Stories

My Tour of Duty in the Cold War

by Freddie T. DeVore

I served in the U.S. Army, after basic training I was assigned to Ft. Rucker, Alabama.

After completing the basic aviation mechanics training course and the UH-1 training school. I was assigned Ft. Wainwright, Alaska where I would become an UH-1 Crew Chief.

Although, I served from 1967-1970 during the height of the Viet Nam War. I was extremely lucky and did not go to war. Completeing my entire overseas assignment in Alaska, stationed at Ft. Wainwright near Fairbanks.

My tour in Alaska was initially for eighteen months, however because I was married and made Sp/5 I was allowed to extend my tour for a total of thirty months; I did not hesitate for one moment.

Alaska rescue helicopter

For the most part I enjoyed my Army service, It gave me direction and confidence in myself. I totally enjoyed every minute of my tour in Alaska and had wonderful experiences in "Iroquois, 64-13585" (my Huey's call sign) as I trusted her all over the harsh and majestic skies of Alaska's interior.

When I arrived at my unit in March of 1968, (TMHC - N) Trans Medium Helicopter Company (North)) I was surprised to find the unit had 12, CH-21 Piasecki's and only two UH-1Ds. Other than seeing the CH-21 in the Helicopter Museum at Ft. Rucker I didn't have a clew what it was. As I was getting my introduction to the Piasecki one of the company's old salts shared his view of the CH-21; he expressed that the CH-21 was not all bad. He continued by saying, "as a matter of fact the old bird had at least two positive traits, 1.) if it caught fire it burned from the ass-end first which usually allowed the crew time to get out, and 2.) it made a damn good dog house."

All of the old timer CH-21 Crew Chiefs were very aware of an emergency maneuver during start-up that could save their life should their ship have a rotor blade quick engagement during start-up. New crew chiefs were told about this maneuver early in their familiarization check out; If the damn thing gets a quick engagement run, not away but toward the big ugly thing, wrap yourself around the nose wheel strut and hang on for dear life. After first witnessing the infamous "quick engagement" I learned why. You can't out-run the giant wooded darts being flung outward ominously from the shaking mass of aluminum, steel and wood as the frail wooden rotors reduce themselves to splinters while the main rotor blades disintegrated.

After a short stint as a CH-21 mechanic I was assigned Crew Chief status of 64-13585 which I crewed for the rest of my Alaskan tour. I learned to love that old overhauled HUEY. She spent a tour in Vietnam and from my information was wounded in action then returned to the States, Corpus Christy for rebuild. Though I cut my teeth on the CH-21 I grew up in the Huey. Earning my crewmember wings during just under a thousand hours riding shotgun around the Alaska skies. Shortly after my arrival the unit TMHC (N) received ten newly remanufactured UH-1D's . So the old tired bananas (CH-21' s) were retired. Maybe they are all serving as doghouses now.

During my last summer prior to ETS in October of 1970 my units mission changed from a utility support to heavy lift, consequently, an equipment change was in order. While the rest of the Huey folks retrained for the Hooks several of us short-timers were sent to the lower-48 to bring bact the Hooks. The unit was assigned or cursed to receive ten remanufactured CH - 47B model Chinooks fresh from Harrisburg Pennsylvania (Ha, Ha). My last month in the Army I spent as a Hook Crew Chief, I think you guys, Hook drivers called us "Flight Engineers." After spending three weeks coaxing this big green hunk of wobbling, hydraulic leaking mass of nuts and bolts across the land I understood why we were called engineers. You earned the dubious honor to be titled an "Engineer" if you were able to accomplish this impossible mission. <

My hat is off to all of you guys that flew and worked on the Original A and B "Hooks".

In the cold dry air of Alaska my old T53-11 equipped UH-1D would haul its fair share and was a joy; she even saved our butts many times in spite of a few ill-experienced Arctic and mountainous pilots. Our drivers all fresh and happy from at least one tour of duty in Viet Nam were accustom to hot weather operations not sub-arctic -50 and -60 mountain flying.

See also:
Fort Wainwright
USARAK


User Contributed Notes

Ed Ramsey ( Tennessee )
64-13585 was sent to the 120th Avn co at Fort Richardson, AK before I arrived there. Sp5 James Bond was the crew chief in 1971, They sent me to the flight platoon and they gave me 585. I crewed it for 5 or 6 months. and then I got a UH-1H. 585 had a built in 1:1 vibration. I was the last one to crew 585 before we sent it to Corpus Christi for rebuild. This was my first huey to crew.

Al Kiser ( Union City, PA )
Hi Freddie, I doubt if you remember me in Alaska. I served with you in the same company at the same time. I did not arrive until 1969. I was the crew chief on 790 first. Then, I was assigned 851. I stayed with the UH-1s & was reassigned to the 12th Aviation Company. That was the fixed wing company in the other half of our hangar. Small World! Al Kiser

phil nielsen ( Cozumel Mexico )
Hola, I was the crew chief on the only H model (t#062) on the base in 1972. I loved flying with some of the best helo pilots in the world ! Most were sent here after their tours in Vietnam and could fly blindfolded!!! I also liked the fact that most didnt want to fly much and let me get some stick time once we were at cruising altitude or somewhat close to it! Lol. as you remember, all the ships were painted the normal white with red, my ship was the OD green one. its been many moons ago but I will never forget those moments in time. The view of Alaska from 1500 feet was so beautiful! Take care.

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