Death of a Air Cav Scout
West of Kin Long in the U-Minh Forrest
 
 

Hits through the Chin Bubble

Don: I was a civilian Photog attacted to the 214th CAB at Dong Tam and Vinh Long, Feb 69-Jun70. My interests were with Army Aviation. Many that I knew well didn't make it. This is a story about some of these....

 
Death Of A Air CAV Scout
 
  OH-6A s/n 68186 29 Oct. 1969  
  D Troop 3/5th Air Cav. Vinh Long, RVN  
  WO C.J. Wheeler APO 96352 SF  
  Spc 5 Jerry Greeno AO The U-Minh Forrest  
       
 

I met with WO R.T. Derosier to record information concerning three Battle Damage Surveys that he had either witnessed or had intimate knowledge of. The one that follows is about WO C.J. Wheeler and Spc. 5 Jerry Greeno, who had been called to glory a month before when their luck ran out. It was an unusual combat situation. In this case, W O Derosier had been flying Wheeler's wing.
      Both of these Warrant officers and their Spc. 5 observer-gunners were warriors of the highest order. They were all grown men in their late 20s', had wives and children back home. The mind set of a Air Cav Scout pilot is that they psyched themselves with positive self esteem. While they didn't perceive Chuck as a pushover, they knew that they were good and they were just young enough and cocky enough to think that they would always come out the winner. Both of these Warrants planned to make the Army their life and career. Their Observers' would have rode with them through the gates of Hell if they had been asked.
      However, those of us that have managed to live past the age of 40, tend to look at things a little differently. Maybe I should change that to read, most of us. By it's nature, flying Scouts is a risky business. These men were good at their jobs because they were a well-trained team. They had learned their art from the ground up (pun) from others who had made all the mistakes before them.
      These lessons were not in any book and had not been taught in flight school. The first Scout pilots in Vietnam had suffered heavy losses, because of this lack of knowledge and experience. The survivors wrote the book with the blood of their comrades. Flying skills, learning from the mistakes of others, always helps to give a Scout pilot a bit of a edge. A lot of the right kind of luck has a lot to do with survival. Luck can be compared to a cat with nine lives, luck can get used up after so many times.
      Flying the OH-6A `Cayuse' and going out to fight `Charlie' toe-to-toe was something that could really get your blood up. The Air Cav flight teams fed off of it, a high that was the next best thing to sex.

VR962/147, approx. 1800 hours, 29 Oct. 1969

WO C.J. Wheeler was flying Lead and WO R.T. Derosier was flying his Trail. The A.O. was Victor Romeo 962/147, west of Kin Long in the U-Minh Forrest. The terrain was covered in tall elephant grass in about a foot of water. The Air Cav Light Fire Team had been called out on a Contact mission. We had troops on the ground in heavy contact and the Fire-team would be their air support.
      The Fire team went in and started working some Nippa rows and they took heavy fire. They pulled off and let the Cobras roll in with rockets and mini-gun. The Scouts went back into the area and busily the same thing happened. The Lochs moved out again to let the Cobras have the target. But this time the Scouts moved off to the north over some taller elephant grass and were holding off there just flying around, more or less waiting for the Cobras to finish.
      While the Scouts were out there holding, Lead spotted some bad guys and started to work on them. What had happened was that this was the main bunch. The VC had left a few of their troops back to hold off our grunts while the main body was making their get-away into the tall grass. And Wheeler had found them.
      Both Scouts began working on this main group with their mini-guns along with the crew-chiefs firing their M-60s. They make their runs, break, then let the Cobras have at it. For some reason the VC weren't shooting at the Fire Team at first. While the Cobras made their run, the Scouts moved off to another place to hold and be dammed if they didn't find some more VC. It was the same story again; they got some kills, let the Cobras come in while the Cobras worked the second area. It seemed like every place that they would pick to hold would be right over a bunch of mad VC. There had been 30 or 40 of them in each group. Charlie had a major operation going here and they were not panicking; they were facing the mini-guns and rockets and fought back.
      These Air Cav OH-6A's were what I'd call well armed. They each carried a multi-barreled type MG in 7.62m/m cal. capable of firing 4,000 rounds per minute (They called it a mini-gun). The crew-chief had a butt-stocked M-60 machine gun which he used like a belt-fed automatic rifle. Not that the mini-gun was ever turned on for a full minute; the Loch couldn't have carried that much ammo. But it would put out some awesome bursts. The other ordnance aboard was the crew-chief's Frag-bag filled with goodies for Chuckie. Everything from CS smoke, Frag, Willie Pete, and their own answer to those almost indestructible Mud Bunkers, the Baby-Bombs. They were made up of a stick of TNT, a screw-in grenade fuse and 2 lbs. of C-4 taped around it.
      There were two bad things about the way the way that the 3rd of the 5th Air Cav. flew their Scouts.
      ONE; there wasn't anything in front except their pink body's that would stop a 7.62X39mm ChiCom `ball' or even a .22 LR bullet, for that matter. The armored seats were good but only worked if Charlie only fired as you were leaving. The crew's Chicken Plate vests helped a little, but there was a lot more of the Pilot and crew-chief hanging out than was under the vests. There was that ever lovin' Colt M1911-A1 .45 ACP pistol in the holster that the pilot would slide around and let hang between his legs over the family jewels.
      TWO; the Frag-Bag and those Baby-Bombs. A grenade fuse is much like a blasting cap, only with a timed fuse. You hit a blasting cap with a hammer and you'll blow the hammer away and likely your hand with it. So think of that odd angry 7.62 m/m bullet as the hammer and the grenade fuse as a blasting cap that is screwed into a 1 pound stick of TNT (TNT looks kind of like a square stick of plastic wrapped in thin cardboard, no armor, with metal ends). Added to the 1 lb block of TNT, the Loch observer taped either one or two 2.5 lb. blocks of C4 to complete the "Baby Bombs". The choice depended on the target.
      The Observer/crew-chief has these stacked all around him, on the floor in front of the observer's seat and on the console between the seats. These LOH Scouts are loaded. The crew-chief is ready to take on every Mud-Bunker in the U-Minh Forrest.
      While the Cobras were doing this last batch, the Lochs returned to the first area and started working on a bunker and Charlie was waiting. The automatic weapon fire was as intense as before. The Scout Lead called the Cobras back to this target and it got hit good again. This time the Scouts went back in and it was the same-o-same-o. The Scout Lead called the Cobras back to the target again.
      Now this may sound repetitious to some people, but let me assure you it was anything but boring. I'm writing this off a taped interview that I made almost 25 years ago and this is the way that Warrant Officer Derosier described the action.
      This time the Scouts went in taking heavy fire again. Lead made a good grenade/bombing run on the bunker. Greeno had dropped a Baby-Bomb right on the top of the bunker. WO Derosier was flying Trail and covering the Lead as he and his observer shot up anything that appeared threatening, and everything looked threatening.
      As Lead was breaking around he called on the radio, "My Observer is hit." Then he said, "He's hit real bad." Then a couple seconds after that, the whole aircraft went up in a big ball of fire. One instant it was a perfect OH-6A, then boom, nothing!
      WO Derosier had been flying right behind the Lead and said that he couldn't understand the explosion; he had felt the heat but no concussion. He was thinking that if it had been the Baby Bombs, that 20 pounds of C-4 would have caused a shock wave that he would have felt.
      It's what people do when something like this happens to a close friend. Maybe it's a way to drive away grief by trying to figure out the mechanics of why our friend died. We are trying to find a reason why it couldn't have happened; therefore our friend shouldn't be dead. I have had this kind of denial process also happen once to me and I knew that Wheeler and Durocher were close. We had been together many times when I overheard them talking about things that they were going to do when they got back to the World.
      The loss of Wheeler had a deep traumatic effect on Derosier. This incident in which Derosier was witness to his friend's death and later being on the Honor Guard escort to accompany the body home, were what led him to feel that the time had come for him to quit flying Scouts. He was Short, his tour of duty was almost over, so he asked for a transfer into the maintenance div. of his Troop as the maintenance test pilot.

Post Mortem of the Baby-Bomb incident

Statement: The words of Warrant Officer R.T. Derosier
All indications from the bodies were that the explosion happened on the crew-chief's side. When we picked him up was lying approximately 30 feet in front and to the left of the pilot. We looked at the pilot's Chicken-Plate; it looked like it had some frag hits up on the top left hand side. These could have been secondary projectiles driven by the explosion. The pilot still had parts of the aircraft strapped to him. He had the Chicken-Plate, seat, seat-belts on and the bulkhead from behind his seat wrapped around his body. When Derosier's crew-chief went over to pick up the pilot, he had to bend the metal off first.

BDR INTERVIEWER: Derosier said that he had his eyes on the Lead aircraft at all times. One second there was a perfect Loch flying along, the next, a ball of fire and black smoke. He didn't even see any of the pieces fall to the ground. He said that he would have seen an RPG if one had been fired.
      For some reason he felt that it wasn't the Baby-Bombs, due to the lack of a concussion or shock wave. This is strange. To have had an explosion that took a OH-6A so completely apart, that there were not enough pieces left to investigate, there had to have been some kind of a shock wave.
      If there was, it didn't register on WO Derosier and he was there. In fact, I have a actual photo of the explosion. This came about by accident. An Army photographer friend of mine happened to be riding in the Fire Team's UH-1H `C n C' aircraft. When Spec 5 Wilson heard Wheeler's call, "My Observer's hit!" he swung his Pentax that had a 135 tele-mounted, framed the LOH and tripped the shutter the same instant that the aircraft dissolved into a ball of fire and smoke. It was pure luck, but not the kind of luck that we would have wished.
      I have always been worried about the `Bombs,' even the Frag-Bag, for reasons that I have stated before. The Baby-Bombs are an example of a field expedient to fill a combat need. Neither the Frag-Bag or the Bombs would have been allowed if things were being done by the book. You must understand that the people who write the books were sitting behind a desk somewhere back in CONUS and don't have to get out there with it all hanging out, and try to kill Charlie.
      Somewhere there must be an ordnance engineer that could put together something that would be a good fuse/detonator that would do the job without creating a situation that could spoil your day. Doesn't have to be Hi-Tech, just a bulletproof grenade fuse.
      When I first met Wheeler and Derosier we were still stationed at Dong Tam, the 9th Div. Base Camp. Of all the Army Aviation units that I had to deal with in the IV Corps and even part of the III Corps area, D Troop 3/5 Air Cav. gave me the most business. They were all a bunch of "Magnet Ass's," so naturally I spent a lot more time with them than others. In this way I got to know most of the pilots and crew chiefs pretty well.
      Occasionally when the D troop Scout's "hash and Trash" (derived from the original, you know, hauling `Ass and Trash') maintenance OH-6A would make a run to Tan Son Nhut, I would go with them and the pilot would let me get some stick time. After Derosier transferred into Maintenance, I got to spend more time in the Loch. Flying it in forward at flight speed the stick response worked out just about like handling a fixed wing aircraft. But trying to hold it straight at a hover was a real bitch. I never had enough hover-flying time in a Loch, to get the hang of it. It took me only about 15 minutes to learn to hover a UH-1H, but that short-coupled little Loch was an whole-nuther-thing. I've always said that if you could fly a OH-6A, you could fly anything.
      It was a different story with guys like WO Derosier. They would put a Loch on and wear it. I have seen them dance around out side the Base perimeter wire, looking for VC sign, about 6 feet off the ground, blowing the grass away, trying to find anything that looked different, and they'd never even come close to sticking the tail into the bank or wire. They were all pro's.
      One day, a few months later, maintenance test pilot Warrant Officer Terry Derosier, took a UH-1H (Slick) up for a test flight to try to determine the cause of a hi-freq vibration that would randomly start and build to a point that it almost shake the aircraft apart.
      Witnesses stated that the Huey was flying at 1500/2000 feet when suddenly it pitched up, rolled inverted. After the rotor separated, the aircraft then dropped like a rock to the rice paddy. He and the Captain flying copilot with him never had a chance.
      It was believed that the accident was the result of hydraulics hard-over condition that had gotten set up when Derosier tried to stimulate the hi-freq to begin. You do this by setting up your trim for hands-off level flight and then batting the cyclic stick smartly. Normally it returns to neutral, but if you have a hi-freq problem, you will have set it off. The theory is that this time the cyclic knocked over and stayed there, the hydraulics locking up.

Derosier, Wheeler, and all our other brave warriors are together for eternity. One day when it's my time to check out, maybe the "Big Six in the Sky" will allow me to join them.

In memory of:

W O Conrad Jack Wheeler, Oct. 29 1969, San Marcos, Tex.

Spc5 Gerald Thomas Greeno, Oct. 29 1969, Billings, Mont.

WO Richard Terrance Derosier, Jan. 03 1970, Claremont, New Hampshire

Capt. Stewart Robbins Moody, Jan. 03 1970,Claremont, Ca.

(I remember some talk about how the Captain had been flying in violation of a Direct Order, due to the fact he had been grounded by the CO the week before. I couldn't help but think of the irony. What were they going to do, Courts Marshall him posthumously?)

RIP

 

From: Mike "MAC" McGuire

Tony; About WO Terry Derosier's last flight. I know you are probably right about Derosier and the Slick. But I RED X'd that Bird for noise in the transmission. It was a good Bird, but I wanted out of it during the mission. I told them, the people in maintenance, about what I had kept hearing and they just did their typical `chip detector speech' and sent in a fluid system sample.
      When I heard about the accident, I felt like I had failed at my job by not being more insistent. I have thought about it all these years. I had gotten to know that aircraft by having flown in that ship for a while. My assigned ship #405, was in the hanger for a tail boom change. While I was waiting to get #405 back from the hanger, I crew chief'd on the one that Derosier was test flying when he went down.
      It was strange to see this in writing at this late date. Questions being answered by someone that I did not even know then. Sure wish I had said more about what I thought. But then, I guess we couldn't all come back.
      I agree that C.J. Wheeler was good, but you missed ACE Consellio. He started the War Wagons from the SPOOKS. I met Fred Dryer that was "SPOOK 6" who flew the last GLASS BUBBLE JOB with the troop. I saw that. But everyone knew that things had changed with the new OH6A and AH1G on the field but never been in combat. The last of the Charlie models and the CAV changed.
      Do you remember the CAV losing a Slick down in Tra Vinh? It was left in a extraction we made one night due to just chip detector on the transmission going on and off? We had just checked it in the small staging airfield, but then it lit up again going into the LZ, one at a time the way we had to.

      We left the ARVNS in LZ to take care of it, and they burned it.

MAC

 


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