Steve Cranford was drafted in 1967. When he entered
Army basic training at Fort Bragg at age 20, he was sec-ond
oldest in his platoon.
Excellent scores on a placement test led to his assign-ment
as a radioman — a job he neither wanted nor felt
he would do well. So Cranford made a deal. For the
opportunity to attend helicopter school, he signed on for
an extra year, three years instead of two.
“I never regretted that decision,” Cranford says.
Two weeks after he completed aviation mainte-nance
schooling, Cranford was headed to Vietnam as a
mechanic/crewmember for a Chinook helicopter unit sta-tioned
in Pleiku. When he arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, the
Tet Offensive was in full gear. Cranford learned quickly
that everything could change in a heartbeat. During
processing, his group was told to put their orders on the
table and step back. All that paperwork was swept into
the trash, and they received new orders.
He was assigned to an Assault Support Helicopter unit
in the First Cavalry Division, which required a week of
jungle training at the First Cav’s infamous “charm school”
where everyone was considered 11 Bravo (infantry). Not
having experienced advanced infantry training, Cranford
learned then of a “grunt’s” harsh
environment. His appreciation
for being in aviation multiplied.
Thirty days later, he arrived in
the Quang Tri Province area,
nowhere near his original desti-nation
“I was baptized in chaos,”
Cranford says. “But I had it eas-ier
than a lot of guys did. We’d
take guys out that I knew were
going to be spending a week
out there. When they came
back, their uniforms were torn,
and they had that thousand-mile
stare. You just didn’t talk to them. They had to go
figure out how to process what they just went through.”
The maintenance crews were assigned to flight crews,
so they knew each other. Sometimes mechanics flew, too,
if an extra gunner was needed.
Cranford vividly recalls a very difficult extraction in
a rice paddy. One crew member had died and two were
badly injured. The helicopter landed in a semi-hostile
area of flat land with no cover and only a few men to
guard the perimeter while they loaded up the survivors
and picked up the body.
his arrival at LZ
Sharon in March
1968 (above) and at
his graduation from
basic training at
Fort Bragg in 1967.
in early 1969
wears a shirt
HISTORIC PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEVE CRANFORD
WBM november 2017 PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER