I had enlisted for career choice and that was Army aviation. My eyes were too bad to qualify for flight training, but my recruiter promised that I could qualify as a crew member and still fly. I graduated high school on June 11 and left for basic training on June 14 at age 18.
Basic was at Fort Knox and then advanced training at Fort Rucker, Army Aviation School. The war was really heating up then, with the 173rd Airborne already there and the 1st Cavalry Division enroute.
Fort Rucker was frantic in training activities. Everyone knew they were going to Nam; and most were eager, just as I was. I was heartbroken when I graduated in December and received orders for Korea.
Once there, I began a fruitless attempt to transfer to Viet Nam. Finally, I accepted a "short" discharge in June of 1966 and an immediate re-enlistment for Choice of Station. I arrived in Viet Nam on July 4, 1966.
Once again, I was frustrated in my desire to fly in combat. A kindly old Sergeant Major of the 11th Combat Aviation Battalion decided that I appeared too young for a crew assignment and assigned me as the Battalion message courier. I accepted his kindly attempts to protect me with ill-concealed disdain.
After learning that I could get choice of assignment if I extended, I immediately did so. So, after one month in country, I only had seventeen more to go. But I found a home.
I was assigned to the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company at Lai Khe in III Corps, fifty miles north of Saigon and assigned as a Crew Chief on a brand new aircraft, 982, in the Second Flight Platoon. The 173rd's call sign on the radio was "Robin Hood," and the Third Platoon Gunships were called "Crossbow."
After six months, I decided that hovering around in a Landing Zone on a lightly armed troop carrier while all of the rice propelled natives sharpened up their shooting skills was not for me. I then extended once again for choice of assignment and moved my gear over to the Crossbow Platoon. I flew on gunships for the rest of my tour, which ended September, 1968.
I was awarded the usual "I was there," plus the Bronze Star for Valor, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with 34 Oak Leaf Clusters including 3 "V" devices, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.
In September 1968, I had a premonition and decided to come home. I recently learned that my aircraft was destroyed four months later, and the entire crew killed.
I returned home; and after discharge in March of 1969, I became a Police Officer. That started an odyssey of five more Departments, a failed marriage, and an endless search for understanding of what I had experienced.
In 1987, I returned to active duty, assigned to the Army National Guard, where I am still employed today. I am presently a UH 60 Blackhawk Flight Platoon Sergeant with an Assault Helicopter Company.
I discovered the Internet about a year ago and started searching. I found the "Viet Nam Veteran's Home Page" first, and links there led me to HeliVets and the Viet Nam Helicopter Flight Crew Network. That's when I finally started coming out of my shell and when I began writing.
I had grown up in the far south suburbs of Chicago. My father, who had flown combat in World War II as a B-24 belly gunner, had spoken in generalities about the war. I was too young at the time to realize that he had many issues in his life; and now, three decades later, I realize that those same issues are present in mine.
I'm currently getting ready to retire again and writing as much as possible, looking for other former members of the 173rd AHC for their stories to include in my book about the "Robin Hoods." I'm writing the book as an oral history about the unit during its stay in Viet Nam between 1966-1972. I hope to publish a book about the seven years the "Robin Hoods" spent in Viet Nam.
One of my pilots once told me, in casual conversation, that "it was the best we ever were."
And he was right.
"Messing with Forward Air Controllers"
"The Sissies in Blue Bird One"
"Nha Be, The Mission In Which Dreams Were Made"
"Water and Ammo in, Bodies Out"
"First Night of the Tet Offensive, 31 Jan 68 --
Mike Hernandez and the Distinguished Flying Cross"