Marine Corps Fire Fighters Brave Bullets to Save Copters
Danang, Vietnam (Delayed)—
Crash Truck 25 has made its last run—at least until its bullet holes are patched up, the blood cleaned out of the driver’s compartment, its shrapnelcut tires replaced, and its crew is back from the hospital.
Truck 25, an FWD foam rig at Danang East, the main Marine Corps helicopter facility at this major air base complex, rolled at 12.20 p.m., 28 October, moments after a Viet Cong suicide demolition squad had set off charges of high explosive under several helicopters, touching off hot fires and raising a loom-up visible for miles around. A major disaster had been averted only shortly before when three Marine aviation mechanics working on the flight line had seen another suicide squad charging in from a different direction, grabbed rifles, and cut down all 11 Viet Cong in one blast of wellaimed fire. Still another Viet Cong assault group, making for Danang’s main field, had also been stopped cold by a Marine squad lying in ambush on the approaches.
As first-due Truck 25 screamed out onto the steel matting toward the nearest flaming airplane, with overhead foam nozzle already putting out a stream, there was a hail of Viet Cong fire, grenades flew, and the truck’s crew —all experienced Marine aviation fire fighters—found themselves in the middle of a battle. Bullets stitched the truck’s cab and side and a grenade apparently went off between the front and rear left wheels. The big tires went down and the rig veered to a stop with its stream arching crazily into the night. Belts of machine-gun ammunition, rockets, and aircraft flares on board the stricken helicopters, readied for dawn strikes, exploded on all sides. The driver made an effort to bring the nozzle back on the fire, but he was wounded. So were all his crew, stumbling down in pools of blood amid Viet Cong killed by their own charges or by the deadly Marine rifle fire concentrated on their Kamikaze-like rush.
As the Viet Cong fell and firing ceased, other units responded. Fires fueled by avgas and aviation magnesium in air frames were brought under control within an hour. But Truck 25 was out of service. The following morning, while I watched the ripped and gutted enemy corpses being dumped into a 6 x 6 truck under the burning sun, a wrecker winched up Truck 25 and hauled it off to the shop.