Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Early in December of 1969 I was recommended for promotion to Specialist 5 (E-5, NCO). I caught a ride on a UH-1 helicopter from our Fire Support Base near the Cambodian border back to our Artillery HQ Battery at the base camp near Cu Chi. There, I faced a promotion board consisting of our radar section officer (CWO-3), our Battery commander (Captain), our 1st Sergeant (E-7) and a Staff Sergeant (E-6). I had studied hard, so I sailed through the deluge of questions without any trouble. I recall our 1st Sergeant getting a bit irked with me because he failed to trip me up with his multitude of questions – I answered every one correctly.

After the promotion board ordeal was finished, I headed off to a nearby mess hall to get a rare hot meal. It was late in the day, so I had to stay over night in the HHQ Battery area. I did not mind being out of the field for a bit, plus I would also enjoy a rare hot breakfast in the morning.

Right after breakfast the next morning I caught a ride back to our fire support base on an OH-6 Loach helicopter. The OH-6 has four seats and is basically a little hot rod when compared to the larger helicopters such as the UH-1 and CH-47. Up front with the pilot was a Captain by the name of Frank Girardot. He was an Army Reserve officer. I never was sure what his job was or even why he was on this flight. I sat right behind him on the right side of the aircraft. I noticed that he had an M-79 40mm grenade launcher draped across his lap, which I thought was a bit odd.

So, off we went. This flight involved many stops at various Fire Support bases so the pilot flew low, rarely climbing above 100 feet or so. Most of the time we were right on the deck, perhaps 20 feet in the air. There was a lot of desolate landscape between the FSB’s and little sign of any people. Then suddenly a little shack appeared ahead and slightly to our right. Much to my surprise, the Captain brought up the M-79 and managed to put a round right through the doorway of the shack as we whizzed by at 100+ MPH. The target was so close the 40mm grenade exploded almost immediately. I looked back to see if the tail feathers were still attached to our helicopter. I’m thinking man, that was a little too close for comfort. Fortunately, the good Captain did not fire his M-79 for the remainder of my portion of the trip. I was really glad to get off that helicopter after we set down at our camp.

I received my new Specialist 5 insignia 3 weeks later. My promotion included a $40.00 per month raise, raising my monthly pay to a whopping $260.00 per month, including the so-called “Hazardous Duty” pay. Man, I’m in the chips now! (Not really – I sent 95% of my pay home to my new bride).