The Genesis Of "Swift Chuck" Kenny

I had flown my first hop in country with LtCol. Peter C. Scaglione, the C.O.  It didn't go well from my viewpoint.  He was all over me about my maps and when I tried to shoot an approach, that was taught to me by pilots returning from Vietnam and stationed at HMM 163 Santa Ana, he gave me a lengthy lecture about flying by the book and flying NATOPS approaches.  That pretty much confused me, but I did what I was told.  After the de-brief, I must have looked pretty beat up because that was pretty much the first time anyone in the squadron approached me with any sort of conversation. It was Dave “Frenchy” Legas who seemed most interested in what my flight was like.  I told him exactly what we did and how we did it. I won't go into what Frenchy or anyone else said about that flight.  But suffice it to say, Frenchy thought there needed to be a re-instruction of my first orientation flight and so he made sure that I was scheduled to fly with him on my second flight.
I felt a bit relieved after that conversation, but none the less I went back to my hootch that night bound and determined to learn my maps and just in case , I reviewed my NATOPS approaches.

And now, here is the story of my second flight as best as I can remember it.  We were assigned daytime medevac as our mission.  We were in the lead 46 and we picked up a medevac at an outlying position who, because of the nature of his wounds, needed to be flown to the hospital ship USS Sanctuary.  Frenchy actually made the approach to the LZ and talked about the do's and don'ts.  He talked about the ways a pilot can position the helo to keep from taking fatal hits.  He talked about how to enter and leave a zone safely.  And strangely enough, there was no mention of NATOPS, but as with all good pilots, it was there in a modified sort of way.  Don't give Charlie a chance to zero his sights on you.  Don't fly the aircraft the way he expects you to.  And NEVER, EVER, fly the same looking approach twice into the same zone.  Charlie studies your approaches and figures out how things work and looks for opportunities to put a bullet in your brain pan.  Frenchy’s instructions were as simple as it got.  They were very plain and very real to understand.  So, we picked up the wounded and headed North.  I was pretty much still figuring out where things were, but I had figured out the directions on the compass and knew if the sea was on my right I had to be headed north  (Good “ol Marine dead reckoning.)  Frenchy told me to go ahead and take control of the aircraft and head for the ship, which was supposed to be in Da Nang Bay.  Well, I was not sure exactly where that might be and I wanted to be precise on my heading.  So I asked.  Hell, I had never seen a Hospital ship before and had no idea what it might look like.  Frenchy liked humor and he used sarcasm well.  He said, “You can't miss it, it's a big white ship with a red cross on it sitting in the water.  The landing spot is the red cross and you setup your approach to that red cross and land on it.  You can do that, can't you?”  Well, hell, I sure wasn't going to say I couldn't, so I started looking for the ship.  Frenchy gave me some headings that would take me right to the ship.  I was concentrating on flying well, holding my altitude, holding my heading and checking the instruments while scanning for the ship.  As we hit the outskirts of Da Nang, I spotted a big white ship, sitting in the water, and sure enough there was a big red cross.  But man we were getting close and I hadn't started to set up for the approach yet.  So I powered back and set up a point to begin my final approach and went for it.  Frenchy was silent.  I figured I was doing ok as long as he didn't say anything.  Just before I flared on final to touchdown on the red cross, Frenchy grabbed the controls and screamed, “I've got the aircraft!  What the hell are you doing?  You can't land on that ship!  And especially, you can't land on an East German Hospital Ship!  And, besides, that is an awning with a red cross on it you dip shit, not a landing platform!”  I was deflated. I couldn'tbelieve that I tried to land on it or could have assumed so much and really wasn't paying attention to the details.  I was focusing on the big picture.  This ship was the SS Hildeland.  It doctored to the VC.  Yep, that's right, the enemy.  And there it sat in plain view right where my ship was supposed to be.  Actually, if I had listened carefully, I would have remembered Frenchy telling me that the Sanctuary was in Da Nang Bay, not in a river.  Anyway, his final everlasting remark to me was “You are a real f------ Charles Lindbergh.”  We ended up at the right ship and we deposited our medevac and headed home.  As we entered the squadron ready room, Frenchy loudly announced, “You guys should have seen this, you would not have believed it, a real f------ Charles Lindbergh.”  And he went on to tell the story with lots of flavor, over and over again and kept on telling it.  “Yep”, he said, “Chuck Lindbergh”.  And it caught on.


My next flight was with Steve Erb, another great pilot.  Steve comes up and says, “Well, Chuck, are you ready to go fly?  I am not sure I want to fly with you after all I heard, so don't do anything stupid, ok?”  Now, you have to realize that I was the only FNG these guys had seen for so long that I was fresh meat for all the banter.  And they seemed to really enjoy it.  I won't relate the tale of this flight, but suffice it to say when we got back to the ready room, Steve tells everyone, “Yep, never a dull moment with ol Chuck along.  Between him and Charlie it was a full day.”  After a few more flights and more of the same fun jabbing, I am no longer “Pat”; It's not even “FNG”; it is simply “Chuck”. And soon it became, “Swift Chuck”.

And now you know the rest of the story.


Submitted by:

    J. Pat "Swift Chuck" Kenny, former 1stLt. USMCR