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0572-VTN-10/2012
Samuel G. Echols
CW-2
U. S. Army
Vietnam
Dates of Service: 09/03/1968 - 04/27/1971
Helicopter Pilot, 114th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC)
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NAF OH-572 Echols, Samuel G. Sam was born in Ocmulgee, Oklahoma to Glen Echols and Frances Leslie Echols. Two weeks later the family moved to Sapulpa, near Tulsa. There Frances taught third grade and Glen managed the local Oklahoma Natural Gas office. Sam had one half brother, Tom, from his father's first marriage. In school, Sam played football, basketball and baseball, as well as track. His main sport, he says, was baseball. He graduated from high school in 1966 and entered college at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Meanwhile, his half-brother, serving as a Navy pilot, died in a flight accident in the Gulf of Mexico in 1964. Desiring to follow in his brother's footsteps, Sam earned his pilot's license in February of 1967 as part of his curriculum at Northeastern State. Knowing he was probably going to Vietnam, Sam joined warrant officer flight school in a Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) on 3 June 1968. That program gave him 120 days before reporting for training on 3 September 1968. He went through basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, then reported to Fort Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas for U.S. Army primary helicopter training. There he trained on an OH-13 helicopter, with instructors who were Vietnam veterans. He took advanced training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in Huey helicopters. Sam earned his wings in late July of 1969 and was commissioned as a warrant officer. On 31 August 1969 he flew from Oklahoma to Oakland California, and from there, aboard Flying Tiger Airlines to Long Binh, South Vietnam. "As soon as they opened the door you could smell the place, the country, and I can still smell it," he remarks. "It was humid. It was hot. It was dank. It stank like something you'd never smelled before." Soon he was assigned to the 114th Helicopter Company in Vinh Long, where he was assigned to the Red Knights unit. That outfit supported Green Berets and Navy SEALS. He flew in "slicks", unarmed Huey helicopters (except for M-16 gunners) that ferried troops into combat zones. At first he was co-pilot and sat in the left seat. On his first combat assault he touched down in a "hot" landing zone, where a bullet zinged through the windscreen, nearly hitting him and co-pilot. He flew many night missions he called games of "night-hunter-killer", provoking contact in order to kill the enemy. "We'd hunt them and then kill them. Real simple, nothing fancy," he recalls. In one mission soon after he arrived he was serving as a "peter pilot" (co-pilot) when his helicopter was disabled but the crew was picked up quickly. He was shot down a second time south of Ben Tre near the Delta. "We were zipping along and one-shot Charlie, some old farmer was `p-oed' and pop, right through the engine," he recalls. Sam set the aircraft down in a rice field and was soon rescued. Often he flew every day, doing "three or four or five or six combat assaults in one day," supporting an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) division. In approximately ten months Sam chalked up more than one thousand hours of combat flight time. He was transferred to the 135th Assault Helicopter Company be an aircraft commander. Sam spent 30 days in the states on a sad mission. The wife of one of his friends Jim Burgoyne, who was shot and killed requested that Sam escort the body home. "That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Of course, I was dating their daughter, Cathy, through flight school. I really knew him and was really close to him and presenting his widow with the flag was the hardest thing I ever had to do." He then took a week of R&R in Sydney, Australia. While there, he telephoned families of Australians with whom he flew to tell them their sons and husbands were doing well. When Sam returned to Vietnam he had only three weeks left on his tour. He quit flying with "five days left in-country," he recalls. Sam flew home on Flying Tigers Airlines, arriving in Sapulpa on 31 August 1970, his birthday. "I kind of wanted to surprise my parents. My Dad was mowing the lawn." Inside, his Mom had hade a birthday cake, with a mother's instinct that her son would be home that day. After a month off, he reported to his next duty station, Fort Wolters, where he served as an instructor pilot in TH-55s. Sam completed service and returned to Sapulpa in "June or July" of 1971. He worked as a carpenter, then worked at an electronics enterprise, Burstein-Applebee Electronics. In 1975 he married Carol Barr. They would have two children, Donald and Leslie. He then became a medevac pilot. Eventually he moved to Shreveport to fly for Norton Aviation where he's worked for 32 years before retiring. Sam is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and serves as national service representative of the Elks for the Northwest Louisiana War Veterans Home. Sam was delighted to attend a ceremony at Fort Rucker, Alabama in the unveiling of a monument to the 135th outside the base's museum. Many of the Australian members of the unit were present, as well as, Australian's ambassador to the U.S.