Downed Choppers

Hank Ortega

C company 1/327 was under command of Capt Westbrook, and it was just a short time after taking Veghel. We had been looking around the mountains surrounding Veghel, and generally claiming it as 327 territory. Out point element was coming to a road crossing, when, as they came out of the brush above the road (a section of 547?) They were surprised to find 2 Blue Air Force helicopters (UH1’s) lying on their sides. Both had been there at least a month, and still had crew members in them. After we secured the area, and started looking around the place, we were able to begin piecing together these men’s last moments.

It seems that the lead bird had taken fire, and fallen to the ground on it’s right side. The other had come down to lift the survivors, under fire, and had also been shot down.

Inside and scattered around the area were men in OD flight coveralls, white flight helmets, and orange vests, as well as men in Tiger Stripes. Several had unshipped a M-60 from the trailing helicopter, and fought their way up to a bunker on the side of the road. Chillingly, the men still lay where they had fought, on top of the bunker, skeletons wearing AF and Tiger Stripe uniforms. They still manned the gun. We went around the group of men, pulling ID tags, name tapes, and wallets, taking them to the CO, who had one of the Sergeants writing the names down. We apparently moved several men from “Missing” to “Dead” that day.

Now for the really eerie part. 30 years later, I was discussing this with C company vet, Jim Russell. He told me he had lost his lighter a couple of months before, when the unit was still in Cuchi, before I had joined the unit. He found it there, by the downed helicopters on the ground or in a gooks clothing, I forget which. Gives you a chill, doesn’t’ it?

Hank Ortega
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