My Wild Day With The Black Virgin

Discussion in 'The VMBB True Story Tellers' started by Snakedriver, Apr 13, 2009.

  1. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2009
    Messages:
    1,219
    Location:
    SW. Florida
    My Wild Day With The Black Virgin:

    Sorry, it’s not quite as X-rated as it might sound, but as Easter passes each year I am reminded of my Easter experience 37 years ago that many in this forum will relate to. It happened in 1972 and I know many thought the war was pretty much over by that time, but for those of us that were still there it was a different kind of war that no one was expecting.

    The first week of April in 1972 all hell broke loose throughout South Vietnam as the North Vietnamese launched an all out push to capture Saigon and bring a conclusion to the war their way. Peace talks in Paris had stagnated and weren’t going well for either side. Despite the big U.S. withdrawals and the attempts at peacemaking, both sides still felt that a military solution was possible. The NVA now mounted an attack on a scale not previously encountered during any of the previous exchanges of hostilities that had occurred with the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies.

    The Easter Offensive, as it would come to be known, began up north in I Corp and II Corp on March 30th and then spread throughout the country in the coming days. The battle for III Corp, where I was located, began on April 2nd with an attack near the city of Tay Ninh. This attack however was only intended as a diversion to hide the enemy’s true intentions. On April 4th, the main thrust of the NVA’s force came when they charged forward in Division strength from their safe havens in Cambodia. They focused on capturing everything along Route 13, in Binh Long province, giving them easy access to their ultimate goal of taking the South’s capital of Saigon.

    What made this offensive different than any of the NVA’s previous attacks was that this time they were organized in large unit strength with all types of modern Soviet equipment. The USSR was providing them with main battle tanks, mobile artillery units, radar-guided anti-aircraft weapons and air-defense artillery.

    I was assigned as an aviator to an Army Cobra unit known as Blue Max. The formal designation was F/79th Aerial Rocket Artillery. It was the re-designated C/2/20th ARA unit that was part of the 1st Air Cavalry for many years prior to this point. When the 1st Cavalry went home to Texas and left only their 3rd Brigade it was called Taskforce “Gary Owen” and that’s when all the units were re-designated. Our unit was stationed at Long Than North airfield South of Bien Hoa. Our AO was from Vung Tau in the South to Bam Me Thuot in the North, Phan Rang in the East to the Cambodian border in the West. Pretty much all of III Corp.

    On the morning of April 8th, at about 4:30 a.m., the call came in to bounce our ready standby fire team, that I was part of, toward Tay Ninh, because the radio relay station atop Nui Ba Den was being attacked by a large enemy force. Nui Ba Den (translates into “Black Virgin”) is a 4,000 ft high pile of rocks that protruded out of the normally very flat terrain. It just inexplicably jumps out of the landscape next to the town of Tay Ninh. The enemy was said to own the entire mountain except the bottom and the very top where there was a radio relay station. There were all sort of rumors and legends about tunnels throughout the peak, one even claimed there was an underground approach into the mountain’s tunnel system from the Cambodian side of the border that the enemy was said to use to infiltrate materials into Vietnam.

    As we approached in the predawn darkness from the Southeast, the top of the mountain was burning like a huge beacon in the night. Tracers from both enemy and friendly weapons squirted outward and inward from the radio station in all directions. We made radio contact with the “friendlies” at the top and determined that they were under heavy siege and needed immediate help if they were going to keep from being overrun by the enemy forces. They told us everything outside their small perimeter was hostile and we should feel free to begin attacking targets as soon as we could. As had occurred on so many other occasions, I was completely impressed by the cool, calm nature of these people who were under such intense enemy fire.

    It was fairly easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys, especially at night, from the color of the tracers being fired. U.S. forces used almost exclusively red tracer ammunition in their guns, however the enemy used weapons from many locations and the colors varied. Orange or white colored tracers were fired from large caliber anti-aircraft guns like the .51 cal. and the 23mm. Green tracers were usually fire by smaller weapons like the AK-47. This could be somewhat contradictory because the enemy also used a lot of captured U.S. weapons, but for the most part that’s the information we used attacking targets.

    Once we had located all of the parties involved in this firefight we started our rocket runs and expended everything we had toward the enemy positions. It was quickly apparent to us that the friendlies at the station needed more help than just what our two Cobras could provide if the enemy was going to be driven back away from the top. We called on the radio back to our unit’s operation center and told them to bounce the next standby fire team out and send them to meet us at Tay Ninh.

    The City of Tay Ninh, located at the foot of Nui Ba Den, was a fairly large town close to the Cambodian border. Luckily, there was ammunition and fuel at a small airfield located near the town that we could use to re-supply our Cobras. This would allow us to re-arm and re-fuel quickly then return to the battle at Nui Ba Den without a long commute back and forth to our home base. When the other fire- team arrived on station, we were just finishing our second set of runs, and the sun was just starting to come up over the horizon. We quickly filled them in on the situation and agreed we would rotate our two fire teams back and forth between Nui Ba Den and Tay Ninh. While one team would be up firing at the enemy on the mountain, the other team would be re-arming and re-fueling at Tay Ninh. That way we could keep the enemy’s heads down without ever giving them a break.

    Normally in the past during the Vietnam War, the enemy would fade away into the night when the sun would come up. During this offensive though, sun up or sun down, it didn’t matter. This NVA force was very determined and was not going to end their attack until they had achieved their goal of overtaking the radio station. We re-armed, re-fueled and returned to the mountain as fast as we could, yet the battle continued to rage well into the morning. Nui Ba Den was a porous pile of rocks with many caves and overhangs where the attackers could hide. We fired at them and they fired at us, but we weren’t able to drive back the assault. By noon it was decided by the military authorities that the only way to save the mountaintop station was to reinforce the weary friendlies with fresh troops. The cavalry would be coming to the rescue!

    Nui Ba Den’s radio relay station was only a tiny pinnacle atop a huge mountain, and there was only a landing pad made for one helicopter at a time to drop off any needed supplies. This meant approaching the mountaintop landing zone one at a time would be an extremely hazardous ordeal for the “Slicks” coming to perform the task of inserting the new troops. All the while when approaching their landing, the Hueys would be completely exposed to enemy fire and would have to slow down to a crawl to maneuver their craft into the cramped landing pad. There just wasn’t any way to lift ships to sneak up on the mountain; the enemy would have a clear field of fire during the chopper’s entire approach. The only thing that would stand between them and certain death for the Huey drivers and their human cargo would be the four Blue Max Cobras providing suppressive fire.

    We lined up the helicopters single file about two minutes apart and started inserting troops at about 3:00 p.m. Using all four Cobras now we put two Cobras on each side of the column and followed each aircraft into the landing pad one at a time. As soon as they came close enough to the mountain to be within range of the bad guys weapons, the “Slicks“ began taking fire from any part of the mountain facing their approach. We fired back with all we had to suppress the enemy long enough for the “Slick” to land. Since the next aircraft was scheduled to arrive in just two minutes, there wasn’t any time for the Huey crews to delay getting their troops unloaded. They quickly unloaded, pulled up to a hover and then dove off the mountain gaining speed as fast as they could. Going out was definitely easier than going in. We did this for the rest of the afternoon and must have taken at least 25 sorties of troops onto the mountaintop. A loaded Huey could only carry 8 – 10 combat ready troops in each ship depending on whether they were Americans or Vietnamese soldiers.

    On one occasion late in the day, one of our Cobras was finishing a rocket run on a enemy gun position near the top of the mountain that had been firing at a the “Slick” as it was making it’s approach to the mountain, when the next aircraft in line for landing began screaming “Taking Fire!” and “Taking Hits!”. None of the other Blue Max Cobras was in a good position to place fire on the location where the Huey driver said it was coming from, so without hesitation the Cobra just pulling out of its dive yanked the nose of his Cobra up almost vertical, rolled inverted and performed the most beautiful “return to target” maneuver anyone has ever seen, firing rockets while upside down, all the way down the face of the mountain. As he reached the foot of the mountain, he righted the craft and recovered from his dive as though it was all in a day’s work. I don’t know if it was because of the especially accurate fire that stopped the enemy guns from firing at the “Slick”, or if they just stopped to watch the spectacular air show, but it worked anyway.

    Once the troops were all inserted, we stuck around for a couple of more hours to see how things were going to go before returning to base. Apparently the enemy had decided they couldn’t take the top with the new troops in place and decided to call off their attack. It had been one hell of a long day, our single Cobra alone had fired over six hundred and fifty rockets against the enemy and countless thousands of rounds of mini-gun and 40-mm grenades. The other Cobras in our fire team that day had fired similar amounts of ordinance at the enemy on the mountain, and that’s an amazing amount of firepower to be expended at one location. We hadn’t sustained any serious damage to any of our aircraft and most importantly we hadn’t lost any of the “Slicks” and all the troops had been inserted safely. After that day, Blue Max Cobras had to return occasionally to Nui Ba Den to repulse enemy probes, but never like April 8th.

    We finally made it back to our base just as the sun was setting in the West and I would never forget my wild day with the Black Virgin.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2009
    David13, cpt-t and carver like this.
  2. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2001
    Messages:
    19,157
    Location:
    Glendale Arizona
    Wonderful story Snake...damn, that was a good story...May I have your permission to fwd it around to some of my friends...they're getting damn fed up with my fabrications and embellishments!!!! chief
     
    carver likes this.

  3. RunningOnMT

    RunningOnMT New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2008
    Messages:
    4,717
    Location:
    Akron, Ohio
    Great story. You write well.
     
    carver likes this.
  4. berto64

    berto64 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2001
    Messages:
    7,488
    Location:
    Owyhee County, Idaho
    Thanks for the thrilling tale Snakedriver.

    I am familiar with the Black Virgin as I manned a searchlight at The Seven Sisters SF camp and right on the Cambode border at a high spot called Tinh Binh hill, a MACV team house location.

    The bad guys used to probe the light at the top and the teamhouse below almost every night it seemed.

    Long boring hot daze with fireworks and chills everynight. Cold too.

    Welcome home SD.

    PS.
    Were the French nurses still sunbathing nude on top of the hospital when you were there? Had a LOH driver take me up for a "view" one time.

    Not long after that was declared "Restricted" air space.
     
    carver likes this.
  5. TranterUK

    TranterUK Guest

    Many thanks for taking the time to write it up. Great to read. :)
     
    carver likes this.
  6. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2009
    Messages:
    1,219
    Location:
    SW. Florida
    Yes, feel free to send it to anyone you think will appeciate it. That was just one day of a very exciting tour of duty for me. From the fist week of April 1972 until about the end of July that year we had many days just as exciting and even more deadly. Eight Blue Max snake drivers lost their lives and many more were wounded. Ten of our original thirteen Cobras were lost to battle damage during that period. At the town of An Loc Blue Max was credited with the first Russian built T-54 tank kills of the war. We stopped a column of NVA tanks coming up the road shooting up the town. When stopped, the lead tank was only a few feet from the U.S. ground advisors bunker. Luckily, they didn't know exactly where he was located at the time. For this wild-eyed kid it was an adventure of a lifetime.
     
    cpt-t and carver like this.
  7. Excellent read, Snake! :D
     
    carver likes this.
  8. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2009
    Messages:
    1,219
    Location:
    SW. Florida
    Damn, I missed that!!! The Frenchman's daughters still layed out nude by the pool at their rubber plantation near Quan Loi though. We loved flying over that place. :D
     
    cpt-t and carver like this.
  9. I always knew those Snake drivers were peeping Toms at heart. :D;):p
     
    carver likes this.
  10. triker361

    triker361 New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    23
    Location:
    Bradley,Illinois
    Helped fix the road that goes around that Black Virgin Mountain....1967 in the 588th eng.
    lost a lot of good guys on that road.....mines everywhere.

    Great story man.
     
    carver likes this.
  11. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2009
    Messages:
    1,219
    Location:
    SW. Florida
    We just lost a good man recently. One of the pilots from A/229th that was flying one of the slicks that day at Nui Ba Den, Mike Wheeler, was killed in a flying accident. Unbelievably Mike was still flying and training young pilots to fly at the Army's flight training facility at Ft. Rucker, Alabama when the aircraft he was flying experienced an engine failure. Mike guided the aircraft safely away from the populated area below, but crashed in the process. The student survived the crash. Mike was a truely great human being, we'll miss him alot. :(
     
    carver likes this.
  12. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2001
    Messages:
    19,157
    Location:
    Glendale Arizona
    Sorry to hear about your Buddy, Snake...It may sound like a 'flip' remark but truly, the man checked out doing something he loved to do...For a brief moment of time, perhaps not even a period able to be measured, he severed the binds that keep us here on planet Earth and onto his rewards...
    Amen....Chief
     
    carver likes this.
  13. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2009
    Messages:
    1,219
    Location:
    SW. Florida
    As warriors we've all made our peace with death long ago. After the battle, every day lived is just gravy. As you say, Mike was doing something he loved to do and died doing it. He's with a bunch of good guys now that have been waiting for him to arrive and there's a big party in sky going on.
     
    cpt-t and carver like this.
  14. 199er

    199er New Member

    Joined:
    May 5, 2010
    Messages:
    627
    Location:
    Columbia SC
    Thanks for sharing that with us Snake.

    As you noted Nui Ba Den was close to Tay Ninh/Tay Ninh West so I'm surprised your story didn't include the NVA mortaring/rocketing that fueling and rearming point in an attempt stop your repeated gun runs on them.

    BTW in early 1971 my ARVN Ranger Battalion operated north of Nui Ba Den in upper War Zone 'C' at Katum (aka as "Kaboom") and we could see Nui Ba Den from there whenever we would airmobile out of there and climb to about 500 feet. It was an impressive landmark for sure.
     
    carver likes this.
  15. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2001
    Messages:
    19,157
    Location:
    Glendale Arizona
    Strange sensation happened to me as I was reading these last few posting...my own included...Years ago I wrote a story about meeting Ernest Hemingway as a boy in Iowa....about 1948 it was...Actually, that story is in it's entirety down in my story section and it's titled, JUST CALL ME PAPA...The lines the cause kind of a 'flashback' for me were these from that story of mine:

    never try telling some poor bed-ridden man who’s been crippled up his whole life how it feels to run before the bulls--- unless you’ve felt
    their hot, stinking breath and slobber on the back of your neck or have those big sharp horns so close to your
    back-side that they’ve poked holes in the seat of your britches’. The big man named PAPA paused as if to
    gather his thoughts and then continued ‘---or the agony of loosing a comrad in battle after you try and help him
    stuff his guts back into’ ---he stopped talking again as a sound not unlike someone clearing their throat racked
    the big man’s whole frame---he noticably shuddered and rambled on--- ‘unless you were there when he breathed
    his last’. ‘May I have another drink of that water, John’? I passed my old Boy Scout canteen across to PAPA
    and he drank deeply---hurriedly in fact, for some of the liquid run off the black-grey stubble on his chin. ‘Or the
    folly of drugs and booze unless you’ve puked your guts out in some putrid, slimey, rat infested gutter
    yourself’---- he screwed the top back onto my canteen slowly, as if counting the turns.....
    ‘Yes son, my Christian name is Hemingway and though I hate the name Ernest, seems I’m stuck with it. I’ve
    had friends in this world who were bullfighters and mountion climbers and just about any damn foolish thing you
    can think of being ---- some of them who died doing what they loved to do. I never faulted anyone for doing
    what they loved doing and perished while doing it. If I ever loose the joy and thrill of my writing, I’d be
    lost---could’nt go on--would’nt want to’, he declared with a resigned sigh.
    ‘You know John, if you ever see me out there in the world again, I’d be so pleased if you come up to me and
    say loud enough for everyone around to hear “Hello PAPA, I’m John Wilborn, you remember me--I’m the kid
    from the farm in Iowa who took Ernest Hemingway and Father Cross pheasant hunting that time --- the young
    man who was going to join the Navy and maybe write stories himself someday’.
    Yes, the big man sure had a way with words--- and he was a storyteller of much renoun--to be honored by
    his peers and admired around the world...