I don’t usually do posts on folks that have passed, but I will make an exception in this case. AECS William (Bill) (C/S Scurvy) Rutledge passed away day before yesterday at the VA in San Diego of lung cancer.
Bill was literally a hero. He did three 1 year tours back to back in Vietnam with HAL-3 (Seawolves). I first met him in 1976 in VP-50, and he became a friend because my cousin had been one of his pilots in the Seawolves, so he decided to ‘keep me out of trouble’. Over 1600 combat missions, numerous personal decorations (a lot for valor), two shoot downs (that he would admit to), and at least a couple of purple hearts. He led by example, always looking out for the sailors that worked for him. And on dets, he took care of folks…
We stayed in touch over the years, as he retired and I ended up with a commission. One of my memories was a call from him basically saying WTF was I thinking…LOL
He became very active with the Seawolves association and the USS Midway, always having a humorous story or two cued up… This is one of his from the Seawolves website (it’s a LOT cleaner than the one he told in the spaces)-
Our fire team (Det8), was staging off the Hunterdon County (LST-838) and out of the Rach Gia short strip. We had been flying combat ops between Long Xuyen and Rach Gia and had spotted about a half acre of (VC) watermelons growing on a flat spot above a village which was along a river.
George Decker(GT) and I were the gunners on the heavily armed lead gunship. After checking the area for enemy, our pilot took us down, landed at the edge of the patch, while the trail bird flew high cover for us. GT, being from Louisiana, knew his watermelons and said they looked ripe. I was GT’s nugget and was being trained by him, so whatever he said or did was right.
As we landed, we both jumped out of the right door to confiscate some of those enemy round, basketball sized melons. With no one in sight, we headed for the center of the patch where GT says the best ones would be. After gathering up five or six each we started back for the bird, when out of no where came this old betel nut chewing Granny Mamasan (VC of course), with bright red juice (betel nut juice) flowing from her mouth. With flying hair, and a crazed look on her face, she was armed with a wooden three pronged, curved pitchfork, and came at us screaming.
GT, with fear on his face yelled, “BACK TO THE BIRD!” as we were being pursued by this vicious enemy. We dropped many of the melons as we retreated in face of the enemy attack. Quick thinking GT started throwing Piasters from his flight suit pocket and I did the same, throwing all the money I had. The rotor wash of the turning blades caught the money and blew it everywhere.
She stopped her advance and started grabbing for the money, so we made our escape. We two brave SEAWOLF gunners jumped in the bird like a couple of whipped whining dogs. The pilot had the helo hovering for a quick getaway as we got in, for he doesn’t want to have to explain that we all had been hurt and the gunship destroyed by one old Mamasan while we were stealing watermelons.
As we got airborne, Mamasan stopped gathering up the money and shook her pitchfork at GT. When the shaking and fear subsided, GT and I started badmouthing old Mamasan like a couple of guys on the block that had their butts kicked and the butt kicker was now gone. We got all brave and bad telling each other what we would have done to Mamasan had she kept coming. I think we ended up with five melons that cost us 30 or 40 dollars. Needless to say, we never did that again.
This is the first time this story has been told on GT for he still awakens, shaking, in a cold sweat from the recurring nightmare that old Mamasan has come to the States with her three pronged pitchfork and is tracking him down. Had we stayed and battled it out with old Granny and got our butts kicked, we would have had to tell a big lie and concoct a story to cover the event.
Headlines in the STARS AND STRIPES would have read:
“LAST WEEK TWO HEAVILY ARMED GUNSHIPS OF THE FAMOUS NAVY SEAWOLF SQUADRON ENGAGED A BATTALION SIZED FORCE OF HEAVILY ARMED, ENTRENCHED VC/NVA NEAR LONG XUYEN, RVN”
“The two Navy gunships, while on routine combat patrol, spotted a heavy enemy concentration harvesting crops in a known enemy stronghold, a free fire zone known as the watermelon patch(not found on any maps). As these brave sailors made their first attack, they came under intense ground fire from automatic and crew served weapons at which the lead a/c suffered battle damage forcing it to land among the enemy positions. The crew exited the bird and engaged the enemy in hand to hand combat.
Although wounded, they continued taking the fight to the enemy, while the trail gunship made low level attacks covering the downed crew with devastatingly accurate fire. The pilot, over the din of the battle, heard the engine still running and jumped back in the helo and found only the warning system was shot up. Getting his wounded crew aboard, he lifted off and under heavy ground fire again exited the area, going back to Rach Gia where the wounded were treated and the bird repaired.
During the follow up investigation, it was determined that the enemy was using a new kind of weapon, for the wounds of the crew were identical to the holes in the aircraft. Three holes spaced evenly apart curving downward and the crew and aircraft smelled of Watermelon.”
In HAL-3 he was the NATOPS door gunner, helluva position but he loved it. Here he is pictured with, as they called it, a PIG with lipstick.
This is the story as related by a shipmate of his-
The Seawolves Det. the worked off the 21 had sixties that were modded by removing shoulder stock, taking a second hand grip assembly and attaching it to forestock with big hose clamps so it stuck out the side, removing bipod, GM’s did some internal mods. No fixed mounts in door, some of those guys were known to climb out on skids to shoot under the bird, or so the story goes.
I laughed when he emailed this one to me. Seawolf 321 was an actual H-2B that had been configured as a HAL-3 bird. Bill was over 70 in this picture, but in his ‘favorite’ position. On the door with a Ma Deuce.
He was also heavily involved with a local high school that took the Seawolves as their mascot, giving many presentations, tours on the Midway, and speaking for the Navy and Navy chiefs at many events. When I first started publishing my work, he was an early reader and supporter.
RIP Shipmate, you will be missed.