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Paul J Greiner
Intruder Gunner

We were a flight of four Intruder slicks and three Wolf Pack gun ships en-route to Ban Me Thuot where the Vietnamese Provincial Headquarters had been over run by an NVA regiment. The date was October 25, 1968.

I was gunning on an aircraft flown by Intruder 26, John Wehr with PP, Buck Sorem. For the life of me, I can’t remember the CE. I had been assigned to that aircraft because 455 was down for maintenance. I remember though, I didn’t like the assignment from the start. I had arrived on the flight line well before dawn. The aircraft was really filthy, full of red earth and mud from the Ban Me Thuot area. The guns were filthy too. I can’t remember who the regular gunner was and I don’t know why he wasn’t flying that day. I went and got my own M-60 and I felt better about that. I do remember we were all flying long hours and long days and it was apparent that this helicopter had been back and forth to Ban Me Thuot many times in the previous week. It needed work and I’m sure, the crew needed rest. I’m not finding fault with the performance of the crew.  In any event, I was uneasy. Most of us are familiar with that uneasy, gut feeling, that nagging intuition that something’s wrong. For me that morning, that feeling just wouldn’t go away.

The CE arrived and we prepped the ship for flight. He was soon followed by John Wehr and Buck Sorem. As the two pilots conducted the pre-flight inspection, they became concerned about the tail-rotor. They discussed the play in the “whatever” and I thought to myself, “Hell with this, just Red-X this thing and be done with it.”  Did I get my wish?  Hell no. We were going and that was it.

Soon the flight line was alive with the smell of burning JP4 and the sounds of turbines and rotor blades. We departed Nha Trang, into the early morning sky, as the lead ship in the flight of nine. I don’t recall how long into the flight it was, but as Sorem was flying, he reported a vibration in the pedals. Wehr took the aircraft and said he couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. Then, I heard a loud boom and the bottom seemed to drop out. I’m not ashamed to say, it scared the crap out of me. I had been on plenty of practice auto-rotations while training the ROK pilots and Peter Pilots but I wasn’t ready for this. The aircraft started falling and the transmission was making a winding sound, and it was loud.  Wehr radioed, “Mayday, Mayday, Intruder 26 going down with tail-rotor failure”. Someone in an aircraft behind us, quickly responded, “Negative, Negative, your engine’s on fire”. Wehr radioed back, “Roger. Intruder 26, auto-rotating.” He slammed the collective down and we dropped like a rock

After that much of it is a blur. I remember the CE and I pulling the survival pack off the rear wall and I asked a couple times if we could open the doors. I was thinking, “crash and burn”, and I wanted to exit that aircraft as soon as we touched down. Wehr told us to hold tight and keep the doors closed. The following is an excerpt from an email I received from John Wehr about the incident:

As I recall, the auto rotation was a hairy chopper ride Paul, and our only chance of survival was to make that knoll on top of a jungle hill. It was a long way off, at my 9:00 o’clock and I had to initiate some hairy butt s-turns to build rotor RPM which I’d use to extend the glide path to make the landing. I remember bleeding RPM to 5700 (dangerously low), a couple of times then dumping the nose and initiating more sharp turns to build back RPM. I figured it was our only chance, really two choices, either crashing into three canopy thick jungle or a controlled crash on a hilltop knoll where we had a remote chance of survival. All of those things, and a million others, like we were topped off on fuel, were going through my mind. Duc My Pass was not an ideal place to have an engine failure. With the cargo doors shut, the reduction in drag would help us reach the hilltop.

We all focused on the task at hand. Sorem read power, Wehr flew and the CE and I started thinking about ground tasks such as assisting the pilots, removing guns, ammo, and avionics and defending the aircraft. A large number of NVA had been reported in the area and that became a major concern.

The auto-rotation took us though layers of scattered clouds and haze. With the turning and banking there were times I was blinded by the sun suddenly bursting through the hazy layers and other times I couldn’t see through the clouds and I came close to spatial disorientation. I wondered how the hell Wehr was managing to find a spot for touch down. But I never doubted he would. As we got closer to the ground I could see thick jungle and deep elephant grass waiting to swallow the aircraft. Wehr did a magnificent job of choosing a spot, flying to it, and judging the flare. As he flared, he ordered us to open the cargo doors. I didn’t need to be told twice. As the doors locked open, we slammed into the ground, quite hard, but intact. The fire had blown out during the auto-rotation and the now the scramble began. Again, an excerpt from John’s email:

After the auto-rotation one of you guys hugged me, I don’t recall who, but just about broke every rib in my body. As we touched down, Wolf Pack guns were already suppressing the area and a slick hovering over the top of our bird extracted us and flew us back to home base. It took minimum time to zero the COMSEC and remove the guns from the downed chopper. You guys were like a NASCAR pit crew. Wonder why? Was it because we were in bad guy territory? …..We survived that day because we were a team and a crew. You guys talked to me and kept me focused. Remember, after the mayday call, I reached down and shut the radios off because of all the radio chatter and traffic. Hell, the accompanying flight knew we were going down.

Bad guy territory. That certainly motivated me that morning. I was the one who ran over and hugged Wehr. Didn’t mean to hurt him though. Adrenaline, you know. As I look back, I am proud of the way we performed, all of us. But most of all, I am grateful for the flying skills of John Wehr. If not for his actions that day, we wouldn’t have survived. We came through it alive and ready to fly another day. Even though the game plan had changed, the entire flight managed to adapt to the circumstances. The rest of the flight continued on to the battle in Ban Me Thuot as we returned to visit the flight surgeon. My ribs were sore also, but from the landing. I found out later they had been cracked. The flight surgeon gave me the rest of the day off. Wehr got cleared to continue flying. He writes:

Upon returning back to base I had to go to the 17th Avn. Group flight surgeon for clearance to fly. The only thing I told the flight surgeon was that my ribs were sore. Anyway, the co-pilot decided to take the day off and Maj. Dahill, Operations Officer rounded up a new crew and I went back to Ban Me Thuot. I flew to Ban Me Thuot and learned of a 281st bird shot down, destroyed on the ground, with the downed crew in the LZ. I went into a hot LZ and extracted them out, don’t even remember who. ...Ah,  just an ordinary day, like so many others in the 281st.

Buck Yancy recently told me that he was the ship behind us when the bearings blew out of our engine.  He relates what happened in the following email:

When you guys lost your engine we were in a diamond formation, and I was in the ship directly behind you.  We were supposed to be the pick-up ship, but when your engine blew it covered my windshield with oil. So the number two ship picked you guys up while I flew cover -- I was flying with my head out the window till we stopped to clean the windshield at Ban Me Thuot.  Then we went on the mission while John drew another helicopter.  I was in 136, and we got the tail-rotor, and 90 degree gear box either knocked of, or shot off with an explosive round -- no one ever figured it out.  Anyway we crashed, and I broke my back with a hairline fracture, which was believed at the time to be a pulled muscle.  I didn't know it was break for a few years, just thought I had done permanent damage to the muscle.  Anyway 136 went to the bone yard as unrepairable.   We were on the ground about 30 minutes, as we moved to a near by LZ under fire.  Once we reached the LZ Wehr arrived, and came in and picked us up. Hence I will never forget the day you had your engine failure at the pass.

It turned out to be quite a day for Wehr and the others but for me, the rest of the day was quite uneventful. I returned to the Bandits hooch feeling lucky. There, I ran into my CE, Kelley, who was getting ready to go down to maintenance.

I was smiling. “Just getting up and around”? I asked.

He nodded and asked why I wasn’t flying the mission I had been assigned.

I said something like, “Hell man, I flew it, crashed in the jungle, was rescued, and now I have a half day off”.

"Bullshit", Kelley replied.

I just smiled.


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