Santa Clara “Dust-Off” – 82

Let me just preface this story with just a touch of background. I seem particularly sensitive to helicopter sounds. I can’t ignore them. I’ve never been on a civilian helicopter. My ‘saying’ is: “I’ve never had a ‘good ride’ in a helicopter”. In addition, I was occasionally used as a radioman in Nam.

I am sitting on a Bus Stop bench on Great America Blvd in Santa Clara, CA. It’s 1982. I usually ride the bus to get to my job as a computer consultant. I have my pocket AM radio headphones on. I am just enjoying the nice morning, watching the 4 lanes of traffic come and go.

Then I hear the popping. It’s a very distinct sound a chopper makes when it’s running hard or heavy. The blades make a clear pop under load, and this baby was under load.

I immediately attempt to locate the direction of the chopper, but it’s not visible. Crap, they are coming in at treetop level, that means we are a hot LZ! It is everything I can do to keep from diving under the bench. I pull one earphone back to hear the chopper better. My eyes are scanning every tree and bush in sight, then starts on the rooftops and windows. The radio static cackles in my left ear. My heart pounds in my chest.

The chopper is still popping hard, but I still can’t see it. I’m looking for the LZ now. Where is he going to set down? Where will the attack be focused? I quickly determine the only clearing open enough is the middle of the intersection. I’m sideways on the bench now, scanning the areas behind me. Damn it, what is taking them so long? I wanted them in and out, FAST! They keep this up and we are sure to attract every VC in the area! Come on! Hurry Up!

The chopper breaks into sight, just over the rooftops. I turn to the perimeter preparing for the inevitable attack.

It is disorienting when the chopper flies past the intersection. It is a Life Flight Unit headed for the Kaiser Hospital down the road. I am grateful I am the only person at the Bus Stop. I spend the rest of my wait calming down and returning to California. It was like one of those “Twilight Zone” episodes, it was real and surreal all at the same time.

All in all, I was glad the dust-off wasn’t for US. Our position was still undetected.

Note: LZ = Landing Zone

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