Anthony W. Pahl

RED AND GREEN CHRISTMAS

Christmas Day 1969 started early for Albatross 07. The slick had red and white stripes painted on it, the Red Cross parcels and Santa had been loaded at Kanga Pad and it was 0530. We had a long morning and a lot of sorties ahead of us. I was eagerly looking forward to the little joy we could present to the diggers in the field.

Our first stop was Fire Support Base Digger’s Rest, east of the province. The red dust swirled as the pilot pulled back on the collective to flare out. We didn’t want to stay too long, there was a contact the night before, but we had a special mission and that was important. All the blokes who weren’t on either sentry duty or patrol gathered around the chopper and the smiles on their faces as Santa handed out the gifts was a joy to behold.

Next was FSB Coral. Again a feeling of worthiness settled on the chopper crew as we took off, heading for a lager of APCs and ground-pounders who had been on patrol of 5 days, looking for a guy who fell off the rappelling ropes during a hot extraction a few days earlier. What a gift for all if they found him – but they never did. I’ve lived with his memory at Christmas for a long time because he was hanging on my ropes on my chopper when he fell.

We landed in a clearing that the Cavalry had made for us and Santa began to hand out gift parcels and Christmas cheer with the accompanying “Ho! Ho! Ho!” As he and his flying suited elves helpers were handing over extra ones for those who were just departing on patrol, the chopper was rocked by an enormous shock wave.

Blokes dived for cover, most clutching the parcels as if they were the last contact that they would ever have from home.

I looked around. An APC was on its side and on fire. Mind chilling screams were coming from it. Agony, fear, horror – screams like nothing on earth. Thirty yards from where I was.

“Get in, were out o’ here”
“No way!”
“That’s an order!”
“Go without me”

The APC hit a land mine. No incoming, just fear.

I raced to the APC. Checked the driver. He seemed unconscious. I dragged him out. It was easy. The bottom half of him, well it wasn’t there. He blinked once. Then nothing. I ran to the turret. A bloke with a helmet was crawling out. I helped him. “Inside” he said.

I raced to the back. Peered in where the ramp had buckled. Blood. Hands over faces. Blood from eyes, ears, mouths. More blokes arrived to help. It was hot. I had a nomex fireproof flying suit and gloves. I smoked. We forced the ramp open. I went inside and helped the guys to get out.

Then it was over. One was dead – the driver. Some with ruptured eardrums and other compression injuries, and burns. Amazingly, there were no broken bones or shrapnel wounds.

I was in trouble. Knew it. I disobeyed. But the chopper was still there. We called for “Dust Off”, replaced all the parcels with wounded and took off for Nui Dat. Two more dust off’s required.

Nothing was EVER said about my actions. I was relieved to be let off the hook.

But every year at this time – it happens again.

Not shared this before. Can now.

Author’s Note: This is not a factual story but it is an amalgam of several true stories; only a small part of it happened to me.