IT WAS A BAD DAY
Mike Kurtgis recalls the events leading up
to OPN Green Lighting and the loss of a
MedEvac chopper loaded with wounded
a stint with B/2/35 as their FO (Forward Observer) July Ė Sept1969, and a
short stay at Nha Trang Hosp (VC mosquito), I was reassigned to Headquarters
DivArty, and sent to 3rd Bde Firebase Oasis as the 3rd Bde
AO (Aerial Observer). I was supported by the 2/9 Artillery Battalion located at
Oasis, Col. (Richard) Wiles commanding at that time.
started off my time as the Bde AO, riding in OH- 3 Hiller (flying deathtraps)
helicopters. The helicopter with
pilot was assigned to me for four hours per day.
I would generally fly a couple hours in the mornings and then a couple in
the afternoon, depending on what was happening in the 3rd Bde AO
(Area of Operations). My day without
contact would usually involve doing Artillery Battery gun registrations.
Also, there were intel planned targets to be fired, targets of
opportunity and of course ground units in contact took priority over everything.
I was working with a ground unit in contact, and if an Air Force Fighter/Bomber
(F4 Phantom, A1E Skyraider, etc) came in the 3rd Bde AO,all Artillery
would immediately receive a
"Check Fire" order, usually from the Artillery Liaison (LNO).
This stopped my fire missions instantly and in most cases while rounds
were still in the tubes. Of course,
this situation was not good for anyone as the ground units were no longer
getting Arty support, especially if the Air Strike was not inbound for their
engagement. In a lot of cases, that
was the end of my fire mission as I would not get a "Resume" mission
order for many minutes or even an hour later, this is obviously critical in a
several frustrating experiences like that I went to see the Bde Air Force
Liaison Forward Air Controller to discuss how we could coordinate keeping rounds
on the target. He explained to me
that the inbound pilots and the FACs (Forward Air Controller) did not know where
all the artillery batteries were and then could not determine the gun target
line of the Artillery rounds so the command was to "Check Fire" when
all Air Strike Fast Movers entered the AO. I
told him that I know where the Artillery Batteries and the Gun Target Lines, so
were letís coordinate. First, I
asked him for a list of planned Air Strikes for the day in the morning briefings
and some days they were so numerous I might as well sit on the ground. That
didnít work, so I asked Maj. Ferrell if I could ride with the Cider FACs after
I finished my morning helicopter missions and he said that would be a great
idea. I started flying with the
Cider FACs and we coordinated the Artillery and Air Strikes in the Bde AO. Sometime
in December 68 DivArty Aviation had replaced all its OH-23 Hillers with the new
turbine (jet engine) OH-6 Hughes Helicopters which were a welcome change.
January, activity increased in the area of the Chu Pa Mountain, and I was
spending most of my time in that area and was flying more and more with Cider
FACs. The three Cider FAC pilots that I flew with were, Maj. Ferrell, Maj. Tarr,
and Cpt. Himmelburger. The one day
that stood out from all the rest and that I remember from the events leading up to
and that culminated in Operation Green Lightning, on the Chu Pa Mountain
occurred in late January, 1969. Maj.
Ferrell (Cider FAC) and I (Victor 76), were putting some planned Artillery fires
on the Chu Pa and hanging around in case an Infantry unit needed us.
We were somewhere south of the mountain as I recall and were monitoring
the Infantry command net, Artillery net and of course the Tac Air net.
We picked up radio calls from an infantry unit which I believe was
"B" Company, 1/14 Inf. who was in heavy contact.
Nobody was answering them and Maj. Ferrell asked me if we should talk to
them. I told him to go ahead as I
was about done with my current fire mission and we could head over to them and
see if we could help. They were
relieved to hear from us and said they could not reach anyone and that they were
in danger of being overrun and needed at least Arty support and a MedEvac to get
out the wounded. I was calling up
for a new fire mission while the Maj. asked for them to pop smoke and relayed
their sitrep to Bn. The Maj. handled
the com with the Infantry Bn and the Infantry company while I worked the fire
mission. They were in dense cover
with triple canopy and we could only see smoke wisps dispersed coming above the
trees. There was no LZ where a helicopter could land and they could not move the
wounded in any case as they were still heavily engaged with the NVA.
Maj. Ferrell, after repeated calls for a MedEvac, finally got one to
answer inbound. The Huey had to
hover above the trees and send a Jungle penetrator down and lift out the
wounded. It seemed like the
helicopter was hovering there a long time and I could not help thinking he is
very exposed; the fighting was almost underneath them as I saw they had another
wounded guy on the sling. I turned
my head to watch my incoming rounds when I heard the Maj. exclaim they
just blew the helicopter out of the air;
they hit it with an RPG. I
turned my head back and all I could see was dense black smoke rising into the
sky. We were stunned there had to be
a full load of wounded plus crew on the Huey, adding up to a lot of guys gone in
an instant! We continued the mission
as we had some Tac Air inbound and I lifted the Arty as the Air Strike went in.
Shortly after that the 1/14th unit was able to break contact and thanked
us for our help and the support we brought in, but they had been hurt bad.
After that mission, I had a couple more planned targets to fire and
then we returned to Oasis and I filed my after- action report. But
as I remember it Ö.. It was a bad
FO and Air FO / Pilot
Note: Mike's account points out the ongoing and detrimental lack of
communication between our ground/air efforts
in critical times of providing support to the Infantry units.
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