Charlie Goes To School - The Hard Way
22 August 2005
The following news release was issued on 7 December 1966 and details a fire fight in the Mekong Delta between armed helicopters of the 336th AHC and a force of 300 Viet Cong:
SOC TRANG, Vietnam (336th Avn. Co IO) Some 300 Viet Cong took a lesson in the "school of hard knocks" on a steaming Saturday morning near Ba-Tri in the Delta Region of South Vietnam recently.
Some of the 300 will live to remember their lesson – others died without passing the final examination.
The lesson being taught was “don't tangle with armed helicopters”. Teachers of the lesson were members of the “Thunderbirds”, the armed helicopter platoon of the 336th Assault Helicopter Company.
The Thunderbirds known locally as the “T-Birds”, were “scrambled” in response to a report that an ARVN patrol and its American advisor had been ambushed, and that the outpost of Ba-Tri was threatened by a large force of VC. When spotted by the “T-Birds”, the VC were disregarding all previous lessons and were walking in force through the open rice paddies.
336th AHC in front of a T-Bird
Warrant Officer Peter G. Galanos of San Bernardino, California, a veteran of six months with the “T-Birds”, was one of the first to sight a group of VC moving on a dike between rice paddies. “We cut up the head of the column with our ship mounted M-60 machine guns and the rest of the VC jumped into the water”, recalls Galanos. After that it was a mad scramble. The VC in panic, were running in all directions. A few headed toward cover and the “T-Birds” attacked them with rockets and finished the job with machine guns.
While Galanos and his crew were taking care of these VC, another large group was spotted by Lieutenant Colonel James E. Kennedy of Austin, Texas, Commanding Officer of the 336th, and Major Louis A Jacquay, Fort Wayne, Indiana flying in the company's command and control ship. They directed another “T-Bird” fire team to intercept the new threat.
Captain Teddy Allen of Monterey, California, armed helicopter fireteam leader, described this part of the action. “It was a classic example of the armed helicopter's effectiveness against insurgents. We had them where we wanted them…out in the open. We had them! We knew it and they knew it too”.
But this part of the day's lesson was not so easy. The Viet Cong blazed back in desperation with every automatic and small arms weapon they had. The armed helicopters flew through intense VC fire and took several hits, but continued to fly in seeking out Charlie with rockets and machine guns until this group too was disorganized and ineffective.
Every combat action brings out individual acts of courage and this was no exception. Specialist Fourth Class Richard A. Honyoust of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was observed leaning far out over the helicopter's skids, delivering accurate machine gun fire directly into the midst of the now terror-stricken Viet Cong. There were several bullet holes within inches of his legs and even nearer to the one strap that was the lifeline between himself and oblivion. Specialist Fourth Class Chester L. Groce of Chickamauga, Georgia picked up his M-14 rifle and continued to fire when his machinegun ammunition was gone. All the T-Birds had been hit by the intense Viet Cong fire. The command and control aircraft had also been hit and Major Jacquay slightly wounded while their door gunners added firepower to that of the T-Birds during the engagement. Such acts were typical of the courage displayed that day by these American fighting men.
With all their ammunition gone the T-Birds broke off the attack leaving the command and control aircraft to keep tabs on the VC while they reloaded and rearmed. As the T-Birds returned to their base to rearm, a tail rotor control cable on one of the aircraft, which had been partly severed by a VC bullet, finally broke causing the helicopter to spin rapidly several times before the aircraft commander, Warrant Officer Galanos, was able to land. Demonstrating great professional skill, he landed the aircraft without further damage or injury to the crew.
After inspecting his helicopters, Captain Allen found only one, his own, able to fly back into action, and his crew eagerly volunteered to do just that. Meanwhile, the command and control helicopter had continued to deliver machine gun fire into the remaining enemy from an altitude of 700 feet, well within range of VC small arms fire. When the lone T-Bird returned to the scene of battle, it joined the command aircraft and engaged what was left of the enemy. Again they expended all their ammunition.
An American Sergeant, the advisor with the ambushed ARVN patrol had been captured earlier during the VC attack on the patrol. During the chaos caused by the T-Bird attack he escaped to freedom.
So ended one of the most successful engagements of its kind during this bitter struggle for the rice-rich Mekong Delta. The Viet Cong dared return only under the cover of darkness to drag away their dead. The T-Birds had done their job well.
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