The Jesus Nut
In late 1966, operating near the Bong Son area out of An Khe, I was working as a door gunner on a Huey. I learned certain things about the choppers, like the big nut with a loop in it that held the main rotor on. They said if it came off, it was,"Oh, Jesus," everything would come off and you'd fall to the ground like a rock.
We were on a Combat Assault mission that day. Coming into the LZ, it was hot, i.e., enemy fire rained upwards as we approached. Tracers were visible in all directions. We, as many of the other birds, were taking multiple hits. I could hear them tearing into the skin of our craft, some coming apart and making that ringing noise traveling around inside various areas of the bird. We also took some in the rotor blades. You could hear the whistling noise of the blades as they rotated with the holes in them.
We dropped our troops off and started to exit the LZ. The firing was the most intense I had ever experienced. Some of the VC stood right out in the open and fired at us; there were so many of them. We returned fire as best we could, but being on slicks we had only the two machine guns. The seat belt from the troop area was flying around in the wind. It hit the decking and made a loud crack, like a close fired round, then whipped back and hit me on my left knee, causing me to reach down and grab it. I thought I was shot. At that same moment, a bullet ripped a hole on the inside wall of the bird right where my head had been a second before. I had no time to contemplate it; too much was going on. We finally got far enough out of the area on our way back, when we started to experience hydraulic problems. I looked inside the main rotor housing and could see one of the survols leaking fluid. Both pilots were fighting with the controls together to keep this broken bird in flight. We had severe vibrations, noises, etc. We continued to try to make it back to An Khe. Another chopper followed us back. Then one of the pilots yelled, "The 20 minute fuel warning light is on." The other responded, "Yeah, it's been on for a half an hour now."
We were almost home. Everyone on board kept an eye open for a clearing in the jungle in case we went down early, so we could auto rotate in. Finally, we could see the big Cav patch on Hong Kong Mountain. We were home! We came into the landing like no other time. We went to the first open area we could reach. Air control at An Khe had cleared all fights for us. As we touched down hard, I jumped out, helped the one pilot out, then ran to the side. I thought, "The pilot's shut it down," but found out the engine had quit at that same instant; no fuel was left. Ground crews were waiting and ran up to the bird, ripping open cowlings etc.and examining all the damage. A Major, the maintenance officer, was beside himself, screaming, "This is impossible. Nothing could have flown in this condition."
While all this activity was going on, some officers with their 35mm cameras, were taking pictures. I went to the side of the nearby ditch and just sat down and watched. I started to recall all that had happened. I thought about the seat belt buckle that hit my knee at the precise moment a round tore into the spot my head was, all the hits the chopper had taken, and the fact it couldn't fly like this yet we had made it back. I noticed the rotor blades sort of seesawing in the breeze. I then looked up at the round Jesus nut and thought, "Someone was holding on to us 'till we got home."
Originally posted on 1st Cavalry Association Guest Book,
June 10, 2003
by, and included here with permission from R. Thom Jefferson.
İR. Thom Jefferson, 2003-2009, All Rights Reserved.