monique

Woolgathering
Ad 2:
2004-03-04 21:06:29 (UTC)

Observer

I knew the basics about what Steven did in Vietnam at the
time, just the bare basics. I didn't want to know more; the
little I did know terrified me. It wasn't until many years
later that I found out what I'm going to write here. It
took me thirty years to talk to some of the men who'd known
Steven, who'd known what he did and what his life was like
because they did it too and lived it, and who had the
courage to talk to his widow about it. It was these men who
told me of Steven's reaction when he learned he was going to
be a father for the first time, who told me how important my
letters were to him, who gave me examples of how his wit and
intelligence and kindness impressed them, who kept him going.

Steven was the observer on a recon team. The veterans
patiently explained to me what that meant. The recon teams
consisted of a scout pilot and an observer flying low to the
ground in a light observation helicopter, called a LOACH
for its initials LOH. Usually there were two Cobras
circling around at altitude to protect the loach and fire on
any targets he might encounter. A Huey would tag along for
recovery purposes should anyone be shot down. They were
called hunter-killer teams.

The LOACH was a human target. The observer was armed with
a M-60 machine gun on a bungee cord and a pile of grenades
in the seat next to him. Both pilot and observer sat on the
right hand side of the chopper and the doors were removed.
The pilot's job was to nose around 10 to 15 feet above the
ground, sometimes under the trees, in order to draw fire. It
was not uncommon to find green vegetation stains on loach
rotor blades, due to hard banked turns. The observer looked
for targets and if they took fire, he threw grenades and
sprayed machine gun fire; then they went to a higher
altitude and the Cobras took over. They'd go out twice
every day, at dawn and dusk, first and last light.

LOACH pilots and observers had the most dangerous of all
flying duties in Vietnam. They flew low and usually slow
enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy
targets for the enemy. They often said that if they managed
to survive for six months their chances of surviving Vietnam
and getting home were "looking good". Steven had been in
country for five months when he died. The Viet Cong knew
what the teams were doing. They fought back by putting
claymore mines in trees and command detonating them as the
choppers flew by. That's what happened to the LOACH Steven
was on. He died when it crashed. The pilot was medevaced
out but he died the next day.

This was late in the war, in early November, 1972. Steven's
name is on the last panel on the Wall. Stand downs were
being ordered during this time and soldiers returned home by
the thousands. Two weeks after he died, even before they
were able to get his body home for burial, the men he served
with were being told that they would all be home for
Christmas. And they were.


Ad:0