My new unit was a small slick group of three flight platoons with seven aircraft each. I was assigned a ship within three days of my arrival.
The first thing I noticed was, we were flying a lot more hours than most of the other units around us, over a hundred hours a week on a steady basis. This gave the aircrews very little time off. We pretty much lived in our aircraft.
I also noticed a group of aircrews that were ... different They were cooler, kept their aircraft cleaner, took better care of their guns, equipment, and they always volunteered for the dangerous missions. In the early mornings, they would always be on time to the flight line, too.
These guys always wore sunglasses, always spoke with authority, and when everyone did find time off in the evening, they would form their old lawn chairs into a circle in the middle of the field behind the hooches.
I guess the first time I actually met someone from this group, was when he was refusing to fly with a pilot that was clearly still drunk. He did it with all the respect due this pilot's rank. The pilot finally backed down, staggered back to his hooch, and another pilot replaced him.
There was a lot of drinking in off-duty times, and a few of our pilots were flat out drunks. But you didn't see the guys in the circle staggering back from the EM/NCO club late at night in a drunken state. It didn't mean that they didn't drink at all, they just didn't care for being out of control.
I had been on my own aircraft for only a week, and the action taken by my door gunner (part of the circle) impressed me. He was full-blooded Indian and he had been in country four tours, three of them as 11B, a grunt.
He outranked me as an E-6, been wounded three times, refused to go back stateside, and he had volunteered to be a Door Gunner. He also called me "Kid". It wasn't the best of nicknames, but it stuck -- I had been called worse.
(Now, I was not ignorant of what was going on -- I knew they were smoking pot).
Everybody in the circle was a little paranoid of my joining this tight-knit group, so the pipes were put out, while they felt me out as either friend, or foe...
Finally, my gunner said, "He's cool guys. Light up a bowl."
I decided to partake and, as I did, I heard my gunner say, "Now your cool, Kid." and it stuck. From then on, I was known as "Cool Kid" ... and I bought a cheap set of shades the day after.
Fast forward two years ...
I had gotten myself into some pretty big trouble, (another story, for another day), and I was on my way to another unit, up for a undesirable discharge.
So, I was walking through an administration building in DaNang, looking to report to a Captain there. As I walked into his office, I found said Captain wearing ... shades. Well, he found me a safe haven for my last 90 days, and an honorable discharge ...
Over the years after that, I abused almost every drug their is, I over-drank, over-smoked, and finally, after sixteen years of abuse, I straightened my act out. But many times I think of those days, all the hard work, the danger ... and the guys in The Circle.
Lance L. Pinamonte
Crew Chief/Door Gunner
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