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THE MARKETING POTENTIAL IS ENORMOUS! There were somewhere over a hundred Army Aviation songs written and sung by Army Aviation pilots and/or crews in Vietnam. Some were sung in Nam, but others written in other theatres, such as by Kris Kristofferson, when he was in Germany and the states. This is the same Kris Kristofferson who was an actor (maybe not the best, but noteworthy), and songwriter and singer. He was an Army pilot as well during Nam, but never was sent to Nam, just his music.

I happened along this tape in Florida from an L-19 Bird Dog pilot back in the 1980s. It is mastered on a top quality AKAI reel-to-reel cartridge. Un-edited, 100% real, and never to be re-duplicated. I fed the tape into a series of cassettes, first as a master and then did additional cassettes and pulled out the static and other bands of interference, so you get the original tape, master cassettes and final products. I count almost a hundred songs on this reel to reel, most Army aviation from the Nha Trang 3rd and 4th HOOTS in their entirety and some other music also recorded in-country by what sound like Air Force and other personnel.

The guys were all Army paid, so no copy-writing is necessary. Can be duplicated, marketed, and profited from.

General Seneff ordered the units to all supply a song by each group (invited strongly is the word). There are two separate "HOOTS" as they were called on the taps, the 3rd and 4th.

On the 3RD HOOT we have 14 songs in total:

173RD Aviation Company sings "SAIGON GIRLS"

116TH Aviation Company sings "CU-CHI BLUES"

183RD Aviation Company sings "FIGHTING BIRD DOGS"

170TH Aviation Company sings "PETER PILOT - SAGA OF THE SLIDE"

170TH Aviation Company sings "SKY KING"

219TH Aviation Company sings "HEAD HUNTERS"

174TH Aviation Company sings "FARE THEE WELL"

129TH Aviation Company sings "BALLAD OF THE HUEY"

48TH Aviation Company sings "ARMY AVIATION"

173RD Aviation Company sings "ARMY AVIATION"

116TH Aviation Company sings "HORNETS"

116TH Aviation Company sings "ALEXIS FROM TEXAS"

116TH Aviation Company sings "GREEN FLIGHT PAY"

173RD Aviation Company sings "SAIGON GIRLS"

On the 4TH HOOT we have 14 songs/talks in total:

18TH Aviation Company sings "WHAT AM I DOING, FLYING IN VIETNAM?"

18TH Aviation Company sings "SIX DAYS IN THE JUNGLE"

71ST Aviation Company sings "SNAKE PIT"

129TH Aviation Company sings "GUNSLINGER"

129TH Aviation Company sings "TIME IS BUT AN ENDLESS THING"

17TH Aviation GROUP sings "MINI-GUN"

17TH Aviation GROUP sings "NIGHT CA" (Combat Assault)


17TH Aviation GROUP sings "SAIGON WARRIOR"

17TH Aviation GROUP sings "HUEY 201"

14TH Aviation Battalion sings "THE MAN WHO NEVER RETURNED"

174TH Aviation Company sings "BLACK SAM" (Dolphins, Sharks)

174TH Aviation Company sings "ALWAYS GIVE A TRY (CA)"

Then there is a rare speech by General Seneff himself!

As to history, much of this is from Marty Heuer's fantastic web site:

General George P. Seneff was the commander of the recently formed in early 1966, 1st Aviation Brigade in Saigon. As the commanders met monthly, singing and such got to be a big deal and General Seneff created a music/ballad contest. The first was in June of 1966 in the Red Bull Inn, which was the new 1ST Aviation's officers' club at Saigon.

The lyrics had to be original, but many songs were adapted by the men to talk about their combat, or lives in Vietnam.

Many of the contest songs were melodies you'd recognize immediately, but the words were changed to tell a story about an individual, a unit, an aircraft, a combat assault, the enemy, or just about anything in Vietnam. Some songs were a combination of all of these. The talents of these ordinary, everyday soldiers were truly amazing. The contests produced some great songs about Army Aviation in combat in Vietnam and many of them were new, not merely word changes to songs sung in previous wars, although some of those remained. And, because of the availability of reel to reel audio recorders, the contests were recorded live. There have been found the tapes for six contests but are still searching for at least eight more.

The participants were soloists, duos, trios, quartets, quintets, and sextets. The instruments used included guitars of many varieties, mandolins, banjos, violins, ukuleles, bongo, and snare drums, and in one case, a complete drum set. Many of these, usually the string instruments, were brought to Vietnam by their owners. The others were ordered from Thailand and Japan but some guitars were purchased in Vietnam, and those who used them complained constantly that they could not be tuned nor would they stay in tune.

The names of the groups were usually a take-off on the unit call sign. The 173rd call sign was Robin Hood, so the group called themselves The Merrymen. The 48th was Blue Star, and the singers were The Blue Stars. The 117th were the Beach Bums and the 170th were The Buccaneers. The 282nd trio was the Black Cats and sometimes the Hepcats. The 174th grew to a quartet when Captain Chinch Wollerton joined the unit.

Jack had been promoted to major so, with three majors and a captain, they called themselves Three Majors and a Minor. Chinch was promoted to major shortly thereafter and they reverted to the original name of The High Priced Help. The 179th Assault Support Helicopter Company quartet called themselves The Nads. Although you may not understand, every time they got on stage to sing, their audience could cheer them on by yelling, "Go Nads, Go Nads!"

One other example is a complete band, including the commanding officer of the 57th Aviation Company, featuring a fine ukulele player, who called themselves Pineapple Joe and his Lakanukies. Some of you may not understand that one either, which is just as well.

The songs covered a wide spectrum of daily events in the life of Army aviation personnel, and the majority were in a humorous "tongue in cheek" vain.

"Six Days in The Jungle" tells the story of a typical four man helicopter crew being shot down and surviving for six days. Major Austin of the 222nd Combat Aviation Battalion wrote the song to the tune "Six Days on The Road." The song provides the details of the crash and the crew's encounter with Viet Cong troops, all of this in surreal exaggerated terms. The last verse finds the crew still in the jungle with nothing but hope. This is how it ends:

Well the crew chief and the gunner, they have eaten up all of my C's,

And the AC keeps a-mumblin' and a-crawling around on his knees.

I don't think things are going my way; I had a booking made on blue ball today.

Six days in the jungle and they gotta pick me up tonight.

The reference to blue ball was to the charter aircraft that was one of those that took the troops on Rest and Recreation (R and R) leaves of five day duration in spots like Japan, Hong Kong, Kuala Lampeur, Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Hawaii.

The 174th's The High Priced Help wrote a song to the tune "The MTA" about their battalion commander. His name was Samuel P. Kalagian and he was of Armenian descent with a dark swarthy look which resulted in the nickname "Black Sam." The 14th Combat Aviation Battalion was given the call sign "Arab" in his honor. He had thousands of flight hours and had been a P-51 fighter pilot in World War II.

The song, titled "Black Sam" is a story of Colonel Black Sam Kalagian as he led the yet untested units of his battalion in their first combat assault under his command. The writers, of course, took great liberty with Black Sam's performance and the confusion that ensued, but this humorous song was mostly the truth about a new unit's introduction to combat. This song was introduced at the song contest held in Vung Tau on 24 September '66 and was the winner.

The 173rd's Merrymen in their Kingston Trio style, sang a great version of "Green Flight Pay" mentioned earlier. They also wrote a song about the young ladies of Saigon to the tune "New York Girls" which they titled "Saigon Girls" but it was also known as "Chu Yen." It is a story about an older army pilot who goes to Saigon for a three-day R and R and found out that Miss Chu Yen could do a lot of things but couldn't dance the polka.

After waking with an aching head to find the lady gone, his pocket picked, and a picture of Ho Chi Minh on the wall, he decides that going to Saigon will test your morals and recommends the Red Cross recreation center where the "Doughnut Dollies" pass out cookies and Kool Aid and of course, can dance the polka. The Merrymen introduced this song at the contest at Nha Trang on 13 August 1966 and won.

One song that was usually met with jeers and hisses as soon as the title was announced was written by Rick Kelly, a West Point captain from a family of West Pointers. He was one of the NADS, remember them, of the 179th Assault Support Helicopter Company.

The next song was one of a kind. It was written by then Captain Donald R. Kelsey and members of the 48th Assault Helicopter Company Blue Stars. I haven't yet figured out if the tune was original or not but the title was "American Fighting Man." The song was another message; a message of the courage each crew member knew they would be asked to muster should they be shot down and captured.

All military personnel of the U.S. Armed Forces are bound by a code of conduct that spells out very clearly how each individual must conduct themselves once in the hands of the enemy. Personally, I am amazed this song was written, as it is not the kind of subject easily adapted to music. The code of conduct begins with the words "I am an American fighting man." The song cannot be defined or described, you must hear it to derive the deep commitment the writers felt to the code and to their fellow soldiers. This is a couple of lines from what they wrote:

I'll not surrender of my own free will

I will stay and fight until

The last breath leaves my body cold still

This song is a clear example of the pride in unit and country that existed among all the units in Vietnam in the 1966 to 1967 period. Everyone thought we were there to win. As time passed and the war ground on, that whole basic concept as they say, went to hell in a hand basket.

The pace of the war and the one year limit on the tour length without a voluntary extension, which most people were loathe to do, caused the Army to vastly increase the number of pilots to man the thousands of helicopters now in Vietnam. New pilots arrived as individual replacements with only 100 hours of flight time, enough to make them dangerous, and they were dubbed "Peter Pilots." They were called that until they were qualified to become an aircraft commander.

Ultimately, almost all of them became AC's as the rotation progressed. A song was written about a typical Peter Pilot by Captain Conroe of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company and was introduced at the song contest at Nha Trang on 13 August 1966. The tune is not yet identified, it may be original, and the title is "Peter Pilot."

The song starts out with Peter Pilot, fresh out of flight school all trim and neat who the ladies call pilot Pete, getting his orders for Vietnam. Much fun is made of Peter Pilot as he arrives in Vietnam and quickly screws up everything he's asked to do, including his first combat assault. The song is not a malicious attack on new pilots but sends the message that those without experience should heed the advice of more experienced pilots. The High Priced Help adopted this song and sang it nearly every time they performed.

Another great song was written by a yet unidentified, pilot of A Company, of the 501st Combat Aviation Battalion later re designated the 71st Assault Helicopter Company. Their call sign was Rattlers and they were based at Bien Hoa, which they called the Snake Pit. This fourteen-verse song tells in a humorous way how a poorly planned and executed early evening company flight mission went awry.

The company commander's aircraft had not been refueled. Can you imagine that? Forty miles northeast of the Snake Pit, his aircraft ran out of fuel and lands without damage in the darkness. A rather questionable feat, but that is what they wrote. The unit's pilots and aircraft spent all night looking for their commander. The story continues with the commander stealing a Viet Cong bicycle and pedaling his way back to the Snake Pit. Certainly there is some truth in this song but also some fiction.

The last of these example songs is one that helped make the Merrymen of the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company famous. The origin of this song is in dispute. Some say it was written originally by Major John Tobias of A Company of the 501st. The Merrymen say they wrote at least some of it and we will eventually find the answer. The tune used was "Oleana."

The Merrymen performed this song virtually every time they got up to sing at Lai Khe, their home base, or anywhere else they performed. The song was titled "Army Aviation." It is a rousing rendition and touches on all the missions Army aviation performed in Vietnam. All pilots and crew members identified themselves with the song immediately, with those who knew the words usually singing along with the Merrymen.

If you were an Army Aviation crew member in Vietnam, this was your song. It certainly was the Merrymen's, who always introduced it with these spoken words: "We, the Merrymen of the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company dedicate this song to all the aviators who have gone before us, and to those who will follow us into this conflict here in Vietnam." These are the words of the first verse.

Fly the jungle, fly the mountains,

Fly the whole of Vietnam.

Carry cargo, carry troopers,

Carry anything we can.

The song ended with a crescendo of the words "Army Aviation." It was a winner and a crowd-pleaser every time it was sung. Some even lobbied for the adoption of this song as the official song of Army Aviation but it was too specific, including too many references to the Vietnam War. For Army Aviation crew members who are veterans of this conflict, most remember this song.

Several more were written in other places, like Germany and the U.S. but were later sung in Vietnam. Kris Kristofferson, yes, the Kris Kristofferson you know as an actor, songwriter and singer, was an Army aviator who served in aviation units in the states and Germany, but never served in Vietnam, wrote two or three songs that were sung frequently.

The titles, the subjects, the emotions, the writers, and the singers of all these songs are as individual as a finger print. The songs written by the Air Force and other services are exactly the same. The person or persons who wrote the song are the only ones who really knew what the words meant. They knew what action, event or thought inspired the subject matter; the emotions they were trying to express..

The song contests were the major reason why so many songs were written and recorded by Army Aviation personnel, most of them by pilots. Some of the song writers have said they were ordered to write a song for the contest by their commanders, who knew they had the talent but needed some gentle prodding to get it done.

There would have been casual song fests in the hootches, clubs, and fire bases, but most would never have been recorded, even on paper, although a few units did publish song books and disseminated them by use of a stencil and now outmoded mimeograph machines. Army Aviation should be forever grateful to General Seneff, who recognized the value of this organized morale enhancing entertainment and the efforts of those talented enough to accomplish the task.

We should be thankful that Colonel John Marr, commanding officer of the 17th Combat Aviation Group, preserved his copies of the reel to reel tapes for six of the contests and another tape with songs from other contests. Without these, much of the information about the songs would have been lost forever.

The song contests ended with the last one in September of 1967 when General Seneff departed. The next brigade commander canceled all further contests and the creation of new or recorded songs by Army aviators and crew members declined dramatically. There may have been individuals and groups that continued to write and sing songs but no record of such activity has yet been found. There is another reason - the introduction of paid entertainers in the form of rock bands made up of Filipino, Vietnamese, and other nationalities who now provided the much needed diversion and entertainment.

Marty can be contacted a number of ways. Email address is And web: or send mail to 10215 Thurston Grove Blvd., Seminole, FL 33778-3824.

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