Bumper's Story

I've recently been asked about my experiences in the VN war and how it has affected my life. I wrote this a few years back in an answer to pretty much the same questions. It's about my reflections on my time in-country. It's how I deal with it and have dealt with it. It's about what I choose to remember....
 
We were a small group. 6 Gunships. 6 gunners, 6 crew chiefs, 11 warrants, and 1 commissioned officer (About half didn't make it the entire year so there was always some new guys around I guess but we were still pretty tight) - our platoon leader was a Captain. About the only time I had anything to do with him was when I was assigned to fly with him, which thank God wasn't too often.
 
During that year he blew up a parked helicopter while he was taxing to refuel after having forgotten to place the arms of safe.He flew too low once on a dive and nearly tore the skids off so we had to hover for 20 minute while a ground crew made a stand for us to sit down on out of sand bags. Once while flying at tree top level with his head buried in a map attempting to figure out where we were he nearly flew us into the side of a tree, when the co-pilot warrant grabbed the stick to save our asses he jerked it back and in the process fired off a rocket which went about three feet under the skids of the lead gunship. And once when it was obvious that he didn't have the Rpm's to obtain transitional lift before the end of the runway he waited too long before shutting it down and crashed us into the tree line. His nick name became CB, short for "Crash and Burn" after that until he was finally grounded.
 
I don't remember that we ever had many formations, we just went to the flight shack to get our assignments after breakfast. While the pilots had their briefings us crew hung around the shack or checked out the helicopters and gun systems. Mostly we did a lot of waiting. If we were still at base camp during lunch and dinner we ate in the mess hall, other then that we didn't spend much time in the company area except to shower and sleep.
 
Some nights we were assigned to being on alert status and then we spent the night in the flight shack where there were 8 bunks, the officers and enlisted slept together then. There we got to watch TV a little and play some chess and we all did that together as well. All of this of course was when we were not on missions.
 
While I did get to see the Bob Hope show and was allowed time to take care of my laundry, take showers, etc., I don't remember ever really having a day off either except for the 7 days I had of R&R.
 
We rarely ever wore complete uniforms, I mostly wore fatigue pants, a green T-shirt and a floppy bush hat when not flying. I don't even recall what platoon number we were, we just called ourselves the gun platoon. The company had other platoons in which there were mechanics, avionics people, supply clerks, admin types, cooks, etc., but they were in separate hooch's and I really don't remember any of them, nor did we interact much with them. I suppose the crew chiefs interacted with the mechanics a bit but I wasn't part of that. I was a door gunner.The only part of that scene I was involved in was out back where they had some 50 gal drums cut in half that I cleaned the guns in.
 
I was just a 19 year old kid at the time who was scared out of his skull most of that year (though I'm told I hid it well), my introspective thoughts never much got past eating, pissing, crapping, showering, sleeping, and surviving the day.Actually as I remember it I merely functioned much like a robot. I didn't think too much about anything at the time. I just followed orders and did what was expected of me, which was mostly to keep the guns clean and working and to keep on pulling the trigger. My mind and my personality was just... well, pretty much numb and put on hold for that year. The Army really didn't require that I had or used either, just that I kept the guns clean and working, and of course that I had great eyesight.. and aim... so that's pretty much all I gave the Army during that year.
 
But I do remember the CO and XO. The CO was a LTC and he reminds me now of Col. Potter of MASH, sort of a gruff fatherly guy who wasn't very military, nor did I see much of him. The XO was a Major. A quiet man who never got excited much but inspired a great deal of respect and admiration. It was he who gave most of the briefings. They even flew a few missions too.
 
On one mission I accidentally shot door handle off when the old man was the AC and when we landed I had to key the mike and say, "I'm sorry sir but I won't be able to open your door this time." "Why not?", he calmly asked. "Ah, because I think I may have shot it off sir." He paused for a moment and then quietly replied, "No problem Mike, I can still open my own door." And he never said another word about it to me after that. When we had our small gatherings to present medals it was he who presented them. He would stand you at attention, read the citation out loud, then shake your hand, look you straight in the eye and say, "Thank you Mike" (He knew all of our first names and always used them instead of our last names or rank.) Then he would hand you the medal and immediately salute you, I mean first. It was the only time an officer ever saluted me first. He had this way of making the hair stand up on the back of your neck, sending a chill up your spine, and putting a lump in your throat. When he had finished presenting medals at those small gatherings there was usually more then one eye in the group that was glistening or teared up.
 
The rest of what I can remember I try not to....
 
Michael AKA Bumper
US Army
Spec - 4
8/64 - 8/67
American Legion Rider, Post 575