Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with Richard F. Berry

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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[Interview Begins]

DERKS: So let's go back to how you got started in this business.

BERRY: Okay. I guess I along with most Army warrant officer pilots took advantage of a program the Army had in during the Vietnam War that would allow a person to enlist for flight school. You could do that right out of high school. You could take the flight physical and a written test and enlist for what the Army called a warrant officer rotary wing aviator course. What happened was after you completed basic training, you would report to Fort Walters, Texas where you received your primary flight training in observation type helicopters. After you completed that and passed your primary check ride, you went to Fort Rucker, Alabama and received training in instrument flight and transition into the Huey which is the helicopter most of us would fly once we arrived in Vietnam, and received tactical training, formation flying, low, low level 00:01:00navigation, that sort of thing. That whole program, basic and flight school, took right about a year. When you graduated from flight school and received your wings and your warrant officer bars, essentially everyone who had not already served a tour in Vietnam, was assigned to Vietnam as their first duty station. In my case, I was assigned to the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division and I joined A Company of that unit at a place called LZ English in the northern coastal plain of II Corps in May of 1967. When you leave flight school you have about 210 hours of student pilot flight time. Most of us thought we were pretty decent pilots. We arrived in Vietnam and learned that everybody else thought we were dangerous. So when you first arrive, you fly as a 00:02:00Peter pilot, a co-pilot. The aircraft itself has a crew of four, two pilots, two door gunners. The company that I flew with, flew what were called SLICKs which are troop carrying aircraft with the four man crew. Each aircraft has an aircraft commander assigned to it. And one of the jobs the aircraft commander has with the new guys getting out of flight school is to essentially serve as a combat instructor pilot for the, for the new people. But we learned quickly. If you use my flight records as an example, I logged my first combat flight time on May 11th, 1967. The rest of May and the month of June I logged 229 hours of flight time and the aircraft I flew in made an astounding 1122 landings. So that averages out to be about 4 1/2 hours of flight time per day, four or five 00:03:00landings per hour and you simply can't fly the aircraft that much without learning how to, how to fly it so we flew. And those are very typical. That's not unusual at all. The, the primary mission of an assault helicopter company is kind of twofold. One is the air mobile assault of light infantry around the battlefield. And then secondly after those troops are assaulted into an area, we would resupply them with food, water, ammunition, bring the packs out to them, whatever they needed to conduct their operation. A typical air mobile assault was conducted with five SLICKs, which aircraft I flew.

DERKS: Why was it called the SLICK?

BERRY: It was a SLICK because it did not have rockets and guns hung on the side of the aircraft. There was just the two door guns. Where as the gun ships would have fixed ordinance on the side that could shoot at the ground. So there'd be 00:04:00five SLICKs, would be troop carrying aircraft and escorted by two gun ships. The latter part of my tour there were Huey Cobras. The beginning of the tour, they were actually the same sort of aircraft that's hanging from the ceiling in the museum. The way it would work is when we were going to make a combat assault, we would depart the company area and land in the pickup zone which we called the PZ in a trail formation to load the troops. And we landed in a trail formation because that helped preclude one of the grunts from walking into a tail rotor. You didn't have to worry about that as much. So we'd load the troops in the pickup zone, take off and then the formation would get into a V. And the V formation was fairly tight. The aircraft would maybe 25-30 yards apart. We would maintain that formation right into the landing zone. In route to the landing 00:05:00zone and the flight leader would have a particular minute that he was supposed to arrange for the flight to come into the landing zone, but in route to the landing zone, 1st Calvary Division Artillery would be pounding the landing zone with 105 artillery for two reasons. One obviously would be if there were any enemy in the area it would make things uncomfortable for them. But almost more importantly it would set off booby traps in the landing zone. The enemy knew that we liked to land 5 aircraft at once in a landing zone. That required a certain sized area so sometimes they were booby trapped. The reason we went into a landing zone kind of in a formation like that was also twofold. One you, you wanted to put all 35 infantry on the ground in one shot so they could support each other. And also when we were in a V formation, maybe 25-30 yards apart, the 00:06:00door gunners had overlapping fields of fire. So if we received, if someone noticed muzzle flashes on final into the landing zone, at least 3 door guns could engage that area as well as the gunships. While we were on final into the landing zone, very often you could still see the artillery rounds going off in the landing zone. The last round fired by the artillery battery was a while phosphorous round. So when we saw that white smoke go off in the landing zone, you knew the tubes were clear in the artillery and you didn't have to worry about a round coming and while you were in the landing zone. And once we got into landing zone, you didn't even have to tell the infantry to leave the aircraft. If the enemy was around they'd be shooting at the helicopters so the grunts wanted to get away from the aircraft as quickly as they could, so you would normally spend, oh I don't know, less than 10 seconds in the landing zone, 00:07:00it might be 5 seconds. The infantry would bail out and the whole formation would leave. The typical combat assault involved moving a company of soldiers, so we'd make 3 more lifts into the same landing zone, probably from the same PZ. And of course, there wouldn't be an artillery prep except on the first one.

DERKS: So the first group would set up a perimeter and then you'd bring in more?

BERRY: The first 35 soldiers would, would secure the landing zone and then you didn't have to worry as much about being fired upon as you brought the remainder of the unit in. Once we had the unit assaulted into an area, there'd usually be a different aircraft from our unit that would be assigned to support that company or, or however many soldiers they had out in the field and they would fly would what we called Ash and Trash. It was a single ship mission and you 00:08:00would just make trips back and forth all day from the unit's logistics pad to their units out in the field and bring them things like water or ammunition or, or replacements or take people home that were rotating, bring a beer in the evening, bring em hot chow in the evening, whatever it happened to be. Those were essentially the two primary missions we had. Very seldom we would do a medivac also but that was usually just if we happen to be there when, close by when someone was wounded because most of the medivacs were done by, by other helicopters with crews that were trained for that purpose, dust-off was their call sign. That's pretty much what we did for a year.

DERKS: Tell me how, how you were, you felt like you were pretty well trained when you got over there. They thought you were dangerous. What did you learn 00:09:00about, about the helicopter and about flying these missions over the course of--?

BERRY: Well you learn to trust yourself I guess more. You learn that your ability to fly was a whole heck of lot less than you thought it was when you, when you actually arrived. And many, many of the landing zones that we would land in, particularly on the single ship missions were not a heck of lot larger than the aircraft itself. They'd be just a hole chopped out of the jungle. And actually the entire four person crew had to work as a team in order to do that safely. The crew chief for example was one of the door gunners. The crew chief always flew the left door gun and the reason for that was that person had the best view of the tail rotor. When you were making an approach into a very tight LZ, the crew chief would essentially hang ten, and watch the tail rotor, and if the crew chief said you need to move the tail rotor two feet to the right, 00:10:00that's exactly what you did. You didn't, you know, talk about it, you just went ahead and did it. There were also approaches that they taught us or we used in Vietnam that weren't taught in flight school. One was actually really fun to do. It was called a high overhead approach and it was used when you were hauling supplies into a small landing zone usually where there had been contact right around the area. So the whole object was to try to get from altitude on the ground as quickly as you could. Item one and item two, stay as much as possible right over the landing zone. So you would get over the landing zone, maybe 3000 feet above it, essentially enter auto rotations, so you would take the entire load of the engine off the rotor system which caused the aircraft to come down quickly obviously, get into a very tight turn and kick the aircraft out of trim, both the, all three, three of which would cause you to essentially to spiral 00:11:00down, quite quickly so you could get from altitude on the ground in oh a minute, a short period of time. And you would have to time it so that when you made your last turn, you were lined and on short final and get the aircraft back in trim and power back and so, so forth and then land in the landing zone. That was really the safest way to get the aircraft into the landing zone. And when left that area, you would make a maximum performance takeoff but stay very low to the ground. So you would leave the, the landing zone on the deck until you were going 100 knots or so and then climb up very quickly back up to altitude. So it's things like that that simply were not taught in flight school.

DERKS: Yeah I may be missing something but that descent doesn't sound fun to me.

BERRY: Well it's, it's, it's fun for the pilots but I can remember one particular time looking back with replacement lieutenant that had brand spanking 00:12:00new fatigues on and I swear his eyes were about 3 inches in diameter. It was pretty funny.

DERKS: I can identify with him. I would like it would take your breath away to come down.

BERRY: But one of the neat things about the flying I guess is it was challenging. We did a whole bunch of it. I would say that any SLICK pilot at the end of their tour could make a Huey just sit up and bark. I mean you had enough flight time in it and it was very difficult flying, challenging flying. You could really fly the aircraft to kind of the edge of its capability.

DERKS: Now you said something about the warrant officers, a lot of them were lost?

BERRY: Well I don't know so much that they, a lot of them were lost but that's simply a function of the fact that most of the Army pilots were warrant officers. So there were something like 37,500 Army helicopter pilots that logged 00:13:00flight time in Vietnam, and perhaps 7000 combined from the other four armed services. And certainly the majority of the Army helicopter pilots were warrant officers. So I don't know for sure how many there were, 20,000 maybe something in that area.

DERKS: 37,000

BERRY: 500. Yeah. And not many people know that.

DERKS: That's a large number.

BERRY: The typical assault helicopter company for example was commanded by a major. The XO would be a captain, and there'd be maybe 4 or 5 lieutenants and perhaps 16 warrant officers, cause most of the pilots were warrant officers and the designation as aircraft commander really had nothing to do with your rank. It had to do with your ability to fly the aircraft and your demonstrated ability to ah, to ah maintain your cool on an approach and so forth, so there were times 00:14:00when I flew as an aircraft commander and had, I can't remember having a full colonel as a co-pilot but I sure had lieutenant colonels as a co-pilot. And actually the 1st Cavalry Division did something smart. When they had a, an, a rated pilot, say a lieutenant colonel that was going to spend time back in the rear and intelligence or operations or whatever, they had that person fly for at least a week with the front line company. And he would fly as a co-pilot. He would fly all the missions that we would fly for a week or 10 days, and the good part about that is I can't remember anybody asking us to do something that was simply beyond the capability of the aircraft or the people that were flying it, so they, they knew what was going on. It worked quite well. I actually consider myself to fortunate to fly for the 1st Cavalry Division, and the reason for that was that if you were a helicopter pilot, that's a good deal because the entire division operation was built around the use of helicopters. So the artillery was 00:15:00familiar with the aircraft, the grunts were familiar with the aircraft and the whole thing kind of worked together.

BERRY: I would say the most difficult, most dangerous mission we flew was something called an emergency resupply. It was at night. And it really wasn't dangerous primarily because you might get shot at, although that was certainly a possibility. It was more associated with just the extreme difficulty of trying to fly using visual flight rules at night. Once you took off from your base camp, there were essentially no lights on the ground, and it was very difficult to maintain a spatial orientation. And then when you made your approach into the landing zone out in the field, you didn't use the landing light, because turning the landing light on would draw fire. And the, the infantry that we were supporting knew that was a very dangerous thing to do, so no one asked us to do 00:16:00that unless there was an emergency need to have it done. And I guess the good part about that was that they didn't ask you to do it unless they needed it. And the bad part was they didn't ask you to do it unless they needed so you knew, it normally meant that they were in contact and they needed ammunition in order to make it through the night. They couldn't wait until the next morning to be resupplied. Those were fairly dangerous missions. Much more dangerous than combat assaults in the daytime.

DERKS: Were they able to help you at all with lights on the ground or anything?

BERRY: What they would do is they'd have a red flashlight and again these were individuals that were used to using the aircraft, so when you called them on the way out there, they would tell you what the situation was around the landing zone and they'd tell you what the, what the obstructions were. They would, they might suggest that you make an approach from one particular direction either because of obstructions or because the enemy wasn't located there and they would 00:17:00normally shine a red flashlight pretty much right up the glide slope that you would have to use to come in. And you could usually see that and then all 4 of the crew members would be wide awake looking for trees and stuff on the way down. And you try to make that approach exactly once. It's not something you wanted to do twice. So normally you would make a fairly slow approach and make sure you get into the landing zone safely the first time and then just left to go back.

DERKS: When is it, you mentioned something about staying calm on an approach or on a mission. What does it take to do that?

BERRY: Oh I don't think it takes anything special. It, it just takes focusing on the job you have to accomplish and being concerned about flying the aircraft safely and properly and kind of keeping your head out of the cockpit. And you're so attentive to what's going on there, you really don't have a heck of a lot of time for, for anything else. Particularly if they've made you the aircraft 00:18:00commander cause once the skids leave the ground, you're, you're supposed to be responsible for the aircraft and it's crew and what it does and so forth. So I, I guess I never, I never found that to be a problem. I don't know of other pilots that did frankly.

DERKS: Well we, we hear it from the grunts who say that they can't believe those pilots in the middle of everything, they would be just as calm as could be.

BERRY: Well that's just, just focusing on your job and it's probably, it's probably one of the reasons wars are fought by young people. A lot of the helicopter pilots thought what they were doing was fun to tell you the truth.

DERKS: What'd you say about age?

BERRY: Wars are fought by young people.

DERKS: But earlier you said something about the youngest warrant officers.

BERRY: Well, be, because the Army allowed people to enlist for flight school right out of high school, many of the warrant officers were very young. Most of 00:19:00us probably had a little bit of college and then decided to take part in this program. I didn't know for sure what the average age would be, early 20s I would guess. But I believe the youngest pilot killed in the Vietnam War was a warrant officer pilot that was 3 months beyond 19. I mean you could go right out of high school.

DERKS: I mean it was fun flying those I would think at that age.

BERRY: And kind of what happened while I was there, we, when I joined the Division it was in II Corps, 1st Cavalry Division was moved to I Corps just before '68 Tet. So we arrived in I Corps like a week or 10 days before '68 Tet and then got involved in flying a Seltzer round way [sp?] in Quang Tri City and so forth, right after '68 Tet. And actually the last combat flight time I logged 00:20:00had to do with the 1st Cavalry involvement in Khe Sanh right towards the end of the Khe Sanh operation and after that I rotated home.

DERKS: The Khe Sanh operation, the siege?

BERRY: Right.

DERKS: Tell me about that.

BERRY: Well the 1st Cavalry Division involvement in that wasn't all that extensive. It was right towards the end. What we essentially did in association with the Marines is made some rather large assaults to the east of Khe Sanh along Route 9 and essentially opened up Route 9 to, to resupply Khe Sanh. But by that time, the involvement there was pretty much done.

DERKS: So that was to break the siege, to open up the highways so they could get trucks back in there. And what about with Hue? What was?

BERRY: Hue was most part of, a Marine operation right, fighting right inside Hue 00:21:00itself. Although I had something interesting happen to me because this is an indication that warrant officers have guardian angels I think riding around on their shoulder. And one of the job I had was a, with the company was assistance to operations officer so when we moved the division to I Corps, one of the things I was supposed to do was lead a little convoy of our four or five vehicles in the company, a couple of Jeeps and a three quarter ton from an airfield that I think was just north of Hue, to where we set up which was, was a place called Hue Phu Bai which was south of Hue. But I drove that convoy right through downtown Hue. And this was like a week before '68 Tet. There's some photos in there of government buildings in downtown Hue that are about a week before '68 Tet and that place had to be full of NVA, just watching us doing the tourista stuff as we went back, kind of funny.


DERKS: That, that was, tell me about, cause I'm not real clear on the, on the story but Hue was actually taken over by, by the NVA, right?

BERRY: Yeah the North Vietnam owed A for, Hue for something on the order of a month or there abouts. The heaviest fighting that we were involved in was more in the vicinity of Quang Tri city which is north of Hue. But Quang Tri City was actually defended quite well by Vietnamese paratrooper unit and there were a number of 1st Cavalry Division assaults around Quang Tri City that was quite heavy fighting in that area.

DERKS: What, what was the mood like during, during Tet? I mean, we hear in other places that just all hell broke loose and it was expected. What was it like for the 1st Cav?

BERRY: Well there was certainly more combat assaults. The place that we were located was completely cut off so we were being resupplied by C-130s that were 00:23:00making low level drops and then pulling up and dumping stuff out the back. WE had a number of mortar and rocket attacks during that period, so there, there's no question that there was quite heavy combat taking place for oh, a month or a month and a half after '68 Tet.

DERKS: And were you flying a lot during that?

BERRY: Yes we sure were. Yeah, there were quite a bit of flying although at that time, I was serve, serving more as the assistant operations officer. I was flying less really time wise than I had been flying at the beginning of my tour.

DERKS: What, what's the ah, radio traffic inside your helmet when you're, when you're?

BERRY: Well you have three radios in the aircraft. The majority of time when we were conversing with a ground unit, we were using FM and they're PRC25 and you 00:24:00could just turn to that frequency and that's really the only frequency you heard in your helmet unless somebody was transmitting on the emergency frequencies on either the VHF or the UHF, then you would hear that also. But there wasn't too much in the way of, of competing radio messages. There was good radio discipline. We worked often with the ground forces so they, they knew how to communicate back and forth with the helicopter. Actually finding them wasn't that big a problem because we had an FM homing device in the aircraft that whenever the ground soldier keyed the mic on his PRC25, we, we could get a course indication in the cockpit. So what we could do was make sure we were on the right line. We had six digit coordinates of their location, actually the navigation was fun. Of course there was no GPS, no autopilot in the aircraft so you're flying the aircraft all the time. But once you got to where you thought 00:25:00you knew where the landing zone was, you would ask the ground troops to pop smoke. They would throw a smoke grenade out and that would let you know one, exactly where the location was and two, which way the wind was blowing and then you could time your approach so you made your approach into the wind. It worked, it worked quite well.

DERKS: I was wondering when you talked about landing into a tight LZ, but then when you talked about taking off, you were going on ground level. What, what if you were down in a, cause you can't go straight up can you?

BERRY: Oh sure you can. [Oh you can?] Yeah, you would hover straight up until you got just above the trees and then beat feet out right on the deck, and the rationale for that was if you're going 80 knots, 4 feet off the trees you were over and by someone before they'd know which you're coming from and there's, you're way less susceptible to, to small arms fire. And once you got going a 100 00:26:00knots or so, you can make what was called a cyclo climb and just transfer your forward speed to very quick vertical ascent. Just kind of zoom up and you could get up to three or four thousand feet and be out of small aims range quite quickly that way.

DERKS: That sounds to me like more fun than [That was fun.] quick descent.

BERRY: I think the, the most fun flying had to do with the long, long range reconnaissance patrol insertions, LRRP teams, and of course the rationale there is you don't want to allow the enemy to know that the LRRP team's been inserted because once they get on the ground, they're on their own and it's 4 to 6 guys that are own their own. And the way we did that was really SLICK. You'd go out the day before, two days before at altitude and find a landing zone that you were going to insert these guys in. And you'd want the landing zone to be oh, 00:27:00pretty good size but not larger enough that an assault would go in there so it was unlikely to be booby trapped. And you wanted it to have terrain features around it that were elevated. And on the day you were going, it's a real test of low level navigation, but the day we were going to make the LRRP team insertion, you would use three SLICKs, three troop carrying Hueys, and two guns ships. The gun ships would remain at altitude and the three SLICKs would get in a loose trail formation right on the deck. The LRRP team would be in the front aircraft and you'd flying around low level for awhile and you had to know where the landing zone was if you were the aircraft commander of the aircraft that had the LRRP team in it. And as you came up on the landing zone, you'd make a big flair, you'd be going 80 knots or so. You make a flair and then come to a hover, wouldn't set down cause you didn't want the sound of the engine to change at all. The LRRP team would bail out and you would sit there as a hover and just 00:28:00look up, and the first aircraft go over you, and as soon as you saw the nose of the second aircraft, you'd make a maximum performance takeoff and kind of join the end of the line. And it worked just great. If you were standing back a ways you'd see three helicopters going behind a tree or a hill and three helicopters come out the other side. It's just that the front aircraft would now be at the end of it and we would have dropped the LRRP team off in between. I don't know how many of those I flew, maybe 4 or 5. We never got caught doing that. That was fun. That's all there was too it.

DERKS: So, did, the first time you did that, I mean were you, was it just explained to you that was how it was going to work?

BERRY: The first time you observed that, you're riding as a co-pilot with someone that has done it numerous times. I mean you don't just try something like that the first time. So you, you're essentially trained in, in how to do that.


[Break in recording]

DERKS: Just when you said that, how, how did you happen to be taking these photos?

BERRY: Well I was taking the photos because I had this brandy new Minolta SRT 101 camera with a 50 mm lens that one of the guys brought back from R&R in Hong Kong and I decided I'd take a few photos so I just took photos while we were flying. Tourist type stuff.

DERKS: But views that most tourist didn't see.

BERRY: That's certainly true.

DERKS: So I mean even this one, you're flying next to, to that helicopter and just shooting out of, out of the window?

BERRY: Yeah actually this, that aircraft there was, there was a V formation going into a landing zone. So the lead aircraft is in front of this aircraft. The aircraft that I was in would be on the right side of the lead aircraft. This 00:30:00would be the aircraft on the left side of the lead aircraft. So you can see the, the, we were fairly close together going into the landing zone.

DERKS: So there was another aircraft between you? [Pardon?] You're saying there was another aircraft between you? [No] Oh.

BERRY: No, but there, it would be like an arrowhead with the lead up front and then two here. So there was an aircraft between us but, but you can see that the aircrafts are close enough so the door gunners can have overlapping fields of fire.

DERKS: Well tell me some more about your, your helicopter. What, you know as I look at it, you, you have a door back there that, was that ever closed?

BERRY: It was closed at night, just to keep dust and so forth out. We would often close it if we were hauling cargo, when we were actually making a combat assault, that, that door was open. There was also a smaller door that's about 12 inches wide that would go right on the front of the cabin section there, and 00:31:00that was taken off completely with a combat assault so that grunts could get out as quickly as possible. And actually if we had to make an emergency medevac, we would use that door as a litter.

DERKS: How, how did that work? You would?

BERRY: Well if we had to carry a wounded soldier, we would just unhook that door and put the sold, soldier on it and carry him to the aircraft.

DERKS: What I, what I was going to ask you when ah we ran out of tape was um, if you ever as a pilot felt like you were in trouble. [Felt what?] You were in trouble, I mean did you.

BERRY: Well yeah we lost a tail rotor one day, that we knew right, right for sure we were in trouble.

DERKS: Tell me about that.

BERRY: Well the tail rotor just flew off the aircraft at about 4000 feet. That's when I was still a co-pilot. So the aircraft commander was flying and we ended up, I guess the Army would call it a hard landing. What we essentially did was 00:32:00crashed. That's all there is to it. We crouched on a beach in II Corps and my, my job in that particular instance, again you really don't have time to think about what was going to happen. My job while the other guy was trying to fly was to let the world know we were going down, so we had 3 radios on the aircraft. I got at least 2 calls out on each radio on the way down and it didn't take but 5 minutes and there was a first cab aircraft showed up and it took another 15 minutes and they had, they brought troops in to secure the area.

DERKS: And what happened when the rotor went off? Did you start rotating?

BERRY: Well the emergency procedure is you're essentially supposed to enter auto rotation. And what that does is, and roll the throttle off so you disengage the engine from the rotor system and you theoretically don't need as much in the way 00:33:00of anti-torque. The problem is the pilot that was flying, this is real easy to do, he entered auto rotation but he didn't roll the throttle off so when we got very close to the beach and he slowed the aircraft down to cushion it onto the beach, when he pulled power in, the engine was still connected to the rotor system and in fact the aircraft started to spin and we just crashed.

DERKS: How'd that feel?

BERRY: Well I was knocked out. I ended up injuring my back a little bit. The other pilot broke his back. One, the crew chief broke his back. The gunner kind of got me out of the aircraft and dragged me away from it a little bit. So when I woke up, I don't know how long I was out, but it was soon after that the first aircraft landed. The aircraft was a total wreck.


DERKS: As, as a pilot, you say that they were all right there really quickly. You probably are pretty sensitive to that as a pilot when you hear a mayday or a call like that. [Oh no certainly] That's who you're there for.

BERRY: And as a matter of fact the first aircraft that landed was the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, General, General Tulson. He was out flying around. He's a rated pilot , the first aircraft that showed up was the commanding general of 1st Cavalry Division which is kind of neat.

DERKS: How often did, did that happen?

BERRY: It didn't happen all that often. I was in another wreck but that had nothing to do with the failure of the aircraft. That had to do with two rotor systems coming into contact with each other when we were taking off from a pickup zone. [just a second]


DERKS: Then the other time you went down.

BERRY: Well we didn't really go down. We were taking off and we were on, on an area that was a, a slope and when we took off, we essentially flew into the bottom of an overhanging rotor system and both aircrafts flew apart.

DERKS: What'd that do to you?

BERRY: Didn't do anything to me. I believe one of the infantry was killed in that and that's the sort of thing that really causes concern because it's friendly fire or an accident and that's not good at all.

DERKS: Well you hear about the, the, you know the tactics and the number of helicopters that are going in and the people that are running around and it's, 00:36:00it's just, it's, it's controlled chaos it sounds like. It's amazing you got away with as much as you.

BERRY: Yeah I mean accidents happened. We had an infantryman walk into one of the tail rotors, even though you know we land in trail formation and so, so forth. People get excited. We never shut the aircraft down, or, or usually did not shut the aircraft down so the tail rotor's turning fast. It's tough to see. That's, that's easy to have happen. We lost another aircraft to an accident where a guy was out flying at night and flew into the ground. That, we lost some crew in that.

DERKS: Well it sounds like it's flying at night.

BERRY: Flying at night in Vietnam is extremely dangerous. That's, that's the only way to put it. I mean you can say it's challenging, and so it's dangerous. That's all there is to it; very difficult to maintain your spatial orientation. 00:37:00Actually if we had a go to a, an inland landing zone, we would often fly up the coast at night because you could see the waves breaking on the beach pretty easily. That would help keep your orientation so you'd get, fly up the coast parallel to where, away and you got adjacent to the land, landing zone you wanted to go to, you would turn inland and have a short ways to go. I had someone, one of the things I remember coming back from that emergency re-supply, so theoretically it's kind of all over with. You landed in the landing zone and you got your cargo back and you don't have to worry about making a lights out approach anymore and so forth. We were on our way back to LZ English and the engine chip detector light came on. The engine chip detector light that pilot's call the oh shit light, cause what it means is there's a piece of metal floating 00:38:00around in the engine someplace and it's usually, it's tell you that you need to get on the ground pretty quickly because the engine might quit. And, and it was night. We were over hills on our way back to LZ English so we just kept going. There was no good place to land out there. And it turned out that there, it was just a sensor problem and there really wasn't, wasn't anything to worry about but I sure remember that big red light on the instrument panel coming on.

DERKS: It's what you always hope it is is a sensor problem yeah, that would make you think twice.

BERRY: So I, I just continued flying for the company until, until I rotated home.

DERKS: I got to go and see what that is [gets up]

BERRY: Which covers, I guess, the Vietnam stuff, unless you have other questions. I mean, there ought to be enough material there for two or three minutes [laughter].


DERKS: Well, I just, you know, a lot of the questions I ask are just 'cause it's trying to get my head around--

BERRY: Oh, that's no problem. You know, I've got nothing to do this afternoon, so, however I can help you that's kind of what I'm doing.

DERKS: Well, unfortunately--I'd like to stay here to [Berry laughs] five or six o'clock. But what was it like when you got back emotionally when you would get back from ah, kind of a tense mission? How did you deal with that?

BERRY: We played poker and drank a bunch of beer is about what, what it amounts to. And we had a little seat where ah that had been taken out of a crashed Huey, so if you, if you came back and you wanted to tell somebody a war story, you had to sit in the seat and act it out. It was kind of funny. It wasn't that big of deal.

DERKS: Wasn't it? I mean it wasn't because you were in your early 20s or?


BERRY: I suspect that's a big part. Part of, you're in your early 20s, you're with good friends, you're kind of doing what you were trained to do. You enjoy the flying or you wouldn't sign up to do it in the first place. I mean when you, when you volunteer to go to flight school to learn how to fly a helicopter, you knew you were going to end up in Vietnam or you were, there was something wrong with the way you looked at the world. That's all there was to it. So everyone was there because they chose to be there essentially. And you know as I said, you come back from a mission and you would play poker and drink beer and talk to the other guys in the unit. We lived on a fire base the whole time. We lived in tents. So we got used to artillery going off at night and so forth.

DERKS: I'm still trying to picture that seat from the, from the Huey, that, it 00:41:00seems pretty interesting that, if you had a story to tell. Was that just to orient it or was that like the just the place you told the story?

BERRY: No it was just the place you told the story. I, we made a little kind of a common area out of wood from 105 boxes and we would play cards in there and drink beer in there and that little seat was in there.

DERKS: Do you think it was therapeutic to tell the story?

BERRY: Oh I suppose so. Sure. Except, yup. Yeah I expect so.

DERKS: Did you ever get tired of flying?

BERRY: Not while I was in Vietnam. I guess I was looking forward to trying to make a living flying when I got out of the service and did something else. But once I got involved in, in school again, I haven't flown since. And it was something I always wanted to do as a kid. When I was a kid, I used to fly model 00:42:00airplanes around in circles and that sort of stuff so I'm pleased I did it but I don't have any real desire to fly again. I haven't flown for, well almost 40 years now.

DERKS: How, how much did you know about the larger course of the war when, when you were there?

BERRY: Basically nothing. I've learned a whole bunch more about the war since I, I've left in the last 5, 10 years or so. My focus, and I think the focus of most of the pilots was simply flying the aircraft so the, the reasons we were there and the politics associated with it and so, so forth just didn't come into play at all.

DERKS: Did you have any interaction at all with, with the Vietnamese?

BERRY: Not really. Again, 1st Cavalry Division was different from a lot of units in that the whole Division was oriented around the use of helicopters. Where, were most assault helicopter companies might fly for different units, might fly 00:43:00for ARVN units on day, we were essentially always dealing with 1st Cavalry Division troops and artillery and so forth. I spent very, very little time off the fire base outside the wire for example. Didn't do much at all with meeting Vietnamese in the towns around the area or whatever. Just stayed on the fire base.

DERKS: Did you go on R&R?

BERRY: I sure did. I went to Sydney on R&R which was a really fun experience. I had some training as, or some interest in biology even then, so I, one of the reasons I went to Australia is I thought it'd be kind of nice to get in the Outback there and see some of the neat animals and I never made it out of downtown Sydney. So that's all there was to it. That, that was fun.

DERKS: Going to museums or things like that.


BERRY: Yeah, did a bunch of museums. Did some studying of the waves on the beach there in Bondi too.

DERKS: And that's all you're going to say about that right? [Right] Tell me about getting out and coming back.

BERRY: Well when, towards the end of your tour in Vietnam, they ask the pilots at least where you want to go to next. And I thought it'd be kind of nice to spend some time in Germany so I said well I'd like to go to Germany which is where I was assigned. So from Vietnam I went home for you about a month if, maybe a little bit shorter and then went from there to Germany where I flew for an engineering unit there, and essentially served out the rest of my time in the Army in Germany; met my wife there, went all the way to Germany to meet a Cajun. She was from Baton Rouge. And so that was a fun place to become engaged and, bought a brand new Alfa Romeo a week after I arrived in Germany. And I think we 00:45:00put sixty, about sixty thousand miles on that in 18 months. Germany was fun. That's all there was to it.

DERKS: Was she on the base?

BERRY: She, she was a civilian working for the Army. Kind of our recreation director in the service clubs.

DERKS: And, and when you say you were flying for the engineering, it was, a helicopter?

BERRY: Yeah flying, helicopters. Much, much different situation because the unit really didn't know what was a, a helicopter could do or what it should do. They would sometimes ask you to do things that were simply unsafe to do. You really ended up being kind of a glorified taxi driver is about what it amounted to. You would fly from one airfield to another airfield and just wait there for awhile and then fly back. Flying was really pretty boring actually.

DERKS: With, with nobody shooting at you? [Pardon?] With nobody shooting at you?


BERRY: No, not so much that. Just the you didn't have tight landing zones to go into. You didn't have to fly the aircraft to its capability. Much, much less flight time. I mean I was lucky to get 15 hours a month, 20 hours a month. It was not much flight time. You spent a lot of time kind of sitting around the airfield and I was way more interested in my wife than I was in flying actually.

DERKS: You brought her back with you. [Sure did] Did you bring the car back?

BERRY: Well I sure did. Yeah I sure did.

DERKS: And then, then tell me what happened. What was coming back like? And?

BERRY: Well the second time home, I had kind of decided to see if I could make a living flying so I enrolled in Embry-Riddle which is a civilian school in Florida. And we came back to New England and we went to visit a friend of a friend who was a corporate pilot, talked to him about that. He suggested very strongly that I go back to school and study something I was interested in. And 00:47:00if I wanted to try to break into flying after that, that would be fine. But there were just so many people training to fly during the Vietnam War, it was kind of tough to make a living doing it. So that's what I did. I went back and studied biology. Went on to graduate school and ended up work, working as a federal biologist and never looked back. Just haven't flown since.

DERKS: Has, has the war been with you at all? Were you able to leave it behind or?

BERRY: I, I think I was and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I was doing something I enjoyed doing. I was doing something that I wanted to do and the, the aviation outfits are kind of one step removed from the actual combat where, where the grunts were operating.

DERKS: Well we've heard a couple aside to that. We've heard the, the pilots and 00:48:00the people in the crafts saying boy I sure shouldn't want to be down there with those guys. And we here the guys that were down there saying boy I sure wouldn't want to be up there.

BERRY: Yeah there might be some human nature associated with that. It's nice to think someone else is worse off than you are I guess so I don't know. But I mean we had a bunk to sleep in at night, and what we would we do is, is, is was a cot and what we do with our tent would be as soon as you moved into a new area, you would fill sandbags and build a, a, a revetment around your tent and for example in I Corps, all most all of us would build a little bunker off the side of the tent, so the place you slept at night, you were essentially surrounded by sand bags.

DERKS: What was the food like?

BERRY: Food was, I don't remember all that much about it except there was a lot 00:49:00of roast beef and Kool-Aid. It, it wasn't super good.

DERKS: What, what kind of atmospheric conditions did you have to fly in? Or what would, wouldn't allow you to fly?

BERRY: The only time I can remember being grounded the whole year I was there would have been what would amount to a hurricane, a typhoon. But we often flew in the monsoons with the rain and so forth. Fog would sometimes give us trouble but one of the nice things about a helicopter of course, we didn't have to worry about wires so you could get down low and just stay close to the ground so you could see the ground and you could pretty much go where you wanted to. I remember for example when the first assault that we made with Khe Sanh, they were originally going to make a large assault at like 7 o'clock in the morning. This would have been around the first part of April of '68 and there was a lot 00:50:00of fog and so forth. So they didn't make the assault until like noon time or something like, just gave the fog a chance to burn off.

DERKS: How does the, how does the helicopter handle in a, in a monsoon and heavy rain. What, what problems does that cause?

BERRY: Well the main problem of course you have is visibility. And the other problem with a Huey was it had a Plexiglas windshield on it so we didn't use the windshield wipers. And the reason you didn't use the windshield wipers is if, if there was any dust whatsoever, you would scratch the windshield and that caused major problems at night if you had a scratched windshield. As a matter of fact, we, we had problems when we'd send an aircraft back to the rear to have a major maintenance done, an engine change or some, something like that. And they would test fly it back there. If it was raining, they'd turn the windshield wipers on and when we got the windshield, the aircraft back, the, it caused real problems. 00:51:00So you could usually see pretty well. I would say again the most dangerous flying we did was at night. And that was simply because if there was an overcast sky, there were no lights on ground, it was really difficult. It was kind of like looking into an ink bottle and trying to fly the aircraft. It was, it was difficult. We often had one of the pilots would keep an eye on the flight instruments while the other guy kept his head out of the cockpit and flew the aircraft. So if the first guy got disorient, the person flying became disoriented the other individual was already on the instruments and could climb up.

DERKS: What about, what did you ever have periods when you were in the cockpit a lot, like for an extended time?

BERRY: Yeah, we seldom shut the aircraft down unless we knew we knew we were going to shut it down for like 20 minutes or so. And the reason for that was 00:52:00that cranking up a gas turbine, that big change in temperature is really tough on the engine. So we would hot refuel. I mean you'd, you'd come in next to a bladder of JP4 and the crew chief would refuel the aircraft while it is was running. Once we took off to make an an assault, we would probably not shut down until it was over with it. I would say the, the normal flight time per day if you were flying assaults wasn't all that bad. It'd be a couple three hours but if were flying re-supply and, and you were going to a number of different landing zones, you could easily fly 8-10 hours a day. I think the longest day I had was 12 hours of flight time, actual flight time. And during that period, you might shut the aircraft down once maybe. So you spent a lot of time, some tired butts. The seats were pretty comfortable. The pilot sat on a fully armored seat 00:53:00so, and you, you actually had a plate of armor that you pulled next to your head also, and of course you work a chicken plate. See the pilots' were pretty well protected and the seats were quite comfortable. The crew chief and the gunner did not have those sorts of seats. They wore a chicken plate and a lot of them sat on a chicken, chicken plate too for obvious reasons.

DERKS: What's a chicken plate?

BERRY: Oh I'm sorry, a chicken plate is a vest that we wore that had a layer of aluminum and ceramic on it. And it would stop a 30 caliber bullet just cold. It's like armor I guess.

DERKS: I hope it never had to.

BERRY: No I didn't.

DERKS: Did your armor ever get hit?

BERRY: No, I, I took hits in the aircraft but I was never hit myself. I was never shot down. And taking hits in the helicopter are kind of interesting. You could have one round knock you down, but what normally happened is the bullets 00:54:00would just go through the sheet metal and just punch a hole through it. And as long as they didn't hit a, a flight control or something like that, it was just not a big deal.

DERKS: That's relative.

BERRY: Yeah but I, I mean often times you'd hear a tink or, something like that. I can remember on one assault, we had runs come through the windshield and flat knew they were something going on and, but most, often times you'd come back from, from a re-supply mission and there'd be holes in the aircraft and you wouldn't know where they happened. And actually that combat assault situation that I described to you really worked well. We seldom took hits making an assault like that. Where we often took hits was when you were out flying single ship and you were flying re-supply back and forth and people would take pot shots at you as you were going by.

DERKS: What was uh, that photo of the, the helicopter that had been, did you say 00:55:00it was a mortar that ah?

BERRY: Right, yeah that was shortly after '68 Tet and what happened is we were mortared one night and one of the mortar rounds came in and hit the ground maybe 5 feet or so in front of that aircraft and really did a job on it.

DERKS: Now did you fly a different aircraft all the time or one aircraft?

BERRY: Right, the, the way it worked was we had about 9 or 10 aircraft in the company. They were all troop carrying SLICKs and if the individual aircraft were assigned to a particular crew chief. So the person that kind owned the aircraft was the crew chief, and your crew chief was responsible for the maintenance on the aircraft and so forth. They were trained as an aircraft mechanic and while we were flying the missions, they served as a door gunner, and then the pilots would go into the operations bunker in the morning and see what mission you were assigned, what aircraft you were going to fly, who your co-pilot was going to 00:56:00be. So you essentially flew with different people all the time. And often times the, the gunner that was not the crew chief was also trained as a, as a mechanic and he was waiting for a crew chief to rotate home so he could get his own aircraft.

DERKS: Where there ah, did you, you didn't have any choice at all or any preference to who you flew with or was everybody as [No] as good as everybody else?

BERRY: Yeah. You, you just accepted whoever was assigned to you and, and went out and flew what you were supposed to fly. Everyone knew who the aircraft commander was and there was no doubt in anybody's mind who the aircraft commander was before the aircraft left the ground and that was the individual that was essentially responsible for the decisions that were made while you were flying. And it would take, kind, kind of depends on the person, but it would take oh, maybe 400 hours of flight time before you would make um, move over to 00:57:00the other seat. And kind of interesting also, a Huey, most helicopters are designed so the command pilot seat is the right seat. But in our SLICK company and I think in most of them, the aircraft commander flew the left seat. And the reason for that was you could see better outside the aircraft from the left seat. The right seat was set up with more flight instruments. The instrument panel came all the way across the front of the aircraft in front of the pilot and it had controls over there that you didn't have on the left side. That's were the aircraft was started for example was from the right seat. You controlled the use of the hook that we had for sling loads from the right seat. So kind of the aircraft was designed so the co-pilot would be in the left seat. But because all our flying was ah visual flight rules and all our flying was looking out of the aircraft you could see better out of the aircraft so that was the aircraft commander's seat in the SLICK company. In that, the Huey 00:58:00helicopters that were used for attack the aircraft, the aircraft commander flew the right seat and essentially aimed the whole aircraft, the fire the rockets and so, so forth and the co-pilot would fly the left seat and he would operate the flexible guns on the side.

DERKS: How'd you feel the first time you flew the left seat?

BERRY: Oh a little anxious. A little concerned that somebody thought more of my ability than I did. And what, I mean that wasn't a big ceremony or anything. The company commander would just say starting tomorrow you're going to fly the left seat. And that would be it.

DERKS: And then it just became old hat.

BERRY: Right.

DERKS: Well, have we talked to you then enough?

BERRY: Sure have [Derks laughs]. I've given you everything you needed. That's just fine.

DERKS: Thank you. Thanks for your service.

BERRY: I hope that works for you.

DERKS: Oh, absolutely. No wrong answers.

BERRY: Super. There's some really, some quite neat flying photos in there if you're a pilot.


DERKS: Yeah. Yeah.

BERRY: Time we crashed, the first aircraft that showed up was a two-star general. The guy that ran the outfit. I thought that was kind of neat.

DERKS: Well I think that's kind of neat that he thought enough of you to come.

BERRY: Well I suspect he got an award for that. And he probably deserved one. I mean he, he didn't know if there was enemy around that area or what. He was without question the first aircraft on the ground.

DERKS: Now was that a Huey as well?

BERRY: Yep, sure was. Same aircraft, except it had more radios in it and so forth.

DERKS: And is that what he would fly around during an operation just to keep an eye on things?

BERRY: Yeah they didn't use that aircraft for assaults. It had, had many more radios in it. But he flew it himself. I mean he was a rated pilot.

DERKS: Had he started out with Air Mobile? Is that?

BERRY: I'm not sure what his background was but I think he, he was involved with helicopters for quite awhile before the 1st Cav came to Vietnam. And I don't 01:00:00know if he was in command of it when it first came there or not. Actually my company was the company that made the assault into the Ia Drang Valley. And I went to see that movie, "We Are Soldiers." I went to see that just to see.

DERKS: Wait a second. Is this going to be a good story?

BERRY: Oh no, it's not. I, it's [you sure] No, no, no. It has nothing to do with me because it happened a year and a half before I got there. [oh] But the company commander and the XO received an Medal of Honor that day. There's only been like 5 pilots that received that award. But I was kind of interested in.

DERKS: Was that the Mel Gibson character?

BERRY: Yeah sure is.

BERRY: Well I went to see more to see how well he depicted the use of 01:01:00helicopters and it was pretty well done. They, that blue triangle that's on the door of that aircraft, they had the blue triangle painted on the, on the aircraft they used in the movie too. That blue triangle co notates A Company 229th. It was a 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion and a sister one, 227th. And ours were blue, theirs were kind of yellow. But they each had three SLICK companies and a gun company.

DERKS: Did you have a patch?

BERRY: Yeah, oh, yeah. We had the 1st Cav patch, but it was kind of a muted patch in Vietnam. It wasn't the big yellow.

DERKS: Right, the drab? Is that what they call it.

[Interview Ends]