55- Vietnam: the ‘Helicopter War’ for Combat Infantrymen
For the combat infantryman, mobility and transport are critical. If the infantryman is part of an Airborne Unit (such as in WWII, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan or Korea), then reaching their objective would mean jumping in by parachute or riding in a glider. If the infantryman is in an armored or mechanized unit, it would mean getting to the combat area by land vehicle. And so on.
But during the Vietnam War, that all changed. The mode of transport to and from the jungles, the rice paddies and mountains in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was the ‘CHOPPER’ — that is, the helicopter. Thus, this 10-year conflict was known as “the helicopter war.”
This audio narration of an article from Vietnam Magazine (Volume 22, No. 2 issue) focuses on the casualty rates of both the helicopter aircraft, as well as the men who flew them and their crews.
For the combat infantryman, however, the helicopter was his salvation, as this was his only way out of combat engagements or missions. It was his safety-net. It was also his medi-vac flight out of harm’s way and back to the REAR and survival at the aid station or hospital (commonly referred to as “dust-offs”). Many wounded combat infantrymen owe their lives to the brave pilots who flew these choppers.
We deliver this audio narration from the viewpoint of the combat infantryman, who used these choppers as their vehicles when they were taken from the base camp to the “hot LZs” or to the delivery point in the paddies or mountains. The choppers were the life-saving miracles from the extraction point back to the REAR, and that gave the combat infantryman another day of living.
In this article by David F. Crosby, we see how the helicopter technology during the 1960s improved, as the enemy found multiple ways of attacking, ambushing and engaging the choppers to deal them death-blows. Yes, over 46 per cent of the helicopters flown in Vietnam were shot down or destroyed in combat operations.
As you will hear in this audio narration, every means and tactic was employed by both the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and VC (Viet Cong) — from booby-trapping the LZs to using surface-to-air man-portable missiles. However, the American helicopter pilots– as well as the combat infantrymen that delivered security for them with patrols– also adjusted and developed tactics as counter-measures to the enemy threats.
And the U.S. never gave up control of the skies in South Vietnam during their role in combat.
Copyright (c) 2009, Vietnam Magazine, Vol. 22, No. 2, pages 20-27. All rights reserved.