Friday, February 18, 2011


Pictured to (L-R standing) O-2 "Herbie 12"pilot Steve Davidson , O-1 "Headhunter 37" pilot ILT Bob Brewster and UH-1H "Lucky 11" PIC WO David Groen,; (L-R kneeling) UH-1H Crewchief Mike Neely, UH-1H Door Gunner Vasquez and UH-1H VNAF pilot Diem.

MAY 1971, while I was flying north of Qui Nhon, near the Phu Cat Mountains with an Air Force Fac O-2 flying high cover. I noticed a couple of individuals walking across an open area pot marked with large artillery craters. I made a low pass, about 20 feet over their heads and saw that they were carrying large packs. I made a second pass and the two individuals starting running separate directions. I picked out one of the two bad guys and on the next pass starting firing my 38 pistol out the window at him or her (did not know at the time. And, I only shot tracers - bad for the gun but good for me to see where the rounds were going). The O-2 fired a white phospherous rocket nearby. The one person I had isolated jumped in a large crate full of water and immediately sank out of sight. As I circled over head the bad guy came back to the surface but without the pack. The O-2 and I alternated making low passes. The O-2 pilot could not fire any personal weapons but the bad guy did not know that. In all of this I was making radio calls on open guard frequency to anyone in area that I had an enemy bad guy trapped in the open and asking if there was anyone willing to come pick him up. One UH-1 call sign"Lucky 11" doing resupply missions answered me back that they were about 10 minutes away. I told them to come to my position and we would see if we could capture this one person. Both the O-2 and I stayed circling overhead where I continued firing off rounds from my 38 every so often just to keep the person in one place. The Huey arrived and after a conversation with the crew, it was decided that they would hover in over the crater and see if they could get the person to run. This would enable us to attempt a capture. After a couple minutes of circling the bad guy did not run but stayed in the water. At that point the Huey crew hovered low over his head and amazingly the Huey crew chief made a flying leap into the crater with the bad guy. The two wrestled and he was able to grab subdue him from behind. The Huey set down beside the crater and the crewchief dragged the bad guy to the aircraft where one two of the other crewmembers jumped out to help. As they held the bad guy, the crewchief went back to the crater where he retrieved the large pack that was underwater. The UH-1 then loaded the bad guy and his pack on to the Huey and held him on the short trip back to Qui Nhon where we all fly to and landed. Waiting for us were our MPs and Vietnamese MPs. Our MPS only watched as the RVN MPs grabbed our prisoner. We could immediately see that this was not going to be good for him. They left in a jeep. Later we would find out that during interrogation, our now POW would share information that he was part of a Sapper unit located in the Phu Cat Mountains. Members of this NVA unit had been harrasing and killing civilians around the Phu Cat area. Using the information from this individual, I helped coordinate an air strike and troop ground assault into the Phu Cat Mountains. We not only located the unit's headquarters and routed the bad guys out into the open but we also discovered an underground hospital capable of performing full surgeries and recovery care. Interesting to this was the fact that much of the medicine and equipment was our own U.S. stuff, stolen from the 71st Evac Hospital in Qui Nhon. They were great guys and the one crewchief who jumped into the crater was not only very brave but, perhaps nuts in a good way. Just another day in the life of a Headhunter! If possible, The picture above shows myself with the Huey crew from 61st Assault Helicopter Company based at Lane Army Heliport. Unfortunately, I did not get everyone's entire name on the Huey or even their unit but pictured from Back L-R, Steve Davidson, Air Force O-2 pilot based at Phu Cat AFB, myself with the 219th Aviation Company :headhunters", CWO David Groen (61st AHC)), VNAF Co-pilot Diem, Crewchief Mike Neely and Door Gunner Vasquez (both 61st AHC).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


After saying good bye to my family in California, I headed for my deployment point in Seattle, Washington. Here I was loaded on a high density seating Boeing DC-8 chartered by the U.S. Department of Defense for transporting troops to Vietnam. I do not recall how many military personnel were on board but I do recall that everyone was very quiet. I still felt excited and full of anticipation but the atmosphere in the passenger was dampening my spirits.

Here I must share something with that perhaps was the reason I was not apprehensive or possibly fearful about my trip to a war zone. Remember, Ruth? In our MARS phone calls complimented by written letters, I was able to share my flight school experiences and the timing for my graduation. Ruth was also a pilot and had just received her private pilot license a few months after we first met. Understanding some of the language for flying, Ruth had the distinction of not only being an attractive female in a war zone full of males but she also knew "pilot" talk. This skill allowed her to meet a group of pilots who in turn introduced her to a very special person and Army Aviator. This person was Major Deaton who was the commanding officer of the 219th Aviation Company (Recon) assigned to Camp Holloway Army Airfield in Pleiku. The 219th "Headhunters" had as its primary aircraft the L-19 Birddog. Situated near Camp Holloway was Pleiku Air Force Base which also was the base for the 71st Evac Hospital (Army) where Ruth was stationed. After meeting Major Deaton and some of the other 219th pilots, which by the way had the call sign "Headhunter", Ruth was able to establish a dialogue that included telling them about her fiancĂ©’and his impending trip to Vietnam. When they found out I was completing my flight school training in the L-19 Birddog, it became a natural next step for them to offer Ruth assistance in helping to have me assigned to their unit.

Remember, at this time in the fall of 1970, the Vietnam War was very, very unpopular in the U.S. Anti-war demonstrations were being held everywhere and military personnel in the states were being verbally assaulted or in some cases physically attacked by out of control ruffians. I had had my own run-in at one point some antiwar agitators, when I was with Ruth prior to her leaving for Vietnam. We were in St Petersburg, Florida where Ruth was raised and had just attended church services with her family. On the way to Ruth's parent’s home, we stopped at a supermarket for milk. I was in my formal dress blue uniform and in excellent physical condition after completing over one year of physical training, Officer Candidate School and Signal Officer Basic. Upon entering the store, I was verbally being yelled at by a group of 5-6 individuals standing outside the store entrance. I heard "baby killer", "murderer" and other things not worth repeating as I passed by them into the store. After purchasing a gallon of milk, I left the store the same way I had gone in and this group was waiting for me. Only this time, they did not just yell or call me names, they spit on me. I headed toward to car where Ruth and her parents waited. I handed Ruth the gallon of milk and made up my mind that I was going have a heart to heart talk with this group. When informing Ruth of my intentions, she pleaded for me to get into the car and forget about them. Part of OCS training included Ranger training and my instincts were that I could match up very favorably with 5-6 others. However, Ruth was more persuasive and we left without incident.

Now, back to the fall of 1970 in Vietnam, the war was winding down as the U.S. tried to figure out how to leave Vietnam on its own. Because of this, many units were standing down and replacement personnel heading to Vietnam has also dramatically slowed. This lack of replacement personnel impacted many units looking to maintain personnel strength and one of these units was the 219th Headhunters. Naturally, it would be beneficial for them to want a new pilot that would go to them rather than be assigned to another unit somewhere in the country. Thus began in saga of 2nd Lieutenant Brewster assigning himself to a unit. Through Major Deaton's help, he provided Ruth with the names, ranks and positions of key personnel that could help me make my way to the 219th. Ruth sent this list to me in a letter and it became my "roadmap" upon hitting the ground at Ton Son Nhut Air Force Base in the south of Vietnam. I can remember distinctly going up to one officer after another with list in hand asking for a specific "so and so". After, having that person pointed out to me, I would approach them and ask for the next person on the list. Based on this approach, I was able to gain transport from one place to another and eventually, I made it all the way to Qui Nhon, a port city located on the central Vietnam coast. Remarkably, I was only questioned one time by an officer who questioned my authority for going to a specific unit. He even stated that the Army was "supposed to be assigning me to a unit, not me assigning myself". I remember his words well and also remember my almost immediate response. “Sir, it must be very important for me to be assigned to the 219th Aviation or otherwise why would I have your name?” He looked at me, stamped my orders and let me move on to my next point. Ruth was in Qui Nhon waiting for me courtesy of another Army Aviation unit flying the big single engine deHavilland Otters with the call sign of “Old, Slow and Reliable”. Ruth and I flew back to Pleiku together and thus ended my unusual odyssey of assigning myself to my own preselected combat unit. A special thanks has to go out to Arlie Deaton, Arlie is a dear friend, as well as a fellow Headhunter. If it was not for his efforts and help, Ruth and may never have met up with each other. (We have been together for 37 years). Arlie lives in Georgia and is always in our thoughts. Thank you Arlie!

Next, I will tell my story of how I became "Headhunter 37" and thus the beginning of a life experience only a few people have had.


Incredible to me is the fact that I left Vietnam in late 1971 and today (9/30/2007) it is 36 years later! But, the memories still stay with me. I can't remember the smells or tastes but I can remember that Vietnam was different from anything I had experienced before and since. (Right picture -Me in the 219th Headhunters "Dog House", Pleiku, Vietnam October 1971)

I was a young 2nd Lieutenant when I hit the ground in Vietnam September 1970. Only a few weeks earlier, I had graduated from Army flight school at Ft. Rucker, Alabama with my pilot wings and an eagerness to try them out in real combat. I was also very motivated by the fact my finance' Ruth, an Army nurse, was already in Vietnam and had been there for six months. We had stayed in communication with each other through the MARS radio system that linked shortwave radio with the land line telephone. I remember having to say "Over" at the end of each sentence so that the live operator monitoring our calls could switch from transmit to receive. Ruth had to do the same thing on the other end. It was awkward and there was no privacy but it was all we had. Frankly, for us it was great!

My motivation to be in Vietnam was high. I remember calling the Department of the Army Officer Personnel Section in Washington, DC. and asking that I not be sent anywhere else. I also remember the reaction of the Captain on the other end of the phone, when he asked me my name again. He exclaimed that he did not get a lot of calls with urgency to go to Vietnam and wanted to know if I was ready to leave within the next 2-3 days. That was too quick for me and I asked for a 7-day leave to visit my family in California, which he granted.

As I write this more memories are starting to return. In my week before Vietnam, I can remember my Dad who was a six year World War II veteran telling some of the stories he never previously shared with anyone about his Army experiences. What I did not know then but found out year's later was my Dad never expected to see me again. It was for him not just a visit from his son but a "good-bye". This can only be felt by a parent when part of their family, son or daughter heads off to a war zone. At the time, it never occurred to me that my folks discussed my not coming back. I did not even think about it. At age 23, I was immortal as are most youth entering combat for the first time. Life was an adventure to be lived not to be pushed away. There was no fear in me, only excited anticipation of what was to come.

My flight training was excellent. Probably the best in the world! I was selected by the Army, not to fly helicopters but airplanes. At that time, 10% of Army flight school graduates were being trained in airplanes. The mission varied greatly from reconnaissance to VIP transport to resupply. A little known fact at that time was that the Army had more airplanes than the Air Force and more ships than the Navy. It was a big and diverse force and I had my part in it.
I flew many airplanes in training but it was the last one I trained in that would be my life while in Vietnam. That airplane was the L-19 or O-1 Birddog. The Birddog was a great aircraft and had as its primary mission reconnaissance. The pilot sat up front and an observer sat directly behind. This was called tandem seating. The L-19 was also a tail dragger with high wings. You could not see over the nose when taxiing which made it a challenge on unimproved surfaces. Many a Birddog pilot found himself and his airplane in an unseen ditch or hole when landing on a tactical poorly improved dirt or grassy runway. The L-19 was built by Cessna in Witchita, Kansas and was the result of design specifications developed during the Korean War. In Vietnam most of the Birddogs were built in the early 1950's, which made them 21 years old by the time I arrived in Vietnam. Not old by aircraft standards but nevertheless not the latest in technologies and equipment.

This is the background that took me to Vietnam. Next I will share what happened on my great adventure as an Army pilot. Experiences that would shape my life and forever change how I would look at war.