The Back Pew - March 2019
Submitted: Ernie Isbell, VLOA Chaplin
I am pleased to once again take on the role of Chaplain for the VLOA. I am not a Minister or a Preacher but I am proud to be called a Christian. My belief in Jesus Christ started a long time ago and has been reinforced by my marriage of almost 60 years to my wife Linda and by many things that I experienced while serving in Viet Nam. Here is a story for your consideration about a day in my life during my third tour in Viet Nam.
It was a bright spring day in March 1972, and I was flying with Major John Hatcher on a routine resupply mission for a rifle company in the 3rd Brigade, 1stCavalry Division. The company was searching a tunnel complex approximately 40 miles northwest of Saigon. At the time I was the S-3 of the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion (Reinforced) and John Hatcher was the commander of B Company, 229th assault Helicopter Battalion (Reinforced). We were to trade jobs in the next week and this mission was a part of my orientation before taking command.
We were accompanied that day by a Pink Team consisting of an OH-6 Loach and an AH-1G Cobra. Both were flying low over the jungle and providing cover for us. We were hovering approximately 120 feet above ground and just above tree top level while dropping crates of rifle ammunition and rations. At the same time, we were lowering a sack of hand grenades by rope so that they would not scatter in the jungle. The Infantry company’s supply support specialist was lowering the grenade sack while sitting in the back of our aircraft. The rifle company had formed a large circle in the jungle in order to avoid being injured by the falling supplies.
I was in contact with the rifle company commander via FM radio and with our cover air- craft by UHF radio. Suddenly an enemy soldier directly below us opened fire with an AK47 rifle. We heard the rounds hitting the bottom of our aircraft and the young supply specialist reeled back after being hit in the head. The bag of grenades was still attached to an D ring in the cargo area. The Infantry commander shouted “Pull out log bird, you are taking fire”. At the same time the Pink Team leader shouted “Pull out log bird – you are ON FIRE”. I checked the instruments and told John Hatcher that everything was in the green. He acknowledged my information and told me we were proceeding to Fire Support Base Hall. This was approximately a ten minute flight.
I switched our transponder to EMERGENCY, switched our radios to the EMERGENCY CHANNEL, and made the following transmission.” MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, ARMY
HELICOPTER 229 ON FIRE PROCEEDING TO FIRE SUPPORT BASE HALL”. Saigon Approach Control came up on guard channel and acknowledged our broadcast and asked me to turn off the transponder emergency mode and told us that we were on his radar. I told him we were going to FSB Hall, which he acknowledged.
I told the crew to cut the rope and drop the bag of grenades, which they did. They were providing aid to the supply specialist and we were still in the green for all instruments. I looked for a clearing in which to land but saw none. At this time John Hatcher had the aircraft showing 130 knots. The UH1H max airspeed was 120. We didn’t slow down. During this time an Air Force C130 aircraft in the vicinity of Saigon asked for our position. I did not know the coordinates for Fire Base Hall and my map was a one to one million scale map of South Viet Nam. I told him our situation and we had no further conversation. In retrospect I have often thought about his offer to help but as far as I know there was nothing he could have done.
We had been flying approximately five minutes at max airspeed plus and I was concerned about the potential for actually being on fire. I asked the crew chief to get out on the skids and see if he could find any evidence of fire. He did as I asked and reported nothing on fire that he could see. A couple of minutes later we saw FSB Hall. It was about 3 acres of cleared jungle with two artillery tubes and an Infantry company for defense. Their position was rein- forced with rows of concertina wire and a command detonated mine field. We were too close and too fast. We overshot the landing pad and landed in the mine field. I simply turned off the fuel and reduced the throttle to off. The fuel in the lines ran out and the engine died.
I jumped out of the aircraft looking for the wounded specialist. He wasn’t anywhere I could see. About that time a UH1H that had followed us in lifted off the helipad with the specialist on board. He was flown to FSB Mace where the medics removed the bullet just under the skin on the right side of his head. They patched the skin and he was OK with only minor injuries.
This event was truly a harrowing experience with the potential for being a disaster for the crew and others. Both the pilots and co-pilots seats had been hit in the bottom three time each. No injuries. We were not on fire. The bullets coming through the belly of the aircraft hit a fuel cell pump for the belly tanks and the smoke was actually JP-4 that was leaking and turning to mist. The mist resembled smoke as it poured out the bottom of the aircraft. The engine had been hit three times but none of the hits caused serious damage. As it turned out the aircraft was recovered, repaired and returned to service.
In conclusion, this incident was only one of thousands of stories about our aircrews doing their job and trusting in their training and skills to pull them and others through. Some have said we were lucky. In a way that was true.
But as a Christian, I prefer to think that God and his Son Jesus Christ were watching out for us that day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
God Bless All Who Read This.
Ernie Isbell, VLOA Chaplin
What can the Chaplain do for me?
My primary job as Chaplain of the V. L. O. A. is to conduct the Sunday morning worship service at our reunions. In addition, should you have the need to talk with someone who has "been there, done that," I am available to listen.
Outlaws Devotional - July 2017
Ephesians 4:29. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
When I entered the U.S. Army in 1960, I quickly learned that getting straight to the point was the norm. Commanders were “old school;” give orders and demand soldiers execute them. In later years, younger military personnel were a “different breed of cat” and required more explanation before the order.
As a young commander, I wasn’t attuned to the fact that the “explanation” I gave might be perceived as blunt, harsh, or critical. My orders were more often than not very straight-forward, even though they contained some explanation. My Father-in-Law made a statement one time when we were hunting on his Florida farm that really hit home with me. He said: “Words are like a bullet shot from a pistol; once you pull the trigger, you can’t take back the bullet.” As my names imply, I have always been earnest and frank! My Father-in-Law’s words stuck with me as I grew older.
Some years ago, I forwarded an email I received criticizing a politician I didn’t support, only to get a return email from an Army buddy. “Good Christians don’t criticize others” he said in his lengthy response, but then he criticized me for criticizing others. I did a great deal of thinking about what he said.
Have you experienced someone that criticizes or disparages someone else in the written or spoken word, seriously or jokingly, knowingly or unknowingly? Just about everywhere we look in today’s society, there is an abundance of hate, offensive statements, Tweets, Facebook posts, TV reports, and newspaper articles that have clearly moved away from being Christ oriented in our words and deeds. This is the right time for all of us to take a step back and really see how our words and deeds are received by others. Maybe we should apply Ephesians 4:29 during this period where our country is trying to find who it is and what it stands for again as a world leader. Just maybe, some things might work better in our personal lives, our church, our community, and our nation.
My Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord, my Strength, and my Redeemer. Amen.
Submitted by Frank Estes