"An Nhut Tan"

Submitted by: Frank (Max) Grose

An Nhut Tan was a name on the tactical map of the Mekong delta area of the Republic of Vietnam.   To me, it was a grid coordinate, a small Special Forces outpost situated on the south bank of Vam Co Dong River, a small tributary of the Nha Be' River, and a voice on my FM radio when I called the right call sign on a particular frequency. It was located 20 miles SSW of Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon, and 40 miles WNW of my home airfield at Vung Tau.

In reality it was a small group of rusting tin buildings which housed a group of Vietnamese soldiers with an American Special Forces advisor or two. It was surrounded with concertina wire, claymore mines, trip flares, and other attempts to keep out the Viet Cong. Southwest from the river, along the east edge of the camp, ran a small canal. Just outside the perimeter wire to the south was the heliport. Like most outpost heliports, it was a mat of PSP. Beyond it a short distance to the west was a tall dead tree. There was a road of sorts leading to An Nhut Tan, but like most roads in the delta, it was little more than parallel tire tracks which provided wheeled vehicle mobility within areas bounded by water obstacles. It was a routine resupply mission. Every Chinook pilot who flew in Vietnam flew hundreds of these missions. So why does An Nu Tan stick in my memory? It was due to a single mission on a hazy March night.

The date was 18 March 1968. This was my 14th day in a row of flying. During the 13 days preceding this, I had logged 81.8 hours in 15 different aircraft. That averages to about 6.3 hours per day of rotors turning time. Considering the briefing/mission planning time, preflight inspection (frequently by flashlight in the pre-dawn darkness), refuelings and mechanical checks during the day, standby time at a remote site, and writing up the post-mission report, these could turn into rather long days. The longest of these was an 11.3 flight hour day. I was tired. During the six days previous to this, I had accumulated 38.3 hours in seven aircraft. (Flying more than one aircraft per day resulted from maintenance problems requiring a replacement aircraft, and another preflight, during the day.) A typical day began with an early wake up and no breakfast. A can of C-rations during a mid-morning hot refueling "refueled" the pilot. More C's in the early afternoon during a maintenance check would keep me going till dinner back at the club at Tiger Towers, my BOQ.

This day began no differently. Our mission sheet called for a number of sorties in support of the 9th Infantry Division from the base at Dong Tam (just west of My Tho on the north bank of the My Tho River) to several of their field sites. My flight records indicated 23 landings during the 8.4 hours I logged on my first aircraft of the day. This meant I carried about a dozen or so sorties of probably 20 minutes turn around. Considering time wasted loading and unloading internal loads, we were lucky to get more than three sorties per fuel load. Every other fuel load we shut down for a maintenance check, requiring another hour of unproductive time.

I had made aircraft commander four months earlier and by now had accumulated nearly 800 flight hours in Vietnam. I felt competent and confident in my abilities and skills as a pilot. I had learned from some fine experienced professional Army aviators and combat pilots. Today I was sharing that experience with a less experienced aviator than myself; WO1 Samuel Taylor. Sam Taylor was a big man, over six feet tall and, because of his build, probably pushed the allowable weight limits for an aviator. Two things stood out about Sam; He was black (Unusual because there were not many black aviators then) and his personality! Sam always smiled and had a great sense of humor, everybody liked him and was on his third tour in Vietnam. This former Special Forces Trooper spent one of his previous tours as an enlisted man without sleeping under a roof his entire tour. He was a seasoned combat veteran and several years my senior, yet due to the difference in our flying experience, I was the aircraft commander. I hadn't flown with Sam much prior to this day, and had not yet become completely comfortable with his proficiency. That is not to say he was a poor pilot, quite the contrary, Sam was good, but he was short on experience. Appropriately, a copilot had to gradually earn the trust and confidence of an aircraft commander by repeatedly demonstrating sound judgement, competent flying skills, and thorough knowledge of operating procedures and the area of operation. Especially important to an aircraft commander was how the copilot behaved under pressure. In a tight situation, the AC and copilot had to work almost as one; doing what needed to be done immediately, and frequently without communication between them. Until such "trial by fire," the AC kept a close eye on the copilot, and usually was at the controls when things got especially demanding. I had not been through such a situation with Sam, but my trust and confidence in him was about to make a big improvement.

During the afternoon, we began to experience problems with the FM (fox mike) radio with which we communicated with our supported unit at both ends of the sortie. We also used it to get artillery advisories during every flight. With only a couple of loads to go, the fox mike died altogether. Determined to finish the mission, I innovated by getting one of the men from the supported unit to ride in the jump seat with his PRC-25 backpack FM radio. With it I could push the hand set up under the ear cup of my helmet and communicate with the contacts at either end and with Dong Tam Artillery. Take off and landing clearance at Dong Tam was handled via the UHF radio as was flight following and traffic advisories with Paddy or Paris Control (our tactical air traffic controllers at Can Tho and Saigon). With it I also advised the 147th operations that I would be unable to complete my last two sorties (resupply from Tan Tru to An Nhut Tan). I also recommended that they launch the standby aircraft to accomplish this mission. On my last sortie, I used the PRC-25 to also contact Go Cong Artillery through whose area we would be flying on the way home. The 30 minute flight back to Vung Tau was uneventful, but due to the haze during this season, not a particularly enjoyable one. The haze thinned little even during the last 10 minutes of the flight which was over the South China Sea.

Back at operations it was late in the day and near supper time. I asked who had taken the An Nhut Tan mission. I was told that it may not have to be flown today, and the standby crew had been released. The duty officer was awaiting a call from the 222nd Aviation Battalion to confirm the mission would not have to go, and asked us to stay around a few minutes in the event it did have to be flown. Then and now I question the wisdom of the decision to release the standby crew before this confirmation. I was tired and hungry, but I didn't argue or insist that the standby crew be called out; a near fatal mistake. I was a good pilot and I knew it. I could do anything I was asked to do, and I was proud of it. I suppose it was those feelings that kept me from admitting how tired I was. Besides, we could preflight another aircraft, zip over to Tan Tru and carry the loads to An Nhut Tan in little over an hour. The slogan of the 147th Assault Support Helicopter Company "Hillclimbers" was "No hill for a Climber. We believed in it, and we proved it repeatedly. In such a situation it is the demanding situations which prove your worth. The sincere belief that we, as Chinook pilots in general and Hillclimbers in particular, were a cut above the other "helicopter drivers," had to be confirmed, if only to ourselves, by routinely going the extra mile, flying the extra sortie, carrying the excessively heavy load, punching through weather, and pulling a downed "zippo" (UH-1) out of a rice paddy while under fire.

Over an hour passed before the call came from the 222nd. One of the two sorties had been declared "combat essential" and had to be flown this evening. The sun had gone down and the twilight glow faded from the sky when we strode out to our replacement aircraft. SP5 Dugger was the flight engineer of Hillclimber 074. He had always impressed me as somewhat immature-acting, but he kept a good ship. Aircraft develop personalities and reputations. Pilots favor some and dread others. 074 was a good aircraft, I was pleased to be flying it and hoped that Dugger would be equally good. By the time the preflight was finished, the runup completed, and the takeoff from runway 36 was made, it was very dark. After takeoff I picked up a heading of about 285 for the flight to Tan Tru. There were no clouds in the sky, but I don't recall seeing any stars either. I was surprised at how the haze seemed to have thickened. Flying west with the South China Sea to our left and front, and the Rung Sat marsh land to our right, there was nothing visible outside the cockpit but darkness. I quickly realized that this would be much more challenging than a routine night resupply mission.   I began to regret my decision to fly it. I called Paris Control, advised them of my route of flight, that I was IMC (instrument meteorological conditions), and requested flight following and aircraft advisories. Paris would be very helpful tonight. I was having to fly completely on instruments, using vectors from Paris Control to get to Tan Tru. A call to Tan An Artillery produced an advisory of "artillery in all quadrants to 5000 feet. I advised Paris of my destination altitude and climbed to 6000 feet before crossing the coastline. When we contacted Tan Tru, they seemed ill-prepared to receive us. They had to get in a jeep and drive down to the pad. Paddy control advised that we were over Tan Tru and we began to orbit. My turns were to the left as I recall so I could look down through the haze to see the landing site. From 6000 feet we could only dimly see lights on the ground a few degrees from vertical. It was like looking through the small end of an inverted black velvet funnel. I could distinguish no pad lights. One thing that I could distinguish was that there were an unusually high number of tracers from the area below being fired generally in our direction, but at a comfortable 6000 feet I didn't give them much thought. Our contact confirmed he had lights on the pad. Paris Control called to advise we had drifted from our destination and gave a new vector. Over the site, I still could see no pad lights. I requested a fire be built near the pad. A fire makes an excellent marker for aircraft at night. The apparently brainless person on the radio said he had nothing with which to build a fire. By this time, I had been somewhere generally over his location circling on instruments for about 15 minutes. During this time, Sam had been talking to Paris Control on the UHF and our operations on the VHF. We had to change frequencies on the FM occasionally to talk to Tan An Artillery. We were so busy with radios, trying to keep over the area, trying to see pad lights, trying to fly the aircraft on instruments, and trying to ignore the tracers, I had Dugger stand in the companion way to change frequencies as I or Sam requested. Due to the tracer fire, we had the cockpit lights as dim as possible and the overhead console lights off. Dugger used his flashlight equipped with the red lens filter to operate the radio frequency selectors. He was doing a super job in a very demanding situation. My patience was worn thin, I responded by telling the ground contact to get me a fire built even if he had to set the jeep on fire. Very soon I saw a fire begin to flicker though the haze below. I also saw that the tracer fire had seemed to intensify. Tan An Arty gave us clearance through a thin slice of airspace over Tan Tru through which we could make our approach. I made the approach without a problem. Our "combat essential" load was a water trailer and about 500 pounds of ammunition on a piggy back sling. There was no detectable ground fire when we were close to the pad, but during the approach and climb back to 6000 feet, it was intense, but none seemed to be coming near us. The VC couldn't see us, so they were shooting at a sound in the sky. Never before this night had I seen this much ground fire.

Back at 6000' I felt more comfortable again. Our duty officer back at ops had taken the initiative to request a pair of gunships to escort us into An Nhut Tan. They were on the way. Once again, Tan Tru Arty gave us a thin clear slice of airspace through which to approach An Nhut Tan. The contact on the ground there had been monitoring the FM frequency and had heard my request for a fire at Tan Tru. He had a nice fire burning near the pad, but the gunships had not arrived. The apparently aimless ground fire continued. I tried to fly the Chinook on instruments with a sling load as smoothly as I could to avoid inducing higher levels of unwanted attitude perturbations. It meant ignoring the rhythmic motions naturally induced by the load, and it added another level of complexity and challenge to a tired, hungry, aggravated aviator. Another 20 minutes were consumed circling on instruments over the flickering fire far below. The gunships finally arrived, reconned the area, and advised of heavy ground fire. I selected 300 degrees as my approach heading. Sam advised the gunships while I told the contact we were coming in. Almost immediately a ground flare lit up the pad area. I put the thrust lever (known as the collective pitch lever in most helicopters) down to the 3 degree detent (minimum allowable for normal operations) and began expediting my descent. Early in the approach, I realized that the flare was getting too bright; with the haze, it seemed to mask other lights on the ground which gave me a visible reference plane.    I asked that it be extinguished, and momentarily it went out. Up to this time, things had been working out pretty well for us considering the extreme circumstances, but I had played my last good card.

Since we had left Vung Tau over an hour ago, Sam hadn't had the controls, he had flown the trip from Dong Tam hours ago, so it was my turn and I had taken the trip to Tan Tru. Also, we were into a demanding set of circumstances, and I felt better doing the flying myself. Besides, with Dugger's help with the radios, we were a pretty efficient team. I'd let Sam fly on the return home; That was my second mistake of the evening. The approach I was executing was a big 180 degree descending turn to the left, it works great when made from our normal operating altitude of 3500 feet. About 60 degrees through the approach, I realized that I had misjudged the altitude and the approach. I suppose it was the combination of fatigue, hunger, and stress, but I was about to blow the approach. Doing so would unnecessarily put my crew and the gunships in more danger. I tried to ignore the ground fire because the load had to be delivered regardless. In an attempt to salvage the approach, I used a technique that I used previously when desiring to lose altitude quickly. I pulled the airspeed back to 40 knots and kicked the aircraft out of trim. 074 responded beautifully with a descent rate around 2000 feet per minute. Sam wouldn't have known to do this, and I'm not sure I would have allowed him to do such an aggressive maneuver on a dark, hazy night; He couldn't, but I could! If I had let him fly, he probably would not have made such a serious misjudgment which resulted in the need to this maneuver. As I rolled onto my approach heading, the altimeter was winding through 1500 feet, I announced that I was bringing in the power and increasing my airspeed to 70 knots in order to complete the approach normally. I had a good approach angle; the altitude losing technique had worked out well. I was looking forward to getting this load on the ground because we were now quite vulnerable to ground fire even with our exterior lights out.

Then it happened!   Right by the pad, into my dark-adapted eyes came the dazzling white light of another flare.   Less than half a mile out and approaching a thousand feet, in this critical phase of trying to salvage my approach, I was blinded momentarily.   I squinted at the reflections off the buildings to the right and yelled on the radio to get the flare extinguished.   We were now close to the sources of all those tracers, but now I had an approach to complete.   I thought everything was going okay and I would be able to complete the approach, when Sam said, "Pull the nose up, Max" and I felt him get on the controls.   I looked back at the instrument panel and remember seeing four instruments and they all spelled DEATH.   My altimeter was winding through 300 feet, my nose was 20 degrees below the horizon, my airspeed was going through 100 knots, and I had 800 pounds of torque (almost full power) pulled in.    Let me say here that 20 degrees does not sound like it is very steep, but I have never had the guts to intentionally put the nose of a Chinook that low, even though several times I have tried, just to see what it looks like in the daytime.   I chickened out before I could get it that low.

Together, Sam and I were pulling back on the stick; not in panic as you might think considering the situation, but still very much trying to fly the aircraft out of what I knew beyond doubt was an unrecoverable situation. Somehow, time seemed to slow down, I was able to think. First, I knew I was about to die; I recall thinking, "So this is how it ends" in much the same way as you would when you turn to the last page of a good book. There was no fear; just acceptance of what was about to happen. I recall wondering what it would feel like to have burning metal crumpling around my shoulders, when the strangest thing occurred; I could see inside the Raven Assembly of God Church as my wife held our young son, both looking into a casket! I didn't see a body in there, however, but then I wasn't looking for myself, but I knew it was mine. I was concerned about my wife, no, my widow and my baby. I was viewing from a vantage point perhaps 20 feet in the air, right through the roof, at the scene around the casket as it set behind the left section of pews by the sanctuary entrance door. It was a strange sensation; I felt sorry for Wanda... I wondered who would take care of her and Brian. How would she get her life back together without me. I knew she would do alright, but I regretted putting her through this pain.

Yes, I was about to die.  I was flying 074 and its crew of five into the ground in a power dive at over 100 knots. We were pulling back on the cyclic to get the nose up, but I knew it was hopeless. Besides, if we lucked out and the aircraft didn't hit the ground, there was still the sling load hanging nearly 40 feet below the aircraft. And then there was that dead tree just beyond the pad! Why hadn't someone cut that thing down long ago; It was the only tree of that height anywhere around. Under normal circumstances it posed no real hazard; we just flew around it. But, the circumstances tonight were definitely not normal. What a shame it would be to somehow keep the aircraft and load from hitting the ground only to hit that stupid tree and die. Which ever way, the results would be the same. It seemed so sure; so inevitable that we were about to die, I don't even remember having any hope that we would make it.

The next thing I knew, the lighted pad, the buildings to the right, and that blinding flare flashed underneath the aircraft. We were low; very low, but the load hadn't hit the ground. A second later and I knew we had somehow missed the tree and were ALIVE! Then another crisis manifested itself; The dazzling flare was gone, and so was my night vision. It was like a black velvet bag had been pulled over my head and I could see nothing! I felt the wild oscillation of a sling load that had been aggravated by the previous excessively quick maneuvering. It seemed to be controlling the aircraft. I could feel what felt like a roll. It was like I was sitting in a clothes dryer with my back to the door and it spinning... Vertigo! What a frightening way to die! Now I was afraid. After miraculously recovering the aircraft from an unusual attitude at low altitude, I was going to loose control because of blindness and vertigo. No Chinook pilot worth his salt will deliberately drop a sling load unless it was immediately endangering his aircraft or crew. I had not experienced such a situation before, but I recognized immediately that this was that kind of situation. I knew it was the load or me, It had to go. Sam had armed the cargo hook with the overhead switch during our approach. The cargo hook release is a small red button on the cyclic stick grip which is actuated with the little finger of the right hand. Once pushed, it takes a couple of seconds before the hook opens enough to let the load drop off. I didn't know if I had that much time, but I had to try. An emergency hook release switch on the overhead console would release the load immediately, but I had my hands full of Chinook and there wasn't time to ask Sam to do it. I recall squeezing the whole stick grip to ensure I got the button pushed. Almost immediately, far faster than the usual delay, I felt a comforting jolt as the load dropped away. About this time I could begin to see again. We weren't rolling at all, rather, we were in a slight left turn with the nose up and climbing like a homesick angel. The vertigo was gone! I was in control again. I remember starting to breath again. I guess I had been holding my breath from the time I realized we were in trouble. It felt good. I relaxed a little and eased my grip on the stick. I was thankful for a fast hook.   I didn't know what to say. I had almost killed my crew. I keyed the intercom and said, "I'm sure glad that was a fast hook." Dugger replied, "You didn't punch it off. A tracer round hit the sling and broke it. I was going to save the doughnut (the nylon and cotton loop that goes on the hook to which the slings are fastened) for a souvenir, but the hook opened and it fell off." For the last several seconds I had not even been concerned with the ground fire all around us, but I thanked God for that lucky round. The gunship lead advised me to slow down my climb rate cause they couldn't stay with me. I thanked them graciously and told them I wouldn't be needing them any more tonight. A couple of minutes later I was back at 6000 feet, flying in the dark hazy sky, and reflecting on what had almost happened down there. We were lucky to be alive and we knew it. It was indescribably unnerving. How had we pulled it out? Why were we not dead? Others had died in similar incidents. Why not us?

Several minutes passed. Actually, I had no idea how many when the left gunner yelled, "Sir, there's a search light down there looking for us!" At that time the cockpit was illuminated momentarily by a powerful search light. I had not seen nor heard of the VC ever using one and I knew the Americans didn't have such a light! I racked the aircraft around in a tight climbing turn to the right hoping to avoid being acquired by the light. I had no idea what would be coming up after us if it found us. Fear gripped me again as I waited. Then the gunner announced that it was searching the sky far behind us. To this day I still don't know who or what was looking for us. There were still frequent orange streaks from tracers being fired into the air almost everywhere we looked.

Then I realized, almost as though awakening from a dream, that I had been flying aimlessly in a southerly direction for many minutes. I didn't know where I was or how far it was back to Vung Tau. My perception of time was so distorted I was unable to mentally calculate how much fuel time I had left. One thing I didn't want to do was to run out of fuel over the water on the way back home, Home; Vung Tau. It seemed so distant, would we ever get back there? An Nhut Tan was not far from Tan An. I had been into the airfield and refueled there once before. Surely I must be closer to Tan An than Vung Tau. I made the decision to go into there and refuel. The rest of the flight should be routine if I didn't do something else dumb. The greatest possibility of that seemed to be running out of fuel, and I was determined not to do that.

I don't recall how long it took to get back north to the Tan An area, or even how we got there. I found a town that I was sure was Tan An. I remembered that the airfield was to the west of the city so I began to look for perimeter lights which marked all U.S. installations. I saw some near the west edge of town and began to descend. By this time I was circling over the perimeter at 300 feet trying to make out a runway. I keyed the radio and called Tan An and asked if they had the runway lights on. Just then Dugger yelled, "Look out!" and pointed out the windshield. I had been circling to the left looking intently down to try to find a runway. When I looked up, I was staring at a microwave tower just down from the top! It was just a couple of seconds in front of me. I jerked the cyclic to the right and sucked in an armload of pitch, narrowly missing the tower! Tan An requested our position. I told them I was over the compound with the microwave tower, and that I had just almost hit it. The tower told me to look to the west about three miles; that there was a fire burning on the northwest corner of the perimeter. I rogered the fire, but saw no other lights. The tower said they were under ground attack and had all the lights off, so I asked them to get me some lights out there and I would help them fight charlie when I got on the ground.

After what I had just been through, just getting safely back on the ground was my greatest desire. I expected to have to hit the ground under fire, grab the M-14's carried on board for the pilots, and assist in the defense of the airfield. At this time, it was a welcomed thought; a more than fair trade. Most flights in Vietnam had been relatively routine; no ground fire, nothing unusual, but tonight, it seemed the deck was stacked against us. What else could possibly go wrong? Swapping bullets with a few VC before we topped off the aircraft and flew home didn't seem like such a bad deal. I informed the crew to get the weapons ready and prepare for a firefight. Our two gunners would dismount their M-60 machine guns, and Dugger would use his M-79 grenade launcher. He, Sam, and I had 45 caliber pistols, plus I had my M-2 carbine. We were ready.

Someone from the tower or ops reacted quickly and drove a jeep out onto the runway and pointed the lights my way. I could see the lights as the jeep drove out. With all lights out, I made the approach short of the jeep and was directed by the tower to the hot refueling point. Much to my surprise, I saw no evidence of enemy activity. (I guess the VC wanted to lay low and see what the Chinook had to add to the fight.) I also saw no point in looking for trouble, so I hovered the aircraft to orient the tail toward where the enemy was reported to be and the left side toward the fuel point. I told the chief to only allow one person off the aircraft and to refuel only the left tank as quickly as possible. Rather than reducing the rotor RPM as usual, I kept it up to normal operating RPM of 230 so there would be no delay if we had to make a quick get away. Sam and I sat in silence during the few minutes it took to refuel. It was a welcomed break to try to collect our wits and think about the trip home.    Dugger announced, "Ramp up. Ready in the rear." (Sweet words. I'm about to fly.)

I advised the tower that I was ready for take off, and was cleared for immediate takeoff from present position. With a word of thanks to the Tan An folks, we were soon in a rapid, 2000 feet per minute climb back to 6000 feet. We were changing radio frequencies to contact Tan An Arty when the master caution light just below the windshield lit up. What now? Sam quickly punched the master caution housing to extinguish the bright light while we both checked the annunciator panel on the center console to see what the problem was. It was a FUEL PRESS LOW light. No big deal, I should have expected it. We were in a climb, fuel in the right tank was low, and the forward boost pump (on of two in each tank) was uncovered. The Lycoming T-55L7 engines had their own fuel pumps sufficient to sustain operation at lower altitudes. The boost pumps just help with the task and back up the engine driven pumps. I asked Sam to open the fuel crossfeed switch so the left pumps could supply pressure and fuel as necessary to the right engine. He did, and the light went out. Now back to Tan An Artillery.

"Tan An Arty, this is Hillclimber 074 from Tan An to Vung Tau; Artillery advisory."

"Hillclimber 074, this is Tan An. Be advised we have artillery from Tan An in all quadrants to 5000 feet."

"Roger, Tan An, We are climbing through 4000 now. We shall be clear in just a moment."

Still climbing at 2000 ft/min we would be clear in another few seconds; a comforting thought. Suddenly, I heard noise and felt a slight shudder in the airframe like someone had dropped a tool box or an ammo box in the rear. In spite of the 120-130 decibel range of noise in the cockpit, the wind and rotor noise, the helmet, and ear plugs, I could hear and feel anything out of the ordinary. It was like my senses were more keen. A dropped tool in the back could be heard, as could a bullet passing through the airframe. It got my attention, but it didn't cause me alarm. I enquired of Dugger what was going on. He said that he didn't know. No one had dropped anything. We leveled off at 6000. And yes, I was still on the controls. The ADF needle was pointing the way home to Vung Tau. I could still see an abnormally high number of tracers when I looked down, but they didn't concern me now. We requested flight following and aircraft advisories from Paris Control. We advised Hillclimber Operations that we were on the way home... We relaxed.

Something then began to happen to me which I still can't explain. I could not hold heading and altitude! I was conscious of the problem and tried to fly right, but I just could not. I told Sam to take the aircraft and take us home if he could; because I couldn't. I am not sure if I could have flown well enough to get us home and on the ground or not. It seemed impossible at the time. I was glad I had Sam. Looking back on the situation, I can understand the fatigue I felt. I had been flying all day with only a can of C-rations to eat. For the last couple of hours, I had been at the controls under the most stressing of conditions. We had almost died twice from my errors. We had been under fire for most of that two hours. We had encountered an unexplained search light. We'd had a load shot away. I had gotten vertigo. We expected we would have to play infantry soldier. Then the master caution. And the unexplained bump... Now, back at 6000 feet and on instruments, it was just too much for me. I was unable to get my scan of the instruments going, or unable to translate the information I was seeing into control movements. Sam took the controls and flew us back to Vung Tau without incident.

Back at Operations, a small crowd had gathered around the radio. I was the only Hillclimber out, so the duty officer changed frequencies as I did to monitored as much of what was going on as he could. I knew from early in the mission that it would be unusual, so I kept ops informed as things developed. Sam made the approach and taxied to the parking spot. Together we executed the shutdown procedure.

As we took off our helmets, two arms appeared between Sam and me and in those hands were two very cold Budweisers. CW3 Jim Parker, our night maintenance officer, was one of the people who had been monitoring the radio in ops. I'm sure he expected us to become a statistic and he would lose a good aircraft. Jim was a fine man and a good friend, his thoughtfulness was greatly appreciated. I don't particularly like the taste of beer, but that night, it was great! I think it went down almost in one long gulp. It was good to be on the ground again. On the dash 13 of the aircraft log book, I entered "Flt #1 okay." Back in Ops, I filled out a dropped load report and the mission sheet. There was a place to mark if you had taken fire and the number of rounds; I entered "greater than 1000," because I had no idea how many. That was probably an extreme underestimate and based only on the tracers we saw.

I was on the flight manifest for a late takeoff (meaning it would be daylight by the time we got to the aircraft) the next morning. The memory of An Nhut Tan and the flight last night was still fresh on my mind, but I was rested and ready to serve my country in the skies over Vietnam. Sam was not slated to fly that day, the ordeal we had gone through together effected him for weeks. He didn't want to fly at night again for a long time. It didn't effect me any way except to make me more aware of the need to eat, to not try to do too much when very fatigued, and to share the load with the copilot. From then on, Sam had earned my complete confidence and respect. He had saved our lives more than once that night. SP5 Dugger had also proven himself that night, and saved our lives.

On the way out to the aircraft the next morning, Dugger intercepted me and asked me to come and look at 074. Just behind the right hand forward landing gear, very close to the right hand fuel tank, there was a scrapped dent just about the radius of a 105mm artillery shell. Dugger assured me that it wasn't there yesterday before the flight. Apparently, the unidentified bump we felt as we climbed out from Tan An was an artillery round hitting the aircraft! At that altitude it would have been almost at its maximum altitude. With our rapid rate of climb, the contact was not hard enough to break the skin of the aircraft. Our paths crossed at near 90 degrees with just a "kiss." Fortunately for us, it was not the kiss of death. I realized that not twice, but three times, we were just inches or seconds from death that night, not before nor since that night have I knowingly been so close!

Although more than 30 years have passed since that night, the memory of it is still vivid in my mind.    It is a reminder to me that God kept me alive for a purpose.

Maj (R) Frank {Max} Grose