Historical Recount: 1965 to 1968
The Casper Aviation Platoon history starts with formation of the 173d Airborne Brigade (SEP). The Brigade was formed on the island of Okinawa on March 26, 1963. The MTOE of the Brigade included an aviation platoon as a part of Headquarters & Headquarters Company under the operational control of the Brigade S-3, Operations Officer.
On May 5, 1965, the Brigade was deployed to Vietnam becoming the first U.S. Army ground unit committed to the Vietnam War. Casper consisted of seven officers and four enlisted personnel. At this time, we do not have the names of the enlisted personnel. However, the officers were:
Don Bliss, then a Captain and later promoted to Major in September 1965 was the initial platoon commander. Later he became the Brigade Aviation Officer as well.
Duane Ingram, then a Captain was Bliss’ deputy. He was both fixed and rotary wing qualified.
Later, he became Casper’s second commander.
Donald Bachali, then a Lieutenant was a rotary wing aviator.
Rodney S. Beasley, then a Captain was a fixed wing aviator.
Richard E. (Dirk) LeMay, then a Lieutenant was a rotary wing aviator.
Allen P. Maulden, then a Lieutenant was a rotary wing aviator.
Jesse W. (Bob) Watson, then a Lieutenant was a fixed wing aviator.
The MTOE authorized the aviation platoon eight utility helicopters and no other aircraft. However, the aircraft assigned to the platoon in Okinawa were; two U-6A (Beavers) fixed wing aircraft, four OH-23D (Ravens) observation helicopters, and one UH-1A (Huey) utility Helicopters. While these aircraft were assigned in Okinawa, Casper was deployed to Vietnam with only the two fixed wing aircraft. According to Don Bliss, Casper arrived at Bien Hoa Air Force Base aboard a C-124 at 12 Noon on May 5, 1965. “We disembarked in full combat gear (steel pots, personal weapons, and all) and were greeted by a chorus of teenage Vietnamese girls singing their welcome to us. What a sight!”
On or about November 7, 1965, the two fixed wing aircraft were transferred to the 74th Aviation Company (SAL) along with Bob Watson. Rodney Beasley, the other fixed wing only aviator, was transferred back to CONUS for attendance at the Officers Advance Course. The platoon received two Hueys shortly after their arrival. Official data to support this is unavailable. According to Don Bliss, aircraft were traded between Casper and other Brigade operational control aviation units.
The origin of the name given the Brigade Aviation Platoon, Casper, goes back to Okinawa during preparations for movement. On numerous occasions during this critical period, Captain Leonard Small, the Aviation Maintenance Officer, Brigade Support Battalion, was often not readily available to provide needed assistance to the platoon. Platoon members trying to locate him spent considerable time. On one particular day during preparation for the move, Captain Bob Watson, referred to Small as “The Ghost.” The name stuck and Small continued to be referred to as “The Ghost.”
After the unit’s arrival in Vietnam, it was discovered that all aviation units had a call sign. After discussions amongst the members of the platoon about various call signs, Captain Watson suggested, “Casper the Ghost.” Later, the name was shortened to the platoon nickname and call sign, “Casper.”
The Brigade received initial aviation general support from the 145th Aviation Battalion that had several aviation companies assigned. Shortly after the Brigade's arrival, Brigadier General Ellis D. Williamson, Commanding General of the 173d, set about to have an aviation company attached to the Brigade with a direct support mission. Although USARV felt this to be a waste of aviation assets, General Williamson's desire prevailed. As a part of the 145th Aviation battalion's deployment into Vietnam, Company A/82 had arrived 30 miles off the coast of Vietnam aboard the US Navy Helicopter Carrier Iwo Jima on May 1, 1965. Initially, they were deployed to Vung Tau with the aircraft flying from the Iwo Jima and other equipment and personnel being taken ashore on LSTs. Their aircraft consisted of 25 UH-1 helicopters (nine B models and 16 D models.) The unit was given the radio call sign, "Dallas Cowboys," which as later changed to "Cowboys." In October 1965, the Cowboys moved their base from Vung Tau to Bien Hoa. They were attached to Brigade and their mission changed to "Attached for all purposes." Because of this type of attachment, the Cowboys were allowed to wear the 173d insignia on their uniforms. Later in September of 1966, the unit designation was changed from Company A/82d Aviation Battalion to the 335th AHC. Due to command and control issues, the Casper Platoon was placed under operational control of the 335th AHC. Casper continued to fly command and control missions for the Brigade and its battalion commanders. In October 1966, the Army Goldbook indicates that Casper was assigned two UH-1 utility helicopters (a B model & a D model), along with six OH-13 observation helicopters. In January 1967, the 335th was assigned to the 145th Aviation Battalion, but continued to fly in direct support of the Brigade. In May 1967, Casper was taken out of operational control of the 335th and again placed under the operational control of the Brigade Aviation Officer, Brigade S-3. On December 31, 1967, the Cowboys were reassigned from the 145th to the 268th Combat Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade; but continued to provide direct support to the 173d. In March 1968, the Cowboys were again reassigned to the 214th Combat Aviation Battalion, 164th Combat Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Group. At that time, their direct support mission under operational control to the 173d Airborne Brigade was changed to General Support of the II Corps Tactical Area. From October 1965 until March 1968, Company A/82 and later the 335th AHC provided 30 continuous months of direct support to the Brigade from Bien Hoa to Plieku, to Dak To, to Kontum, and Hill 875. Unit citations underscore the Cowboys' brave and gallant support to the Brigade.
The Casper Commanders in Vietnam from May 1965 through January 1968 were (in order):
Donald E. Bliss
Duane C. Ingram
Thomas J. Terry
Richard F. Head
The Casper patch is believed to have been designed by Warrant Officer Don McGregor, who joined Casper after its arrival in Vietnam. Don Bachali first painted the image of “Casper the Ghost” on the cowlings of the U-6As, and the doors of the initially assigned UH-1s. The image was also painted on the front bubble of the OH-13s. Each crewmember had the image painted on his flight helmet.
After receiving its six OH-13 observation helicopters in the fall of 1966, the aircraft were armed with XM-1 Kit (later designated as the M-1), which consisted of two Browning M37C .30 Caliber Machine Guns. The call sign given these aircraft was “Hot Stuff.” It is unknown when the call sign changed to “Inferno,” the call sign used by the OH-6A LOHs in 1968-1971.
The remainder of the platoon continued to use “Casper” as its call sign with the exception of aircraft used for the Mortar Aerial Delivery Systems (MADS) which used call signs, “Mad Bomber” and “12 O’Clock High.”
Casper missions consisted of Command and Control aircraft for the Brigade and Battalion commanders, psychological operations (loud speakers), aerial bombing missions, aero scout missions, artillery fire adjustment, convoy control, bomb damage assessment, re-supply, and medical evacuations.
From its arrival in Vietnam as an MTOE asset of the 173d Airborne Brigade, Casper conducted every mission assigned with bravery and tradition. No other aviation unit remained with the Brigade from the beginning to the end.
1st Commander, Casper Aviation Platoon
1st Brigade Aviation Officer, 173d Airborne Brigade
Colonel (USA Retired)
Aircraft Commander, Casper & 335th AHC, Falcon 81 Fire Team Leader
Historical Recount: January 1968 to January 1969
Major Silvey arrived in country the day Tet began in 1968. He spent three days at Cam Ranh Bay for in processing and assignment to the 173d Airborne Brigade. He was then airlifted to An Khe.
The Brigade Headquarters (Rear) was located an An Khe. The Brigade Headquarters (Forward) was located at Camp Enarie in Pleiku. At that time, the Casper Aviation Platoon was located principally at the “Crap Table” in An Khe. All major maintenance was accomplished at An Khe. There were eight UH-1H’s and six OH-13’s assigned to Casper. As Major Silvey was one of few pilots qualified in the OH-13, he was assigned an OH-13.
The Brigade Aviation Officer on Major Silvey’s arrival was Major Larry Welch. The Brigade Commander was BG Schweider who was famous for relieving commanders and others. Bruce Silvey recalls, “Major Welch was no exception - you just did not get side ways with the General.” Sometime during February 1968, Major Silvey was ordered to report to Ban Me Thout with OH-13 and flight and personal gear.
The Casper Aviation Platoon was dispersed across the II Corps Areas of Operation. Generally, the eight UH-1H’s were used to provide Command and Control for the four combat battalions - plus a General’s aircraft. The OH-13’s were used in support of the Brigade S-3 and the commanders, 3/319th Field Artillery Battalion. The remaining flyable aircraft were used for general purpose missions in support of the Brigade.
Airmobile combat assault operations before January 1968 were assigned to the 335th Assault Helicopter Company (Cowboys), which was under Operational Control of the Brigade. Shortly before Major Silvey's assignment, airmobile combat assault mission requirements were forwarded daily to the II Corps Aviation Officer, who would then assign II Corps aviation assets to satisfy the mission.
During 1968, the Brigades combat maneuver battalions (1st, 2nd, and 4th/503d Airborne Infantry battalions) were operating west of Kontum and Ban Me Thout with one battalion in and around An Khe. The 3rd/503d Airborne Infantry Battalion was conducting operations south of Nha Trang. The Brigades aviation assets were spread out requiring Casper aviators and crews to be self-reliant. These were some of the best crews in the country because they were required then to act on their own and to be supportive to the battalion commanders. Hence, the term evolved, "Think on the move."
Specific recollections by Major Silvey of the Casper Aviation Platoon:
1. The loss of Warrant Officer Donny R. Kidd. This was a tragic event that took about four months to unravel. On a clear, sunny day at Kontum, WO Kidd departed with the incoming Commander of the 3rd/319th Field Artillery Battalion. His mission was to transport his passenger to an artillery battery near Kontum; afterwards, he was to take the new commander to the Brigade Headquarters south of Pleiku for lunch with the brigade staff. Later, he was to continue on stopping at An Khe before ending his mission at the battery located south of Nha Trang. It was not until the following day that the Brigade Headquarters received word that they had not arrived at the final location. Major Silvey immediately conducted a phone search with the personnel at An Khe. Results of the phone search revealed that the aircraft crew and passenger had not arrived at An Khe or at Brigade Headquarters (Forward) for lunch with the staff. Major Silvey was to determine that after departing the first stop on their flight plan, the crew and passenger had left word with battery personnel that they would not stop at the Brigade Headquarters (Forward), but rather fly directly to An Khe. Air Search and Rescue was notified. USAF Search and Rescue and assets of Casper Aviation Platoon conducted search operations along a suspected flight path. However, without knowing the exact route their aircraft may have taken, search operations were unsuccessful in locating the missing aircraft, crew and passengers. After three days, the search was ended. During the next few months, the 4th Infantry Division took over the Brigade's area of operation and the Brigade moved into AO Lee with its Headquarters (Forward) being stationed at LZ English near the city of Bong Son. Approximately four months after the aircraft, crew, and passengers were reported missing in action, a patrol from the 4th Infantry Division found the aircraft wreckage near the top of the Mang Yang Pass along QL 19 between Pleiku and An Khe. The aircraft was inverted with bullet holes thru the pilot's seat. This suggesting that the aircraft was conducting low-level operations through the Pass when it was shot down.
2. As mentioned previously, the Brigade's area of operation across II Corps was changed in early 1968. The Brigade assumed control of AO Lee that covered most of the Binh Dinh Province. The Brigade Headquarters (Rear) remained at An Khe while the Brigade Headquarters (Forward) moved into LZ English. The Brigade's Three maneuver battalions (1st, 2nd, and 4th of the 503d Airborne Infantry Battalions) were assigned areas of operation north of Qui Nhon along the coastal highlands and QL 1 north to the I Corp-II Corps border. The 3rd/503d Airborne Infantry Battalion remained south near Ban Me Thout. LZ English housed the Brigade Headquarters (Forward), Headquarters & Headquarters Company, Headquarters 3rd/319th Field Artillery Battalion and one firing battery, a cavalry troop, and other assigned support elements as well as Casper's new home - Ghost Town. It
was there that all the elements of Casper, its helicopters, its maintenance and admin, and its personnel were once again joined together to support operations on AO Lee.
3. A primary problem with personnel assigned to Casper from its inception was the loss of crew chiefs due to normal rotation with no replacements. Because of this, Major Silvey traveled to Saigon to talk to the personnel people about the problem. He discovered a young man on the second floor of one of those hot dusty buildings who managed assignments of crew chiefs. When asked if the Brigade could expect some replacement helicopter mechanics soon, the personnel clerk responded that mechanics were arriving in-country everyday, however, the Brigade had requested that all personnel assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade be "Airborne Qualified." Major Silvey changed the instructions as the Brigade Aviation Officer indicating that the Brigade would accept properly trained aircraft maintenance personnel who were not Airborne Qualified. He made mention, "Our flight crews generally do not jump out of our helicopters." Major Silvey returned to LZ English with the problem solved and with the blessings of General Allen, the Commanding General.
4. The "Hot Water Shower" Incident. Casper was noted for the ingenuity of its cadre. Captain Stan Streicher decided that having hot water for a shower for Casper members would make all the other drudgery somewhat more bearable. Casper developed a small water tower that was a "drip-drip affair" using MoGas to keep a flame burning under the water heater. Not being a part of the TO&E, no one really inspected the rig, nor paid much attention to it as it seemed to work just fine. On summer evening, the fuel truck driver who was refueling the MoGas fuel tank backed the truck up to the shower area. Before attempting to refuel the MoGas tank, the driver had forgotten to turn the heater's flames off. Then he had allowed fuel to leak from the hose around the burners. The flames jumped the fuel leak and proceeded towards the the nozzle and hose. The driver dropped the hose and ran to the truck with the intention of moving the truck laden with MoGas away from the approaching flames. By doing so, the hose and nozzle were left unattached and fuel began to pour out onto the ground. As those who lived in the Ghost Town recall, the rows of revetments for the helicopters were tiered with the maintenance shack being located at the bottom of the tiered hilll. The fuel ran down hill and began burning everything in sight. The closest building was the maintenance shack. Someone had the presence of mind to run into the shack to grab all of the Logbooks for the aircraft. However, he missed one - a UH-1 that had just completed a 100 hours PE - whose logbook was in another part of the shack. The maintenance shack was destroyed. The Commanding General kept his cool, but rolled his eyes at Major Silvey when he reported the day's happenings. The end result Casper was able to fly that bird for another 100 hours while personnel in St Louis attempted to reconstruct its maintenance records. Major Silvey believes after the next 100 hours of flight, it sat for a week before the records were received and Casper was allowed to use it again.
5. Door Gunners were a valuable part of the flight crew. Though the initiation of a set policy for assignment as a door gunner cannot be recalled, Casper was fortunate to be provided some of the best infantrymen available. Most were from the infantry battalions within the Brigade who had spent most of their first tour in the “boonies” carrying an M-16 and rucksack. Assignment to Casper was based on performance in their initial assignment. There was an evening when one of the LOH’s was out for a last light recon and received a call from one of the USAF FAC’s, who lived with us and provided close in fighter-bomber support. The FAC had received fire from within a large clump of trees located north of LZ English. The LOH crew was immediately dispatched to reconnoiter the area. While hovering over the trees, the LOH took small arms fire. The crew chief/gunner was leaning out of the aircraft, looking down, when he received two small arms rounds in the thigh. The oil cooler was shot out. And true to its construction and promise that it cold fly without oil - that bird flew back to LZ English. Later, the crew chief was air evacuated. Several months later, just before Major Silvey was to DEROS, the Commanding General received a letter from the crew chief. He asked if the Brigade would accept him back. General Allen felt the emotion and pride of this young soldier. It was one of those moments that defined what the troops of the Brigade and the Casper Aviation Platoon were all about.
Major Silvey’s Summary: The 173rd Airborne Brigade was one of the finest units with which I served and it was made better by the fine soldiers and aviation personnel who made up Casper. Casper can be proud of the support they provided that the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade (SEP).
Bruce D. Silvey
Lieutenant Colonel (USA Retired)
Brigade Aviation Officer
Historical Recount - May 1969 to May 1970
After spending 22 hours on a TWA 707 Freedom Bird out of Travis Air Force Base, CA, I arrived penniless at the 90th Replacement Detachment at Long Binh near Bien Hoa Air Force Base. Before leaving CONUS, I had taken 5 days leave on Broadway Street in San Francisco with my classmate, Macho Mike Hutto, where the two of us spent approximately $2,200.00 on every hooker, stripper, and bar that Frisco had to offer. After all, we were helicopter pilots bound to die across the pond rather than return.
With some physical duress exerted by Macho Mike, the PX Officer at the 90th Repot-Depot cashed my last check for $50.00. Mike and I were "back in the chips." We had cash to spend on food and spirits at the officers' club, as well as for our newest found sport, the "steam & cream" queens at the local PX Massage Parlor Concession. I celebrated my 25th birthday with Macho by missing my up-country flight to An Khe. The 90th's First Sergeant later read me the passage from the uniform Code of Military Justice concerning missing troop movement. I made the next flight.
There were only two of us on a C-123 out of Bien Hoa bound for An Khe. The guy with me was writing in his diary the entire flight. He was a second lieutenant by the name of John Throckmorton. I introduced myself and asked him what unit he was assigned to. John replied, "the 173d" I looked at his fatigues and saw no aviator wings. I asked him why a "leg" was being assigned to the 173d. John seemed to get a little angry and responded, "I'm not a LEG. I'm a trooper who's assigned to the 173d Airborne Infantry Brigade." I've gotta tell you that my heart sank. When reading the "Up-Country Shipment List" back at the 90th, I had only read my assignment, "173d". I hadn't seen the words "Airborne Infantry Brigade." I thought that I was being assigned to the 173rd Aviation Company. "Jesus, now they're gonna throw me out of airplanes!"
When we arrived at the Brigade Headquarters (Rear) at An Khe, I went straight to the S-1 Shop to get my orders changed. I was sure that some Admin Specialist "Zero" had misread my specialty code as Airborne instead of Aviator. The Sergeant Major convinced me that there had been no mistake, and I had been assigned as to the 173d as an aviator in Casper. "Casper. What's that?"
After a week at the Brigade's Jungle School In-Country Orientation Course, we were flown to LZ English. A warrant officer named Bill Fielding came down to the airfield to pick up me and another pilot, WO Ray O'Connor. When we arrived at "Ghost Town" in a jeep, there seemed to be a lot of hot action going on. A smoke grenade had clouded the area and you couldn't see much. We could only hear machine guns being fired and hand grenades going off. Fielding skidded the jeep to a halt and shouted, "Hit the deck!" Looking up, I saw a barrel-chested man wondering aimlessly through the smoke with what looked like a blood soaked bandage around his head. Then another guy came running up to him screaming, "Captain Streicher get down!" All the while, the machine guns and grenades kept going off. As the smoke cleared, about 20 guys were standing around Ray and I lying on the ground pinned up against the tires of the jeep. They were laughing. Then Captain Stan Streicher with his bloody bandage walked over to us and said, "Welcome to Casper. You boys did what we expected you to do." It was the beginning of my tour with Casper.
The platoon was flying C&C missions as well as ash & trash for the battalions. We had eight slicks and six OH-6A Loaches armed with mini-guns. The Loaches flew as a Mini-Cav with the call sign "Inferno." The pilots were assigned daily missions. The crew chiefs and door gunners were assigned to specific birds. The esprit de corps in Casper was high.
The Brigade's Area of Operations was called AO Lee or also known as Binh Dinh Province. Geographically, it covered from the I Corps-II Corps border south along the Coastal Highlands to just north of Qui Nhon. QL 1 ran southwards through the area. The Brigade wasn't the first combat unit in the area. The mountains and hillsides were cluttered with tail booms of Hueys and burned out Armored Personnel Carriers of the 1st Cavalry Division, which had been there in 1968. The LZ's were named Orange, Tape, Horse, Uplift, English, and North English. We flew into places in support of the Brigade like Tam Qwan, the 506 Valley, the "Hawk's Nest", the An Loa Valley, and "Fish Hook." To the south of us was Phu Cat Air Force Base. The First ROK (Republic of Korea) Division (the Tiger Division) was also just south of us and to the east of Phu Cat. Our direct support maintenance was Lane Army Heliport.
Captain Streicher along with Captains "JJ" Jones and Guy Strang ran the officers of the platoon, although Stan was the Commander. Sergeant First Class Page ran the enlisted guys. We were housed in wooden hootches that had been constructed just prior to my arrival. Besides the hootches, Ghost Town had a shower, a maintenance shack, a "club" and operations. The birds were placed in rows with revetments on a tiered hill. The slicks were in the top two tiers, and the Loaches on the bottom tier next to the maintenance shack. Ghost Town was on the perimeter of LZ English.
During my first few months, I flew with most of the Aircraft Commanders in each of the slicks. Larry Pippen, then a Wobbly 1, was my Aircraft Commander when I got my "Cherry Busted." We were flying C&C for 2nd Bat when Larry monitored a call for a Priority A-Dust Off request by one of their companies. Larry has been named by several as one of the best pilots ever to fly for Casper. Truth is, he was. However, he had one deficiency. Larry, though a Loach pilot and a damn good one, always thought the M-60 machine guns mounted on a "Slick" made it an attack helicopter. He never considered these weapons as defensive. After two aborted attempts to land in an LZ described by folks on the ground as "Not hot, but damn sure not cold," we had been shot up with about 50 rounds of small arms fire. Now Larry wanted to attack the little people on the ground that had shot us. Problem was, our brand spanking new Cracker Jack door gunner had placed the gas cylinder plugs in both M-60's backwards. They each fired once and jammed. So, Aircraft Commander Pippen instructs the crew that included me to use our small arms pistols to shoot our way in. Once on the ground, the crew chief and door gunner drug the wounded young soldier onto the aircraft and across the flooring. We were able to take the young man back to B Med at LZ English safely. We found out later he received 18 to 20 stitches for his wound, and about 100 stitches for the cuts on his back, ass, and legs from being dragged across the "pineappled" sheet medal where the bullets had hit us.
About two months into my tour I was made an aircraft commander. Sometimes good sense and the needs of the Army don't go hand and hand. After my first month as an aircraft commander, Stan told me that I was being assigned as the replacement for the Commanding General's Pilot, Chuck Merkel, who was coming to the end of his tour. I didn't want the assignment and asked Stan to choose someone else, but he said no. We had a different kind of command in Casper with Streicher. He asked you once. That was an order. Later in my tour, I "heard" of an officer who refused a request from Stan to fly a specific mission, as he was the least inebriated. The officer turned Stan down three times. Later that night, the officer was found in a well located in Ghost Town. I guess it was true that he was too inebriated to fly-imagine falling into a well all by yourself.
I took the job replacing Merkel. To my pleasant surprise, General Barnes had his change of command one month after my assignment as his aircraft commander. The new CG, Brigadier Hugh Cunningham was much better. He wanted to be the second ship in on a combat assault. During the next eight months, I began to suspect that General Cunningham was in some ways related to Pippen. He wanted to pull one ship "Mini-Cav" missions while prowling around the Brigade AO. The Brigade Aviation Officer, Major Jack Willard, was constantly on me about flying practices. I even had a First Aviation puke commander (and I use that term with all disrespect) complain to General Cunningham about my low level nap-of-the-earth flying techniques. What these "Chair Borne" aviators didn't realize, it wasn't my idea. I would tell General Cunningham that if I were at 1500 feet and something went wrong, I would have time to take an appropriate emergency procedure. General Cunningham would reply, "That's probably true, Don. But if you're at 1500 feet, I would have to worry all the way down. However, if you're just at tree top level, it's all over and I don't have to worry about it." (Author's Note: See the correlation here between Pippen & Cunningham?)
General Cunningham had a secret ambition to be an aviator. When flying out of the AO, I would always allow him to sit in the Peter Pilot's seat and take the controls. Once having the controls, he would try to fly like a First Aviation Brigade Pilot creeping up to 1500 feet. I'd make him get back down on the deck. On one mission we were flying to Nha trang "feet wet" when we came upon a US Navy frigate, which had provided Naval gunfire support the preceding week. General Cunningham said, "Don, let's fly over the top of the ship."" It was about 2 miles off the coast. Reluctantly, I agreed to do this. Just before reaching the ship, General Cunningham said, "Let's have Roy (our crew chief) and the door gunner fire their machine guns out to the side of the ship when we reach it."" I thought the old man had lost it, but he was the CG. I instructed both men to commence firing on my order and to aim as far away from the ship as possible. As we came close to the rear of the ship at 15 feet above the water, I could see the ship's crew taking photos of us as we approached. They were all outside waving with their cameras in hand. Just as we reached the rear of the ship, I did a pop up maneuver, and instructed the guys to go hot. The "Squids" ran for cover thinking that the bad guys had captured an Army helicopter and were attacking a US Naval vessel. I couldn't help but laugh. So did the General. I know Roy and the door gunner thought the old man and I had lost our minds. As we passed over the bow of the ship, I instructed the crew to ceasefire. It was just about then that I realized the ship had guns also. I dropped down to as close to the water as I could get and took the shortest course to the beach. Fortunately, the "Squids" didn't have time to respond with fire. I believe this to be the only time in the history of Army Aviation that a US Naval Warship felt it was under attack by a US Army Helicopter. Damn, he was fun to fly with.
One couldn't complete a recount of Casper history without mentioning "the Club." It was for the members of Casper, officers & enlisted. No preference was given to anyone except possibly Stan Streicher, our commander. Besides a large bar, there was a pool table. The music was loud. There were walls, but the roof was a large tent. Although beer and sodas were provided free of charge by the Army, Casper sold these items at the club to all that came in. The profits were used to buy whiskey for the Tuesday Night Steak Parties. Each Tuesday Night, Casper would invite all the First Sergeants, Sergeants Major, and mess sergeants from the battalions for a steak dinner. The mess sergeants would provide the steaks. We'd have a large cookout for everyone. The beer, alcohol, and sodas were provided free on that night. Although it can't be proven, it was well known that these parties solidified the close support provided by Casper to the Sergeants Major and Mess Sergeants. One bird always remained down for maintenance, which provided them their personal ship when needed. The daily "maintenance" flights somehow always managed a sortie to the "Truck Stop" to pick up cases of whiskey. I remember one such flight when Streicher instructed me to fly the CG's Mess Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Bob Bloodworth ("Blood") to a supply point near Qui Nhon. I thought it was a legit mission until the MP's started shooting at us as we lifted off with a brand new icemaker on board. "Blood" told me not to worry, it was the Supply Sergeant's way of giving us a salute
While flying with Casper, I met some very good pilots and crew members. My crew chief, Roy Kellogg, was the best. "Rat" Fielding while not flying bomb damage assessments in the middle B-52 Arc Light Strikes or crashing Loaches was a good pilot and knew his tunes as well as good scotch. Many of us would sit outside Fielding's room listening to Johnnie Cash, the Doors, the Beatles, and Janis Joplin on Teak and Akai reel-to-reel tape players with Sansui 2000 amplifiers and speakers. We'd also listen to Dirty "Don" McKeough shooting rats and other pesky critters living with Don in his shack. Life was good. It was usually during one of these nightly gatherings that Streicher would wonder up and view who was the least drunk for an assignment to extract a recon platoon. My Jungle School classmate, Ray O'Connor, and I received one of these late night missions one night. The weather was foul and we were assigned the mission of picking up a Four Star General at Phu Cat Air Force Base. Ray bailed me out as I went IFR going through the Bong Son Pass and almost flew us into a mountain. I recall some of the Veranda attendees Kirt Butler, Jim Revoir, "JJ" Jones, Jim Jeffyres, George Clouse, Gordy Anderson, and Guy Strang. These were some of the best pilots who were flying with Casper while I was there. Each one had a specialty in flying and in "Tall Tales." "JJ" would tell us about all the women who would come on to him each time he went home for R&R. And, no one will ever forget our buddy, Bill "Bazz" Bassignani, who was shot down and killed in his Loach during a mini-cav mission in An Loh Valley across from LZ Tape. Towards the end of my tour, the platoon was "re-loaded" with pilots the likes of the Horowitz Brothers, Gary and Bob, Ken Thomas, and others who carried on the traditions of Casper.
There were many magnificent crew chiefs and door gunners who I knew of, but didn't get to personally know. (I haven't forgotten you, "Short Round.") However, none of us there during 1968 - 1969 could forget Rick Canning who died after receiving fatal wounds in his Loach. He was a legend in the 173d. And Go-Go Gomez-Diaz who died with Bassignani when they were shot down as one of the best.
I hope you as a reader don't take my recount of Casper history as being "too cavalier" about our mission. Each day, every Casper crewmember saw death and war for what it was. We approached our mission with dedication. We as other aviators in the war, wrote the history of Army Aviation. We were pushed "to think on the move." The members of Casper before, during, and after my tour always shared one thing in common: Anytime, anywhere, and for any reason, Casper will be there.
I DEROS'd from the republic of South Vietnam on May 10, 1970. I picked a good replacement, 1st Lieutenant Dave Hunter. Unfortunately, Dave and his crew were severely hurt in an aircraft accident coming off the Hawk's Nest a short time after my departure. Dave died a few years later, not being able to cope with the pain. In 1983, I visited his gravesite at Fort Riley, Kansas to say a prayer of thanks for Dave and others who had fought the good fight while serving in Casper. My tenure with Casper and the Sky Soldiers of the 173d Airborne Brigade brought me to understand and appreciate why young Lieutenant Throckmorton was so angry when I called him, "a LEG."
Lieutenant General M. Collier Ross, the Commanding General of the 173d Airborne Brigade who retired the colors of the Brigade at Fort Campbell, KY, said in a speech several years later,
"To be born free is an accident.
To live free is a responsibility.
But, to die free is an obligation."
To you members of Casper and the Sky Soldiers of the 173d Airborne Brigade we supported, I respectfully say, "Airborne - All the Way"
Donald G. Charlton
Lieutenant Colonel (USA Retired)
This site was last updated 07/04/12