The Phantom Snake
Courtesy of Tony Terrana
I can remember one particular C.A. in late February, during Lam Son 719, that stands out as a little different from the run of the mill C.A.s we were doing every day. What made this different was that we didn’t use a single L.Z., but an entire ridge line. When chalk one hit the ridge, chalk two shot to his left. Chalk three came in to the left of two and so on. The Flight came out of our famous Blue Star Trail formation and approached the ridge in a staggered line, the idea being to get the 1st A.R.V.N. troops positioned across the top of the whole ridge all at once. I was the crew chief on 68-16221 with Cpt. Carney in the left seat and Phillip Nobles in the right well. I can’t remember who sat right seat. On this C.A. we were flying chalk last. This was unusual for me. Almost always, 221 with Cpt. Carney at the controls, flew chalk two, which I considered to be the safest spot in the flight. I enjoyed flying with Cpt. Carney and found him to be an able pilot and a pleasant and appreciative A.C. He told the best ghost stories over the intercom when we were doing long turnaround resupply sorties.
On our approach to this bald ridge line, we had to over fly a large unremarkable flat area that ran all the way up to the ridge. I think we all got the surprise of our lives when that “unremarkable” flat area turned out to be a huge N.V.A. truck park and maintenance facility perfectly camouflaged under netting that ran over their entire base. From almost any altitude this place was invisible. But from fifty feet, I could see the N.V.A. running everywhere. Apparently the enemy was somewhat prepared for our little visit as mortar rounds began raining down on the ridge line. The first round impacted where chalk one had just lifted off from. Mortar rounds were being walked down the crest of the ridge, each ship lifting off just before a round hit exactly where they discharged their troops. For some reason I craned my neck around the transmission to look out to the right and saw the impacts of the mortar rounds coming ever closer and yelled, “PULL PITCH.......PULL PITCH! As we lifted off and started to move forward, a mortar round hit exactly where we were, killing the six A.R.V.N.s we had just left off on the ridge.
When we reached about one thousand feet, I started to take a lot of fire....and I mean a whole lot of fire. As I was returning fire with my M60, I noticed the yellow tipped edge of a rotor blade directly under my well.....only about five or six feet below the skids!! I ceased fire at once, totally baffled as to what in the hell was going on. A few seconds after I stopped shooting, the ship under me started to slide ever so slowly to the left. I soon found myself looking into the cockpit of an A.H.1G Cobra Gunship from the 101st Airborne. As I swiveled the muzzle of my door gun away from the Cobra pilot, he smiled at me and gave me a big thumbs up. The Cobra now slid quickly to the left and dived down on the same angle that I was previously firing on. It was like the gunship had turned into my door gun! The Cobra started punching pairs of rockets from his pig pods, one pair after another, all the way down, then covered his brake with his own 40MM and mini gun.........and then he was gone. I sat there kind of dumbfounded and thought...Wow...is that how they do it in the One-O-One? Sure worked better than my M60!!
In retrospect, I guess that snake trailed us out of the L.Z. (I didn’t know we had any Cobras working with us) and came up under us when he saw me start to shoot. What was weird is that nobody else on 221 ever saw that Cobra and there was no radio communication between my pilots and that gunship. This whole thing seemed to be just between me and that Cobra. This was the first time that I can remember ever being supported by an A.H.1G Cobra and had no idea if what just happened was normal or not....but it sure was quite a show that I will never forget.
Anthony (Tony) Terrana 2nd Flight Platoon 48th A.H.C. Feb 70-Aug 71
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