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.