While I served as a "Tweet" and (sometimes) gunner with the "White Knights" of HMM-165 from 03-'67/ 04-'68, this poem does not describe a specific mission. Rather, it is representative of similar situations that occurred all-too-frequently in Vietnam. It is dedicated to the Air Crews and Corpsmen I was privileged to fly with, to those whose support was the singular purpose for our existence, (the Grunts), and especially to the memories of those Air Crewmen and Grunts who didn't make it back.
For the Grunts on the ground
The call came crackling in over Guard, as they were winging their way back to base,
From a pinned-down patrol with three wounded men, low on ammo and water, looking death in the face.
The Crew listened in vain for a friendly reply, aware the odds were low
That help would arrive in time to save the Grunts on the ground below.
The toughest decision of the pilot's life loomed, his options were ugly and few-
A glance at the gauges and the DME told him there was no time to lose.
With more lives than his own in the balance, he quickly briefed his Crew
Regarding the plight of the Grunts on the ground, and what he intended to do.
Then he offered each Crewman a choice, knowing what their answers would be,
Because half of the motto ain't "Sometimes", and there isn't an "I" in "We".
Without hesitation, each man weighed-in, recalling the Grunts' haunting plea.
One said " I'd like to think They'd come, if the guy down there bleeding was me".
For none of them held his own life so precious that they'd allow others to die,
If there was a way to pull off a rescue, they knew they were going to try.
So, he nosed the bird over, and gathering speed, made it clear they were 'going for broke'....
On the ground in the distance, the sound of a chopper, then the radio buzzed: "Pop a smoke"
It blossomed, then billowed, a deep purple cloud, marking the zone and the wind,
The 'pucker-factor' soared to nine point nine...on a scale of one-to-ten.
Streams of green tracers criss-crossed the zone, no question but that it was hot,
But the clock wasn't stopping, the fuel level was dropping, and he knew they'd have only one shot.
The gut-gargling drop to the tops of the trees, the high-speed approach, then the flare-
He set the big "bullet-magnet" down in the zone, knowing death was awaiting them there.
The whine of the turbines, the hiss of the blades, the swirling debris as the bird settled-in...
Lifting their wounded, the Grunts rushed the door...then the blurred eternity began.
Machine-gunners parried the hot, probing fingers of impartial, impersonal death,
Sweat and blood and fear intermingled like the stench of the Grim Reaper's breath.
The last man aboard signalled "up" with a thumb, the Crew chief shouted "Go" to the HAC,
Who hauled up hard on the collective stick while thumbing the throttles to the max.
Life and death merged between ticks of the clock as the blades clawed the hot, humid air
For maximum lift at full power, a dip of the nose....and a prayer.
When it seemed there was no way the bird could escape, the "incoming" suddenly stopped -
The enemy scrambled from ambush and ran from the gunships "rolling in hot".
The Corpsman tended the wounded as they made their way back to base
When they landed, the Grunts shook hands with the Crew, a "live-man's smile" on each face.
Those who have "been there" will tell you, there can be no more welcome sound
Than the 'thump' of an in-bound chopper, to a wounded Grunt on the ground.
Haul 'em into the fray, and help 'em to stay, bringing bandages, bullets, and beans...
And bring 'em home, every one, when the battle is done,
Our Brothers, our fellow Marines.