Interview with Richard Berry

Donald G. FarrowJoshua Birchall, Interviewer | 1323
UW-Madison Campus Voices | Badger Veterans

0:00No transcript.

0:00 - Start of Interview/Interviewer’s Introduction (Donald Farrow)

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Partial Transcript: Q: "I guess first why don't you just state your full name."

A: "Okay, my name is Richard F. Berry, I go by Rick."

Segment Synopsis: Introduction of interviewee, Rick Berry.

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0:06 - Berry discusses his duty stations in Vietnam.

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Partial Transcript: Q: "And what was your, I guess, what was your duty station in Vietnam?"

A: "Vietnam, I had two actual duty stations..."

Segment Synopsis: Richard Berry (RB) was deployed in May 1968 under Unit A Company 229 Assault Helicopter Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division at LZ English, a base along the coast. In January 1968, his company moved to LZ Evans, farther north on the coastal plain. RB served there until returning in May 1968.

Keywords: duty station; I Corps; LZ English; LZ Evans; Unit A Company 229 Assault Helicopter Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division

Subjects:

1:20 - Enlisting in helicopter flight school

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Partial Transcript: Q: "So, what sort of duties did you participate in while you were stationed?"

A: "I enlisted for the Army's flight school..."

Segment Synopsis: Berry had enlisted in the Army through helicopter flight school. After a year of training stateside, he became a warrant officer helicopter pilot.

Keywords: Assault Helicopter Company; flight school; helicopter; warrant officer Rotary Wing Aviator course

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2:02 - Types of helicopters Berry flew in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What sort of helicopters did you fly?"

A: "I flew a helicopter called a Huey..."

Segment Synopsis: Berry describes two different Huey models he flew in Vietnam, and the difference between them.

Keywords: helicopter; Huey; UH-1 Iroquois; UH-1D model; UH-1H model

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2:47 - Types of Huey flight missions

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Partial Transcript: Q: "And so what sort of missions would you fly while you were piloting the Huey?"

A: "We had a number of missions..."

Segment Synopsis: Berry outlines three main missions: combat assaults (carrying infantry into landing zones), logistics (providing supplies to infantry in the field), and extractions (bringing field units back to base camp). He also touches on less common missions: nighttime emergency re-supply, insertion of long range reconnaissance teams, “lightning bug” missions to identify and attack enemies after dark, and non-combat transports of USO troops.

Keywords: ash and trash; firefly; light infantry; lightning bug; log bird; OV-1 Mohawk

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7:02 - The dangers of night flying

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Partial Transcript: Q: "You mentioned a couple of your missions involved a lot of night flying. How was that done? What kind of special equipment was utilized?"

A: "Night flying in Vietnam was really quite dangerous..."

Segment Synopsis: Berry discusses how the scarcity of lights on the ground made it easy for pilots to become disoriented, no matter their skill. Helicopters made lights-out approaches to landing zones to prevent the enemy from spotting them. RB mentioned “pucker factor” and Donald Farrow (DF) asked him to clarify. RB explained it simply meant being scared.

Keywords: pilot vertigo

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10:03 - Logistical communication required in missions

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Partial Transcript: Q: "So all of the operations that you carried out seem like they required a lot of logistical communication...What sort of things were utilized to maintain lines of communication between the air and the ground?"

A: "Well it kind of started with the whole concept that the 1st Calvary Division..."

Segment Synopsis: Field operations were oriented around the use of helicopters. As a result, a great deal of trust and cooperation existed between infantry and aviation units. Berry described the radios used to communicate with men on the ground.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; FM radio; helicopter; PRC-25

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11:48 - Logistics of coordinating a larger mission

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Partial Transcript: Q: "So, from a logistical standpoint, what sort of coordination would there have to be for, say, a larger mission, like if an operation was to go on for more than one day...would there be some kind of over-seeing aircraft?"

A: "There often was, particularly with a combat assault..."

Segment Synopsis: Detailed combat assault procedures, mentioning the types of officers who led them. The helicopter landings involved in these assaults took place during a narrow time frame (and were timed with precision) because of artillery assaults, enemy presence, and the threat of booby traps.

Keywords: artillery; assault helicopter; command and control aircraft; Huey; infantry; landing zone

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15:49 - Description of flying formations and methods of approach

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What kind of formations did you fly?"

A: "Right, but there really wasn't a formation involved there..."

Segment Synopsis: Describes the tail formation in which one aircraft directly followed another. Then he describes the V formation, which allowed pilots an unobstructed view of the landing zone while also providing door gunners with overlapping fields of fire. The terrain of the landing zone dictated their formations and strategies of approach.

Keywords: gunships; infantry

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19:32 - Armaments on the aircraft and roles of door gunners

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Partial Transcript: Q: "You mentioned earlier door gunners for your aircraft. What sort of armaments were your helicopters equipped with?"

A: "On our troop carrying aircraft, the door guns were M60 machine guns..."

Segment Synopsis: The door guns were M60 machine guns mounted on swiveling pedestals that absorbed the weapons’ recoil. The helicopter’s crew chief served as the right side gunner; the left side gunner was trained as a crew chief and awaiting assignment as one.

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21:32 - Dangers faced flying combat missions

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What sort of dangers did they present? did you ever take fire from the ground?"

A: "Yes. I was never shot down. Aircraft that I flew certainly took hits..."

Segment Synopsis: Aircraft took hits but was never shot down. He commented that “hot LZ’s” (e.g. dangerous landing zones) were infrequent, despite their prevalence in popular literature on Vietnam. He noted that most hits occurred on logistics flights rather than combat missions.

Keywords: .30 caliber; LZ; popular literature; pot shots

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23:01 - Body armor and protection from physical harm

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What kind of protection did the helicopter provide? Were there armored sections?"

A: "There were. All the crew members wore a chest protector..."

Segment Synopsis: Crew members wore heavy chest plates or “chicken plates” and pilots sat in armored seats.

Keywords: chicken plate; door gunners; helicopter

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23:59 - Contingency plans for aircraft malfunction / praise of flight school and instructors

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Just to go back a little bit, what sort of things did, uh, did they train you at all for the eventuality of getting shot down?"

A: "Well they wouldn't really train you to be shot down, per se..."

Segment Synopsis: Describes helicopter training at Fort Wolters, Texas and Fort Rucker, Alabama, praising his instructor pilots.

Keywords: Huey; Primary flight school

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25:46 - Preparation of the aircraft before lift-off / daily life at camp

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What sort of things would you need to do to prepare your aircraft for the eventual lift-off and execution of your next mission?"

A: "The actual daily maintenance on the aircraft and so forth was the responsibility of the crew chief..."

Segment Synopsis: Crew chiefs were responsible for the aircraft’s daily maintenance, whereas pilots had secondary duty assignments. RB described base camp life as “Spartan.”

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27:08 - Mortar attacks on base

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Did your base ever come under attack? Did you ever have exposure to any fire while you were on the ground?"

A: "Yes, we were mortared..."

Segment Synopsis: LZ English was never attacked on the perimeter but sometimes mortared. On these occasions, pilots had to temporarily move their helicopters to another base; they happily obliged, as it meant they could benefit from the other base’s comparatively cushier conditions.

Keywords: Quinn Yan

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28:08 - Maximum range of a mission

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What was the range of most of the missions that you flew...what would be the maximum range of a mission that you might fly in a day?"

A: "They were really quite short..."

Segment Synopsis: Flight missions were short range. They needed to keep the infantry within the range of the artillery at all times (e.g. within 7 miles). RB shared some details from his flight log to demonstrate the brevity of missions, many of which were less than 30 minutes each.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; artillery

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29:59 - Largest operation Berry took part in

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Partial Transcript: Q: "What would you say is probably the largest operation that you took part in?"

A: "I guess the largest one that comes to mind had to do with Khe Sanh..."

Segment Synopsis: A combined operation with the Marines called Operation Pegasus. They moved a battalion of infantry in one single lift. Most assaults entailed moving a single company in several lifts.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; combat assault; gunships; Huey; Khe Sanh; Marines; Operation Pegasus; Tet Offensive

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31:24 - Participate in medevac missions

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Did you ever participate in any sort of medevac operations...did you ever carry wounded soldiers back from the battlefield?"

A: "We did, but that was a very secondary mission for us..."

Segment Synopsis: Air Ambulance Hueys typically conducted these missions, as they possessed better equipment and training. Occasionally nighttime emergency supply missions involved extraction of lightly wounded men.

Keywords: air ambulance Huey; dustoff; Medevac

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33:19 - Berry talks about the Tet Offensive

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Well lets talk a little bit more about Tet, if you don't mind...what sort of reaction was there, at least from your experience?"

A: "Well of course at the company level, as a warrant officer pilot, we didn't know Tet was coming..."

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about the lead up to the Tet Offensive and how it effected combat assault operations.

Keywords: Camp Evans; combat assault; DMZ; Hue; II Corps; Quang Tri; Tet Offensive

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34:56 - Berry speaks briefly about the relationship between his helicopter company and the Marines.

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Was there any sort of special relationship at all between your helicopter company and the Marines, did you ever participate in joint operations with them?"

A: "Oh, we sure did..."

Segment Synopsis: Operation Pegasus was the most significant joint operation, however coordination occurred above the company level. RB did not transport Marines.

Keywords: Operation Pegasus

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35:44 - Continuation of interview / Berry speaks about his experience as a door gunner

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Partial Transcript: Q: "This is a continuation of the interview with Richard Berry..."

Segment Synopsis: Although RB was a pilot, he voluntarily opted to try out the door gunner position. Gunners would not fire unless fired upon and given express orders from the aircraft commander

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37:16 - Amount of weapons training Berry received

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Just in terms of operating the weapons involved...did you receive training with the M60 door gun?"

A: "No..."

Segment Synopsis: RB speaks about the weapons training he received in basic, and the lack of training he had with the M60.

Keywords: .38; .45; M14; M60

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38:08 - Differences in Huey helicopters

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Partial Transcript: Q: "I wanted to talk a little bit about the C-model Huey...how did it differ from the Huey that you flew?"

A: "Okay, the Slicks had a larger cargo compartment..."

Segment Synopsis: RB detailed the different models of Huey helicopters that he flew in Vietnam. The newer H model had a larger engine than the C model, which could lift a great deal but did not fly as fast. RB briefly contrasted each model’s weaponry.

Keywords: UH-1D; UH-1H

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41:44 - Berry discusses how he spent his down time

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Partial Transcript: Q: "You talked a little bit yesterday about some of your other duties while you were stationed over there...can you just describe sort of what you did other than fly the helicopters?"

A: "Sure, one of the benefits, actually..."

Segment Synopsis: As a non-commissioned officer, his primary duty was flying. RB described one commissioned commander’s secondary duties as a contrast to his own, which were minimal. DF asked RB to elaborate on his role as assistant operations officer in moving the company to a new base camp LZ Evans. RB related the process of moving equipment and vehicles to the new camp.

Keywords: 229th Aviation Regiment; A Company; commissioned officer; warrant officer

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45:59 - Beginning of second interview with Joshua Birchall / Berry talks about how he ended up in helicopter flight school

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Partial Transcript: Q: "So, Rick, how did you end up initially joining up for the helicopter flight school?"

A: "Okay, it's important I think upfront here to recognize that the United States Army and United States Armed Forces forty-five years ago are quite different than they are now..."

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about the draft and how he left college and lost his deferment.

Keywords: draft; ROTC; University of Connecticut

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48:45 - Enlistment after flight school

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Partial Transcript: Q: "So once you finished your flight school, two years service after that?"

A: "No, what happened is, so you'd enlist initially for two years for flight school..."

Segment Synopsis: RB describes enlistment procedure, and his cohort from flight school.

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50:14 - Description of Berry's battalion within the 1st Calvary Division

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Partial Transcript: A: "So in my case, I joined the 1st Calvary Division..."

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about the 229th, and draws a parallel to World War Two paratroopers.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion; A Company; helicopter; paratroopers; World War Two

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52:00 - A typical combat assault

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Were you working quite closely with the ground troops that you were dropping off and transporting around during training?"

A: "Maybe I can describe the way a combat assault worked?"

Segment Synopsis: Describes the process of combat assault, which often involved helicopters lifting a company of infantrymen while escorted by a pair of helicopter gunships

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; artillery; full prep combat assault; helicopters; infantry; Khe Sanh; landing zone

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57:31 - Length of typical flight times, Berry reads his flight logs

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Partial Transcript: Q: "These landing zones were never more than seven miles away from..."

A: "Most of the flights we were on would be short, they would be like ten minutes long."

Segment Synopsis: RB reads his flight records to illustrate how short flight operations were

Keywords: Huey

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58:48 - Types of missions flown besides combat assault / best practices for flying

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Partial Transcript: A: "We would go out into the field at the end of a unit's operation and bring them back to their base camp..."

Segment Synopsis: Other commons missions are discussed, such as extraction and resupply, as well as ideal altitudes and what to do in case of inclement weather.

Keywords: ash and trash; Huey; log bird

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62:47 - Quality of training in flight school

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Did you find that the training that you did at flight school prepared you well for the sort of flying you were doing out there?"

A: "The training was just flat excellent..."

Segment Synopsis: RB described his basic training and flight school classes at Fort Wolters, Texas. He called ground school “pure harassment” designed to weed people out. Discusses basics of flying a helicopter, and tactical training received in Fort Rucker.

Keywords: Alabama; formation flying; Fort Rucker; Fort Wolters; Huey; landing zones; night flying; OCS; Officer Candidate School; Texas

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66:18 - Absence of operational knowledge at a company level

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Partial Transcript: Q: "The combat assault flights that you were doing...did you get the sense that they were achieving the objectives..."

A: "From our standpoint at the company level..."

Segment Synopsis: Describes a lack of awareness about the specific operational purposes of each mission. Uses his experience in the Relief of Khe Sanh as an example.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; Khe Sanh; Marines; Relief of Khe Sanh

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68:03 - Missions other than combat assaults and the danger of flying at night

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Partial Transcript: A: "Now we had other missions in addition to combat assaults..."

Segment Synopsis: Describes other types of missions, including emergency resupplies at night, and the dangers of flying at night.

Keywords: resupply

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76:23 - Mischaracterization of "hot LZ's" by popular culture

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Not many of these...was there that many emergency extractions?"

A: "I don't think there were all that many of them discovered..."

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about the truth of flying helicopter missions in Vietnam vs. the portrayal by popular media.

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78:31 - Technology involved in night flying missions, and non-combat transport missions

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Partial Transcript: A: "Another mission we flew at night was called a lightning bug mission..."

Segment Synopsis: Some technical specs on board the helicopter are discussed, as well as the process of lightning bug missions.

Keywords: firefly; lightning bug; OV-1 Mohawk; side-looking airborne radar; USO

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81:28 - Berry describes using a high over head approach to avoid ground fire

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Partial Transcript: A: "An interesting approach we flew that was, again, flat fun to do..."

Segment Synopsis: RB describes in detail a flying tactic used to avoid ground fire: the high over head approach.

Keywords: ground fire; landing zone

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84:03 - Reflection on the youth of pilots in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Is that the sort of stuff...stunts that they like showing off in these films?"

A: "Well I guess one of the things you have to realize..."

Segment Synopsis: Discussion of the youth of pilots in Vietnam, and the difference between flight assault in Vietnam as opposed to military engagements in the 21st century.

Keywords: .30 caliber; .50 caliber; AK-47; anti-aircraft artillery; flight school; surface-to-air missiles

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87:04 - Vulnerability of the Huey / RB relates a story of being shot down

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Partial Transcript: Q: "You were aware at the time, or not, that Hueys were quite vulnerable to these .50 caliber plus fire?"

A: "Well, it's very interesting..."

Segment Synopsis: RB speaks about the vulnerability of the Huey and recounts an incident in which his aircraft crashed onto a beach.

Keywords: General John Tolson

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89:40 - High number of pilots among POWs

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Was that consistent throughout your experience?"

A: "Well that was certainly the case with the 1st Calvary Division"

Q: "Because a lot of the American POWs were pilots, weren't they?"

A: "Yeah, except a lot of the pilots that were POWs rather than being helicopter pilots..."

Segment Synopsis: RB discusses incidences of pilots being captured and held as prisoners of war.

Keywords: Air Force; Flight surgeon; Navy; POW

Subjects:

91:16 - First station at LZ English

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Where were you actually stationed?"

A: "About the first three-quarters of my tour I was stationed at a place called LZ English..."

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about his first station in LZ English and relocating before the Tet Offensive.

Keywords: coastal plain; DMZ; Hue; II Corps; Khe Sanh; LZ Evans; Operation Pegasus; Tet Offensive

Subjects:

95:03 - Details on size and use of LZ English

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Partial Transcript: A : "LZ English was a major base camp. It had artillery units and so forth..."

Segment Synopsis: RB discusses LZ English as a base camp.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; An Khe; II Corps

Subjects:

97:09 - Difference between fighting against North Vietnamese Army in the North and Vietcong in the South

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Partial Transcript: Q: "I guess you didn't know at the time, but those assault missions were apart of the whole "search and destroy" thing..."

A: "That's probably another difference we should talk about..."

Segment Synopsis: RB notes difference between NVA regular army and Viet Cong

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; North Vietnamese Army; Viet Cong

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98:43 - Berry's only encounter with the enemy in the field

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Could you actually see that from your position on the battlefield? Could you see that they were fairly organized?"

A: "The only time I ever saw a member of the enemy in the field..."

Q: "Was getting lost a common occurrence amongst helicopter pilots?"

A: "It wasn't supposed to be a common occurrence!"

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about getting lost on a flight and encountering a uniformed enemy in the field

Keywords: AK-47; POW

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103:52 - Improvement in flying after deployment and team work in the Huey

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Did you say the Operation Pegasus was after the Tet Offensive?"

A: "Well, my tour of duty kind of bracketed the Tet Offensive..."

Segment Synopsis: RB saw maturing in himself after his deployment, improvement in his flying, and speaks about the necessity of team work to operate the Huey successfully.

Keywords: Huey; teamwork

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106:41 - Berry's experience with drugs (or lack thereof) during the war

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Partial Transcript: A: "Another question I get asked quite often has to do with drugs..."

Segment Synopsis: RB addresses lack of drug use in his unit, but prevalence of drinking.

Keywords: beer; door gunner; hang over; LZ English; Quinn Yan

Subjects:

108:51 - Helicopter command structure

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Partial Transcript: Q: "So what exactly is the command structure in the helicopter?"

A: "A lot of times they'll say there's a pilot and a co-pilot..."

Segment Synopsis: RB details the command structure of the helicopter, details the roles of the different positions, and what it takes to be named aircraft commander.

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113:10 - Brand new Hueys, and vulnerability of the flight crew to ground fire

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Partial Transcript: Q: "We were talking about getting shot down before, was there many instances of the aircraft being overloaded or overstretched?"

A: "What would happen is, if the aircraft was over loaded and you were running out of power you would know that..."

Segment Synopsis: RB discusses flying with too much cargo, receiving new Hueys with better engines, and ways the flight crew were protected from enemy fire.

Keywords: 1st Calvary Division; chicken plates; combat assault

Subjects:

119:10 - Feeling exposed in the pilot's seat

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Partial Transcript: Q: "Did it feel exposed, though, when you sat by the pilot's seats?"

A: "Well, of course when you're sitting in a Huey, or any helicopter for that matter, you have excellent visibility..."

Segment Synopsis: RB talks about being exposed in the pilot's seat, but not feeling overly concerned.

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