Reunion prompts memories for Vietnam pilot

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2003

(A letter I wrote to my Vietnam War buddies on June 21, 2003):

I just today returned from the 145th Aviation Battalion (helicopter) reunion at Fort Rucker. Those who most of us know who attended from the 120th Aviation Company and the118th Aviation Company (circa' 1963-64) were: Bob Crissman, Dave Prewitt, Chad Payne (Chad flew with the 118th on 12 April 64.), Ken Fujimoto and me.

We nailed down the names of those piloting four of the eight H-21's ("Shawnee" helicopters) on 12 April 64, that is, piloting as pilot and copilot. Baldasare and Kahl-winter (lead aircraft); Crissman and LeCocque - Fujimoto was their crew chief; Thompson and Givhan; Prewitt and Stevens. (John Horvath was flying the ninth H-21 which was the "maintenance ship" and did not go on any of the four lifts into "the Landing Zone (LZ) from Hell" which was seven kilometers northwest of Ca Mau according to Chad Payne. I also remember the LZ being in close proximity to the Ca Mau airstrip where we took off from.)

Chad Payne said that the 118th actually made the first lift into said LZ and stirred the bad guys up so that when the 120th made the next four lifts into said LZ the bad guys were as mad as hornets. Chad saw a bad guy pulling a 12.7 mm anti-aircraft gun out of a hooch. Numerous other bad guys were sighted actually running toward and firing at the H-21s as we sat in the LZ off loading Army Republic of Vietnam (ARVN - good guys) soldiers. I saw this myself as well.

Ken Fujimoto was wounded while his H-21 was on app-roach to the said LZ. I was wounded while my H-21 was at approximately 400 ft. exiting the said LZ. I was wounded on the second lift. I am not sure which lift Fujimoto was wounded on.

Baldasare's crew chief Alan Maatsura - a very close friend of Fujimoto's - was KIA in the said LZ. I am not sure which lift.

Numerous ARVN aboard the H-21s were either killed or wounded while the H-21s were on approach to the said LZ.

Of the eight H-21s that made the first of four lifts into the said LZ, only four were flyable by the time the fourth lift was made into said LZ. It is a miracle that none of the H-21s were actually shot down or disabled in the said LZ because if that had happened there would have been many more American KIA or POW. (I am told by my dear friend Yung Krall who grew up in the area of Ca Mau that the Viet Cong had one heck of a prison at that time in the nearby U-Minh Forest.)

Also, I talked with a 121st Soc Trang Tiger pilot – can't remember his name – who confirmed that the reason the 121st was "not there" on 12 April 64 is that the 121st Aviation Company had just sent or was sending their H-21s home, and they were not yet transitioned into the new UH-1's they were receiving or had just received. Undoubtedly, VC intelligence was aware of that fact and also that the 114th Aviation Company's UH-1s were grounded due to a tail boom separation that

occured on or about 11 April 64. (One pilot of the crashed 114th UH-1 although very badly burned survived for several days in Station Hospital Saigon where Ken Fujimoto and I were hospitalized. His horrible screams - pain - continued nonstop for several days and nights until he died. I shall never forget them! His surname was Miller.)

I am writing this from memory so if I have missstated anything which is highly likely, please correct me. In any event, thanks for listening!

I will endeavor to incorporate this info' into my sequel to Rice And Cotton: South Vietnam And South Alabama.