Five Stories – More Amusing Now Than They Were Then-Battle Dam

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

In strange places when you rely on help from strangers, you tend to do strange things. Well, maybe not everyone does strange things, but I did. A friendly US Marine gunnery sergeant up at Dong Ha helped our crew – 2 FACs, a crew chief and a ROMAD – get some cold beer in an area where cold wasn’t too common. As a matter of fact, a cold drink was usually made cold by finding ice, if you were lucky, cleaning off the sawdust used as insulation, and putting it in the liquid you were going to drink, be it cola, water, or beer. The Gunny wanted nothing in return except an opportunity to fly with one of us FACs on a mission, and he didn’t care what kind. After much discussion, we determined that it would be a bad idea. Then, not without some consternation, we went ahead and did it.
We fitted the Gunny in the back seat of the O-1 and made sure he had a sick bag in case his stomach got twisted in the back seat of that little airplane. We thought nothing of the M-16 he loaded on board with him. We always carried our Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece around our waist and an M-16 with an ammo bag full of loaded 20 round magazines taped back-to-back for quick and easy reload. We had all read the account of a FAC who had to land his damaged O-1 on a beach. When he got out, he had to grab his M-16 and ammo bag, run for cover, and hold off attacking VC until he was picked up by a rescue helicopter. We also used the M-16 more often and more effectively than you might imagine, in the air to ground mode.
Well, it wasn’t long into the mission that the Gunny decided to try out his M-16. The FAC hearing the gunfire did some quick evasive maneuvering, thinking, justifiably, that the noise was ground fire. The Gunny experienced a violent change in the O-1s attitude, and was still firing when his muzzle pointed up at the left wing. He was instructed that there would be no more weapons testing and the mission was completed without much further event.
Unknown to us, one of the little rounds had created a hole in the wing. Back at Dong Ha our very thorough crew chief noted the damage and reported it to the pilot. Given the angle of entry and exit, we had to get a bit more creative than usual to explain the “battle damage” to the boys back at the 19th TASS. No more armed Marines in the back seat for a while either.
Editor’s Note: Bill’s story reminded me of an incident I had at Dong Ha which was similar in a way. Some days after I had rotated out of there, I got a call from the 19th TASS. They wanted to know how I had damaged the underside of the left wing of the aircraft I had brought back. They were convinced I had been flying low and hit something, and had not reported it. In fact, I had no idea what they were talking about. It took me days to piece it all together.
The aircraft parking area at Dong Ha was north of the runway, and to get from one to the other, we simply taxied down the main north/south road in the Camp. The road was often a sea of mud and rutted, so that the aircraft rocked back and forth quite a bit during taxi. One day, I was taxiing down the road, when my wing went over an USMC truck going the other way. The wooden stakes on the side of the truck brushed the underside of my wing, but from the cockpit I could see no damage, so I continued on. In subsequent preflight inspections, I noticed no more than a green paint streak, and ignored it. It finally wore away. Those maintenance guys at Bien Hoa were sharp though, they noticed a very slight indentation in the wing and called me to task. I almost had to fill out an accident report, but I was able to talk my way out of it! (Mike Morea).