Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

Veteran Profiles

First Sergeant Paul T. Nicholls

April 1, 1969 I had just returned from a trip that I almost made to Kansas City, Mo. to find a letter from the Selective Service. I told my mother it probably was a notice for my draft status physical or maybe it was just an April fools Day joke ha ha! To my surprise it was actually an induction notice. It seemed that my mother had forgotten to let me know that I had received 2 other notices prior to this one. I told her I would just go down for the physical and be home that afternoon.

Well, I was wrong. On my arrival at Fort Hollibird in Baltimore I was immediately inducted in to the US Army as an infantryman. After the physical exam I was also given a battery of knowledge test; I was told that I had gotten some good marks and was given the option to go in to some other career positions other than the infantry, but there was a catch. I would have to extend my enlistment from a two year to a three year enlistment tour to get the MOS that I wanted, which was Army Aviation School. So after about 3 seconds I decided to enlist for flying instead of a ground pounder.

I was then put on a bus with about forty other recruits and shipped off to Fort Dix New Jersey. I remember when we arrived at the Fort a loud mouth Corporal jumped on the bus and ordered us off in a loud demeaning voice and instructed us to line up on the side of the bus as quickly as we could.

There we were greeted by our drill sergeant Staff Sergeant Anderson, who promptly told us he was not going to be our mommy, daddy, sister, or brother and he surely was not going to be our girlfriend because we werenít going to screw him! And he informed us that he didnít like playing. He said he took the radio out of his car because it played. I guess we were all a little intimidated at that point.

We then headed over to a building where we were given our new uniforms and underwear, socks, shoes and a duffel bag to put it all in. This all happened before five AM. And we were not allowed to walk anywhere; we had to run wherever we went and if we didnít we would be ordered to get down and give twenty, push-ups that is.

We also had to go to another building were we were given a series of shots, for what I donít know! After all of that we were finally told we were going to the mess hall for some chow. The mess hall was located about a quarter mile across a large field so we had to run the whole way and when we got there we had to enter the hall by way of a horizontal ladder about thirty feet long. When we got inside we were told we had ten minutes to get in eat and get out. And the day had not even started yet!

Needless to say the next 8 weeks seemed like a living hell. A few things stick out in my mind; one was a 5 mile march out to the rifle range. After marching thru the endless sand trails to the range it began to rain we all were loaded down with about 80 lbs of gear and we had our ponchos in our packs but the drill sergeant would not let us stop to get our rain gear out.

After another mile or so he told us to stop. We thought he was going to let us finally get our ponchos. But no! He told us to get down and roll around in the sand for a good coating till we looked like a pork loin covered with salt. Then he told us to get our ponchos out and put them on. Well when we arrived at the range the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees and the sweat we had worked up made us start to go into hyperthermia, or thatís what it felt like anyway. Then we had to try to hit the targets down range while shivering like wet dogs. But as they say in the army, good training!

Well after the 8 weeks of basic training I got to go home for 1 week before being shipped off again. This time it was to Fort Rucker, Alabama, the US Army Aviation School where I was going to be trained to be a UH-1 helicopter mechanic. It was an 11 week school of learning the ins and outs of the UH-1 Huey aircraft, which we came to know later as a Slick!

After becoming accustomed to the 95 to 100 degree days filled with marching to and from the class rooms which were only about a mile and a half from our barracks?

It seems I did very well in the school for I graduated top of my class and was awarded the rank of Specialist 4 for doing so. I then received my new orders which ordered me to report to the Republic of Vietnam after a 2 week leave. But I had to report to the base hospital for a series of new shots to protect me from the many bugs and diseases I might encounter in my new home away from home.

After my long awaited 2 week leave my orders directed me to fly to Fort Lewis, Washington. I arrived there after a stop over in Frisco. Then I was assigned to a replacement company in Fort Lewis where it seemed to rain every day of the five or six days I was there. I then received my new orders to proceed to Vietnam via Fairbanks, Alaska. After arriving at Fairbanks we loaded onto a Flying Tigers Airways plane, if I remember correctly, it was a DC-10, for the 18 hour flight to Cam-Rauh Bay, Vietnam.

I then was temporally assigned to another replacement company. I was held there for 3-4 days. All I really remember about that was the horrible sleeping conditions. We were given bunk beds with no bedding on them just a layer of sand to sleep on! Finally, I received my final assignment orders and was loaded on a C1-30 aircraft for the flight to Qui-Nhon airbase.

On my arrival there I was loaded on a CH-47 Heavy lift Chopper which I came to know as a Shit-Hook for the civilian nomenclature was a Chinook Aircraft. After about a 35 minute flight I landed at An-Son, Lane Army Airfield. I was taken to the office of my new Unit, the 129th Assault Helicopter Co. 7&17th Cav. 1st Aviation Brigade. The Unit consisted of 3 flight platoons 1 Assault unit of AH-1 Assault Helicopters and 2 Platoons of Utility or Slick choppers used for transporting troops and supplies to LZís .

I was assigned to the unscheduled maintenance and Aircraft recovery section, where I found my new home away from home! I soon found out what the unscheduled maintenance and recovery section did. We had to be on standby every morning when the flight units began their preflight inspections to repair any defects the pilots found on there aircraft. So we had to be really good at our jobs to get the birds in the air in a timely manner.

It wasnít long when I found out about the recovery part of our job was. If a Aircraft went down for any reason we had to fly out to its location and, if need be, air-lift the crew out and either repair the aircraft or rig it for a lift out by a Shit-hook back to Lane or if that was not possible destroy the aircraft so Charley could not use any of it, especially the KY-28 Radio. This had a Top Secret Scrambler and Descrambler built in so the Vietcong could not hear what we were saying over the radios.

On one of my first recovery missions I was told by my section leader to rig the main rotor head for the lift by the Shit-hook, then to sit on top of the rotor and attach the rigging strips with a metal donut to the hook on the bottom of the shit-hook. This can be a horrifying experience. The sight of a 50 thousand lb. aircraft coming down on top of you is a life changer. But little did I know that wasnít the only thing I had to worry about.

You see, when a rotary winged aircraft is flying it builds up a large amount of static electricity. If you happen to touch it and ground it, it will give you a very large jolt of electricity. So I being the newbie, on the job the short-timers thought it was a joke to see the new guy fry a little. So it was a real eye opener when I put that donut ring on the hook of the shit-hook!

The crew chief is supposed to tell the pilot of the shit-hook to key his FM radio to discharge the static electricity before the hook! Luckily it wasnít long after my experience we received new nylon donuts that did not transfer the static electricity to the holder. I soon learned the tricks of the trade and felt proficient in my job. It was not long before I found myself as the new section leader, showing the newbies the ropes on how to survive.

Our recovery section also had our own Slick named Snow Snake. It was a D model Huey we had painted a high gloss olive drab instead of the usual flat OD which was on all the other choppers. The avionics door on the front we painted a large white snake wrapped around a big wrench on a blue shield background. This was to symbolize the bite and strike and repair ship aspect. We also had the usual 2 mounted M-60 Machine Guns on both sides operated by my door gunner and myself, the Crew Chief.

Over the following months we would try other types of armament on the ship for more fire power. One time we tried putting a 50 cal. on it but caused so much vibration to the airframe that the rivets were slowly working loose. So, we had to take it off. I also carried my M-16 and M-79 and a 45 cal 1911 that I kept between my legs to protect my gonads. I sat on a steel plate we called a chicken plate, wore a flack jacket, and brought something alone in case we went down in the boonies somewhere!

I remember one day we were called out on a recovery mission to a place south of us which we called Miami Beach, but about 5 clicks west of there. One of our Slicks had had some engine problem and landed in a field near a small mountain, it was getting near dark so we did not have time to repair it or rig it for a sling job so we had to leave it over night which we did not like to do. This was because when left overnight Charlie has the time to do what he does best and booby trap the aircraft to explode when someone opens a door or something.

So the next morning when we arrived at the aircraft we were extra cautious when checking out the ship. As we started to go over the ship to check for trip wires and such all hell broke loose. It seems that overnight old Charlie had zeroed in on the exact position of the ship and was lobbing mortar rounds down on top of us from that small mountain west of our position. Well you never saw people move so fast to get out of there and back in Snow Snake. I was the slowest to get to the ship and our pilot Lt. Hellsinger was pulling away as I ran up. I had to do a little belly flop on the floor of the chopper and I almost slid out the other side!

But as I did I heard a load explosion and there was plexiglass and aluminum flying through the ship. It seems that a mortar had exploded right in front of the ship and ripped through the nose bubble and took some of the Lt.ís foot and boot. There was blood all over the inside of the aircraft but the Lt. still managed to get us back to Miami Beach. He was E-VACed out to a hospital in Qui-Nhon.

We decided to call in some F-4s to lay down some Fawcett Rockets which we called nails all over the hill the mortars were coming from. That evening we went back in and rigged the Slick to be lifted out and back to Lane. I also realized when we returned back to Lane I had a pain in my ass and found out I had taken a little of the aircraft with me. I had a piece of aluminum stuck in my butt. I went to the dispensary and they pulled it out to my embarrASSment! They asked if I wanted to be put in for a Purple Heart but I declined for reasons of my own.

Over the next week or two we became very busy recovering downed aircraft. My team and I received a few medals from the Vietnamese Gov. and our own for doing so. We also had things happen that are funny now when I look back on them. One afternoon the Cobra Unit was in a heavy fire support mission north of us and our XO Capt. Powel was so involved in getting his ammo and rockets reloaded on his AH-1 Cobra Gunship after one of his reload trips he didnít notice his fuel tanks were on empty. It wasnít long after he left the airfield we got a call for another recovery mission.

When we arrived at the location we found Capt. Powel in the middle of a rice paddy out of fuel. He had auto-rotated to land in the paddy. He had a full load of rockets, 40mm grenades and about 30 thousand rounds of 30 caliber rounds for his mini gun. So we had hover as close to his Cobra as we could with Snow Snake and unload all his munitions to lighten the aircraft then get some JP-4 jet fuel to refuel it all while hovering our aircraft so as not to sink in the rice paddy. After all that it seemed he still had a hard time lifting his cobra out of the mud. It seems that the mud had a suction effect on it. Well after that incident Capt. Powel had a new nickname (Rice Paddy Daddy) which became his new radio call sign for the rest of his tour.

I also remember another time we were all in our hooch playing some cards one evening right after dark. We heard some of aircraft takeoff but really didnít pay much attention to it; we thought it was probably the light ships going up to light up the perimeter around the airfield. Well it wasnít long when it sounded like we were under a full scale mortar attack. The next thing I know we where all in our new bunker we had built right outside our hooch. Till this day I donít know how I got there! But we came to find out the attack was from our own gunships that were firing rockets into the wire around the airfield. But it sounded like it was right on top of us!

Over the time I spent at lane we lost some good men to hostile fire and as well as to bad accidents. I consider myself a lucky man to have served with so many brave and selfless men in a time when we were not liked at home or at war. I myself felt I needed to do my duty as an American and find a way to get myself and my buddies back home to our families. It didnít seem long when I found myself a short timer and it was time to go home. I think the last few weeks of oneís tour can be the most frightening time. You just keep thinking, will I make it these last few days. You hear so many stories of guys getting killed when they only had to make it 3 or 4 more days till they could go home!

Well I did make it home, for a while; I still had about a year left on my enlistment so after a 30 day leave at home I was assigned to a new unit at Ft Stewart, GA. But when I got there I found out that the unit I was assigned to had been moved to Ft Campbell, KY. The original home of the 129th AHC. They wouldnít let me transfer to Campbell so they assigned me to a Quartermaster Unit at Stewart.

There I became heavy wrecker operator because I had a lot of experience using one to lift the main rotors off the Choppers I worked on in ĎNam. They said I was too short to be transferred at that point in my enlistment. It wasnít long before my enlistment was over and they gave me an early out for Christmas but the catch was I had to join a reserve unit at home.

So I was again transferred to Ft Mead, MD. to the 195th helicopter company where I spent my remaining year before being honorably discharged. I guess it was about 8 or 9 years later I re-enlisted in the Army Reserve and was assigned to the 195th Maintenance Co. in Westminster and started all over as a E-4 Light Vehicle repairmen and it wasnít long before I made E-5 and the Motor Sergeant. When the unit was disbanded and it became the 1007th Maintenance Co. I was made the Field First Sergeant at Westminster.

While serving in the 195th and the 1007th we made many trips to Germany for what they called Reforger training I received a Army Achievement Medal for my section and myself successfully overhauling and testing 45 6.2 diesel engines in 19 days and they all passed the dyno test. While in Germany I also made a few side trips to Paris and Amsterdam. I also went to Korea, Italy and all over the United States while in the Army Reserves. Our unit was even activated for Desert Storm. But we were sent to Fort Hood Texas to repaint equipment from olive drab to desert sand color.

I retired as a Sergeant First Class E-7. I also am a Life Member of Monocacy Valley Memorial Post 6918 Veterans of Foreign Wars. I was Post Commander 3 years and am currently the Post Quartermaster for the past 3 Years. I also belong to The American Legion, Post 120 in Taneytown; I was a member of the Fairfield AMVETS and the Catholic War Vets. In Bonneville, PA.