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River Rats and the Big Indian

A few fond and scary memories of the River Rats. I don't recall which Riv Div it was but I was a Door Gunner with HA(L) 3, Seawolves, Det 8 staging off the Hunderton County, Rach Gia, along with a Seal Team and the Riv. Div in early 1970. The ships crew were squared away sailors, but our crews, the Rats and SEALs wore anything, did anything and were crazy, wild and the bravest of the brave. I went on one ambush , and that was enough, we didn't get into a fire fight, but no smoking, no bug repellant, only whispers and every sound to me was charlie coming LET ME GET IN THE AIR. I was the only one that was scared silly sitting under the over hanging trees on the canal. I remember they had a stone Killer Vn with them, he would get out of the boat and prowl around on the bank looking for somebody to do in. His Family had been wiped out by The VC and he hated them. There was a Christmas party in Rach Gia and the SEALs and River Rats performed, true to form, in front of all of the local officials and their ladies, they told a story how they had saved some ducklings from the cold. While standing on a stage in front of a captive audience they bite the little ducks heads off and throw them in the crowd, needless to say we were thrown out with them. The Mooning every time we flew over them on the rivers... sure was hard to get those flight suits down as we flew past....

Two of the boats were going to set up an ambush on a known enemy crossing North East of Rach Gia toward Chau Doc. They went out in the afternoon on patrol and were to set up after dark. We flew off the Hunderton and loaded up on fuel and ammo at the Rach Soi long strip and went out to a VN encampment on the bank of another canal to wait in case we were needed to help the boats, and we knew we would for we had done this trick before at the same place, resulting in two of the boat crews being wounded. One was critical and couldn't wait for a medivac bird so we landed and lightened up by giving the PBR crews all of our Sixty ammo except 200 rounds per gunner. A first class (critical ) was loaded on my bird and the other wounded man on the trail aircraft, one of the PBR crew told me if he stops breathing to jump hard on his chest. On the way to Third Surg I had to revive him three times, and he was alive when we got him to the hospital, I don't know if he made it or not. But I hope so... The ambush we were on now was lead by a PO First, a big Indian they called Chief. We had operated with him before and when he called for us to scramble we knew shit was going to happen. It was just after dark, we were listening on the radio, ten minutes flight time away, when here comes the whispered scramble, that charlie was coming and in force, as we get airborne he's still whispering saying the VC are on the bank below and above him and others have appeared on the other side and they had him surrounded just where he wanted them (Crazy Man). He started screaming and had the crews open up , his mike was open and all hell was breaking loose, we were a couple of minutes out and rolling in. The moon was bright almost like daytime and we could see the boats pouring it on the VC with everthing they had. We rolled in with rockets and mini guns hitting the tree line staying away from the Boats. The trail Gunship right behind us, the boats and our birds were taking heavy fire and only the door gunners were shooting up to the banks. That big Indian is yelling war whoops and talking in his native language. The pilot asks him where he wants the second attack put in, his response was, IN THE WATER, for we're breaking out of here and they are in the water trying to get away from your fire and trying to get in the Boats with us.

We rolled in again as the boats are breaking contact. Again rockets, mini guns and we gunners were shooting the VC in the water while the Chief is yelling you've got them, lay it on. Charlie had been throwing grenades in the boats and the crew were throwing them back, anyway, none blew up in the boats. The Chief takes his boats up the canal and while we're putting in a strike on both banks, Both boats turn on a dime and come back through shooting all the way and head back home. The boats and our birds took hits but no one got shot and as we're heading back we could hear the Chief chanting, whooping, and laughing. I hope all of the guys on the Boats made it home and maybe read this story. We on the birds all did. With only myself and another being wounded later. I flew over a thousand missions from 69 to 72 and a lot of them blend together and this was not the hottest action, but I remember it because of that Warrior leading his tribe into battle.

This story was contributed: Bill Rutledge, Seawolf Door Gunner