MCARA Sea Stories

3 Man Lift

First, some background then the untold story of how VMCJ-1 got introduced to the most famous (or infamous) sporting event in Vietnam!

Okay so some of you don’t have a clue about what a 3 Man Lift is all about … lucky you, either too old or young and missed being a player in Vietnam. To prove you can find anything on the internet a google search will give you some info and interestingly enough the sport is apparently alive and well with professional baseball players!

My story begins with a short history lesson. While with VMCJ-1 in Danang in May of 1966 we were exposed to the raw side of a mini-revolt staged by South Vietnamese army units with loyalty to a Buddhist general who had been fired by then prime minister General Ky. Ky sent up a few thousand of his loyal troops to wipe out the insurgents and gave them air cover with his A-1s located across the field from our flight line. One afternoon we gathered outside the MAG-11 O’ club to watch as the VNAF A-1s made straffing runs on targets just a few blocks away. Our attack pilots were grading their passes while observing through beer goggles when one of the A-1s made a rather menacing run in right over our heads. This resulted in a banging of the emergency gong and all hands jumping into the nearest bunkers. Apparently, there was some damage reported on the USAF flight line and with the situation getting worse the CG 1st MAW ordered an evacuation of our aircraft to other bases. We had to split our aircraft up with the skipper, Maj Bob “Pa” Tucker, showing sound leadership, taking the RF-8A’s to the USAF base in Ubon, Thailand and the XO (Maj Don Morgan) leading a det of six EF-10Bs to Chu Lai which was the home of MAG-12 and the A-4 Squadrons.

I flew down to Chu Lai with Capt. Bruce Ridell arriving sometime mid afternoon. We were directed to the guest quarters, ie tents on the sand, and once we found our bearings and a make shift briefing hooch we headed off to the MAG-12 O’club which was a plywood affair located right of the beach. Most of us had friends in one of the A-4 squadrons so the little club soon was packed to the limit and noisy as hell with the locals and us visitors swapping stories. As I entered the club I noticed a sign on the wall of a small empty room outside the bar that said something about “3 Man Lifts only in this room” but paid it no mind.

About an hour later I begin to see and hear some action next door in the empty room so went over to see what was going on. One of the A-4 jocks informed us newbees that “Hoss” was about to perform one his famous 3- Man Lifts and soon there was big money being wagered both for and against this seemingly impossible feat. Hoss was a huge man and one had to wonder how he ever fit into an A-4 cockpit. He was holding forth in the middle of the room and with much to do began to pick “volunteers” to be lifted. He finally settled on 2 locals and our Capt. Al Butler who had to weigh at least 185 pounds. Al was a renowned gambler and so he put up $50 against Hoss and at that point I think all our J-1ers pitched in at least $5 against Hoss too.

We began to have our doubts as we saw how confident Hoss was as he painstakingly positioned Al in the middle of the floor with his locals on either side interlocking arms with Al. We could see he definitely had a technique and you figured if anyone could do it ole Hoss might, and it appeared all his guys were putting their money on him. When all bets were in everyone with full glasses crowded near as Hoss began his count down to the lift. On the count of three the locals rolled away leaving our Al “the dupe” open to be drowned in beer from all those who knowingly had just filled their mugs! Hello VMCJ-1 you have just been introduced to the 3 Man Lift!!! Only then did I notice the crack in the middle of the floor which conveniently drained the beer and other misc. liquids away! Oh yeah 3-Man Lifts only in this room… not bad thinking for attack drivers!

We were then told that some of the A-4 crews had been introduced to the ”lift” while on an exchange visit to a Royal Australian Air Force F-86 squadron stationed over in Ubon Thailand. We couldn’t wait to get back to Danang as we felt obliged to expose the rest of MAG-11 to this new sporting event and of course Al Butler was eager to pass along the lift technique he was taught so successfully by Hoss. And then the rest is history!! At least once a month during the remainder of my tour and I’m told for years on end the legendary feat was performed over and over again as there seemed to be a never ending supply of newly arriving candidates for the “dupe” position.

Never saw a good one executed back in CONUS but was told that a Marine major nearly faced a court martial in the training command for lifting the admiral (in whites) during a mess night, but again it was wine not beer! The Marine was supposedly saved by a Marine general who threaten to make the POed admiral the laughing stock of the Navy!

By: Col. H. Wayne“Flash” Whitten USMC (Ret.)