"J. D. Tale #1"
It was a black night, June 30, 1970, and I was scheduled as the copilot on night medevac flying out of Marble Mountain Air Facility (MMAF). The pilot of YK (Bureau #154027) that night was 1stLt. J. D. Bell. I didn't know it then, but I was about to experience 100% pure terror and have either sweat or urine soak my flight suit before the evening was over.
Let me regress a little here. Lt. J. D. Bell had been "reluctantly" transferred into HMM-364 from the Huey squadron where he flew "guns". Further, rumor had it that J. D. was "overly aggressive" as a gun ship pilot, and I must admit I didn't really know what that meant, nor did I want to. I always thought aggressiveness would be a good characteristic of a gun ship pilot, but what did I know, I was a Ch-46 "Frog" driver and damn proud of it. Therefore, I thought J. D. got a good deal by being assigned to the "Purple Foxes." Anyway, when Dave Owens asked me to substitute for him and fly with J. D. that night (I was born in Missouri) I figured heck why not.
Now I am here to tell you that J. D. was, and probably still is, a "gun ship" pilot. On that night one of our medevacs was in the Que Son Mountains, possibly LZ Rider. It was so dark we could not see the horizon or anything else for that matter. If you flew night medevac you know what I mean. Anyway J. D. was trying to get the Air Force C-119 flare ship to drop flares over the LZ so we could get in and get out. The flare ship pilots were pretty much lost and J. D., who was pretty short on patience, was fed up and was letting them know over the radio, in not too flattering terms, that they were dropping their flares 5 miles north of us in the vicinity of the An Hoa combat support base. Further he stated if they were half the pilots they thought they were, maybe they could just drop the flares on our position lights if that would help. By the way, this was right after he sent the gun ship home because he thought they were doing a pretty poor job of directing the flare ship.
Up until this point in the flight I had not been concerned. When the gun ships were directed to leave I began to feel a little naked in respect to possible enemy gunners in the area. Then J. D. flipped our running lights to bright/steady and turned the landing light on for the flare ship pilots, and the rest of the world, to see us and radioed to the C-119 crew this transmission, "You think you Air Force pukes can drop your flares on these lights?", I about s#*@. I said, "You're not serious?!". He replied, "Oh, it'll be all right, they couldn't hit s#*@ if you sat them on top of it" J. D. assured me. Well, those very ticked off flare ship pilots were hell bent now to zero in on us and they were not going to miss.
So there we were about 100' above the ground coming in on a loose glide path of sorts, lit up like a Christmas tree, and flares being dropped on top of us. "Don't look at the flares"' J. D. warned. "OK", I answered. The first flare, I swear to God, came right through our forward rotor blades and ignited directly in our faces. "Holy s#*@, did you see that J. D.?". "I told you not to look at the flares", J. D. spat back. I am pretty sure that is when I wet my pants. I never did know if he really had his eyes closed. I swore to myself and promised God if He could get me out of this one alive, I would become a priest.
Well, we made it into the zone, got the medevac and headed back toward Da Nang NSA Hospital. After dropping off the medevac, we returned to the medevac bunker, Luminous Base, at MMAF. As I climbed from the cockpit I noticed I was soaking wet and my legs were sort of limp and shaky. As we strode toward the medevac bunker I asked the rest of the crew if they were sweating and as hot as I was. "Nah, actually a bit cooler tonight", the crew chief replied, as if nothing abnormal had taken place on this just completed flight. We had a total of 4.3 hours of flight time that night and I feel sure that J.D. was changing the "Routine" and "Priority" medevacs to "Emergency", just so we could launch. I know for a fact that in one of the "emergency" medevac zones, a guy walked on the airplane with his bags packed for R&R.
I telephoned J. D. a few years ago. He now lives in New Orleans where he still flies helicopters. I hadn't spoken to him in 25 years. When the telephone was answered I said, "Is this J. D.?" "Yea, how you doing", he answered. "I am fine, do you know who this is", I said. He then replied, "Yeah I recognize your voice, do you want to go flying with me?"
Pat "Swift Chuck" Kenny, former 1stLt. USMCR
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