By Charles Stokes

An excerpt from Soldier’s Reverie: Vietnam, 2018 Xlibris

The 1-0 was watching as the 155mm rounds exploded around the hill where his team was pinned down. The artillery unit known as Red Leg was firing at maximum range making the accuracy of the big guns somewhat questionable.

The detonating high explosive shells slowed the enemy soldiers advancing up the side of the hill toward his trapped recon team, but had little effect in stopping them. 1-0 stopped, listened, and searched the sky. He heard the distinctive beating of rotor blades. Almost instantly, he saw a string of three UH-1 Huey helicopters coming in at max speed just under 120 knots 1,000 feet above the jungle canopy. There were two slicks and an escort gunship. The unarmed UH-1 helicopters were called slicks because they were used mainly to carry troops, cargo, or supplies. The escort gunship in this case was the same type of helicopter, but armed with 7.62 M-60 machine guns and rocket pods attached to both sides of the ship’s airframe. 1-0 immediately shouted into his radio, “Red Leg, check fire! Check fire! We have friendly birds inbound. Over.” Red Leg responded, “Roger, checking fire, standing by, over.”

The slicks had just finished a milk run near the border, ferrying cargo and mail to outposts, when they heard the radio traffic about a pinned down recon team. 1-0 watched from his observation point and knew that the two slick pilots would be pulling pitch, allowing the helicopters to descend, and trying to touch down for a rescue attempt of the trapped team. He watched as the gunship Eagle Three continued its run picking up altitude before turning and laying down a stream of deadly rocket and M-60 machine gun fire while the other two UH-1s would attempt to land and pick up his pinned down team.

As the two helicopters descended flaring in an attempt to land, green enemy tracers from small arms and automatic weapons began tracking their downward descent. Small arms fire was also coming from the unseen enemy under the jungle canopy in addition to those advancing up the side of the hill. One of the slick pilots keyed his microphone and called the gunship, “Eagle Three, this is Eagle One. Landing zone is too hot. Receiving heavy fire; will try approaching from the leeward side of the hill. Can you keep them pinned down, over?” Eagle Three responded almost instantaneously, “Roger that, I’m swinging around now to start a gun run. Over.” The pilot of Eagle Three peered down and quipped in a southern drawl over his radio, “It looks like somebody done stirred a stick in a hornets’ nest down there.”

The upside of the hill was speckled with enemy troops converging on the small perimeter where the five recon team members lay in a wide semicircle behind fallen trees and rocks firing at the approaching enemy. The gunship had climbed to 1500 feet and, as the pilot banked hard left, fired salvos of 2.75” rockets into the hillside. Simultaneously, Door Gunner began firing his door-mounted M-60 machine gun. Door Gunner’s gun was a belt-fed, gas operated weapon that fired a 7.62mm cartridge making it one of the deadliest light machine guns in existence. Door Gunner softly mumbled to himself, “Come on, pig, root them out.” Pig was a pet name that he had given his gun for the way it chewed up its targets.  As the linked ammunition belt fed the 7.62 armor-piercing rounds into the chamber, the bolt of the M-60 moved back and forth faster than the eye could follow. The firing pin centered in the bolt face hit the cartridge primer causing the powder inside to ignite. The expanding gases forced the rounds through the 22-inch long barrel at 2,800 feet per second. As each round fired, expanding gases were forced into a gas port that caused a piston to push the bolt rearward. On each cycle of the bolt the extractor caught the rim of the spent brass cartridge ejecting it to the side and rear while the cartridge link dropped away.

The metal links from the disintegrating ammunition belt clattered and tinkled as they fell from the gun. Each round was taken from the linked ammunition belt and fed into the chamber by the reciprocating bolt. The empty brass casings flew in a continuous, graceful arc as the bolt moved rearward to grab another round. His gun smoked as it cycled 650 rounds a minute into its chamber, never missing a beat. Door Gunner’s face showed a grim smile as he listened to the casings rhythmically bouncing, “ting, ting, ting,” off the skids and falling into space.  It made him feel good as some of the empty casings hit his fatigues’ trouser leg. The empty casings hitting his legs briefly reminded him of wind chimes on a windy day. After a short bit of daydreaming, Door Gunner refocused and concentrated on where to aim his gun as he watched the red tracer rounds hit their targets on the ground.

Door Gunner wore a restraining harness that allowed him to place his feet on the skids of the helicopter and lean out as he fired. While this gave him a good view of any target on the ground, it also exposed him as a prime target for ground fire. Enemy soldiers on the ground looking up at the helicopter could see Door Gunner leaning out of the helicopter and firing rounds down on them. Instinctively they returned fire, aiming at the helicopter where it was instead of where it would be by the time their rounds arrived.  Door Gunner watched the chaos and fired his M-60 machine gun as green tracers from the ground curved well behind his helicopter. The harness that held Door Gunner in the helicopter fit like a vest. It was held together in front with a quick release metal fastener. The round aluminum fastener could be rotated a quarter turn and hit sharply with the palm of the hand to release Door Gunner from the harness.

Door Gunner had designed the vest from a parachute harness, the kind that the paratroopers used. He had removed the parachute and its deployment bag. In the center back of the harness Door Gunner had sewn a two-inch wide, four-foot long, adjustable nylon strap. The end of the strap was attached to a locking snap link which was hooked and locked to an anchor point on the inside airframe of the helicopter. Door Gunner’s converted harness prevented him from falling from the helicopter as he leaned out of the door, seeking out and firing at targets on the ground.

© 2018 Charles Stokes, All Rights Reserved

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  1. Kelleigh Nelson

    Joe Galloway was co author of WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE AND YOUNG…with Lt. Gen. (r) Moore. The movie was superb, but made me weep, two of my high school beaus are on the wall. Thanks Charles!

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