NVA Base Camp Destroyed
Finding an NVA Base Camp in Cambodia
I flew in a troop-carrying Huey helicopter for my first two months in Viet Nam. After two gunners on the prestigious smokeship, Pollution IV, were shot, I was lucky enough to grab one of the two positions.
I flunked my flight physical due to colorblindness. That being the only problem I had, the doc said, “It’s your ass.” Good thing, too, as during an “accidental” (smile-smile) excursion into Cambodia’s neutral and sovereign country, I noticed some movement of people and distinct bunker emplacements at my two o’clock position. I told my pilot, “We have some serious activity at two o’clock.”
The AC turned the nose of the ship in the direction of the action at our two o’clock position, which soon became our twelve o’clock position. To see what I was talking about, the AC lowered the nose of the aircraft. This nose-down maneuver made Pollution IV descend toward the ground and the activity. My voice may have risen in pitch when I re-explained what I saw: “We have many enemy troops, all very much on the move now, and bunkers around the perimeter. Do you see it?”
“No.” My pilot, not colorblind, did not see what I saw, as the enemy’s camouflage worked fine on him but not so well on me.
“OH! It’s a damn NVA basecamp,” the AC finally responded.
In an all-or-nothing maneuver, he dropped Pollution IV to a low-level flight across the NVA basecamp from one perimeter to the next, instructing, “Kill ’em all.” We smoked across the fortified enemy stronghold at one hundred-plus knots, with our gunners hammering hard at every enemy we could nail.
I shot into the running crowds of soldiers, into subterranean bunker doorways. I especially remember seeing three NVA soldiers in the far bunker, surprised at our daring race across what they considered safe territory. I pumped my bullets into their open pit bunker, hitting two, with the third taking cover as we passed by.
The battle did not stop once we were beyond the enemy base camp’s perimeter. We flew high into the sky, circling the base camp. Our fifty-caliber machine gun lobbed bullets into the NVA base camp with gravity on our side. The NVA fired their fifty-one caliber bullets up at us, with gravity working against them, and we watched with delight as the tracer-burning bullets failed to reach our altitude.
Meanwhile, the AC worked out the coordinates of the base camp’s exact location, radioed the Air Force, and asked for aerial fire support. A loaded B52 bomber responded, telling us to clear the area ASAP, as he was only five minutes out, which is like being there already.
I sat with my 35mm still camera in the ready position and took this next shot of the basecamp lifting 1500 feet into the air as dust particles.
It was a good day of combat, risky as risky gets, “But, momma, that’s where the fun is.”
Gunner on Pollution IV, the Smokeship for the 118th Assault Helicopter Company.