Sunday, July 14, 2024

Helicopters skimmed treetops to minimize dangers

by ROGER GREGORY / Contributing Writer
| July 3, 2024 1:00 AM

When I was serving in Vietnam in the 1st Infantry Division, a lot of my job was combat support, refueling helicopters for combat operations. Consequently, I flew to a lot of different places, including a lot of Michelin rubber plantations, as the big ones had airstrips from which the division operated. 

When flying from place to place, I mostly went by helicopter. To avoid getting shot at and maybe shot down, the pilots would either fly really high or at about treetop level.

From my own experience, when on the ground in the jungle, when you hear a helicopter overhead, you can't really tell what direction it is coming from; thus, the helicopter goes by without providing time for the Viet Cong to shoot at you. 

One time, I was in a Caribou transport small aircraft. The pilots were flying so low that they were brushing some treetops as a game. While it scared the devil out of me, it was fun for them. I had a total of 175 hours of flight time, mostly 10 or 15 minutes at a time, so a lot of trips. 

The Army gave an Air Medal for every 75 hours, so I got one with an oak leaf cluster for the second one. Most people thought of it as some kind of bravery, but it wasn't; it was just flight time at risk. The actual pilots had so many that they couldn't even count them all.

Roger Gregory is a Vietnam veteran and business owner in Priest River.