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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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.
** The aircraft that Peter was flying on 18th March
1968 was A1-394.
Calder | Tom
Jobling | Peter
Nolan | Peter
Ginman | John
Stead | Eddie