BigWindow BackArrow top
War Stories

Cobra LRRP Rescue - 21 Feb 1970

Thomas "Sam" Dooling - see Silver Star

Jake (JL Walters, deceased) was my Peter Pilot that day. He was a really good guy.  Jake is the one who did the really brave thing — getting out of the Cobra and giving up his seat to the wounded LRRP to ride down off the mountain (Nui Ba Den) while under fire from a fairly large group of NVA.

nui ba den While flying as a AH-1G Cobra* Gun Team Leader, my team (two gunships) were called out to support a Long-Range Recon Patrol (LRRPs – 6 man teams of Rangers that went out and hid in the bush to observe and report on enemy activity) that had been attacked by a large force of NVA.  The LRRP team was located on the side of a mountain and we gave them fire support to assist them in disengaging from the enemy.

During this contact, one of the LRRPs was seriously wounded and they requested a medical evacuation helicopter to extract this soldier.  We were advised that no medevac or other helicopters were available for over an hour.  The LRRP Team advised that they could not stop the bleeding and that the soldier would bleed to death shortly.

My co-pilot and I discussed how we could help and determined that we could put the wounded soldier in the co-pilot’s place and the co-pilot would ride home on the ammo-bay door (hanging onto the side of the helicopter).  While our second gunship covered us, we landed and picked-up the wounded soldier and transported him back to the hospital (it may have been a little more exciting than this sentence describes).

ammo bays

The LRRPs were hunkered down in a depression behind a large rounded boulder — we came in and put the front of the skids on the boulder mostly hovering. Jake got out and opened the left ammo bay door, and the helped put the wounded into the front seat.

ah-1g front cockpitIf you are familiar with the front seat of the Cobra, you know that you climb in over the collective/throttle to get in. Well, when they were lifting the LRRP into the front, the set him down on the collective and slightly rolled off the throttle and it was all I could do to keep the collective up to hold my somewhat precarious hover with only the front end of the skids on the boulder.

They finally got him in and closed the canopy — Jake sat down on the ammo bay door and I flew down off the side to the mountain and set down in a dry rice paddy about 2 klicks away.

Tom Olsson was my wingman that day — he landed and Jake hopped on his ammo bay door so I could quickly fly the LRRP to Tay Ninh hospital.

Tom showed up at the rearm site at about the same time I did after I off-leaded the LRRP - Jake a little the worse for wear after the windy ride back on Tom’s ammo bay door. We rearmed and went back out to cover the LRRPs and discourage the NVA guys — hung around until they finally found a slick to come extract them and we covered the extraction. I don’t remember who Tom’s peter pilot was, but I know we all had some good laughs at how really stupid Jake and I were at the club that night.

Our aircraft sustained some minor battle damage, but nothing critical (a couple of skin patches fixed it).  We continued operations for the rest of the day and that night, returning to our home base the next morning.

Now for the strange part –

Upon return to our unit, my co-pilot and I were summoned to the unit commander’s office.  Much to our dismay, we were thoroughly chewed out for endangering an expensive piece of equipment (the Cobra) and risking our lives for a mission we were not authorized to perform (medevac with a Cobra??).  We were told that we were both relieved of our piloting duties and may be facing disciplinary action for the damage to the aircraft.  We were sent to our hootches to await further discussion.

About an hour later, we were again summoned to the commander’s office.  Entering with dread, we were greeted by a happy—smiling commander.  It would seem that our commander had just got off the phone with his commander, who had just got off the phone with his commander and so-on up the line to the 25th Infantry Division Commander (a 2 star general).  Apparently, we were no longer the bad-boys of the unit, rather we were fine examples of the unit’s ability to support the mission.  The LRRP commander had reported our action and the saving of the soldier’s life, and he put us in for medals for our heroism!

The net result – all was forgiven by our commander; we were both returned to full duty (oh boy – a chance to get shot at some more); my co-pilot and I each were awarded the Silver Star; and best of all, the soldier we rescued lived (albeit, less one foot), and as far as I know returned to the “real” world to continue with the rest of his life.

Cobra; A two pilot gunship with no provisions for carrying troops.




............................AWARD OF THE SILVER STAR..................................
DOOLING, THOMAS M.      554-72-4489    CW2    USAsilver star
D Troop 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Div
Awarded: Silver Star (First Oak Leaf Cluster) 
Date action: 21 February 1970
Theater- Republic of Vietnam
Reason:  For gallantry in action: Chief Warrant Officer Dooling distinguished himself by heroic actions on 21 February 1970, while serving as a pilot with D Troop, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry in the Republic of Vietnam.  On the evening of the date cited above, elements of the 75th Infantry came under intense small arms fire from a large enemy force on the Southern slope of Nui Ba Den mountain.  Shortly after contact was initiated, air and artillery support was requested in addition to an evacuation helicopter for wounded personnel.  Receiving word that artillery and gunship support was urgently needed, Warrant Officer Dooling piloted his aircraft to the contact area.  The gunship piloted by Warrant Officer Dooling began to expend its ordinance in support of the friendly troops on the ground.  The team requested an evacuation helicopter for the wounded personnel a second time.  Realizing the urgency of the request, Warrant officer Dooling landed his aircraft near the team position while they were under fire from the enemy.  With complete disregard for his own safety, Warrant Officer Dooling kept the aircraft on the ground for approximately one minute before departing the contact area with the wounded team member.  His valorous actions contributed directly to the success of the mission and saved the life of the wounded man.  Warrant Officer Dooling's bravery and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself his unit, the 25th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
Authority:  By direction of the President, under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved 9 July 1918, AR 672-5-19 and USARV Reg. 672-1.