. Charlie and I stepped up and volunteered!"

Honored guests attending the Salisbury, NC ceremony were four (4) former 118th Thunderbirds. Attending were Brian Wizard(68-69), Harold "Red" Sparling (63-64), Harvey Stauber (69) and CW4 Robert L. "Bob" D'Agostino, Ret.(66-67). The members of the VFW Post were very pleased with so many former Thunderbirds in attendance. Everyone reported it a very nice time well worth attending.


Crowd present at the ceremonies dedicating "Blue 6".
(Photos courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


CW4 Bob D'Agostino, Ret. receiving plaque from Gunney Sgt Gary Foster, Ret.
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


CW4 Bob D'Agostino, Ret. checking
ole Blue 6.
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


Brian Wizard, former 118th Thunderbird,
once again sitting in the "well" just like
he did 35 years ago!
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


Pretty good Thunderbird!
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)

Note the white and red stripes on roof.
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


A very good job on the "Chopper" shield.
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


Handsome profile of Blue 6.
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)


Tail boom and tail emblems very well done.
(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)

(Photo courtesy Doc Hoffineister)
Table of Contents


and the

"Brown Water Navy"


The U.S. Navy had a large presence off the coast of North and South Vietnam on the high seas. They were also present on the major rivers and tributaries from the DMZ to the tip of Cau Mau Peninsula. The "inland" Navy units, or Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), were typically called the "Brown Water Navy" to distinguish them from the conventional "Blue Water Navy". The Riverine forces fought mainly throughout the dirty waters that constituted the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta from 1967 to 1972.

MRF units were usually small and very mobile. The used predominately "jet" boats, barges and speedy patrol boats as fast hitting river cavalry. The 118th AHC Thunderbirds were often tasked to support the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) units, with Command and Control, Gun ships or supply and resupply missions. Such missions put to good use some of the flight school techniques and training rarely used in the flat terrain of III and IV Corps.

The first PBR patrols in South Vietnam commenced April 10, 1966, following the establishment of River Squadron Five, the administrative command for the boats. The operational command, the River Patrol Force (CTF-116), had previously been established and was headed by Rear Admiral N. G. Ward who also served as Commander Naval Forces Vietnam. The mission of the boats, called "Operation Game Warden", was to patrol the rivers, estuaries and canals of South Vietnam to interdict the movement of Communist supplies and personnel and to keep innocent traffic on these waterways safe.


118th Thunderbird "Blue 2" atop a resupply barge of
Task Force 116 somewhere in IV Corps.(69)
(The number on the stern says TF 112, but there was no 112th)
(Photo courtesy Bob Rich)


HQ and Home of River Division 553 of TF 116.
The 553rd was located at Nha Be, Chau Doc, Kieug Giaug,
Rach Gia & Ha Tien(69)
(Photo courtesy Bob Rich)
PBR or "Jet" boats at HQ, 553rd. (69)
(Photo courtesy Bob Rich)

Sequence of three photos above showing "Blue 2" from left to right
sitting on the re-supply barge. Note the Navy Captain insignia on Blue 2.
Apparently the mission was to fly around a Navy Captain for the day.(69)
(Photos courtesy Bob Rich)

Another shot of Blue 2 sitting on the helipad of the barge.(69)
(Photo courtesy Bob Rich)


Table of Contents



24 Aug 1965

Night time mortar and rocket attacks on the Bien Hoa Air base by the Viet Cong were fairly common. From the beginning, the 33rd Transportation Company, and later the 118th, tried to guard against damage to their aircraft from the attacks by revetments for the helicopters that were dispersed 50-75 feet apart. However, in those early years, the revetments were not very large and some considered them inadequate. So, an S.O.P was put in effect that pilots would be alerted to rush to the flight line and get the aircraft in the air!

When the pilots of the 118th Aviation Company moved from the SEA huts located on the Bien Hoa Air base to the "new" Cong Ly Street Villa, getting to the flight line at night and in a hurry was not an option. The aircraft had to just "ride-out" the attack sitting in their revetments.

The photos below are testimony to what happened to two UH-1B aircraft when two Thunderbird Crew-Chiefs attempted to "fly" their aircraft during an early morning attack on 24 Aug 1965. One aircraft never left Bien Hoa or the "Bird Cage"(on left). The other aircraft was actually flown by the Crew Chief to Saigon and Tan Son Nhut!! However, it crashed on the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut!


 (Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)


Red Thunderbird 6 aircraft following an
attempt to fly during an early morning
mortar/rocket attack 24 Aug 1965.(65)
(Photo courtesy Everett Runnells
by way of Frank Amisano)


(Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)


(Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)


UH-1B, 62-04583, heavily damaged by a Crew Chief attempting to fly the aircraft during Aug 24th early morning VC mortar attack on Bien Hoa airfield. 583 was flown by the Company Commander of the 118th as "Thunderbird 6". The aircraft was later repaired as seen in photo below.
"Thunderbird 6" after being repaired following Aug 24, 1965
mortar attack on Bien Hoa. Note the white eagle on nose being red.
Not sure the significance of that.(65)
(Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)

Table of Contents