I worked in the S-3 or Flight Operations Department from 7:00 at night until 7:00 in the morning (that's civilian time). My job was entering that day's flight time statistics in pilots and crew members log books, assisted in the preparation, typing and dissemination of the following day's flight schedule, and other duties as assigned. When new pilots arrived from the States, part of their first week's indoctrination/climatization tasks was to to be assigned duty as the Assistant Squadron Duty Officer (ASDO). Lt. Steve Wistrand had been in country maybe two days and was pulling ASDO. A little after midnight I was in my office doing paperwork and we started getting hit with mortars which the Viet Cong would usually walk them up and down the runway or through the aircraft revetments. I became accustomed to the methods of the Viet Cong (VC) attempting to damage aircraft and felt quite comfortable and safe so long as I was in the squadron building during these mortar attacks.
Lt. Wistrand came into the S-3 with his flak jacket and helmet on saying, "Where do we go Corporal? Do we get in the bunker?" I replied, "Sir, we're fine here. The hallway is the safest place to be." Well, right after that a couple mortars hit so close that all my windows rattled. I said, "Damn", took my typewriter off my desk, put it on the floor and finished my work. After the mortars stopped falling, Lt. Wistrand, I and others toured the flight line to see how many birds had been damaged and the impact that would have on the next morning's flight schedule. The rest of that night was uneventful.
Now skip forward several months. Lt. Wistrand was now a Division Leader with a lot of experience in country. He was flying lead bird on a reconnaissance mission into an 8-click (8000 sq. meter) area where we had been shot out of six different landing zones (LZ) four days before. Every zone we went into this day we took fire. I was on left gun and Chuy Ellorega (I have a Cpl. Jesus Elorreaga 70-71 on the roster are they the same?), a crew chief whose bird was down for maintenance, was flying right gun. Chuy had a lot more experience than I did and the best man always manned the right gun (As a gunner, I was a good Operations clerk). After inserting the seven man recon team we received some intense enemy fire as we departed the recon LZ. The team's mission and location had been compromised so Lt. Wistrand turned the aircraft around, while in a hail of bullets, to extract the reconnaissance team. Not wishing to depart the LZ over the same territory as before, Lt. Wistrand chose a route that would allow us to haul ass just a few feet above the ground and between two hills in an attempt to evade the enemy fire. Initially all appeared to be going well until Lt. Wistrand came on the ICS and in a matter-of-fact voice said, "Two 'gooners' at 12 o'clock". As I was thinking, "Well, that's it!", Lt. Wistrand was yawing and banking the bird to the left placing the two VC squarely in front of Chuy's 50cal. machine gun. Chuy squeezed the trigger and the gun responded with a loud chatter vibrating the structure of the aircraft and spewing alternating rounds of armor piercing, white phosphorus, high explosive, tracer, and normal ball at the rate of ___ rpm from his side and we got out of there. I found out later that two NVA (or VC) had leveled their AK-47's at us. Apparently Lt. Wistrand's calm and quick reaction kept them from firing. Chuy must have killed them but I don't think they were confirmed.
The point of the story is, I observed Lt. Wistrand (and many other Marines) go from a nervous FNG to being a cool, calm, and deliberate Marine helicopter pilot (or other crew member) with ice water in his veins. If he hadn't been such a good pilot and Chuy hadn't known what he was doing, our crew and the seven man recon team might not have made it back that day.
As for me, I simply want to thank Steve and Chuy for giving me the last 30 years of my life.
Mike Blome, former Cpl. USMC 1969-1970
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