Signal Seeks Veterans
Dan Andrews contacted me through our Signal Newspaper’s weekly notice for Veterans to provide me their military branch and years of service and when I learned that he flew Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War, I hoped for an interview. As you can see, Dan agreed and we had a purely excellent conversation while hanging out at Valencia’s Corner Bakery. It was remarkable to learn just how much he and I have in common.
Daniel L. Andrews was born September 10, 1949 at County General Hospital (now USC) in Los Angeles, California. Due to family dynamics, Daniel lived with his mother in Hemet, California, but also spent time in Northridge in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles. Dan attended my ole alma mater, Cleveland High School, but he graduated from Hemet High School on June 16, 1967. After high school, Dan admitted that he, all too often, sought a good time on a long board surfing Southern California beaches while occasionally working various odd jobs. Dan told me, “Once my Dad said I better get serious about life, I visited an Army recruiter in Newhall”.
Dan was interested in flying helicopters, thus he was tested for the Army’s Warrant Officer Training which he passed leading him to enlisting in the U.S. Army July 22, 1968. Dan took Basic Combat Training during the worst time of the year at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Louisiana’s oppressive summer heat and humidity was tough on newly minted trainees and Dan thought those eight weeks couldn’t go fast enough. Afterwards, he was bussed to Fort Wolters, Texas. This Army installation, located near Mineral Wells, my birth hometown, housed German POW’s during WWII and became a helicopter training center during the Vietnam War. Dan’s training included fifteen weeks of flying TH55’s, which Dan said were little bitty things that were surely manufactured by Mattel Toy Company.
Huey Pilot Training
Following Fort Wolters, Dan was assigned to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to learn and fly Huey Helicopters, whose sight and sounds are synonymous with the Vietnam War. His training included tactics, flying in formation, escape and evasion, and jungle training which was conducted by Special Forces (Green Berets) and Army Ranger instructors. Dan graduated flight school and received his Warrant Officer Bar at age 19 which deemed him the youngest Huey Helicopter pilot ever at that time. After graduation, Dan took a 30 day leave of absence to visit his family in Southern California.
Good Morning Vietnam!
Dan next traveled to the Oakland Army Depot in California where he received his jungle fatigues and gear necessary for deployment to South Vietnam. Because his airplane had mechanical issues, he was delayed three days which afforded him an excellent opportunity to visit his Aunt Artie who lived nearby. On July 3, 1969, Dan flew on a commercial airliner, complete with stewardesses, to Alaska, Japan and on to Bien Hoa Army Base near Saigon, South Vietnam. A day later, Dan was assigned to Long Binh’s replacement’s center where he received more combat gear and his next assignment which was to the 1st Aviation Brigade. Dan was the youngest Huey Helicopter pilot, but man was he skilled. For the next 12 months, Dan transported combat troopers to their area of operations where they sought to eliminate Viet Cong communist guerilla fighters. Dan flew pretty much all over South Vietnam supporting troops of the 9th Infantry Division (Old Reliables), 82nd Airborne (All Americans), 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One), 199th Light Infantry Brigade (Red Catchers), Special Forces (Green Berets), and Navy personnel.
Triple Canopy Jungle
“Flying Hueys was the most fun year I have ever had”, said Dan. That’s coming from a guy whose helicopter was often riddled with bullet holes and it’s miraculous that he never crashed or was wounded by enemy fire. Dan takes pride on having learned to maneuver a Huey down through triple canopy jungle while retrieving wounded soldiers. This highly skilled operation was nicknamed “touch” as it seemed to meld a pilot and a machine into one single apparatus. Dan’s unit had an unofficial award that they called “Magnet Ass” and helicopter crews that received the most enemy hits earned that distinction. Needless to say, Dan and his boys were recipients. Dan sadly recalls the incident when his crew chief, Roy L. Royston, volunteered out of boredom for a VIP assignment which was transporting several officers to a meeting. Their chopper was shot down and nosed dived into the ground causing a horrific fireball.
Dan’s tour of Duty ended July 1, 1970 and he returned home for a well-earned leave of absence with his family and was then assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas, which was my ole 9th Infantry Division stomping ground prior to deployment to Vietnam. As mentioned earlier, Dan and I have had many common experiences. It was in September of 1970 when Dan was sent to the Black Forest in Germany where he and his fellow troopers were subjected to bivouacking in tents during that winter. I can’t think of anything more miserable following a tour of duty in the stifling heat and humid climate of South Vietnam. Troops of the Soviet Union were misbehaving in the general area and Dan’s aerial unit was there to keep them honest, so to speak.
A Love Story
In January 1971, Dan returned to Fort Riley where he was attached to the 1st Infantry Division until April 1, 1971, when he received his Honorable Discharge and an early out. He turned down a promotion to 1st Lieutenant with the infantry, artillery and armor units. Dan believed his future was in much better hands in civilian life in Newhall, especially since he had met his future wife, Catherine Ann Clemmons. She was visiting an old friend from elementary school, an Army nurse and friend of Dan’s at Fort Riley. Dan said, “We instantly hit it off and we made each other laugh and we were simply happy just being together”. After the Army, Dan traveled to Cathy’s home in Chatfield, Minnesota, and she visited him in Newhall. Their long distance relationship blossomed for a year until Dan proposed to her and they were married in Chatfield on July, 1, 1972. Dan and Cathy promptly moved to an apartment near Hart High School in Newhall, but soon they bought a mobile home and then after several moves they settled in Canyon Country where they raised three children.
Supporting our Community
Meanwhile, Dan resumed his education at College of the Canyons and CSUN. But as Dan said, “Because babies showed up, I did not obtain my bachelor’s degree, which proved difficult while I worked as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff”. For most of Dan’s 32 year career, he worked at Castaic’s Honor Ranch retiring March 30, 2008. Over the years, Cathy worked in various local retail shops. Since retirement, this happy couple enjoys camping in their travel trailer along with paddle boarding, kayaking, hunting, and fishing. It’s notable that they continue supporting our community by providing bereavement services at their St. Claire’s Church in Canyon Country. Dan is a member of the American Legion, Post 309 in Pasadena and he’s quite active with the Knight’s of Columbus. Dan’s military awards include the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal w/40 Clusters, Army Aviation Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Dear Dan and Cathy, May God continue blessing your wonderful lives together and thank you for your honorable service to our country.