Diary of Oramel E. Hall


My time with HMM-362, was April-67 ~ Sept-67, Dec.-67 ~Feb-68. 

 April, 67-

           My first flight assignment was as gunner on YL-42 with Cpl. Cush as Crew Chief. Somehow YL-42 and YL-37 both had a painting of the "finger" on their oil cooler armor plating, done by “the phantom,” One pilot commented, "no wonder we were shot at so often."

The types of missions flown were day and night med-evacs, resupply, troop movements in I Corps for the personnel there as well as for the CAPs (Civic Action Platoons) sometimes taking the Vietnamese women to the hospital for their babies to be born. The entire family might go along.

            We also worked a lot with the ROK's down near Chu Lai. Whenever we went into their landing zone, they’d be doing their marital art stuff but would stop when we landed to load us up. They’d always turn it into a strength contest. Who could carry the most?  I have a picture of one carrying 12 C-Ration boxes, damn near hit the rotor blades. 

May, 67 –

More of the same type missions, but night med-evacs increased.   One day, while refueling at KY-HA the driveshaft between the intermediate and tail rotor gearbox broke.  It was pretty scary for a minute. I was just hoping that it wouldn't start spinning like a top out of control.


            Late in May or early June, we YL-42 was chase bird with Lt. Mike Readick being the pilot. Maj.Wright was lead pilot. The grunt radio operator said not to return gunfire because they were involved in some hand-to-hand action on the ground surrounding the landing zone. Just as Maj. Wright landed, a round hit right in front of his chopper, which immediately burst into flames. When he saw the arty burst Lt. Readick autorotated to the deck. That was one fast auto!  He put 42 right next to the ashes of their chopper.  It sure burned quick. We loaded Maj.Wright, the co-pilot whose name I forget, Cpl Whippo and Cpl Buitron into our bird.


Lt. Readick tried to take off but it wasn't going to happen.  The manifold got hit with small arms fire and we lost pressure. We threw everything out not tied down to lighten the load, but still no go. Cush and I got off.  Still no lift off.  Then Whippo and Buitron get out. By now, Capt. Curt Ryan is there with the relief chopper. Whippo is limping and I go assist him over to that bird.  In the meantime, while I am helping him, YL-42 does a lot bouncing to get lift, and is able to fly away without us.   It’s a strange sight to see your ride leave without you- - - in the middle of a hot zone.  

We were taken to an aid station with Whippo and Buitron so they could be checked by medical. Cpl Whippo had a bruised leg and Cpl Buitron had some other bruises. I don't recall any other serious injuries to them. A motor transport jeep was going to Chu-Lai, and would take Cush and me if we wanted to go along. I went. Cush stayed with Whippo and Buitron. When we got to Chu Lai, we found that YL-42’s engine had frozen when landing at the hospital. By the time I got there, they had already changed the engine and were finishing of the installation. 

                 While Cush was on R&R, I was made acting crew chief of YL-42. A short time after Cush returned, I was assigned as the regular crew chief of YL-42 and Daniels was my gunner except for a couple of weeks when Sgt. Mikel, the paymaster flew.

June, 67 – While doing a water resupply for the ROKs, we loaded what the pilot said to load.  It was too much and now we had another no lift. He told us not to lighten the load, so here we go bouncing again, with water splashing everywhere, but out of the chopper.  It was one wet cargo area. And then trouble struck. As we lifted, the left strut separated and was hanging below us. Now we were told to throw the water cans out. On the flight back to Ky Ha, we called in for the crash crew to be there. Willie and the maintenance crew did well on such short notice to have a make shift pad to support the chopper if needed. They were able to slide the separated strut back together. A quick recharge of the strut and we were back in business again. 

                Around May or June there was some racial tension with groups confronting other groups when leaving the club. The Base C.O. ordered all weapons to the armories. The only exceptions were for flight crews, and our reaction/guard force.  One night one of the supply ship got mortared, while in dock at Ky-Ha. Another time, this tinsmith came to me and asked for directions to medical. While drilling out the screws to replace a rotor blade end cap he had drilled into his thigh. I pointed him in the right direction and he walked over to medical.  I wonder if he got a medal?

                Also in June, we had a mission to deliver fire-fighting equipment to an airstrip. A cargo plane carrying ammo had caught fire on landing. When we arrived with the fire-fighting equipment, the ammo inside had started cooking off. The plane was lost.

Another day while lifting off at Ky-Ha, I had just finished loading the M-60. Raising my arm, the sleeve of my flight suit lifted the barrel quick release lever. The barrel fell into the South China Sea and we had to return to base for a replacement barrel.  

                During the med-evac missions, the helicopter going in would autorotate down, getting out of the sky faster that way. In the daytime you're still a good target. At nighttime, with a clear sky, the autos weren’t too bad. With an overcast sky, all night med-evac missions were scary with or without enemy gunfire.  During daylight, if the med-evacs were near a river or tree line, we would do terrain flying. Aviating at 90 knots, 10 feet off the ground following a winding river is exciting and scary.

                On one mission we took a priest and hot chow to the mountains so the troops could have services and a hot meal for a change. Another mission had a senator, Gen. Walt, and a Colt firearms representative.  They came to talk with the Marines about the M-16 problems encountered in the Hill fights in May. The base had a big feed going on that day with grilled steaks and all the trimmings.

                During June there were a lot of 2nd Lieutenants and senior Staff NCOs who would fly as my gunner in the crew chiefs seat.  I don’t know if we were short of snuffies or if these guys just wanted to get their wings. 

                On June 29 we landed on the Okinawa and there was a terrible smell was in the air.  The pilot, Captain Ryan, told me to check the transmission area. All the time, I’m thinking that if anything is found burning, it’s into the drink with old YL 42. Nothing was found so she was chained down and shut down. I never was able to find the source for that awful smell.   Later, there was an award presentation on the flight deck before sunset.

On the next day there were day and night carrier qualls.  The pilots were judged on landing and takeoffs. When we landed, the maintenance crews practiced folding our blades as soon as we were on the deck and then pushing us into our assigned parking space. Then they would reverse everything and push us to the launch spot and unfold us and off we would go again.

July, 67

July began with the sound of general quarters, Operation Buffalo was starting. A Marine unit had been caught in the DMZ.  There were a lot of causalities. We were flying both troops and resupply. YL-42 had some battle damage. The steps had broken from their mounts and tore the skin. The exhaust cluster was cracked too. After de-fueling we took her to the hangar deck. I worked with the metal shop on repairs.  

                On another night, a couple of grunts had been on the flight deck by the tower, reading a book.  Going down the ladder way, one fell overboard. His buddy notified the people in the Tower Island. They sounded the alarm for muster on the hanger deck.  Before everyone was there, he had been picked up and was back on the ship.

                On one mission, we took a bullet in a rotor blade. This provided a whole new experience; blade tracking on the flight deck while the ship was steaming.                 

                On a test flight, the pilot offered to let me take the controls. As soon as I did, I was all over the sky. He told me not to make sudden moves and try to be smooth. I settled down doing what he asked me to do.  First a right turn, then a left turn, descend and hover, climb to a certain altitude and level off. I did the best I could and then the sky was mine for a few minutes. On the way back to the ship the pilot told me to make the landing. He radioed in for a landing spot. Behind the island there were two spots. The one at the very end of the flight deck was taken but there was an empty spot between it and the island. That was where I was supposed to land. With his verbal instruction, I did it. I am sure that he had partial control. Too bad I can't remember his name. 

                Jeff Crouse did his thing on the 25th. Earlier on the day it happened, I spotted him on flight deck in a helo doing the revolver-spinning thing. We had an argument about this particular activity. He left the flight deck. This was the second time we had the same discussion.  The first time was in February 67 back in the H&MS-36hanger at Ky Ha.

Someone saw a missile launch into the night skies one night while they sat on the flight deck in late July.

                Caution; While flying support for Hill 55, we gave some Vietnamese kids some C-rations. The next day another squadron did the support. We returned the day after. The gate sentry came over to me to tell me that the kids that were given the food had thrown a grenade at the chopper when it was taking off.  The crew returned fire killing the 3 children. Their grandfather had seen what was going on when I gave them the food. He told them what to do the next day. That was his confession after being captured.

                The Okinawa lost a generator and the elevators were on limited use. Then the other generator started acting up. The emergency generator became the main source. This didn’t seem like a great situation.               

                The infantry is put into an operation called Cochise before the ship goes to the Philippines for repairs. 

August, 67

HMM-362 offloads at KY-HA.  I stayed at the club pretty late. Around 3AM there’s a red alert; everyone to the flight line. I'm with the XO Maj. Flannigan and a new pilot, Ben Casio. There’s a 16-bird launch. Maybe 2 people are sober. We take off while it’s still dark and refuel at Phu Bai. Our job is to pick up troops for an insert. It was dark when we got back to base. Amazingly there was no damage done to any of the A/C.  

                On a mission to Quang Ngai, we had some free time go into town.  When we turned onto the main street there was no one to be seen. It’s late morning, so we walk to the other end of town. When we get to the Town Square, which had a masonry wall around it here was this guy in green wearing a pith helmet waving a large flag with a big star in middle of it up on the stage. The square was packed with people. There were some who had blankets spread out that were covered with weapons and C-rations, 782 gear; supplies you would see in the field.  The guy on stage sees us and points at us. We back away, and walk back up the street.   One of the guys had to see if his girl was in so we waited outside. At the square entrance there are 3 or 4 of these unfriendlies standing out in the street looking our way. We are about 200 ft apart from them, just standing there, looking at each other. Buddy rejoins the group and we get back to the flight line.  We tell the pilots what we saw.  They fired up the choppers and we quickly fly over the square. There was not a soul to be seen. Where could a couple of hundred people have gone so quickly?

                 We were on a night med-evac to pick up someone with a sudden reaction to penicillin.  We followed the directions of the radio operator but just couldn't locate them. The pilots said that the area we went to was not an area of operations for our troops.

                Caution;  On another night med-evac for the ROK's ”One-shot Charlie” kept us out of the landing zone. The next afternoon the same pilots and crew were working with the same ROK unit. The radio operator and pilot recognized each other’s voice. Our HAC, asking about the med-evac was told that he had died.   We were also told that “One-shot Charlie” was captured. Our pilot requested that he be put aboard our chopper. The radio operator said, “ look at this,” and pulled the sniper’s head out of the bag.

                We went back onto the ship for two weeks.

September, 67

We off-loaded at Phu-Bai. All of the 46's were grounded because of tail rotor failure.  Many extra flights were required of us 34 squadrons.  Pilots from the 46 squadrons helped out on the flights.  There was lots of flying including plenty of recon missions, photo, and team inserts. We also carried several snipers to put on hilltops or down in the valleys.

                We had a change of command, Lt.Col. Kapetan departed and, Lt.Col. Cline took over.

                Rules of engagement were established.  Returning gunfire was only by order of the pilot or co-pilot, under threat of court martial.    While on a recon insert, I believe Capt. Nederhouse was the pilot, we received a call for an emergency med-evac of another recon team, which had been trapped, two emergencies, one urgent. We get there as soon as we could after refueling and getting the basket for a hoist pick up. As usual, there was no gunfire going in. Once in a hover, though and we get the basket started down, all hell breaks loose. My gunner, Cpl. Phil Jackson, got hit four times. The back of his bullet bouncer was hit.  The front bullet bouncer was hit.  The steel plate under his seat was hit. The brush knife on the survival pack was hit then knocked into his foot. Phil also received shrapnel inside his upper arm. As for me, as soon as the basket starts down I get hit in the right elbow, which gives me a bit of a quick twist and knocks me backward into the bulkhead into a standing position. I do a quick check on Jackson and grab the first aid pack from the rear bulkhead, return to doorway to make the pick up. We could tell by the noise that plenty of bullets were flying by.  Our two gunships were firing all of their guns and rockets. I was having trouble using my hand pulling in the med-evac. Phil pulls the med-evac into the chopper.  The pilots got us back to base. The med-evac is alert but hit 5 times, neck, chest, arms, and legs. I don’t know if he was hit while being hoisted. At the hospital, the pilot tells the two of us to go in and get checked out.  Maj. Evans comes to hospital to talk with us about what was going on.  I told him more support was needed.

While they were working on me, I was watching them operate on the three medevacs we and our wingman had eventually picked up.  One of them died while they worked on him.  After surgery I’m wheeled into a squad bay.  There are two MP's standing at the foot of a bed that has a Vietnamese in it who’s missing one leg below the knee. Across from him and a couple of beds away is another Vietnamese missing both legs below the knees. This is great, recovering from wounds with the enemy, and MP's.  My bed is across from the MP’s. They tell me they have to watch the guy with one leg because he is a Kit Carson Scout, and has gotten out of bed several times to try and kill the other Vietnamese who just happened to be a VC.

                The next day, I’m sent to DaNang.  That afternoon, I’m put on a plane to Clark AFB in Manila. I get operated on for the second time a day later.  A day after recovery, I met Gen. Westmoreland's wife, doing Red Cross duty. An army S/Sgt. in the room with me was from Hawaii and had property next to the Westmoreland's.

                A couple of days later I was sent to Guam for recovery and rehab of my right elbow. Around Thanksgiving I got released from the hospital and was sent to Camp Hanson, Okinawa for 30 days of convalescent time. I was given a job assignment as a duty NCO for the transit unit. It wasn’t a bad deal, 24 hrs on and 48 hrs off.

                I met Cpl Swenson on his way home for 30 days after extending for 6 months.  He gave me the bad news that YL-42 was missing with Capt. Darrow, Lt. Kisucky, Cpl. Bird and Cpl. Hays. What a let down that was. Later I ran into Capt. Travis. He told me that Capt. Nederhouse was looking for me, but we never met up.  During all of this time I had no pay record with me. I was given $40 a month while my records were being tracked down. At Dispersing, the officer in charge made one up for me.  I collected a few hundred and had a party in town for a few days. 

 December, 67

            On the 22nd, I received orders to return to RVN.  My rotation was to be in Feb. 1968, to complete my 13-month tour. I arrived back in country a few days after Christmas. Back at MAG 36 again, Major Tom Hewes asked me which squadron I would like to be with. Naturally I chose to go back to 362. After settling in I found Phil Jackson, who was getting ready to rotate out and go home. I was assigned to the maintenance hanger to work on the helos.

                Maj. Bob Cramer was trying to get me back into flight status. I was approved to fly before taking a flight physical and scheduled for a night med-evac.  That afternoon Maj. Cramer came to me and said the flight surgeon said no to flight status. He would allow test hops though, but only around the base, no test and go's at all. That was okay by me. Later that night, Maj. Cramer and Capt. Colburn crashed and were killed on med-evac.

January, 68

I got a lot of test hops until my flight status was restored on Jan. 15.   I was sent to Khe Sahn for a few days. 362 had several helicopters down that needed to be hauled out of there. I took a crew up there to do the prep for lifting them out.  As it was, the downed choppers made good targets for the incoming rounds. I remember watching Sgt. Tony Troop attaching the sling. As soon as it caught, he went sliding off the front of the 34 As soon as his feet hit the ground, the 53 lifted out with the 34.

                 We did a few med-evacs off the side of mountains, and supply drops. One funny thing happened in the hut we slept in.  One particular night one of the crew zipped the mummy bag most of way up. During the night we had incoming. Everyone was up and running to the bunker except the one in the mummy bag. He hopped all the way to the bunker and still couldn't unzip the sleeping bag. On another day, while refueling, a jet dropped WP near the runway. My gunner had my movie camera taking the movie of that drop. 

We got back to Phu-Bai. By now I was looking forward to being told when my departure date was. The Tet offensive began On the Jan. 31st of January.

February, 68

                My last mission was to fly around Hue with an army General for a look-see, then take him to DaNang. When we returned to baseI was told I would be leaving for DaNang to go home on the 3rd.

                While we were in DaNang, we visited with Lt.Col. Kapetan and Sgt. Maj. Pemberton. We were put up in the 1st MAW barracks for a couple of days. Checked out a basketball from special services and played some b'ball.    We reported to the air terminal to get on the manifest for going home and got out on a nighttime flight on the 5th .

                      Oramel E Hall

Editors Note:This story was originally published as  Special Edition #3a in July 2001 and again in The UAMF History Newsletter, Vol. 2, No.1.

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