My name is Donald L. Nichols and I was a 2ndLt. and newly minted CH-46 driver and was just one of the FNGs (Funny New Guys) in August 1970 when arriving at the Marine Corps Air Station Marble Mountain, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam. Having no idea which squadron I wanted to join, I told the Duty Officer to assign me to the best one. A former Purple Fox, he said without hesitation, "HMM-364, Purple Foxes are the best."
The next day I reported to HMM-364 as the newest pilot and the only 2ndLt. Knowing I was going into a combat squadron without any combat experience, I was in complete awe of these pilots. One of the first persons to greet me was "Weasel" (1stLt. Jerry White). Walking through the ready room door, I saw him slouched over the couch in the corner. He looked up, saw me, got up and came over to me with his right hand extended to shake mine. Weasel was one of the few combat pilots who made me feel welcome at the first meeting.
After a couple of weeks flying maintenance test flights around the traffic pattern at Marble Mountain I was finally ready to take my first local orientation flight in the operating area. Like a little kid, I excitedly hung around the scheduling desk to see when I could go out. None of the other combat pilots wanted to take the "New Guy" out for a wasted afternoon showing him the sights.
It was Weasel's afternoon off when he strolled into operations to see what was happening. That was so typical of Weasel; if there was a job to be done, you could count on Weasel to be there to help. He greeted me and proceeded to get the particulars about the day's missions. According to the Operations Officer, all missions were covered but the "New Guy" was anxious to go flying. After insuring there was a bird and crew ready to go flying, he turned to me and said, "Get your gear, let's go."
Needless to say I was ecstatic. Not only was I finally able to go flying today, I was going to be the copilot of the best combat pilot in the squadron. As we walked; well, Weasel strolled and I bounced around him like a little puppy asking non-stop questions. We finished the preflight and I climbed into the left seat while Weasel strapped into the right. Start, run-up, and taxi all proceeded normally with Weasel performing all of the functions in a most professional, seamless, effortless manner. I sat in my seat and observed a performance that left me wondering if I could ever do this job even half as well as Weasel. He made it look so easy.
Once in the operating area, Weasel began to point out significant areas I would need to know to navigate in the coming rainy months when I would become a Helicopter Aircraft Commander (which at this junction seemed like a lifetime away). As small arms fire was a constant concern, during the rainy months we concentrated on staying low and fast to lessen the time the Viet Cong had to fix on us. Weasel began to demonstrate the prevailing method. We were flying at approximately 50 feet and 125 knots while Weasel calmly explained the finer points of this particular flight technique. I was in heaven as this was the most exciting flying I had ever done and to be doing it with a legend was still beyond my belief.
We were nearing a line of palm trees that the locals liked to use to ring their villages. The trees were rapidly filling the windshield as Weasel explained: "Stay below the trees like this. Then as you start to get closer, pull up.........." At that moment my chin bubble exploded in a fury of palm leaves, filling the cockpit with branches and leaves. Terrified, I looked over to Weasel who continued to speak in his calm collected voice; "Just a little before that."
Safely home, the Maintenance Officer was livid over the damage done to his "46". "What the Hell happened?" he bellowed. Weasel, tossing his helmet bag over his shoulder, turning and walking towards operations and motioning for me to follow, said simply "Flight Demonstration."
I last saw Weasel when he visited me at the Marine
Corps Air Station New River, Jacksonville, NC. long after we had left Vietnam.
We shared a good belly laugh upon remembering the "Palm Tree Incident".
Good friends are hard to find and even harder to lose.
Sgt. David T. Howell, the Crew Chief of YK-19, sends this photo after the Plexiglas was restored, but before the red lens cover for the landing lights was repaired. Sgt. Howell stated, "Weasel insisted on helping me replace that lens cover. You gotta love that guy!"
Back Browser or Home