By: Ed Creamer
The transition between the heat of the summer and the monsoon rains was both a blessing and a curse. I say that because there wasn’t a square inch on most of our bodies that hadn’t been sunburned. Most of us spent what little free time we had swimming in the warm South China Sea to help toughen our skin and get rid of the multitude kinds of rashes we had picked up. But, the elixirs of the salt water did their jobs and we had developed tans that guys would have killed for back in the states. Somehow, the analogy of killing and tans just doesn’t seem to mesh. Regardless, flight operations had picked up now that all our aircrews were familiar with the terrain.
When the rains came the cool breezes seemed a welcome relief. What little rain that came at first was not anything different from those we’ve felt during a Spring shower. However, that didn’t last long. The rains came as if it had been foretold we were there to drive the clouds away and the Gods were angry.
Since we only had makeshift “accommodations” or shelter halves and lean-to, adjustments needed to be made rapidly. The older NCO’s helped teach the others how to trench around their tents and not aim the water at the tent below them. Some of us were living in wood crates down on the flight line with ponchos stretched over them to help keep out the deluge. Didn’t work. First, everything was either soaked by the rain or the constant 100 percent humidity. You slept with the driest pair of soaks you had to keep your feet dry the next day. Flight suites and utilities stayed damp constantly. Water, water everywhere and the crap never went away.
The funny thing about mud Marines is, once you’re wet clear through to the bone, there wasn’t anyway for it to get worse. You just seemed to learn to take it in stride. Of course, the 5000 cases of San Miguel beer we had picked up in the Philippines coming over, helped. We were only allowed 2 beers per person per day and it was warm beer at that. But, it was beer. Well, it was warm until someone figured out the morgue over at “B” Medical Battalion wasn’t fully “occupied” and it was refrigerated. After that, we got 2 cold beers a day. And, it wasn’t 3.2 beer either.
For the most part, operations ran daily unless the ceiling was on the ground and wasn’t likely to lift. However, whenever there was a break that meant our infantry was on the move and needed to be either carried in or out. Or, they needed to be resupplied.
Do you remember when your Momma told you to “close that window” in the car because the rain was coming in? Well, when you’re flying as pilot in a helicopter, the window is closed. But, crew chiefs and gunners flew with windows open and machine guns pointing down. Why? Because all the windows had been removed to save weight. And, those times when I operated on the ground extracting troops I rapidly found out rice paddies don’t have bridges over them. You know, they should make a rule where rice paddies can’t have standing water any higher than jungle boots. Wouldn’t have made much difference though.You see jungle boots had pours in them so they would breath when the weather got hot. Nobody ever told the designers that water could come back in as the hot air was going out.
Even though our squadron had taken a few hits and a couple crewmen picked up purple hearts, things had not been that bad. Oh, we had to patch a lot of holes but that’s what they make beer cans for. Eventually, November became a bad month. In late November a flight of four was returning from a mission in zero-zero weather conditions. The intent was to fly inland from the LZ until the aircraft crossed over the beach and flew as low as possible while trying to keep the coast line in sight. Since the rain was so hard, every aircraft had to stay as far away from each other to keep from getting blades enmeshed. The helicopter piloted by Frank Visconti never came home. It just disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to it. No trace of the aircraft or four man crew was every found.
You understand people getting wounded. And, you know about men getting killed because it had happened in other squadrons. But, not knowing is not the same. And, the monsoon rains never told.