Kjell T. Tollefsen, aka “Troll” or Black Widow 45, was a Warrant Officer in the 188th Assault helicopter Company (AHC), proudly serving his adopted country as a “Huey” helicopter pilot in Vietnam from November 1967 to November 1968.
His helicopter was among several that had dropped a special forces team — men highly trained in direct combat — into Cambodia to capture intelligence at a time when President Lyndon B. Johnson was not officially acknowledging U.S. action extending into that country. Shortly after the drop off, the special forces team was under fire.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but we had dropped them off in the middle of a battalion-sized force of NVA [North Vietnamese Army]. … We were in Cambodia … and these guys got into a very difficult situation very quickly. … Two of the special forces guys were already killed. They had numerous wounded and were asking for extraction.”
Tollefsen’s helicopter drew intense fire as he and one other aircraft returned to pick up besieged members of the special forces team.
“[They] came out with their wounded, threw them in. I think I had two KIAs [killed in action], two wounded thrown into my ship. … I forget what the other ship picked up. … We were pretty much loaded to capacity. … We got above the tree line of the jungle, foliage around us, and we took [numerous hits].”
The command and control aircraft directed the helicopter, which was losing engine oil, to a field of elephant grass further inside Cambodia. Tollefsen did a semi-controlled crash, and the ship rolled onto its side. He and two other crew members got out safely, but the gunner was trapped.
“His head had been pinned under the aircraft … and his arms and legs were flailing around. We couldn’t get him out. The other aircraft carrying the other troops, now-wounded guys, got out. So all the special forces guys got out of the aircraft, set up a perimeter for us.
“One guy had a belly wound where you could see part of his intestines. He’s now setting up a perimeter for us. No one left.”
Tollefsen and others tried to free the gunner by rocking the downed helicopter and trying to lift it with another aircraft. No one left, even as two empty helicopters came in and command ordered evacuation, Tollefsen recalled.
“The command control ship is now telling us the NVA is … closing in on where we are and ‘Get out of there.’ And the special forces guys are engaging them at the perimeter. … We all stayed there trying to get the one remaining guy who was pinned under the aircraft. And we wouldn’t leave. On the command control ship, some [senior officer] in his great wisdom was yelling at us to get out of there and leave him behind. No one would leave him behind.
“We couldn’t get the Air Force, they were just in the distance at the border [knowing] we were in trouble, but they couldn’t get approval to come across the border to give us the support. … But we had some gunship from another unit that showed up. They said, ‘The hell with the order,’ basically. … They came and started putting down some suppressive fire so we’d have enough time to get the guy out.”
After about 20 minutes trying to free the gunner, the men discovered he was being held underneath the crippled Huey by his helmet strap. Tollefsen grabbed a knife and cut it.
“We basically ripped his body out from underneath there and out of the helmet. … We tore his ear in half…. We broke his collarbone, literally, by pulling on it to get him out.”
Tollefsen and his crew were evacuated. And the gunner?
“He stayed with us. He wore a sling for about a month and refused to get out of the unit.”
The mission was one of many in which Tollefsen’s helicopter drew fire. He always flew with something of a good luck charm.
“My nickname, because I was Norwegian, was Troll. And I carried a troll doll with me. It was dressed in little hippie outfit… My wife at the time had sent it over… So it was kind of a lucky charm as well … It set on the dash with us every mission.”
(#Repost @http://articles.courant.com/2009-11-08/news/hc-kjell-tollefsen-story_1_eileen-hurst-north-vietnamese-army-vietnam-war; Photo Credit: http://www.courant.com/hc-kjell-tollefsen-pictures-photogallery.html)