In the spring of 1966, Johnny Linton arrived in Vietnam.
The lanky kid from Port St. Joe had left for Marine boot camp in November 1964 and later trained in aviation ordnance.
While waiting for orders in Okinawa, Linton was put through the age old military tradition of “Hurry up and Wait,” not knowing where he would end up.
Finally, Linton received his final set of orders, to RVN.
The young boy from the Gulf side town wasn’t exactly sure what RVN was, seeking clarification Linton asked a buddy.
The fellow Marine laughed and told Linton that RVN stood for the Republic of Vietnam.
President Johnson had changed the orders of all of those waiting for orders at the last minute to increase troop numbers in Vietnam.
Linton, the lanky Marine was 21 years old.
Linton was born in late 1945 and raised in Highland View by a single father who worked long hours at the paper mill.
Growing up he was tall and skinny, only weighing 135 pounds as a senior in high school.
When he told his friends that he was going to join the Marine Corps they laughed at the young Linton believing that he was too skinny and fragile.
In spite of the ridicule, Linton hitchhiked to Panama City and joined up; the Marines would change his life forever.
Thrown into the fire
As Linton settled into his new home at Marble Mountain Air Facility just south Da Nang he thought that he would be loading helicopters with ammunition and rockets.
What he didn’t know at the time is that he would be doing so much more.
A few days after his arrival, Linton was asked if he would like to go on a “gun-run.”
The young Marine, not exactly sure what a “gun-run” was, agreed and was outfitted with all the necessary equipment.
The next day Linton and other crew members readied a UH1E helicopter, commonly referred to as a Huey.
The helicopter took off and made its way to Marines on the ground battling the enemy.
Arriving on site, the pilot of the Huey dove into the battle and ordered Linton to open fire.
The only problem was that Linton had never fired an M-60 machine gun before.
As Linton found the safety and opened up the pilot called him off, they were past the target.
Learning from the first dive into the battle, Linton opened up on the machine gun as the pilot dove in a second time.
Linton could see rounds fired by the enemy coming up towards the Huey and as the helicopter pulled out of the last gun run, Linton got sick.
Vietnam was all too real now.
Once the helicopter landed the pilot launched into Linton asking why he didn’t shoot.
After a back-and-forth, Linton finally injected that he had never been trained on the machine gun and in fact had never been on a helicopter before.
The pilot, not believing what he was hearing, ordered Linton’s crew chief to give the young Marine a crash course in everything he would need to know to survive.
Brothers in arms
Linton would learn quickly and find himself on gun-run after gun-run for the next few years, estimating that he flew in over 400 missions in Vietnam.
Those missions would include some of the biggest operations of the war, including Operation Hastings.
“In Vietnam, just like everywhere else, you learn to make friends,” said Linton. “My two best friends were August Harold Monhof from Michigan and Phillip Lynn (P.L.) Johnson from Illinois.”
One day, while both Linton and Johnson were working in the ordinance tent, someone sent word they were needed on the flight line.
After being briefed, the pilots told their crews that they were going into a hot zone, in fact, a very hot zone.
A CH-46 transport helicopter had already been shot down and the ground troops were having a tough go at it.
As Linton’s chopper rolled into the fight, three rounds ripped through the Huey’s rotary blades.
Linton’s young friend Johnson’s helicopter rolled in for a run.
With a huge lump in his throat, all Linton could do is watch as his friend's helicopter dove into a torrent of enemy gunfire.
“All I could think was God please don’t let him get hurt,” Linton said.
Johnson’s helicopter came out of the first run with just cosmetic injuries, and Linton’s chopper dove back into the fight.
“The pilot and co-pilot were shooting the four outside guns and two rocket pods, and the crew chief and I were both hanging out the doors shooting just as hard as we could,” Linton said.
As Linton’s crew pulled out, again with multiple holes in the metal of the helicopter, Johnson’s crew dove in.
“As P.L.’s crew started in they were taking really heavy fire from one area,” Linton said. “As they got about halfway into the run their chopper was smoking and started to go down. The pilot was able to auto-rotate, using the blades to get down, but it was still a really hard landing.”
Johnson and his crew made it out of the downed chopper as Linton’s crew dove in to provide covering fire while ground Marines went out and rescued Johnson’s down crew.
After radioing the ground Marines for permission to come pick up their crashed comrades, it was decided that the area was too dangerous and that the fallen crew would be safe in the hands of the Marines on the ground.
The next morning Linton and his crew went and picked up his friend and crew. The crew was tired but safe after spending the night in a foxhole with the grunts.
When they landed Johnson wasn’t too pleased with the situation,
“P.L. came over and started chewing on my butt like a crazy man,” said Linton. “He wanted to know why I left him and gone back to the base that night. He said he would never have left me.
“I told him I had no control over going back to get him and told him I had been worried sick about him.”
Linton and Johnson would go on many more missions and make it home.
But Linton’s other close friend wouldn’t be so lucky.
Cpl. August Harold Monhof was killed on Dec. 5, 1967, when his helicopter collided with another in battle, though Linton believes that Monhof’s chopper was shot down during a “skunk run,” a maneuver where one helicopter flies low and slow to the ground to draw the fire of the enemy so that choppers stationed high above can spot them and take them out.
Monhof was just 21 and set to come home along with Linton from their second tour in only a couple weeks.
Linton would get out of the Marine Corp, get a job at the chemical plant and then the post office, serve on the city commission and raise a family.
Now retired, Linton has more time to sit and think and most of the time his memory takes him back 50 years to Vietnam.
Over a decade ago, Linton was diagnosed with acute PTSD.
He goes to counseling every month and has been writing about his Marine Corp experience on social media and hopes to turn the many memories into a book.
“I can’t remember a lot of things, but I can remember Vietnam real good,” Linton said. “It’s hard to tell people about it. It’s not like the movies; it’s a whole different world.”
The title of this article is taken from a piece written for a 2004 documentary film “In the Shadow of the Blade,” by the renowned war reporter Joe Galloway, who also co-authored “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young.”
To listen to the short piece simply search God’s own lunatics on YouTube, there are many versions dedicated to the helicopter crews of Vietnam.