Captain Jerry Lemons in his Birddog
Viet Nam Shootdown
My shoot down was May 10, 1970. I had been in country 11 months and was a young Captain flying out of the 2nd Platoon at Phan Rang on a mission to pick up a Marine Lance Corporal named Steve Bennett at Song Ba. Bennett had a Naval Gunfire mission & the Navy Call for Fire is different than the Army, so we were simply flying taxicabs for the Jarheads.
We were flying at the correct altitude (1,500 feet AGL) and Steve had experienced problems with the back seat microphone. I gave him the front seat connection since I was not doing anything but boring circles in the sky & listening to AFVN radio. The Naval Gunfire was coming from a destroyer just off the coast and the target was a large crop field. Bennett was on target with his call for fire & he was blowing the crap out of the plants.
Probably after his fifth round or so, my front windshield suddenly blew out and the engine quit. I heard Bennett scream out &, as I looked back, I could see him holding his bloody right arm. I put the nose of the aircraft down to get some airspeed and made a quick turn towards the South China Sea, but we were continuing to take fire. I tried switching tanks and attempted to restart the engine, with no luck. I tried a Mayday call, but realized I had no ability to communicate. I turned twice more to get out of the line of fire, but was losing altitude quickly. I had just enough time to fire all four of the white phosphorus rockets, made one final right hand turn and planted the aircraft between several small trees, shearing the wings and crashing into the sandy soil. The crash resulted in folding me into the back seat and pushing Bennett backwards into the aft part of the fuselage.
After a few seconds, I was able to figure out what shape we were in and I climbed out of the front left window and pulled Bennett out through the left rear window. We were able to remember to take his M-16 and extra ammo and I had my survival vest & .38 caliber pistol. Since Bennett was wounded, I gave him the pistol & I took the M-16. We started running towards what I thought was the ocean and away from the area Bennett was firing upon, but, truthfully, I don't know if we knew what direction was what. We ran for a short period of time but had to stop, as Bennett was bleeding badly from his right arm.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, we started off again & came upon a small trail. I put Bennett into a defensive position & tried to get closer to the trail so as to see it better. I could see bicycle tracks, but no footprints. I sat quietly for a few minutes and then walked out of the bush and on to the trail. I looked right and then left and as I looked to the left, a small person in the dreaded black pajamas was holding a rifle at his shoulder & pointing straight at me. I wheeled to the right and pulled the trigger of the M-16 at the same time and saw, in slow motion, the rounds stitch up the guy's black shirt from lower leftt to upper right. Bennett was yelling for me and I was trying to figure out where we needed to go. I told him to come to my voice and he did so. He was very weak and sweating very badly. We walked for another few minutes away from the firefight and he could go no further.
I found a small hole in the sand and sat in it with Bennett next to me. I tried to put sulfur on the wound and it must have burned badly because he cried out and fainted. We sat quietly, with his breathing becoming more shallow by the moment. He would groan every few minutes and I would place my hand over his mouth and whisper to him to try and be quiet. I could hear noises around me, but I could not tell if it was people or those crazy lizards we had been seeing all afternoon. During one of Bennett's lucid periods, he saw me burying my velcro rank, wings, and name tag. I also burried pictures of my wife and child so, if captured, it could not be used against me. I promised Bennett I would try my best to keep us from being captured & would save the last two bullets in the .38 pistol for us. He looked straight into my eyes and nodded he understood.
Every few minutes, I would use my emergency radio and had completely used up three of my four batteries. I had to whisper so it was difficult to know if anyone heard me. Finally, I started speaking louder and a fixed wing U-21 at high altitude heard my Mayday call and vectored a lone Medivac to my position. The Medivac guys had no guns covering it and had to use a jungle penetrater to get us out. I sent Bennett up first anf the Meam sent the penetrater back down for me. It was a great feeling being in that helicopter and getting water & fresh, cool air. We had spent over four hours doing escape and evasion and it had been rough on both of us. We smiled the entire flight back to Cam Rhan Bay. I saw Bennett a few days later & he was still smiling and wearing his Purple Heart. It was the last time I was to see him and I left country 30 days later.
Gerald W. Lemons LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Go Back to Stories List ALL COPYRIGHTS RESERVED