|Quad 50 doing its thing in Vietnam 1968|
I am pretty sure that the Army spent so much money educating our young West Point Officers that they just didn't waste them as Forward Observers or send them to Vietnam as 2nd Lieutenants to keep them out of the line of fire. At least not in the units I was with. Most of them went through their officer basic Course, 13 weeks, then Airborne (3 weeks) and quite a few through ranger training. Most of them were posted to a State side unit and it wasn't until they had made first Lieutenant that they were deployed. In the Artillery that pretty much kept them out of the FO assignments. Most of the young Forward Observers were OCS or ROTC graduates. I imagine they weren't pumping a hundred or so new officers out of OCS to pad their numbers. Many of us were just Cannon Fodder for the system. I am not mad about that, just stating what most of us felt.
There were exceptions to every rule. If a young officer managed to screw something up in the US, they were put on orders for over sea's as fast as the system would allow. This is a short story about one of them. In the last position occupied by my battery in Vietnam, we moved from our usual mountain top LZ to a position just outside a Special Forces camp down near Pleiku. What that meant is that about any time someone was flying from Dak To to Pleiku, they could just drop in and visit. We built a sand bag helicopter landing pad to help cut down on the dust. It was the dry season and we were in one of the dustiest places in all of Vietnam.
One day, we were notified that some Red Cross girls (We called the Doughnut Dollies) were in bound to our location. They were in a Light Observation helicopter (LOH pronounced loach) and we could use it to send things back to Artillery Hill if needed. Most of the guys washed their faces and kind of milled around to get a look at one of the few women we had seen in a long time. Believe me it was all look and no touch.
We had a new officer assigned to us and I really hadn't had a chance to meet him. He was a West Point 2nd Lieutenant that we just picked up. As soon as Lt Livingston got finished with the in country FDC school, Buddy Allen would take over as the XO and I would go home. The 2nd Lieutenant was "Gung Ho" and most of us were there for the duration of our tour. As the Captain and I talked, we agreed that a .50 caliber machine gun we had on our perimeter was so screwed up that it needed to go in and have it fixed. There wasn't a lot else that needed to go back to base camp except the First Sergeant. I am pretty sure that his supply of booze was low and we needed some mail.
I told one of the guns chiefs to send a couple of his guys up and put the machine gun on the loach when it arrived. They were standing about 50 feet from the helicopter landing pad when it arrived. Just as the skids on the helicopter touched down, that west point Lieutenant grabbed that 50 cal and put it up on his shoulder to carry it out to the loach. He calmly walked towards the bird when the pilot looked up and motioned for him to get his head down as loaches were not very tall. The lieutenant bent over at the waist and walked forward.
I will try to tell this part very slow and methodical so it may run on. The following things all happened so fast that I could not believe my eyes. The girl in the back seat of the helicopter got out and was walking away from the bird. The lieutenant with the gun on his shoulder kept coming forward bent over and the barrel of the machine gun made contact with the rotor blades and things went all to hell from there. Helicopters are wonderful things when everything is balanced and works. Knock a rotor blade out of balance and stop the blades from turning as fast and things happen fast and poorly. The helicopter became a giant out of balance machine that was jumping all over the place and it literally beat the skids through the sandbag landing pad. It reminded me of the shake a wash machine does when you try to spin a rug in the drum. How the pilot kept it upright and in one piece was a miracle. I did see him motion to the red Cross girl in the front beside him to get out and run. I saw her give him the finger and she stayed right there beside him until the blades ground to a halt. By that time in Vietnam, I had been on more helicopters than I cared to fly on and I never heard one go crunch, crunch, crunch as the blades stopped. The pilot, as soon as the blades stopped, jumped out of his door and pulled out his pistol to shoot that idiot than caused his bird to self destruct. When he got around to the side where the Lieutenant sat on the ground all bloodied, he calmed down enough to not shoot him. The machine gun barrel had contacted the end of the rotor blade and that little aluminum shell exploded with enough shrapnel to cut the lieutenant's scalp in several places. He was bleeding like a stuck hog and I'm sure that he didn't have any idea what had happened.
The real sad part was that most of us wanted the pilot to shoot that damned lieutenant right there but were curious to see if he was really hurt. As it turned out, lucky for him, the machine gun was on his right shoulder and the impact of the blade just threw it off his shoulder. If it had been on the other side, it would probably broke his neck and or killed him on the spot. No such luck.
The pilot put his gun back in his shoulder holster and just turned around to see the damage. It was pretty damn clear that that little loach wasn't going anywhere that day under its own power. We took him over to our FDC and he radioed his unit to have a Huey sent out with a recovery team. In the mean time, the medic we had attached to our unit was fixing the lieutenant's head wounds. It was a lot of blood but no major damage. The one thing we all made sure of was that our newly assigned officer knew damned well that there was no Purple Heart for self inflicted stupidity.
About an hour later, the recovery team arrived at our location and put a sling on the loach and picked it up and carried it off to their base camp. A Huey then landed and the pilot and the doughnut dollies loaded and left. The 2nd lieutenant couldn't wear his hat for a couple of days but he stayed right there with us.
That was the story of the 2nd lieutenant that took out a loach with a 50 caliber browning machine gun.