By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
PLEIKU, Viet Nam - The 17th Aviation Company claimed the record for the largest Pacific aerial deployment of Army aircraft when it flew its 18 Caribous here from Fort Benning on a trip which covered 10,046 miles and took 16 days.
They did it with a single spot of trouble (an engine went out on one plane), and with only slight delays because of bad weather. The trip took them to Hamilton AFB, Calif., Hawaii, Midway, Wake, Guam, Clark AFB, Philippines and finally to Pleiku where the 1st Cavalry Division aviation support unit will be stationed until some decision is made as to whether it will be based at An Khe or work from here.
Since arrival, the pilots and crewmen have flown 1,700 miles hauling supplies for the soldiers at An Khe and on other missions. (They worked on a 24-hour basis recently airlifting Vietnamese soldiers to Kon Tum, for example. They aren’t exclusively working for the 1st Cavalry Division when other jobs come up.)
Maj. Raymond D. Franklin, commanding officer, made the trip in a C130 which was along as a flying maintenance shop. He had just recovered from a hospital stay. The CV2 Caribous making the over-water voyage were loaded with three officers and two enlisted men each, making a total of 90 members of the company who are now veterans of seeing a lot of blue salt water go by under a Caribou wing. (One leg of the flight took 17 ˝ hours, three hours longer than the longest flight on the Atlantic route which has gained fame among Caribou enthusiasts as an endurance test. The extra three hours added to the previous longest flight is almost an unbelievable straw to put on a Caribou’s back, but the planes all made the flight from San Francisco to Hawaii without troubles.)
A single spell of bad weather forced the flight to return to Wake after takeoff and to wait there for three days, but as one pilot put it “it was mostly just a long, hard day.”
The first man to meet me at Camp Holloway was Capt. George Nelson, who I had last seen at Fort Benning and who had extracted a promise that I would come around when the 17th got here. Capt. Nelson took me in hand and set me up in a bunk in a tin-roofed hootch where Maj. Franklin, Maj. Gordon R. Chapin, Maj. Hazen C. Schouman, Capt. Troy D. Cooper, Capt. Walter Urbach, Capt. Larry L. Welch and Lt. Charles R. Crescioni had already found a home.
He also showed me a shower and a shaving mirror. I had a week’s growth of beard and a collection of red dust and rice paddy mud as well as a heavy load of fatigue by this time. When I had scraped down through to the depressingly real old face and had returned to the hootch, Lt. Crescioni had volunteered a pair of clean fatigues to replace my camouflage outfit.
“That tiger suit will still bend, of course, but I thought maybe you might want somebody to hang it out and beat it,” the donor said.
I spent a joyous hour investigating the wonderful Pleiku compound. Tin roofs, screens, concrete slab floors with their coating of red dust, cracked sidewalks, a quonset hut which serves iced drinks and a dining room with waitresses who are always confused make a man just in from the areas of Viet Nam where the 1st Cavalry outfits usually reside feel as if he has suddenly come to the big city. I spent a long time toying with the menu at supper, for example. It offered only one choice, roast beef, but it was typed and you had to write out your order, like the process used in Pullman dining cars, and it made eating a lot more charming than getting into a line with a mess kit or simply opening up a can of C rations in the brush.
There are also the sober reminders here of what it means for a compound to be a veteran of the “old” war in Viet Nam, before the advent of powerful all-American units and their operations which have apparently shaken the Viet Cong completely off balance in many areas where they used to have complete control.
The clock in the quonset hut officer’s club is stopped at 11 minutes until 3 a.m. when a mortar shell last February shattered the electrical circuits. Vietnamese workmen are just now laying new slab on the space where another building had stood when the mortar barrage landed here at Camp Holloway. Some of the hootches have concrete poured in a little flat plaque outside and bear the handprints and names of the occupants of those shelters which were hit by the Viet Cong explosives. (I found one dedicated to Capt. Dale Michelson of the 92nd Aviation Company, who has finished his tour here and returned to the U.S., and who was in the raid last year.)
There is quite a bit of Viet Nam-style GI humor around the camp displayed in signs. The building which houses the often-out-of-order electrical generator identifies the area as “Malfunction Junction” for example. A red, white and blue sign in the officers club once proclaimed one of the most forthright anti-Communist slogans in the history of those mottos until gentler souls caused the unprintable but expressive two-word placard to be retired. The WCTU may be flattered to learn that a newspaper article has outlined that organization’s protest against the limited liquor supply in Viet Nam.
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