For infantry soldiers during the Vietnam War, ‘choppers’ were a life-line to their base and to medical field hospitals. ‘Choppers’ not only carried the troops to and from operations out in the jungle, far from Nui Dat, but also they brought out food, water, mail and ammunition supplies. Yet, their most vital role was to transport the wounded back to receive urgent medical attention. Each of the latter type of ‘chopper’ was code named a ‘Dust-off’ and was distinguished by a large red cross painted on its nose. This poem is a tribute to these machines and to the men who crewed them.
(NB. ‘Dust-off’ was an acronym (U.S.) for: ‘Dedicated Unhesitating Services to Our Fighting Forces’.
♪♪ Engines burnin’ and chopper blades turnin’ … Cuttin’ ‘round ‘n’ ‘round, such a haunting sound …
Control ‘stick’ a-shiftin’ … ‘Chopper’ starts a-liftin’ …
Via Vung Tau town ...I’m a-goin’ down ! ♪♪
- from the song/poem Goin’ Home (author), p217-18, 2004.
Insects in the Sky
Those ‘chopper’ machines,
When used as a means,
For transport, more exciting by far;
On steel-plated floors,
Legs dangling out doors,
Overhead we hung tight to a bar.
Skimming just over tree-tops,
Out doing 90 on ‘ops’,
Quilt carpet of green paddies down there;
Lush landscape below,
Muddy streams in full flow,
Like a model, so it seemed from the air.
Yet, rarely before,
In any previous war,
Was there ever one waged without fronts;
In small or large groups,
‘Choppers’ carried the troops,
Their firepower supporting the ‘grunts’.
A hum overhead,
Meant for all us instead,
Of patrolling back to camp, we’d fly;
’Twas like a reward,
Return there aboard,
On giant insects, up in the sky.
* * *
On this one occasion,
Long Son Island, ’twas really its name;
Paddy fields and large hill,
No beaches, but still,
Jungle and tropical, all just the same.
A sparse population,
A strategic location,
South west of our camp Nui Dat;
Access by air or small boat,
This place so remote,
Part of the mangroves, called the Rung Sat.
With a moustachioed grin,
Our pilot ‘dropped in’,
To where he’d seen coloured smoke;
On ‘hot insertions’ in ‘Hueys’,
These dare-devil ‘Louies’,
Raised hairs on the neck of each bloke.
Green tracers dead ahead,
Of hot flying lead,
So our door-gunners sent red in reply;
Sniper silenced by stings,
From things with rotating wings,
These giant insects up in the sky.
* * *
Whilst scanning the ground,
As we circled around,
No suitable places located to land;
Tilted near 30 degrees,
In a stiff ocean breeze,
Things weren’t going how ’twas planned.
‘Choppers’ twisting and arcing,
Angry enemy guns barking,
Huge boulders covered the LZ below;
Hovering eight feet in the air,
No clearing down there,
Our pilot anxious to dump us and go.
Back-packs hanging low,
Pouches with mags of ‘amm-o’,
Two linked belts, ‘round our shoulders, in place;
For the M.60 gun,
Each ‘grunt’ carried some,
And each sixth round was a fiery trace.
With a split-second curse,
Gunner jumping out first,
Adrenalin then running on high;
As we moved up those spurs,
We heard fading faint whirs,
Of giant insects up in the sky
* * *
Other waves came in groups,
A swarm of disgorging troops,
The distant Long Hais, silhouetted that dawn;
Gunships covered them there,
‘Hueys’ hovering mid-air,
Within seconds they were empty and gone.
And then came that shout,
“Contact Front!” yelled out,
Nerve-tingling words, so clear to us all;
Scout Watson was down,
From one sniper’s round,
Medevac summoned, by a radio call.
And even at night,
In the midst of a fight,
Sounds of an Iroquois, we knew so well;
Through fire and rain,
Flew again and again,
Taking wounded out, then back into Hell.
With medics aboard,
A mini hospital ward,
Upon a ‘Dust-off’, we’d come to rely;
With a red cross on its nose,
’Twas a special one of those,
Giant insects up in the sky.
Choppers embarking from Nui Dat to commence a battalion sized operation - 'Wolverton Mountain is in the background. (Internet photo).
Wounded being medivaced (Internet photo)
Insects in the Sky