My Story


CWO Boyd Clines


It’s been almost forty years. A lifetime ago you might say. November 26, 1967, a day I  will never forget. I had been reassigned from project Omega 30 days earlier to Operation Prairie Fire, another project of the 5th Special Forces that was operating in the area of Dak To, RVN. This project was much the same as Omega but involved taking larger teams deeper into enemy territory to areas of known NVA strength.


On this particular day, four of the 189th AHC Ghostrider aircraft, two slicks and two guns, were on a standby-alert mission at Dak To. Aircraft Commander Lt. Lester Wayne Gray and I, WO-1 Boyd Clines, along with the other crews were given the mission to evacuate some American and Montagnard casualties from a team that was surrounded and pinned down by a numerically superior NVA force in Laos. Our slick, Ghostrider 628 was the lead and the first to land. I don’t remember the other crews’ names, except possibly the AC on the other slick, WO-1 Don Bradford. On board our aircraft were the door-gunner, Specialist 4 David Groves, the crewchief and a Special Forces Medic.

After repeated air strikes and with helicopter gunship suppressive fire, we flew into the landing zone to pick up the casualties. On a very short final to the landing zone, enemy automatic weapons fire opened up from two sides. Lt. Gray and I were hit. I later found out that Lt. Gray had taken two solid hits and was grazed twice, and that I had taken one solid hit and was grazed once. Our crewchief, door-gunner and Medic were not hit. I found myself in a predicament where Lt. Gray was disabled and unable to fly, and the aircraft was close to crashing into the trees.


They say that time seems to slow down in extreme life-threatening situations. Well, that is what I experienced. The explosive noise, the sound of rounds hitting the aircraft, the sensation of rounds hitting me, Lt. Gray screaming in pain, and the aircraft starting to go out of control all seemed unreal and moving in slow motion. On pure adrenalin, I suppose, and with all the prior flight training and combat flying experience coming together at that moment, I managed to get control of the aircraft.


Lt. Gray, having been hit severely in both legs lost pedal control and had automatically pulled full pitch to get us out of there. I automatically was on the controls with him, and, even though he did his best to keep flying, he finally had to let go. The low rpm audio was on and the low rpm warning light was illuminated. All the engine gages were going to zero, and I thought for a second the engine was out. In a haze I remember getting control of the pedals and stabilizing the collective, and the aircraft just seemed to leap out of that LZ.


As we cleared the jungle canopy, I thought for a moment we would be hit again, and this time we would all die. I had to make a quick decision to continue on or make a forced landing. I chose to keep flying because, even though most of my instruments were inoperative, the aircraft felt solid. I knew Lt. Gray was severely injured and needed medical care so I continued on.


I really don’t know how many rounds we took. I’ve heard from 14 to 26, and the majority came through the cockpit area. I don’t remember how many of my instruments were shot out or were inoperative. I was later told that we had holes in the gas tank and were leaking some fuel. Not to sound too gory, but there was blood from Lt. Gray’s wounds all over the radio panel and the instrument panel, and I had no communication with my crew or the other mission aircraft. But I knew where the Dak To MASH Unit was located so I headed in that direction.


The crew and the Special Forces Medic had Lt. Gray out of his armored seat right after we cleared the LZ. Thankfully, we had that medic, along with his little black bag, on board. He, along with the crew, saved Lt. Gray’s life that day. I’m sure of that after seeing the amount of blood in the cockpit area. An artery or arteries had been severed.

I do remember that the other Ghostrider slick flew back to Dak To with me, and I believe the Avengers guns did also, to provide cover in case I had to land short of the airfield. I also remember one of the pilots in the other slick giving me the thumbs-up sign after giving my aircraft a visual check. We had no radio communications so I assumed that my aircraft wasn’t falling apart. It was comforting to know they were with me.


I don’t remember how long the flight back to Dak To was. My left leg was very painful by that time, and I was worried about the landing coming up. Specialist 4 Groves made hand signals about giving me a morphine shot, but I declined for obvious reasons. I saw the MASH tent ahead and made my approach to land as close as possible.


After a successful landing, the medics and my crew rushed Lt. Gray inside the MASH tent. I took my time shutting down the aircraft. The adrenalin rush was going away, and all I felt now was fatigue and pain. I sat there for several minutes, and since I didn’t see anyone coming for me, I exited the aircraft and almost fell on my butt! Someone saw me and I was immediately rushed into the MASH tent and placed next to Lt. Gray. I could hardly see him for all the Medical personnel working on him. I knew he had been seriously wounded, but now I feared for the worst.


I had a bullet in my left ankle and was grazed on my left calf. It hurt like hell, but I knew I had been lucky after seeing Lt. Gray’s condition. A sideline to this nightmare was that a former WOC classmate of mine, who didn’t make it through flight school, was now a medic at the MASH tent and helped take care of me. It’s a small world indeed!


Sometime later that night, Lt. Gray and I were medevaced together by chopper to the 71st Evac Hospital at Pleiku. Lt Gray was taken in right away, I’m sure for more surgery. I was put on a stretcher in a hallway to wait my turn. The Battle of Dak To had been in full swing for almost a month, and there were a lot of casualties. The worst part for me that night was that the triage for the wounded was taking place in the area where I was located. Some were sent in and some were put aside in the hallway; some would live and some would die.


Later I was put into a large room with other, less critically wounded soldiers. I remember Major Bobby Sanders, my Company Commander, and the Operations Officer came to visit Lt. Gray and me at the hospital. It was a great morale boost for me, and I’m sure it was for Lt. Gray also. I believe Lt. Gray and I were at Pleiku for two days. Luck would have it that we both flew out together on an Air Force C-130, and our first landing was at Qui Nhon. I was getting off and Lt. Gray was continuing on to Japan. I told him goodbye and good luck and that I would see him again someday.


I did see him again, and his family, in July, 1968, at Fort Gordon, Georgia where he was still recuperating from his wounds. I was based at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, having just arrived there. That was the last time I saw him. Not long after our visit he was transferred to Ft. Bragg, NC. I found out later from his son Wayne that he went back to Vietnam for a second tour in 1972, flying LOHs. He retired from the Army in the summer of 1982 as a Major, and, sadly, died Dec.30, 1982.We were both born in Arkansas, only about 60 miles apart. We used to joke about being the only two Arkansans in the world flying together. He was my section commander in the 1st Airlift Platoon, a good officer and a great pilot!


As for me, I was sent to the 85th Evac Hospital in Qui Nhon, RVN, to recuperate. That is a whole story in itself. Let me just say don’t believe all you hear about sweet nurses and wonderful care for wounded soldiers!


After I was released for duty, I reported back to my company at Camp Holloway. I was glad to be home! I rotated to the states in June, 1968, and was assigned to Ft. Stewart, Georgia as a Tactics Instructor Pilot. I did that for two years, got out of the Army, joined the Georgia Army National Guard and received a degree from the University of Georgia. I became fixed-wing rated and Mohawk rated, compliments of the Ga. Army National Guard and qualified for my Army Master Aviator Wings, under the old rules.


When I retired from the military I had approximately five years active duty, 22 years Ga. Army National Guard, two years IRR and I retired as a CWO-4.That is my story. But it is a story that I could not have told without the help of others: Lt. Grays’ wife Mary and oldest son, Wayne Jr., Major Bobby Sanders, my Company Commander, and last but not least, Captain Stephen Schmidt, my Platoon Commander. Forty years is a long time ago. Memories dim and details become foggy, but some things you never forget. If anyone has anything to add or any corrections on details, names or places, please feel free to let me know.


Ghostrider 628


189th AHC History 1966-1967