JUMPING the FENCE
By Bill Wirstrom
It was somewhere around the middle of April while I was on leave from the LBR unit at Shaw AFB SC. I had been a 1st Lt. for about a year and was the junior man in the unit. I must admit, flying helicopters was not my first choice but it was above flying B-52’s or B-47’s in SAC.
Our DetCo, Leon Foster, gave me a call at my in-laws house and said I was to return right away as a (TDY) assignment had come up. I wanted to know where but all he would say is you will find out later. Upon return to Shaw I received a copy of orders with no destination. I was to go through TAC mobility ( we were MAC ) draw an M-16, 50 rds of ammo, a 38 revolver and 50 rounds, bring a mobility bag with me and report via commercial air to Griffis AFB NY.
Upon arrival at Griffis
I was joined by Capt Dave A. Allan, DetCo, Capt Dave E. Allen (from McDill AFB), Capt Bert Berthold
(Homestead AFB) Capt Gene Hogan and one other that I don’t recall. None of us knew exactly where we were going
except it was to SEA and a briefing stop at
I don’t recall if it was two or three
H-43B’s that we loaded into two C-124’s for the long journey. Twelve days later we arrived at
arrived at Udorn unannounced. The local US Base commander had no idea we
were inbound. The only large flying unit
there was some RF101C (Kodak’s) which turned out to be from Shaw AFB SC. The Flight Surgeon Doc (Capt)
The next couple of weeks were spent getting the aircraft back to together and completing FCF test flights. The lower grade enlisted troops had a very difficult time as they were assigned quarters in old barracks built by the Marines in 1962. It was not a pleasant situation.
Our work was soon interrupted by a
radio call while two aircraft were flying. We were told to proceed to a site in
On scene the SC-54 became a communications relay ship, but we were provided no RESCAP or close air support. It was determined that Capt Berthold and his crew would land nearby and proceed on foot to get below the pilot and try to get him down. Capt Allen and I landed in a nearby clearing to conserve fuel.
When the ground crew reached the pilot’s location, it was determined that the pilot could not be reached from the ground. It was worked out that the secondary aircraft would take-off and go above the pilot, lower the cable with a rope attached, TSGt Free a (PJ ) would then be hoisted up to the pilot. NOTE: In the early days, the hoist cable was only 110 feet long and required an additional rope to be attached thus ensuring sufficient length to extend through the jungle canopy and reach the ground.
We took off and initially followed the plan but after Sergeant Free was hoisted, it was suggested by Capt Berthold to lift the two of them out of the trees and fly with them suspended below the helicopter to a clearing about a mile away. Much to TSGt Free’s surprise we did it with Capt Allen doing a great job. We delivered the pilot to Udorn with a dislocated shoulder which was caused by the H-34. (Note: the only awards and decorations out of this incident was Sgt Free who received the “Soldiers Medal”)
After this incident we were joined by
a detachment from
H-43’s (we had to do this via a Y connection in the rear in order to get more range), so he was relived by PARC and sent home, placing Capt Allen back in charge.
Things then began to get hot and
heavy. We started flying very far north
We met many unusual people at this Site and LS96. But, the guy I really remember is “Pop Buell”. He worked for an organization that provided help to the locals and a book was written about his activities.
The shirtless man on
the left is Edgar “Pop” Buell, Senior USAID Official
were also a large number of “Company” operatives. The Air America guys received about three to four times the amount of
money we received but refused missions into
After a week Bert and I returned to
Udorn and sometime in November I was allowed to return from my 60 day (TDY) after about eight months. Only five months later to find out I was to
be given a PCS assignment to
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