Bob Perry Bio


In June of 1964, after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University, I drove to the West Coast along with a couple of buddies I grew up with in New Jersey. My California vacation was cut short by the Selective Service System. Rather than be drafted, I enlisted in the Marine Corps.

After boot camp, I went to the Infantry Training Regiment and finally to Officer Candidate School. In June of 1965, I graduated OCS and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. I had met all the requirements for flight training while at OCS and found myself headed to flight school at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Eighteen months later, in December of 1966, I earned my wings. There were another five months of flight training in Huey helicopters before assignment to a squadron. On May 18, 1967, I deployed to Vietnam as part of the Second Increment of VMO-3. I flew combat missions in I Corps out of Phu Bai until rotating back the States on June 10, 1968. My final eighteen months of active duty were at the Marine Air Corps Station in Yuma, Arizona.

After fulfilling my military commitment, I went into law enforcement working as an investigator for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I retired from the DA’s Office in March of 1998, and have been enjoying the retired life ever since. To me, that means when I’m not out riding my Harley or shooting at the range, I’m home reading or writing. My current project is a memoir of my tour in Vietnam.



On May 03, 1967, a CH-46D SEA KNIGHT helicopter crashed in Santa Ana, California, killing all four crew members. The accident investigation quickly revealed that the mounting brackets of the main transmission had failed, causing the front and rear overlapping rotors to intermesh. All CH-46’s in the States were grounded until May 13th. The engineers concluded steel reinforcements were required to bolster the structural integrity of the transmission mounts. After being retrofitted with additional supports, some of the stateside birds were once again permitted to fly.

A few hours before these retrofitted stateside birds were returned to the air, a CH-46A fell out of the sky off the coast of Vietnam killing everyone on board. It was determined that the tail pylon: housing the engines, the main transmission, and the aft rotors, broke off in flight. An inquiry was ordered, but the in-country CH-46’s continued to fly. In June, another in-country CH-46 crashed. The initial report indicated that while the cause of the accident was “still undetermined…The malfunction under strong suspicion is failure in the main transmission.”

On the twentieth of June, another CH-46A crashed into the water. This time two of the four crewmen survived. Although this aircraft was not recovered from the water for inspection, failure of the rear pylon was once again suspected as the cause. Ten days later, another CH-46D crashed at Santa Ana. It was determined that a rotor blade had separated from the bird. Miraculously, all three crewmen survived. After this incident, all CH-46 D models were grounded, but the A models were allowed to continue operating. All CH-46 rotor blades were to be inspected using highly sophisticated x-ray equipment before they were permitted back in service.

On July 3, yet another CH-46 crashed in Vietnam, killing a crew of four. The airframe involved was one of the ungrounded A-models. The cause of this calamity was again traced to the transmission. Instead of grounding all CH-46’s until the problem was solved, Command called for a “CH-46 Reliability Review Conference” to convene in the first week of August. The Commanding General of FMF PAC (Fleet Marine Force Pacific), Victor Krulak, said he was beginning to suspect a “basic design weakness in the… transmission mounting….”

“No shit, Sherlock!”


*  *  *


I’m flying copilot for Captain Mike Gilmore. Our mission is escorting two CH-46’s carrying troops in the vicinity of Dong Ha. Paul Rollins is the copilot in the other Huey.  Without warning the tail section of one of the ‘46’s separates and the bird falls out of the sky, killing everyone on board.

Gilmore puts out a broadcast to the controllers on the ground who ask how many Marines were on board. Captain Gilmore knows from the briefing that there were 27, but because he is aware the enemy listens to our net, he replies “three baseball teams.” He is trying to inform the controller, but not divulge the exact number of our losses to the enemy.

A few days later, Gilmore and I stop at the Phu Bai O-Club after our mission. The club doesn’t serve alcohol until 4:00. The club is full of CH-46 pilots, sitting in a circle with their backs to the wall, drinking soda pop and waiting until they can get a stronger drink. Every one of them knows full well the recent history of the aircraft they fly. These Marine officers know the CH-46 won’t be grounded while command contemplates a fix for the problem of disintegration in flight. They also know those decisions are above their pay grade. Resigned to their fate, the CH-46 pilots are staring without seeing while singing a little ditty over and over.

I love a shit pump
I always will,
‘Cause it give me such a thrillll.

I love a shit pump
I always will,
‘Cause it give me such a thrillll!

It takes me a couple of minutes to realize they’re singing about their aircraft, the CH-46. Bill Lauer, who was in my O.C.S. platoon is among the CH-46 pilots. Bill and I had been close in OCS. But now it is apparent; Lauer doesn’t even know I’m here. As Huey pilots, we aren’t part of this fatalistic fraternity of CH-46 pilots.

I remember looking at the ’46 pilots, but trying not to because I could read their minds when I looked in their faces. It was a witch's brew of stoicism, fatalism, with a spicy dose of gut-wrenching fear thrown in for flavor. It wasn’t pretty. These guys were screwed, and they knew it. We had floundered into an exclusive club, and I didn’t want to be a member. I wish I could feel sorry for them, but I didn't have the emotional capital to spend. Tomorrow is going to be another day of flying combat missions, and once again I'll have to figure out how to get the job done, and how to stay alive while doing it. We grabbed our sodas and left.

To this day I can still hear the refrain.

I love a shit pump
I always will,
‘Cause it give me such a thrillll!