Navy Seawolves
CS1 Wm H. "Charlie" Johnson (The Flying Cook)

I arrived in Vung Tau and reported to HA(L)-3 on 24 May 1967. After checking in I was assigned to, along with all the commissary men, to the Army 765th Consolidated Mess. As Petty Officer First Class, I was senior to the Mess Sargent and I was put in charge of the mess.

Needless to say this mess was well below Navy standards. I put 2 of my CS2's in charge of each work shift. The reason that the food there was so poor is that none of the good rations ever got to the mess hall. There were two Army E-3's that took a sixby each day down to Ration Breakdown to get the supplies for the mess. None of the nice T-bone steaks etc made it back to the mess because these guys were dropping it off at their officers hootch over in Vung Tau. I made a CS3 the new ration driver and layed down the law to him. Suddenly the food in the 765th Mess was great and the mess hall was overflowing with all the guys who had been staying in the barracks and eating C's rather than go to the mess hall. Suddenly, I became quite popular with everyone on the base at Vung Tau.

They had just set up a BOQ for our Seawolf officers at a hotel just outside the gate and were starting up a mess there. While chatting with our XO one day, he explained that they were having a hard time finding things for their mess. I told him that I might be able to help him out. The next day I got a bottle of fine booze and went down to see the old Master Sargent that ran the Ration Breakdown. After presenting this prize to him I told him I needed some extra supplies, he told me to back my sixby into the warehouse and help myself.

Our XO was really thankful for the goods I delivered and wanted to know if there was anything he could do for me to show his gratitude. I TOLD HIM I WANTED TO FLY. He said that you need to be in an aviation rating to do this, but he said he would bend the rules a little and let me fly if I could get checked out as a plane captain.

With the mess hall now running smoothly, I asked the supply officer for, and was granted, a leave of absence from the mess hall. I went over to the maintenance hangar and told the maintenance chief what the XO had told me. He laughed but said he would help me and he told all the maintenance crew to help this black shoe sailor become a plane captain. With all the crew showing me and drilling me every day on the systems of the UH1B Huey, I soon took the plane captains test and passed with flying colors.

The XO looked up at me in surprise when I dropped the test results on his desk and said "remember what you told me?" To keep his promise he let me start flying as Crew Chief on the mail runs out to the detachments that the were made several times a week. I listened to some of the stories the door gunners told and decided that that was what I really wanted to do. After flying a few weeks of mail runs, I got my chance. LT Al Banford had come in from Det 4 with several bullet holes in the rotor blades of old #553. The next day after we had changed the blades and got them tracked, I was sitting in the hangar talking to Mr Banford and told him of my dreams to become a door gunner. I guess old (Dirty Al) must have had some pull somewhere because he went to op's and after a few minutes came back and said "pack your seabag Johnson, you are going to Det 4." About this time I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I had not gone to Airborne Gunnery School and the only time I had fired an M-60 was back at Little Creek in the prone position with a bipod.

On the way out to the det, which was stationed aboard the USS Garrett County, Fred Mahana, the crew chief, showed me how to hold the M-60 upside down and fire it to keep the empty brass out of the tail rotor. Fred forgot to mention that when firing the M-60 in this manner you have to have your flack vest closed tight to keep empty brass from getting down behind it and frying a nice little brown spot on your chest before you can get it out. After firing into the water for a while, I got the hang of it and everyone said I was doing great.

As we neared the ship, our wing ship came out to join us and we did an evening patrol of our sector. Right away we spotted two sampans in a free fire zone and got permission to take them under fire from sector advisor. I offered to give the gun back to Fred but Dirty Al said no, "lets see what you've got Johnson". We set up a circle left and the wing ship held their fire and let me do all the shooting. I sunk both sampans and we got a secondary explosion from one of them. I kept trying to shoot four VC that had bailed out when I started shooting and were in the water. I got two of them but the other two kept coming back to the top so we went in low and I dropped a percussion grenade in the water right beside them. We didn't see them anymore after that.

In a few weeks I had gone from cook to bonified crew chief aerial door gunner and had started working on the first of my 19 Air Medals. I became the crew chief on old #553, and flew most of my 450 plus flight/strike missions with Lt. B, (Butcher) Barnes as fire team leader.

I had reported in to HAL-3 as CSI William H. Johnson but left known only as "Charlie". This was because when you use proper radio talk aboard a plane you say "I have Charlie Sierra One aboard" for CS-1 and Mr. Barnes started cutting this short and just saying "Charlie." I got that nickname and it stuck.

I am proud that I'm a Seawolf and wear my Combat Air Crew wings on my cap with pride. I feel lucky that I got to fly with some of the best pilots in the world, and the best flight crews in the world. Getting shot down on two of our missions and walking away without a scratch each time proves that they were the best. I am honored that I am the only "cook" in the Navy to have ever been an Aerial Door Gunner flying in aerial combat.

A funny note - On my DD214 when I retired and was discharged from the Navy, in the block for Related Civilian Occupation it has Chef (hotel & rest) and in the block for secondary civilian occupation it has Airborne Gunner. Funny, I haven't found that kind of job out here yet.

We Had been on a morning patrol and had hit several targets called to us from Sector Advisor. As we were on our way back to the Garrett County, anchored on the Co Chien river we got a call from one of the Sector Advisors that said he had been getting some heavy rounds coming into his compound and they were coming from a hooch nearby and asked us if we could take it out. We only had a couple of rockets left in the tubes, and when they missed the target, we only had door and flex guns left. We also had a big ammo box of assorted grenades that I kept in front of me behind the co-pilots seat.

My pilot Lt. William (Butcher) Barnes said, "Get your grenades Charlie and let's take'em out." While the wing ship covered us we made a long approach at the hooch at about six feet over the rice paddy. I leaned out the door and released the big willy peter frag at just the right moment. I saw it bounce once in the yard in front of the hooch and go right in the front door. Just as we did our pull up over the top of the hooch (many G's), I saw a young man poke his head out the door with a rifle in hand just as the grenade went in the door right beside him. Seconds later, as we continued our pull up, I saw the whole top of the hooch lift up when the grenade exploded. With white phosphorous boiling up from what was left of the tangled mess that had once been his hideout, I knew that at least one VC and his buddies had not survived this attack.
Charlie Johnson (The Flying Cook)