The ten man killer-team filled two birds. We sat inside the noisy choppers while the pilots flipped on the switches and adjusted their helmets. They throttled up and we lifted off–the air rapidly cooling as we gained altitude. Flying high over the heavily wooded countryside, the pilot headed deep into the jungle, further than we had ever been. I watched the trees pass beneath us in a blur, changing gradually from light green to varying hues of dark green foliage until finally, they appeared like a black veil, draped over the hills. I began to sense the forbidden border between Cambodia and Vietnam, and wondered if we had already crossed.
The temperature continued to drop as we flew through thin clouds that obscured the jungle below. Before long we were flying in the soup, and the wipers batted furiously at the rain, pushing the droplets into windswept streams that trailed from the corners of the windshield. I became increasingly edgy. While the thick fog concealed us from the enemy, it also provided us with the opportunity to fly directly into the side of a mountain.
“What if we they can’t get us in?” I hollered at Cupit.
“They will always get us in,” he laughed, “getting us out is another story.”
After five more minutes of flying blind, Cupit and the pilot decided upon a point of insertion. The ship descended and hovered uncertainly as the warrant officer strained to see the mountains. The fog thinned momentarily, revealing the side of a mountain to our left. We rose to our knees and got ready. The pilot carefully moved the ship sideways, easing it over a foot at a time until the skid pressed against the grassy hillside. But just as it came in contact with the slope, the fog rolled in again, forcing the pilot to bank to the right, and pull the chopper away from the mountain. My stomach nervously quivered–any miscalculation would bring the whirling blades into a rock or tree and shatter them like china, sending our ship crashing down the mountainside in a fiery explosion.
The pilot gave it another shot as we drifted sideways into the steep incline. No luck. The fog cleared again and the timing finally clicked on the third attempt. The pilot reacted quickly, easing the ship over until the left skid hovered just a foot above a large boulder jutting out from the slope. We scrambled off the chopper onto the rock while the pilot continually adjusted for sudden movements and weight changes. The last man made it out as the fog closed in again, and the Lucky Star ship banked away, disappearing into the gray mist.
Our ears adjusted to the muted silence. Carefully wedging our bodies into the crease between the rock and the mountain, we slid down the back side of the boulder onto a thick carpet of green ferns. We were in.
Photo by Horst Faas