Exploits of a Combat Helicopter Pilot

VIETNAM SAGA:     Exploits of a Combat Helicopter Pilot

            Excerpt from Chapter 18

            “After eating and refueling, we took off and flew back west to an­other free-fire zone. This one had more open terrain and in a shallow flat valley there were several abandoned village huts surrounding a large open area that had once been rice paddies. Approaching the dried paddies, I saw a small white object lying in the middle of one. I armed my minigun and immediately turned to fly to it. When I got closer, I could see that it was a very small young girl wearing a white Ao Dai and pink flip-flops on her tiny feet. She was lying flat on her back with her hands placed over her stomach. She appeared to be about three or four years old and had no visible wounds or blood on her clothing. Her skin was very pale white, with no evidence of decay or rictus, so she had apparently been killed shortly before I got there.

She looked like she might be alive, although she never moved as I flew closely overhead, and the rotor wash blew her clothing. I noticed the ground around her had been dug up and replaced, and that she was lying on a slight earthen mound.There were footprints and tire tracks leading from where she lay to the tree line and jungle foliage about a hundred yards away. At fifteen hundred feet altitude, Lead could see everything around me. I called him and told him what I’d found, and he said, “We can see her lying there.” He also said to be very careful because “She may be booby-trapped and explode if you try to pick her up or move her.”

The NVA and VC were notorious for placing explosives under a body and wiring it to detonate when someone disturbed it. I flew back over to the tracks where they entered the jungle, but couldn’t find anyone or anything else. I went back to where the little girl lay, climbed to about ten feet and fired a one second burst from my min­igun over her. She didn’t move or flinch when I did that, so I was certain she was dead. The sound of the minigun firing at that close a distance was like standing next to a jet engine running at full power. As I flew around the child, I could not figure out what was going on. Lead got on the radio and told me to get out of there because in all likelihood she was lying on a bomb that could be remotely detonated. I climbed to my cruising altitude, and we went home.

About a week later we were flying near the AO’s where I’d killed the water buffalo and had found the little girl. Lead said, “Skeeter, let’s go check out the dead water buffalo and where you found the child.” I said, “Roger that, let’s do it.” And then I headed in their direction. As I descended down to where I’d shot the buffalo, I began to smell the putrid stench of decaying flesh. All of the dead animals lay where I had shot them and were rotting in the hot sun. There was no indication that anyone had been around them, so I climbed back up to altitude and flew to the nearby valley where I had found the little girl.

As I approached the dried rice paddies where she had been placed, I saw a huge crater where her body had been lying. About fifty feet away from the crater there were two bloated, black, naked bodies lying face down in the dirt next to each other. One had long hair, the other short. Again, there were no obvious wounds on either of their bodies, but it was impossible to tell because of their decom­position. When I flew over the crater, I gauged it to be approximately twenty feet in diameter and probably six feet deep. Lead said that it looked like a crater made by a thousand pound bomb exploding.

My crew chief then said, “Sir, there’s something off to the right laying on the ground.” I turned the aircraft and flew to where he was pointing. Arriving there, I saw several blood-stained, shred­ded pieces of white silk cloth caught in the dried rice stalks and one pink flip-flop laying nearby. I called Lead and told him what I found. “I’m not surprised,” he said. I was sickened to think that a small child had been used as bait. It also strengthened my resolve to kill as many of the inhumane and murderous NVA and VC “vermin” as I could and “avenge” her death. We continued on with the VR of the surrounding area, but found nothing more and never learned the identity of the two bodies—probably her parents. Finally, we headed back to Chu Lai.

I was haunted by the death of the little girl for some time after­ward. I still am, to some extent; however, I’m no longer surprised by “Man’s inhumanity to man.” If Shakespeare were alive today he would comment: “Cynicism, thy name is Stan.” I’ve never forgotten how beautiful the dead little girl looked wearing her white silk Ao Dai and pink flip-flops, nor, how sad she appeared lying alone in the middle of the dry rice paddy. When she died, I’m sure Jesus wept, as he did in John 11:35 NKJV. I know I did that night after I went to bed!

In 1977, Richard Bach wrote a beautiful book entitled Illusions. One of the quotes from his book applies perfectly to the child’s un­timely death. It says: What the caterpillar calls the end of the world; the Master calls a butterfly.”