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Conversation with a South Vietnamese Crew Chief

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I recently had the honor of speaking to Mr. Lee Hoai Tong, a former Crew Chief in the 231st VNAF Squadron. As his English wasn't very good, I helped him translate some of his experiences and such.


Following his graduation from high school in 1969, Mr. Tong enlisted in the VNAF and trained for two years at Bien Hoa, graduating at NCO level. He was later assigned to the 231st Squadron as a crew chief aboard a UH-1 Huey Gunship. While we're still talking, I wanted to take some time to share one of his stories.


"The second time I was injured was during the Battle of An Loc during the Summer of Fire in 1972. I was there along with two gunships (I was on Gunship #2) providing cover for two Dust Off choppers headed for the city. Their mission was to evacuate as many wounded soldiers as possibles and to drop off medical supplies which were desperately needed. As we entered Wind Valley, the sky suddenly became blanketed with 37mm tracer fire. Almost immediately, Dust Off #2 was hit and caught on fire. As it spun out of control, the gunner was thrown out. My Gunship moved into position to provide cover for Gunship #1 as they attempted to rescue the crew of Dust Off #2. Despite their best efforts, they were only able to rescue two men: the main pilot and the crew chief. The co-pilot had been crushed by the transmission block as it collapsed and burned to death. The gunner who had been thrown out and was nowhere to be found. Here, two of my friends were killed. While my helicopter was making second go around, we came under intense enemy fire. The enemy soldiers had climbed up into the trees and were shooting at us at nearly point blank range as we flew overhead at tree-top level. Their fire damaged the ammunition belt of my mini-gun and rendered it useless. It was around this time that I was badly wounded. A round ripped into my right hand and a piece of shrapnel tore open my left cheek. Though our helicopter was riddled with bullet holes, it was still flying. Our Gunship trailed thick smoke as it returned back to Lai Khe, carrying the two badly burned crew members from Dust Off #2. This would be the second time I was wounded during the war."


Though this is only one of many stories he has told me, I feel that this one is one of the most poignant. I believe it helps to dispel the all too common myth that the ARVN were cowards. There were many individual acts of heroism that have been lost to time. Even those that received awards and commendations have all but been swept aside. I hope that more stories like these will surface and help bring attention to these forgotten men.



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Remarkable story... thank you for sharing this.

HONORING FAMILY LtCol Wm Russell (1679-1757) VA Mil; Pvt Zachariah McKay (1714-97) Frederick VA Mil; BrigGen Evan Shelby, Jr (1719-94) VA Mil; Pvt Vincent Hobbs (1722-1808) Wythe VA Mil; Pvt Hugh Alexander (1724-77); Lt John R. Litton (1726-1804); Bvt BrigGen/Col Wm W. Russell (1735-93) 5th VA Rgmt; Lt James Scott (1736-1817); Capt John Murray, Sr (1747-1833); Capt John Sehorn, Sr (1748-1831) VA Mil; Pvt Corbin Lane (1750-1816) Franklin/TN Mil; Cpl Jesse D. Reynolds (1750-1836) 5th VA Rgmt; Capt. Solomon C. Litton (1751-1844); 1Lt Christopher Casey (1754-1840) SC Mil; Pvt Mark Adams (1755-1828); Pvt Randolph White (1755-1831) Bailey's Co. VA Rgmt; Capt. John R. Russell (1758-1838); Pvt Joseph T. Cooley (1767-1826) Fort Hempstead Mil; Pvt Thomas Barron (1776-1863) 1812; Capt. John Baumgardner (1787-1853) VA Mil; Pvt Joel Estep (1828-1864) Co B 5th KY Inf CSA & US; Pvt George B. Bell (1833-1910) Co C 47th IL Inf US; Cpl Daniel H. Barron (1838-1910) Co B 19th TN Rgmt Inf CSA; Capt Richard K. Kaufman (1908-1946) 7th PRG/3rd AF CCU; T-5 Vernon L. Bell (1926-95) 1802nd Spec Rgmt; PO2 Murray J. Heichman (1932-2019) HQSB/MCRD; PFC Jess Long (1934-2017) US Army; PFC Donald W. Johnson (1931-) 43rd ID HQ; A1C Keith W. Bell (1931-2011) 314th TCW; A3C Michael S. Bell (1946-) 3346th CMS; A1C Sam W. Lee (1954-2017) 2d BW; AW3 Keith J. Price (1975-) VP-10; 1Lt Matthew Wm Bell (1985-) 82nd Abn/SOC

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree. Remarkable story. I used to work with a Vietnamese couple who came here after the war. The husband served with the ARVN. Their story of how they made it here to the U.S. would make an amazing movie.






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