Mike Wheeler, WO1 (April 11)

Recount of events that occurred on April 11, 1972

On the 11th of April 1972 a flight of five UH-lH’s along with a flight of at least 5 UH-1 from B/229th were tasked to conduct a combat assault from Dau Tieng to An Loc. Our Gun Cover was provided by Blue Max. As you very well know the Spring or Easter Offensive had been on going for over a week and Loc Ninh had fallen to the NVA.

I was the Peter Pilot (co-pilot) of Yellow 4 in, as I recall aircraft 383 flying with WO 1 Pollgar. The Pickup Zone (PZ) was at Dau Tieng on a dirt strip or road next to a rubber processing plant. The PZ wasn’t hot but there was sporadic fire on the approach and departure routes. There certainly were NVA in the area as on the 9th of April we had CA’ed into Nui Ba Den just north of Tay Ninh where we had taken a pounding. I do recall thinking on the first turn, if there was fire involved in landing at the PZ then what was the LZ going to be like?

For the life of me I can’t remember if we had the gun cover the entire time or if they “saddled us up” somewhere along the way to An Loc.

All of our approaches into the LZ, which was the soccer field at An Loc, were along the highway QL-13 on a northerly heading. We departed the LZ to the north and broke to the left or west before heading back down the highway.

The LZ was hot on all turns into it. Small arms, .51 cal greeted us along the route in and out and of course rocket, mortar and/or artillery were hitting the LZ and all around the town of An Loc. I know one rumor that was going around after Loc Ninh fell was that the ARVN had left artillery and ammunition intact when they were over run or escaped. The discussion all spring and summer long was that we were taking 105 and 155 fire from the NVA. As much incoming that An Loc took I really don’t know how long anything the ARVN left behind would have lasted!

On the first or second turn out of the LZ I remember looking out to the west and seeing tanks in or on the rolling hills west of An Loc. Someone in one of the flights or the gun cover commented on the tanks. There was a short discussion as to whether the tanks were ARVN or not. As we know now they were PT-76′s and T54/55′s coming out of Cambodia or south fresh from Loc Ninh.

On one of our departures from the LZ I remember looking over my left shoulder, through the cargo compartment back into the LZ. As I watched the spot, or very nearly, where I had been sitting just moments before erupted in explosions from incoming.

On the third or fourth turn into the LZ we were in our sweeping turn back to the south to exit the area when we were engaged by .51 cal. I don’t think any of the Yellow flight was hit but one or both of the Cobra’s from Blue Max were hit. I may wrong but I think one crew member may have been hit or otherwise injured during this encounter. There was discussion about one of the Cobra’s trailing fuel. Flight lead (it may have been MAJ Evens or Willie Neuss, I’m not sure) told this gun driver to go on ahead and we could fend for ourselves. But Blue Max being the professionals they were of course would have none of leaving their charges behind and un-protected.

After we had gotten far enough south to be out of harms way the guns did leave and head on back to Lai Khe. One of them didn’t make it and crashed short of the runway at Lai Khe. As I recall you and someone else brought an EOD team up to secure the remaining ordinance so the aircraft could be removed.

On the last, of I don’t remember how many, trips to An Loc it was beginning to get dark. We knew this would be the last turn of the day. Someone came on the radio and said to tighten up the formation to make it look good (I really don’t know way we needed to make it look good, and besides that as you know we always flew tight). It wasn’t long after this that we were approaching Chon Thanh. We could see a hell of a fight going on along the highway. It may have been two armor columns I don’ know. Anyway they were going at it pretty hot and a lot of large caliber ordinance was being exchanged.

I was on the controls for this last turn into the LZ. I noticed a large tracer arc up and away from the aircraft. Pollgar said it had gone away from us. About that time I counted 5-6 tracer rounds pass between the tail rotor of Yellow three and our nose. I watched as another tracer disappeared under our nose and then the cyclic was ripped from my hand and I felt a burning in my legs and throat. I grabbed the cyclic, not know what the damage was nor how badly I might have been hurt. At the same time I squeezed the intercom/radio switch and told Pollgar I was hit. I was scared enough that I made that call over the radio by accident.

MAJ Evens, who was either flight lead or within the flight somewhere then came on the radio to ask if someone was in trouble. Pollgar replied yes, we were hit and I was injured but he didn’t know how bad (we both know now that it was just pieces of the round, floor and seat rather than the whole round that caused my discomfort).

We had an older (hell I had just turned 20, so everyone was older than me) platoon sergeant flying as door gunner that day. With out hesitation he left the gun well, without a monkey harness on, and crawled over the ARVN in the back to check on me. Prior to this event the ARVN had been sitting with their feet hanging outside the aircraft smoking and joking, now they were piled on top of one another some of them throwing up. By the time the sergeant got to me I had figured out I wasn’t hurt that bad.

Pollgar and I determined that my cyclic was disconnected from the rest of the flight controls and there was some binding in the flight controls. MAJ Evens wanted Pollgar to turn around and go back to the PZ. He didn’t want to do this but between The Major and flight lead of the B CO flight Polgar was convinced to turn around. B Company followed us out over the same spot we had gotten hit. Our crew was flown home by someone else as our aircraft wasn’t flyable.

The aircraft was returned to Lasiter Pad the next day by CH-47. During the landing back at Lasiter the aircraft was further damaged.

The round that took the cyclic from my hands had come up through the cyclic bell crank (hence the controls binding) and damaged the pedal adjuster knob and then hit the very right front edge of my seat. An inch more forward and the round would have hit me right behind my knee.

I had a dime size piece of metal in my left leg just above the knee along with other small holes on both legs and razor type nicks in my throat. You made me go to the aid station that night. The next day you asked if I had gotten a “toe tag” so you could get me a Purple Heart. I said no, and you sent me back! You said you were going to see I went home a hero!

I still have the half of the round that isn’t in me along with the copper jacket that was caught up in my map. I also have the cyclic grip, the Maintenance Officer made sure I got it. I’m glad he did.