It was January of 1970, North of the mountain Nui Ba Ra, well beyond the artillery range of Fire Support Base Buttons at its base, but not beyond the imagination of the 1/9 Cav, C Troop. After all "they can't get me" attitude was what got so many of us killed and God knows, I had it just as bad as anybody else.
To regress a little, I had just gotten out of Scouts and was new to Guns having just returned from my in country Cobra transition at Vung Tau. CW2 Hubert Kuykendall, Cavalier 28 was the Aircraft Commander (AC). He prided himself on being able to hit anything with the 17-pound rockets and being able to turn the air green with his gas, those Cobras had very bad ventilation. You know how sulfur smoke puts that taste in your mouth and nostrils? He could do it, makes my skin crawl even to this day and that's why no one wanted to fly with him.Kuykendall was putting me through the ropes on how to become an AC and I was bound and determined to become one, some guys would spend an entire tour and never make it. We were sitting on the ground with our backs propped up against the revetment wall our Cobra was parked in. I don't think we part of a team that day, just an over grossed Cobra at Buttons waiting on a mission. We were having a slow day so we challenged the Lift guys to a mini mortar war in the neighboring revetment. What you do is break open a 7.62 tracer bullet, pour some of the powder out, leaving just a touch on the side, aim it carefully, get your trusty Zippo out (the one with the 6 inch flame so you can light your smokes at 100 knots) and KABOOM. Off into the next revetment, watching as the bullet burns with that red glow that might result in a hit on one of your fellow Troopers. What fun!
Off in the distance one of the Operations guys signals us to come over. "Great" got to be a mission. Both of us hurry over to the tent covered in red dust. The Operations Officer points to the map, "This is a 51 cal anti aircraft position we want you to take out. It's beyond the range of our artillery and it's been giving the Air Force some trouble. The location is in a cave mid way down a 1000-foot deep valley. They just can't get into it. Now go take it out!" We mark the map and without any thought or fear crank it up and head for the target.
The swab and debonair Kuykendall gets to altitude and on course and promptly passes gas. He keys his mike and says "Got one coming to you" as he laughs. I look into the mirror, he is hysterical, his red face twisted, with his orange mustache bouncing across his yellow teeth. "God Kuykendall" I scream over the intercom, "You a__hole... Jeez, I think I am going to puke." At that he began to cry he was laughing so hard.
By the time the air had cleared we were coming up on the target at about 2,500 feet above the valley. We both confirmed the location, as Kuykendall pulled the nose way back gaining altitude and almost coming to a hover. He jams forward on the cyclic diving at an angle that looked like it was straight down. I began shooting the mini gun, which promptly jams and switched over to the 40mm chunker which promptly jams. Kuykendall began ripple firing the 17-pound rockets right on target, he was good. I came across the intercom in a calm voice, "Were taking some fire." Kuykendall screams " Shut the F__k up, I'm shooting." As he pulls the Cobra out of the dive at well over 200 knots everything was shaking and the flex sight smashed into my legs to the point of hurting from the G's, took all my strength to hold it. That dive scared me more than taking fire.
The Cobra is now at least 2000 feet going straight up, right peddle is pushed hard and a hammer head stall maneuver is executed flawlessly resulting in another high angle dive. Kuykendall comes across the intercom as more rockets are delivered on target "This is how you handle yourself when you don't have another gun ship to cover your break, you got to learn how to do it or the Gooks will definitely get you." Again I come across the intercom in a calm voice. "Were taking some fire." I look hard at him in my little mirror his expression intent and not flinching from his concentration of the sight to his front. For some reason his eyes turn from the sight to see hundreds of Green and Red tracers enveloping the bird. He screams over the radio, "Taking Fire" like anyone is going to do something, we were all alone.
He continues the dive to tree top level and down the valley out of harms way. Then he begins to chew me out for not informing him of the hostile rounds. Well this old Scout don't take no unfounded chewing out. I said, "Look Kuykendall I told you twice we were taking fire" and he responds, "Yea but you didn't tell me it was that bad don't you know the difference." At that point I was getting pissed, "Look Kuykendall the only difference is that Scouts get shot at this way all the time, I just didn't realize you gunnies didn't."
We went back to Buttons to rearm and re-fuel and tell the operations folks we were not going back out to that 51 cal. Most of all, to get back to the mini mortar war, the Lift guys were winning and you just can't let that happen in GUNS.
Why did they send Cobras to known 51cal positions and why did we do it????