Hey, Marines. Remember doing this, sliding down a fast rope from a hovering CH-46?
We trained for this at Camp Lejeune in Field Medical Service School. I remember doing a few times never really thinking that I would actually have to do it in a real combat situation. Well, that training did eventually come in handy about a year later in Vietnam.
A platoon of Reconners from my company, Bravo Co., 3rd Recon, 3rd Mar. Div. were given an assignment to provide security for an Engineering team that given the task of essentially blowing off the top of a mountain to prepare the area for a forward artillery position. We were flown out to that mountain top covered with the usual thick tangle of jungle trees and as the security team, we were to be inserted first to recon the position, before the Engineers would be brought in to do their work.
A couple of bombs that had been dropped on the top of the hill the day before provided just enough space to insert us, but were not big enough to put the big CH-46s down on the ground, so we had to fast rope into the LZ.
I was the team corpsman. In normal circumstances, the corpsman would not be the first one down the rope, but things had to be done quickly and I ended up being the nearest to the open door, so I was hooked up first and went down the rope into the bomb crater below. The rest of the team was down in seconds, and we began to recon the topside of that big hill. All was quiet, and we reported this to the waiting helicopters and the Marine Engineers were inserted in the same manner we were.
For the rest of the day, those Engineers strapped C-4, and detonation cord around every tree and rock on that hill top. It took them all day to prepare and it was almost dusk when the order was given to blow it.
On the perimeter, we had dug some fox holes where we could keep our eyes out for any enemy movement. The Marine explosives engineers dug their own during the day and when it came time, we heard the call, “Fire in the hole.”
We covered our ears, hunkered down and with a sudden and massive, earth shaking set of explosions, the early evening silence was shattered and cracked open, and we watched the sky fill with flying debris, falling trees and rising dust clouds. We had wood shards and pieces of shattered rock falling all around us.
It was surreal. When it finally all settled down, the evening silence once again blanketed us and night fell over us. It was a long night too. We could hear movement out in the thick forest below our positions, but nothing materialized out of it, thank God.
We didn’t sleep that night, knowing that that explosion would have attracted the attention of any enemy troops in the area. The next morning the CH-46s came out to take our Recon team and the Engineers back to Quang Tri and to deliver other Marines to set up the new artillery base. Because the hilltop was now as bald as a cue ball, they could land and load us through the back ramps.
CH-46s were real life savers for the Marines. They inserted troops and got them out when needed. Those pilots possessed nerves of steel and would do anything to get Marines who were in need of extractions from firefights or to deliver needed supplies to Marines in battle circumstances.
They were a welcome site, I know to we Recon Marines when a patrol was over and they were coming to take us back to base for some needed rest.
The Veterans Site wishes to send its thanks and admiration to all those pilots and crews that flew CH-46s in Vietnam. You brought our wounded back to medical care, and got us out of some truly hairy places. Your bravery second to none and your commitment to we, your brother Marines and Corpsmen, is remembered with great affection.
You were Semper Fi for us. We are Fratres Aeterni.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.