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War Stories

Jim Moore & the Monsoon Flight

Charlie Johnson - Pat Eastes - 1967

The story of Jim Moore and Charlie Johnson and two helicopters full of flight crew enjoying the pleasures of flying night fire support missions during the heavy rains and solid overcast of Vietnam's seasonal monsoon storms.
I recall a mission during the heavy part of the monsoon season in which I was AC of a HOG gun ship (C model with rockets and grenade launcher) and Jim Moore was AC of a Heavy Scout (C model with mini-guns and rockets). I was mission leader on this particular flight.

We were the #1 gun team on standby when we were awakened sometime around midnight and sent on a mission to support a Special Forces camp in the swampy area toward the Parrot's Peak area bordering Cambodia. It was difficult to locate the area on a map (flat swampy ground all looks alike at midnight with full cloud cover during a heavy rain) but we finally got close enough to it that we could see aerial flares dropped by the Spooky or Puff the Magic Dragon on station and the tracer stream from their on-board mini-guns hosing down the area around the base camp. You could also see different color tracers heading back up toward that US Air Force flying arsenal. If you have seen the movie 'Apocalypse Now' the night scene at the bridge had much the same feel as the isolated SF base camp that night.

We checked in with our control and were advised to look in a particular area and engage the enemy. We were also advised to stay alert for incoming artillery, outgoing mortars, the Spooky, other helicopters and Air Force close support fighter/bombers. So, we began our reconnaissance at about 500' circling the area around the base camp in a counter-clockwise direction while dodging the various aircraft and non aviation aerial devices like what seemed to be about a thousand parachute flares. If tanks could fly we could have used a tank to get all this done but no flying tanks were available so we soldiered on. The heavy cloud cover prevented us from going any higher.

Sometime during the next 20 or 30 minutes or so we found no sure targets (the rain was so heavy we couldn't have seen them if we had flown right over them - which we probably did) but we kept trying to get into position to do what we were there to do which was put 7.62mm bullets, 2.75" rockets and 40mm grenades on target. I recall that Jim was able to do some mini-gun firing but it was more reconnaissance by fire than actually assaulting the enemy. While this was going on our stress level and adrenaline level were increasing almost as fast as our fuel was being burned we came under fire by one or more .51 cal. machine guns, presumably being operated by the same people who were assaulting the base camp. So while dodging green tracers that appeared to be about the size of basketballs, and dodging parachute flares, and dodging the air to ground fire coming from Spooky, and turning off our navigation lights so were not such easy and tempting targets, and because we couldn't go any higher due to the heavy cloud cover, and couldn't go any lower because there were people down there who appeared to have every intention of inflicting bodily harm on us, Jim's aircraft and my aircraft became separated.

Can you guess what happened next?

While doing the horizontal jitterbug evading the .51 tracers I lost any motivation to fly in a counter-clockwise direction and begin flying in a clockwise direction, assuming my faithful wingman was still following my aircraft. Jim and I were in radio contact but had not yet reestablished visual contact. Sometime during the next few minutes we were all straining to watch for and avoid the previously noted hazards to aerial navigation when I detected a faint red glow directly to our front. Within a couple or three seconds the red glow grew a little larger and distinct. Then I thought I saw Jim Moore's face in that red glow. Then I saw what I recognized as a UH-1 helicopter hurtling towards us. And I mean directly towards us - at the same altitude we were flying. At that moment some primal fear (maybe that flee or fight thing we have all read about) caused me to throw the cyclic stick to the full right stop as quickly as I could move it. From what I observed out of the corner of my left eye, the other helicopter did the same thing (full right cyclic) at just about the same instant. In retrospect, neither Jim or I had any concern at that moment what Bell Helicopter Company or it's engineers might have to say about our abusing their helicopter with that harsh maneuver.

After I was able to start breathing again I called Jim who confirmed that what I had seen was his UH-1C and that he had done the hard right maneuver. He also told me that he was getting low on fuel, had to return to Cu Chi and that they were already headed in that direction. Since that seemed to be a rational and appropriate thing to do at the moment and I could tell that my fuel gauge was indicating a low fuel state. I don't recall a specific US Army definition of 'low fuel state' but I clearly recall that we were in that state right then and needed to go home too. I called our ground control and informed him of our imminent departure then turned and headed for Cu Chi all by our lonesome. Jim had already determined that it just wasn't safe right then for the two of us to be flying too close together.

As we turned to head back to Cu Chi my Pilot (can't recall who was flying in the Pilot seat) and I were taking turns flying the helicopter, getting vertigo, then turning the controls over to the other pilot. We each seemed to be able to sorta' fly on instruments for anywhere from two to five minutes before losing it. Very difficult situation for us but I recall that old saying - Don't be too concerned about some bad thing that's happening now - it could always get worse. That's when it got worse. When the crew chief asked a question over the intercom that sent chills down my spine. Not just a figure of speech, I'm talking about the feeling of a bunch of ice cubes down the back of my flight suit. The question was: "L T, why are we going to Cambodia?" I had no immediate answer to that question.

So: here we are somewhere between Cu Chi and Cambodia (over toward the Parrot's Peak you will recall) really starting to get low on gas, heavy monsoon rains, can't fly above the weather, both pilots having bouts of weather and stress induced vertigo, all alone, our wingman presumably somewhere close to Cu Chi by now and we are heading 180 degrees away from the place we wanted to be at that time, Home, via Cu Chi, and not in body bags. So we got the compass in our heads settled down, confirmed that the magnetic compass and the directional gyro were in agreement as to where North was and flew that sucker back to Cu Chi with all four crewmen working really, really hard to keep the nose pointed toward home while keeping the dirty side of that Huey facing the swampy ground a couple of hundred feet below us. Then - We made it.

We got back to Cu Chi. I have no clear recollection of the route we flew to get there nor how long it took us to get there but when we made contact with Cu Chi tower I was almost happy. Happy actually took a few more minutes, until we could set the aircraft down at the refuel/rearm point, get all that stuff done then getting around the traffic pattern to the Corral and shutting the aircraft down. We all got soaking wet walking from the flight line to Operations and our hootches but that was normal. Nothing about the rest of that mission was normal.

So I owe a large Thank You to the memory of Jim Moore for instinctively taking the correct action so we did not have a mid-air collision. Very large Thanks to my Pilot whose name I regret that I cannot recall. Very, Very large Thanks to my Crew Chief for having enough smarts to recognize that we were heading toward Cambodia and pointing that out to me in an (unnecessarily) courteous manner. It may have been Woody Gardner or possibly Doug Olsen. (NOTE: The Crew Chief was Doug Olsen, gunner Norm Clark). Maximum Thanks to all the Crewmen for the teamwork that got us through an extremely dangerous and potentially deadly situation. We made it in large part because all four of us were in constant communications about what was happening and what we needed to do to keep the situation from getting worse.

When I talked with Jim Moore about this incident later he and I agreed that the damn blue Tactical Instrument Card the Army issued to helicopter pilots at that time was certification that we knew enough about instrument flying so we could be ordered to go up into that monsoon madness. However, we also agreed that we didn't know enough about instrument flying, nor enough or current training, to operate safely in that environment.

Regrettably, Jim was killed later by a rocket attack at Cu Chi while performing Operations Duty Officer duties but he helped avoid the loss of two helicopters and eight crewmen that night. He was a good man, a good pilot, a good friend and he will be missed as long as any Centaurs are still around.


After reading Charlie's story Pat Eastes responded with the following note to Charlie:

Holy Shit! I just read your Jim Moore entry, and I was either flying with you or with Jim on that mission. I thought that over the years I was hallucinating about the near mid air, but you put it in words that brought it all back in a big way, and just as I remembered it. I don't know if it was on that mission or another monsoon debacle, but I recall using FM homing to find Cu Chi as the tower operator would key his mic to give us a bearing. Scary stuff, even not thinking about it.

I remember seeing the red glow from the oncoming aircraft's instrument panel during that near mid air. I'm sure, upon recollection, that I was flying right seat and was actually driving during the incident, and that I performed a very coordinated right bank (probably yanked the cyclic as hard as I could without going inverted). How we missed each other is beyond me. As far as using the FM homing, I remember flying directly over the tower a couple of times, all the while losing altitude very carefully, and the tower operator would give us a 'mark' as we passed over. I will probably relive that flight in my dreams tonight.

Do you remember blowing up a bunch of sampans on the Saigon River near Dau Tieng immediately after the Christmas truce (also known as the VC/NVA rearmament period). That was another wet flight, but we did put some shit down on the bad guys at around 1701 hours, one minute after the end of the 'truce'.


Charlie responded to Pat with the following note:

I think you may have been flying with Jim Moore that night, if we are recalling the same night. I'm pretty sure I would have remembered our flying together because you would have hogged all the stick time and I would have sat quietly in the left seat and taken care of the worrying. I expect all of us had more than one incident in which we flew some part of a flight IFR. IFR in most cases meaning "I Follow Roads" but there were many places, with weather like we had that night, we wouldn't have known it if there had been a road right under us.

It might help to flesh out the monsoon flight story if you can dredge up enough memory particles to add some additional details to this story. After reading your comments about homing in on the Cu Chi tower I started recalling that we tried that too but our altitude was so low because of the solid overcast that we were not able to do that until we got real close. By then we were trucking up the MSR (Main Supply Route from Cu Chi to Tay Ninh) toward Cu Chi anyway. We can add it to the existing story or start a new one. I hope you are able to do that. Your story telling, and writing ability, far exceeds mine. It would be very helpful if you are able to do that.

Even better would be for you and Doc Halliday to have about twelve beers and swap stories. One of those episodes would get us ten or twenty stories. I would almost buy a ticket to sit in on that session.

As a small addition to this story I recall talking with Tom Fleming a few years ago about what each of us had as the significant or overarching memory of our time with D Troop. Mine was the feeling that the dry season was about six weeks long and the monsoon season was about ten months long and every time the weather was more than the usual lousy I was on #1 Gunteam being awakened sometime between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am. Holy Wet Flightsuit Batman*&%#*%#.

Your turn Doc.