HELICOPTER WARS EPISODE 1 Summary
VIETNAM FIREFIGHTThe helicopter came of age in Vietnam. By 1967 the first helicopter war at its bloodiest with casualty rates among young pilots worse than in the infantry. This film tells the story of one of the most dangerous helicopter missions of the war. Forty years later the crews who flew this mission return to Vietnam to recount this extraordinary feat of bravery.
Tom Baca, Larry Liss and Jack Swickard were all in their early 20s when they arrived in Vietnam. Using unique personal footage shot at the time, they describe how an acute shortage of pilots meant they were rushed through flight school in less than a year. They were catapulted into combat in the jungles and mountains of South East Asia. Tom had already been shot down five times and Larry wounded twice before, when they embarked on their epic helicopter rescue mission. By the end they will each have earned one of the aviators' highest awards for gallantry, the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In the jungle a company of over 100 men led by US Special Forces has been ambushed. Surrounded and outnumbered 6 to 1, their position is perilous unless they can be plucked to safety by helicopter. Two helicopters answer the desperate call for help. The only problem is that when they arrive, there is nowhere to land amid the thick 40 foot high bamboo. They decide their only option is to chop their own landing zone using their helicopters' rotor blades. To rescue all the trapped Company, they will have to return five times. And each time they go back there are less troops on the ground to defend the Landing Zone. On the 3rd and 5th landings, Larry exited the helicopter to engage the enemy and guide the Vietnamese soldiers along with the last and wounded Special Forces soldier, on to the helicopter.
Tom and Larry's helicopter is totally unarmed. In the back of Jack's helicopter is a single machine gun manned by Al Croteau, an avionics engineer hoping for a bit of sight seeing on his day off. His gun jams on the very first trip. Yet they manage to rescue every single survivor, even though they are perilously close to destroying the helicopter.
This mission demonstrated the incredible resilience and toughness of the Huey helicopter. Missions like this confirmed its status as an icon of a War. For the men who performed this selfless act of heroism, it was a day they will never forget
Director: Richard Max
Executive Producer: David Dugan
A Windfall Films production for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IN ASSOCIATION WITH SMITHSONIAN NETWORKS AND FIVE.