War Stories

Hi Mr. Arrowsmith,                                                                                                                                 

I was sitting up on Hornet's flight deck that morning in Manila Bay during the '67 SEATO Cruise looking at all the ships and the Australian Carrier Melbourne. HS-2's helo fired up forward. Took off and gained altitude. Made a turn to port. Flew aways, and to my untrained eye went straight in the Bay. I remember bugles blowing on Melbourne and them launching a whaleboat to go to the crash site. I didn't believe from what I saw there could have been any survivors, but decades later and thanks to the internet I found out the whole crew survived and was very glad of that knowledge.                                                                                  

 I also remember one morning on Yankee Station the 1MC fired up and said Hornet was racing to the scene where a helo had gone down and was floating. The IMC said Hornet's crack recovery team would soon have it aboard. I seem to remember this had happened once before and the HS-2 maintenance department had to completely gut the bird, and recorrosion proof it. Most of the enlisted airdales lined the flight deck as Hornet approached the bobbing helo. I remember the crew jumping out, and getting in a rubber life raft. They were paddling  like Hell and making no progress until someone noticed a line still attached to the helo. In this scenario I remember Hornet's deckside crane being swung out, and a sling attached to the Helo. As they started to lift it, something broke. I think the sling. Helo turned sideways and went splash!!. In other accounts of this story I have heard it wouldn't sink and the Hornet Marines had to sink it with rifle fire. I don't remember that. What I do remember is it disappearing below the waters of the South China Sea and hearing a huge cheer go up from HS-2's enlisted pukes. Still makes me grin to this day. Anyway those are MY Memories and I am OFTEN wrong. Great story from you and thanks for it!                                                                

VS-35 Enlisted Puke Ginnis

In a message dated 4/3/2011 2:00:30 P.M. Central Daylight Time,  writes:

Terry and PJ

Good memory, although I have a couple of minor changes.  We actually lost two in country for sure.  Dave Georgius and Sam Payne were shot down by 37mm going over the beach.  They took four hits at about 7,000'.  Kept going, Dave said there was no way he was going to fly back thru the crap to the Gulf of Tonkin, so he headed for Laos.  They went down to tree top level and Sam swore he saw over 150knots most of the time.  I flew with Dave later, and there is no doubt in my mind that Sam saw that speed.  Anyway, they made it to Laos, but the sealant in the tanks crystallized or just was too full of shrapnel to seal properly and they started leaking fuel.  Long story short they crash landed in a field in Laos.  Had to crash land as one of the hits had blown off the port sponson and the landing gear with it.  Dave hovered, let the other 3 out and then put it down.  It did its helo thing, i.e. flopped around like a hooked fish and finally rolled over in a heap.  Dave got out,  told me he put a couple of grenades in the electronics compartment (don't know where he got those), and ran like hell.  They all 4 had a little foot race with the Pathet Lao to see if they could get to the safety of a Jolly Green before they got caught.  They made it.  Sam was the one wounded the most and they sent him home, but he recovered and flew again.

The 2nd in country loss was the tragedy of Lt Peterson, Ens Frye, PO Jackson and PO McGrane.  They too were taken out by 37 mm.  They got hit by small arms going in for the guy and Lt. Peterson could no longer control the bird and it made a slight but unstoppable turn off the ridge line and over a valley.  The valley contained a battalion of NVA.  They took repeated hits at 1,000' agl.  One of Spad pilots had flown helos and he said it looked like a bird in a 100 knot auto, they just didn't flair at the bottom.

The most mysterious loss, was the bird flown by Lt Homuth, Ltjg Pettis, PO Smittou (spelling ?) and PO Soucey (again spelling?) .  It was a late afternoon launch, not covering an alpha strike.  They were still feet wet and had not even rendezvoused with their Mig cap or the Spads.  They were on one sweep of the Hornets radar and the next sweep they were gone.  No radio contact, no debris, no nothin.  Just gone.  I was the SDO that day, and in CIC.  Heard this (didn't see it of course) first hand, so it is not BS. They could have had an electrical emergency and not been able to communicate and landed in one piece, rolled over and sank immediately.  But and this is a big but,  Homuth was a Pax River test pilot.  Probably one of the best in the squadron and if he landed softly enough that there was no debris, how is it that no one got out.  Many think that they got hit by a SAM.  They were alone, that means the F-4's with their lock on warning systems were not there.  They were at about 7,000', easily within the Sam envelope.  One of the Docents I work with on the Hornet was a radarman, aboard Hornet.  I asked him if the Hornet's air search radar could pick up a Sam.  He said NO, even though they had a lock on the H-3 they wouldn't show a SAM, as big as they were.  Don't know if he is right or not.  One thing that contradicts the SAM theory is that they found no debris.  A SAM would blow the crap out of an H-3, but they were feet wet and you would think there would some debris, hell you'd think there would have been a lot of debris.  The E-1 from Hornet searched  the area, from a respectful distance.  They said the radar conditions for their surface search radar was excellent.  They were able to pick up large pieces of Styrofoam that ships had jettisoned.  They found no helo debris.  There were no signals from survival radios.  A year or so ago, I heard from Arlie Plemmons that the North Vietnamese had found the wreckage of a helo in a steep escarpment near the coast and a bit south of the Naval base at Son Gay.  But, we have not been able to confirm that story and or if so what helo.  If they found one it would have to be Navy, the Jolly Greens were NEVER that far north.  Again no confirmation.  My understanding is that it was eventually classified as a combat loss and the status of the four was changed from missing in action to KIA.

Dick Daniels and Lee Billings were the pilots who put the bird in Manilla Bay.  They were hovering over a destroyer and some dumb ass threw a bunch of rags off the side, one got sucked up into an engine and down they went. over the side.  One of the crewmen ended up with a pretty badly injured back, but they all got out.

Lowell Lindsey had the distinction of crashing twice and losing two birds.  One was in the Sea of Japan before the old Horny Maru got to Yankee Station.  Tragically, the two crewmen did not make it out.  Later LT Lindsey didn't go aft and port before taking off from the USS Wainwright and his blades tangled with the Wainwrights gun director.  Big steel meets honeycombed aluminum, big steel gun director wins.  They crashed into the netting on the port side.  Everyone got out, none the worse for wear.  They took out some of the electronics and the guns, dumped her overboard, whereupon she rolled over and DID NOT SINK.  The ships XO, who had been hit by some of the debris, and was a bit pissed, had the ships 50 cal set up and proceeded to vent his spleen on the poor helo.  several minutes later, it started gurgling and went to the bottom.

With those 10, Chatterton getting killed 2 days before the Peterson crew, and the 2 kids killed on the Forrestal the squadron lost 13 guys in 4 months of the 8 month cruise.  That doesn't even count the guys  (including the XO at the time) killed the winter before in an H-2 that crashed on the way back from the ship to shore during a short cruise.  It was, sad to say, not a great year for HS-2.  Although rescuing 16 downed crewmen helped make it a bit more palatable.  In '68-'69 we rescued another 8, but they were not combat, just off the ships.  Not as glamorous perhaps, but no one died doing it.  I believe that at least 1 combat rescue (think it was a night pick-up) was made during the '65-'66 cruise.  There may have been more but I wasn't on that one so only going by word of mouth.

The H-3 that the Hornet sank was flown by Lcdr Ernie Renner and was actually done during the '68-'69 cruise.  They had their main transmission go to shit at 1,000'.  Started with one warning light and they started to descend immediately.  During the next 1.5 to 2 minutes they got (in no particular order) pressure gauge to 0, oil temp gauge pegged, a second warning light, then a chip light, followed by smoke, then loud screeching noises, (think metal on metal) and finally after they had flaired at 40 ' and begun their decent to the water, the damn thing froze up at about 10'. The reason I never flew above 1,000' in a helo unless absolutely required. They made a big splash but the old girl floated as advertised and they deployed the bags and called for help.  Some time later the Horny Maru showed up, the crew was rescued and the Horny Maru sidled up next to the bird to pick it up with a crane.  Then the 40,000 ton carrier, gave the 20,000 lb helo a little kiss.  The bag popped the bird rolled over on her back and without the assistance of any 50 cal bullets, unceremoniously went to the bottom.  The only A/C the Hornet shot down during Vietnam.

We were relieved in the rotation by HS-6, we relieved HS-8, and so they were probably the culprits with the bad maintenance.  Yes, HS-4 got the glory.  I always wondered why we were good enough to pick up pilots under fire and couldn't be trusted to pick up 3 Astronauts.  What did they think, we were going to drop them.  LOL

What with all that and  NV-12 the S-2 being shot down in '65-'66, it was a pretty eventful 4 years for CVSG-57.

Take care guys

Mike Arrowsmith