To the Limit
An Air Cav Huey Pilot in Vietnam
Publication Year: 2006
Tom A. Johnson flew the UH-1 “Iroquois” — better known as the “Huey” — in the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion of the First Air Cavalry Division. From June 1967 through June 1968, he accumulated an astonishing 1,600 flying hours (1,150 combat and 450 noncombat). His battalion was one of the most highly decorated units in the Vietnam War and, as part of the famous First Air Cavalry Division, helped redefine modern warfare. With tremendous flying skill, Johnson survived rescue missions and key battles that included those for Hue and Khe Sanh and operations in the A Shau and Song Re valleys, while many of his comrades did not. His heartfelt and riveting memoir will strike a chord with any soldier who ever flew in the ubiquitous Huey and any reader with an interest in how the Vietnam War was really fought.
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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List of Illustrations
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In this book, I have endeavored to tell the truth as accurately as pos-sible. From the first page to the last, I have described all events as I sawand remember them and as I described them afterward in letters to mywife. If there are any inaccuracies, they are due to the passage of manyyears, and responsibility for them is mine alone. If in places my ac-...
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The 229th AHB (Assault Helicopter Battalion), 1st Air Cavalry Divi-sion, was one of the most highly decorated helicopter units in the Viet-nam War and the first to test the air mobile concept. They did so in thebattle of the Ia Drang valley in 1965, made famous in the book andmovie We Were Soldiers. This battalion fought valiantly throughout the...
1 The An Lao Valley Incident
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Tonight, this 19-year-old will most likely leave us. His wounds aremassive. Like others before him, he thrashes about on the hard alumi-num floor bathed in blood and suffering. Repeatedly, he calls for hismother, not his God. At great risk to ourselves, we will push our flyingabilities and this helicopter to the brink of disaster trying to save him....
2 1st Air Cavalry Division: My New Home
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The Standard Airways Boeing 707 jet is slicing through crystal-clear airat a speed of nearly 500 mph somewhere off the coast of California. Ihave never been this high above the earth, yet this combat-loaded air-plane struggles for even more altitude on its long journey to Vietnam.of a sky that seems to go forever in all directions. Far below I can see...
3 LZ English
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With LuRay at the controls, we depart An Khe at 1600 hours. Turningeast, we begin a steady climb to 3000 feet. This is the first time I haveIt is a notably fine summer afternoon. Today?s visibility is unlim-ited, and the pale blue sky is dotted with puffy white clouds driftingat the 5000-foot level. To the north, I can see a mountain range that is...
4 My First Engine Failure
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The time I spend reading Pat?s letters is special for me. As I read herwords, she and home seem close and I can block out, for a few mo-the edge of my cot. Rick Peterson, one of the older aircraft command-tions and demonstrate some basic piloting skills. Meet me in opera-?Sure,? I answer meekly. Rick leaves the tent and disappears into...
5 The Bong Son River Crash
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I turned 21 on February 14 of this year and have been in Nam sinceJune 11. So far, I?ve been lucky enough to avoid the gory sights talkedday for the 2/8 of the Cav, transporting ammo, food, and water into,and refuse out, of the An Lao valley, when we receive a call to extractcasualties from the extreme north end of the valley. Charbonnier ac-...
6 The Battle of Song Re Valley
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Last night was a restless one because of persistent rumors that some-thing big is about to happen. At 0500 hours, Major Beyer gathers all?Today A/229th will become part of a battalion-size lift deep intoCharlie country. We will pick up two companies of the 2/8th battalionand airlift them into the Song Re [pronounced ?Song Ray?] valley, which...
7 Bill Lee Crashes Hard
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...?Tom, you ready for some wake-up sludge?? Bill Lee enters the 1stPlatoon tent as he does most mornings to see if I am ready for coffee.bat Time is 05:45! Today is . . . [he pauses to suggest a gong] Tuesday,?Jesus Christ, nobody fights a war this early, especially on Tues-day,? I growl. It is the first time in many days that I even knew what...
8 Changing Seats
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Pat writes me every day; I write her an average of one letter everyother day. I miss her and home more each day as familiarity with thedaily Air Cavalry routines gives me more time to think. I do not yetThis morning we are issued a new SOI; our call sign changes fromPython to Bandit, and Tom Cat changes to Smiling Tiger. Recently,...
9 The LZ Geronimo Incident
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I can easily envision the leaves falling from the oak trees back home.Carrollton, Georgia, is near the base of the ?Great Smoky Mountain?chain. You have only to drive a few miles north to enter the most breath-taking mountain scenery imaginable. Near the end of September, theleaves begin to lose their greenish complexions. In mid-October, the...
10 Battle of Tam Quan
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...increasing incidence of Viet Cong probes of perimeters all over theBong Son plain and around LZ English. In fact, LZ Laramie, which ishigh on a ridgeline along the mountains that form the eastern side ofthe An Lao valley, has come under a night attack in which four Ameri-cans were killed and several wounded. A sizable enemy force has been...
11 The LZ Tom Incident
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Nearly a month before my R&R, I inherited a very special mission,called a lightning bug. Lieutenant Runyan, who had originally beenthe A/229th representative for this mission, somehow convinced mestrange. During daylight hours, when helicopter crews find VC or NVAout in the open, they have to get permission from headquarters to fire...
12 Christmas at LZ English, Republic of Vietnam
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The temperature is near 100 and the humidity is over 90 percent, eventhough it is Christmas Eve. This day goes like any other day. The onlycalendar in Vietnam is the one that counts down the days until you gohome. There are no Mondays or Tuesdays, no quitting time, and noovertime. I have already logged nearly 800 hours of combat flying...
13 The Death of James Arthur Johansen
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Throughout late December and early January, the ?rumor mills? werespreading the word that the entire 1st Cavalry Division was about topull out of the II Corps tactical area. No one really believed this untilthree days ago, when Major Beyer called a meeting in the mess hall.ordered General Tolson to take the entire division north,? he an-...
14 Can Chickens Really Fly?
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Two days after Ingamar?s crash, on a sunny afternoon, I am flyingwhat will be my last mission over the An Lao valley, another boringrun in support of ARVN (do-nothing) troops. Before taking off I hadthe crew chief illegally requisition a white rooster in addition to thelivestock that have been placed in my care for the short flight to the...
15 The 1st Cavalry Moves North
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...three days because of Ingamar?s crash. Yesterday, we broke down allthe tents and burned what could not be taken on the move. LZ English,for all practical purposes, is now barren except for the thousands ofsandbags that have been cut and drained of their contents. All nones-sential personal belongings have been destroyed. With no tents to cover...
16 The Tet Offensive of 1968
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Tet Nguyen Dan, the Vietnamese lunar New Year, begins on January31, 1968. It is a national Vietnamese holiday and all MACV militarycommanders are instructed to stand-down. What a way to conduct awar! This has to be one of the dumbest decisions made by the state-side powers-that-be. Whoever heard of stopping a war for a holiday?...
17 The LZ Striker Incident
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At this very moment, Hue is engulfed in what history will record as themajor battle of the entire Tet Offensive. Hue has been made off-limitsto the 1st Cavalry units. This battle is going to showcase the Marines.The civilian idiots in Washington and their counterparts, the South Viet-namese politicians, do not want the old imperial capital of Hue de-...
18 Khe Sanh
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In the early days of March, 1st Cavalry Division commander GeneralTolson met with the III Marine Amphibious Force commander to makethe initial plans for the assault that would relieve the beleagueredKhe Sanh is in the northwestern corner of I Corps, just south ofthe DMZ and east of the Laotian border and some 35 miles north and...
19 Near Disaster, Night Insertion at Thor
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Since the initial assault into the Khe Sanh operational area, all Banditsun breaks over the horizon and ends with a touchdown between thesandbags using landing lights. Most of us are logging eight hours aday flying time. By the time I wake up, have breakfast, do missionbriefings, preflight the helicopter, fly, have dinner, and maybe take a...
20 The Circus Act Extraction
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Beyer is grinning and chewing on his unlit cigar. ?Tom, how wouldI know that smile very well. ?No thanks, sir. My last few days offI ended up attached to the Marines in Phu Bai, doing rescue missions?Sir, if I may ask, did Kretzchmar have anything to do with this?Tom, I thought you might want this one. It?s volunteer only, but...
21 A Shau Valley, Lair of Lucifer
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...?Well, it?s not a rumor anymore,? I announce. I have just entered my?I?ve just had a briefing at Battalion.? As I turn to face the youngpilot, transistor radios fall silent. Someone goes into 2nd Platoon?s tentto pass the word along. Fifteen more pilots converge on my cubicle;they are hanging on my every word. Within minutes, my general area...
22 No Rest for the Weary
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Four hours after being extracted from LZ Vicki and landed in A/229thCompany area, I find myself strapped into the seat of another Huey.The following day, April 22, 1968, I am once again flying combat as-saults, with the rest of the Bandit aircraft, into the A Shau valley.FM radio squeals loudly for three seconds followed by three seconds...
Appendix 1: What Makes Helicopters Fly?
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Appendix 2: Confirmed Killed Class of 67-5 First Tour
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About the Author
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...?slicks? for A Company 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cav-alry Division. During that time, he accumulated 1150 combat hoursand 450 noncombat hours for a total of 1600 hours flying helicopters.Considering that the average civilian pilot will fly about 50 hours ayear, he spent a lot of time with his feet off the ground. During his...
Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2006