by a Times Staff Correspondent
Bien Hoa, Vietnam - Its name might not be good public relations but "Pollution 4" is sure bringing smoke on Charlie - quite literally.
"Pollution 4" is the smokeship of the 118th Assault Helicopter Co here. Its job is to lay smokescreens between landing zones and enemy forces which take them under fire.
"He can get eyball-to-eyeball contact with Charlie," said Maj. Duane C. Ingram of Killeen, Tex., Co of the 118th "Thunderbirds." "When he lays smoke he's got to be at grass-top level, and his makes him Charlies' number one target."
To bolster the smokeship crew's morale, Ingram decided to let them choose their own call sign.
"Everybody who has a smokeship calls it, 'Smokey Something-or-other," he said. "We wanted ours to be different."
Several weeks passed, and no name was submitted, so Ingram arbitrarily informed the crew that their call sign would be "Thundercloud."
The same day, on a combat assault mission, Ingram called the smokeship on the radio.
"Thundercloud, this is thunderbird 6," he said. "Smoke the woodline on the right, then break right to a heading of 040 degrees."
"This is Pollution 4," came the answer. "Roger that." The name stuck.
"They've saved us more than a couple of times," one slick pilot said of the smokeship crew.
His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Garald L. Waldron, agreed. "We've had a number of hot (under fire) Pzs (pickup zones) where we could not have gone in without smoke," Waldron said.
"We come in as fast as we can and as low as we can," said Sp5 David B. Henderson of Toronto, Pollution 4's crew chief.
To suppress enemy fir, Pollution 4 carries four M-60 machineguns. Often all four are firing form the same side of the choppers.