La Rencontre Accidentelle

Capt. J. Bruce Huffman
Cavalier 13 & 36


It was a beautiful late afternoon, on the 10th of October 1968, in the skies over South Viet Nam. I was leading a "Pink Team" on a last light reconnaissance mission; to screen the perimeter of an infantry company belonging to the 1st Bn. 7th Cavalry. They were settled into a comfortable night defensive position (NDP) on a low finger of land that gently rose toward the ridge lines and approaches that led into the AShau Valley, further to the west. The Company Commander had posted his LP's and was pulling in two squad sized patrols within his perimeter. Our sweep around their position revealed that they should be in for an uneventful evening. The NDP was well within the range of supporting fires from at least three fire support bases (FSB) sporting heavy mortars, 105 mm, and 155 mm howitzers and their Forward Observer (FO) would register once my team got out of the Gun Target (GT) line. My OH-6A was running well and I said 'Good Night!' to '6 Alpha' and signed off the FM frequency of the infantry company.

Our next 'bed check' was with a unit about 11 kilometers to the north, of my current location, so I pushed the LOH over and dropped into the valley below, closely hugging its western wall and trying not to outrun my wingman in their lumbering B model Huey. I was up on the UHF, talking with Ryan (Mad Bomber), who was above and behind me, and having an absolutely perfect day until the MASTER WARNING light came on in an unwavering RED and the Transmission Oil Pressure indicated Zero. The choice was now to execute an immediate Precautionary Landing in Indian Country or try to make it two ridgelines to the east and up the steep terrain to the nearest FSB. Indians may or may not be a problem but a dry transmission was certainly a problem.

I called John and told him I was 'Going Down' with a precautionary and he called an 'open field low and to my five o'clock'. The field looked like a great place to set down and was big enough to get a Huey in behind us to drop off Blue, once we were on the ground. The Montagnards had obviously at one time long ago cultivated my intended landing area but that time had long been obscured by a dense second growth. As I got lower and entered the flare, the field was not quite as level as it had looked from above and the damn elephant grass was a good bit taller than the 8 feet to the top of the LOH mast. I brought us to a hover and with the help of SP5 Soma and PFC Roberts lowered the bird into the grass hoping that the ground was at least stump free and level under us. Ryan called and told me we looked like a giant 'turbine powered weed whacker' as those little blades digested copious quantities of elephant grass forming swirling circles of green mulch.

Almost as soon as I had gotten the bird secured, battery off, and taken a quick look into the access panel confirming that the deck was indeed covered with MIL-L-7808; we could hear the little Gomers trying to move in on us in the deep grass. We had set up a short perimeter, just a few feet from the helicopter with about three feet of forward visibility, and could clearly hear the chink of metal on metal as the NVA scurried about trying to locate us. Vietnamese voices were calling: "C? dày là nhu v?y! Can you see them? Di chuy?n sang ph?i không? Move to the right? Trên dây! Over here!"

I did a whispered commo check, on Guard with Ryan on the PRC-90, doing my best LRP impersonation, and told him we had movement to the right side of the ship and close. John took that as his cue to do what 'Ryan Does Best'; which is shoot and shoot he did. He was in so friggin close to us that, as his 2.75 inch rockets left their 159 pods, the damn sparks were falling all over us. It is amazing that the warheads even had time to arm as they slammed into the weeds around us and up to the edge of the triple canopy jungle tree line. There was one, hideous scream, among the noise of the rockets detonating, and then only shuffling sounds as the enemy moved away from our position.

It was quiet for what seemed like an eternity but couldn't have been more than 15 minutes before we heard the comforting sound of our Lift Birds, hauling ass toward our position, to get us out, secure the bird, and sling load it out of there before darkness fell. As Chock 1 came to a high hover and Blue stepped off around us, we clamored on and up into the first Huey that took us out of that little green hell and further up the valley wall to the biggest of the Fire Bases. After we stepped off, unloaded our personal gear and battle junk, Chock 1 went back down into the valley to extract Blue and be there, in a supporting orbit, just in case it hit the fan.

As darkness approached and cast very long shadows across the steep green valley below, my crew and I decided to hop on the next log bird and hitch a ride back to Camp Evans. We all loved our '….snuffys from the Red Leg outfit'; but I wasn't all that anxious to spend a night with them on that Firebase. A 227th Huey was inbound and kicked out its load of water, rations, and grunts. We began saddling up and the guy in the left seat looked awfully familiar to me and suddenly the recognition dawned. It was none other than WO James Michael Hudson with whom I had graduated from high school with in France and had hitch hiked on an youthful adventure across Southern France, Switzerland and Italy during our spring break some two years prior.

Life has taught me repeatedly over the years that the world is truly a small place. You never know where or when a friend will turn up when you need them and I was awfully glad to see Mike that night in Viet Nam. Years have past, we've both put our spurs behind us but we still stay in touch and will both always remember that chance meeting log ago.