This story is not about one
person's experiences but about a group of Pilots, Crew Chiefs, and Gunners that
made up the aviation unit of HHC of the 3rd Brigade, 4th
Infantry Division, known as Aloha Airlines – Vietnam Branch. We only had 4 to 6 helicopters at any one
time but the reputation among the infantry units we supported says it all.
In the early 1960's the unit was stationed
at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii as part of the 25th Infantry Division.
It was at this time when the name Aloha was first obtained from the
obvious source. The welcome signs in front of the operations
tent said "Aloha Airlines - The Friendly Airline". Aloha Airlines - Vietnam Branch was HHC
Aviation of the 3rd Brigade, originally of the 25th Infantry Division but was
changed to the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division on August 1st, 1967
with the swap of the 3rd Brigades. The phrase "The
Friendly Airline" was dropped sometime in 1967 with the name only known as
Aloha Airlines - Vietnam Branch.
arrived in Pleiku with six OH-23's and a fixed
wing Beaver (#57-2561). The members that deployed with
the unit from Hawaii were: Major Neal Christensen, CPT Bob Mandap, 1LT William B. Collar, CW4 George T.
McKenzie, CW2 Clayton (Les) Coker, SFC David Kawakami, and SFC Petrowski. WO1
Gary Eddy and WO1 Paul Lancy joined us later in country.
"Upon landing at Pleiku
AB in C-141's we came under a mortar attack while unloading the OH-23's and
other equipment. We managed to get most of our gear off the planes before the
Starlifters blasted off in clouds of red dust. We sat hunkered down in a nearby
ditch, dust blowing, and mortars landing a safe distance away, when George
McKenzie (44 years old, second tour, seven kids and in one of the earliest
flight classes at Rucker) said, "Yessir, Captain, this Army is all right...three
hots, a flop, and they pay _____."
Aloha started out flying Observation
and support missions
with the 25th Infantry Division. Shortly after arriving in Vietnam that
would change. Aloha worked with many gunship teams and infantry unit.
Primarily working with units of the 1st/35th, 2nd/35th,
The purpose of this group was to primarily to recon areas and call in
support from the 174th Aviation or from the artillery. They were also called in to support the
ground troops from time to time. This
organization was a small part of the 25th and 4th but the impact was far beyond
its size. Each individual in the
organization could tell of their experiences and keep a crowd busy for several
In 1966 the group arrived in My Hoa,
Vietnam. From there the unit moved
to Duc Pho and would remain in that area of operation until January
1968. In 1968 the unit was located in 8
different LZ’s. They started in Duc
Pho. Moved to Chu Lai for a week or
two. The next move was to LZ Baldy
(south of Da Nang) where Aloha celebrated Tet with the rest of the 3rd
Brigade. Shortly after that the unit
moved to Bong Son. A month or two later
Aloha moved to the north side of Kontum.
The next move was to a base camp on the south side of Kontum. In late July or early August the unit moved
to a base camp west of Pleiku (called “The Oasis”). Late August or early September found Aloha operating out of that
base camp and out of Pleiku (Camp Earni) at the same time. Camp Earni was the operations center until
the unit was called back to the states in 1970. It was decommissioned in Fort Louis Washington in 1970.
In 1967 and throughout most of 1968 Aloha
was made up of a group of individuals that flew recon missions in OH-23’s. In late July or early August of 1968, the
OH-6a’s arrived and missions were flown using both until the OH-23’s were no
longer safe to fly (parts were not available).
The recon missions would be primarily flown at first light and just
before dusk each day. In between the
missions inspections were performed on the aircraft if they were required. The OH-23a’s were usually set up with two
M-60’s. One was hung in each door on a
bungee cord. One case of ammo and few
grenades (usually WP or CS) were the usual armament.
During all those recon missions Aloha lost no one to
Charlie. Only one gunner was
wounded. Aloha did lose an aircraft
from time to time. A typical mission
would start shortly after we got up in the morning. The choppers were inspected; loaded with the ammo needed and the
assigned Crew Chiefs, Gunners and Pilots would get on board. The Crew Chief/Gunners were held into their
positions with a lap belt. The bungee
cord also offered some stabilizing support.
One leg was placed on the cross-support attaching the two skids and the
other leg was placed on the skid. The
flights would take off flying at a couple hundred feet off the ground at best
(usually just above the tree tops. If
Charlie was found the action started and would end once the chopper was out of
ammo and gunships or artillery were called in.
We didn’t always find Charlie he sometimes found us. That was not always a positive
situation. Being alert and having
quality pilots that knew how to get the most out of the choppers were the keys
to Aloha’s success.
When the unit moved to the central highlands fewer
recon missions were flown and most flights were support missions. It was during one of those support missions
that we had our first casualty. We lost one of our pilots. WO Casey was running supplies to one of the
infantry companies west of Pleiku. As
he took off the fog was rolling in.
Instead of delaying his take off he put his duty before any fears he may
have had. Trying to find his way back
in heavy fog WO Casey ran into a tree.
The Army wrote it up as a non-combat operation (which was accurate) but
he was still every bit a hero as those who died in combat. Aloha will never forget Warrant Officer
Danny Casey he is our hero.
By the time the unit moved to Pleiku the missions
were almost totally support in nature.
The support missions consisted of, air taxi for officers and other
military personnel, re-supplying infantry units, convoy cover, inserting or
extracting some LRRP’s, and medavac operations when the larger Huey’s couldn’t
land in the area. During this time
period, M-60’s were hung in the doorways of OH-6a’s as defensive measures since
the missions were no longer recon. This
did not mean Aloha didn’t see any action.
It was a different type of action.
The OH-23’s and OH-6a’s were small enough to get into tight areas and
only needed minimal tree removal for a landing. The last OH-23 was removed from service in 1969 after parts to
keep it flight worthy could not be obtained.
SSG Jim Jernigan helped close Aloha down, turn in the
aircraft and was one of the last 30 Americans at Camp Enari. The division
moved to Ah Khe in March/April 70, but the 3rd Brigade deactivated
and retired the colors at Ft Lewis, Washington. Jim was also in the color
guard to help return the colors.
Several articles were written in the Ivy News on Aloha in 1968 and
the story of a small group of dedicated individuals can be told with pride.