The Virgin

by Bill Newton


This story comes from Bill Newton, class of 67.  It might remind a lot of people what their first days were like.  After I had read this, I asked Bill if he knew who the pilots were.  He said, “no, but he was sure they remembered the flight” (and the cherry crew chief.)  They might also get some satisfaction in knowing that Bill next joined the army where they made him a captain. 

Dateline: USS Okinawa, Mid-June 1967

I was sitting in the door of my 34, YL 49, pretending to be invisible, when S/Sgt (Coffee Cup) Haines approached.  Oh shit, here it comes.  Haines said, "Newton, you've been in the squadron for awhile and flown some missions.  Do you think you can handle Crew Chief?"  I'd flown a couple dozen missions as gunner with Al Graber and Don Poindexter.  I'd passed my written NATOPS.  Yeah, sure, I was salty.  I wore my 38 down by my knee with all five rounds chambered (the only ammo I was ever able to secure for it).

"Yes, Sergeant Haines, I think I'm ready."  But I didn't understand the request coming from Coffee Cup since S/SGT Yarger is my section leader.  "This is only for this one mission, Newton," Haines replied.  "Are you ready?"  "Yes, Cof… Sergeant Haines." 

I preflighted YL thirty-something and signed the log book.  Soon after the pilots arrived, the bird was ready to go.

We lifted off the Oki Boat without incident.  This was somewhat unusual as I was shaking so badly that a test pilot would have downed the bird for a 4 per vibration.  Somehow in my fog of terror, I remembered to tell the pilot, "All set below."  My gunner was Robbie Robinson, a decent kid who had the mystical talent of chewing bubble gum while drinking beer.

Our 1st mission was a chow resupply to the Rockpile.  It went okay except I skulled a FNG with a case of C-rats that he was attempting to catch.  This guy was so new, I could smell mothballs from 30 feet above him.  Didn't even have his home state Mark-a-Lotted  on his flak jacket.  If I'd known his name, I would have written his mother a letter.

The second mission was a routine medevac from a field hospital.  Routine my ass!  This poor bastard was not much more than a living torso.  He was so bad, they sent a hospital corpsman with him to make sure we didn't dump him at sea.  I  finally came to the conclusion that war isn't fair.  Until this time, I'd made a study of KIA's.  Almost all of them wore wedding rings.  This poor bastard had no place to put one.

The third mission of the day was the real shaker of my newborn career as a crew chief.  Our "routine" medevac safely aboard the Sanctuary, we were off again.  This time to the heavy jungle canopy west of Quang Tri.  About 5 minutes from the PZ I learned that this was to be a hoist op.  No problemo.  I'd read my Natops and knew all the words.  Mark, steady, left, right, up, down, you're settling.  I scanned the unfamiliar bird for the remote hoist control and commo switch.  They were . . . Apart!  Everybody taped them together so that you could control the hoist, steady the cable and most importantly, talk to the pilot.

Three minutes to the PZ.  TOOLBOX!!!  Needless to say, I broke several nails prying open what I thought was a toolbox . . . Just ammo.  No electricians tape.  No strings.  No pliers.  No vice grips.  No blade tape.  No mamma, no papa, no Uncle Sam.  I'm screwed.

“Clip Clop 2-1.  2 minutes to zone.  Pop A Smoke.”  "Be advised the zone is hot!”  This mamma's baby boy is not ready for this yet.  From the pilot, "Gunner, the enemy will be to your front.  Stay on your gun."  Now that seems to be a reasonable order.  Little did the pilot know that his 18-year-old crew chief could not accomplish his mission without his gunner's help.  His scared-shitless crew chief was not about to tell him. 

Somehow through my stupidness, I remembered to start spooling out cable before we got to the zone.  That was pretty smart.  What was pretty dumb was that I spooled out about 30 feet too much.  This sounds like a pretty bad day, doesn't it? 

Approaching the PZ, it really didn't look too bad.  I knew we had a few pilots in the squadron that could widen this with their UH34D weed eaters.  Not this guy. 

"Newton, you ready on the hoist?"  "Roger," I said sheepishly.  This is going to be a bleeping disaster.  I dropped the sling (the jungle penatrator was somewhere safely aboard the Oki) with its extra 30 feet of cable.  I contemplated jumping to my death, but I knew I'd need another 30 feet of fall to do the job right. 

Up the cable came.  Do any of you have any idea of what slow is?  Well, here we go.  After what seemed like an hour, came the time to announce, "Mark."  Only, I forgot.  The plane started drifting right and the grunt staff sergeant who was being ‘evaced’ for what looked like severe poison ivy was about to add a few lines to his BDA.  I let go of the cable to tell the pilot to correct to the left and raise up.  When I let go, the cable started gyrating so violently that I was afraid we were going to pitch our medevac.   

The hand went back to the cable and the pilot remained uninformed.  After dragging the sergeant about 200 meters through jungle canopy and turning a routine medevac into a priority medevac, I noted the sergeant was still armed.  I also noted the pilots were still armed.  I also noted that since this began, I still had failed to communicate with either pilot. 

Five more feet, I can see the blood flowing caused by the collisions with the branches.  Should I jump now or get him inside the bird?  When I got the sergeant inside the plane and the sling off of him, he broke out in the most gigantic grin.  A grin that lives with me to this day.  He's not going to kill me!!!   

"Medevac aboard," I squeaked.  "Thanks for keeping me informed, Newton!" the pilot replied.  Never in the history of the Newton Family has the name been spit with such venom.

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


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