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Peter Spoor

On the 18th March 1968, my rostered task for the morning was an early morning sortie. The area of interest was the coast south of the Long Green then to Xuyen Moc and back via the highway to Dat Do and Nui Dat. It was planned that a passenger, our Sergeant medic, I think, would accompany me to act as an observer. I do remember that he liked to fly and had acted as observer on many flights. On this particular morning, at the last minute, he elected to not fly. The other item of note was that the helicopter was fitted with a ‘borrowed’ twin M-60 machine gun kit, from the US Army. This was a proper kit built for the US Army H-13 Sioux scout helicopter. It consisted of two machine guns, one on each side, mounted on the skid cross tubes. The guns could be controlled in elevation, gas cocked and electrically fired. The kit had been with the flight for some time and had been used by most of us on many occasions. The ‘sight’ was a china-graph pencil circle on the bubble. As was usual I left with full tanks of fuel, a factor for which I would later be grateful. 

I made the usual radio calls to Nui Dat Arty and headed off. All went well until, on a whim, after seeing nothing of interest on the coast I decided to turn North, to where a major route (76?) headed North from the Route (26) from Dat Do to Xuyen Moc,  instead of going to Xuan Moc first.  

As was the approved practice I was ‘on the tree tops’ as I approached the intersection of the highways. As soon as I flew over the open area bordering the highway I could see a group of armed men near the intersection. First thought was that they were a rough puff (Regional Forces / Popular Forces) patrol. A milli-second later I realised that they were VC and AK’s were being pointed in my direction. But, having the M60’s on the side gave me a very warm fuzzy feeling of good fire power, and overconfidence. I pulled the ‘trigger’ to fire the guns and absolutely nothing happened. A quick re-cock and still nothing, never did find out why the guns didn’t fire.  

My next thought was to get back over the trees and out of sight of the VC and use artillery. At times the Sioux was simply way too slow. We used to make jokes that the VC and NVA, when shooting at helicopters, were used to having to lead faster helicopters, therefore all the rounds should pass well in front of a Sioux. 

Not true! The first hit went through the useless Plessey UHF radio and one of the knobs flew off and hit me between my eye and the helmet. For a second I thought that was it. Other Rounds were hitting the aircraft and then I had the biggest kick in the ‘leg’ I had ever felt. Even when playing football. I decided I was in big trouble and needed a lot of help. Put out a ‘Mayday’ and got immediate responses. It was reported that I used lots of rude words but I cannot believe this. It is just not in my nature to @#$%$%^& well swear.   

The amount of support thrown into action when an aircraft was down or in trouble promoted the joke that if you went down there was a great danger of being hurt by falling debris from a midair caused by the number of aircraft and helicopters overhead, all trying to help the crew on the ground. The Vietnam conflict has been described as a ‘supporting arms’ war. The number of times I picked up an Aussie digger who had been in the field for a couple of weeks for heat exhaustion, or worse, I thought that there could never be too much ‘support’ for the man on the ground. When it looked like I might become a ‘man on the ground’ all I wanted was lots of aircraft overhead!! 

After I got over the trees, a quick look around showed everything appeared to be running OK so I headed off for Nui Dat. Paddy O’Brien joined me and followed me back giving me lots of reassurance. The Gunships were airborne from Nui Dat and either George Constable or Bernie Forrest, maybe both were shooting artillery and fighters were being diverted to overhead. There was not a lot of blood and almost no pain but my leg was still very numb. My comfort zone was growing every second.  

Some of the shrapnel holes from the Plessey hit had put holes through the seat back area of the right seat. If the passenger had come on the flight he would have been badly hurt. I believe this was the second time this particular person had decided, at the last minute, not to fly.  Both flights resulted in hits in the right seat area; both times he would have been badly hurt. Maybe ESP really occurs!! 

The flight back was very anti climactic. After a quick shutdown, no five minute run down this time. I got out of the helicopter and dumped all my stuff, M16, maps, helmet, pistol and chicken plate on the ground. A quick sniff of the air and I could smell fuel and a glance around showed the last of the fuel running out of a hole in the bottom of the left tank. Fortunately not the right tank which is over the turbocharger!! Glad I had those full tanks. 

The RAAF Dust-off Huey arrived almost immediately to whisk me off to Vung Tau. The two memories of this flight are of fighting off the medic who wanted to stab me with this big needle of morphine and a discussion with the pilot, who I had gone through Point Cook with, (I don’t remember who it was). His brief was to take me to Vampire Pad (the Oz hospital). But having been to a party in Vung Tau, at which there had been nurses from the USA hospital (22 Evac??), I had been impressed by the standard of nursing available at this hospital. In fairness I must admit I had not met any of the home grown Oz nurses. Anyway, I ended up at the American hospital and the Dust-off pilot had to do a “Please explain” how I had ended up there.                              

Never having been to hospital for anything important, this was quite an experience. Whizzed into the triage centre I was very quickly stripped and all my clothes thrown in a bin for burning. The triage Doc made his assessment and I was put into the queue. This ‘kid’ came in and told me he was the anaesthetist and asked if I had ever been under general anaesthetic before. When I said NO, he took great delight in telling me that I was going to enjoy it. His words were, “I have some really good shit here – you’re going to love this and it is legal”! I can now see why people do drugs. I was ‘floating’, didn’t have a problem in the world. It felt GOOD.  

Anyway, eventually I woke up in the after op ward and, very wisely, they had the best looking nurses there. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before I was kicked out of there into the general ward. After a few hours I was feeling pretty chirpy and in need of a pee. Rather than have a pee in a bottle I asked the Whitney Houston look-a-like nurse if I could go to the loo. She made me walk up and down for a while before I was given the blessing for the big trek to the dunny.  

After having a successful pee and feeling pretty pleased with life I headed back to ward. I woke up in the Op room having my eyebrow sewn up and my little toe being put back into place. I had passed out – what an ANZAC!! Just looking around the ward was enough to make me realize that I was very lucky. The kid in the bed next to me had a row of staples from his chin to below his belly button. He had been hit by the Russian version of the .50 cal.  

George Constable visited next day to see if I was in need of anything. Marvellous how a visit from a friend picks you up.  After this I was taken back into surgery for the close up final op. I was offered a spinal block instead of general anaesthetic. The spiel was that I would be awake and alert during the op. Actually ‘the kid anaesthetist’ gave me some more of that ‘good shit’ and I was certainly not alert or very much awake. What they did not tell me was that spinal blocks can, sometimes, have problems. For two very long days I could not lift my head off the pillow for the pain that this would cause. What a hangover!!  

During this time I had a visit from the perpetually chirpy ‘Father’ - Bernie Forrest, full of news, joy, and sympathy for my hangover. Plus the occasional giggle at my expense. It would appear that my anatomically uneducated ‘mates’ had decided that I had been ‘shot in the arse’. He asked me the question “were you standing up in the cockpit when you got shot”?? I was totally taken aback and asked what the ***** are you talking about. His explanation was the engineers had run wires through the in and out holes (I was told 19 hits) and the only logical round should have hit me in the side of the chest instead of the leg. I thought a mistake must have been made and forgot about it. 

As for being shot in the arse!! Well, all I can say is that it has been scientifically and medically conclusively proven that it is far better to be shot in the leg, or arse if you wish, than the head. 

Just after that Vampire Pad demanded my return. This was fine by me. With ‘my hangover’ the noise of ‘happy to be going home’ American soldiers was not fun anymore so I was happy to go and meet the Oz nurses. I think they are great. Even when one of them decided I had a collection of blood (can’t spell haematoma) in the wound and stabbed me with about 10 inches of sharpened No 8 fencing wire. Apart from the initial ‘hit’ this was the only real pain I felt. 

After a week or so in hospital I was sent back to Nui Dat on light duties. All my ‘stuff’ had been taken to the tent I shared with Bill Heron and dumped on my bed. I strapped on my pistol and went off to the ‘Q’ Store for new boots, the US hospital had tossed out my other ones, and to count socks, or something, as part of my ‘light duties’.  

After a couple of hours of industrious ‘light duties’, I realised that I had not checked my pistol to confirm there was no round in the chamber. When I tried to check it I was somewhat horrified to find that I could not move the action. After removing the magazine I fired the action into the weapon pit. No bang, so there had not been a round in the chamber. But I still could not move the action. For the rest of the afternoon all my ‘mates’ took great delight in telling me I had allowed the pistol to rust up and would be in ‘deep poo’ with the CSM for this. 

By about 1700 we had adjourned to the bar and having decided that punching holes in a ‘green can’ and raising it too my mouth would fall within the realm of light duties, and the docs hadn’t said I couldn’t drink, I was happy to enjoy the first beer in a couple of weeks. Everybody that came along had attempted to move the action of my pistol, with absolutely not a fraction of movement. I was impressed by the number of pilots who had become legal experts and were taking great delight in describing what would happen at my court martial for a rusty weapon. None of which comforted me in the slightest.

At some stage in the ‘session’ the offending pistol was laying on the bar and while looking at it, no doubt searching for an inspirational story to get me out of trouble, I noticed that the barrel and action were bent.

I flipped it over and there was a gouge in the action. Whenever an attempt to move the action was made this gouge would be covered by the hand.  

This was the answer to the question of how I came to be hit where I had been rather than in the side of my chest as the wire through the bullet holes in the fuselage had indicated. A quick check of the holster also showed bullet damage. 

Apparently, when I hopped into the helicopter the pistol had flopped over the centre seat area and when the round came through the floor and seat, it hit the pistol and deflected into my leg rather than continuing into my chest. Better to be lucky than good. This explains why I have never won Lotto. I have used up a big portion of my luck! 

This is not the end of this little episode. In 2005 Glen Duus told me that Dave Shearer wanted to speak to me and gave me his number. A quick call and a few days later I was with Dave in Brisbane. After a ‘catch up’ on what had been happening in my life Dave said that he had something of mine. He took me down to a disgustingly clean and tidy workshop. A quick rummage in a box and Dave produced a damaged AK 47 armour piercing round.

When the engineers had wheeled the helicopter into the workshop Dave got the short straw to clean it up and get it back on line. While cleaning up the cockpit he found the projectile and kept it all those years.

Peter Spoor

31 May 2006

** The aircraft that Peter was flying on 18th March 1968 was A1-394.


Previous Reccelections: Brian Calder | Tom Jobling | Peter Nolan | Peter Ginman | John Stead | Eddie Bevans 

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