Dragon Slayer

 

 

South Vietnam 1968

Taiwanese Operations Compound and Antenna Field at Dong Hoi

 

THE young Taiwanese radio operator leaned back in his patched rattan chair and stared out the heavily reinforced window of the operations compound.  Above the encroaching jungle he could just make out the tips of the antennas.  Soaring over the thick and unruly Vietnamese shrubbery and palm trees and flame-of-the-forest trees, the antenna field's silver towers glittered in the eerie morning sunlight like exotic birds frozen in mid-flight. 

It was the man's last month in Vietnam, and already his mind was drifting back to the familiar streets of Taipei.  To a small lane off Chung Shan North Road where in less than twenty days his wife and four-year-old son would welcome him home.  Home from a boring tour of duty in a compound in a remote mountainous area of Vietnam surrounded by impenetrable jungle growth.  He glanced at the pictures of his family on the nearby bulletin board and again felt the pride in being the father of a healthy, chubby son; a “Little Emperor.” 

Then his gaze lingered on the photograph he'd taken of his team of radio operators and linguists.  The eleven Taiwanese were standing and clowning with an American helicopter gunship crew in the compound's landing zone.  The gunship crew was on standby at all times to bail them out in case of emergency.  The number on the tail of the chopper read 7-4-6.  The seven and the six were of no consequence, but the sound of "four" in Chinese was similar to the sound for "death."  Still, the radio operator regarded himself as a modern Chinese and traditional Chinese superstition seldom troubled him.  The man let his eyes fall on the two flags farther along the wall - one American and one Taiwanese - and the photographs of LBJ and Chiang Kai-shek.  Both were looking very serious indeed. 

Suddenly his earphones crackled to life and he began intercepting his fourth message of the day.  Chinese in southern China communicating with one another unknowingly being listened to by Taiwanese in South Vietnam.  No doubt it would be another "Mother sick, send money"-type message.  During his entire tour of duty he had intercepted almost nothing of military value.  Still, the Taiwanese compound was located in what the American army had designated a "Hazardous Duty Zone" and, regardless of the dubious value of their interceptions, he and his crew were well paid. 

Colonel Wu, the team chief, a short stocky and broad-faced martinet from northern China, stood beside his desk and spoke curtly to him.  "Hai mei-you ne? (Still nothing?)"

The Taiwanese radio op sat up straight and shook his head.  The team chief was an elderly ex-Nationalist Colonel whose tone suggested that those around him were more slaves than subordinates.  The son of a general in one of Chiang Kai-shek's defeated armies which had fled the communist takeover of China in 1949 and brutally forced its authority upon the Taiwanese.  The man still spoke Chinese with a heavy Beijing accent, and the Taiwanese-born radio operator often grimaced inwardly at the man's speech, usually sprinkled with difficult-to-decipher "r" suffixes. 

The team chief grabbed the messages the operator had intercepted in the previous hour and took them to his own desk where he began translating them into Chinese characters and then into English.  Each page was covered with rows of numbers and an outsider (i.e., someone outside the "intelligence-gathering community") would have no idea that each four-letter combination represented a Chinese character.

His operator was correct.  These messages were worthless.  But the ones which had been intercepted a mere 12 hours before were not.  They were messages from the Third Southern Chinese Command Battalion Headquarters to someone in Vietnam.  The Chinese had apparently intercepted American messages detailing American military planned operations in the northern regions of South Vietnam.

The Chinese messages had been coded but Wu had easily broken the code and revealed the content.  He had written the information out in Chinese but not yet in English.  There was something strange about them.  Signals intelligence (SIGINT) was his specialty because he loved the work and because he was good at it.  No one who had worked with him doubted that he was one of the best analyzers of electronic communications Taiwan had ever produced.  And over the years he had learned to trust his instincts.  In electronic warfare deception was the name of the game, and as he studied the intercepts his instincts were screaming that things were not as they seemed. 

The Taiwanese outpost had never intercepted any type of message from the Chinese military inside China to the Vietnamese. And why would the Chinese risk sending such sensitive material when they knew they were being monitored?  And although even the communication habits resembled that of the usual Chinese op who worked at the scheduled time, and even on the precise frequency over which the messages were sent, he had his doubts that the messages had even actually originated inside China.  Something wasn’t right but he couldn’t yet say just what it was.  He would have to discuss it with his American civilian counterpart who arrived once a week; a civilian who joked that he was just a glorified postman but whom Wu believed to be with the American Army Security Agency. 

Just out of his line of vision, along the perimeter of the compound, two South Vietnamese soldiers stood guard at a rear entrance gate, a strange but sturdy contraption of bamboo and barbed wire.  The senior ranking of the two men suddenly pricked up his ears and turned to his companion, motioning silently toward nearby jungle growth.  His subordinate obediently held his M-16 at the ready and turned to walk toward the source of the noise.  His superior slung his M-16 on his shoulder, slipped a knife from a sheath, and followed closely behind him.

He quickly clasped one hand around his companion's mouth then plunged the knife into his back.  As he pulled the knife out, dozens of well-armed, black-clad Viet Cong emerged from the jungle.  One of them slit the throat of the dying soldier and then joined the others as they rushed through the gate and into the compound.  As silent as the jungle itself.


******************************

 

                                              Chapter 2

 

     THE shadow of the United States Army Bell UH-1C helicopter skimmed over the triple-canopy jungle stretching endlessly across Vietnamese hills and valleys.  Anyone below would have heard the roar of its engine and the "whoomp" of its blades but would not have glimpsed the chopper's nose art where, depicted in vivid colors, a fierce dragon was being ridden by a scantily clad and very well-endowed young woman.  The dragon was roaring and sending out streams of fiery smoke from its nostrils.  The woman waved a sword with one hand and held on to the dragon’s green scaled-neck with the other.  Beneath the nose art were the large, carefully painted white letters against a black background: 

Dragon Slayer

On each side were the helicopter's two rocket pods and two 7.62 mm rotary, six-barreled mini guns.  The helicopter's tailboom read "United States Army" and on its tail was the number:  7-4-6. 

On the underside of the fuselage was the irreverent crew's large bullseye painting of a target with scores inside each circle.  Over the target were the words:

 

                                 VC TARGET RANGE: HAPPY SHOOTING!

 

Inside the plexiglas cockpit of the chopper a pilot and co-pilot wore olive green flight helmets and their normal chest armor.  Behind the cockpit area was a crew chief, door gunner and two passengers.  Behind them on the bulkhead were neatly painted black letters:

 

   82ND ASSAULT HELICOPTER COMPANY

                                     MAJOR BRYON WHITE

                                        COMMANDING

 

The crew chief and door gunner manned M-60 machineguns positioned for action in each of the two open cargo doors.  They and the two passengers were squeezed in between bandoleers of Claymore mines and crates of grenades which had been crammed into every available space.  Of the two passengers, one was a prisoner in handcuffs.  One was a military policeman. 

Except for the MP, the men in the helicopter were combat-hardened veterans.  It was especially obvious in their eyes: the Vietnam “thousand yard stare."  The crew chief sat on ammunition boxes lining the cargo deck's bulkhead, his flight helmet off, and tugged on the stubborn string loops of its earphones.

Most of the men were in their mid- to late-20's, suggesting, perhaps, that this was their second or even third tour of duty in 'Nam.  The MP, on his first tour, was about 19.  His helmet liner was unspotted and his boots were spit-shined.  The others wore faded fatigues, dirty combat boots, flak jackets and .45's. 

The magic marker message on the back of the door gunner's flak jacket read:  HAPPINESS IS A COLD LZ.  That on the back of the crew chief read:  DON'T SHOOT - I'M SHORT!

Only the prisoner, a man named Greenwood, wore a soft, narrow-brimmed flop hat.  He was also the only one wearing green-and-black striped “tiger" fatigues -- symbol of the hunter-killers of the LRRPs -- Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols.  In addition to poorly healed shrapnel wounds, his hands and face bore the scars of long nights lying in wait in jungle ambushes -- lacerations from elephant grass and bites from ants, mosquitoes, termites, leeches.  Areas of his face retained traces of his greenish-black camouflage paint; as if he just came out of the bush.  If anything, he appeared even more the classic picture of a combat-hardened veteran than the others.  By comparison, his MP guard appeared boyish and unseasoned.

The pilot, John Haggerty, known to his men affectionately as Hard Bones, spoke to his co-pilot -- a twenty-six-year-old from Chicago named Fox.  “I'd say it's about time we let Big Daddy know our whereabouts, don't you?"

“We'd better," Fox said.  "Otherwise, he might worry himself to death."

Hard Bones initiated his radio conversation between helicopter and base.  "Dragon base, this is Dragon seven.  Do you copy?  Over."

It took only a few seconds for a response.  “...Dragon seven, this is Dragon base.  Over."

“Dragon base, Dragon seven has accomplished its mission and is on its way home.  Over."

“...Dragon seven, your CO requests your present position and estimated time of arrival.  Over."

“Dragon base, we are 35 clicks southwest of Phu Bai and ETA is one hour.  Over."

“Copy, Dragon seven.  Your CO requests mission report on Firebase Alpha.  Over."

“Firebase Alpha completely evacuated.  The slicks took the troops; we took the weapons.  However, please be advised we have one prisoner and one MP on board as our first priority and will be making an unscheduled stop at Ahn Lo.  Over."

“Say again, Dragon seven.  You have one VC prisoner on board?  Over."

“Negative, Dragon base.  Prisoner is American.  Over."

“...Copy, Dragon seven.  However, CO asks for a report on weapons.  Over."

“Dragon base, please advise CO we have a shitload of armament on board including enough Claymores to mine every rice paddy in Vietnam.  Over."

“...Dragon seven, your CO refuses to believe you could have loaded all the weapons he requested and be back so soon.  Over."

“Dragon base, while it is true that a shitload of weapons does tend to affect one's flying speed, please be advised that a United States Army Bell UH-1C Huey gunship knows how to haul ass when the right helmsman is at the wheel.  Over."

In the few seconds of silence, Hard Bones and his co-pilot exchanged smiles.  Both men had had several run-in's with their CO, Major Bryon White AKA “Big Daddy".  White took pride in presenting himself as a tough-as-nails, “no-nonsense" officer and in reminding anyone who would listen that he was a decorated veteran of the Korean War.  When he'd first arrived in country, Major White had tightened up restrictions and brought charges against several of the men in his unit whom he said were having intercourse with their hootch maids.  Hard Bones and his crew fought back with ingenuity and, when charges were dropped, were credited with persuading the Major that men facing death every day do not appreciate chickenshit from a turkey.

Whether harassing American military martinets or fighting communist armies, Hard Bones had proved himself to be one of the best helicopter pilots in Vietnam.  He was daring, innovative, skillful and often totally disregarded deadly enemy fire to support soldiers on the ground.  And the men on the ground knew this.  In more than one action, grunts facing a well-entrenched enemy were reliably reported to have cheered wildly when a voice over their field radio reported that Hard Bone's unit was the one sending assistance.  But the same independent spirit which motivated him throughout his years of flying had led to his being reprimanded and grounded on two occasions.  The next order he disobeyed would be the cause of the only thing Hard Bones was afraid of:  He would be permanently grounded. 

“...Roger that, Dragon seven.  Happy flying.  Dragon Base out."

“Roger, Dragon base.  Dragon Seven, out."

In the doorway, the watchful door gunner, known as Kool-Aid, gripped his M-60 machine gun slung on its elastic bungee cord from the roof of the cabin and looked down at the jungle as it grudgingly gave way to the smoke of cooking fires, ricefields, rubber plantations, banana trees and the tops of thatched roofs. He wondered idly which figures were VC and which weren't: The villagers leading their water buffalo; the fishermen net-casting for fish; the farmers peddling traditional chain-pumps and cone water buckets raising water from one level to the next.  What this war needed was an invention to tell which pajama-clad farmers were innocent and which were aiding VC to lay deadly ambushes for American grunt patrols or hiding VC in the villages so American troops would never find them.

Inside the cockpit, Hard Bones Haggerty keyed his radio to tower frequency.  “Ahn Lo Tower, this is Dragon seven...Ahn Lo Tower, this is Dragon seven..."

Suddenly, a frantic voice broke in on the emergency frequency radio; a voice in Taiwanese-accented Mandarin interspersed with occasional cries for help in English.

The co-pilot wrinkled his brow.  “What the hell is that?  Charlie on our frequency again?"

Hard Bones listened intently before speaking.  “Chinese.  Something about...Jesus Christ, it's Dong Hoi!  They're being overrun!"

Larson shouted above the inrushing wind.  “I thought we were fighting Vietnamese."

The prisoner gave the MP a slight smile.  “No, sonny, this is the listening post at Dong Hoi.  Chinese radio ops were brought over from Taiwan.  They're on a mountain listening in on communications inside China."

“Dong Hoi?!  That's VC territory."

“Yeah.  The Brass decided that if the shit hit the fan these boys could get them out in time.  How much you want to bet they won't?"

Hard Bones could tell the excited radio operator was becoming hysterical.  He began to hear the sound of gunfire.  All four crew members could hear everything clearly in their earphones; the MP and the prisoner listened to Hard Bone's side of the conversation over the sound of the chopper's turbines and blades.

Fox shook his head.  “Jesus Christ!  They haven't got a chance!"

Hard Bones spoke into his mike.  “Dragon base.  This is Dragon seven.  Over."

“Dragon seven, this is Dragon Base.  Over."

“The Taiwanese ops at Dong Hoi are on the air screaming for help.  Request permission to assist.  Over."

“...Dragon seven, this is your company commander.  We are aware of the situation at Dong Hoi.  Carry on with your present mission.  Over."

Hard Bones glanced at Fox as if to reassure himself that he had heard correctly.  “Sir, I repeat, the VC are apparently overrunning Dong Hoi.  I can be there in minutes!  Over!"

“Dragon seven, I repeat, your request is denied.  You could not reach them in time and, in any case, at the moment, Dong Hoi is not your mission.  Over."

“Dragon Base, Dong Hoi is our mission and twelve Taiwanese linguists are about to be killed!  I might be able to save them. Over!"

“Dragon seven, you will proceed with your present mission!  You will not- repeat - not render assistance to Dong Hoi!  That is a direct order!  Any attempt on your part to do so, and I will have you up for an immediate court-martial!  Over!"

“Are you insane?  If you don't care about the men, what about the intelligence documents!  That station is handling top secret, cryptographic material!  Over!"

“Request denied!  Proceed with your mission!  Over!"

“If the VC get their hands on those documents, they'll know every move-"

As Hard Bones stopped talking abruptly his co-pilot reacted.  “What!  What's the matter!"

Hard Bones spoke each word into the radio clearly and distinctly.  “You son-of-a-bitch!  You bastards want Charley to overrun the base; you've planted false documents.  Over!"

As Hard Bones and Major White screamed to interrupt each other on their keyed radios, it created static and jammed their frequency until the other relinquished.

“Dragon seven, get off the air immediately!  That is a direct order!  So help me God, I'll have you crucified!  Get off the air!  Dragon Base out!"

“That's why you sent us to help evacuate Firebase Alpha.  That's not our mission; you just wanted us out of the way.  You goddamned- (static)"

“Captain Haggerty, I am ordering- (static)"

“A dozen Taiwan linguists sacrificed for some kind of CIA stunt.  What did the spooks promise you for cooperating, Major?  A promotion?  Over."

“That's it!  You get back here immediately and consider yourself under arrest!  I will personally- (static)"

Hard Bones abruptly cut him off.  For several seconds the crew listened to the radio sounds of AK-47s and the screams of Taiwanese ops.  Then there was silence; then the sound of Vietnamese voices.  Then nothing.

Greenwood turned to the crew chief.  “Some hot-shot chopper crew.  If you'd been flying instead of bullshitting on the radio, you might have saved them."

The crew chief was known to the rest of the crew as "Wizard," because of the way he could repair a helicopter with few tools and lots of improvising.  Still in his mid-20's, he was nevertheless a religious man.  He glanced at Greenwood, then turned away, ignoring him, and pulled out a Bible looking for a quotation.  Amid the weapons and ammunition, the Bible's silver clasp, large red capitals and black text seemed like something from another world.

Greenwood scratched his chin with his handcuff link and continued his harassment.  “You boys gonna be known as the crew that fucked up at Dong Hoi.  The hot-shots that got the Chinks killed.  You boys were their security.  Some security."

The prisoner and the MP were seated close together but, except for them, aboard the helicopter, anyone not speaking into the intercom system had to shout to be heard over the whine of the turbine engine and the sound of the rotors.  When the crew chief shouted to be heard the prisoner smiled at his pronounced southern accent.  “Your problem, Greenwood, is that you don't know when to shut up!"

The MP joined in the shouted conversation.  “His problem is he killed a man and he's going away for a long time!"

Greenwood moved closer to the crew chief.  “See, chief, the thing is, I only killed one man -- not counting dinks, of course; whereas you -- you boys got a dozen killed.  All because good little soldiers got to obey orders.  Now, what does your good book say about that?"

Wizard suddenly lurched at Greenwood with his hands at Greenwood's throat.  Kool-Aid took his own hands from his M-60 machine gun and turned to aid the MP as he struggled to separate them. 

Fox, the co-pilot, heard the commotion and turned around.  Fox was a big man and he had both the confidence and the authority of a big man.  “All right, knock it off!"

Wizard released Greenwood and recovered his Bible.  Kool-Aid shoved Greenwood against an ammunition crate then turned back to his M-60.  Hard Bones had seemed unaware of the commotion.  He stared straight ahead and spoke softly.  “I could have saved them."

Fox started to say one thing then settled for another: “We followed procedure."

“Yeah, Fox, I followed procedure; and let twelve men die."

Fox stared at Hard Bones Haggerty.  He had lost count of the American ground troops they had rescued under fire, but he knew Hard Bones seemed only to remember the ones he hadn't been able to get out safely.  “Hey, buddy, don't always be so damned hard on yourself; it was the Major's call.  The Taiwanese were sacrificed and we were set up."

Hard Bones still spoke mainly to himself.  “I wish to God I had a second chance."

At the sudden eruption of loud ground fire, Hard Bones sharply banked the chopper and immediately spotted dozens of muzzle flashes.  Green tracers of Vietcong automatic weapons fire were coming at them from a partial clearing in the jungle.  For every round they could see, there were four rounds they couldn't see.  And from somewhere below 51 caliber machine gun rounds chased them across the sky.  And the clearing itself was surrounded by the strangest formation of low rolling hills Kool-Aid had ever seen.

Below the chopper, surrounding huts clustered together in the middle of several rice paddies, an entire company of Vietcong was defiantly out in the open, the men energetically emptying their AK-47's and larger caliber machine guns at the chopper.  As bullets hit the chopper, one sailed cleanly through the Plexiglas cockpit chin bubble.  Another ricocheted off Hard Bone's frontal ceramic plate knocking the wind out of him and causing a bloody shrapnel groove along his cheek. 

“Hard Bones!  You OK?"

“Yeah, Fox.  I'm OK.  The chicken plate stopped the bullet.  But that makes it personal."

Kool-Aid spoke into the wind.  “Oh, shit.  Here we go!"  The door gunner pulled a handful of pills from his fatigue shirt pocket and looked them over.  He picked three of them.  “You, you and you.  Step out of formation."  Kool-Aid popped them into his mouth and shoved the rest back into his pocket.  “The rest of you are dismissed.  But do not leave the immediate area."

As the chopper climbed steadily to 1500 feet, Hard Bones wiped blood away from his cheek, opened a console cover and pushed a toggle switch, arming the guns and rockets.  Red lights appeared on the console.

Hard Bones spoke the words, by now long familiar to each member of his crew.  “Going hot!"

The MP screamed at him.  “What are you doing!"  It took Larson a few seconds to realize that, because of his earphones under his flying helmet, Hard Bones couldn't hear him.  Larson turned to the crew chief and spoke nervously.  “What... what does he think he's doing?"

Wizard almost laughed at the man's evident fear.  And his failed attempt to disguise it as indignation.  “Just what he should be doing, Mr. Larson.  Fighting a goddamn war!"

Larson raised his voice.  “This helicopter has been commandeered by my commanding officer to transport my prisoner.  Your orders are-"

Ignoring the MP, Wizard tugged his flight helmet on, positioned his earphone and grabbed hold of his M-60 machine gun while Kool-Aid readied his own M-60 in the opposite cargo door.  Hard Bones continued preparing for battle and spoke to the crew through the intercom system.  “I hope Charlie appreciates the fact that we're taking time out from our busy schedule to shoot back at him."

The MP moved to Kool-Aid and shouted next to his helmet.  “This is not proper procedure!" 

“That so?"

“I mean...if a helicopter is shot at, the pilot can't just shoot back.  Not here!"

Kool-Aid spoke while keeping his eyes on the series of low hills.  Since he'd been in 'Nam, he'd never seen any terrain quite so bizarre - long, low ridges of earth rising in and around otherwise flat ricefield terrain.  He'd been in battle with Hard Bones dozens of times and his stomach hardly tensed anymore, but something about those hills—not to mention an unnaturally darkening sky--gave him the heebee-jeebies.  “Oh, you mean, when fired upon, we should climb to altitude, find the village on the map, call headquarters and request permission to return fire?  Something like that?"

“Yes!  And your headquarters will call the province chief to see if-"

“Yeah, and then assuming by that time the war ain't over and that the province chief ain't a VC plant, we can shoot back.  Fuck you very much!"

Despite his handcuffed wrists and the roll of the gunship, Greenwood inched his way closer to Larson.  “At last!  A little action.  Hey, Larson, how about unlocking the cuffs?  If somebody's hit I can-"

The increasingly nervous MP ignored Greenwood and moved between the seats of the pilot and co-pilot and shouted to Hard Bones.

“Listen, I think you should radio-"

Hard Bones snapped out the radio circuit breakers.  “Sorry, son, I just lost radio contact."  He then spoke to his crew through the intercom.  "Weapons check!"

Fox pulled the minigun sight down from its stowed position. He felt both the fear and exhilaration of going into battle.  Especially speeding through the sky over Vietnam in a tiny metal-and-Plexiglas bubble, as vulnerable as it was deadly.  “You got it."

Wizard had grown up in Louisiana, the youngest of three mean brothers.  He had learned early that life was a series of battles.  If any man on board actually looked forward to combat, he did.  He screamed into the wind.  “Ready!"

Kool-Aid stopped staring at the strange ridge formations long enough to turn toward the cockpit.  “Let's pop some caps!"

Hard Bones pulled up on the collective and pushed the cyclic hard forward, abruptly pushing the nose down, and sending the chopper into a steep dive.  As it approached the target, still taking enemy fire, Hard Bones fired a pair of 2.75 inch HE (high explosive) rockets, while Fox fired two 7.62 miniguns, each with six rotating barrels, slamming 4000 rounds per minute into the target area. 

As the helicopter broke off and banked, Kool-Aid and Wizard began firing their M-60 machine guns.  The spent brass cartridges of their standard linked 7.62mm NATO rounds ejected at an incredible speed.  Red tracers were heading earthward, green tracers upwards, rocket pods were flaring, streaks of grey smoke trailed the rockets.  Trails of brass cartridges tumbled out of the chopper like rain, silhouetted black against the blue sky, light coruscating off them like dozens of little suns.

Several huts, along with chickens, buffalo, cattle, trees and bits of Vietcong soldiers soared up in a big boom of dirt, straw and wood flying in all directions. 

Hard Bones again worked the collective and cyclic, abruptly sending the nose down, and buzzed straight over the area at treetop level.  The helicopter then began its climb.  The crew ignored the sights and sounds of bullet holes appearing in the chopper, the sudden vibrations and the inexplicable engine noises and continued to climb in preparation for another dive. 

Fox looked down at the bright yellow chip detector warning light as it came on.  “Uh oh!  We got metal chips in the transmission."

Hard Bones smiled and spoke calmly.  It had not gone unnoticed that in the heat of battle Hard Bones Haggerty became a kind of serene Buddha.  “Could be a short circuit."

Fox shook his head ruefully.  “It's your call, Hard Bones."

Suddenly, a red hydraulic light lit up.  Despite his best efforts, Fox heard the slightest hint of panic in his own voice. “Number two hydraulic system out!"  He turned and motioned to the door gunner.

Kool-Aid stuck his head out the door into the slipstream, looked to the rear and spotted the hydraulic fluid squirting from the cowling.  He ducked back inside and yelled above the sound of the chopper.  “Hydraulic fluid leaking!"

Greenwood began thrashing about, yanking at his handcuffs.  “We're taking too many hits!  Larson, for Christ sakes, get these goddamn cuffs off me!"

Larson ignored Greenwood while trying to control his own voice.  “I think you should...I am ordering you to head back!"

Hard Bones Haggerty maintained his insouciant attitude.  The helicopter began its near-suicidal dive, swooping noisily and erratically toward the target area again like an enraged, wounded eagle.  Again the gunship let loose on the VC and again the ground exploded sending up bits of huts, men and animals.  Suddenly, there was the almost deafening sound of a loud roar sending an incredibly strong vibration through the chopper.

Fox spoke while trying to steady the mini-gun sight.  “What the hell was that?"

Hard Bones exerted every effort to stabilize the gunship.  “Nothing I ever heard before!"

The swirling dust from the ground thickened, almost blinding the crew.  Within seconds the day darkened.  In the grip of an enormous rushing roar of wind, the crew clung to whatever was at hand.  The badly vibrating helicopter was almost helplessly spun about as it gyrated in narrowing spirals while being sucked deeper into some kind of irresistible whirlpool. 

Hard Bones fought desperately to control the Huey while the others did their best to brace themselves.  In the cockpit, levers, switches, buttons, circuit breakers and antitorque pedals were pushed to no avail.  The entire instrument panel warning system now lit up in meaningless flashes of red, yellow and green.  Gage indicator needles -- airspeed, torque, tachometer, engine oil pressure, altimeter, etc. -- spun out of control.  Live ammunition, brass cartridges, and other items in the cargo area broke free and began flying about.  Chalky white foot-long soft clay bars of C-4 explosive wrapped in olive-drab cellophane began slipping one by one out of their mesh container.  Cartons of C-rations broke loose from their ropes and tumbled over.  A large metal ammunition can smashed against Kool-Aid’s shinbone.

The howling roar increased in volume and the wind increased in strength.  Hard Bones screamed above it.  “Instruments have gone crazy!"

Kool-Aid pulled a vial of pills from a pocket of his fatigue shirt.  He hurriedly swallowed one while spilling several and replaced the vial.  Greenwood and Larson jammed their thumbs into their ears against the deafening roar.    The velvety blackness surrounding the bucking chopper was total, eerie and unnatural.  For a few quick seconds, an intense, blinding white light dispelled the darkness and the craft seemed almost aglow, suspended in time and space.  It seemed to the men on board that everything now moved in slow motion.  Then, as the darkness returned, the helicopter seemed to be traveling at incredible speed through a narrow tunnel...

 

Publishing Date: August 2007