Tag Archives: Vietnam war

Charger Dustoff

Was reading a piece in the latest issue of The VVA Veteran magazine on a documentary called When I Have Your Wounded, the legacy of Army Major Charles L. Kelly, the founder of Dustoff medevacs in Vietnam. Which you can watch free here and you should because it’s worth the hour or so it takes.

Got me to thinking about Charger Dustoff, the call sign of a frequency I used to call medevacs while at Moc Bai, when I was an Army lieutenant advising Vietnamese light-infantry militia, about a klick southeast of LZ Baldy. It was then occupied at first by the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and subsequently by the 7th Marine Regiment. All I ever knew was the call sign Charger Dustoff, which came and took our Vietnamese wounded about 25 kilometers southeast to the 91st Evacuation Hospital at Chu Lai.

The Vietnamese preferred Charger to the Vietnamese dustoffs, first because Charger would come in a hurry while the Vietnamese pilots took their time about it, and second, as their lieutenants told me, the American doctors would work to save a limb whereas the Vietnamese surgeons simply whacked off a damaged arm or leg, making the survivor a beggar for life.

Thanks to Google, I learned that Charger was part of the 236th Medical Detachment out of Da Nang. They initially were assigned to the 196th at Baldy. But when the 196th left Baldy to the 7th Marine Regiment, Charger stayed around, operating out of Hawk Hill, about 16 klicks southeast of Baldy.

And so we used them through December of 1969 when I left Moc Bai to take a desk job at province headquarters in Hoi An. Two stories, one about their pique at having their time wasted and a second one about their fearlessness:

One morning we had a Vietnamese troop who was losing a lot of blood from multiple gunshot wounds while we waited for Charger to come get him. But the medics couldn’t stop the bleeding and he died just as the bird was settling into our little LZ. The pilots were pissed off, partly at our wasting their time and partly because they didn’t much like ferrying wounded Vietnamese anyway. But before they could lay into me about it, they got a call from an American unit and flew off to take care of them.

The other story is about one time after midnight on radio watch when I heard a Marine lieutenant come up on the 7th Regiment’s artillery net seeking a medevac for a dying troop on a distant hilltop under fire. He was told to forget it because the big, twin-rotor CH-46 they used couldn’t be risked for one guy.

At that news the lieutenant broke down and started begging. I got his freq and connected him with Charger who were only too happy to fly into a hot LZ in the dark to get his man. This was at a time when few aircraft of any kind flew at night in Vietnam, let alone helicopters. They got him out safely and I heard later that the wounded young Marine survived. I also heard that the regimental XO was mighty pissed at me for interfering in Marine business.

New combat veterans deserve the attention

J.D. over at Mouth of the Brazos and I traded comments not long ago about how the whole Vietnam War, combat veterans like us, refugees and all, finally are on the shelf. It’s all mothballed news at best now.

I see it in the pitiful sales of my two books on the subject, which seem to have peaked at 164 for the Vietnam War short stories and 26 for the novel. Both have been outpaced by my Civil War novel (194) alone. And this year’s new Civil War history, now at 51 sales, has outrun the Vietnam novel and is on pace to eclipse the short stories as well. Not that my work is the best indicator of a trend, but it is one.

Neither J.D. or I created the political one-year combat tour of the Vietnam War. But neither of us would have liked to be in the position of the all-volunteer combat veterans now. Many of them already have served three or four years in combat assignments and the rise of ISIS suggests they have many more ahead of them. They already match the World War II generation which served for the duration.

All that occurred to me reading this WaPo piece about the 101st Airborne Division emplaning near their barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a recent flight to Afghanistan. The pundits are still trying to figure out what Wormtongue’s secretive administration intends to do with them. Whether they will guard facilities or patrol. If he even knows himself. He isn’t much of a planner.

It also occurred to me that nowadays when some sergeant addresses a group of soldiers as “ladies and gentlemen,” he’s not trying to be cute, as he was in our day when few women served and none were in combat. He means it quite literally. And both the ladies and the gentlemen deserve all of our attention now.

LBJ the bully: prolonging the Vietnam War

In 1965, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended bombing Hanoi and mining Haiphong Harbor to avoid a protracted ground war in South Viet Nam. President Johnson screamed at them, cursing them and calling them idiots.

“Why had Johnson not only dismissed their recommendations, but also ridiculed them? It must have been that Johnson had lacked something. Maybe it was foresight or boldness. Maybe it was the sophistication and understanding it took to deal with complex international issues. Or, since he was clearly a bully, maybe what he lacked was courage.”

He certainly was a bully. He bullied his own wife, repeatedly, according to his biographers. So the ground war went on and on, literally consuming their country and figuratively consuming ours, not to mention LBJ himself, and it lingers yet as a bad taste all around. No wonder people, even people here in Texas, still hate the sumbitch.

Via The PJ Tatler.

A covey of Hueys

Found this scouting out some public domain shots for the cover of my new Vietnam War novel, “The Butterfly Rose,” which will soon be available for the Kindle.

I decided to use another snap but kept this one on the desktop because it’s so unusual. Hardly the stereotype shot of a covey of Hueys in flight, which is usually taken from the front or the side. Neat, tho. This way you see the side doors which slid all the way back when opened and the rear stabilizer.

I also like that the door gunner on the left side of the bird in the foreground has his arm stuck out the open door holding onto the wooden grips of the M-60 machinegun.

Black Cat

The rearing black cat on the yellow circle on the nose of these Hueys reminds me they were our resupply and courier service in Viet Nam in 1969. This is one of their bases somewhere near Da Nang.

Note the M-60 machinegun tilted downward on the left side of the bird on the right. Nobody went unarmed. Even our Medevacs had door guns. Old times.

Reprise: The disappearance of American military service

A bit of Veterans Day insight, just one day late. Sorry about that:

I would not especially care to see the return of the Draft, which caught me just days after my college graduation in 1967 and sent me to war in 1969-70 and home again to job discrimination and psychological abuse.

The draft was inequitable then and likely would be again, but it would spread the burden among more of the educated than volunteering does now, to the detriment of those who do serve and, yes, even those who do not.

“The loss of the martial virtues weakens an entire culture. Whole generations begin to rate themselves too special, ‘with a special kind of hide to be saved,’ as Gen. Savage puts it in Twelve O’Clock High, to risk their careers, let alone their lives, for their country.”

Insight from an academic blogger who burned his draft card back in the day and now regrets his youthful arrogance. At least he’s not a wannabee politician lying about serving when he didn’t. A too-common phenom these days.

Vietnam War favorite

As I recall (and it’s been 42 years) this little item from can 4 was the most popular C-ration. It’s the fruitcake. When you got one of these you felt blessed by the gods.

For more C-ration memories (if you’re so inclined) go here. Not only a photo of the famous P-38 (not the WW2 fighter but the 1969 can opener) but also the small four-packs of Marlboros and matches from those pre-PC days.