The Start of The 240th Assault Helicopter Company
It began in October, 1966 at Killeen Base, Texas, just across the road from Fort Hood. A whole mess of majors, a few captains and lieutenants, a bunch of warrant officer junior grade (WOJG) right out of flight school, several career NCO's and a large mob of brand new enlisted men who has just completed aviation maintenance training at either Fort Rucker, Alabama or Fort Eustis, Virginia reported in for duty. It appeared that the Army rounded up a lot of the officers who had not been to RVN previously to fill the units that were being formed as the Army increased its aviation assets in the war zone. Major William H. (Bill) Williams was the senior officer and became the first Commander of the 240th. Major Glenn Hoffman was the executive officer, Major Ken Nielsen was the operations officer, Major Jack Derr was the gun platoon leader and Captain John Crist was the organizational maintenance platoon leader. I, Major Jimmy Moore, commanded the 619th Transportation Detachment (DS) which provided direct support maintenance for the 240th. 2nd Lieutenant John Lacy commanded the 932d Signal Detachment which provided avionics direct support. I can't recall many of the names of the other officers and NCOs, but I do remember that Captain Claude Lott was a Huey instructor pilot and kept busy training the new aviators. Our first task was to obtain all of the equipment necessary for an assault helicopter company. The aircraft were assigned by Department of Army and the 240th was one of the first units to receive the UH-1H as its slicks and UH-1Cs as gunships. As I recall, the C-models had a new blade design that was shorter and wider than previous rotor blades, I believe it was the 540-rotorhead.
Killeen, Texas was not the most exciting place to live and work -- it was in a dry county and there wasn't much to do. Killeen Base was some type of top-secret weapons storage area, with electrified fences and guard dogs patrolling it. We always got a kick out of the name of the officers club, Killeen Base Officer's Open Mess (KBOOM for short).
The unit was given six-months to draw equipment and train for its deployment to RVN. A lot of training went on during the period, particularly weapons training for the gun platoon and slick platoon crew chiefs. I don't recall having any door gunners assigned while we were at Killeen, it seems that we picked them up in country. Since we had brand new aircraft it was difficult to find things that needed to be fixed, but the few ingenious NCO's we had found ways to ensure that all of the mechanics were well trained before arriving in RVN. As I recall we had one Huey bite the dust, just before we started ferrying the aircraft to Sharp Army Depot, California - I believe it was during a maintenance test flight. Neither the WOJG who was flying nor the crew chief were injured. We were scheduled for the aircraft to leave California on the USNS Core, a World-War II boxer carrier, toward the end of April, but the ship had to have maintenance so the departure was delayed. I was accompanied by 1LT Phil Watts, 2LT John Lacy and twenty-five enlisted maintenance types to Sharp Depot in April, 1967 where we performed periodic inspections on all of the aircraft, assisted Sharp personnel in cocooning the aircraft and then sat on our thumbs and waited for the ship to be ready to sail. The time was not spent in vain, however. Daily scrounging parties were able to fill 68 CONEX containers will spare Huey parts, building material, appliances, and a whole lot of other goodies that made the initial days in RVN easier to live with. I think we all are probably still persona non grata at Sharp Depot.
In early June with the ship finally loaded we sailed into San Francisco Bay, thinking that it would be an easy voyage. Several days at sea the ship's Captain received a message about the war between Israel and Egypt, which we though we might end up in, but it only lasted six days so it looked like RVN was our final destination. Then we were notified that the barrier paper that Sharp Depot had used to cocoon the aircraft was defective. We had to strip the paper from the engine, transmission and tail rotor and apply the heaviest axle grease that the ship could provide. The metal components had to be greased each day to prevent corrosion from the salt air, but we still had plenty of time for sun bathing on deck. The food was great, but it was a long, hot trip with a lousy destination.
While we were sailing the Pacific, Major Ken Neilsen led the advance party to Bearcat, RVN where they starting preparing for the arrival of the main party by air and the aircraft and equipment by ship. I cannot remember the exact date that we landed at Vung Tau but we were met by representatives of the 240th and LTC Jim Leslie (later Brigadier General) who commanded the "Buffalo Battalion" a provisional unit that was formed until the 214th Combat Aviation Battalion arrived from Fort Hood. We ferried the aircraft from the ship into Vung Tau where they were inspected for corrosion and released to the unit. One thrill I had was an engine failure just after I pulled pitch to leave the deck. A quick hovering autorotation put me back on deck. The engine had swallowed a loose zeus fastener. To add to my thrills, I was told by LTC Leslie that I was leaving the unit and joining the battalion staff as aircraft maintenance officer. Captain John Crist combined the 619th and the company maintenance personnel into one maintenance organization that became the Kennel Keepers, however, Department of Army still recognized the 619th Transportation Detachment on its roles. Many others left the 240th upon arrival in RVN through the "infusion" program which moved seasoned personnel into units that had just arrived in the combat zone, and spread out the rotation dates of the units members.
As 214th Combat Aviation Battalion maintenance officer, and after several months, 214th CAB S-4, I was able to see the successes the 240th was able to achieve during that first year in RVN. I did most of my flying with the 240th and respected the quality of its operations and maintenance. I was also able to dig into the abundant supply of spare parts to help other units in the battalion who did not arrive in country is near as good of shape as the 240th.
In my heart I will always have fond memories of the Greyhounds, Mad Dogs and Kennel Keepers.
LTC TC (Ret)
Cougar 41 and Cougar 4