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The GIs called them Arvins. Officially; A.R.V.N. (Army Republic of Viet Nam). They were the armed forces of the South Vietnamese Govt. The ones that the GIs were over there helping and advising. They had the finest equipment; little sawed off M16s with 30 round banana clips, tiger-stripe camo uniforms, jaunty little berets. spit-shined jungle boots, and always wore freshly starched fatigues with razor sharp ironed creases. They lived in makeshift plywood, tin, and canvas hootches well inside the perimeters guarded by GIs. Few armies looked finer marching or standing in formation on the parade grounds.
It was a fair sunny day in late fall of ‘68 when the ARVNs boarded their Hueys and left their nice secure area for a recon mission somewhere northwest of Bien Hoa. S3 was certain there was nothing there, so they felt safe as the choppers set down and they stepped off to perform their patrol. Army S.O.P dictated that the choppers land and take off as soon as they dropped their load of troopers, but this was an ARVN operation. They really needed the comfort that the sight of choppers waiting gave them, so the pilots let the turbines wind down, and the blades slowly drifted to a stop. It wasn’t unusual that S3 missed their assessment, but it was unusual for the ARVNs to be under fire. When a few shots erupted from a nearby tree line, panic and confusion erupted in their ranks. The herd of ARVNs ran for the choppers, discarding anything that might slow their retreat. No one knew exactly what happened, but when the choppers lifted off, all the troops that had come out to the bush were onboard a chopper, but there were two choppers still sitting on the ground. Rotors still, and their ARVN pilots riding the now overcrowded birds that were flying. It wasn’t unusual for the ARVNs to panic and lose some of their gear but two Hueys was a little more than MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam – the HMFICs of the VN war) could tolerate. They were furious and insisted that the ARVNs get back out there and retrieve their birds. It wasn’t about to happen though. The ARVNs had made straight for their hooches as soon as they landed. Some were busy entertaining the baby-sans that were live in housekeepers and chambermaids. Some had changed into freshly starched fatigues and polished boots – going back out there would mean another change of clothes – too much effort. Others had headed for mama-sans bath house to relieve the stress of a mission gone bad with a nice steam-job and blow-bath. The guys at MACV still wanted the Hueys back, so the next step was a call to the Colonel at 1/12th Cav. He still hadn’t gotten over Champ and LZ Sharon so his decision was easy: Charlie Co. was going to get the choppers. It wasn’t much of a combat assault; six choppers carrying a platoon and the Company Commander with his CP; about 36 troopers in all. The ARVN choppers sitting on the ground precluded prepping the LZ with arty fire so they went in to an LZ that turned out to be hot. The troopers riding the birds joined the door-gunners returning fire towards the area that the tracers racing up to greet them were coming from. The skids of the birds only lightly brushed the grass and the troopers were off and running to form a perimeter around the abandoned birds. Later two more choppers touched down briefly and discharged a team of riggers who attached nylon slings to the main rotors of the ARVN hueys. The rest of the mission progressed without much incident; two choppers returned and lifted out the birds, the lift choppers retrieved the contingent of C company and the redlegs pounded the area with arty as soon as the birds cleared the area. Of course the NVA had fled by this time as they realized what would soon come.
All in all, it wasn’t much of a mission, but that evening the young trooper sat and thought about it. It was a sickening feeling when he realized the whole thing was going to be for nothing. Freedom isn’t free.
© 2003 Ed Boysun
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