Herb Meirick, US Army, 1967-1970
Listen to Herb’s story or read it below.
I’m going to start with basic then, basic training. I went to Kansas City, I guess, first, for my induction. I remember, me being a country boy. Start with, in football, I was All-State, in basketball, I was starting lineup of five. They were 6’4”, 6’3”, and I was 6 foot. I started center, so I was known pretty much as a jock in high school, gung-ho.
Get into Kansas City, I’m at the induction center, got around 25, 30 of us standing around, walking around. I’m sitting. I’m a pretty quiet guy. Like I said, I concentrate on what I’m doing. This guy comes in and sits down beside me, and I talk, I carry on a conversation. He puts his hand on my lap, pretty close to my privates, and I proceed to take the guy out. I didn’t know what was going on. Didn’t deal with that.
That was induction day. Get in basic. First day, I’m straight as lace, I’m boots polished, I’m knowing what I’m doing, a guy comes up and jumps all over me because I hadn’t shaved. Hell, I never shaved anytime. I didn’t know I had a beard, anything. He proceeds to give me a shave and a mirror and I dry-shave right there. Now, I look like a bloody mess, but that was my first day.
Okay, in the rifle range, I was expert. There was three of us actually, were experts. Then, they gave us a BB gun and in probably 30 minutes, I was shooting a dime and a nickel out of the air with a BB gun. I get my orders. My orders after basic was to go down into Florida. I’m an enlisted man, I signed up. I went down to Florida. They sent me there for 2 weeks. I hooked up helicopters, took flashlights at night, night vision and stuff.
My next orders was Vietnam. I get to Vietnam, my first day out of the ship, I get out and I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker. I mean it’s that hot, nothing but sand. I remember going for … We went from, what was it … in-country orientation. I remember all the snakes, all the deals, and this and that. One thing that stands out in my mind was when we get a folded paper, it says if I have any diseases, venereal disease, diseases you can’t cure, what did I want done? Did I want that turned in, or did I want to be called missing in action. You know my answer, missing in action.
The next day, they didn’t know what to do with me. There was three of us, remember? Didn’t know we didn’t have 11-Bravo, we didn’t have anything. We’re just sent there. We’d go pull details. My first detail was, there was 20 of us in line, and they hand the first two shovels, and the rest of us get sandbags. We walk out on this hilltop of sand and we walk by a bunker, dug in the hole, dug in the ground, and there’s metal over the top.
Now, like I said, there’s probably 20 of us standing up on this hill, and there’s two guys with shovels, and two guys with bags. I’m in the middle of this pile of people, and they start filling sandbags. Now, I’m a country boy, remember? I know how to use a shovel. I stood there in the sun, sweating, heat, half of the line. I get up there, I knock the first dude off his feet. The second dude, I knocked off his feet.
Anyway, I knocked them both on their ass. I proceeded to filling sandbags. I stood there, within 30 minutes, I had a hole in the sand from standing there filling bags. I looked up and I didn’t have any people in line anymore. 10 o’clock comes, Sargent stops everything and lets us off for the rest of the day. Finished the job.
Needless to say, they send us on North, because they didn’t know what to do with me. About the second week, I get to a Hook Outfit. It’s nighttime and he’s sending us through, and talking to us, and he comes to me and he says, “I don’t know what you are? I don’t know where you? … You know?
I said, “Well, I don’t know what you are?” I said, “I haven’t been in long enough.” He said, “I had two other ones before you.” I said, “Yeah. I said, “We came out of basic together.” We proceeded, he put me in Chinooks. I spent day and night working on them. About a month later, a Hook with some damage to it, and actually, I think they hit a drive shaft with a bullet, and a flight engineer got shot.
They sent me up there to repair it, is what it was. But, when I got there, I got it fixed and everything, and the pilot had 20-some hours left on the aircraft, so they didn’t want to just take it back to get me, so they let me run flight engineer. Okay, turns out that I was good at what I did. I could talk, what I did was laid over a hole, to get me picking up sling loads all day. But, when you’re going into a hot PZ and stuff, you don’t want to be messing around. You want to talk him in over the load, and you’re out.
Like I said, I was good at it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was good at it. So, when we get back to the company … Now, you’ve got to remember that I have a problem in school, I can’t spell, I can’t read, I can’t write, I’m pretty much passed in high school because I was a jock. You get me? I knew I had problems. Okay, so two weeks of flying, this is a love, you know? I was scared to death my TI, when I got back to the company, would take the ship away because of my log books. I had to fill out books every day, and so forth.
I’m sitting there, and the TI comes in and he opens the book up and he’s going through the books, and I’m just paranoid as hell, and finally, he closed it, and said, “Everything’s fine here.” I looked at him, I said, “You mean, you don’t mind the paperwork? There’s nothing wrong with my spelling and stuff?” He says, “Well, son, you have a thing, I believe, that’s called dyslexia.” He said, “Nope, I’d rather read your writing then these officers,” he said, “I’ve got to write.” He said, “No, no, no, there’s many people in the world that have this sickness.” He said, “You just see letters backward.”
Well, from that time on, my life changed. I didn’t realize there was a word they put on it. I just thought I was a dummy. He gave me the ship, signed it over to me, so I started flying. I believe I came out of the service with around 1000 flying hours. That’s 999, something like that, two-and-a-half years. At the end of the two-and-a-half years I was given jinx ships, you might call them. They were ships that other pilots wouldn’t fly, because they had problems. So, I literally would bullshit my way through them.
I remember one, they wouldn’t fly because the controls were erratic and so forth. I convinced them to fly the first day, and what I would do is, is in the back of the pylon, it’s all the instruments are there and stuff, so when they’d start complaining, I’d go back there and grab the ones that was pitch and yawing, and start moving them, and then telling them I was adjusting. So, once I got the bullshit through, then the planes flew.
I can remember the first time in Bamba Toi, we were flying up … It’s near the DMZ. We don’t go over the DMZ, which is bullshit. We did it all the time. One day, we run sorties back and forth, so we get a call this Huey’s shot down, and it’s one that we don’t blow up. It’s one that has to come back. So, we fly in. I’m jumping out at about 75 foot on a sling, drop down. I have the other guys hook up. I throw the sling out. I’m hooking up the Huey, tying it down. Bullets are flying now. They’re zinging by. I get the Huey done, the last pack went up. They bring the hoist down.
I’m harnessing in and as I’m harnessing in, he takes off. He lifts me off the ground. I get the harness finally snapped. As the 90-foot strap on the Huey gets tighter, it’s in front of me. I remember thinking, “Wow, do I grab it?” My first instinct was grab this nylon strap. Do you follow me? But, something else was telling me no, and I sat there looking at that strap, wanting to grab it, and then finally I didn’t, and all of a sudden that strap went bing, and that’s when I knew I didn’t want to grab that strap. It was like a rubber band and if I was holding on to it, it would’ve knocked me out.
Anyway, as we’re going up, I’m looking for my helicopter. I can’t see it anywhere. I’m thinking, “Wow, I’m falling. I can’t see it.” Then, all of a sudden, a shadow comes over me, and there it is. It’s not above me, it’s way ahead of me. I’m streamlining back here. Eventually, I get in, we get back, and that was my first advent …
Well, my first adventure was the first day I got shot at. I’d been flying a day or two, and never took a round. All of a sudden bullets start coming through the aircraft. You can’t talk in an aircraft. It’s literally hand signals and so forth. Bullets are coming through, and my first fear was to run to the cockpit, because that’s where all the armor piercing stuff is, to keep the bullets out of the instruments. I’m sitting there, hiding in this little bitty deal, and the pilot turned around, bumps my helmet. I’m that close to him. He goes, “Hey Chief”, he says, “They’re coming in up here, just like they are back there.” I said, “I guess, you’re right.”
I went back and sat back down, and from then on, it never bothered me. Like I said, one day I was sitting, come in flying, and we call them tin benders, came in, and said that he had counted 82 rounds I’d taken, and that’s the most the company had taken in one day in a ship. I took 82 rounds and never got touched.
I’ll go into flying on firebases, I remember flying into lots of bases. This day, we had a Captain Nichols, he was Captain, and didn’t like flying with officers, he was just there getting in his 25 hours in, or whatever, for flight pay. I’m looking for my load, it’s usually smoke, blue, red, whatever. I don’t get anything. I’m looking, I get down in the hole and all I can see is white smoke. I asked the officer, I said, “Look, all I get’s white smoke.” He said, “Look low, look.” I crawl down, and there’s this guy standing on top of the fuel with it, and he’s wanting me to hook up, and there’s flames on the ground.
I’m looking at the guy. I got back up and I told him, I said, “It’s too hot, it’s on fire.” I said, “Get it out of here, take off.” He wanted to argue with me. I jumped up off the floor. I stuck the gun in his head. I told him, “Leave now.” The co-pilot grabbed the controls. We banked off the mountain top and kaboom, we made it. I went back to the company. I kicked him out. We got another pilot to finish the day out.
Another time, we’re flying into a fire base. We take tanks in, bulldozers in. They clean off mountaintops. They dig a hole. They drop a tree over the hole. That’s where we do our business, right? When they were coming in at this base, and I got the load hooked up, and the pilot’s cleared for flight, and the pilot goes, “Hey Chief,” and he said, “Look to your left side,” he says.
I look out, and there’s this black guy sitting on the stump out on the tree. The wind, he pulls the tail rotor around, and hits the dude, flat face down. He looks up at his M-16 on the bank. I told him, “Get out of here. He’s going for his gun.” He jumps up, takes one step, and his pants are down. Bam, he’s in the mud again. We leave. Needless to say, I don’t come back.
Next time we’re flying, we’re flying on a mountain top. There’s just GIs all on this ridge line, is what it was. We get enough room to land sideways. We unload everything. We get back in and we’re taking off, and what we had unloaded was the mail in a duffle bag. They hadn’t concealed the duffle bag. When I looked out, there was confetti all over the mountain top, and what was in that? Their mail. Now, I didn’t go back there either. I found something wrong with my aircraft.
Let’s see, lots of times flying. Okay, I got shot down once. We were flying up in the mountains. A lot of times, the mountains are in clouds, so you have to low level in them, and that’s where you’re getting shot at from both sides. We’re flying in, and we start getting shot at, and engine goes out, so we land. Now, I jump out, I kick my five six-packs out, gunners are hot. They were still getting fired on. I opened the cowling on the engine side. I jump up and bullets are zinging by. I unhook all the cables. I close it back, get all of it covered up. I tell the pilots, “Raise the ramp.”
There’s three guys, four guys, five guys, six guys, still on the ground. I run my aircraft up. We lift off and I waved goodbye. To this day, that’s the wave that’s still goodbye. We don’t leave our packs there. Well, I can’t fly, but with what, one engine and five packs, that’s pilot, co-pilot, two gunners, and me. That’s why I left those seven men. Some had guns, some didn’t have guns. I never knew what happened to them men, still are in my mind.
Second time I was shot down, we were coming into a little old village, and I was looking out the porthole, and man, blew me back on the backseat. I’m sitting there, and I look down, and I’ve got red blood all over me, and I’m thinking, “Where’d I get hit?” I’m burning. I look up, and it’s a hydraulic line I hit, and my hydraulic fluid is red, so I was burnt … hot from that. We land, because I’ve got a busted line. I take the hydraulic line, it just nicked the side of the tubing. I take and wrap a metal can around the line, use two C-clamps on it, tighten it up, put super glue and baking soda on the line, and now I go to my pump and pump up the cylinder. It’s a little donkey dick that sticks out, tells hydraulic pressure. You know, hydraulics.
We go and we got it pumped up. They turn it on. I’ve got it pumped up. I’m leaking a little. As we fly, we’re dumping it in and pumping, but we get back to the company. That was the second time.
Let’s see … Well, ‘67, ‘68, and just part of ‘70, two-and-a-half years. Like I said, I had 1000 flying hours, so everyday was something different. Okay, so now I’m an E4. Let’s go to the heart of where I’m here. So, I’m an E4. This goes on. A lot of night visions, lot of night flights. They’re awesome. Lots of lights. Lots of bullets. We’ve had several missions at night we did.
Had three medals. They were for flight medal, two accommodation medals, they were for support in certain battles. I can’t remember the battles they were. So, here I come in, we one day get a call for … I got sorties. We’ve got clipboards of stuff to do. I get a clipboard and go to Saigon to pick up supplies. Outside Saigon is a storage house. We get there and land in Saigon. I get out of the helicopter. I go downtown. I find a jeep with a key in it. I get in the jeep, take off. It’s got a chain on it. I’m taking the jeep back to our company because we don’t have one. You get me, our flight line doesn’t have a jeep. I make it back to the deal, we loaded up, the company next day, they had that jeep stripped down, and I dumped the shell out in the ocean.
Another time I’m flying in Saigon, we don’t have lights in our company. There’s a warehouse place, a 4-mile place that we always pick up stuff. Just before dusk, I drop in on top of a canister, 12 x 12, hook it up, pick it up, take off. My pilot calls, the company tells him to make a wooden frame, 12 x 12. We land there, drop it inside. The next day we got lights. That’s how we got lights.
Okay, so I had a squirrel. Found a squirrel one time, fiddled with it. I had it all the time I was there. Gave it to my hooch maid when I left. It was a squirrel monkey. GIs liked to play with him outside our hooch. What was around our hooch? 50 gallon drums, black, skull and cross bones on them, empty filled with sand. That’s what guarded our … Remember what I said, now we’d sit there and we’d feed that monkey peanuts until his mouth would just get so big. We had a lot of fun with the monkey.
Okay, so we’re flying one day, and I get this call. It’s two o’clock, it’s our last sortie, pick this last pack up. We get there. Nobody’s there. It’s an unsecured area. Nobody’s out. We can hear people over the hill, we’re sitting near a road. I check my aircraft. I opened it up. It’s one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, hot. We’re pilots, you know? Here comes this jeep. One guy gets out of the jeep, walks over to my aircraft, and he’s got a cigar in his mouth, chewing on it. Aircraft turning, spinning, we’re ready to go. Steps up on the ship. I tell him, “Nope, nope, you can’t get in my aircraft with a cigar.” I’m waving him down. “No, no.”
He steps up on the back of the aircraft and proceeds chewing me out. You know? My pilot said, they’re ready to fly. I drop hammered him right there, off the deck he went. We pick up, leave, get back to the company. Flight lines full of MPs, real important people. They stand there and fight for two or three hours. This guy that I just knocked off my aircraft is our new Battalion Commander. He wants my stripes. He wants everything I got. He wants me shot.
Now, my pilots stand behind me. You don’t get in an aircraft with a cigar, cigarette, nothing. It’s flammable. They back me. He got my rank, everything else, but I got to fly. Now, they proceeded to find out, that now made me … I wasn’t school trained. My commander found that out. They sent me to Saigon for a week to be trained on a Chinook. I get there, a whole week goes by, Friday comes. Four American teachers are there on a Saturday morning. They don’t know what to do with me. I’m not a flight engineer. They find nothing I know about helicopter. I flunked the whole course. They called my company commander, and he told them that I wasn’t coming back without it. There’s a problem, because I was the best they had.
They sat there for an hour trying to figure out how to pass me. A hook landed on a flight line. I said, “Boys,” I said, “Take me over there.” I said, “I can tell you everything about it.” They took me over there. I was telling them things I was doing, that they didn’t know I could do with a hook. They sent us back. I got my license.
I was kind of an ornery kind of guy. Being busted and everything, I was pissed off. So, I went out on the end of a flight line that night, and I drew with paint a peace symbol on the end of the H, you know?
Well, the next day, the Battalion Commander put us on hold. The whole R Company couldn’t go anywhere until this guy confessed. I got home, and what was I issued in the service? A 45 and a grenade launcher. The grenade launcher always stayed in my locker. Every night at 12 o’clock I’d get up, and shoot his billets with CS gas, go back to bed. Did that the third night. Fourth night was Friday night, and on the radios all day long, the pilots were talking about this guy turned himself in. They wanted to go to this Australian party, and blah, blah, blah.
Needless to say, at 12 o’clock at night, I go to the party, I throw CS gas in, lock the doors, and the next day we’re flying alone. No support. But, we were taken off hold. Nobody ever turned themselves in, or nobody got caught. What does that leave me now? I’m E4, field promoted back to 4. I have to go before a board. I want E5. I should be E7, right? Flight engineer. Go before the board, who’s there? The Battalion Commander. He didn’t pass me. Three times I went before the board. The third time I called my TI in. He wasn’t passing me on a hook question. I called the TI in. TI went in. He was in there a good 30 minutes, arguing, fighting with him. Came back out. Come up to my face. Now I know the TI like my brother, you know? Comes up to my face, and says, “Son, I don’t know what you did to this man, but you pissed him off. You’re not going to get E5.”
Three times I went before the board, and then I decided that was a lost cause, so I went back to flying. Oddly enough, let’s see … I could go on and on about stories, you know? I don’t think we have enough time for that, so I’ll shorten it to, okay, I was getting short of flying, so my Company Commander gave me the job of night time, I would go on the flight line and help with ships, if they had problems diagnosing them. Otherwise, I’d drive the hooch maids in to the town. Right? Back and forth.
First night, a guy wanted to stay. The gunner that rode with me wanted to stay, so I let him stay. On the way home, on a moonlit night, start taking bullets from the left and right side. It hits the tire, it rolls over and pins my right hand underneath the door. I can reach up and get my M16, but my clips were all in the glove box. I’ve got now one clip. I’m pinned on the rice paddy. I can see guys coming over. Three guys come over the rice paddies. You know? I set my gun up. I left-handedly got … I don’t want to waste rounds, so I shoot one or two, and then it seems like they quit. They didn’t come back. It was hours later. I decided that I had to do something, so I could see the guard towers in the distance, right? I sit down, take all my rounds out, put all the live rounds in the bottom, and the tracer rounds on top, and then I start shooting tracer rounds at the guard tower.
About 30 minutes later, here comes this jeep, pulls up on the top of the hill, and opens up with a Quad-50. Burns the whole rice paddy. Gets down, sits down beside me. Like I said, I’m pinned in. I can’t move. Sits down beside me, and this guy’s about a 6’5” buck, I mean big dude. Can’t give me anything.
Now remember I flew all those years. I didn’t smoke pot. It was all over, carried it for the guys in the field, but not flying. It just wasn’t my thing. So, he sits down and he says, “I ain’t got nothing for pain, but I got this joint.” So, I take a puff off that joint. I don’t remember the wrecker coming. I don’t remember the hospital. I remember waking up in my billets with my arm in a cast, and that was the last of my dealings with that.
Yeah, I have a grandson that’s Vietnamese. He’s great. He’s right now in the Air Force, and down in Florida somewhere. But, would I do it again, for all those reasons? Yeah, I’d do it again. ALS, due to the Agent Orange, we just talked about. Yeah, I’d do it for my country, sure. I love the people over there. I didn’t blame them.
My first Arvin aircraft that I hauled was Arvin’s. We hauled 42 American packs and their backpacks, right? Arvin’s and Koreans, we could haul 60.
So, we’re flying into this PZ one day, and I’ve got Arvin’s on, first time. One guy’s up moving around, an officer, he’s really nervous. I let him go. We land in this PZ and we’re taking rounds, it’s hot, and these guys won’t get out of the aircraft, so I started throwing them out. I’m talking throwing, lifting and throwing. They’re little people. I started throwing them out.
Finally, they start out, you get me? I turned around and I got a 45 stuck in my ear. That guy walking around all the time didn’t want to get out. He wanted to ride round. I’m looking … Have you ever seen a 45 up close? That’s a big barrel, dude. I’m holding the mic. I tell my gunners, I’ve got a problem here. They both turned around with their M-60s. He looks at them, and he turns to me and grinned real big, unloads it, puts it in his holster and walks out. I just pissed all over myself. You know? It just does that, you know? Lets go.
But yeah, those were the kind of things I dealt with every day. But, would I do it again? Yeah, I’d do it again. I mean, like I said, this didn’t hit me until just the last 10 years. Military’s taking care of me. I have no problems. I just thought I had a story to tell, and maybe you’d want to see my side.