Joe O’Neill – Caterpillar Club

oneillDecember 28, 1968. Mission was CAS for a reported company sized NVA unit. Target area was on SE edge of U Minh Forest. On second pass, I thought I heard something pop, so I had my wingman check me over. Nothing visible, gauges good, so continued for another pass. During roll in, I noticed the Engine Fire light on. Finished the pass and on pull out, the HYD system fail light came on. Quick check showed the No. 1 system at zero. Advised wingman and turned northeast towards Bien Hoa.

In quick order the engine EGT pegged out and the No. 2 Hyd system pressure started down. I cleaned the wings, lit the burner and started climbing for cloud cover. At about 5,000 feet and, according to wingman, doing about 400 Kts plus, the stick froze up and the nose started down. I made a quick call and pulled the handles. The experience was like slow motion, with all the adrenaline pumping. As I went up, I watched the Hun drop away. Smooth opening and landing fall with FAC and wingman covering me.

A Huey, call sign Outlaw 25, piloted by WO Don Isenburg and WO Mike Haley, heard the call on Guard, picked me up about 20 minutes later and flew me to Can Tho (as I recall). Caught ride in Army Caribou to Vung Tau where our base C-47 was waiting for me. Then came the scary part. The C-47 was checking out a new copilot and he damned near ground looped on takeoff!

Took the next day off. Have had the pleasure of buying the beer at VN Helicopter reunion where I met up again with Don and Mike. And we think that we party hardy. Wow! — Joe O’Neill