USAF ROTORHEAD Members
USAF Crew Chief/Gunner & U.S. Army helicopter Pilot;
1961, joined the Air Force at 20 years old, attended aircraft mechanic training for four engine jet aircraft. I was the assigned to Biggs AFB, TX. with SAC’s 95th Bomb Wing on B-52’s and KC-135’s.
1965, I Crossed trained into the Helicopter Mechanic career via OJT at Whiteman AFB, MO. The mission there was to transport the Minute Man Missile site crew transport. We had H-19’s helicopters and they were replaced by UH-1F’s during the time I was assigned to the unit. I flew as crew chief on a couple trips taking the H-19’s to Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona.
My next assignment was to the 4410 Combat Crew Training at Hurlburt Field, FL. for special training for assignment to the 20th Helicopter Squadron.
I served at Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand and then in Vietnam with the 20th Helicopter Squadron as a UH-1F Flight Mechanic/Aerial Gunner.
After returning to the States, I was assigned to the 241st Strategic Missile Command at Malmstrom AFB, MT. where our mission was to transport Minute Man Missile crews to the sites using the UH-1F’s.
03 May 1968, I was discharged from the USAF at Malmstrom AFB, MT.
I got out of the AF after 7 years and went into the Army under the Warrant Officer program. I had my helicopter pilots license prior to going in the Army. I flew AH-1 in Nam on my second tour, retired with 20 years service.
My Tour in Thailand and Viet Nam
with the 20th Helicopter Squadron.
July 15 1966 to July 1 1967
Ralph C. Graves
It started with assignment to the 4410 Combat Crew Training at Hurlburt Field, FL. For special training for assignment to the 20th helicopter squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, NKP Thailand.
I was a member of the 20th helicopter squadron (Green Hornets) in Thailand and Viet Nam. I was assigned to the unit at its formation in 1967 at Hurlburt Field, FL. We went through special training there and were shipped as a unit via AF transport aircraft to NKP Thailand. We arrived there prior to our aircraft and were assigned menial duty until the aircraft (UH-1F) arrived.
One of the details I remember well was we poured a concrete walkway in front of the new chapel. None of us knew anything about pouring concrete. It was as wide as the building and we did not make it thick enough. Shortly after we started missions I was told that they drove a truck on it and it broke up so bad that it had to be re-poured.
The base was under construction and we were able to move into brand new billets shortly after arrival. The tarmac and runway was pierce steel plank (psp).
Soon the aircraft arrived and we assembled them and started missions.
The unit had 10 UH-1F slicks painted Air Force blue and four Gunships painted camouflage. I was a Staff Sergeant in charge of the gun platoon enlisted.
We named the unit Green Hornets after the unit our commander was in. I painted this on the tail of our gunships.
The aircraft had no armor, except for the pilot and copilot seats and a plate to cover the sides of the engine. All aircrew members wore ceramic vests for protection from small arms.
Originally armed with GE GAU-2B/A Pintle mounted Mini-guns and carrying up to 12,000 rounds of 7.62mm NATO ammunition. In late June, after our move to Viet Nam, we took the four gunships helicopters to Tan Son Nhut Airbase and had rocket mounts, 2.75 Inch Folding Fin Aerial Rocket (FFAR) pods (LAU-59/A, each capable of carrying seven rockets per pod, and gun sights installed.
We did not perform any gun missions in Thailand; our gunships were only fired upon one time with little damage and no wounded. We did however perform many humanitarian missions.
The Mekong River overflowed during the raining season and many small villages were stranded. It was one of the worst floods in many years. Helicopters from the 20th lifted 34 flood victims and transported numerous 220 kilo bags of rice and other food stuffs to the villages.
We also flew missions transporting Thai government officials to many small villages, sometimes spending several days in the villages before returning to our home base.
There were also missions with Air America, Thai Border Patrol Police and Thai Army.
One mission I remember well in support of the Thai Border Patrol Police, we transported food for the troops in two wicker baskets so large that two of them took up the entire back of the UH-1. Right after the baskets were unloaded a large banded crate snake crawled out of the basket. I sure was glad it didn’t crawl out while we were in the air. I am told this is the most deadly snake in Southeast Asia.
On the night of 14 December, 1967 we were informed an A-1E from our unit was shot down at dusk. The Pilot was ok but local base rescue refused to go after him until first light. They were located in hostile country in Laos.
I was asked if I would go with my pilot (we always flew with the same pilot and copilot as a crew) to rescue him. We quickly installed the rescue hoist and went to him. It was a successful mission with an A-1E gun escort. I was told that it was the first night rescue and the first rescue with the UH-1F. The crew was submitted for the Silver Star.
In July 1967 the Thai government decided our services were no longer needed and we were transferred to NhaTrang, Viet Nam.
The gunship crews learned their craft On the Job. Based at Special Forces FOB #2 at Kontum, crews and aircraft staged each day to Dak To air field in support of the Army Special Forces.
On one of those missions we lost one of the gun ships. It was shot down while resupplying a Special Forces A team with food and water. One crew member was KIA and one wounded. That aircraft was not replaced until after I left For the US.
In mid June, there was a Roles and Mission controversy , Fortunately the controversy was quickly settled and it was determined that the Hornets could be armed in the defense of Air Force installations, but not in support of Army units. One gunship, my crew and I, deployed to Binh Thuy AB, located in the delta near the city of Can Tho. Here the aircraft and crew spent slightly more than two weeks on night anti-mortar alert, sharing the Local Base Rescue (Pedro) trailer. Random night patrols were conducted, as well as several hot scrambles. During the random night time sweeps no mortar attacks occurred, and when the Roles and Mission problem was resolved, the aircraft returned to Nha Trang and resumption of the MACV SOG mission.
At one time we were unable to maintain the mini-guns due to the feeder de-linker breaking gear teeth. For a short period of time, missions were flown with only M-60 and A-3 machine guns hung from bungee cords instead of the big guns.
We had a technical representative (techrep) from GE, the manufacture of the guns. assigned to the unit and he sent a list of the parts we needed. The company sent what we needed but it was shipped to the Techrep. When it arrived in Saigon it was returned to the States because it was addressed to a civilian and had to be reshipped to the unit. The shipment finally arrived and we were back in business.
I found one of the three UH-1F gunships that were still flying when I ended my tour on 1 July 1967. It is in the museum at Warner Robins AFB with all of its history.
~ Final Flight 12 July 2019 ~
Ralph Chester Graves, CWO-3, USA
February 12, 1941 – July 12, 2019
Published in The Sierra Vista Herald (July 19, 2019):
Ralph Chester Graves, 78
Sierra Vista — Ralph Chester Graves, (Retired Chief Warrant Officer III, United States Army), age 78, passed away Friday, July 12, 2019.
He was born in Zanesville, Ohio on February 12, 1941 to French Ralph Graves, Sr., and Jessie Pearl (Lane) Graves.
He is survived by his wife, Sally; three children, Terry Graves, David Andrew (Wendy) Graves, and Linda Marie (Todd Paris) Graves. He also leaves behind two grandchildren, Joseph and Courtney Softich.
He was predeceased by his parents; and his brother, French Ralph Graves, Jr.
Ralph was a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he earned several medals, including a Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Bronze Star. He served seven years in the Air Force, flying Cobra helicopters in Vietnam for two tours; and 13 years in the Army.
After retiring from the Army, he worked 10 years as a jeweler in Tacoma, Washington.
From there, with his beloved wife of 59 years, they became full-time RVers, enjoying life to the fullest for the next 15 years.
Ralph will be interred at the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista, Arizona [at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2019].
Chief Warrant Officer Three, US Army
SILVER STAR, DFC, AIR MEDAL, BRONZE STAR
SERVED WITH HONOR.