By Howard Daugherty
Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968:
Vietnam 0500, a.m. ready to go, pre-flight, waiting for two pilots to do their inspection, soon to be off flying up the white sands of the beach past Chu-Lai to Tam- Ky heading for Hawk Hill, our lonely fire base near Highway one, our staging area and operations base.
I refuel the chopper, eat breakfast (c-rations) and just wait. It is already hot and getting hotter. We have a mission out to a base called Kham-Duc, near the border with Laos. Radio talk is the base is under siege and could be over-run. We are flying cover for a uh-1h lift helicopter whose job is to fly to a listening post on the west end of the base and extract the team of LRRPS ( long range recon patrol) hiding out in a bunker.
The first trip in we were behind the H-model troop ship that was closing in on the position when we heard the radio chatter – receiving heavy fire, break left to hot an LZ (landing zone). When being shot at in a helicopter, it sounds like pop-corn popping. On the turn around and set-up for try number two, all is quiet until the approach then automatic fire breaks out. I hear over the radio – too hot, heavy fire.
The chatter on the radio I hear we are shooting them as they come through the door, then silence. We break to the right instead of the left which is a mistake. We circle level out. I look down and there are NVA everywhere, just like ants on a cupcake. They start shooting. We are low and I can see their faces – I don’t have time to open fire with my M-60 machine gun, I pushed my talk button and said we got to get out of here.
All this time I’ve never been so scared, it is hard to keep my legs from shaking, we are taking hits from small arms and 51 cal. The cabin is filling up with smoke the smell of burning wires and just plain fear.
Warrant officer Rippy was our pilot, W.O. Ophiem our co-pilot along with Stultz the right door gunner and myself covering the left door. Our co-pilot Ophiem was hit by one of larger rounds in heel of the foot. Our chopper made it to the middle of their run-way to the left side so we would not block the run-way and crash landed.
I was out and opened the pilot’s door, went to the right side. Stultz already had Ophiem’s door opened. He was bleeding and we got him out of the aircraft. I put my right arm under his right leg Stultz under his left and we carried him trying to get away from the helicopter; the smoke was rolling. I don’t remember how far we ran but finally we reached a medevac almost ready to take off and we put Ophiem inside and the medic started working on him. I placed pressure on his leg while the medic cut his pants away. The round had come up through the heel out the calf of his leg, a real nasty wound.
Rippy, our pilot, was talking to the medevac pilot and got us on that flight out of there. We flew to an aid station said our good byes to Ophiem, we waited till one of our helicopters picked us up and took us back to Chu-Lai. A very long nervous day.
Ophiem with the help of the computer was located and lives in New Mexico and still has a foot problem.
I will never forget Mother’s day of May 12, 1968. Thanks to all the Mothers God bless and be Happy.
Howard Daugherty is the Executive Director of the Clermont County Veterans’ Service Commission.