Memories of Hastings (and everything else) are increasingly hazy and fragmentary, but here is what still stands out in what’s left of my mind.
On 14 July 1966, the night before the first day of Operation Hastings, there was a huge all-pilots brief at Phu Bai. There must have been over a hundred pilots from 46s, 34s, Hueys, and maybe even a few Deuces, for all I know; lots of heavies from Group, Wing, and God knows where else; and reporters and cameramen everywhere. The briefer covered both friendly and enemy order-of-battle, zone prep, frequencies, times, routes, loads (heavy), wind direction and velocity, and direction of landing. Finally he asked, “Any questions?” Someone in the rear (sounded like Rolo Langenfeld) shouted, “What if the wind changes?” I don’t remember hearing an answer, but the question proved prescient.
The next day, 15 July, I was flying copilot for John Turner Maxwell and, of course, the wind had changed. We landed down-wind, down-slope, and heavy. As I remember it, the first division of four aircraft from HMM-164 drifted long and crashed into the trees on the far (downwind) end of the zone, two of them with overlapping rotor blades. Several of the grunts on board were killed by flying rotor blades. (Marion Sturkey, the authority on all things Bonnie Sue, tells me that it didn’t happen quite that way, that the first division got in and out okay. I’m sure I remember seeing crashes at some point, though.) The rest of us staggered to the ground as best we could, with several near-misses as we drifted left and right trying to pick landing spots with no tree stumps.
The Group Commander was watching all of this from a Huey slick overhead. Finally, when he could stand it no longer, he blurted out something like, “This is Roseanne Six. What’s happening down there? What’s all this chaos? There will be no more chaos; I repeat, no more chaos.” An unidentified voice (sounded like Gerry Lear) replied, “They’re crashing by divisions, that’s what’s happening!”
We were in and out of the zone all day supporting the operation. As some point Maxwell and I watched as one of our own, flown by T. C. McAllister and George Richey, was shot down in flames and crashed in a fireball. (The AP photo became one of the iconic pictures of the war. My wife, Jean, was visiting my parents when she first saw the picture on TV. They said it was an Army Chinook; she knew better but did not tell my parents.) A day or so later a bunch of us were sitting and lying around on the ground near the aircraft at Dong Ha when T. C. and George walked up, apparently back from the dead. We were stunned, but very glad to see them. (The gunner, Sgt. Gary Lucas, also survived but was badly burned. The crew chief, Sgt. Robert Telfer, perished, as did all of the Marines in the belly.)