Skip to comments.Memorial Day 2018
Posted on 05/28/2018 4:15:58 AM PDT by Chainmail
Remembering the Vets who gave their lives in training to go to war.
Many of you have read some of my earlier stories about my time in Vietnam but on this Memorial Day I want to remember those who lost their lives during training here in the States preparing for their part in the war. After I was released from the hospital in early 1968, I was assigned to a medium helicopter training squadron (HMMT-302) in Tustin, California. As I mentioned in earlier stories, I was a sergeant at this point of my time in the Marines and I was recovering from a gunshot wound in my right thigh. I had a steel leg brace that I had to wear that ran from my hip to my foot and I weighed just about 120 pounds (a far cry from my current weight (!)) as I continued my recovery.
As you might imagine, the squadron was a little taken aback to receive a damaged grunt on their rolls, but they were inventive, so I ended up being a combination duty driver, mailroom NCO, Platoon Sergeant, and machine gun instructor for this training squadron for CH-46 Frog helicopter pilots. In a sense, I was really sort of a mascot, since everyone else had a real job as Crew Chief, or Hydraulics Tech, or Avionics Tech, or of course, pilot. They were a friendly, competent bunch so I learned a lot from them and participated in the very unique culture of an airwing helicopter unit.
HMMT-302 existed to give the final piece of advanced training to the new helicopter pilots on their way to Vietnam. The instructors were all seasoned combat veterans with multiple tours under their belts and wild men in the air. The students learned how to get into small LZs and even how to park the rear wheels on a cliff in a hover and load and unload from that position.
The problem was that the Vertol CH-46 a twin-rotor design, like a smaller version of the Armys Chinook had a serious design problem: in certain maneuvers, the rear portion of the helicopter just ahead of the engines (the 410 joint 410 inches from the tip of the nose) would break away and the helicopter would fall uncontrollably to the ground. As I learned when I joined the squadron in January 1968, 11 men had already been killed in training because of the flaw.
As I spent more time learning to work with the squadron, I spent more time flying with them, primarily gun runs to ranges at Camp Pendleton to teach new gunners how to fire the .50 caliber machine gun from the right window of the CH-46, Few experiences are more fun than raking targets on the ground from a spiraling, maneuvering helicopter. Youd estimate where the gun should be pointing to start your burst which was never directly at the target; you had helicopter motion, wind, gravity, and of course your rotor disc to account for. Shooting your own rotor was a one-time event. I got to see first-hand the skill and panache that the experienced pilots had, learned the hard way in that far away war.
One of those instructor pilots was Major Larry Bagwell, a shortish and good humored officer who would come to my mailroom every day asking if he had mail. I learned later that he was in the middle of a divorce and he was forlornly hoping to get a letter from his children. One afternoon, Corporal Abrams asked me to take his place as duty Crew Chief on a night training flight with Major Bagwell. I wanted to go but couldnt because I had a prior commitment with my soon-to-be ex-wife in L.A. that evening.
The flight that I didnt go on flew their training syllabus normally, practicing night landings around Black Star Mountain near Santa Ana until the rear half of the plane came off about 5,000 feet above the mountain. Corporal Dale Abrams was thrown out of the plane and Major Bagwells last words were Ill take it as he tried to control the rest of the plane as in fell into the mountain. The trainee pilot, 1st Lt. Bob Trigalet miraculously survived when a rancher in a station wagon raced to the crash site and pulled Bob from the burning wreck.
I remember reading Lt Trigalets report after the crash and seeing his crushed and bloody flight helmet on display (never understood why it was on display but it was) . About six months later, Lt. Trigalet returned from the hospital and his face was a patchwork of scars. He quietly put on a brave face to resuming his helicopter training but I could see his hands shake and the nervous dart to his eyes.
He completed his training the Marine Corps never wastes anything and posted to Vietnam. He was dead within a few months; his helicopter collided with an army Huey when he tried to descend through a hole in the clouds that the Huey was trying to climb through.
Remember these guys and so many like them and their grieving families on this and all Memorial Days.
Prayer and Remembrance
One more story from me..
Words fail me....
Remembering. S/F ...
My dad died in a training accident over Puget Sound in August, 1963 (2 months before I was born). His name was Roger Conrad Axlund.
He was flying an F104 working on one of the first iterations of in-flight refueling when some sort of accident occurred. Everything was classified so we never found out what happened.
Shortly thereafter, the USAF apparently discontinued the F104.
He died as a Leutenant and was posthumously promoted to Leutenant Colonel. When he died, he had been accepted to “Astronaut School”. He was in the first class to graduate from the USAFA in 1957 (I think...I have his yearbook downstairs).
He was 27.
Thank you for providing this forum. Writing this has been helpful. Now, I’m going to dry my tears and go spend a wonderful day with my family and friends in the north Idaho woods.
Thanks. Will we ever know the actual number of “ff” deaths?
I know I have the ranks wrong. He was a Captain when he died.
I’m very sorry you lost your Dad - he was clearly a star for the Air Force and our country. My grandfather was killed in a car accident two months before my Dad was born and he suffered all his life because of his loss.
Nobody has to tell you that your Father was a hero. I will keep him in my prayers.
Thanks. Have appreciated them all
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