When I checked into HMM-364, there were of course, no CH-46's in country. Since I had not flown UH-34's for several months, I was told to just hang loose for a day or so while they cut some orders to send me back up to Okinawa for recurrent training on the 34. On the second (or maybe it was the third) day that I was with the squadron, while awaiting my orders to Okinawa I was hanging around the ready room when I overheard the Operations Officer trying to find someone to serve as a copilot for a trip to Da Nang.
Since it had only been about three and a half months since I had last flown UH-34's, I felt totally comfortable in them and volunteered (let that be a lesson) to act as copilot for the mission. Though there was some question about me being legal in the aircraft, after much discussion among the powers that be, it was decided that it was probably legal for me to fly as a copilot on a trip that should be an easy milk run. So, I borrowed a flack jacket and a pistol and joined Capt. Givan for the trip to Da Nang. The rest is history as they say.
Just a couple of days later I received my orders to Okinawa and headed up to Futema. After a few weeks of recurrent 34 training there, I, along with a couple of other pilots who were there for the same reason, as I recall, received orders to report to HMM-263 at Marble Mountain. I spent the remainder of my Vietnam tour flying UH-34's with that squadron.
Finally, the following is a humorous (though not so at the time) sidelight to my HMM-364 incident that you may find of interest. It took place in sick bay following our pickup and return to Ky Ha. Immediately upon returning, I remember being examined by a flight surgeon and then being told that I must spend twelve (or perhaps it was twenty-four) hours in sick bay for observation. I recall arguing with the doctor about this because I felt fine and was sure that I needed no further medical attention. In no uncertain words he told me to "get your ass on up there" because the stay was required, and since the hospital was the only place on the entire base that was air conditioned, it would probably be my only chance to enjoy ac during my entire time in Viet Nam.
The hospital was a Quonset hut up on the hill between the helicopter facility at Ky Ha and the fixed winged base at Chu Lai. I recall that you could look down over the fixed winged runway from the hospital site. Though I am not sure, I believe that Capt. Givan, due to injuries, may have been evacuated out of country right away because I cannot remember him being in the hospital with me.
In any event, sometime during my short hospital stay, I was lying on a cot reading a paperback book when I heard and felt a series of large explosions. They were very close, and to me, still new to the sights and sounds of a combat zone, it was a sure sign that we were under attack and that the next explosion would probably be a direct hit on the hospital. I raced out the door in my skivvies and to my surprise among the first things I saw was a Marine pilot casually walking up the hill toward me with his recently deployed parachute bundled up in his arms. He had ejected from an A-4 shortly after liftoff from the Chu Lai runway and the aircraft had crashed near the hospital. The explosions had been the ordnance cooking off from the now burning A-4.
Needless to say, at that point, which was less than a week into my Vietnam tour, my rotation date seemed about as far away as the next ice age.
William T. "Tee" Holmes, former 1stLt. USMCR
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