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War Stories

Unfinished Letter Home - Gun Team Scramble

Bruce Powell - mid 1967

This letter was never finished or sent, but saved. Maybe this will give you some reality concerning a Gun Team Scramble.

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Must be about the 4th time I've started a letter to you'all. Almost every letter has been interrupted by the siren. We have a screaming siren to scramble the number one gun team, and a blood curdling "Oogha" horn for "Dust Off." Right now I'm on Counter Mortar standby (with a gunteam).

I remember the first time I had counter mortar duty with Capt Delvy (now a Major and rotated). I was sure lost. First of all just the thought of flying at night with these overloaded gunships made me cringe. But no sweat, Delvy was there. And also a wing aircraft and crew. Then the briefing from Division T.O.C. (Tactical Operations Center), the map plotting, coordinating with other units on any special night missions (People-Sniffer, Lightning Bug, etc.). The burden of responsibility laid on the shoulders of the experienced Delvy. He always knew what to do.

Now it's my job; and believe me I never dreamed that the weight would be heavy enough to bring me almost to my knees. I don't have the time to think about anything else but the Section……As a Team Leader the job is in the air……

Boy it sure feels goo to stretch out on the bunk under the fan. It's so blasted hot! Just finished bore sighting and test firing one of my aircraft. "All Mine", I was thinking. Yesterday I signed for six UH-1C model aircraft, 14 M60 machine guns, 4 XM-21 subsystems, 2 XM-16 subsystems, binoculars, plotters, survival equipment, and so on, for a total of some 3 million dollars. Gad-zooks! That's a lot of hard cash. But who cares right now, I'm beat, and that fan feels so good. Relaxation plus.

What a time for the siren to blow. "RRRRR" (or something like that). My stomach rolls over and I come flying out of the bunk in a mild state of shock. I ran around like I had one foot nailed to the floor, trying to put on my shirt, get my maps, S.O.I (book of Division Radio Frequencies), hat, and last of all my head. I ran into Operations with one sleeve on and one off, maps in left hand, a black map marker in the other. "Hit me Rich" I said to Rich Prilliman. He's the new Asst. Operations Officer. I went thru Infantry School with him and Ethan Norris. "Roge, coordinates X-ray Tango 582221, frequency 36.9 Fox Mike, Mustang 6 in heavy contact" I scribbled down the data and tore out the door, across the drainage ditch bridge (small foot bridge with no railing) (some night someones going to fall into that mucky water), across the road; "you better stop you muther" I muttered to myself as a jeep slammed on its' brakes; warning signs on both sides of the road give us the right away, but some people can't hear the sirens and can't read. Now the run thru the Peanut Patch better known as the "Corral," full of ruts, bumps, grass, dust, mud. What a heck of a place to run across. (You ought to see a NIGHT scramble!) 460 is my aircraft and the blades are already turning. Mr Wood is my pilot today and it looks like he's ready to go. The crew chief and gunner are hooking up the mini-guns and putting on their protective gear. I glanced up the line to be sure my wingman and his crew were cranking (starting the aircraft). I jumped in the left seat and put on my chest protector. Sp4 Hebert (crew chief) slid the left side armor plate forward and closed my door while I strapped into the seat, and put my helmet on. Let's see, UHF, FM, VHF, and ADF radios on, all instruments in the green, all switches and circuit breakers correct. "Guns hooked up left and right," I puffed over the intercom (You'd huff and puff after that run too!). "Roger right" says Sp4 Loher (a new gunner); "Roger Left" says Sp4 Hebert.

"Centaur 20 this is Centaur 41, we're up" boomed my wingman (Lt Steve Sanford "Hog" pilot). I switched my selector switch to the #2 position (UHF). "This is two zero (That's my new call sign), roger, go tower." (Means switch your UHF radio to the tower frequency) "Four One, Roger".

I switched from "manual" to "Preset Channel" on the UHF. It makes a high frequency sound while it automatically selects the proper channel for Cu Chi tower; then "Blip" it cuts off and I can hear Cu Chi Tower talking. "Are we clear right and right rear?" I ask the gunner on intercom. "Roger Sir." I glanced over at my pilot, WO Bruce Wood, and gave him a firm thumbs up sign with my right hand. He picked the ship up to a hover and began to move out of the "L" shaped bunker. While I was plotting the coordinates on my map I was also switching my selector to #2 position again. "Cu Chi Tower, Centaur Two Zero, over" "this is Cu Chi, go" (this means like hear I am, go ahead and talk). "This is Centaur Two Zero, Heavy Scout Team, Corral, Scramble." "Roger Two Zero, winds light and variable, altimeter two niner niner three, clear for take off, runway 22, west road." "This is Two Zero on the go." By that time my pilot has tipped the nose over and started to take off. The ship is heavy and this hot weather doesn't help the "Lift" very much. The rough peanut patch ground passes rapidly two feet below the skids. We're running out of power; the buildings at the other end of the field are coming up pretty fast.

I looked over at Mr Wood. He's one of the most experienced pilots in my section; a school trained gunnery instructor pilot. He's young, about 23, married and a little on the cocky side, because of his school experience. But not so cocky lately. Three days ago, at night, with a new pilot, he ran out of power and anti-torque control, hooked a skid in the peanut patch, and totaled out a gunship. His crew chief Sp5 Gilleland was pinned under the chopper with over 6000 rounds of ammo on top of him. The thing that put both Wood and Mr Anderson (new pilot) into shock was seeing the chopper on it's left side smoking and steaming and nothing but Gillelands legs sticking out from underneath the wreckage.

Amazingly enough Gilleland was ok after they dug him out. A few bruises maybe. Gilleland's a lucky buck anyway. Just last week when we were in a firefight he got his plastic face mask shot right out of this helmet without getting a scratch!

So now Mr Wood has to fly as a "Peter Pilot" (If you're not an aircraft commander or a leader you're a Peter Pilot), until the Accident Investigation Committee completes it's research of the wreck. "Hot Damn!" I'm signed for that wreck! No sweat I'll get a turn in slip for it. My main concern was that no one was injured

Wood did a slight flare to gain RPM's then began to climb out over the city of Cu Chi. I switched my UHF back to Troop frequency and my Fox Mike (FM) to Mustang 6 Frequency (the "Wolfhounds").

"Centaur Two Zero this is Centaur Four One, we're up and you're clear of artillery to Trung Lap." One of the wingmans' jobs is to keep contact with the artillery controller and keep us out of their way. "This is Two Zero, Roger out, Break - Break, Centaur Six Five this is Centaur Two Zero, airborne en-route Trung Lap area, over." "This is Six Five, roger, out." (65 is our TOC or Tactical Operations Center) "Gunners go hot" I told my crew over the intercom. I pushed the circuit breakers, for the XM-21 system, in. The gunners (Crew chief and gunner) load their machine guns. Each gun has a continuous belt of 1500 rounds of 7.62 ammo; all tracer. Each mini-gun or XM-21 has 3600 rounds of 7.62 ammo; one tracer for every four ball. The Pilot pulls his rocket sight down and checks the sight reticle. I pull my flex sight down. "Going hot for gun check" I flip the mini-guns to "armed" and pull the deadman trigger to flex the guns. first left then right, then down.

Trung Lap is coming up ahead, better start pin pointing their position on the map. I turned the selector to #1 position of FM. "Mustang 6, Centaur Two Zero, your push, over" (means I'm on your frequency). "This is Mustang 6, over" "This is Centaur Two Zero Heavy Scout Team approaching your area, heard you needed some help." "This is Mustang 6 Roger, glad to have you aboard. Here's the situation. I have three companies on the ground (about 5 or 600 men). Delta company made initial contact with Charlie at Xray Tango 582221 and took three casualties (Three wounded). We've called for a Dust-off. Charlie moved into the creek line to the northwest and we lost him"

Anyway Mustang 6 went on to give me a complete briefing. Already I was making visual contact with the friendly elements. We circled left and made sure that we had all friendlies in sight. One company was beginning a sweep across the creek area and into the small village. I'd been in this area before. This was Charlies' home. We reconned in front of the screening element and escorted the dustoff ship in and out. We didn't turn up much. We began a low level search. "I got two with weapons to your right rear Two Zero!" says Lt Sanford in the wingship. "Pin-em with door gun and mark with smoke" I said as my pilot bent the aircraft into a steep turn. I called Mustang 6 for clearance to use heavy………………

Sorry that's all there is. Not to hard to imagine the rest. This sounded like a pretty standard support mission.