Flying the Cobra Attack Helicopter in Vietnam
Publication Year: 2003
Randy Zahn arrived in Vietnam shortly before the 1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia, one of the most impressive demonstrations by the Cobra in the war. He describes his stunning transformation from a naive, middle-class teenager from southern California to a hardened killer during his tour in Vietnam. Unlike the pilots who flew the fast-moving strike jets, Zahn experienced the war ôup close and personal,ö witnessing the grisly effects of the CobraÆs firepower on enemy soldiers. The author does not glorify killing but rather explains in sharp relief the kaleidoscope of emotions associated with combat: fear, revenge, hate, remorse, pity, and even ecstasy. He captures many of the ironies and nuances inherent in Vietnam, especially during the final years of the conflict. Zahn displays a sensitivity rarely found in memoirs written by battle-hardened warriors. This human element, combined with the vast amount of archival research and interviews with members of his former unit, ensures that Snake Pilot will become the definitive account of the role helicopters played in Vietnam.
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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This story is mainly about my experiences while serving in the United StatesIt is only through my parents? foresight that I am able to reconstruct whathappened that year. Communication from servicemen to loved ones in the Stateswas accomplished not only by written communication, but by voice, made possi-ble through cassette tapes. Not only was Vietnam the ?first helicopter war,? it was...
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I had known from an early age that I would serve in the military. Not that it wasexpected of me, but it was a tradition in my family that I wanted to follow.My grandfather, born in Hungary, immigrated to the United States at the turnof the twentieth century. He showed his gratitude for the opportunity to live in afree country, by exercising his ?privilege? to serve in the military and became a...
Chapter 1 A Man Named Larry
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The autumn of 1955 was like the other autumns that I could remember in myshort life. So were the things we did as a family. Standing on the front seat of mymother?s 1946 Pontiac, we drove to the Valley Plaza to do our weekly shopping.It had become a ritual to go to the Plaza. One would have thought there was noAs we passed one of the runways at the then?Lockheed Airport, a small air-...
Chapter 2 “Welcome to the Army”
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My actual date of enlistment was November 24, 1968. I had enlisted in thedelayed entry program so I could attend my brother?s December wedding inNewport News, Virginia. On January 7, 1969, I reported to the Armed ForcesExamining and Entrance Station in Los Angeles. My parents took the day off todrive me down and spend what time they could with me. The day was spent fill-...
Chapter 3 Sir Candidate
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Greyhound provided military transportation for the trip to Fort Wolters. The bus-es departed Polk early on Monday, March 18, for the six-hour drive across west-We stopped somewhere east of Dallas and were provided a contract lunch ata Holiday Inn. It was a vast improvement over what we had become used to atPolk. Two hours after lunch, we turned off U.S. Highway 180 under the arch that...
Chapter 4 “You Want to Kill Yourself?”
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Primary flight training was broken into two phases, Primary One and PrimaryTwo. Primary One was a basic introduction to the helicopter. It lasted for eightweeks and included fifty hours of actual flight time. During these fifty hours wewere expected to learn how to hover, fly a traffic pattern, and learn all of the basicI was assigned to a TH-55A flight. The Aircraft Division of Hughes Tool...
Chapter 5 “Where Are You Going?”
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After six days I arrived at Hunter and signed in on Thursday morning, August 21.Hunter is a very picturesque installation with large trees full of Spanish moss.Apart from the airfield itself, the post reminded me of a college campus.Hunter began as an unimproved ?flying field? in 1928. In 1940, it was namedafter a young World War I ace, Lt. Col. Frank O?D Hunter, a native of Savannah. The...
Chapter 6 Deadeye Dickhead
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Having graduated in the top ten percent of my flight school class, I was offeredadvanced training . . . for a price. Depending on the number of allocations I couldselect from Chinooks, Medevac, or Cobras. All I had to do was sign a contractagreeing to change my status to Voluntary Indefinite (Vol Indef) in exchange forI flew in a Chinook up to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, while in training at Wolters...
Chapter 7 Anybody but the First of the Ninth
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It was 1:30 A.M. when the intercom crackled to life in the American Airlines707. ?Gentlemen, I hate to wake you but I thought you might be interested toknow that you?re now over the Republic of South Vietnam. We should be land-ing at Bi?n Hoa Air Force Base in about thirty minutes? time. The approachangle will be steeper than most of you are accustomed to, but rest assured that...
Chapter 8 Know Your Enemy
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The squadron TOC was across what looked like a parade field with the crossedsabers of the Cavalry painted on a perforated steel planked (PSP) outer wall. Tothe right was another yellow stuccoed building with a large screened-in verandaI walked to the middle of the parade ground, looking in all directions for ared hooch but there was none to be found. Confused, I left my gear by the closest...
Chapter 9 Going after Them
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I began my first full month in-country with a 5:00 A.M. wake-up and a six o?clocktakeoff. The normal routine was to fly up to Song Be and this morning would beno different. Our missions were many and varied that first day of April. Beingtasked to cover two different medevacs proved that nobody was fooling around.Steve had just been promoted to aircraft commander and I was flying with...
Chapter 10 Death at the Border
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...?I ain?t going to fucking Cambodia,? said double-ace Tommy Whiddon.?Come on, Tom, for fuck sake. This is our chance to hit them where they?No, goddamn it, I don?t want to die in Cambodia,? Tom protested. ?I came hereto fight in Vietnam. Not fucking Cambodia. I am not going to die in Cambodia!?Cambodia had remained neutral in the eyes of its government. By allowing...
Chapter 11 Snake Pilot
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On the first of June 1970 I was off duty and in the morning I went down to collectthe platoon?s mail. The content of my mail had shifted in sentiment from every-one telling me they knew what I was going through to telling me they hoped Iwould come home soon. They didn?t understand the implication of what theywere saying. The only way I would come home before March 15, 1971, would be...
Chapter 12 Kevin Opens Up
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Not having to wake up and head northeast to Cambodia was odd . . . and depress-ing. The Cambodian incursion had been the best flying I had done since I arrivedin-country. It was the first time I felt as if we had a real purpose and we fulfilledOur mission had reverted to general support of the Second Brigade in thelargest portion of Phuoc Long Province. We were happy because for the first...
Chapter 13 Looking for the General
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The stand-down never materialized. Division wanted us out in the AO VRing.Intelligence had reported a lot of activity in the area and we didn?t want to getcaught with our pants down. In the morning the weather was really bad. We madeOn the morning of the sixth, Ed McDerby, our platoon instructor pilot, toldme I would be flying backseat once the weather broke. I was apprehensive at first...
Chapter 14 Kevin Goes Home
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On the twenty-seventh I had to fly with Double-deuce, my least favorite AC to flywith. I just never felt comfortable flying with him and we engaged in some heated?Nothing really,? I said. ?I am just tired, and I fucking hate having to fly withAt the meeting that night the crew assignments were given out for the nextday?s flying. I was to fly with Double-deuce again. I was so pissed off I just got...
Chapter 15 The Red Towel Boogie
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The landline rang in the TOC. It was the 227th Assault Helicopter Companyoperations officer asking if we would assist them in searching for one of their air-craft. He got a report that one of their aircraft had gone down and decided toorganize a search since they hadn?t heard from the crew for twenty hours.Twenty hours! We were dumbfounded. When we had a bird go down we...
Chapter 16 “You’re Just a Kid!”
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The next morning I awoke late. I was scheduled for a night-training sortie thatnight, so the day was free. I reviewed my paperwork for R&R. I wanted every-thing to be ready when the time came. I had only two more weeks until I had toreport to Bi?n Hoa. I also spent some time bringing my logbook up-to-date. I hadbeen grounded off and on for the past two weeks and now I could see why. My...
Chapter 17 Down Bird! Down Bird!
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After stopping at Guam for an hour to refuel, at 5:30 in the afternoon on October2, I was back in Saigon. It was too late to get back to Phuoc Vinh that night, but Icalled the Troop and asked them to send a Huey down for me the following day.I was confused, annoyed with myself, and a bit conscience stricken that I hadbeen such poor company in Hawaii. I was also feeling guilty that I actually wanted...
Chapter 18 Steak Out
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Echo Troop moved over to support the brigade since we were tied up with theCOSVN thing. On the morning of the twentieth, one of their hunter-killer teamswas reconning a river northeast of Phuoc Vinh when they spotted nineteen indi-viduals in an open area?all had packs and weapons. The Cobra rolled in andAt 2:10 that afternoon they inserted their Blues and immediately captured an...
Chapter 19 Major Disagreements
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On Friday, November 6, we began a new mission. We were tasked by divisionto conduct Eagle Flights. The province chief had put all of the roads off limitsto the locals after 6:00 P.M. The incentive he used to gain compliance was us. Atsix o?clock a Cobra, a LOH, and an H-model full of ARVNs took off to patrolthe roads surrounding Phuoc Vinh. It was kind of like playing highway patrol....
Chapter 20 Keeping Your Head
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Later that evening somebody set off a tear gas grenade and as the cloud of gasdrifted through the area, it permeated the hooches, the bunkers, the O Club, every-thing. A gas attack was usually somebody?s way of saying, ?You guys pissed meoff!? Tear gas stings the eyes and the throat. Once the direction of the wind carry-ing the gas is ascertained, the best thing to do is go back through the cloud upwind...
Chapter 21 On Christmas Day
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...?Good evening, men!? Major Ball greeted us as he entered the bunker during ourmeeting. It was Wednesday, December 23. We were having the meeting early?I?d like to get your opinion on something,? he began. ?We?re having a toughtime giving division the number of Pink teams they want each day. Spare partsare getting hard to come by. We?ve just inherited a minigun kit for a LOH. What...
Chapter 22 To Tay Ninh
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More ?good news? was delivered on the twenty-sixth of December. Captain Rain-water, who was still the acting Red, was the messenger. ?Gentlemen, I?ve justcome from the daily briefing. On the twenty-eighth we?re moving to Tay Ninh,? heThe response came in the form of everybody talking at once with a tirade of?At ease!? Ross commanded. ?I don?t like it any more than you do, but the...
Chapter 23 Routine, Rancor, Resolve
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Our week in Bangkok went far quicker than either of us would have liked, but onJanuary 28 we arrived back in-country and back in Phuoc Vinh. The troop wasstill up at Tay Ninh. The bunker was quiet compared with what it had been beforewe moved. Larry had been back and left me a note before going on R&R. He wasoff to Hawaii to see Trish again. I unpacked my gear and cleaned up the place a...
Chapter 24 Good-bye to a Good Friend
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In the morning we were on the first flight back to Tay Ninh. We checked in withops to let them know that we were back. I was scheduled to fly as soon as my air-craft came out of maintenance. Mail was waiting on my bed when I got back tothe tent and the first one I read made me angry. My brother had taken exceptionto a statement I had made in a tape to my parents. I had commented how close I...
Epilogue “Hi Kiddo, I’m Home!”
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The chartered MAC flight lifted from Bi?n Hoa on time, March 13, 1971. I hadbeen in Vietnam two days shy of a year. As the wheels of the aircraft lifted fromthe runway, the roar and cheers from within the aircraft were deafening. Peoplewere patting one another on the back and giving high-fives. I participated in theThe flight ahead was going to be long. Our route would take us to Guam to...
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The source of most of the material contained in the text came from letters and cassette tapes that I sentmy mother and father, Etta and Joseph Zahn, between January 7, 1969, and March 10, 1971. OtherSpec. 4 Robert Mantell, ?Open New Frontier,? Cavalair, First Air Cavalry Division.Spec. 4 Robert Mantell, ?Cav Earns Standdown, NVA Activity Stands Still,? Cavalair,PFC Terry Turner, ?Cav Captures Tons of NVA Supplies,? Cavalair, First Air Cavalry...
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About the Author
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Randy R. Zahn is chief pilot, Alaska Rotor Wing Division, for Era Helicopters inAnchorage, Alaska. He learned to fly helicopters while serving in the U.S. Armyfrom 1968?1971. He served a tour of duty in Vietnam (1970?1971), earning twoDistinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, two Air Medals for valor, and twoArmy Commendation Medals for valor. Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with a...
Page Count: 302
Publication Year: 2003