Former Huey crewchief, James “Bud” Harton relates an experience from the Viet Nam War.
That’s when Ray Dussault became my friend. I heard him scream, not on the intercom, as he jumped into the cabin.
Water and Ammo in, Bodies Out
In early 1967, I was still with the 2nd Platoon slicks, crewing 6982, “Maid Mary.” 6982 was a brand new “D” model which the Company got to replace one of our aircraft which had crashed and killed the crew in December. I sweated over it everyday, trying to keep it clean, scrubbing the floors out,and a futile attempt to keep the carbon off the tailboom from the jet exhaust.
I had a lot of hours in, was kind of senior in the platoon, when my gunner rotated home. The Platoon Sergeant sent us out to the flight line early one morning for a Combat Assault. He promised me that he would bring my new gunner out to the ship.
I went on out and started getting ready. I popped the cockpit doors open for the pilots who were still being briefed, opened the engine cowling for the pre flight inspection and then got my gear ready.
The platoon 3/4 ton truck skidded to a halt and SSG Lawson dropped off a scruffy little guy wearing a boonie hat with the front brim pinned up. He got out of the truck, dropping his flight helmet to the ground, and then stood up and I got a good look at him.
He was OLD, at least 30. As he rambled over to me, I saw he was already wearing the red scarf that we all wore around his neck. As he came up to me, he stuck out his hand and said,
“Hi! I’m Ray Dussault, I’m your new gunner, I just transferred in.”
I couldn’t believe this, this guy was older than the hills. SSG Lawson came around the back of the truck and grabbed my guns off the bed. He was grinning like a maniac, knowing that I was getting a royal case.
“Now you guys have fun, and remember! I’m grading on ‘works well with others’ today.”
And with that he was gone. I watched Lawson pull away and then I turned to Dussault. He was a Sargeant! That meant he outranked me as I was only a Specialist 4.
“Okay, Sarge, here come the pilots, we got to speed it up. Mount the guns and get your gear ready. And say listen, I’m the Crew Chief. Even if you outrank me, this is my airplane and I’m the boss.”
He listened attentively, smiling all the time. He nodded his head and then strolled back to the ramp and grabbed the two door guns, carrying them back to the ship. He dropped one off on my side and then disappeared on the other side with his. I figured “what the hell” and went ahead and mounted my M60D machine gun on the mount on the right transmission well. Both pilots showed up and started the preflight.
As I was throwing on my chicken plate, Dussault came back over on my side.
“Say, Specialist, could you give me a hand with the gun? I’ve never mounted one before.”
I just stared at him for a second, then followed him back. I grabbed the gun, showed him how to mount it and then started back to my side. I got as far as the cockpit when Dussault said,
“Hey, Specialist, could you show me how to load this thing?”
That’s when I found out that Ray Dussault had his first helicopter ride late the evening before. He had never crewed, didn’t know how to fix his gear, wear his flight helmet, I mean we’re talking total cherry here. So I quickly told him what he needed to know just to complete the start up, and then I told the pilots I was going to have to teach all day using the intercom. And that’s what happened. He didn’t know about clearing the tail rotor, watching for other aircraft or even what the rules of engagement were.
As sure as luck would have it, the first mission was a combat assault carrying 1st Division troops into a landing zone. We picked the troops up in the field. On our arrival, they weren’t quite ready, so we shut down; and I had a few more minutes on the ground to teach Dussault. My one thought was to get through the day and then have a face off with SSG Lawson when we got home. Dussault kept trying, and he was good at learning everything.
But, as the time went on, I kept getting madder and madder.
. . .
The Man in the Doorway—Michael Rierson