18th Aviation Company (FWLT)
"Low - Slow - Reliable"
Otter Nest History
18th Aviation Company (Fixed Wing Light Transport)
Big news arrived on 21 July 1955, with receipt of a directive to activate the first Army Aviation Unit Training Command (AAUTC) at Fort Riley. The creation of the AAUTC was the result of the rapid expansion in Army aviation units in the mid-1950s. Seeking to utilize existing resources, the Department of the Army established two AAUTCs in 1955: one at Fort Riley and one at Fort Sill.
During May 1956, the 14th Army Aviation Company received orders for a permanent change of station to Fort Benning, Georgia. The following month, effective 15 August 1956, the unit was re-designated as the 1st Army Aviation Company (Fixed Wing Tactical Transport), at Lawson AAF, Fort Benning, Georgia, the new home of the 1st Aviation Company and its Otters.
Army Aviation Unit Training Command and the 71st Transportation Battalion
Unit Patch Unit Crest
71st Transportation Battalion (Helicopter) - Ft Riley, KS
The 71st Transportation Battalion (Helicopter) was the first of its kind in the Army with the training mission to prepare helicopter companies as combat ready units for assignment overseas beginning 24 January 1956, and the AAUTC became operational on 18 February 1956.
1st Infantry Division
Otters continued arriving at Fort Riley in 1958, with 5-76119 on 16 April 1958. Later 5-81688 on 1 November 1958, 5-81690 on 14 November 1958 and 5-81695 on 31 December 1958. Keep in mind at this time there is no 18th Aviation Company although Otters still seem to be coming in.
STATEMENT OF SERVICE
18TH AVIATION COMPANY (Fixed Wing Light Transport)
5 March 1959 - 16 April 1971
Constituted 5 March, 1959 in the Regular Army as 18th Aviation Company
Activated 1 May, 1959 at Fort Riley, Kansas (HQ, Fifth US Army GO 46 - 27 April 1959) & (HQ Fort Riley, Kansas GO 116 - 1 May 1959)
1 May 1959 - Unit Activated: Chain of Command for the 18th Aviation Company
1 May 1959 - Unit Activated: Chain of Command for the 18th Aviation Company
United States Fifth Army
1May 1959 till July 1 1962
1st Infantry Division
1 May 1959 till July 1st 1962
Unit Patch Unit Crest
71st Transportation Battalion (Helicopter) - Ft Riley, KS
1 May 1959 - 1 July 1962)
The following is the delivery schedule of the aircraft from the De Havilland Aircraft Corporation. The first Otter was 5-81703 picked up from De Havilland on 5 March 1959. Then 5-81705, 5-81706, 5-81707, and 5-81708 on 6 April 1959, 5-81710 on 29 April 1959.
The 18th Aviation Company Commanded by Major Robert D. McClanahan (1 May - October 1959) was established on 1 May 1959 at Fort Riley, Kansas as a Fixed Wing Light Transport (FWLT) with the 8 passenger (+ crew of 3) De Havilland U-1A Otter as its primary mission aircraft. It had received its first Otter (tail number 5-81703) from DHC on 18 March 1959 as the unit worked up towards activation. Master Sergeant Donald L. Rees had the honor to be the company's initial First Sergeant.
The unit was assigned to the 71st Transportation Battalion, Fifth US Army at Fort Riley, 1st Infantry Division Ft Riley Kansas (1 May 1959 - 1 July 1962).
[From then Captain Gerald Lynn Royals - Army, Colonel (Retired)]
"I was the S-1 for the 71st Transportation Battalion and when the 80th Light Helicopter Company departed for Alaska. Department of the Army decided to activate the 18th Aviation Company at Marshall Army Air Field, Ft. Riley, Kansas."
"I believe the first pilot assigned to the 18th was Lt/Capt. Carl Yoder (still flying). Capt Ray Smith was the only Otter qualified pilot at Ft. Riley. He was transferred from the 1st Inf. Division's, 1st Aviation Company. Capt Raymond G. Smith was the CO of the aircraft field maintenance detachment, a TD outfit assigned to provide 3rd echelon maintenance to all of the aircraft at Ft. Riley. As Capt Ray Smith was the only Otter qualified pilot at Ft. Riley and when the call came to pick up the units first Otter a/c in Toronto, Canada, I went with Ray and he subsequently checked me out in the Otter."
"We picked up a/c #58-1707 the fourth Otter delivered to the 18th on April 2, 1959. I think the a/c received were somewhat sequential, I can remember 5-81708, 09, 10, and 15. I can also recall 5-92203 and 05."
"I flew approximately 150 hours in the 18th a/c and in September 1959, I was reassigned from S-1 to XO of the 81st Transportation Helicopter Company. For all practical purposes my Otter days at Ft. Riley were over."
"Enclosed for this era is the order to pick up 5-81707 attached to the unit history."
[End Gerald L. Royals Story]
August 1959 - Pilot Otter Transition Training Completed
In August the unit completed the transition of all its aviators to the U-1A. The chief Instructor Pilot was Lieutenant Carl C. Yoder.
October 1959 - First Operational Mission
The Company's first operational mission was a long-range one, a MEDEVAC from Fort Riley to Fitzsimons Army Hospital. Training, mass troop lifts and re-supply missions were the standard tasking for the "Otters" flying out of Marshall Army Airfield at Fort Riley.
First Change of Command
On 26 October 1959 Captain Richard J. Murray assumed command from Major Robert D. McClanahan.
October 1959 Deployment
A detachment of 15 officers, 10 enlisted men and 7 U-1A's were sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in support of "Exercise Dragon Head" which lasted until 9 November 1959.
In 1959 the first company reenlistment was accomplished when Sergeant First Class Adam E. Naines reenlisted for a period of 6 years at an altitude of 1,500 feet. The oath was administered by Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth F. Langland and witnessed by Major McClanahan.
SFC Adam E. Naines
Original Otter Patch
18th Aviation Company Is Only One of It's Kind in 5th Army
The lieutenant opened the door on the deserted barracks that first day of May 1959. He entered a room furnished only with two slightly dusty desks and matching chairs. To the right were two small offices which could be entered through either of two doors. A door on the left opened to a larger room containing two long tables, a desk and a chair. The officer strode through the room and peered through a not-too- window onto the expanses of Marshall Army Air Field.
This barracks was to be the home of a unique flying unit and the officer would be the lone member of the new group for about six weeks. The aircraft around which the new company would build is a amazing addition to the Army stable of planes with the dubious nickname "Otter".
On May 1, 1959 the Continental Army Command activated the 18th Aviation Company and assigned it to the Fifth Army with the home base to be at Fort Riley, Kan. The lone officer assigned was 1st Lt. C. C. Yoder, a veteran of Korea with the 7th Infantry Division and a former pilot with the 1st Aviation Company, 1st Infantry Division.
Lt. Yoder had been a standardization instructor pilot for the 1st Aviation Company and his duties were to remain the same with the new unit. However, since he was the only soldier in the new unit, he had to assume all off the duties of a complete company staff. By the middle of June, Lt. Yoder duties were somewhat relieved by the assignment of a company commander, Maj. Robert D. McClanahan.
A perfectionist in flight, it was the duty of Lt. Yoder to arrange for, direct, and conduct a training program aimed at the transition of Army pilots from various aircraft to the unique "Otter". He was the lone instructor in the transition program until mid August when three other pilots became qualified as instructor. He now holds the position of supervisor of instructors and Standardization Instructor for the 18th Aviation Company.
The story of the 18th Aviation Company is not a run-of-mill tale of a newly activated group. From its minute beginning as a one-man company to the pre-strength of 22 officers and 48 enlisted men, there has been a succession of long, tedious hours of work, study and practice.
The "Otter"- officially designated as the U1A-is a fixed high wing cargo and troop transport. It is of such unusual heritage that a complete familiarization program is necessary to convert a pilot into a proficient-AND-apt-navigator of the craft. Presently the largest fixed-wing Army plane of its type, the ship is built by De-Haviland of Canada exclusively for the Army.
Statistically, the "Otter" cruises at 130 miles per hour and has a range of about 500 miles; it can carry a total of 3000 pounds of cargo, fuel and passengers; it will cruise for 7 hours on 213 gallons of gas.
Unit recently, the largest plane authorize for Army use was limited to a total of 8000 pounds, plane and cargo. The "Otter" nearly reached that limit including the 4900 pound weight of the plane.
The amazing characteristics of the "Otter" become evident in the practical use of the craft. Under full load it can take off in less than 300 feet and land in less distance. Although it is a large plane, it can hop over hedges and drop into small valleys in a manner reminiscent of the "Barnstormers" of old or the crop sprayers of today.
Tactically the value of the ship is demonstrated by comparison with the Army's largest helicopter. The 'Otter" has a much greater range than the helicopter and it is able to carry more cargo.
The special type of pilot demanded by the versatile 'Otter" can only produce by an intense training program. Pilots who are assigned to the company may, at the outset of the training, be either pilots fresh from flight school or seasoned liaison flyers. Regardless of their background, the new pilots undergo a rigorous transition program.
The training program consists of both classroom study and practical application. A prospective "Otter" pilot spends 40 hours in the classroom studying the construction, capabilities and tactical employment of the U1A. In addition the practical application and training-transition flying-involves
50 hours of flight time including 10 hours of solo flight.
The flight training is more than mere familiarization with the craft. It consists of detail studies of cargo loads distribution; practice in power approaches over barriers; choosing landing strips in rough terrain, and night proficiency flying.
The training program is wrapped up with an orientation on instrument navigation before the final test. Upon completion of the training, a pilot is checked out by the Standardization Instructor Pilot and
approved as a qualified "Otter" pilot.
The qualifications as a specialized pilot is not the end of training for the new pilot. Before he can be qualified to carry passengers on his ship he must have 300 hours of first pilot time in an aircraft. And even after that tallying that much time, continuous proficiency flights are made to insure that the pilots will always be ready for a mission in peace and war.
The 18th Aviation Company is the only unit of its kind in the 5th Army area. Its primary mission is training and equipping a company of combat-ready Army pilots for utilization and transportation of supplies and men and evacuation support for the Fifth Army and the 1st Infantry Division.
In peacetime the mission is similar and the company has a long record of flights in support of Army activities over the whole nation. The 16 "Otters" aircraft have been lending assistance to the First and Second Armies in addition to their regular duties in this area.
Under the command of Capt. Richard Murray, the 18th Aviation Company is growing both in resources and value. Activated to fill a need in the new concept of highly mobile fighting Army, the company
continues preparing itself should the day come when defense of our country is the foremost concern in our minds.
Such a flying unit with an aircraft of such versatile value is further proof that minds, men and materials are always prepared to protect the freedom we prize.
Donald Rees PCS'd to become 1SG of a ground transportation company at
Camp Funston. 1SG Charles J. (Jack) Keane replaced Donald Rees to become the unit first sergeant.
1SG Jack Keane
(Joe Talbert Photo Credit)
Possible 1st Unit photo - June 1960
July - October 1960
The unit started ATP in July and completed it in October 1960.
The first Army Training Test for the unit was held from 2 - 5 November, with a final grade of Excellent attained.
The unit was designated as a STRAC unit.
[Jack Serig's "The General and the Conductor" story]
"During a permanent tour at Ft. Riley, Kansas, early 60's, with the 18th
Otters as a first lieutenant, I was ordered to the Pentagon for
temporary duty, to serve as escort for the Deputy Chief of Staff,
Intelligence, Army of Bolivia. During my Pentagon briefings the
importance of this VIP's visit was repeatedly emphasized. Our
government was trying to improve seriously strained relations with the
"My charge, (DCSINTEL-BOLIVIA) would be the first senior official from Bolivia to accept our government's invitation in several years. My duties to the DCSINTEL-BOLIVIA were similar to that of aide-de-camp, translating for him, insuring we met our local briefing schedules and getting him to and from the many far-flung military installations on our itinerary, on time. The DCSINTEL Bolivia was considered important enough to be hosted, personally, by the DCSINTEL, U.S. ARMY, and his lovely wife."
"A semi-formal cocktail party and dinner were held at the Army-Navy Club the night before we departed Washington for our next installation visit, which was to be accomplished by train. Much to our surprise, especially after the many goblets of fine wine served with the seven-course dinner the night before, the DCSINTEL, U.S. Army, a two-star general, personally showed up at the train station to bid adieu to DCSINTEL, Bolivia."
"The general accompanied us on to our car and engaged us in conversation. The "All aboard!" sounded. The DCSINTEL, U.S. Army didn't debark. The train began lurching slowly forward. The general made no attempt to leave. The train gained momentum. A conductor appeared. The DCSINTEL, U.S. Army, said to the conductor, "Stop the train!"
"The conductor said, "No!" A heated argument ensued. Neither side would give in. The train was picking up speed. The DCSINTEL Bolivia, and I, were having the rare privilege of seeing a American two-star general, no less than the DCSINTEL U.S. Army, being dressed down and stood-up-to by a stubborn civilian train conductor."
"The general reached up and pulled the "emergency stop" cord. The conductor soundly berated the general "who was in Class A uniform with two shining stars attached to each epaulet" in a furious verbal barrage. The train screeched to a slowing halt. The general shook hands with the Army of Bolivia's DCSINTEL a final time, said Goodbye! - with a warm smile, as if nothing had happened, and left our passenger car, which was the final car of the train."
"The last we saw, through our car's rear observation window, of the United States Army's 2-star DCSINTEL, he was walking along the tracks toward the train station about four blocks away, head proudly held high."
The unit deployed three (3) Otters to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in support of the National Parachute Meet.
The unit completed one full accident free year, which was an outstanding accomplishment.
The unit deployed one (1) Otter to the Engineer Research & Development Laboratory for the purpose of testing the Airborne Tellurometer equipment. This testing lasted until August 1961. The unit also deployed (3) Otters to For Eustis, Virginia for Operation Air Mobility. Two (2) Otters went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for transporting personnel and a mission to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for an air demonstration for ROTC cadets.
September 1961 - Another Change of Command
Captain Robert L. Felix assumed command from Major Richard H. Scott on 2 September 1961.
Captain Felix received orders to attend the Aviation Safety Course at the University of California until December, temporarily turning the command over to his Executive Officer Captain William D. Brandon. In October the ATP started again in preparation for the coming ATT in January, unaware the unit would never complete it prior to its shipment overseas.
Serious Engine Power Loss - Examined, Evaluated and Solved
[From Jack Serig's "Low Slow Reliable" story]
"As a result of extensive, and intensive, priority research our team developed evidence of three separate, potentially dangerous problems. First, in some power losses, records revealed cracks between the spark plug holes in the engines' cylinders. Second push-pull rods were bending beyond tolerances or ball ends were failing. And third, cylinders were not factory stamped with the number of hours they had accumulated at their previous overhauls. Consequently, total cylinder hours could not be determined and cylinders, aged beyond their design limits, were failing."
"It was decided between our unit's staff and the staff of our third echelon maintenance support company, the 339th, with the concurrence of the battalion commander and staff, that we would tear down three Otter engines, those with the most hours since rebuild. The 339th crews, supported by the Otter crew chiefs, began day and night crew shifts to expedite the process of determining the existing condition of our fleet of engines, nineteen in all. Within several weeks we had indisputable evidence that our research findings were supported by the engine teardown findings learned in the 339th shop. An average of 33% of cylinders and/or push-pull rods failed to meet the criteria spelled out in the technical manual. This average remained constant for all engines upon teardown inspections."
"During the above events a new commanding officer reported to the 18th, Bob Felix. In his Otter solo checkout, in the pattern, shooting touch-and-go landings; he experienced engine failure resulting in another successful dead stick landing, NUMBER 13. When he walked through my office door, the first time we met, the expression on his face reminded me of the proverbial "bull in the china shop." He let loose with a predictable gnashing and lashing wanting to know what was wrong with our maintenance. Fortunately, the information was opened up, spreadsheet fashion, on my desk. He calmed down when we advised him of our findings to date and our efforts to correct the problems. He became immediately supportive and remained so throughout our association."
"As a result of our findings I recommended that all our Otters be grounded. This was approved by the company and battalion commanders with the knowledge of the 1st Infantry Division Commanding General. A recommendation for worldwide grounding of all Otters in the Army's inventory was also approved and sent to appropriate commands."
"Remember, you 'ol Otter crew members---the year was 1961! However, this worldwide grounding recommendation fueled a feud between our command and the "powers to be" in the Aviation Material Command, the De Havilland people and the Pratt and Whitney experts. They didn't believe us, initially. But we were proved right in our assessment after many heated meetings when our substantiating evidence was presented."
"In short order, between the initiatives of the 339th crews and the backup support from the Army Depot at Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas, all of our engines were rebuilt within a few months. In effect, we had the equivalent of new Otter engines."
"Our unit commander approved another recommendation to perform night maintenance, once our aircraft were returned from engine overhaul. By performing the majority of maintenance at night our aircraft availability and daytime flying hours, we believed, should be significantly increased. That's exactly what happened."
Some of these engines were rebuilt with new cylinders of an upgraded specification, which provided a more reliable operation, which was just as well as in December 1961, the 18th Aviation Company was selected for duty in Vietnam, becoming the first Army fixed wing unit to serve in that country.
"We were a Strategic Army Command (STRAC) unit, ready to be deployed anywhere in the world on short notice. When the Pentagon staff saw our aircraft availability rate had increased well above that of all other existing Otter units, we had a visitor, Major Ken Mertel. He was apparently convinced with what he saw. We were not fudging! Shortly after he returned to the Pentagon we were ordered to Southeast Asia, country unspecified."
Not all of the unit's Otters were fit to travel, and the 18th had to leave four of its Otters behind at Fort Riley (tail numbers 5-81714, 5-81715, 5-92203 and 5-92204), receiving additional aircraft from the 17th Aviation Company at Fort Ord.
[Sid Perrine's story about the alert and deployment]
"During a routine early morning alert on Dec 26, 1961 the company was informed by the Commanding Officer, Bob Felix, that this was not a routine alert and we had been activated for movement to a classified overseas location and would be preparing all company TO&E items for shipment including 9 of our U-1A Otters to the Alameda, California shipyard within the next two weeks."
"Within the allotted time our Otters were in Alameda and the rest of us found ourselves winging our way to Oakland, California airport on a nonscheduled Lockheed Constellation. We landed at Oakland, California and were whisked away to an awaiting "pocket" flattop named the USNS CORE and within two hours we were on deck waving goodbye to the dusky skyline of San Francisco, California."
First Year in Vietnam
Arriving in Feb 16 1962 in Saigon, Vietnam
Docking in Saigon, Vietnam
After a stop in Guan the carrier arrived at Saigon "Less than one week later we docked in downtown Saigon just across from the Majestic Hotel at the end of Tu Do St."
Jack Serig on the USNS Core
Jack Serig on the USNS Core
After unloading, the Otters were towed to Tan Son Nhut airfield, where they were re-assembled by mechanics of Air Vietnam (the Vietnamese national airline). They were then flown to their operational areas.
The 18th Aviation Company was the first fixed wing Army Aviation Company to arrive in Vietnam, having been preceded by three Companies operating CH-21B Shawnee helicopters. This made the unit the only one of it's kind in Vietnam and carried the full blunt of the work, as the Caribou's did not arrive in Vietnam until later. During the next ten months the Otter time after time proved itself as did pilots that flew them. Thousands of flying hours, numerous passengers and tons of cargo soon earned the respect of all who came into contact with the 18th Aviation Company. No mission will be too difficult, no operation impossible because this is a "can do" unit.
When the Army gets around to evaluating the operations of the various units in Vietnam, we are confident that the 18th will be numbered among the units that have rendered outstanding service.
"Within three days we were transported by USAF. C-123's to Nha Trang airport located 180 miles North, North East of Saigon and off loaded. As a "bare base" operations was nothing in sight but beach sand. So, it was 16 man tents, C-Rations, and non-potable water for us until we got all of our stuff together."
"We were accompanied by the 339th Transportation Co. maintenance support (commanded by Captain Robert E. Allwine, Jr.). As an Air traffic controller, I worked in the old French control tower with the VNAF controllers. They worked their T-28's on VHF and we worked all other military traffic on UHF radios."
United States Army Pacific Command
[2 January 1962 - 11 July 1962]
The 18th Aviation Company was assigned to the Commander In Control United States Army Pacific Command (CINCUSARPAC), headquartered at Fort Shaffer, Hawaii, and subsequently to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam under Temporary Duty Movement Order # 1, Headquarters Fort Riley, Kansas, dated 2 January 1962. The 18th was operationally attached to MACV's Support Command until 11 July 1962 when it became a Permanent Change of Station move.
[Insert from the book: "VIETNAM STUDIES AIRMOBILITY 1961-1971"]
By Lieutenant General John J. Tolson
Air Mobility in Vietnam
Da Nang Air Base - This unique delivery was accomplished without serious incident even though ceilings were down to 100 feet over the ocean. These three aviation companies experienced seemingly insurmountable difficulties because of a critical shortage of engines and deterioration of rotor blades and aviation equipment due to high humidity. Nevertheless, they continually overflew their programmed flying hours and exceeded aircraft availability normal rates.
To some extent the support gap was bridged upon arrival from Fort Riley, Kansas, in January 1962 of the 18th Aviation Company (U-1A Otter). These aircraft were spread throughout the four corps areas to provide a utility supply net throughout the length of the country. Most of their missions involved delivery of aircraft parts and supplies to rotary wing aviation units that were widely separated from their support elements.
The first Marine helicopter squadron arrived in country in April 1962 and was established at the old French base at Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta. In June and July of that year the Marines swapped bases with the 93d Transportation Company at Da Nang because of the greater capability of the Marine H-34 helicopters to operate in the higher elevations of the northern region.
To provide better command and control of the Army's growing fleet, the 45th Transportation Battalion was deployed to Vietnam in early 1962 from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and assumed command of the three Army helicopter companies and the fixed-wing Otter Company. Shortly thereafter two more light helicopter companies, the 33rd and the 81st, were deployed and also came under the command of the 45th Transportation Battalion.
[End of article]
18th Aviation Company's First Ground Mission
[From Jack Serig's - "Those Magnificent GI's" Story]
"Not long after our arrival at Nha Trang, South Vietnam, our 18th Otter Company Executive Officer, Captain Doug Brandon, advised me to report for a meeting with him and the Commanding Officer, Captain Bob Felix, at company headquarters. I was Platoon Commander of the Service Platoon, which performed aircraft and vehicle maintenance, aircraft refueling and servicing, crash rescue, and aircraft flight testing."
"Captain Felix advised me that I was to lead a small "secret" task force for our unit's first ground mission into potential Viet Cong territory. "
"The mission: To transport 1,500 gallons of aviation fuel, in our unit fuel truck, from our Nha Trang base camp to a military unit at Duc My (Zook Me) about 50 kilometers northwest of Nha Trang. I was to select sufficient personnel and weaponry to insure the mission's success."
(Service Platoon Sergeant - SFC A. B. Holly)
"The following day I directed my Service Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class A. B. Holly to form the platoon. All platoon members were present. I explained to them that I needed a few volunteers to form a small taskforce to tackle a highly secret mission. I was not able to provide any details. The mission was simple and doable if we weren't attacked. There was no guarantee that there wouldn't be casualties if we encountered enemy forces as we would be traveling through unprotected territory. That's all I can tell you at this time!"
"Upon bringing the platoon to attention, I asked: "Volunteers, take one step forward!" The entire platoon, in unison, took one step forward."
"I hadn't expected one hundred percent to volunteer. I should have known better! "All aviation types but magnificent GI's", I thought."
"I thanked the platoon members for their outstanding spirit and willingness to volunteer, then began the tough process of selecting the few men who would make up the taskforce."
"On the appointed day of the mission I briefed the commanding officer and executive officer on how our small force would attempt to accomplish the task. I got a surprise. We were to take a guest with us. Jack Foisie, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, A last minute change! I was advised, Foisie was a VIP, because his sister was married to Dean Rusk, Secretary of State."
"Mr. Foisie accompanied me to the two-vehicle convoy, the refueling truck and the jeep with trailer-mounted machine gun. Weapons and ammunition were checked again. All personal effects were left behind. This was double-checked. Identification tags were checked. Our uniform was fatigues and jungle-type combat boots, each man carrying their assigned weapons and other weapons they felt comfortable with, such as jungle knives and side arms. Protective armored vests completed our combat-ready wardrobe."
"The mission briefing began. I explained, using the unmarked map, where likely ambushes could be. Where a bridge had been sabotaged over what was thought to be a fordable stream. The jeep would take the lead through the city by the pre-determined route I had selected. Several kilometers after passing the city's north gate on Highway 1, where we would begin an uphill climb, the refueling truck would take the lead. If necessary, the fuel truck would attempt to breach roadblocks by crashing through them. The jeep would drop behind by several hundred yards to provide covering fire if the fuel truck was attacked. Everyone's additional mission, if it appeared the fuel would fall into enemy hands, was to concentrate on blowing up the fuel. Tracers and matches had been distributed for that purpose."
"We departed Nha Trang city without incident, passing the last South Vietnam Army's occupied guard post, onto a narrow bridge, heading north on Highway 1."
"Finally, we could tell we were getting close to Duc My when we observed Vietnamese walking and on bicycles. Eventually, we entered the MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) compound without incident. 50 klicks in less than an hour! It seemed much longer!"
"We refueled the two CH-21's never learning a word about their top-secret mission and said our good-byes to Mr. Foisie. Reversing our route for our return to Nha Trang was more suspenseful. We were at an even higher level of alert now, as we all recognized we may have tipped-our-hand."
"We could have given the enemy time to set up ambush sites if they had spotted us on our initial jaunt to Duc My. But we returned to Nha Trang without incident."
"The 18th Aviation Company's first ground mission into potential enemy territory was a success. "
[End of Jack's story]
[from Jack's - "A MEMORABLE"BLOODY" FLIGHT" Story]
"The 18th (Otter) Aviation Company's mission in South Vietnam, after our arrival in early 1962, was simple. We were to provide Otter support to each of the then three ARVN (Army of Vietnam) Corps' U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Groups. Company headquarters was established at the Nha Trang airfield and provided logistics support to the three detachments located at Da Nang (I Corps), Pleiku (II Corps) and Saigon (III Corps). Each detachment commander was responsible for establishing daily scheduled flights within their respective Corps area of responsibility."
"One such scheduled flight departed the Saigon-Tan Son Nhut airfield on a VFR (Visual flight rules) morning heading, eventually, deep into the Mekong Delta. An Army chaplain from one of the isolated delta camps had signed on as a passenger. Several stops at delta airstrips were scheduled before the chaplain would reach his destination. It was common in those first months of our U.S. military buildup for members of isolated units to make grocery purchases wherever groceries could be found. The chaplain had made such a purchase, for his unit's compliment, at the Saigon commissary. Our Otter crew had assisted the chaplain with the loading of his groceries. The seat across from where the Padre sat was empty and several bags of his precious commodities were placed in that seat."
"After several uneventful landings and takeoffs, the Otter lifted off from a small strip and established a new heading on climbout. Suddenly, an unfamiliar "crack" was heard by all on board, instantly followed by a small explosion within the aircraft's passenger compartment. Minds were working furiously to determine the cause of the unexplained interruption. It was immediately obvious to all on board that the "good father" was the victim of whatever it was that had occurred. The pilot looked back over his shoulder and was astounded to see the chaplain's face and upper body covered with blood. The crew chief was at the chaplain's side in an instant, ready to provide first aid and assist with the bleeding "father's" wounds. No one else appeared injured so all eyes and thoughts of crew and passengers were riveted on our wounded "Man of God." The crew chief took a few moments to check the bloody face and torso."
"All on board were rooting for the chaplain's well being. You could sense the silent, well-meant prayers of these suddenly religious souls. The pilot looked back again and activated his intercom. "How is he?" "How bad is it?" The aviator's mind-set was running through the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) he would follow for a wounded passenger. After a few more moments the pilot could see a smile emerging from his crew chief's face. He also observed the chaplain smiling through the bloody morass that distorted his facial features. The crew chief was ebullient in his response. "Sir, he's covered with ketchup!" There was a short moment of silence as the new, positive piece of information registered in the minds of these concerned soldiers. Then smiles, then clapping, acknowledging the relief each person felt. Then, hard, belly-deep laughter when the realization hit each one that they had a great, funny story, which had just occurred in their presence. A story to be remembered a lifetime."
"A Vietcong round had penetrated through the belly of the aircraft, upward into the seat holding the chaplain's groceries. Of all the grocery items, the round picked an isolated bottle of ketchup. No one had been injured by fragmented, flying glass. The other groceries surrounding the ketchup bottle had successfully contained the glass. But the liquid ketchup sought out an unsuspecting adversary, our "Padre.""
"In the thirty-plus years since this incident occurred, I have often pondered: "What if......the crew had placed the groceries on the opposite seat and the chaplain had been in the seat that took the round?" Somewhere it is said: "The Good Lord works in mysterious ways!" "
[End of Jack's story]
[From Jack Serig's "Picnic in Laos" Story]
"General Duong Van "BIG" MINH was an imposing figure. A four-star general, he had retired from the South Vietnamese Army and was active in his country's politics. He was taller than six feet, large boned, crew cut and a wide, easy grin that exposed a missing tooth in the upper row. Several gold crowns also drew your attention to his mouth when you first met him. He reportedly refused to have his missing tooth replaced. He wanted to remind himself, and especially others who met him, that his tooth was lost to the Viet Minh when he was in their capture. It was, apparently, his personal "Badge of Courage". He had survived the Viet Minh's torture."
"It was mid-1962 when we met on the Da Nang tarmac. The general, and his entourage, needed an aircraft to accompany a helicopter to take the general's party to Lao Bao, so they could visit Laos, of all places. I didn't think I had signed up for Laos! Lao Boa was the closest South Viet field to the Laos destination. My 18th Aviation Company's U-1A (Low-Slow-Reliable) Otter flight detachment was given the mission."
"Just days before, I had flown a young U.S. Army sergeant to Lao Bao to rejoin his MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) unit. He had been one of the very first prisoners of war ever captured by the Vietcong. But the Cong had returned him to a friendly unit, unexplainably. His capture and release had made international news. I had read about him in the Pacific Stars and Stripes before meeting him and taking him back to Lao Bao."
"And now, here we were, a few days later on the Da Nang tarmac expected to accompany this picnic-like gathering to visit Laos, via Lao Bao, near where the sergeant had been captured."
"The general was in civvies accompanied by two American's in golf-club togs who said they were lieutenant colonels from the embassy in Saigon. They had all brought their wives who were dressed similarly with blouses, slacks and high heels, and lots of jewelry. The only thing lacking was a holiday picnic lunch basket, with French wine, of course. Our crew was concerned, especially for the safety of the ladies because of our knowledge of active Vietcong operations in the area. Surely, our embassy staff knew of the return of the captured sergeant in the same locale. Some picnic!"
"The general mounted the helicopter with his small party and the embassy-types with wives boarded our Otter. It was a beautiful VFR (Visual Flight Rules) morning. The flight was pleasant landing at the 1,300 foot Lao Bao strip about mid-morning. We had alerted the MAAG unit of our impending time of arrival while in flight and they were waiting for us with several jeeps."
"We loaded into the jeeps leaving behind security for the aircraft. After a few kilometers along the South Viet side of the border we reached a concrete marker which advised we were crossing into Laos. We stopped for pictures."
"After a few minutes into Laos the general halted the convoy, had the vehicles park and proceeded toward the "unknown" via a footpath. He seemed to know exactly where he was going, as though he'd been there before. Over a small rise in the path was a broken down palm-thatched shelter serving, we would learn, as a guardhouse. A young, bronzed man, streaked with dirt, in a dilapidated, battered, dirty uniform of khaki shorts and black shirt raised his relic of a rifle as in salute. The general engaged the young man in conversation and obtained permission to enter Laos, or the village, perhaps both."
"The few U.S. military personnel in uniform with weapons automatically flowed toward the flanks of the general's party to allow for clearer fields of fire and whatever protection they could provide the party, if that became necessary."
"We stayed in the village less than thirty minutes. It wasn't a detailed inspection tour. The general was doing the questioning and consulting with a few of the village women. The officer's ladies in the party remained jovial and paid special attention to the tatter-clothed kids. Others in our party were making polite but strained conversation around the periphery of the VIP's, on alert!"
"An unseen danger! Kept expecting something to happen? It didn't! We went back to our jeeps, much more somber than when we arrived, and returned to Lao Bao and flew the Saigon-Laos picnic-party back to Da Nang."
[End of Jack's story]
[from Jack's "BLOOD BROTHERS" Story]
"One dark, cloudy night, the unit commander summoned my Otter aircraft crew to his native-style quarters in our 18th Aviation Company's hooch village, located at the northeast section of the Nha Trang Air Base. It was mid-1962. An emergency request had been received to take a packet of human blood to Dalat. An ARVN soldier, stationed in Dalat had been severely wounded. The blood delivery could make the difference in saving the injured soldier's life. The South Vietnamese Air Force unit stationed at the base was unable to take the mission. Our unit commander agreed to fill in. Keith Mowry was the crew chief, Louis Oliverio the pilot and I was aircraft commander."
"There were two airfields at Dalat. A respectable, long concrete field with an operations building/terminal and tower located at the base of a mountain which held the town of Dalat in its upper region. A much shorter grass strip was on a sloping, small plateau within the town of Dalat on top of the mountain. Neither field had night lighting and we were unable to determine from the emergency request at which field we were to deliver the blood. My crew's selection for this mission came about for several reasons. We were available; and I had personally experienced one daytime landing at each field. With the CO we jointly determined that we could deliver the blood, barring adverse weather conditions."
"In planning the mission several important items were discussed: How to keep the blood cool; the overcast weather; flight planning; instrument qualifications; airfield familiarization; NOTAM (notice to airmen) check; and to whom the blood should be delivered. We estimated an engine-start time to coordinate the blood's delivery and purloined a container of ice from the mess hall to keep it cool during the flight. Preliminary weather reports indicated overcast conditions enroute. We should be able to fly on-top after penetrating the cloud bank by climbing to altitude over the South China Sea, back to the Nha Trang ADF (automatic direction finder) beacon, then flying a prescribed direct route to Dalat with sufficient altitude to clear the mountainous terrain. There were no NOTAM's for Dalat. We would land at the main, concrete runway at the base of the Dalat mountain. If no one was there to meet us we would do our best to fly to the mountaintop strip near Dalat city which had low overcast cloud cover on our takeoff."
"The lifesaving blood was delivered to us and we took off from Nha Trang, proceeding as planned. We initiated our approach from the Dalat ADF, announcing our intentions on the prescribed radio frequencies and broke out of the soup just east of the airport, above minimums."
"There was one visible light, a small electric bulb, which gave a ghostly appearance to the tower's interior as we passed on a high recon, and one small outside security light to the rear of the operations/passenger terminal. The runway was not lighted. The field was in a narrow valley and there were no landmarks other than the close mountain ranges to either side of our direction of travel. We prepared for landing after circling the field on the high recon and lined up on final about a half-mile out, landing to the west. Upon touching down my peripheral vision was picking up blurry objects both left and right. As the aircraft slowed down we realized how fortunate we were to have stayed over the centerline. A few short yards to our right and left were large piles of construction rock and sand at close intervals along our path of travel. The runway was being readied for repairs. We had specifically checked NOTAMS for Dalat prior to our departure from Nha Trang. There were none. We had been lucky---so far! "
"We slowed on the main runway pulling off onto the available parking apron before reaching the dimly lighted operations area. I advised Louis to keep the engine running and to be ready for a quick get-away as we had seen a person in black pajamas, conical hat and slung weapon, come out of the shadows from the area behind the operations building. "Was it a good guy or bad guy?" I wondered. I dismounted and approached him, simultaneously unloosening the strap to my .45 caliber pistol and checking my jungle knife, building my courage. The pajama-clad figure watched me approach, his rifle still slung. I took him for a good guy. As I got closer I could see his smile. He turned out to be the airport's sole night security. I pantomimed "telephone", smiling back. He pointed to a phone booth. "
"The Vietnamese female operator put me through to the home of the Senior MAAG (Military Assistance Advisor Group) advisor in Dalat city, atop the mountain, an army lieutenant colonel whom I had flown to Dalat with his family earlier in the year on my only other flight into Dalat. He had remained at his home anticipating a call. His reception party was at the dirt strip, on the plateaued mountaintop waiting for us. I advised that we may not be able to get into that strip as the cloud cover was below the mountain tops. "Could he send a party down to the main airfield?" "No!" he replied, "The Vietcong controlled the roads at night and ambushes had been experienced before." It was too dangerous to send a land party. I responded that we would take off, climb on top of the cloud cover and try to find a hole through the cloud bank and search for the strip. He provided me with several radio frequencies from his jeep radio so we could communicate. I advised him how to position the several jeeps he had along the airstrip so we would have a source of lighting if we were successful in breaking through the cloud cover. The colonel concurred. Thanking the night security man with a few bows, I re-entered the Otter hoping our luck would hold and reviewed in my mind just how fortunate we had been so far: flying instruments at night with no radar tracking nor any knowledge of other aircraft in our vicinity; landing exactly where we needed to land to miss unbeknownst piles of construction materials; and encountering a pajama-clad person who could have been on the wrong side. So far, so good!"
"We were soon in the clouds again, climbing in orientation with the direction of the valley to avoid collision with the known, close-by mountains. We broke out on top, finally, heading in the direction of Dalat city. We concentrated on searching for a break in the clouds and spotted a lighted reflection coming from the city below. Checking the horizon left to right we were again over the extensive cloud bank. Suddenly and unexpectedly a small hole appeared exposing the cities lights. We cut power and lowered the nose steeply, making it through the small tunnel of hope, leveling off several hundred feet above the city. We radioed the MAAG chief that we were over the town headed east toward the airstrip and would flash our landing lights. He "Rogered!" had his jeeps flash their lights, and we responded, "Field in sight!""
"The lighting provided by the jeeps was perfect. There were also smudge pots along both sides of the runway, an unexpected assist which helped us in setting up our low approach. We completed our checklist and landed. Upon deplaning we turned the blood over to a South Viet army surgeon. He bowed and we bowed in return to his gesture of appreciation. There were nearly a hundred Vietnamese smiling and waving plus the colonel and his small MAAG contingent. Their reception was heartwarming and happy. There was clapping and excitement. We were made to feel like brothers-in-arms---"BLOOD BROTHERS!"
[End of Jack's story]
[from Jack's "Fire In Flight" Story]
"Our company commander, Captain Bob Felix, sent me to Da Nang to head our detachment of Otter aircraft deployed to support the I Corps effort. It was May 1962."
"One day, on one of our normal resupply and passenger milk runs, we had taken off from a small MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) airfield dirt strip in the boonies northwest of Da Nang. We boarded one U.S. officer and five enlisted men to fly them to Da Nang."
"After takeoff we obtained air traffic control clearance to climb to a designated altitude to make a simulated instrument approach to the Da Nang airfield, for practice. The other pilot, Lou Oliverio, flew with a hood on to restrict his vision to the instruments for the practice run. It was a beautiful VFR (Visual Flight Rules) day with umpteen miles of visibility. All unit pilots practiced simulated instrument flight whenever we could to give us an edge in the unpredictable weather patterns associated with the monsoon rains we frequently encountered."
"Just as our ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) needle indicated we were almost over the Da Nang airfield, still at the assigned altitude of 4,000 feet, our single engine began running rough---sputtering. Engine instruments were within normal ranges for the moment. Glancing behind me, our six passengers appeared calm. I instructed the pilot to begin an emergency descent after he came out from under the hood. I contacted the tower on the prescribed VHF frequency and advised the Vietnamese tower operator that we were experiencing engine problems and asked for clearance to land, requesting crash rescue trucks as a precaution."
"A "Roger, cleared to land," was acknowledged. Still on high downwind we noted the cylinder head temperature gauge beginning to climb, the oil pressure gauge showed a drop, while the RPM needle fluctuated with the coughing engine."
"We set up our approach pattern to land north keeping close to the field to land power-off, if necessary. The engine kept coughing and sputtering but still provided power. We elected to keep it running as long as it agreed. A second call to the tower operator, on high base. Another request for crash trucks which we could see at their fire station, stationary. Another "Roger" from the tower operator but the fire trucks remained in position at the fire station."
"Unknown to us, a U.S. Air Force radar station individual, standing in his radar equipment compound, looked up upon hearing our complaining engine. He bolted to a telephone and called the local U.S. Air Force Senior Advisor, co-located on the airfield, advising him than an Army plane (US!) was in trouble, "On Fire!""
"By this time we were nearing our turn to high final, the engine still providing restrained power. Our feet began to get warm, then hotter, and streaks of fire began to appear in the slots of the paneling between our feet and our knees. We were on fire and apparently the forward and rear firewalls had not been able to retain what had to be a pretty good blaze. We were on high, short final---still no crash rescue vehicles. A third request and a third "Roger!""
"I instructed Louie to pull off the runway at the first taxiway and to shut down the engine. I had the fire bottle in my hand and was ready to use it after touchdown. Using it now would blind us inside the cockpit, even though the streaks of fire coming through the openings were brighter, longer, and hotter. I instructed the passengers to be ready to jump out of the plane as soon as we stopped."
"We landed, turned off the active runway and I reminded Louie again to shut down the engine. I failed to pull the emergency gas/oil shutoff valve. My mind was on the passengers and their safety---to get them out of the burning aircraft and as far away as possible. I opened the right cockpit compartment door, unlocked the restraint system, stepped onto the top step and jumped to the taxiway. My head jerked hard. Forgot to unplug my helmet from the headset cord. The jolt knocked off my glasses. I landed on them and felt the crunching under my boots."
"The fire bottle was still in my hand and I ran around the rear of the aircraft to reach the passenger door on the opposite side. Surprisingly, I beat them to the door, opened it, and as they bailed out they were instructed to run and keep away from the front of the plane. Still no crash rescue. Louie climbed down and he ran. I proceeded to the left side of the engine compartment and was astonished at the size of the blaze. I looked up at the big fire---and down at the little fire bottle---then I ran."
"Looking across the airfield I could see the crash rescue trucks finally responding. I later learned that one of their crew was washing his truck and just happened to see us, on fire, after we had brought the aircraft to a stop. He had alerted the emergency standby crash rescue crew and when they finally arrived they had the fire out in short order."
"Everything forward of the forward firewall was burned or damaged beyond repair. This would require that the engine and all accessories, lines, and wiring, be replaced. It was an expensive incident, even by 1962 standards, but the passengers and crew were all safe, without injuries."
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
WHY HADN'T THE CRASH RESCUE UNITS RESPONDED?
PCS to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
A major shift of command occured this month when the 18 Aviation Company leaves the 5 Army, 1 Inf Division and 71 Trans Bn. The new Command is MAC-V, 12 Aviation Group and 45 Aviation Battalion.
A major shift of command occured this month when the 18th
Aviation Company leaves the 5th
Inf Division and 71st
Trans Bn. The new Command is MAC-V, 12th
Aviation Group and 45th
45th Aviation Battalion, 12th Aviation Group
Unit Patch Unit Crest
12th Aviation Group
(1 July 1962 - 1 April 1963)
Unit Patch Unit Crest
45th Aviation Battalion
(1 July 1962 - 1 April 1963)
The 18th Aviation Company commanded by Captain Roy L. Miller (7/62 - 1/64) was assigned as Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam effective 1 July 1962, under Amendment #5 to Movement Order #1, Headquarters Fort Riley, Kansas dated 11 June 1962 and ultimately to the newly activated 45th Aviation Battalion, 12th Aviation Group.
1962 - Vietnam organized into Corps areas
(Vietnam, Corps Areas Map)
At that time, South Vietnam was organized into three Corps areas. Da Nang was the headquarters of First Corps, Pleiku of the Second Corps and Saigon of the Third Corps. The 18th Aviation Company's headquarters was established at the coastal town of Nha Trang, as was the Service Platoon, Operations and Supply. The 339th Transportation Company traveled with the 18th from Fort Riley, and was also located at Nha Trang. Its fixed wing element was placed under the operational control of the 18th Aviation Company. The 339th provided maintenance support to the 18th which allowed the Company to detach sections of the service Platoon with each of the three flight platoons.
Heavy maintenance was carried out at Nha Trang where the maintenance float Otters remained and where the 339th shared a hangar with the 18th.
(Bob Woodward photo credit)
Members of the 18th Aviation Company and the 339th Transportation Company unloading UH1A from C124.
The First Flight Platoon of the Company supported Third Corps and was based at Saigon, with initially five Otters. The Second Flight Platoon supported Second Corps and operated out of Pleiku, with two Otters. The Third Flight Platoon supported First Corps at Da Nang with three Otters. There was also, in 1962, one Otter based at Ban-Me-Thuot. The rest of the Company's Otters were at the headquarters at Nha Trang. The pilots were rotated every three months or so from one location to another, as there were different conditions at each.
As one aviator described the situation:
"At Da Nang it was mostly flying over jungle mountains, which meant there was not much danger of ground fire, but if a problem arose there was no place to make an emergency landing except in the trees."
"Flying out of Saigon meant you had to get up every morning at 0400 hours to get to the area of operations. This area was flat, which meant that every VC who had a rifle had a chance to shoot at you."
"In Pleiku and Ban-Me-Thuot you had a combination of mountains and high plains."
Once the Otters had been ferried to their bases, daily scheduled and on-demand services within each Corps area commenced, to provide a utility supply net throughout the length and breadth of the country. Initially most of the missions involved delivery of parts and supplies to the CH-21 Shawnee helicopter companies, which were widely separated from their support elements. Soon however every other type of transportation mission was also being flown. The Otter was capable of operating in and out of short, unimproved strips, carrying up to 8 passengers or a ton of cargo and proved itself ideal for operations in Vietnam. It flew over all the country's diverse terrain, ranging from the mountainous areas of the North to the Delta in the South. Weather often required climbing on top of the cloud and letting down through a hole at the destination, or flying at treetop level.
The 18th Aviation Company patch showed an Otter with the legend "Low, Slow, Reliable", which aptly summed up their role.
The 18th used the radio call sign "Reliable".
Unit Patch Trivia: The "Otter" unit patch was designed at Fort Riley Kansas by Capt. Carl Yoder, Capt. George Baker, and Capt. Rubeum Black on a summer afternoon in 1959. It was submitted to the US Army's Department of Heraldry as the official unit patch of the 18th Aviation Company and proudly worn by unit personnel in Vietnam (1962 - 1971).
Otters a welcome sight at remote camps
The Otter became a welcome sight to the troops manning isolated outposts and camps. Supplies of all sorts, from C-rations to livestock and poultry, pigs, generators, gasoline and ammunition were delivered to more than 150 airstrips on the supply net. The delivery of items which greatly affected a fighting man's morale - mail, PX items, even Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys, were included in the myriad articles transported by Otter. Where a camp did not have an airstrip, the supplies were dropped in by parachute. Thousands of passengers were also transported. Americans, Vietnamese, members of many Allied nations, from privates to generals, VIPs, civilians, entertainers, newspaper correspondents and photographers, all depended upon this slow but ubiquitous transport. Casualty evacuation was another role undertaken by the Otter, often under hazardous conditions. Otters were also used to drop flares for battlefield illumination and area surveillance.
[From Jack Serig's - "Otter MEDEVAC" story]
"One mid-afternoon, fall of 1962, on a routine scheduled Otter flight out of Saigon's Tan Son Nhut International Airport, we landed at the dirt strip of Moc Hoa located on the southeastern edge of the Plain of Reeds in the delta region. A company of CH-21 Shawnee twin-rotor helicopters were lined up along both sides of the airstrip. This particular CH-21 unit was the first army aviation unit to arrive in South Vietnam."
"Beneath the overhanging rotors of each chopper were two separate groups seated on the dry grass. Group 1 consisted of the 4-man helicopter crew. The second group a combat-ready squad of South Vietnamese Army soldiers."
"As we taxied down the strip to discharge our MAAG advisor/passenger, we observed a large group of mixed military personnel surrounded by map boards to the north side of the runway. We pulled in to park---engine running---intending to return to Saigon after our passenger drop."
"The 'copter unit's commanding officer, a Major Cherney, approached to ask us if we could remain at the strip and serve as a MEDAVAC ship in the event of casualties resulting from his unit's impending mission. We agreed, shutting down the engine and accompanying the CO back to the group of mixed military. We were advised that his unit was supporting an operation composed of units of the ARVN 9th Infantry Division. The operation included liaison from local Vietnamese artillery and air force units. The maps and other informational data pertinent to the operation contained the normal military symbols and gibberish."
"Our Otter crew accepted an invitation to lunch and joined the long line awaiting the field kitchen chow. An old friend, Bob Corneil, the chopper unit's operations officer, was in the line. Before our pleasantries could be fully exchanged Bob was called away on an urgent recon mission with Bennie Potts, another CH-21 pilot. They and their two enlisted crewmen, were briefed to check out a just-called-in sighting of enemy ground forces. The crew loaded into their ship accompanied by the Senior III Corps Advisor, a Colonel Sinclair, followed by Colonel Frank Clay, Senior Army Advisor to the 9th ARVN Infantry Division. (Colonel Clay was a son of the famed Berlin Airlift Commander, General Lucias Clay)."
"A white-haired bespectacled reporter from a leading New York newspaper joined the other passengers. The recon helicopter took off, Potts and Corneil at the controls. Their profiles could be seen through the clear cockpit canopy as they disappeared to the west. The two enlisted crewmen were standing in the open cargo doors hanging on to the safety harnesses they had snapped into place, personal weapons at the ready, for whatever limited defensive protection they could provide. (Machine guns had not yet been added for door gun protection)."
"Our Otter crew finished a quick lunch and headed back to our ship to convert it into an air ambulance, just in case. When we had completed this task we returned to the military group at the open-air operations area. The operations radio suddenly came alive with excited voices as we approached. The recon CH-21 had been hit by enemy ground fire. There were wounded but the ship was flyable and enroute back to Moc Hoa."
"Eyes and ears strained toward the west for a sighting and the thwump-thwump-thwump of the twin rotors. About ten minutes passed before the chopper came into view. As it came closer we could see that the canopy, housing the cockpit, was broken and jagged from the missing pieces shot out by enemy rounds. The landing was made without mishap onto the center of the dirt strip. Crewmen from other waiting choppers left their ships to render help."
"Colonel Clay jumped out the left cargo door, limping straight for the operations center. He was very excited and bloodied from his head all the way down the left side of his body and legs. He exclaimed that they had sighted the first-ever North Vietnamese troops---regulars, in the delta."
"Bob Corneil, the left-seat pilot of the damaged "banana" was carried by stretcher over to the small medical aid station and attended by an ARVN medical officer. Bob had been shot through the left foot. His wound was cleansed and wrapped. His left boot showed evidence of the small-arms round, entry hole in the sole, exit hole at mid-center of the boot top. Bennie Potts, the right seat pilot who was flying the ship, had taken one small piece of shrapnel in the left side of his back. We watched while the doctor extracted the metal, cleansed and dressed the wound. Bennie was released back to flight duty."
"In the meantime Colonel Clay advised his South Vietnamese counterpart to take advantage of the enemy troop sighting, to load up and go engage the enemy. Major Cherney, ever calm, raised his right hand and made a circular motion. Simultaneously and instantly, all CH-21 crews, waiting beside their craft, jumped into action. The pilots from each ship slipped into their cockpits and began engine start-up. The enlisted crewmen began loading the anxious 9th Division's infantrymen. It was efficient!"
"Colonel Clay was adamant that he would not be treated for his wounds until the operation got underway and the 'copters lifted off. His combat fatigues were bloodied down his entire left side. Only his left facial and head wounds could be immediately observed. His injuries were the result of taking shrapnel when the ship's radios were hit by enemy small arms fire. He had been standing between the two pilots' stations, next to the radio storage area, and was peppered when the radios burst open from the rounds' impact. Bennie Potts injury was also caused by the exploding radios."
"We loaded Bob Corneil on a stretcher and fastened him into the left side of our Otter. Colonel Sinclair, Colonel Clay and the New York reporter sat in the seats on the right. The blood from Colonel Clay's wounds had dried. Although his wounds appeared superficial we were taking him back for a more thorough medical exam. Bill Kaler and I took off and headed for Saigon-Tan Son Nhut, about forty minutes away. We reported to Saigon approach control that we had two wounded on board and requested crash-rescue trucks alongside the runway when landing, a standard unit SOP when flying wounded."
"Turning the aircraft over to Bill, I visited the passenger compartment to check on our charges. I had always carried, in Vietnam only, a small curved, metal brandy flask filled with good brandy, just in case something like this would ever require medicinal treatment. The flask fit snugly in the lower zippered leg pocket of the standard flight suit. The concave side of the flask fit the convex curvature of my leg, so it was never noticeable. I offered each passenger a pull on the medicinal mixture. All but Colonel Clay politely refused. He took a long draw."
"We landed at Saigon, crash-rescue trucks following us down both sides of the runway, and pulled into the passenger terminal where waiting medical crews and ambulances stood by. Our passengers were among the very first wounded Americans during the "61 - "62 military buildup."
"Colonel Clay returned to his duties with the ARVN 9th Infantry Division."
"Bob Corneil was transferred to the 8th Field Hospital in Nha Trang where he recovered from his foot wound. He was reassigned as Commanding Officer of a recently arrived CH-34 chopper unit in Pleiku. He was shot down several weeks after assuming command. He and a South Vietnamese Army major were the only survivors. After crash landing in mountainous and jungled terrain, Bob made his way to a stream accompanied by an enlisted crewman. The crewman complained that he could go no further and sat down by the edge of the stream. Bob kept walking downstream and was spotted at nearly dusk when the last remnants of the sun's rays shined on his bald head, making sufficient glare for rescuers in a searching helicopter to locate him. They lifted him out."
"The next day a ground party hacked their way to the downed 'copter's position. A. U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, a passenger on the downed ship, who had been alive after the crash, had been given a "coup de grace" by the Viet Cong who had shot down the aircraft. For some reason, the VC who had shot the aircraft down, allowed the South Viet major, also injured in the crash, to live."
"The enlisted crewmember that started down the streambed the day before with his commander was found by the ground rescue team where he was last reported seen by Major Corneil. He had succumbed from internal wounds."
"It was fall season, 1962. The war was young---and so were its casualties!"
[End of Jack's story]
Most of the Otter pilots arriving in Vietnam had just completed flight school and 25 hours of transition onto the U-1A. Upon arrival at Nha Trang, they were given a local area checkout to familiarize them with the airstrips, weather and terrain and were then sent to one of the flight platoons. There they flew with more experienced pilots until completely familiar with the area and the enemy situation. Flying from 75 to 100 hours per month, they soon became seasoned aviators.
One 18th Aviation Company aviator described his posting to Da Nang in 1962 as follows:
"We were supporting the Military Advisory Headquarters at Da Nang. Six days a week we flew to Hue, Phu Bai, Hue Citadel, Highway 19 (an Australian base), Quang Tri and Khe San. Twice a week we made a side trip to the Ashau Valley to land at Ashau, Aloui and Tabat. This was the morning flight. In the afternoon we went south, to Cung Son, Quang Nai, Khamm Duc and Tam Ky. We took passengers, supplies, mail, or whatever we could fit in the door of the Otter including rice wine, pigs and chickens. On Sunday we did the whole thing over again, except that we took the Chaplain to each of those airfields to hold services."
[Continuation of Jack's previous story]
"All 18th Otter crew members were thankful for the discoveries which led to our rebuilt engines, especially when they saw the extensive mountainous and jungled terrain we would be flying over and the monsoon rains we would be flying in throughout South Vietnam. Our unit, having experienced 13 forced and precautionary landings in the previous 18 months, had only 2 during our twelve-month tour, with no injuries and no damage to aircraft. "
[End of Jack's story]
Second Year in Vietnam
By 1963, the 18th Aviation Company was well established in
Vietnam and on 2 March 1963 flew its 10,000 Combat Support Hour since
arrival in country.
On 15 January, Major Harry C. Davis, Jr. assumed command from Captain Edward E. Hawkins, who departed to MAAG Saigon as an instrument examiner. Major Davis had been assigned to the 1st Aviation Company, prior to his assumption of command. At this time, a large number of relatively senior captains reported into the unit in one group of nine (9). This resulted in a number of major organizational personnel changes: Captain Thomas K. McCready, Jr. as Operations Officer, Captain Ira C. Laney as Executive Officer, Captain Charles C. Frank as newly designated Administrative Officer, Captain Thomas W. O’Connor as Camp & Club Officer, Captain Russell J. Folta as Supply Officer, Captain Robert H. Carter as 2nd Platoon Leader and Captain Gordon D. Carpenter as 1st Transportation Leader. In effect the unit made almost a clean sweep to starting the New Year. The disposition and senior Headquarters were as described during April 1963.
The majority of original 18th Aviation Company had departed PCS starting in October and extending through December. A few remained, one of which Specialist Fifth Boris (Maintenance Technical Inspector) continued with the unit till January 1964. Another, Specialist Fifth Dunagan, after departing in November 1962 returned as a volunteer in June 1963. As of the end of 1963 they were the only personnel who came to Vietnam with the unit who hasn’t either returned or extended.
(New Billets under construction)
(New Billets under construction)
(Sam Yoder photo credit)
(Sam Yoder photo credit)
The majority of change in living conditions had occurred in 1962 and early 1963 and had extended thru three separate stages. The initial tents and shortly thereafter tent kits with wooden floors, the second stage in which the officers and men purchased and helped build bamboo thatched roof wooden floor shelters and the third phase, in which semi-permanent cement and tile construction with wire screens was used for all unit quarters and working areas. This last phase was the result of the initial work order requests when the unit first was established at Nha Trang in February of 1962. The third phase was completed with the exception of the latrines by February 1963. Besides screened living quarters, the biggest improvement was the consolidated mess hall although even to February 1964 a sump problem existed. During the entire time of Vietnam operation, the unit has been fortunate in being able to utilize the existing hanger facilities and ramp. However, this ramp quickly deteriorated under constant vehicle and aircraft use. The unit is of the opinion that no aircraft facility in Vietnam is used as much by motor vehicle traffic as this ramp and taxi way since they provide the only access to the 362nd Tropo site and Special Forces logistic area.
(The new movie pavilion - Notice tent city behind?)
(Sam Yoder photo credit)
On 2 March, the unit flew 10,000 Combat Support Hour since being assigned within the Republic of Vietnam. A complimentary letter thru channels was received acknowledging this feat.
As has been the situation both before and since, the unit was required to support the United States Special Forces in their visits to “A” and “B” teams throughout the country. During 17 – 21 March Captain Robert F. Henley and CWO Robert W. Kaczygasba provided outstanding work in this respect and received an appropriate letter of appreciation for their work.
The last of the original 18th Aviation Company aviator – CWO Puffpaff departed PCS to CONUS 29 March. The unit received another Otter, again from Pleiku; a female, agile, about 5-6 months old. She was a suitable playmate for Otto and after initial sparring; they mutually respected and apparently liked each other. It appeared that she was much more playful than he.
Losses: MAJ Loran Petersen, CPT Richard Ferguson, CPT Robert Spieldenner, CW2 Dan Smith, WO1 John Francis, SSG Bernard Handeland, SSG Robert Likes, SGT David Benbe, SP/5 James Ladner, SP/5 Major Carmen, SP/5 Robert Murphy, SP/5 Donald Ciertz, SP/5 Roy Taylor, SP/5 Joseph Batten, SP/4 Willie Gore, SP/4 Angus Hume.
Gains: CPT John Smith, 1LT Daniel Frost, CW2 Kenneth Kendrick, CW3 William Easton, WO1 Frederick Hill, WO1 Roy Haddix, SFC George Chevalier, SGT Danny Martin, SGT Willie Montague, SP/4 Douglas Nichelson, SP/4 Walter Johnson, SP/4 John Saperito, PVT Robert Beck.
52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, 12th Aviation Group
Unit Patch Unit Crest
12th Aviation Group
(1 April 1963 - 1 November 1964)
Unit Patch Unit Crest
52nd Combat Aviation Battalion
(1 April 1963 - 1 November 1964)
Assigned to the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion
On 1 April 1963 the 18th Aviation Company was assigned to the newly formed 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion at Nha Trang until 1 November 1964.
As of 1 April, the unit flight platoon in Saigon, as per HSAS direction established separate quarters and a different rotation policy was initiated with the unit to enable all flight platoon personnel t enjoy the benefits of per diem rate. Quarters were established ad two villas for the officers and the enlisted men lived for a time in hotel. Previously, the officers were established at the My Lon Hotel for which HSAS (Navy) was responsible. Shortly after a month of this policy, the enlisted men, under SFC Feur, were again billeted under HSAS responsibility since the financial problem of no advance per diem aid, weekly payment for billeting; food and laundry were becoming command problem. The enlisted men were housed in the International Hotel and ate in another hotel about 200 yards away. They had two ¾ trucks for transportation, one driven by “Charlie”, a faithful Vietnamese who comes early and stays late. The officers utilized three ¼ tons of Japanese manufacture to move to and from the Rex (where they ate) and the flight line. These were obtained through III & IV Corps, the two organizations which we were supporting. Both villas were off bus lines so it was either use the jeeps or take the “blue and white staff cars” (Taxis). It is to be noted that during the entire period of per diem which lasted till 20 December 1963, only one accident occurred involving company personnel driving vehicles. This is to the credit of these drivers, since driving conditions are fiercely competitive and the streets are crowded with bicycles, motor bikes, and pedestrians. Short of driving on the left side of the road, the Saigon area represents as hazardous an area as there is for American drivers.
Back to the rotation policy, a two month change was established with a two-three week transition period during which each platoon had pilots flying for III and IV Corps together. Effective 1 April on orders, but actually not until about 15 April did the unit revert from control of the 45th TC Bn at Tan Son Nhut to the newly established 52d Aviation Bn at Pleiku. For the next month, pay records, personnel actions, correspondence, directives, and distribution were changing between these to higher headquarters.
At this time, the unit had the following displacement of aircraft and crews: Da Nang 3; Pleiku 3; Bon Me Thout; Saigon 6 and the rest, 3 at Nha Trang, of which usually 1 or 2 were flyable. It totaled 16. Most people inbound were not checked out in the U-1A and the transition training required considerable aircraft time. There was no requirement for keeping aircraft assigned to each corps by tail number.
Losses: CPT Kenneth O’Neal, CPT William Jensen, CW2 Kevin Phillips, 1SG Vernon Davis, SP/6 Jesse Brown, SP/6 Charles Smith, SGT Monroe Smith, SP/5 Harry Vaon, SP/5 Rodney Adams, SP/5 Alejo Ortiz, SP/5 Robert Gately, SP/5 Robert Bohinski, SP/5 Michael Johnson, SP/5 John Yohler, SP/4 Gregory White, SP/4 Danny Martin, SP/4 Gary Weytalewicz, SP/5 Rafeal Hernandez, SP/4 Robert Dolson, SP/4 Mark Hunt, SP/4 Richard Patrick.
Gains: 1LT Michael Close, 1LT John Rutherford, WP1 Robert Fabrick, 1SG Elmer Beene, SSG Jack Newman, SGT Thomas Parks, SP/5 Neil Helms, SP/5 Walter Nowakowski, SP/5 James Haycraft, SP/4 Isaac Ortega, SP/4 Jeffrey Hall, SP/4 Konstantine Varelans, SP/4 Louis Page, SP/4 Terry Johnson, SP/4 William Ackerman, SP/4 Billy Moore, PFC Thomas Burnes, PFC Billy Bost, PFC Herbert Bliss, PVT Melina Quintana, PVT Alfred Perrino, PVT Carl Bubelz.
17th Aviation Platoon Arrives in Vietnam
On 18 May, Lt Clinton
W. Cobb, and SP4 Delmar B. English of the
1st Aviation Platoon formerly of the 17th Aviation
Company reported for duty.
Lt Arthur A. Rennings and PFC Billy M. Bales along with the 8 U-1-A’s mothballed arrived on the 27th aboard the same USN aircraft carrier USNS Core that transported the unit in January 1962. (tail numbers 5-53254 (94); 5-53263 (107); 5-53269 (115); 5-81689 (298); 5-81694 (307); 5-81697 (311); 5-81699 (313) and 5-81714 (331)) and were taken to Tan Son Nhut airfield, Saigon for assembly by Air Vietnam.
On 25 May, the unit had its 1st complete party, and for the 1st time the Company Commander was able to see his officer and enlisted men together in one place. The party was occasioned by the PCS departure of Major Davis who had command the unit since January and by the desire by 1st Sgt Sias to get everybody together. The 1st Sgt contracted with the local province chief and police for a strip of beach by Beach Bar 9, actually where Beach Bar 9 ½ now stands and the party started at 1430 hours. All the TDY Air Crews who were coming arrived by 1600 hours. One crew had to remain at Da Nang, 2 at Saigon, but all other people made it. Beer, and soft drinks were covered with ice in a jeep trailer and chicken, potato salad, beef steak, beans, and relishes were more than ample except for the steak was finished well before sundown. A few people including Major Davis were thrown in the China Sea and a couple more in the jeep trailer, and the motor sergeant kept the shuttle bus operating back to the Company Area. By dark it was all over, and the Vietnamese were policing up every scrap. The major departed on the 28th. Major Miller, former 52d Battalion S-3 had assumed command on 21 May 1963.
Losses: CPT Herman Halterman, SFC Claudie Garalde, SSG Kenneth Burtner, SSG John Bradley, SP/6 Robert McGrady, SP/6 William Gillespie, SP/5 Billy Elkins, SP/5 Edward Smith, SP/5 Stephen Anders, SP/5 Robert Robertson, SP/4 Albert Morra, SP/4 Donald Blaser, SP/4 Edward Roundtree, SP/4 Raymond Regan, SP/4 James Hunting, SP/4 Kenneth Jones, PFC Archie Hall, PVT Daniel Ames.
Gaines: 1LT Arnold Barrett, CW2 Richard Cameron, CW2 Clifford Welch, SFC Gorden Heykeep, SGT Donald Cravens, SGT Ronald Haugen, SP/5 Werner Riley, SP/5 Michael Strick, SP/4 Ralph Merz, SP/4 Jerry Hedges, PFC Johnny Rosenbalm, PVT Ricky Wilson, PVT Kenneth Meyer, PVT Benedict Poczatek, PVT Gary Staseck.
1963 was a year of turmoil and crisis for Buddhist Monks and the government of South Vietnam. This period was known as the Buddhist crisis.
Buddhist crisis was a period of political and religious tension in South Vietnam from May 1963 to November 1963. The crisis was precipitated by the shootings of nine unarmed civilians on May 8 in the central city of Hue who were protesting a ban of the Buddhist flag. The crisis ended with a coup in November 1963 by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, and the arrest and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem on November 2.
On May 7, 1963, a 1958 law known as Decree Number 10 was invoked to prohibit the display of religious flags. This disallowed the flying of Buddhist flags on Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. On May 8, an assembly of protesters against the ban were shot upon by the troops of the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, resulting in the death of nine.
Diem denied governmental responsibility for the incident. Instead, the president blamed the Vietcong for the event. Diem's Secretary of State Nguyen Dinh Thuan accused the Vietcong of exploiting Buddhist unrest and declared that Diem could not make concessions without fueling further demands. The Vietnam Press, a pro-Diem newspaper, published a government declaration confirming the existence of religious freedom and emphasizing the supremacy of the country's flag. Diem's National Assembly affirmed this statement, but this did not placate the Buddhists.
On May 30, more than 500 monks demonstrated in front of the National Assembly in Saigon. The Buddhists had evaded a ban on public assembly by hiring four buses and filling up and pulling the blinds down. They drove around the city before the convoy stopped at the designated time and the monks disembarked. They unfurled banners and sat down for four hours before disbanding and returning to the pagodas to begin a nationwide 48 hour hunger strike organised by the Buddhist patriarch Thich Tinh Khiet.
On June 1, Diem's authorities announced the dismissal of the three major officials involved in the Hue incident: the province chief and his deputy, and the government delegate for the Central Region of Vietnam. The stated reason was that they had failed to maintain order. By this time, the situation appeared to be beyond reconciliation.
On June 3, 1963, Vietnamese police and troops of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam poured chemicals on the heads of praying Buddhist protestors in the South Vietnamese city of Huáº¿. 67 people were hospitalised and the United States threatened privately to withdraw aid from the Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.
The unit received its 1st
inspection from USARYIS on 9 June after pre-inspections by both the 52nd
Battalion and Support Group. It was determined we were in satisfactory
the only other rating possible was unsatisfactory. The flight platoons
of Nha Trang did not participate in this formality.
following personnel of the 1st Aviation Platoon, formerly of the 17th left California on 12 June 1963 by US
Navy C-121 Super Constellation from Moffett NAS, first stop Hawaii for
an overnight. Then it was on to Okinawa for another overnight and then
via Wake island to Nha Trang. These are the personnel who arrived under the command of CPT Harlan W. Lohmann, CPT Robert B. Galusha, CPT James F. Watson, 1LT Raymond A. Brown, 1LT George R. Downer, 1LT Clifford Fremstad, 1LT John L. McEwan, 1LT Lawrence G. Runnion, 1LT Fred S. White, 2LT Edward G. Bulgin, 2LT Marvin A. Cox, 2LT Robert A. Nelson, PSG E-7 Howard O. Powers, SP5 Bobbie L. Abbott, SP5 James El Brown, SP5 Glenn D. Cuppett, SP5 Lonnie M. Long, SP5 Robert L. McElhanon, SP5 Frank A. Ordiway, SP5 James R. Rickard, SP5 Robert E. Burgess, PFC Lloyd L. Birmingham, PFC Gregory I. Ferguson, PFC Stephen C. Givens, PFC Theodore C. Guidry, PFC Lynn C. Hanks, PFC Larry E. Hawks, PFC William W. R. Lynt, Jr., PFC Michael P. Martin, Jr., PFC John S. Neel, PFC Louis F. Schnur, PFC Donald E. Schroyer, Jr.
(Don Schroyer photo credit)
On 16 June about 0600 hours, a Super C Constellation arrived with the new platoon, just having transitioned at Fort Ord under command of Captain Harlan W. Lohmann, those 15 officers and 22 enlisted men were briefed and billeted in the Company Area. They arrived directly from Okinawa and did not process though Support Group. Their augmentation to the unit was approved and the TO&E strength was increased to 16 officers, 33 warrant officers and 133 enlisted men. For unexplained reasons, we experienced failure of several propeller seals which resulted in EDP and the lowest availability rate during the year – 69%. Processing of personnel took the rest of the month while their aircraft were being put together by Air Viet Nam at Tan Son Nhut. By the end of the month we had all 7 flyable in the unit, the 8th was issued to the 330th since one of our pilots in May had broken theirs at Cam Ranh Bay while landing just a little short. During the 1st week of June, one night, our Otter “Otto” contacted a live electric wire lying on the ground near operations and was electrocuted, the female, was visibly distressed over the loss of her Otter companion. She nipped more and more fingers for the next week. Another male otter was obtained from Pleiku but she, being bigger, continually fought him until he ran away three nights later. Captain Chritton received PIO notice by flying 132 hours of Combat Support time during May. This was the last time any such record was attempted by order of Support Group commanding officer. All unit total weapons were fired for the first time since arrival in Vietnam during 11 – 12 June at the NCO Academy. Considerable problems were encountered with the 3.5’s and the 50 caliber machine guns, 1 of which had to be replaced.
During June and most of July, we hosted a greater portion of the 33rd Transportation Company, re-designated 18th Avn. Co, who were flying from Nha Trang for local Search and Secure MAAG missions. The S. O. Major Sanderson wrote a letter, thru channels, expressing his gratitude for our support. This support sorely taxed the club facilities and in two instances, the club ran out of beer for a short time. During June the unit supported JUSMAG in Thailand with one U-1-A, obtained from Nha Trang for a specific SEATO exercise. The crew was stationed in Bangkok with the “hard to take” per diem rate cost of the time.
Losses: SFC George Chevalier, SSG Sherman Lenard, SP/5 Jen Stewart, SP/5 Heuy Paddie, SP/5 Walter Nowakowski, SP/5 Jack Richie, SP/4 James Early, SP/4 James Benson, SP/4 Daniel Redlin, SP/4 James Carroll, SP/4 David Charlton, SP/4 Mark Standifer, SP/4 James Oberle, SP/4 Michael Trotter, SP/4 David Nelson, SP/4 Loveless Frizzell, SP/4 Connor Britton, SP/4 Andrew Sneedy, SP/4 Alan Anderson, PFC Joseph Alascano.
Gains: 1LT David Robbins, SFC James Morgan, SSG Robert Johnson, SP/6 Clarence Manseill, SP/5 Robert Christiansen, SP/5 Johnny Castera, SP/4 Dennis Revels, SP/4 Ronald Johnson, SP/4 Douglas Pastor, PFC James Wilson, PFC Danny Tucker, PFC Nicholas Placco, PFC Clair Pecinovsky, PVT Conway Howdyshell, PVT Lugo Pacheco, PVT Richard Faisen.
In the meanwhile Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon had become a centre of Buddhist unrest. There the monks produced and mimeographed pamphlets attacking Diem's policies for dissemination, organized mass meetings, demonstrations and hunger strikes. They compiled daily news items to motivate followers and campaigned among relatives in the civilian public sector and the armed forces. The Hue shootings were kept on the agenda by a memorial service at the An Quang Pagoda in the Chinese district of Cholon which was addressed by prominent members of the sangha, i.e. monks. Hundreds of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns then formed a procession to take the memorial tablets back into Xa Loi in the city centre.
By the end of June the eight new Otters had all been assembled. Seven of them were allocated to the 18th Aviation Company and one (58-1689) was assigned to the 339th Transportation Company to replace its Otter (7-6119) which had been damaged the previous month. (This Otter was however still available for use by the 18th when not needed by the 339th) . Even with 24 Otters available, the 18th was tasked to its limit, as a new directive from higher authority in July 1963 required the Company to allocate four aircraft to I Corps; five for II Corps; six for III Corps (including one at Ban-Me-Thuot); five for IV Corps and two for Special Forces from Nha Trang, leaving only two available for any other tasks.
Loss of Reliable 706
On 1 July, the unit sustained its 1st fatal accident, when Captain Stackbauer was killed at Hang Buc in gusty turbulence on takeoff 4000’ elevation and about 1200’ long. This airfield was subsequently closed to Otter operation. He was not wearing either helmet or shoulder straps; the only one of 6 on board to be killed. The others walked out although one passenger had a broken leg from the crew chiefs flying tool box. The aircraft 8-1706 was totaled, also the first for the unit. The new flight platoon was reorganized so as to spread the inexperienced crew members around the company and obtain experience from the other platoons.
In early July, MACV issued a directive which required the 18th, 73rd, and 61st Aviation Co’s to support the MAAG Corps Advisory sections with a specific number of aircraft by tail number to each location. This was NACV directive #44 and changed our support requirements to: four for I Corps, five for II Corps, six for III Corps, six for III Corps (one in Ban Me Thout), five for IV Corps, two for Special Forces from Nha Trang and the rest, all of two available for the units use. Additionally, each Unit Corps support detachment was placed under operational control of an Army Aviation Battalion or Provisional Detachment (I Corps) in each Corps Area. Missions were now processed thru Corps Combat Operations Centers with Army aviation representation to further send missions to the 18th Section or Platoon Commander.
Additionally, MACV Directive #45 restricted U. S. Aircraft from carrying Vietnamese civilians, dependents, and only carry Vietnamese military personnel with properly authenticated orders which would be issued by MAAG officers.
The Special Forces Logistic Operation Center at Nha Trang opened and from this time on, we never had difficulty in obtaining missions anywhere in the country.
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
The story behind these pictures as relayed by Bob McElhanon:
"This incident has happened a couple of times before, but this was while I was stationed in Saigon. An ARVN soldier shot himself in the head with a .45 cal pistol and I was instructed to take him down town in the back of a 3/4 ton truck. As I rounded one corner, the road was blocked and this Buddhist monk poured gasoline all over himself from a container he had, then lighted himself on fire."
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
On July 7, 1963, the secret police of Ngo Dinh Nhu"the brother of President Ngo Dinh Diem" attacked a group of journalists from the United States who were covering Buddhist protests on the ninth anniversary of Diem's rise to power. Peter Arnett of the Associated Press (AP) was punched in the nose, but the quarrel quickly ended after David Halberstam of The New York Times, being much taller than Nhu's men, counterattacked and caused the secret police to retreat. Arnett and Browne were later accosted by police at their office and taken away for questioning on suspicion of attacking police officers.
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
Two incidents relayed by Bob McElhanon:
"We were driving in the down town Saigon area and had to move over to the side of the road because ARVN M-4 tanks were coming in toward the Palace of Dem-Nu. The ARVN soldiers waved at us, laughing like they were having a ball, as they drove past. We continued out to Ton-Su-Nut, loaded ammo and weapons and continued on our mission. The ARVN soldiers with tanks continued moving around the palace all night."
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
Losses: MAJ James Thacker, CPT Robert Terry, CPT Stanley Balcom, CW2 Kinard Brady, CW2 Fred Canto, CW2 Edward Bougher, CW2 Sverre Staurset, CW2 Norman Baker, CW2 Ronald Bruffett, SFC James Morgan, SFC John Whitmire, SP/5 Jack Ritchie, SP/5 Jerry Craven, SP/5 Charles Garrett, SP/5 Johnny Castera, SP/5 Lee Smith, SP/5 Lee Johnson, SP/5 John Coggins, SP/5 Robert Johnson, SP/5 James Dorough, SP/4 Russell White, SP/4 Archie Hall, SP/4 Ray Padgett, SP/4 Darrell Richter, SP/4 Konstantine Varelans, SP/4 Jerry Hedges, PFC Terry Cooley, PFC Alfred Parrino.
Gains: MAJ William Bloemsma, CPT Ronald McBride, 1LT John Reynolds, CW2 Joseph McGovern, CW2 Dan Smith, CW2 Kenton Williams, WO1 David Darbyshire, SFC Frederick Barnes, SSG Bennie Garrett, SSG Sherman Lenard, SP/6 James Hoed, SP/5 Roger Randall, SP/5 Charles Garrett, SP/5 Linden Ballard, SP/5 Joseph Reichelt, SP/4 Douglas Pastor, SP/4 Eugene Anklam, SP/4 James Dorough, SP/4 Ray Padgett, SP/4 Darrell Richter, SP/4 John Kroening, PFC Terry Cooley, PFC Charles Ellis, PFC Aledore Andry, PFC Kenneth Zufall, PFC Thomas Harks, PVT Richard Morris.
The unit aircraft ramp surface had deteriorated to the point that resurfacing was necessary. Because of support which the unit was giving to Raymond, Morrison and Knudsen Construction Company at Cam Ranh Bay, they agreed to do this job which started in July and finished in August. The tie down cable remained in position.
USMAAG Thailand Support
In August 1963 the US Military Advisory Group in Thailand had all sorts of aircraft maintenance problems, and asked for support from Vietnam. It was decided to send a Caribou and an Otter to help out.
As one aviator who was involved describes:
"We met the Caribou crew in Saigon and were ready to fly to Thailand over the water around Cambodia, as we could not get diplomatic clearance to fly over Cambodia. But the wind was so strong that the Otter did not have enough fuel to make the flight. It was normally about a five and a half hour flight and we had fuel for seven hours but the headwind would not let us make the trip. The Caribou left and we said we would see them in Bangkok. We flew to Pleiku, tried to get clearance to Bangkok but the Air Force laughed at us. So then we went to Da Nang and got a clearance from a civilian air traffic controller. We took off and headed west. We had the only Otter in Vietnam with a High Frequency radio and we could talk to everybody in the world. Since we had wasted most of the day trying to get clearance, we did not get to Bangkok that evening but spent the night in Ubon, Thailand. We spent thirty days flying all over Thailand, doing much the same as we had done in Vietnam, except that there was no-one shooting at us."
Map of Southeast Asia
Map of Southeast Asia
The company was required to continually support JSUMAG with a U-1A, which was obtained from III Corps and brought their number of supporting aircraft to five with one still in Ban Me Thout. It was established that the Bangkok crews would be rotated every thirty days, in the middle of the month and the crew would be paid at the end of each month. This allowed two trips a month from the Company Headquarters and provided a definite fringe benefit by giving unit personnel a free two day trip to Bangkok. The number was limited to four people in addition to the crew.
The unit Executive Officer, Captain Ira Laney was promoted to Major and established a record for elaborate parties, not only at Nha Trang, but at all other unit locations.
The unit commander established the policy that he would inform all PCS rotating officers 15 days prior to their 10 month period whether they could depart on their 10th month. Orders had to be in hand and a suitable replacement available. Most people started departing very soon after the 10 month period, with a few departing on the day of their 10th month. The unit replacements ere officers almost entirely, with only one warrant officer who was transferred from Pleiku. More than 50% of the replacements were required to undergo a complete U-1A transition, which severely affected the Nha Trang Platoon capability. The remainder were receiving the minimum 25 hour check out at Fort Ord prior to arrival.
Due to continued flow of information and directives by Support Group and the insufficient distribution thru MAAG channels in the field, it was necessary to initiate a monthly Newsletter to all aviators in the unit, to keep them up to date on Unit Directives.
The unit received more aircraft hits during this month than in any previous month, due primarily to low cloud conditions in the Delta Area. One received seven hits in a few seconds near Chi Lang and another was ambushed on a short final at Phuoc Vinh, wounding the pilot, and requiring a oil tank change. However, most hits were sustained at altitudes and noticed by the crew only upon post flight inspection. Another exception: One aircraft was hit several times at Ashau while running up prior to takeoff and the pilot and co-pilot were slightly wounded.
A II Corps aircraft was based in Qui Nhon because of the requirement to support the 9th ARVN Division. This left Pleiku with only four ships.
Dangerous Month for Otters
Vietnam remained a dangerous place, as an extract from the August 1963 history shows:
"The unit received more aircraft hits this month than in any previous month, due primarily to low cloud conditions in the Delta area. One received seven hits in a few seconds near Chi Lang and another was ambushed on short finals at Phuoc Vinh, wounding the pilot. However, most hits were sustained at altitude and only noticed by the crew upon post flight inspection. One aircraft was hit several times at A Shau while running up for takeoff, wounding the pilot and co-pilot."
The Otters continually moved around.
During August 1963, an II Corps aircraft was based at Qui Nhon to support the 9th ARVN Division, leaving Pleiku with only four aircraft.
On the evening of August 18, ten senior generals of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam met to discuss the situation and decided that martial law would need to be imposed. On August 20, Nhu summoned seven of the generals to Gia Long Palace for consultation. They presented their request to impose martial law and discussed dispersion of the monks. Nhu sent the generals to see Diám. The president listened to the group of seven, led by General Tran Van Don. Don claimed that Communists had infiltrated the monks at Xa Loi Pagoda and warned that ARVN morale was deteriorating because of the civil unrest. He claimed that it was possible that the Buddhists could assemble a crowd to march on Gia Long Palace. Hearing this, Diem agreed to declare martial law effective on the next day, without consulting his cabinet. Troops were ordered into Saigon to occupy strategic points. Don was appointed at the acting Chief of the Armed Forces in the place of General Le Van Ty, who was abroad having medical treatment. Don noted that Diem was apparently concerned with the welfare of the monks, telling the generals that he did not want any of them hurt. The martial law orders were authorized with the signature of Don, who had no idea that military action was to occur in the early hours of August 21 without his knowledge.
[Robert McElhanon photo credit)
Shortly after midnight on August 21 troops of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces under Colonel L Quang Tng executed a series of synchronised attacks on the Buddhist pagodas in South Vietnam. Over 1400 Buddhists were arrested. The number killed or "disappeared" is estimated to be in the hundreds. The most prominent of the pagodas raided was that of Xa Loi, which had become the rallying point for Buddhists from the countryside. The troops vandalized the main altar and managed to confiscate the intact charred heart of Thich Quang Duc, the monk who had self-immolated in protest against the policies of the regime. The Buddhists managed to escape with a receptacle with the remainder of his ashes. Two monks jumped the back wall of the pagoda into the grounds of the adjoining US Aid Mission, where they were given asylum. Thich Tinh Khiet, the 80 year old Buddhist patriarch, was seized and taken to a military hospital on the outskirts of Saigon. The commander of the III Corps of the ARVN, Ton That Dinh soon announced military control over Saigon, canceling all commercial flights into the city and instituting press censorship.
Losses: CPT Douglas Keithly, 1LT Arnold Barrett, CW2 Andrew Sanford, CW2 Larry Kabriel, CW2 Roy Haddis, CW2 William Bean, CW2 James Reece, CW2 James Porter, SP/6 Eugene Atkins, SGT Willie Montague, SP/5 Brian Mendl, SP/5 Gordon Forbes, SP/5 William Ragsdale, SP/5 Richard Smith, SP/5 Paul Landry, SP/5 Roger Randall, SP/4 Stanley Sederhelm, SP/4 Ronald Verdi, PFC Kenneth Zufall.
Gains: CW2 William Roche, CW2 Rodney Hackerman, CW2 Michael French, WO1 Donald Darr, SSG Larry Throneberry, SP/5 Edward East, SP/5 Jerry L. Jones, SP/5 Brian Doyle, SP/5 Thomas Gould, SP/4 Steven Hinsa, SP/4 Robert Mandt, PFC Robert Perry, PFC Herman Adams, PFC Perfecto Martinez, PVT Ricky Smith, PVT Lawrence Thir, PVT Harris Nero, PVT Emery Organ, PVT Charlie Day, PVT Danny Cash, PVT Daniel Ortegon.
A number of experienced pilots and most of the crew chiefs departed PCS, this month. Another aircraft was totally destroyed 5-81716, this time at Ban Me Thout. The pilot was assigned his first operational mission, and it was loaded two hundred pounds over gross weight, although the prepared manifest weight indicated the load was one hundred pounds less than gross. Poor Pilot Technique and planning resulted in a crash into 75 foot rubber trees, no injuries except a facial cut on the pilot. There were a total of 5 persons on board and several hundred pounds of cargo.
During September, a requirement was established to maintain one of the II Corps aircraft in Quang Ngai. Previously this ship had been passed in Qui Nhon, but departure of the 9th ARVN Division for the Delta Area eliminated this need.
A re-designation of II and III Corps boundaries placed Ban Me Thout in the II Corps Zone, and gave III Corps five ships, again in Saigon and positioned another of the Pleiku aircraft in Ban Me Thout, leaving only three ships at Pleiku. The Nha Trang platoon was manning both the Ban Me Thout and Quang Ngai Otters.
During the early morning of 22 September 1963, the Viet Cong broke through the fence by the Special Forces Compound on the west side of the field and placed a high explosive charge upon each of the C-47’s parked near the loading area which crumpled a wing and damaged gear. Nothing on our side of the field, but there was plenty of action in getting to the alert positions.
Losses: CW2 Frederick Hill, CW2 Norman Toler, 1SG Elmer Boone, MSG James Shaw, SP/5 George Griffin, SP/5 Jerry L. Jones, SP/5 William Ackerman, SP/5 Thaddeus Pilot.
Gains: CPT George Black, CPT John Hoskinson, 1LT Francis Doherty, 1SG George Chevalier, SSG John Smith, SSG Harlen Murphy, SP/5 Charles Fulcher, PFC J. C. Smoot, PFC Allan Mahnke, PVT Troy Barfield.
The unit organized its second party on 19 October to celebrate PCS departure of the 1st Sergeant and a large number of officers due to depart in November. This time it was held in the Grand Hotel and during the evening hours. Unfortunately, it rained hard all afternoon and evening, the attendance was small. However, good food and drink was in abundance.
The aircraft stationed at Quang Ngai was now returned to Pleiku giving them four again. And a requirement to place an Otter at Di Linh in the newly established Special Zone was given to III Corps. So again III Corps was back to four ships in Saigon. The Nha Trang platoon had the mission to man this aircraft. A fluid situation prevailed!
Losses: CPT John Hoskinson, SP/6 Clarence Manseill, SP/6 Theodore Sokorda, SGT Gerald Kreage, SP/5 Donald Wilson, SP/5 Norman Stubbs, SP/5 Lawrence Ortals, SP/5 Horacse Holley, SP/4 Roger Chambers, SP/4 Kelvin Decker, SP/5 Frederick Perkins, SP/4 Richard Wilson, SP/4 Louis Page, SP/4 Steven Hinsa, PFC Gary Cooper, PFC Walter Howe, PVT Richard Hamm.
Gains: CPT Larry Thompson, CPT Barry Camp, CPT James Keaveny, CPT Thomas Williams, CW2 James Adams, CW2 Richard Runnels, SP/5 Jack Guisti, SP/5 John Greenwood, SP/4 Wendell Wilcox, SP/4 Kenneth Porter, SP/4 Malcolm Sumerlin, PFC Jon Serenson, PFC Ricky Mack.
The first Vietnamese Coup occurred in the afternoon of 1 November; all planes were grounded for about three hours and the unit personnel in Saigon stayed in their hotel, the Affana, and the other Villa at 47 Duy Tan, they listened, observed and took tape recordings of the troops and tanks firing through the night and the early morning assault on the palace on 2 November 1963. The only way it affected the unit operation was a lack of transportation the following morning to get the early flights in the air. The previous owners of the jeeps, officers of the III & IV Corps MAAG Detachment had taken possession of the jeeps which had been the transportation of the officers in the Saigon Platoon, buses were not available that day neither were the taxis (blue and white staff cars).
On 2 November, in the early evening, two trip flares outside the west edge of Nha Trang airfield were activated by persons or animals unknown, and this initiated a night long alert which was uneventful.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
On November 1, 1963, President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam was deposed by a group of Army of the Republic of Vietnam officers who disagreed with his handling of the Buddhist crisis and, in general, his increasing oppression of national groups in the name of fighting the Communist-dominated National Liberation Front.
The United States had been aware of the coup d' tat planning, but Cable 243 from the Department of State to U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. stated that it was U.S. policy not to try to stop it. Lucien Conein, the Central Intelligence Agency's liaison between the U.S. embassy and the coup planners, told them that the U.S. would not intervene to stop it. Conein did, however, provide funds to the coup leaders. 
On November 1, 1963, after six months of tension and growing opposition to the regime, generals from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam conducted a coup, which led to the fall of the Diem government and the arrest and assassination of the president.
November 2, 1963
Following the overthrow of his government by South Vietnamese military forces the day before, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother are captured and killed by a group of soldiers. The death of Diem caused celebration among many people in South Vietnam, but also lead to political chaos in the nation. The United States subsequently became more heavily involved in Vietnam as it tried to stabilize the South Vietnamese government and beat back the communist rebels that were becoming an increasingly powerful threat.
While the United States publicly disclaimed any knowledge of or participation in the planning of the coup that overthrew Diem, it was later revealed that American officials met with the generals who organized the plot and gave them encouragement to go through with their plans. Quite simply, Diem was perceived as an impediment to the accomplishment of U.S. goals in Southeast Asia. His increasingly dictatorial rule only succeeded in alienating most of the South Vietnamese people, and his brutal repression of protests led by Buddhist monks during the summer of 1963 convinced many American officials that the time had come for Diem to go.
Three weeks later, an assassin shot President Kennedy. By then, the United States was more heavily involved in the South Vietnamese quagmire than ever. Its participation in the overthrow of the Diem regime signaled a growing impatience with South Vietnamese management of the war. From this point on, the United States moved step by step to become more directly and heavily involved in the fight against the communist rebels.
The IV Corps at Can Tho had requested initially and then directed that at least one U-1A remain overnight at Can Tho. This caused considerable problems due to the mosquito problem at the billets and security at the airfield.
The utilization of this aircraft did not warrant its continued stay overnight on a permanent basis and this procedure was implemented only specific missions. In fact, the requirement was dropped in October.
Losses: CPT George Black, CPT John Smith, CPT Theodore Barber, CW2 Michael Patterson, CW2 Richard Cameron, CW2 Clifford Welsh, CW2 Billie Lund, CW2 Dan Smith, SSG Eugene Hinkle, SSG Bernett Jergenson, SP/5 Thomas Gould, SP/5 Charles Kramer, SP/5 Patrick Burke, SP/5 John Ortiz, SP/5 William Glover, SP/5 Richard Palmer, SP/4 Ronald Leary, SP/4 James Heil, SP/4 Lewelyn Boyd, SP/4 Donald Anderson, SP/4 Richard Denio, SP/4 Peter Blasquez.
Gains: CPT Robert Duedall, CPT Terry Lee, CW3 Peter Cranford, SP/5 Jacell Crowder, PFC Edward Sehmill.
Second personnel loss in Vietnam
On 1 December 1963 the 18th lost Duane E. Limberg (exact circumstances are unclear at this time).
Loss of Reliable 690 on 12 December 1963
This was a time, not only bad for Army Aviation in Vietnam, but particularly bad for the 18th. A third Otter 8-1690 was totaled and seven people killed. Apparently the plane flew into a mountain side at 7400’ elevation (still some 500’ from the top) on the way to Ban Me Thout, the highest peak in Vietnam south of Kontum. First indications it to be an operational accident, but a closer examination of the bodies resulted in a determination that it resulted from hostile action since metal fragments were found in six of the seven bodies. The unit sustained three KIA: Pilot, Captain Clarence L. Moorer, co-pilot, 2nd Lt Louis A. Carricarte, and crew chief SP/5 Michael Martin. At the time of this writing a monument to their memory is being planned to be placed in the MAAG Headquarters at Ban Me Thout, where they were stationed for duty. Although Lt. Carricarte had just completed his check out and was being sent to the field for the 1st time during the third week in December with the departure of CWO Schuman, the 18th Avn Co, for the first time, listed no Warrant Officers present for duty. The situation was to last about five weeks, although unit strength continued close to 100%.
In addition, some unknown person killed the female otter during the first week of December apparently not one of the unit, since all associated with her, had learned to respect her teeth. At any rate, no definite information was available except she was dead, apparently of a broken neck quite possibly administered by a boot.
We finally received our new 1st Sergeant; Sgt Exley reported for duty on 17 December 1963 and was immediately put to work. SFC Powers acting 1st Sergeant was then assigned to Saigon to function as Platoon Sergeant and Maintenance Supervisor.
Another unexplained maintenance problem that occurred during this month was failure of nine tail wheel motors. Fortunately, there were a sufficient number in stock to keep the availability rate from being affected.
On 17 December, USASG-V initiated a pre USARYIS IG inspection with one of their own. The 18th was the first unit so inspected outside of the Tan Son Nhut area. Considerable Mess Hall improvements were noted. On 20 December, the Saigon per diem ended and Support Group contracted for the Alfana Hotel Annex for the Officers. This located close to the Rex Hotel and opposite deposed President Diem’s Palace. No change with the enlisted men in Saigon.
On 24 December, General Stilwell, in the spirit of Christmas, presented initial awards of the Air Medal to 11 pilots and 1 crew chief of the unit at a ceremony on the flight line at Nha Trang.
Losses: MAJ William Bloemsma, CPT Robert Terry, 1LT John Holihan, 1LT Francisc Doherty, 1SG George Chevalier, SFC Jonah Britt Jr. SP/6 Jesse Crayton, SP/5 Darrell Richter, SP/5 Ray Padgett, SP/5 Alan Barrett, SP/5 Carl Cessna, SP/4 William Baxley, SP/4 Robert Beck, SP/4 Larry Weathers.
Gaines: MAJ Thomas McCord, CPT Rhoderick Patrick, CPT William Barber, WO1 Glenn Johnmeyer, SFC William Cox, SFC Tommy Chain, SSG James Davidson, SSG Arthur Griffith, SSG Eustacio Padilla, SP/5 Aurrey Williams, SP/4 Charles Faircloth, PFC Ronald Sanders, PFC Peter Miller, PFC Charles Powers, PFC Richard Fiege, PFC Charles Patterson, PFC Lonnie Kelly.
Stories Section 1963
You say we need some stories about the Otter in Vietnam; well we do, and the people to tell them are the ones who have been flying that old Low, Slow and Reliable, but ugly looking, single engine monster that can land as short as any aircraft, if properly flown, but can take an interminable length of time to get in the air when getting out of a short strip with a load, which the pilot hopes he has correctly figured.
At any rate, we can list facts and figures, total statistics, compute flight time, and set all kinds of records which, when tabulated and put in third person form, will be very impressive indeed to those who are looking for this sort of thing. But, the story of the Otter, as in any aircraft, or for that matter, any military unit, is the experiences of the people in that unit; in this case those of the crew members.
Day by day, these are the people who do the job, with little comment, in usually routine operations; but, occasionally, quite out of the ordinary in an extremely tense and critical situation. Incidental to our operation in Vietnam, which is flying combat support missions, the following is a group of stories that have been coaxed from the Otter crew members, most of which were very reluctant to write about themselves.
It is only a small number of the possible stories that they have in their memories, but each one represents a particularly vivid moment or span of time and it’s highly likely that similar incidents have been repeated time and again, not only by the present crew members, but by those who have been before us.
Mine starts off from Da Nang, a mission to transport a senior ARVN Division advisor, 2 members of his staff, and their counterparts to a little valley next to Laos, which has 3 airstrips. Good weather and no problem skirting a known Viet Cong outpost just East of Ashau. We landed, just as we shut down the engine, one of the Vietnamese who was at the planeside ready to greet our passengers, very excitedly explained to an interpreter that there were some wounded men at one of the other strips in the valley, and could the Otter take them back to Hue.
Apparently, there had been a fire fight with an unknown number of Viet Cong in the hills surrounding that camp the previous night. Since we had no other mission and I was showing this area to my co-pilot for the first time since his recent arrival in the country and there appeared to be considerable concern for this mission, although not scheduled, we left immediately.
On the way to Aloui, the strip where the wounded were, I told the crew chief to put up the seats and install the litter strap since we didn’t know how many wounded there were. To my dismay, he said we didn’t have a litter kit that it had been taken out of the plane the last time it was in Nha Trang for periodic maintenance and that he had left in a hurry and had only thought it was there. So, there we were, not a very good start!
Not wanting to delay the mission, we made a straight-in approach, a little downwind, but no problem since there was over 4000 feet of PSP and a little uphill when landing to the Northeast. We turned off the runway and parked, noticing there was no one to meet us, but thinking nothing of it since we know we were expected and now no activity in the surrounding hills, which was all around, except to the south down the valley. And sure enough, here came a whole group of Vietnamese soldiers out of the camp carrying four litters and accompanied by two walking wounded and the American advisor. We told them we could only take two litter cases and the two walking wounded because of the space limitations.
In the meantime, we had stopped the engine and all crew members had departed the plane so as to supervise the loading, making sure that we loaded the most critical cases. We loaded our 2 litter patients and then found out that there were several non-wounded ARVN soldiers that wanted a ride besides two walking wounded. This is not unusual since American aircraft are about the only way these soldiers have of getting out of the valley. But, it caused a delay in emphasizing there was no room for them.
There were about 30 – 40 people standing around the plane, talking with such gesturing, very few armed, and no one in the plane except the two litter patients, when we all heard 3 distinct shots come from one of the nearby hills.
No one moved, but the ARVN all looked around quite concerned. Nothing more for a few seconds, then a puff of dust kicked up about 20 feet short of the airplane, than a distinct pop! No doubt about that!
This was followed by a few more shots and almost immediately an automatic weapon fired in our direction, with bullets whining over us and ricocheting off the PSP and hard packed dirt in front and around us. Confusion was a gentle term to describe what was happening in the vicinity of the plane. All people were making rapid movement for a 3 foot drainage ditch about 100 feet from the aircraft, leaving the two unloaded litter patients on the PSP to fend for themselves. Bullets, and now tracers were all around us, and I distinctly remember hearing what I thought at the time to be one hitting the ship. Since we were not in the ship at the time it started, and it appeared to be a well planned ambush coming from the hillside about 500 meters away to the Northeast, the crew was in the ditch along with the rest of the soldiers; no rifle, it was back in the plane along with our carbine no one being much of a hero at that time, it stayed there, all we had were the hand weapons and canteens on our belts.
It couldn’t have been over one minute since it started when we heard and saw an explosion quickly followed by another on the other side of the plane, the second closer than the first. Mortar fire; we were in great shape, if the plane hadn’t been damaged already, this would be the end. But not another mortar round came, and I can’t imagine what would have happened because the next one would have been the end of U-1A 707.
When the mortar rounds started, even though there was a sharp crackle of bullets overhead, the ARVN soldiers started running back to their camp some 100 meters to our rear. Most of the firing was directed into the compound to our rear now because no targets were visible near the plane; even the litter patients had rolled off their litters and moved by crawling and rolling to the ditch.
No more than another two minutes could have passed, even though it seemed like ten minutes when we heard friendly 105 fire coming from our rear and outbound. That’s the best sound we heard all day. However, the bullets didn’t stop, even though most were overhead. We were trapped by the Otter between the Viet Cong firing, and several times, I looked up to ascertain what damage had been done to it until a particularly close “snap”, when I involuntarily ducked down again.
I could see no holes, although I couldn’t possible see how it had been missed. The 105 continued firing, and by now the ditch was mostly vacant except for the Otter crew, 3 of us now together, and the two litter patients. The firing on the hill had definitely subsided to just rifle shots, and I estimated there were about a squad firing now. I had to get the plane out of there, if it was still flyable. And I had to find out quickly if it was or not.
There was no oil on the ground under it, or gas to indicate leakage, and still could see no holes. We had a quick discussion; all 3 of us were ready to get out of there. We figured that myself and the crew chief could leave the ditch together, each running for our respective right hand door, since it was the closest side, the co-pilot would follow us by about 3 seconds. There would be no lost motion on my part and the crew chief would close the cargo doors if he could; if not, just release the forward door and brace the litters so they wouldn’t slide backwards. The co-pilot was to put the flaps down. If we found something indicating it wouldn’t fly or couldn’t start it, then we were to vacate it back to the compound. Bullets were still flying overhead. (The Viet Cong must have figured they had already disabled the airplane, since it was apparent they were not firing at it. However, we thought that once movement was spotted around the plane and the prop turned, we’d become targets again).
We started as planned, and I remember thinking that 100 feet is a very short distance, and shouldn’t even notice the effort, but I was conscious of breathing hard when I did reach the co-pilot’s door. Up and over his seat, switches on, gas was still on, fuel pump on, starter and prime at the same time. Good old Pratt and Whitney, only 3 or four blades turned through when it started; mixture forward.
The co-pilot just started pumping down the flaps, the throttle went forward and we moved, the tail wheel unlocked, brake around a 60 degree turn, throttle to about 35 inches, on safety belt, take off flaps, and we were down the runway; fortunately, going downhill away from the shooting.
Once airborne, and loaded for a short strip only about 3 minutes away where if anything did develop we could land, we also started looking around, and getting strapped in, radios on and notifying the Hue Headquarters so some support aircraft could help the defenders. Could see no bullet holes, gauges were O. K., so we climbed up and headed to Hue to discharge the litter patients.
Landed with no problem, ambulance met us and whisked the wounded off. A detailed check of the Otter revealed absolutely no holes or scratches; I’ll never understand why, but I do know that some One up there was looking out for us. Later on we learned the mortar fire had resumed shortly after we left and had killed 11 men in the camp and wounded a greater number.
It had been a quiet Sunday in August in the usually serene atmosphere of the MAAG Compound at Pleiku. It was a time for reading and relaxing, and by the late afternoon we were anticipating Steak Night at the Club.
Then came the call. There was an emergency Med-Evac to be taken to the 8th Field Hospital at Nha Trang immediately. I grabbed the nearest other pilot available, we changed, made a quick trip to the airfield by jeep, and 34 minutes later we were airborne with our precious cargo. There wasn’t time for a written flight plan, elaborate weather briefing or other normal preflight planning. A hasty pre-flight inspection of the airplane, a quick consultation with the medics and we were off.
The diagnosis for our patient was a possible broken back incurred when making a parachute jump. He was a young American Captain and was obviously in a great deal of pain. We tried to make him as comfortable as possible lying on a standard army litter on the floor of our U-1A “Otter”.
The flight from Pleiku to Nha Trang usually takes about an hour and a half. But when we were barely fifteen minutes out of Pleiku we could see in the distance a formation of clouds directly in our flight path. It became increasingly more obvious as we approached it that the only weather in a radius of about 100 miles lay directly over the coast in the vicinity of Nha Trang. But flying out of Pleiku during the Monsoon Season, we were well acquainted with flying in bad weather and at the moment it didn’t concern us too much.
My flying partner, a Warrant Officer with several thousand hours of flying experience, but lacking an instrument ticket, was in the pilot’s seat. Figuring that we might “top” the weather, he continued his climb until we were at 11,000 feet. As we got to within 50 miles of Nha Trang, it was obvious we couldn’t top it all, and we were forced to alter our course to the east to stay VFR.
By this time we made contact with the tower at Nha Trang and asked the controller for Nha Trang weather. The tower operator was Vietnamese. He answered and gave us the weather, but we were unable to understand him, due in part to the breaking up of the transmission over the rough terrain and in part, to the inability of the tower operator to speak English distinctly. After several attempts to have him repeat the transmission, I asked him to call an American to the control tower. I didn’t know whether he understood me.
By this time we were approaching the coastline north of Nha Trang and the sun was just on the horizon. With the increasing darkness, we could see flashes of lightening more distinctly, and to our dismay, most of it was coming from the area which we knew to be our destination.
As we turned south along the coast the clouds in front of us became more dense. It was not certain that we could not top the thunderstorms which appeared to build up to about 20,000 feet. We began to descend along the coastline which was now barely visible. Our hope was to continue to follow the coast underneath the cloud deck to Nha Trang, which was now only 20 miles away.
We descended to 500 feet over the South China Sea, and in the last remnants of twilight we were able to find our way between several cells of the massive thunderstorms to about 5 miles further south. But by now daylight had run out and the ragged coastline and hills were just shadows contrasting them from the sea.
Our mission seemed to us to have been a futile effort. We were within 15 miles of our destination. It was impossible to get there on top. It was too dangerous to be wandering around at any low altitude with terrain ranging to 7,000 feet within ten miles of our position. We had already used up two and a half hours of our fuel, and the time had come for us to decide whether to go on or return to an alternate airport before we ran out of fuel. Our efforts to communicate with Nha Trang tower had become more frustrating, since the tower operator, now sensing the gravity of the situation, was even less coherent for his concern. Our patient, though showing extreme courage, was visibly in deep pain as he lay on his back on the litter.
Yet as we considered our dilemma, there was nowhere for us to go, other than our destination, if we were to help our patient. He had already been examined by a qualified physician at Pleiku. His decision had been to evacuate him. Nha Trang was one of two hospitals in Vietnam and the only one within our range.
As we began ascending in a clear area over the coast we were relieved finally to hear the voice of an American on our FM radio. It was our operations officer at Nha Trang. He asked us our position and we gave him what could now be only a good estimate.
Our Automatic Direction Finder (IADF) instrument gave us a general bearing to the beacon at Nha Trang, but with thunderstorms all around, it moved continually from one flash of lightening to another and back to the beacon.
Later, as we talked about the flight on the ground, our operations officers told us of having looked in the direction of the position we had reported to him, to his horror, all he could see was a giant thunderstorm.
Our only hope now was to get around or between the thunderstorms based on information we received on the weather as seen by our people on the ground. We asked them how it looked between their location and ours. Not too good. How was it to the East – the West? How about going around to the south? It was all the same. The thunderstorms literally surrounded Nha Trang on all sides.
We decided to attempt to “probe” the weather between us and the beacon at a safe altitude above the terrain to see if we could get there between cells. It should be noted that “probing” of thunderstorms is not recommended as a technique for getting between cells. Anyone who has flown anywhere near thunderstorms will attest to the foolhardiness of such a maneuver. It is a fact; however, that when flying close to thunderstorms at night it is impossible to tell whether a lightning bolt is 2 miles or 20 miles away. It was entirely possible that as the storm system was moving, it could have moved over the field by this time. It was our intent to find out. We would fly several minutes and when the turbulence began we would turn around and try at another place. We could not risk flying into a cell and its inherent turbulence with a patient with a possible broken back aboard.
Now our problem became more complex. We were flying with a non-instrument rated aviator in the pilot’s seat. His lack of experience flying in actual weather conditions caused him to get vertigo several times. I would give him a heading to fly, he would hold it for a few seconds, and then as I would be checking my chart, I would notice him in a turn, an obvious case of vertigo. I would tell him to turn back to the heading, he would hold it again for awhile, and then he would be back in a turn, climb, dive or some combination attitude. Since he was outwardly calm and responding to instructions, I allowed him to continue to fly. This allowed us to monitor our position as closely as possible.
After several unsuccessful probes we turned directly west and flew out about 10 minutes to give it one more try. Our intent was to try to follow the storms since they were moving eastward. Then we turned back toward the beacon and in 5 minutes saw the welcome sign – 1 180 degree turn of the ADF needle indicating our position directly over the beacon and the field at Nha Trang. We were still in the clouds, but the turbulence was very light and it was now only a case of flying an instrument approach to the field.
I talked the pilot through the descent in the holding pattern above the beacon, and as we were descending through 6,000 feet we broke out into the clear. We could see the lights of the city below us and faintly make out the runway lights far below. We discontinued our instrument approach immediately and began a rapid VFR descent over the field.
As we landed we could see the ambulance and several other vehicles awaiting us. One vehicle drove out to escort us to the taxiway. Our patient was quickly transferred to the ambulance, we bid him farewell, and he was on his way to medical care at last.
It had taken us three hours and ten minutes, forty of which were at night and in weather, to make the trip from Pleiku. We hadn’t had time to notice now nervous we really had gotten; but as we stepped out of the airplane, shaking hands to congratulate ourselves on having accomplished the mission and to have “survived”. Old terra-firma had never looked better.
Kenneth L. Heikkinen
Captain, Corps Engineers
With pride I have watched the DeHavilland workhorse Otter aircraft and crew perform outstanding jobs in tropical Viet Nam. Faithfully it has plowed through weather and war through-out this worried little world. From rugged jungle covered mountains to rice paddies range 177 airstrips from which the reliable Otter may operate. Each airstrip has its own pile of problems which range from snipers to odd winds or obstacles. Some are even hard to find. One such strip is Ba To. It drops off about (50) fifty feet straight down on both ends and is only eleven hundred feet long. We stepped it off and lost a little faith in a publication which listed it at fourteen hundred (1400) feet. This strip is also surrounded by hills and has its own personal cloud and patch of fog.
My introduction to Ba To came in the form of a medical evacuation mission. Fully aware that this hamlet area had been hit only a few hours before, at day break we circled down into the Ba To valley, and there was that stationary aircraft carrier, but without a catch line or catapult.
We landed in an area of a couple hundred feet. There came a truck with two (2) stretcher patients and three walking wounded. We loaded them in with haste for this was no place to visit. Then the families of the wounded jumped aboard. We had to play the “Ugly American” roll and drag them away from their loved ones. They did get to leave their little bundles of food and clothes though.
We noticed the wind wouldn’t be much help so we thought we could use every inch of this optical illusion we were on. The brakes were held and all the power the book would allow was put in. Then the expected jerk and surge released disappointed in me as the half way point went by and extra flaps went down. Then the Otter, doing what the Otter does, began to fly, harnesses became unlocked and all was well with the world.
On the light side, I heard an Otter pilot call, “Tower Saigon, Turning Base.”
You would have to know the source to appreciate this one, in reply to Paris controls question if he had a parrot aboard, an Otter pilot stated no, but he had some pigs, wild chickens and a bunch of Vietnamese.
On the 28 Dec 63 the following incident occurred.
I (SP/4 George B. Osenga) crew chief on U-1A number 8-1717, had for a mission the transporting from Pleiku to Nha Trang thirty seven (37) jumped parachutes in their bags. One (1) Special Forces sergeant with a carbine & personal survival kit with two (2) M-26 anti-personnel grenades strapped to the sides.
Prior to this boarding I checked the pins & found them to be secured. Upon arrival at Nha Trang I again checked the grenades & found them to be still secure.
The sergeant then exchanged the parachutes & we returned to Pleiku. Upon arrival at Pleiku we unloaded the new parachutes on a Special Forces truck. I passed the sergeant his weapon, survival kit & the two (2) grenades.
I then proceeded to clean the ship. Upon reaching the rear of the ship, I found an “O” ring & pin. I checked my smoke grenades & found my pins intact.
PFC Jolly Whelder & I then got in our truck and chased the Special Forces truck and told them about the grenades with the missing pin. They then proceeded to replace the pin.
The next day I was sitting in my room, when one of the Special Forces men that replaced the pin in the grenade came and asked me if I knew that the striker had already gone forward & hit the cap. I said no.
SP/4 GEORGE B. OSENGA
Crew Chief “Otter” 8-1717
“The Postage Stamp”
In Sept 1963 I arrived in Vietnam eager to go to work after a month of leave, but yet was rather scared of the uncertain future before me. I was assigned to the 18th Aviation Co (FWLT), located at Nha Trang. Being assigned to a new unit did not bother me. However, the thought of flying the U-1A Otter, which I was not qualified to fly, gave me butterflies in my stomach. After a few days of processing and becoming acquainted with the unit, I was scheduled for my first hour of check out. It wasn’t long, thereafter, that my 25 hours of check out were completed and I was full of confidence that flying the Otter was a cinch.
The day came when the operations officer said, “I want you to go down to Cam Ranh Bay to pick up three passengers and return to Nha Trang”. (Cam Ranh Bay is located south of the Nha Trang within 15 min of flying distance). So off I went in Otter 254, fat, dumb, and happy, along with the crew chief, who was unaware of my limited experience with the aircraft. Within fifteen minutes, I sighted the airstrip at Cam Ranh Bay. It was a PSP runway 1000 ft long with no barriers on either side, just ocean. I had been in this strip with an Instructor Pilot during my 25 hrs check out so I said to myself. No sweat, Torres, just do like you’ve been trained in power approaches and everything will work out.
I flew down wind, slowed the aircraft to 75 knots, dropped some flaps, and turned base, the same time descending. Upon turning final, my set up was acceptable to me, except that the strip no looked like a postage stamp. I slowed the airplane down to approach spread, came over the threshold and began the round out it was then that the aircraft floated down the runway. I decided that any second I’ll touchdown in a three point attitude and will stop before I completely ran off the postage stamp.
However the aircraft continued to float and I was reluctant to make a go around when something from my previous training said, “Go around”. I pushed the throttle forward as the end of the runway was coming up rather rapidly. To my surprise the engine coughed and my heart jumped up to my throat. I wanted to kick myself for not having executed the go around earlier, but at this moment my eyes were focused on the end of the runway and the beginning of the ocean.
Luckily the engine caught again giving full power to lift the aircraft off the runway. I quickly built up the airspeed, gained altitude and commenced the second approach. Only this time, every muscle in my body was alert and ready to respond. My second approach was successful. I picked up the three passengers and flew off the airstrip. At a safe altitude I turned back for one last look at the postage stamp. A little voice then told me “Let his be a lesson to you; never stop gaining experience”.
That’s your problem chief!
One fine day while two young energetic aviators from the 18th Avn. Co. were supporting the cause, hauling supplies to Bee Sop, it was requested that they wait a few minutes in order to transport 2 local evacuees to the province hospital at Song Ba. Together they replied of course they would wait. Upon the arrival of the patient to the aircraft, the crew chief was informed that the woman was ten months pregnant and having labor pains at two minute intervals. Upon hearing this crew chief’s drastic reply, “Oh my gosh sir, what will I do if she has it in the air plane”?
We took off from Saigon on a Special Forces resupply mission. The flight was to go to Moc Hoa and An Long. While on the roll out at Moc Hoa we heard a weak Mayday call over the radio. Army 898 was telling the world they were going down 10 miles East of Moc Hoa. We taxied into the parking area the crew chief brought six bundles of blankets out.
While he unloaded we learned from a MAAG major that 898 was a UH-1B. By the time were in the air the UH-1B was on the ground and transmitted he was 5 miles East of Moc Hoa. We told the downed helicopter we were coming and relayed his location to Paris control.
As we flew over a light brown grassy area a red flare shot up and arched over leaving a white smoke tail. The first flare was followed by a second. We made radio contact with the downed aircraft, told Paris we were over the aircraft and turned on our transporter to emergency. While orbiting at altitude we notified the helicopter company at Vinh Long on their FM frequency, they were a little closer than Saigon to the downed UH-1B.
25 minutes later a UH-1B came from the East and landed next to 898. A third armed UH-1B arrived over the area and flew in a circle around the two aircraft on the ground. An Air Force L-19 control plane arrived about 30 minutes after we had initially contacted Paris. We then continued on our way and completed our original mission.
THE DAY OF THE COUP
On the morning of the coup Mr. Schuman and I were scheduled for a 05:30 departure from Tan Son Nhut, at 05:45 as we watched the assault on the palace from the balcony of the Afana Hotel we were reminded that we’d be late for the flight if we didn’t hurry. Since the buses and military taxis weren’t running it was suggested that we take a blue and white cab. After hesitating until 07:00 and still finding the streets deserted we managed to bum a ride to the aircraft with a Vietnamese soldier. When we arrived at the airfield we found ourselves the only ones there. Everyone in operations had been kept in their hotels. About 10:00 people began to trickle in. About 12:00 we took off. That day we went into three strips; were fired upon at all three, at one strip we were fired at six times. But all in all it was just another day in Viet Nam.
THE OTTER AND EVIL SPIRIT
While transporting the I Corps Artillery Inspection Team to various artillery sites in the Da Nang area I learned another interesting sidelight concerning the habits and customs of the local people.
After completing a low recon of this particular strip and establishing an approach, which was completed to the point of touchdown, one of the local citizens who had been watching from the side of the strip, suddenly ran in front of the aircraft. The aircraft passed the man so close that I couldn’t understand how we could possibly have missed him. In fact I was convinced that we had hit the man.
When I had parked the aircraft, and learned much to my relief that it had only been a close call, I questioned one of the local advisors about the incident. The advisor calmly explained that the man only wanted to get rid of his evil spirit and felt that if he ran in front of an aircraft or some other vehicle and came close enough, that the aircraft would surely hit and kill the evil spirit that was following him. As close as this man came to tangling with the prop I have no doubt in my mind that his evil spirit was killed.
BAN ME THOUT TRAIL
Come along boys and listen to my tale,
As I tell you of my troubles,
On the Ban Me Thout trail.
Come and park your Otter in a tree, in a tree,
Come and park your Otter in a tree.
Set out on the trail on Sept 21st
Set out on the trail with a burning thirst.
Put down the flaps, pour on the power
You’ll be home in another hour.
Goin down the runway, airspeed low
Looked at the clock, said time to go
Goin down the runway, RPM high,
Said it’s time to grab some sky
Got off the ground, headed for the trees,
Said, Oh Lord! Some power please.
I looked at Burroughs, and said it’s a sin
But this here Otter is goin in.
We hit the ground, but with a thud
I smelled for smoke, I looked for blood.
I smelled no smoke, that was fine
The only blood, it was all mine
I counted noses, and gave a shout.
5 souls on board, 5 souls walked out.
That’s my story, sad but true
If you fly those Otters, it could happen to you.
Lt Funk and I were flying #254 out of Di Linh Special Zone HQ. On this particular Thursday our schedule included many stops. Finally, a short while after 1800 we landed in Di Linh and received an urgent message from the senior advisor, a Strategic Hamlet had been overrun that afternoon and several ARVIN troops had been seriously wounded. Could we take them to the Vietnamese Hospital at Phan Thiet? Sure could – where are the wounded? A Huey had gone to the boonies to pick up 3 and would meet us at Bao Loc. Sunset was at 1830 and we touched down at 1845. As we shut down I could hear the Huey approaching rapidly. During the trip from Di Linh SP/5 English did an efficient job of rigging the litter racks so our loading time was cut to a minimum. Even so, by the time the Huey had cleared the strip and we began our take-off roll, only the mountaintops were visible. How far to Phan Thiet – 70 miles and downhill all the way.
We had called ahead and requested transportation and an ARVIN ambulance to rendezvous at the airfield. Now all we had to do was find the damn thing. Our ADF pointed the way and pretty soon lights were visible in the distance. Only there must be some mistake; the lights were 20 degrees to the left of our ADF bearings which way should we go now? About this time I started to mention this to Dan, he said, “I don’t think those lights are the town, they look more like a fishing fleet. His hunch was correct and in a few more minutes we could make out some lights in Phan Thiet, the shoreline, the Decca Tower next to the airfield. The fishing fleet lights were 10 miles out at sea but were brighter and more numerous than those in town.
As we descended, we began to encounter a haze layer and soon our only landmark was the radio tower. From memory we made a letdown, feeling for the airfield every foot of the way. Then we lost sight of the town, shoreline and everything but the small circle of ground illuminated by the landing lights. Dan thought the strip was to the left and I thought it was on our right.
Our calculations had been near perfect and our descent brought us very close to the end of the runway. The MAAG advisors had placed a jeep at each end of the airfield, headlights converging toward the center. Dan was so careful I could barely feel the wheels kiss the welcome runway.
Suddenly we noticed how we had perspired during that 40 minute flight. We parked and shut down at 1945 and unloaded the wounded; the Vietnamese did men would not assist, but finally consented to drive the ambulance to the hospital. Shad detected a combat odor when we had unloaded our wounded passengers, a mild scent of burned flesh, sulfur, and a lot of sweet. They had been shot full of morphine; I learned a day later that one had eventually died from his wounds.
The MAAG advisors talked excitedly of our night landing and how we really had earned our flight pay. We didn’t earn much; just another day with an exciting ending. We sure didn’t have much trouble falling asleep.
Flying from Saigon to Nha Trang is usually a routine, unexciting task. To further avoid any unnecessary excitement when the weather is bad inland and the buildups are numerous, I very gladly sacrifice the five minutes or less in additional time enroute it takes by flying the coastal route to Nha Trang. So it was one day last August that I was on my way to our company headquarters when I witnessed the most dramatic sight of my tour in Vietnam.
CWO Johnson and I were flying together and we were about 60 miles out of Saigon on a heading that would take us north of Phan Thiet on the coast when I saw an ominous column of black smoke rising to our right. Since it was only a short distance away and we were at the comfortable altitude of 8000 feet, I told Mr. Johnson to bank over to the south so we could take a closer look at the source of the smoke. As we turned the jungle growth parted slightly and revealed a thin line that was a narrow dirt road.
We descended gradually, wanting to retain a nice safe altitude and yet wanting to get low enough to see clearly, as we approached the column of smoke with the now discernible but still undistinguishable source of the foreboding smoke. Our fears for what we would see as we got closer increased with the descending miles and altitude. Now we were close enough to see three objects quickly taking the shape of vehicles stopped on and near the road. From one of these vehicles the horrible, black smoke was rising. The bright, darting orange and red flames were pushing the contrasting dark smoke skyward from what now could be distinguished as a 2½ ton truck. A ¾ ton truck and a ¼ ton jeep were the other two vehicles that were stopped one in the middle of the road and the other on its side in a shallow trench running along the road way.
When we reached the ambush scene we were at about 4000 feet. We quickly decided not to go too much lower by the presence of many figures.
Third Year in Vietnam
The mission of the 18th Aviation Co was the support of the following military units :
1. Headquarters, 5th Special Forces Group
2. Company B 5th Special Forces Group
3. 3rd Marine Amphibious Force
4. Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office
5. II Corps Headquarters
6. 1st Field Force Vietnam
7. 17th Aviation Group (Combat)
The company rounded out its third year in Vietnam with a sharp increase in cargo and passenger totals. Passenger miles were up 17 % and cargo tons hauled were up a gigantic 84%. This indicates better utilization both on the part of the unit and the people we support. Combat damage decreased in 64with only 4 injuries and no loss of life as occurred in 63. This is the result of constant development of combat flying techniques by the old hands and their utilization by the newer ones.
On 14 January 1964, Major Harlan W. Lohmann (who brought the augmented platoon from Ft Ord on 16 June 1963), was promoted to Major before assuming command of the 18th from Captain Roy L. Miller who rotated stateside. For the past 5 months, 85% of the aviators in this unit were receiving their PCS orders to this newly formed test division. General feelings among them was that this was another hardship tour and the housing situation was poor. Letters from former members of the 18th verified this thinking and adversely affected the morale of the unit.
During February 1964, the unit received six new pilots who had not been through the Otter transition course. This represented 150 training hours which had to be obtained from any available aircraft. Also that month, for the first time since arriving in Vietnam, the Otters were weighed. The results were not surprising, since all figured they had put on a little weight with additional age. They averaged about 6,200 pounds with full fuel tanks. On 24 February 1964, two aircraft were moved from the Saigon platoon to Can Tho, to be used in support of IV Corps. The Corps were quite helpful in this respect and the unit made the most of the Vietnamese holiday TET when the VNAF training aircraft were grounded. During the work week the VNAF aircraft monopolized the traffic pattern and the 18th had to squeeze in during their breaks and lunch time. Two aircraft was moved from the Saigon Platoon and tranfered to Canto in support of 1V Corps.
A total of 5 awards were presented to unit personnel this month.
March 1964 - Can Tho Rat Finks
In March 1964, the 18th received an additional ten Warrant Officers, fresh from the Otter transition course at Fort Ord. The aircraft based at Ban-Me-Thuot was moved to Qui Nhon in support of II Corps and another aircraft was moved from Saigon to Can Tho in support of IV Corps. The platoon at this location took the name "Can Tho Rat Finks". The unit took on a new look. The new arms room was completed and the outside of the club, orderly room, and operations all undergone both minor and major changes.
On the 23rd of March the unit received a 15ft fiberglass boat from the Saigon Special Services to be used at the Nha Trang recreational facilities.
On 1 April 1964, Lt Gen Harold K. Johnson presented awards to 10 unit personnel. The 18th received four Commissioned Officers from the transition course at Fort Ord, and three Warrant Officers who had not been transitioned into the Otter.
On 27 April 1964, Captain Bailey (XO) briefed Lt Gen James K. Woolnough and Brig Gen Joseph Stilwell on the operation of the 18th Aviation Company in Vietnam. Later that day Gen Woolnough presented 8 awards to unit personnel.
On 29 April 1964, the 18th successfully passed an IG Inspection, from an inspection team out of Okinawa.
(Tom Simone - 1964)
18th Aviation Company Area at Nha Trang
May 1964 - Change of Command / Plaque Dedicated
(Tom Simone - 1964)
Memorial to those who died serving their country in Vietnam
On 9 May 1964 Major Ralph D. Irvin assumed command of the 18th from Major "Spike" Lohmann (14 January 1964 - 9 May 1964), who later in the day unveiled a plaque dedicated to the five officers and enlisted men of the 18th who died while serving their country in Vietnam. Those remembered were: Captain Curtis J. Steckbauer (7-1-63), Captain Clarence L. Moorer, Second Lieutenant Louis A. Carricarte, Specialist Four Michael P. Martin, Jr. (12/12/63) and Private First Class Duane E. Limberg (12/1/63).
(Tom Simone - 1964)
Memorial to those who died serving their country in Vietnam
The Otter Company gave Major Lohmann a farewell party.
Aviation Support Battalion Formed
A new aviation Battalion Headquarters was organized at Vung Tau. With the organization of this new unit , called Aviation Support Battalion.
The 18th Aviation Company commanded by Major Ralph D. Irvin (9 May 1964 - 9 June 1964) transferred to the Aviation Support Battalion, 12th Aviation Group, on May 1964 until 1 November 1964.
June 1964 - Change of Command
On 9 June 1964 Captain Harold M. Bailey (XO) assumed command of the 18th from Major Ralph D. Irvin, who rotated out to command an armed helicopter company.
On 23 June 1964 Captain Richard Quigley assumed command of the 18th from Captain Harold M. Bailey who rotated stateside. Losses due to increased helicopter pilot requirements brought the 18th to officer strength of 80%.
During this month one of the aircraft flying in the Delta was hit by ground fire, causing minor damage but wounding both pilots.
Officer' strength was down to 80 percent, Flight time for the officers and crews reach nearly 90 hours per month, In the Delta one of the ships was it by ground fire and both the the pilot and co pilot are now firm believers of the flight vest.
On 21 July 1964 Major Raymond E. Dickens assumed command of the 18th from Captain Richard Quigley. The 18th received a number of new pilots from the transition course at Fort Ord this month. At this point, many of the 18th officers were fresh out of flight school armed with only the advice of their predecessor's as a foundation to set about gaining their experience in Vietnam. The company is now stocked with Officers.
During August 1964, the weather was poor throughout the country as the typhoon season approached. Most of the tropical storms passed just north of Da Nang but the backlash of these storms was felt clear down in Saigon. The coastline remained clear, but the inland region from Hue to Ban-Me-Thuot experienced ceilings of the 500 to 1,000 foot variety. Saigon and the Delta had their share of low visibility flying due to heavy thunderstorm activity, all making for difficult flying conditions for the Otters. Replacements continued to arrive, bringing the 18th, for the first time in 3 months, up to its assigned strength. At the same time, political unrest in the form of anti-government student demonstrations kept the American personnel restricted to their job area and quarters for the greater part of the month. The overall effect of these two outside influences on the 18th Aviation was fewer flying hours and a reduction in morale due to the heavy restriction on movement.
September 1964 - Typhoon Tilda
Weather continued to be poor, and on 15 September 1964, typhoon 'Tilda' moved directly across Da Nang. One Otter was nearly blown loose from its tie-downs and another suffered damage to the horizontal stabilizer. As a result, the Da Nang section was reduced to two flyable aircraft and a temporary replacement aircraft was ferried from Nha Trang to Da Nang to help carry the work load. A major redistribution of Otter aircraft took place in Sept with more aircraft going to the south in response to a MAC-V directive. toward the end of the month things begin to quiet down with the Vietnamese and the political unrest. Towns were reopened, Both Vietnamese and Americans were equally happy.
A change in maintenance procedures saw a maintenance crew sent to Saigon to carry out inspections on the aircraft at Saigon and Can Tho, thus saving them the long haul to Nha Trang and back.
10 October 1964 - I made it to Vietnam
On 10 October 1964 I arrived at MAC-V, where I was billeted (no troop replacement billets at this time). I was there approximately 48 hours before I and 3 other soldiers were picked up by Major Dickens, the commander of the 18th. We were taken from Saigon to the unit at Nha Trang. I was a Private First Class assigned to the Headquarters platoon as a Unit Supply clerk under SSG "Ski".
The first boating accident occured when Capt Davis was preparing to leave Vietnam for good. He was medivac out four days early due to the accident.
On 20 Oct th 14th Aviation Battalion arrives to make there new headquarters in Nha Trang.
14th Aviation Battalion, 12th Aviation Group
Unit Patch Unit Crest
12th Aviation Group
Unit Patch Unit Crest
14th Aviation Battalion
[1 November 1964 - 1 September 1966]
On 30 November 1964, the 14th Aviation Battalion commander went on emergency leave and Major Dickens assumed the duties of the battalion commander, bringing Captain Tyler in as the temporary company commander of the 18th. During this month, six new pilots arrived and a maintenance team was dispatched to the first and third flight platoons in Can Tho and Saigon, to conduct periodic inspections and help speed up maintenance procedures without the prolonged flight time to Nha Trang and back. Maintenance crews were flown to Saigon and Can Tho to pull PMI on aircraft.This was a positive change in hopes to speed up maintenance procedures and save the aircraft from flying to Nha Trang for maintenance.
December 1964 was a "Christmas Month" to remember as the storms and floods in the region brought the 18th into a major role in rescuing and providing temporary billeting for members of the 14th Aviation Battalion when the headquarters was flooded out by water up to 2 feet deep in places, causing the airfield to be closed for a few days.
On 24 December 1964, one of the aircraft flying in the III Corps area received small arms fire wounding the pilot, without damage to the aircraft.
The year 1964 proved to be, by far, the best year of its existence for the 18th Aviation Company. The company rounded out its third year of assignment in Vietnam with a sharp increase in cargo and passenger totals. Air hours and sorties flown increased over 1963 by 5% and 3% respectively, passenger miles were up 17% and cargo tons hauled were up a gigantic 84%. These are indicators of better utilization by the units supported.
The safety record shows major accidents decreased by 33% from 1963. There were, however, a substantial increase in minor accidents and incidents, a result of a sharp rise in the number of new aviators being assigned to the unit (over 75%) coming directly from flight training. Combat damage decreased in 1964 with only four injuries and no loss of life, a result of constant development of combat flying techniques by experience pilots and implementation by the newer ones.
WO Gall was wounded on 24 Dec when a round came in the left cockpit window and wounded himl in the right arm, then passed out the right window.
The "Year of the Dragon" has ended in a rip-roaring fashion. We all hope the New year will see things a little more quiet.
Fourth Year in Vietnam
Organizational Chart as of 1 January 1965
During the month of January 1965 the average combat hours flown per man were 63.2. One aircraft received small arms fire in the fuel tank. The Saigon platoon received a new strip at Ban Me Thout, smaller but closer to Xuan Be, where one aircraft 58-1717, with pilot and crew were to begin operations.
WO Hall returns to flying status after being wounded on Christmas Eve.
February 1965 - Pleiku Attacked
On 7 February 1965 the enemy attacked Pleiku. The Company's Pleiku platoon, with the only fixed wing aircraft in the area, flew all night bringing medevacs to the Field Hospital at Nha Trang, bringing much credit to the platoon for this dangerous work. On 9 February 1965, the BEQ in Qui Nhon was attacked and the 18th provided much needed MEDEVAC support. The Company headquarters in Nha Trang showed its true colors by donating blood to the wounded and aiding the 8th Field Hospital personnel in transporting some of the more severely wounded to waiting USAF C-130 cargo planes for evacuation to major hospitals in the Philippines and the United States. CWO Hardwick was honored at a Khe Sanh dinner with a framed picture of his aircraft making its final pass over the CZ on a combat re-supply mission with the Da Nang Platoon where three hits were taken on this mission.
The Saigon platoon had more than its share of problems for the month, plus the fact that the change in the Vietnamese government closed Tan Son Nhut airport.
During March 1965, Aircraft 5-81699 out of the Saigon Platoon, while flying a "Psy-War" mission in the Minh Thant area received a hit in the left wing only 6' from the cockpit. No crew members were injured. The average combat hours per aviator this month was 74.
SP4 Wittel sitting behind CPT Childree's desk
This is the month this writer makes SP4 and is now working in the company arms room.
The month was ended with a 60 percent participation by the Pleiku in a Red Cross drive.
During April 1965, Captain James Garner (not the actor) and Warrant Officer Herrick were submitted for commendations by MAAG personnel at Ban Me Thout for their night MEDEVAC mission from the Red Clay airstrip.
May 1965 - The Dust Bowl
During May 1965 the Pleiku platoon moved to their new home at Holloway Army Airfield, a strip they lovingly referred to as 'the Dust Bowl'.
June 1965 - Change of Command
On 20 June 1965, Major Paul S. Walker assumed command of the 18th from Major Raymond E. Dickens (21 July 1964 - 21 June 1965), who rotates stateside next month. One aircraft out of the Saigon Platoon received a round through the floor while flying in the area of Dong Xoai, just two weeks before it was overrun. The platoon has been continually returning on re-supply and courier missions in attempts to rebuild the camp.
Do you remember our glorious leader at the time? Well, here he is in all his glory, Major Paul S. Walker, CO 18th Avn. Co. (6/65 - 2/66)
Martha Raye Visit
During the month of June 1965 the 18th was honored to have a Special VIP on board one of the aircraft, piloted by Major Edwards with crew chief SP5 Sonny Lewis (he was their official assistant for the day). The aircraft was personally autographed by Ms. Martha Raye.
Martha Raye preparing to leave
(Photo from AOCA - Logbook July 2009)
WE NEVER TIRE OF MARTHA RAYE
Another Martha Raye Memory
By Russ Edwards
It was a flight from Pleiku to Da Nang. The old, dull olive-drab U1-A stood on the parking apron at the airstrip in Pleiku, Vietnam, proud of her record in that war torn country. She wasn’t sleek and pretty like many other aircraft over there. As a matter of fact her nickname was old “Ugly One Alpha” (U1-A).
Ugly One Alpha was part of a team however, one of many, assigned to the 18th Aviation Company, a unit proud to have been the first fixed wing company to arrive in Vietnam way back in February, 1962. Cargo? You name it, she carried it: people, chickens, pigs, ammunition, rice, Viet Cong prisoners,\ and etc. Her motto and that of the 18th was ‘Low, Slow and Reliable’ and that epithet fit her like a glove. She was slow, even helicopters passed her by and she didn't go high, but she got you where you're going.
Taking off from the airstrip at Pleiku on a VIP mission, I climbed to 10,000 feet to get on top of the white, fluffy clouds that concealed mountain peaks to the east. Destination, Da Nang with weather forecasted to be good. The air at 10,000 was cool and stable making for a smooth flight. Cruising along I turned my head several times to see how my passengers were doing. They all appeared to be sleeping. I noticed one passenger, in particular, who had her legs tucked up under her chin, a jacket covering her for warmth. I remember thinking she was quite a gal, bouncing around in every kind of aircraft all over Vietnam and probably being shot at - who knows how many times - while bringing smiles and laughter to our guys.
On reaching South China sea coast near Chu Lai, I decided, after noticing several large holes in the clouds, that I'd descend and follow the coastline to Da Nang. I started my descent very gradually so as to not disturb my passengers and with sufficient cloud clearance, turned North.
After a short distance the base of the clouds dropped rapidly. Taking the aircraft still lower I continued on toward Da Nang. It soon became apparent that the ceiling was dropping even more and there was no way to get back on top of the clouds. It was then I then became concerned about the possibility of enemy ground fire. We were definitely over Viet Cong territory.
At 1,000 feet it appeared as I wouldn't have to take us any lower. However, we were well within range of enemy small arms fire and sure enough it happened. I didn't hear the first burst but my co-pilot sounded off," We're receiving fire!" I could feel a cold sweat running down the inside of my helmet as I banked hard right out over the South China sea and I could see fuel pouring from my starboard wing and hoped I had enough to make Da Nang. Just about the same time I felt something cool and wet hit the back of my neck. I had been wounded twice during the Korean War and had an idea what it felt like. I didn't feel pain but it caused me to turn my head around. There, at the cockpit door, stood Martha Raye with that famous, beaming, wide smile and spraying me with a squeeze type perfume bottle. My tension collapsed and I broke out laughing.
What a gal. Seemingly, not the least bit concerned about herself, knowing how we probably felt, while attempting to relieve our pressure which she did – 100 percent.
Landing in Da Nang, my co-pilot counted 37 bullet holes in our starboard wing. Martha Raye bought me a drink at the Da Nang club that night and gave me a Saint Christopher medal which I still have.
That was a long time ago and Maggie has since crossed over. GOD BLESS YOU COLONEL MARTHA RAYE!
Viet Cong Attack
The Viet Cong did pay us a visit at Nha Trang towards the end of the month, this time lobbing about 40 mortar rounds, but luckily most were duds, it still made for a harrowing night.
Nothing was noted in the unit historical documents for this month.
Nothing was noted in the unit historical documents for this month.
August 1965 - Crash of B-57 in Nha Trang
August 1965 started out as a quiet month, but that would change. On 6 August a USAF B-57 bomber, shot up during a strafing run, careened into the western end of Doc Lap (Nha Trang's main street) instantly killing 17 Vietnamese and injuring many more. At great risk, Sergeant Henry M. Kwiatkowski evacuated 52 school children from the area of the crash site. Along with other member of the 18th who were called in to help clear the crash site of debris and unexploded ordinance.
Sergeant Kwiathowski, SP5 Lloyd A. Olin and SP4 Jessie L. Jones were all awarded the Air Medal for their heroic actions. SP4 Bruce A. Yarian received the Army Commendation Medal this month.
September 1965 - 256th Transportation Detachment Assigned
(John Lynch photo credit)
256th Transportation Detachment
In September 1965 the monsoon season began, along with it came the bad weather, wet, slick strips and more mud. On 8 September 1965 the 256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repair) (commanded by Captain Robert O. Hayes) was assigned to the 18th Aviation Company, to help with the maintenance program by providing direct field maintenance support and limited general support maintenance. The detachment also had the responsibility of recovering downed aircraft. The 256th took over in this role from the 339th Transportation Company, which had supported the 18th Aviation Company up to this point. There were many promotions throughout the company, but the highlight was the promotion of Sergeant First Class William E. Hallman to Master Sergeant prior to his rotating to Da Nang as 1SG of another unit. Later in the month MSG Lawrence E. Wagner became the First Sergeant of the 18th from MSG Hallman.
October 1965 - 54th Aviation Company Arrives in Vietnam
A major development in 20 September 1965 was the long-awaited arrival of a second Otter company in Vietnam, when the 54th Aviation Company arrived and established its headquarters at Vung Tau.
The 18th transferred some of its personnel: Maj. Stephen Farrish, 3 commissioned officers, 10 Warrant Officers, E-6 Hardwick, and 8 EM to the 54th as well as 8 Otters. The 54th took over the platoons in Saigon and Can Tho.
November 1965 brought more bad weather, IFR flights and a new First Sergeant. On 19 November, Master Sergeant Ivey H. Boudreaux became the First Sergeant of the 18th replacing MSG Wagner.
There were 13 awards presented to unit personnel this month.
December 1965 - "The Best of the Best"
The month of December 1965 was a quiet month and everyone was thankful for the Xmas cards they received from the states making moral extremely high during the holidays.
1965 was an important year for the Company, which rounded out its fourth year of assignment in Vietnam with a sharp increase in cargo and passengers carried. Major and minor accidents decreased as a result of an active safety program, with only one injury and no loss of life during 1965.
Fifth Year in Vietnam
Unit history reports:
During 1966 the 18th Aviation Company (AIR MEL FW) operated under TO&E 1-59D as amended by USARPAC GO #127 and unconfirmed order VOCO 12th Aviation Group. From 1 January to 7 August 1966 the unit operated with a headquarters section, operations section, two airlift platoons and a service platoon. The 18th continued to be augmented with an assigned Direct Support Maintenance Detachment - the 256th Transportation Detachment (ACFT REP).
As a result of a move of the Headquarters Section, Operations Section, Service Platoon, and 256th Transportation Detachment from Nha Trang to Qui Nhon, Vietnam in August, the unit was required to organize a provisional Flight Platoon at Nha Trang. Also resulting from the move, the company was assigned a medical detachment, the 163rd. Following the move, the unit was operating with almost the same degree of dispersion as was required in 1962 to 1965 with aircraft located at Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Pleiku and Bangkok, Thailand.
The authorized strength of the 18th Aviation Company and assigned support units is as follows:
Despite the fact that the unit was always at less than authorized strength; the aviators assigned cheerfully doubled their efforts and made 1966 a highly successful year.
At the beginning of the month the unit was down to 29 assigned aviators. This posed a critical problem, but the aviators assigned tightened their belts and accepted the situation. By the end of the month gains had brought the unit aviators strength up to 38, a shortage of only 3 and a fairly comfortable position.
Statistically speaking, with 15 Otter aircraft assigned that month, the 18th flew a total of 1,056 hours, transporting 4,522 passengers and 177 tons of cargo in 1,318 sorties.
The service platoon and the 256th Trans Detachment continued to perform in their usual outstanding manner with an average availability rate of 74%. Translated into an average flyable rate, this gave the unit 11.4 aircraft on a daily basis - an adequate number to fulfill all mission requirements.
Morale was high and 6 soldiers extended their time in Vietnam.
The last week in January 1966 saw large scale military operations supported by the 2nd platoon at Pleiku.
Bong Son Support
The operations at Bong Son required daily support by the platoon. One night mission into the tactical strip on 29 January 1966 resulted in "recommendations" for DFCs (may have been later downgraded) for three members of the 1st platoon (LT Keithly, WO Stein and CE SP4 Bielski):
The Otter departed Pleiku on this dangerous night mission with a cargo of vitally needed radio equipment and two advisory personnel. Flying IFR almost the entire distance, a mobile GCA was used to guide the crew on their approach. Breaking out at 450 feet, two go-arounds were required because of the sub-standard field lighting. During each of these go-arounds the aircraft received intensive ground fire. Due to the perseverance, skill, and great devotion to duty displayed by the crew, the mission was terminated successfully.
Missions into Bong Son continued during February 1966. On many occasions the Otters landed under low overcasts to find they were the only aircraft in the Bong Son area.
[Article on the Battle of Bong Son]
Battle of Bong Son
The Battle of Bong Son was the second major battle for the 1st Cavalry Division, an airmobile unit of divisional strength, during the Vietnam War. It also was called Operation Irving, and involved the start of frequent combat in an area called the Iron Triangle. A month earlier in 1965, in the Battle of the Ia Drang, the 1st Cavalry used all the division infantry, but one brigade at a time. One of the realizations that affected Bong Son was that with adequate helicopter lift, the traditional need to keep a strong reserve was less required-the least involved unit usually could break away and go where it was needed.
At the operational level, it was began as a pursuit of the Vietnam People's Army (PAVN) 2nd, 18th, and 22nd Regiments (forming the NVA 3rd Division) by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 22nd Division, commanded by Brigadier General Nguyen Thanh Sang and assisted by the Republic of Korea Capital Division. The NVA fought back strongly, and Sang asked for reinforcements by two ARVN airborne battalions, which still were not enough.
During the Battle of the Ia Drang, 1st Cavalry commander Major General Harry Kinnard had considered operations on the Binh Dinh plain, part of the area involved in Bong Son. He now had time to implement those ideas. Even through the ARVN needed help, the Cavalry prepared systematically. [End of Article]
Statistically things slowed down for the 18th during February 1966, a result of several factors including less missions assigned, predominately bad weather, lack of 2 authorized aircraft and the fact that February was a short month.
During the majority of February 1966 the 18th continued to support the Bong Son area. Daily flights into Bong Son were made by the 2nd Platoon at Pleiku. Many times the units Otters landed under low overcasts sky to find that they were the only aircraft in the area.
Total hours flown decreased to 785 with corresponding decreases in passengers and cargo hauled. Sorties totaled 900 during which a total of 3672 passengers and 80.6 tons of cargo were transported. Availability rose from 74% to 80%.
Change of Command
Two changes of command ceremonies were held during the month and as a result the unit had a new Commanding Officer and a new Battalion Commander.
On 15 February 1966 before assembled elements of all units of the 14th Aviation Battalion, Lt Col Joseph P. Smith relinquished the Battalion colors to Major Ronald J. Rogers.
(Photo from AOCA - Logbook July 2009)
L to R: Maj. Paul Walker, Maj. Ron Rogers & Maj. Russ Edwards
On the 28th of February an official change of command ceremony was held for the 18th Aviation Company. With the company assembled, Major Russell W. Edwards (2/66 - 9/66) accepted the colors from Major Paul S. Walker who will soon depart for CONUS. Major Ronald P. Rogers, 14th Aviation Battalion Commander addressed the troops, praising the outstanding achievements of Major Walker and the unit. He expressed confidence that with Major Edwards at the helm, the 18th would continue to perform in the same outstanding manner.
Following the change of command ceremony, awards and decorations were presented to deserving individuals. As a result of the change of command, Captain Richard Quigley two-time member of the 18th became Executive Officer of the unit, filling the slot vacated by Major Edwards.
Other excitement for the 1st Platoon Commander
Captain Joel Hardy had his share of excitement for the month when a precautionary landing was required at Quang Ngai. The aircraft developed full power during run-up but shortly after takeoff a severe loss of power occurred. Fortunately Captain Hardy was able to keep the engine running by continuous advancement and retardation of the throttle; and the landing was made without incident or damage. The cause of the engine power failure was thought to be a faulty carburetor.
March 1966 - Special Operations Support
A month of change and hard work for the 18th, with the annual IG Inspection on the 10th which found the unit, true to its traditions, to be outstanding in each of the areas inspected. Concurrent with the preparation for the annual inspection, the unit was required to vacate the building it occupied to make room for the new 17th Aviation Group. This is also when Major James K. Knerr arrived in the unit to become the Executive Officer. Working day and night, the 18th completed its move by the 13th.
Colonel Gerald H. Shea (Group Commander) commended the unit for the efficient handling of the move and the fine spirit and cooperative attitude of all members of the unit.
Despite the move, IG Inspection, personnel changes, the 18th racked up a fine record in flying during the month of March. Sorties were up to 1444 in 1126 hours of flying. 163.2 cargo tons and 5469 passengers were transported, an increase of 102% and 48% respectively over the previous month.
During March 1966, two special operations were supported by the Company.
One U-1A with a crew of four pilots and two chiefs was required on a 24 hour basis to support a large scale "search and destroy" operation in the Central Highlands near Ban-Me-Thuot, from where the Otter operated for four days out of the Ban-Me-Thout City Strip before returning to Nha Trang on 11 March 1966.
An unusual incident occurred during the operation resulting in one of the two pilots of the unit, WO Wilcox, being submitted for the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As their aircraft was approaching takeoff speed at the strip, now heavily congested by combat and support units, a squad of ARVN soldiers attempted to cross the runway directly in front of the accelerating aircraft. Unable to stop, the aircraft was swerved to avoid hitting the squad. The squad escaped certain death due to this evasive action, but the wingtip unfortunately did strike one soldier causing critical injury and incidental damage to the wing. Had it not been for the alertness and fast action of the two pilots it is certain that the entire squad would have been killed or maimed and the aircraft extensively damaged.
In the other special operation, the 1st Platoon at Da Nang provided radio relay capability to Special Forces in a "Project Delta" operation in the vicinity of Hue Phu Bai. In this vital role, they operated for 14 days, often at night, over the densest of jungled mountainous terrain. Despite the hazards inherent to the mission, outstanding support was rendered throughout the period.
The 18th was levied for an additional support requirement during March 1966:
Providing one Otter for support of the Joint US Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) Missions including transporting leaflets, medical teams and supplies and equipment to isolated strips throughout the I and II Corps areas, in an effort to gain the confidence of the local population. The support rendered during the last two weeks of March was so successful that this additional support mission will be continued on a regular basis.
A rash of wing damage resulted in the 256th Trans Detachment changing one wing and repairing two others during the month. The aircraft involved in the incident at Ban Me Thout required a wing change. Two other aircraft required wing repair when caribous at Tuy Hoa and Pleiku overlapped wings with the parked Otters. The 256th, despite these incidents, maintained its availability rate at 80%.
During March 1966 I was transferred from the company arms room to the company tech supply and promoted to SP5, prior to the Company moving to Qui Nhon and as a result of the Outstanding Arms Room inspection.
Another happy time for the 18th when 3 soldiers extended their time in the company.
Throughout the month of April, Buddhist dissidence had an adverse effect on the counterinsurgency effort, particularly in I Corps. The missions of the 1st Platoon at Da Nang were seriously affected as demonstrations and rioting were common place in Da Nang and Hue. Personnel of the platoon faced great difficulty moving from the BEQ to the airfield. They had to be quartered in the airfield temporarily and as the situation continued to deteriorate "Condition Red" was proclaimed. To facilitate the support effort, the second platoon moved its four aircraft to Da Nang East (Marble Mountain).
Flying hours for April were down from that of the previous month. Only 1067 sorties in 788 hours of flying time were flown. 4136 passengers and 85 tons of cargo were transported during the month. A critical problem existed in that the 18th was short two Otters during April due to aircraft turned in for IROAN and replacement aircraft not being issued at turn in. This left the 18th with 14 U-1A's to provide 10 flyable on a daily basis.
A disaster came to Phu Tuc in the form of a fire.
Two Otters from the Pleiku platoon shuttled eleven tons of desperately needed medical supplies, food, clothing and building materials to a short, unimproved strip serving the village of Phu Tuc. In addition to supplies, a total of 105 passengers were transported during the operation. Tirelessly the crews had completed the mission with 6 hours of flight time per aircraft. This accomplishment is truly amazing when one considers that it represents 1833 pounds of cargo and 9 passengers per aircraft hours flown.
During the first three weeks of May the political situation in the I Corps area increased in severity and for a time it appeared that open revolution might result. This seriously affected the 1st platoon's missions in the Da Nang area. Demonstrations occurred in other cities in the I Corps and II Corps areas, but none in the scale of those at Da Nang and Hue.
Despite the political instability, the 18th flew more hours and transported more cargo that it had the preceding month. A total of 1335 sorties were flown during May in 975 hours of flying time. Passengers totaling 4538, an increase of 9.7% over April and cargo tons transported totaled 102, an increase of 20% over the previous month. The shortage of two authorized aircraft continued to present a real problem. Aircraft availability decreased during the month by one percentage point to 75%.
June started off with a sad note as another fatality occurred on the 1st. At approximately 1915 hours, PFC Kenneth B. Sykes, while on leave status, was shot and fatally wounded while entering the main gate to Long Van Compound at Nha Trang, he was rushed to the hospital where he died at 2020 hours. Motives for the shooting are not know and the matter is currently under investigation.
The 18th flew 6 less hours than it had the previous month but utilization rose tremendously. This was particularly true as passengers carried totals were up 42%, with 941 hours flown. A total of 6451 passengers and 107 tons of cargo were carried by 15 aircraft in 1958 sorties. Aircraft availability remained an adequate 75%, the same as May this year.
There occurred two non chargeable incidents resulting in the loss of two Otters for an indefinite period, one in Nha Trang and the other in Pleiku.
The first occurred when an U-1A assigned to the 339th Transportation Company (DS) was involved in an accident on the ramp in front of the maintenance hangar at Long Van. The UH-1D overlapped blades with another Huey belonging to the 498th Med Evac Company causing extensive damage to both helicopters. During the freak accident, a generator was thrown from the 339th aircraft into the 256th Trans Detachment hangar, striking #5-53273, penetrating the skin and coming to rest INSIDE the fuselage.
(Lloyd Works photo credit)
5-52273 damaged in hanger by flying generator
Meanwhile 140 miles away north of Pleiku, CWO Ira Stein was involved in a test flight accident. "Supersonic Stein" or "The Flash" in a burst of speed accelerated #5-53310 to 200 knots. At this speed certain vibrations were experienced which are foreign to the Otter. Upon landing, the inspection revealed that the over-speed had left all wire antennas dragging on the ground, popping numerous rivets, severely wrinkling the wings and stabilizers and had completely torn off the elevator serve tab, resulting in extensive inspection and rebuild. This aircraft had not yet been released from the 604th General Support Company at the time of the test flight.
Neither incident chargeable to the 18th.
June 1966 saw more extensions in the unit as 2 men extended their time in Vietnam.
July 1966 - Change of Command for 256th
The 256th Trans Detachment performed outstanding services during the month of July and resulted in the unit's 14 assigned aircraft having a monthly availability rat of 81%, a new high for the year. This was accomplished despite the change in the command structure of the 256th, which occurred on 9 July. Captain Robert O. Hayes assumed command of the detachment from Captain Jim Barnes.
This month saw a total of 1759 sorties in a total of 1031 hours flown. Passenger totals took a severe drop to 1026 as compared with 6451 carried the preceding month. Cargo tonnage was at an all time high for the year, with 187 tons, an increase of almost 80% over the 107 tons carried in June.
An exciting 4th of July was experienced by Captain Sokowoski and CWO Thomas Messeder when they experienced engine failure in 5-53272 at 2500 feet in the vicinity of Chu Lai. Immediately, restart procedures were initiated successfully, with the engine running intermittently enabling the pilot and co-pilot to make a successful precautionary landing at Chu Lai Marine airfield. Carburetor failure was the suspected cause of the trouble.
Weather throughout the month was clear in coastal areas but overcast in the highlands due to the monsoon affecting that area. Flights by members of the 2nd Platoon often require IFR departures and approaches. It is uncommon for flight to the Pleiku area NOT to encounter IFR conditions at some time during their flights.
Annual weapons familiarization was accomplished by all members of the unit in the Nha Trang area on 9 July 1966 at the ARVN NCO Academy range, while performing their normal mission. Firing for members of outlying platoons is accomplished on an individual basis at available Special Forces ranges throughout their respective areas.
Preparing for the move
Preparing for the move
The waiting was over on 18 July 1966 when the 18th received orders from the 17th Aviation Group directing the unit to move to Qui Nhon to be initiated no later than 31 July and be completed on or before 15 August 1966. Capt Boland and WO David Beasley were designated as the project officers of the move.
The advance party was dispatched to Qui Nhon on 22 July to perform liaison with the 92nd Aviation Company and to prepare the area for occupation by the Company Headquarters, Operations Section, Service Platoon, and 256th Trans Detachment. The target date for actual movement was set for 7 August 1966.
After the move to Qui Nhon 4 more soldiers extended their service in Vietnam.
August 1966 - 163rd Medical Detachment assigned
If the most memorable and eventful month of the year were to be singled out, August would have to be that month. August saw the 18th move from Nha Trang to Qui Nhon, completely renovate the company area at Qui Nhon, gain a Medical Detachment and accomplish feats of engineering and plumbing which made the engineers of the local R & U facility look on with awe and admiration.
18th Aviation Company Headquarters moved to Qui Nhon
The Company HQ moved from Nha Trang to Qui Nhon, where buildings used up to then by the 92nd Aviation Company were occupied. Early August 1966 saw the unit deeply involved in the final planning for the move, crating and packing.
Actual loading began on 5 August 1966 at 0730 hours and was completed on 6 August 2130 hours.
The vehicles and equipment were transported by LST. Personnel, personal items, weapons, items of immediate administrative necessity were transported by Caribou aircraft, one each furnished by the 92nd and 135th Aviation Companies. The last elements of the Company closed into Qui Nhon at 1800 hours on 7 August 1966. Unloading of the LST occurred the following day and the move had been completed by evening time on 9 August 1966. The last element of the unit arrived in Qui Nhon at 1800 hours on the 7 August 1966. Although the headquarters had moved, the Company retained a platoon (Third Platoon) at Nha Trang. Unloading the LST Began on the 8th and with unloading operations finished at 2000 hours on the 9th, the move was officially completed. The movement was made with such smoothness and efficiency that the unit's normal assigned support mission were not hampered in the least. This was made possible by the hard work and unselfish effort of all unit personnel involved.
Although the move was officially terminated on the 9th, the company's work was just beginning . Buildings were in a sad state of repair and renovation operations were required immediately. Commo and wire teams, working day and night around the clock rewiring many of the buildings and installed telephones, so vitally required for communication with the outlying platoons and higher headquarters. Personnel of the unit with little or no experience rolled up their sleeves, and picked up hammers , saws and nails, and began carpentry projects after normal duty hours were completed. with in a week after the arrival in Qui Nhon, the self sacrifice, long hours and hard work by members of the unit was paying off high dividends. The 18th was becoming one of the first on Qui Nhon Army Airfield.
With the 92nd Aviation Company's rolls begin to swell up with Air Force personnel, the concurrent arrival of the 18th Aviation resulted in a critical water shortage and severe taxing of the plumbing facilities. With water supplies and plumbing facilities serving about 3 times as many personnel as before, prompt action was required to alleviate the situation. Urgent requests to Rand U and the engineers were fruitful, the 18th decided to attack the situation themselves. Tankers were dispatched by the 18th to the Phu Tai Valley to load water and to transport it to the local pumping station. Through out the month the 18th averaged 10,000 gallons every day. Concurrently with the water hauling operation the 18th dug a well and a 1200 gallon storage tank was erected in the company area. The grossly overtaxed plumbing system, resulting in raw sewage overflowing from septic tanks, caused a health hazard which had to be eliminated. Self-help action by the 18th was immediately instigated. Utilizing a salvaged tank and water pump, the unit began its own waste disposal operation. By 18 August 1966, unit personnel had pumped and disposed of over 4000 gallons of waste. With the septic tanks cleaned out it was possible to repair the lines that were damaged. Repair of the lines and septic tank greatly alleviated the critical situation, but a daily drainage schedule is required and is accomplished by the unit personnel.
CWO Fletcher Parrish utilized great ingenuity in setting up the unit motor pool during the third week of the month. The area designated as the motor pool was on low ground , subject to mud during the rainy season . To eliminated this problem. CWO Fletcher Parrish built up the area with 400 yards of dirt.
Another crash project of the 18th during the month of August was the establishment of a physical security in the company area. A large scale program was initiated to build bunkers at different locations and to sand bag the company area living quarters. The project was well under way by the end of the month.
The crew got a new name in Qui Nhon . They the officers became known as the "Dalton Gang". The name lasted with the unit till the end. It is still heard and used today as this is written. Capitalizing on the name , jeeps were labeled "The Daltons" with appropriate members names, such as "Cole", "Billy the Kid', "Quantrill", and "Jesse" painted below the windshield. In no month had so much been done, but in no month was morale ever higher.
Despite the movement, turnover in personnel, and reshuffling of key positions, the company was able to complete all assigned missions and a mass of favorable flying records for the month. Hours totaled 870 as the unit flew 1325 sorties, transporting a total of 4232 passengers and 101 cargo tons during the month.
During the month of September, a combination of factors resulted in the unit's daily aircraft availability rate dropping to an average of 65%. Some of the factors affecting the maintenance effort include:
Shortage of 2 assigned aircraft, precluding optimum scheduling.
Loss of experienced maintenance personnel during the month of August.
Loss of maintenance time in August due to movement and relocation of shop facilities.
Lack of parts for EDF aircraft.
This was the lowest availability rate experienced by the 18th during the entire year and presented a difficult problem in as much as 10 flyable aircraft are required for assigned support missions on a daily basis. Through diligent flight scheduling and great effort by maintenance personnel, each of the assigned missions was successfully completed.
Another problem affecting the 18th support mission was the lack of aviators within the unit. The month started out with only 31 aviators present in Vietnam and Thailand. This represents a shortage of 25 aviators almost 45% under strength. The situation persisted throughout most of the month and when the month ended the company was still short 21 aviator personnel.
Despite the problems, the unit flew 881 hours in 1349 sorties carrying 4199 passengers and 95 tons of cargo. Before the month ended, the unit would belong to a different Aviation Battalion and would see numerous changes in key positions within the internal organization, to include a change in commanding officers.
On the 1st of the month the 18th participated in the organization day of the 14th Aviation Battalion event held at its headquarters at Phu Tai in the An Somh Valley. Lt Col Samuel Kalagian praised all the units of the battalion for successful completion of their missions. During the ceremony awards and decorations were presented to deserving members of the battalion, to including 4 awards to unit personnel. In 3 short days the 18th would no longer be part of the 14th.
223rd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade
Unit Patch Unit Crest
1st Aviation Brigade
Unit Patch Unit Crest
17th Aviation Group
Unit Patch Unit Crest
223rd Aviation Battalion
(4 September 1966 - 16 April 1971)
On 4 September 1966, the Company was re-assigned from the 14th Aviation Battalion to the 223rd Aviation Battalion, commanded by Major Charles H. Drummond, Jr.
Change of Commands
Change of Commands
On 10 September 1966, Major Billy J. Bartle assumed command of the 18th from Major Russell W. Edwards, who was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster to his Bronze Star for outstanding services in Vietnam.
On 22 September 1966, Lt Col William R. Gearan assumed command of the 223rd from Lt Col Drummand.
223rd Organizational Chart - 1966
The self-help construction program continued in operation throughout the month of September 1966, with numerous improvements in the company area.
Flying hours decreased considerably during October 1966 to a new low for the year of 727 hours. Utilization was good with 4135 passengers and 91 tons of supplies and equipment carried in a total of 1186 sorties. The efforts of the Service Platoon and 256th Trans Detachment paid handsome dividends, as aircraft availability increased from 65% in September to 80% during October 1966.
During the first week of the month, in an effort to obtained a more favorable DEROS spread in both of the other companies in Vietnam, the 18th and 54thAviation Companies were directed to exchange 5 aviators. The exchange was to be in two increments.
Khe San Support
From 17 October 1966 the Da Nang platoon utilized one aircraft for the sole purpose of supporting an Operation Delta mission in the mountainous terrain of I Corps. The Otter was used for radio relay and re-supply. The weather was such that the Otter was required to take off IFR, with radar vectors to the area of operation. Radar was then required to hold the radio relay aircraft over the area of operation on a course paralleling the DMZ and Laotian border. Re-supply missions during the period were even more hazardous, but the beleaguered Special Forces camp at Khe San was served in its time of great need. Flying again on radar vectors, the crews were required to let down over the VC-infested terrain, often with less than fifty foot ceilings and quarter mile visibility. For over a week during the period these brave and fearless aviators were the only supply link which Khe San had with the outside world.
For the rest of the year, the 1st Platoon at Da Nang continued to support Operation Delta while also flying normal missions.
As the unit history puts it:
The 2nd Platoon (Pleiku) and 3rd Platoon (Nha Trang) continued to support their supported units in their traditional professional and successful manner. 2nd Platoon was supporting II Corps headquarters and 3rd Platoon supported Special Forces and JUSPAO.
On 26 October 1966 Major Billy J. Bartle (CO) went to battalion to receive the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to the 18th Aviation Company, "for exceptionally meritorious service during the period 15 October 1964 through 31 December 1965".
The Da Nang platoon had additional excitement on 27 October as a result of an engine seizure on 8-1707.
The aircraft with CWO MacPhee and CWO Dumas at the controls was making a simulated instrument approach to Da Nang Main when the propeller surged and failed and subsequent engine seizure occurred. Fortunately an adjusted altimeter setting was used for the approach and the aircraft was at 2500 feet when the dangerous situation developed. Through superb pilot techniques and extraordinary judgment, a successful forced landing was accomplished at Da Nang East without further damage to the aircraft. Upon inspection of the aircraft on the ground, it was discovered that the Otter had come extremely close to actual loss of the engine by separation from the air frame. Morale is still high with some more extensions in country.
Flying hours increased slightly during November to 808 hours. Weather increasingly became a factor as the monsoon season continued to deluge the area with high winds and wide-spread rainstorms. Utilization of the aircraft continued to be good as 4201 passengers and 95 cargo tons were carried in 869 sorties. The service platoon and 256th Maintenance Detachment continued to give outstanding maintenance support as the availability rate averaged 75%.
The 1st Platoon at Da Nang continued to support "Operation Delta" while flying normal missions. The highly successful rate of completed missions speaks for the competent and highly professional ability of the Da Nang Platoon.
November saw a extension of a 7 month tour for one lucky soul.
Rainstorms and high winds continued during the month of December resulting in several missions being canceled due to weather. Aircraft utilization was average as 1957 passengers and 54 cargo tons were carried on 621 sorties. Our assigned aircraft rose from 15, to our authorized strength of 16. The availability rate was still respectable at 71%.
On 7 December 1966 Captain Lawrence Grave of the Da Nang Platoon was shot in the foot while on a combat support mission. The round entered the sole of his boot, traveled along the metal plate to stop about 1inch from the toe of the boot. Four hours later another aircraft from Da Nang received fire but no one was hit.
Ho Ho Ho
Ho Ho Ho
In keeping with past traditions of Christmas the 18 Aviation Company (as in preceding years) promoted a Christmas drive to furnish clothes and toys to the needy children of Qui Nhon. there were two projects under taken by members of the company. One headed by Major Bartle and Major Yunker was to provide gifts for the Qui Hoa Leporasarium. The second project was headed by Capt Hayes and Capt Higdon and its purpose was to provide gifts for the families and children that lived around the Officers Quarters. Needless to say both projects went very well and all were happy for the gifts.
In keeping with past traditions of Christmas the 18th
Aviation Company (as in preceding years) promoted a Christmas drive to furnish clothes and toys to the needy children of Qui Nhon. there were two projects under taken by members of the company. One headed by Major Bartle and Major Yunker was to provide gifts for the Qui Hoa Leporasarium. The second project was headed by Capt Hayes and Capt Higdon and its purpose was to provide gifts for the families and children that lived around the Officers Quarters. Needless to say both projects went very well and all were happy for the gifts.
I PCS to States
On the 12 December 1966, I go back to the United States as a PCS move with the rank of Specialist 5th Class. (I didn't know that in a few months I will resurface again to the 18th Aviation Company.)
The 1st Platoon at Da Nang continued supporting "Project Delta" along the DMZ in I Corps. Fifty missions were flown which resulted in a total of 289 sorties.
The 3rd Platoon at Nha Trang supported Special Forces and JUSPAO throughout the month and our Bangkok detachment continued their support of JUSMAAG in a praise worthy manner.
In 1966 a total of 766 individual awards were received by unit personnel (except those pending).
Sixth Year in Vietnam
[From the annual historical supplement of the 18th Aviation Company, 1 January - 31 December 1967.]
In unit history and in Army aviation history to this point, gives the 18th Aviation Company the honor of having the longest continuous service of any aviation unit in Vietnam to date. This history reflects the effort required to supply the daily direct combat support necessary in operation of an "Otter" Company.
The Mission of the 18th is to provide logistical airlift for movement of supplies and personnel in the combat zone and to provide tactical airlift of combat units and air resupply of units engaged in combat operations. Its specific mission in the Republic of Vietnam is to provide air resupply, medical evacuation and limited troop movement to the First Field Forces, Vietnam, Third Marine Amphibious Force, U.S. Special Forces, JUSPAO and JUSMAAG, Thailand.
The 18this augmented with an attached direct support maintenance element, the 256th Transportation Detachment and the 163rd Medical Detachment.
The unit is assigned to the 223rd Combat Support Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group.
The scope of this history will be concerned with phases of the unit's operation over the past twelve months to include the mission and resources, operations in Vietnam, maintenance support and problem areas.
Each flight platoon's contribution towards fulfillment of the company mission will be presented and the total effect of the company's contribution to the counter-insurgency effort in the Republic of Vietnam will be summarized at the conclusion of this historical supplement.
First Platoon Based at Marble Mountain airfield, four miles east of Da Nang, and its primary mission is to provide tactical air support to the Third Marine Amphibious Force in the I Corps area. The normal daily activities of the platoon consisted of flying north and south courier missions, to move key personnel and high priority cargo, including mail, to the various military installations in the I Corps area. The courier route is flown twice a day, morning and afternoon. The morning courier departs Marble Mountain at 0830 hours daily and flies north to Hue Phu Bai, Hue Citadel and returns to Hue Phu Bai and then back to Marble Mountain. At 1030 hours the flight departs Marble Mountain for the southern half of the courier mission, landing first at Tam Ky and then Quang Ngai. The flight then returns north to Tam Ky and Marble Mountain. The afternoon courier is repeated using the same route of flight.
Because of the short distance between stops, maximum utilization of the U-1As cargo and passenger carrying capability is obtained. The fuel load can be reduced, resulting in the aircraft being able to carry eight passengers and several hundred pounds of cargo into and out of airfields less than two thousand feet in length. One aircraft flying both north and south courier missions throughout the day is capable of carrying 128 passengers and 3,200 pounds of cargo. Additionally, the platoon's aircraft fly special missions for the Tactical Operations Centre. These flights carry critically needed materials into the Special Forces camps located on the Laos-Vietnam border or near the DMZ.
Bad weather for the folks in Da Nang.
Same as January - Bad weather.
The platoon participated in the extraction of a Special Forces long-range reconnaissance patrol in the A-Shaw Valley. With Maj Hensler and Capt Bacon at the controls the aircraft departed Marble Mountain at 1900 hours on 16 March to initiate Search and Rescue of this patrol. The aircraft remained aloft for 5 1/2 hours , coordinating protective fire from C-47 Dragon Ships and directing Marine helicopters into the extract area.
The platoon participated in its first "Project Delta" mission for the year. The mission was to provide constant radio communications and relay with intelligence gathering reconnaissance patrols. This was a strain to the members of the mission as the next story will reflect it. On 27 April Maj Bridges and CWO Bernhardt departed Marble Mountain at 0700 on a normal radio relay. As the day processed it became readily apparent that the ground patrol was constantly evading the enemy forces and required continuous radio communications. As a result we flew from 0700 to 2200 -- logging 15 hours only to see the next crew relieve us for a total of 22 hours continuously.
First Project Delta
Although the crew chief of the Otter flight team is often considered the unsung member, Specialist Five Theodore Gustin of the first platoon emphasized his importance by his heroic actions on 10 May 1967.
An Otter departing a Special Forces camp three miles west of Hue Phu Bai experienced a partial power failure on take-off. The aircraft descended and became entangled in barbed wire which was strung across the departure end of the airstrip, causing it to pancake several hundred feet from the runway. Upon impact the aircraft immediately burst into flames. Specialist Gustin, seeing the sheet of flames enveloping the aircraft, immediately attempted to open the rear exit door. Due to the impact, the door had jammed and did not release by normal measures. After he had physically forced the door open, Gustin assisted his passengers from the burning aircraft before taking into consideration his own personal safety. Both pilots, Chief Warrant Officers Warren Griggs and Charles Smith, escaped the flaming Otter through the cockpit doors with second and third degree burns. They were medically evacuated to Japan. CWO Griggs returned to duty three months later and CWO Smith was evacuated to the United States for further treatment. Specialist Gustin, for his heroic actions in evacuating the passengers without injury, was recommended for the Soldier's Medal by the Special Forces Camp Commander.
(Lloyd Works photo credit)Theodore Gustin in barracks
The second Project Delta support was rendered and flying conditions were excellent.
No change in activities on the job but there was a change of Command for the 18th Aviation Company.
The third Project Delta got underway on the 1 September and continued for 45 days. A U-6A aircraft from USARV flight Detactment in Saigon was obtained to augment the flight capability of the platoon. It was found that this type of aircraft could do equally as well as the "Otter".
The Platoon closed the year knowing they had carried more passengers and cargo, Flown more hours and sorties and obtained the best utilization of the design characteristics of the U-1A than other"Otters" in the country.
Second Platoon is located at Pleiku and operates out of Holloway in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam; its primary mission is to provide air support to II Corps Headquarters and "B" Company, Fifth Special Forces Group. The distribution of documents to MACV Sector and sub-sector advisors via courier routes also is part of their mission. The platoon receives missions daily from the S-4, II Corps Headquarters and from the Air Liaison Officer, "B" Company, Fifth Special Forces.
The weather conditions in the Central Highlands at the first of the year were most favorable.
On Jan 6 The Viet Cong unleashed a 200 round motar attack against the Americans at Camp Holloway AAF. On this night two of the three "Otters" sustained major damage. The following day sufficiant repairs were made to evaculate one of these aircraft. The other aircraft was in General Support in Pkeiku for two months . The next night another motar attack occurred again but this time no other aircraft was found to be damaged.
The men of the 18th found some suitable quarters living on the Special Forces compound.
CWO Shellenberger and Glasscock approached the Special Forces camp at Dak Pek, hydraulic failure experienced, causing the flaps to lock in the landing configuration. SP/5 Garrett determine that the problem was a severed hydraulic Line. A call for parts replacement. None available. So SP/5 Garrett repaired the line using green tape and a pen knife.
Tragedy struck the second platoon
Possibly last known photo of 5-81702
(Wayne Jones - photo credit)
On the morning of 17 August 1967, Chief Warrant Officer Wayne E. Jones, Warrant Officer Don R. Harger and crew chief Specialist Five Joseph Benson departed Pleiku, flying the north courier mission as is the standard procedure each Thursday to Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang. Due to operational requirements, the crew changed aircraft 5-81712 for aircraft 5-81702 at Nha Trang.
The flight departed Nha Trang at approximately 1430 hours to complete the north courier route, making their last stop at Cheo Reo to pick up a messenger courier. Upon departing Cheo Reo, they contacted the MACV compound at that location, stating that they were leaving the Cheo Reo frequency and switching over to Pleiku Center. It was the last contact with the flight.
When the aircraft became overdue at Pleiku, a communications search was initiated. At 2000 hours it was determined that they had not landed at any of the established airfields and a massive search operation began. The weather enroute from Checo Reo to Pleiku was reported as "numerous thunderstorms, heavy rain showers and limited visibility". By the time that the communications search had been completed, weather conditions had deteriorated to such a point that search missions were impossible until the following morning.
The bond that binds the men who fly was fully evidenced the next morning. By 0615 hours, a flight of 15 Birddogs from the 219th RAC "Headhunters" departed Holloway enroute to the search area although at the time of their take-off, the reported ceiling at Holloway was 100 feet. Fate was kind to the "hunters" in that the low cloud conditions had dissipated by 0900 hours and excellent flying weather then existed in the area.
By the end of the day, more than 53 aircraft had participated in the search. Involved in the search were the sister units of the 223rd Battalion. These units were the 229th RAC, 185th RAC and the 183rd RAC. The Special Forces "C" Camp which the second platoon supported also provided a MIKE Force Company which was standing by for a para-drop in the event that security was required at the crash site.
At 0700 hours on 19 August, all the aircraft of the 18th Aviation Company had assembled at Cheo Reo to continue the search. Because of the wide dispersion of the company's aircraft, this was the only time this year that all of the company's flyable "Otters" had been assembled at one location. Each Otter flew in excess of nine hours during the second day of the search. Due to the presence of known enemy forces in the area, rear doors were stripped from the U-1A aircraft and door gunners posted. Despite a dawn to dusk search, the crash site in the dense jungles and mountainous terrain eluded the searchers.
The search continued fruitlessly for another 19 days, and the disappearance remained a mystery until 7 September 1967. A helicopter instructor pilot from the Fourth Infantry Division was giving a newly arrived aviator an in-country check-out around Dragon Mountain, four miles southwest of Pleiku. He was pointing out to the new aviator the eight aircraft that previously had crashed into the mountain during low visibility conditions.
He counted nine. The fate of "Reliable 702" sadly became apparent. The bodies of the four personnel later were recovered from the burned fuselage.
A special memorial service honoring the 17 August 1967 loss of Chief Warrant Officer Waynes E. Jones, Warrant Officer Don R. Harger and Specialist Five Joseph Benson was conducted at the unit.
Enclosing the year end, the troops of the 18th Platoon continue to give excellent support to the Special Forces and to II Corps.
USAF O-1 Bird Dog Crash
As the team started recovery operations, the jinx of Dragon Mountain struck another fatal blow. Some 200 meters below their position, a USAF O-1A Birddog crashed into the Mountain.
Major McNutt immediately requested an emergency evacuation helicopter then organized and led a rescue party down the side of the mountain. After traveling about 100 meters, Captain Crown accidentally unearthed an anti-personnel mine while traversing the mountainside. It immediately became apparent that the entire recovery party was in the middle of an abandoned mine field.
Without hesitation and demonstrating exceptional courage, the recovery team continued through the mine field to the flaming wreckage of the O-1 Birddog. By the time they arrived at the aircraft, rockets and small arms ammunition was exploding, making the rescue attempt extremely hazardous.
Major McNutt and Captain Crown, with complete disregard for their own safety, subjecting them to the intense heat and exploding ammunition, pulled an observer from beneath a burning wing to safety.
They immediately returned through the flaming undergrowth and courageously persisted in an attempt to rescue the pilot from the flaming cockpit. It was only when the fuel tanks began to explode, spraying burning gasoline that they were forced to withdraw.
All members of the party were "recommended" for the award of the Soldiers' Medal.
Third Platoon is located in Nha Trang; its primary mission is to provide tactical air support to HQ, Fifth Special Forces Group, and to the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO).
They fly north and south courier missions on alternating days for Fifth Special Forces. The north courier departs Nha Trang for Pleiku and Da Nang returns to Nha Trang. The south courier departs Nha Trang for Bien Hoa and Can Tho in the Delta region, returns to Nha Trang. The combined length of these two courier missions is slightly over 1,000 miles. They are also responsible for transporting key staff personnel at Group Headquarters to any Special Forces Camp from the DMZ to Phu Quoc Island, located 40 miles off the southwest coast of Vietnam.
The third platoon has the unique role of supporting the counter-insurgency effort from all aspects. Missions flown for JUSPAO included psychological war leaflet drops and carrying TVs and radios to help in the educational programs for the local population called the "Open Arms Program". On any given day, the same aircraft of this platoon may carry emergency resupplies of ammunition to a remote Special Forces Camp that is under threat of attack.
The weather conditions at Nha Trang were typical of the monsoon weather which prevails throughout the coastal region of the Republic of Vietnam. As the third platoon's mission takes them throughout all four Corps areas, their normal daily operation presents them with all the hazards of weather to be found in Vietnam.
In the Spring of this year the platoon flew its first special mission in support of Detachment 57, First Special Forces, 5th Special Forces Group. Mission is classified. Capt Murray and CWO Brown were completely unaware of the nature of the mission when they departed Nha Trang for Saigon on 13 April. Returning ten days later the crew could only say a lot of night time missions and .50 Cal rounds.
On 22 June a second special mission to be flown for B-57 was initiated. It was during this mission that Capt Coutoumanos, CWO Mims and SP/4 Chavis were instrumental in the rescue of a Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance patrol in the vicinity of Quan Loi.
On the night of June 28 at 1100 hours The crew made brief contact by flashlight. It was noted that the patrol was being pursued by the Viet Cong and that they were on the move. For the next 8 hours there was no radio contact. Then at 1900 hours contact was made and the leader states that they are surrounded on all sides and required extraction. The search now requires that the aircraft fly into area of thunderstorm activity with ceilings as low as 300 feet. They continued to fly low over the area despite the heavy ground fire, to establish positive identification and maintain contact until extraction of the patrol was accomplished. For his part of the mission CWO Mims was recommended for the DFC Capt Coumanous and SP/4 Chavis have been recommended but are still pending.
In the Fall with the coming of the coastal monsoon season and with strong, northeasterly winds, the platoon continue its long, hard courier flights to Da Nang. The Southern route was flown in primarily good weather. The platoon continued it's leaflet drops for JUSPAO in Support of "Open Arms Program".
The platoon closed out their highly successful year without accident or incident .
The 18th Aviation Company Headquarters is located in Qui Nhon with the mission to provide administrative and logistical support to the three flight platoons. It consisted of a Headquarters Section, Operations Platoon, Service Platoon and the attached 256th Transportation Detachment (DS) and the 163rd Medical Detachment.
The Headquarters Section provides the necessary administrative support for all elements of the company. Also under the headquarters section is the responsibility for supply, motor maintenance and mess.
The function of the Operations Platoon is to insure the availability of aircraft to the three flight platoons so that operational requirements and priority missions of the Company are met. Additionally they are responsible for the communications network within the Company. Other responsibilities of the Operations include flight safety, flight standardization, and maintenance of flight records and compiling of statistical data for the submission of operational reports, awards and decorations.
The Service Platoon's primary responsibility is the performance of organizational maintenance. This platoon also provides on-the-job training for newly assigned maintenance personnel in the 67C20 MOS, the training of crew chiefs, and the training and selection of flight platoon sergeants.
The mission of the 256th Transportation Detachment is to provide direct support maintenance and limited general support maintenance to the 18th Aviation Company.
Recovery of downed aircraft
The 256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repair) also has the responsibility of recovering downed aircraft. During the year, several daring recovery missions were accomplished.
On 7 April 1967 , a combined recovery team consisting personnel from the 256th Transportation Detachment and members of the Service Platoon, 18th Aviation Company, participated in the recovery of a downed U-1A.
The recovery team was headed by Chief Warrant Officer James Fyock and consisted of Staff Sergeant James R. Goodwin, SP4 Harrison P. Gilbert, SP4 David E. McCorkle, SP4 Robert K. Petzer, SP4 George N. Simon, SP4 Joseph Benson and SP5 David L. Schmitt.
At approximately 1500 hours, the 256th Maintenance Detachment received word that an aircraft from the 18th Aviation Company was down on an unimproved isolated airstrip in an insecure area near Ba Gia.
Upon notification of the downed aircraft's disposition and location, CWO Fyock immediately began organizing a crew of mechanics to repair the aircraft. After correctly analyzing the nature of the damage, arrangements were made to have the recovery team and the necessary repair equipment delivered to the downed aircraft site.
As soon as the team arrived on location, they began receiving hostile ground fire, requiring all but three of the mechanics to be utilized as security guards, while the remaining three worked on the aircraft. Even though the team had already put in a full day's work, they continued their operation throughout the night, with only a flashlight for illumination, while exposed to hostile fire.
Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles while under constant threat of enemy attack, the recovery team, under the expert guidance and supervision of CWO Fyock, repaired the damaged aircraft overnight. It was flown to Qui Nhon airfield without incident the following morning.
As a result of the recovery team's courage, determination, and professional accomplishments, a critically needed and very valuable aircraft was returned to service. For their outstanding work a well deserved Army Accommodation Medal with "V" device was awarded to all eight members of the recovery team.
This memorial was transferred from Nha Trang to Qui Nhon on 24 March 1967 to stand in front of Company Headquarters as an external reminder of the service they gave the 18th Aviation Company and their country. It is with a deep sense of gratitude and respect that we rededicate this memorial today to those 5 courageous soldiers.
On 26 October 1966, Major Billy J. Bartle, CO, traveled to Vung Tau to receive on behalf of the 18th Aviation Company, the Meritorious Unit Citation, for exceptional meritorious service during the period 15 October 1964 through 31 December 1965.
"Project Delta" Support
In the spring of this year, the third platoon flew its first "special" mission in support of Detachment B-57, First Special Forces, Fifth Special Forces Group.
Due to the classified nature of this mission, pilots Captain Thomas C. Murray and Chief Warrant Officer Aldon E. Brown were completely unaware of the nature of their mission when they departed Nha Trang for Saigon on 13 April. Returning 10 days later, they could only relate that their experiences included many night missions and being fired upon by 50-caliber machine guns. However, all reports from Fifth Special Forces Group Headquarters indicate that outstanding support was rendered and excellent utilization of the Otter was obtained. Plans were made for future use of the Otter on this type of mission.
The first platoon participated in its first "Project Delta" mission for the year, to provide constant radio communications and relay with intelligence gathering reconnaissance patrols. During the sixty day period of this project, an average of fourteen hours a day flying was required.
An example of the tactical importance and the unfailing support rendered by the first platoon is the mission flown on 22 April 1967.
Major Bridges and Chief Warrant Officer Henry Bernhardt flew a mission from Marble Mountain beginning at 0700 hours on a normal radio relay flight. As the day progressed, it became readily apparent that the ground patrol was constantly evading enemy forces and required continuous radio communications with their coordinating agency. As a result, the crew members flew from 0700 to 2200 hours, logging 15 hours of flight time in a single day. In turn, Major Bridges and CWO Bernhardt were then relieved on station and the mission continued for another seven hours, giving a total of 22 hours continuous support. While "Project Delta" was in progress, the first platoon's normal courier missions were accomplished simultaneously.
Organizational Day for the 18th Aviation Company - 6 May 1967
The 18th held an organizational day on 6 May 1967, with milestones and significant events which highlighted the esprit de corps and professionalism of the 18th Aviation Company from the unit establishment on 1 May 1959 at Fort Riley, Kansas, until present day at Qui Nhon.
The 18th is a unit of many accomplishments, some of the first for the unit are:
As the unit history records:
On 3 September 1965, the 256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repair) was assigned to the 18th to help with the maintenance program by providing direct field maintenance support. A month later, our sister unit, the 54th Aviation Company, arrived in country with 8 aircraft. By 1 January 1966 the 18th had relinquished control of 8 aircraft to the 54th giving each unit an operational 16 aircraft.
The company operated out of Nha Trang until 7 August 1966 when it moved to Qui Nhon. The move resulted in the formation of a provisional platoon to remain at Nha Trang and the additional assignment of the 163rd Medical Detachment.
In summary, the 18th Aviation Company has continued it outstanding soupport of ground combat elements engaged in stemming the tide of Communist aggressionin South East Asia. As the year closed , many more days of unceasing effort in this struggle against communist aggression, faced the oldest Army Aviation Unit in the Republic of Vietnam As in the past the Officers and Enlisted men of this unit will continue to devote themselves to freedom of mankind and uphold the fine traditions of "Low, Slow and Reliable".
Third Project Delta
Under Captain Bacon's command of the 1st Platoon, the third "Project Delta" was initiated on 1 September 1967 for forty five days. A U-6A Beaver aircraft from the Army's Flight Detachment in Saigon was used to augment the flight capability of the platoon on this mission, relieving the tremendous strain previously experienced.
Reliable 702 Recovery
Reliable 702 Recovery
Another significant event occurred early in September during the recovery of downed Otter 702 on Dragon Mountain. Receiving word on 7 September 1967, that the missing aircraft 702 had been found on the Mountain, Major McNutt organized a recovery team consisting of himself, SP4 Paul Simon, SP5 Clarence Manseill, and SP6 Esquival Salazar. They were accompanied by the flight surgeon, Captain Ronald F. Crown from the 163rd Medical Detachment.
Seventh Year in Vietnam
[Unit history - annual historical supplement 1 January 1968 - 31 December 1968]
The 18th Aviation Company has the mission to provide air transport to expedite tactical operations and logistical support in the combat zone.
5Th Special Forces
MACV, I and II Corps
3rd Marine Ambious Forces
16th Combat Aviation Group
17th Combat Aviation Group
24th Corps, Vietnam
34th Transportation Group
During January 1968, bad weather conditions prevailed along the coastal regions of Vietnam making the accomplishment of missions difficult. However, the skill and determination of the 18th's aviators and crews outweighed this disadvantage. They flew an impressive total of hours and sorties for the month under the command of Major James T. Bridges, Major Osceola DeDeviess (XO) and Sergeant First Class Donald F. Hausfelder (1SG). The activity of the three Flight Platoons and the Headquarters were as described for 1967, with no changes of mission or location.
January 1968 was a normal month until the last two days. Then, without warning, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched an offensive on every major city and allied base in Vietnam.
TET OFFENSIVE 1968
At Marble Mountain, Da Nang, home of the 1st Platoon, the early morning calm of 29 January 1968 was smashed by the bursting of approximately 38 rounds of 82mm mortar rounds. The following morning brought a follow up of 40 122mm rockets. Every round hit the airfield and parking areas. But thanks to the large revetments, the Otters were not damaged beyond a small flak received by two (2) of the U-1A's.
The Marine and other Army aircraft were not so lucky. As a result of the extensive damage, the 1st Platoon was called on for help to perform a multitude of various additional missions to include resupply of mortar and artillery rounds, small arms ammunition and gasoline in 55 gallon drums to beleaguered cities throughout I Corps.
At Pleiku where the 2nd Platoon is assigned, similar conditions existed. The men were forced to spend almost five (5) days in their bunkers while withstanding repeated mortar and rocket attacks. The enemy thought that they could overrun Pleiku in a mass ground attack but were beaten badly at their attempt.
Peaceful conditions finally returned and the men of the 2nd Platoon began normal operations again.
At Nha Trang, the 3rd Platoon continued normal operations throughout the Tet offensive as this city received only a small taste of combat.
During January, the 18th Aviation Company flew 1,014.1 hours, 1,327 sorties, and 315 missions while hauling 95.0 tons of cargo and 3,871 passengers.
Throughout February 1968, the 1st Platoon at Marble Mountain received numerous enemy mortar and rocket attacks.
Luckily, there were no casualties among our so called "combat platoon", but nerves were constantly being shattered. Most of the rounds impacted in and around the living area. The men had no time to run to their bunkers and had to stick it out under their bunks with shrapnel making hundreds of holes in the walls and roofs over their heads.
Again these "hard core" 1st Platoon members answered the call for help throughout the I Corps area. They continued to provide various units with needed war material and other supplies while accomplishing their regular assigned missions.
Two incidents occurred on the same day within 1st Platoon to mark the beginning of 1968.
The first incident occurred when small arms fire hit and punctured a tire on one of the platoon's Otters while the aircraft was making an approach at Tam Ky. Warrant Officers Owen Yarabrough and Stan Anderson successfully landed the aircraft at the then deserted airstrip. A defensive perimeter was quickly formed . Another of the platoon's U-1As was temp diverted from a mission and flew in a replacement tire
The second incident for the day included a precautionary landing at Marble Mountain by CWO Allen Ebbers and WO Monroe Mitchel when a worn thrust plate allowed the entire oil supply to the "Otter" blanket the windshield. A hasty retreat back to the field saved the plane and crew that day.
Elsewhere throughout Vietnam, the rest of the 18th experienced a normal month while flying a total of 1,013.6 hours, 1,224 sorties, 283 missions, 126.3 tons of cargo, and 3,295 passengers.
March 1968 saw the breaking up of much of the bad weather which brought about an increase in flying hours. Each platoon put forth great efforts to gain maximum flying time.
Meanwhile at Marble Mountain, the 1st Platoon was still under the gun.
On 4 March 1968, 50 - 22mm rockets slammed into the airfield destroying aircraft and troop billets. Still no casualties, but it was time to build a solid bunker system to keep the casualty rate at zero. The bunker complex was constructed partially underground and featured bunks for six to eight men plus a recreation area. While Marine and Army aircraft were constantly being damaged by enemy fire, the 1st Platoon received little or no damage due to the resourcefulness of each man in the platoon plus the large revetments.
A Bunker complex was constructed underground and featured bunks for six to eight men plus a rec area. Decor included interior wood paneling, a six foot ceiling and duel outlets. A reason for the bunkers was so that the unit could achieve zero casualties.
The 2nd Platoon at Pleiku flew an average of 100 hours per aviator.
The 3rd Platoon at Nha Trang was easily moving around while supporting "Delta Project" Detachment B-52 of the 5th Special Forces. This unique unit went to any spot where a Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army threat was imminent.
On one such occasion CWO Peter Vanden Eynde and CWO Thomas flew a 4.2 mm mortar and 1,000 pounds of ammunition to Bao Loc located southwest of Dalat when a communist attack threatened to overrun the Special Forces camp there.
New Sergeant at 256th Tech Supply
On 20 March 1968 this writer is a Sgt E-5 being transferred to the 256th Transportation Detachment to take over the 256th Technical Supply operations.
The 18th put together 1,474.2 hours, 1,626 sorties, 399 missions, with 162.0 tons of cargo and 4,234 passengers.
April 1968 monsoon weather held a tight grip and members of the 2nd Platoon had no problem getting their annual weather and instrument requirements.
With the addition of the Saigon maintenance courier run for the 17th Group, the aviators of the 2nd Platoon at Pleiku averaged a hundred hours per man during April. The Nha Trang platoon continued with "Delta Project" and JUSPAO missions.
It was at this time that four (4) RU-1A aircraft were dispatched to Marble Mountain along with crew chiefs and maintenance support personnel in preparation for a high priority special mission with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. These Otters were outfitted with a multitude of various radios. It was apparent by the sight of these modified Otters, with antennas sticking out of the fuselage and wings that this was going to be a radio relay mission. Twenty-four hours a day these Otters flew over the northern end of A Shau Valley (the North Vietnamese main supply route in I Corps).
A Shau Valley has been the grave yard for many an aircraft downed by expert enemy gunners. Air bursts from 37mm anti-aircraft guns are a common sight over the valley. A Shau is a respected place by many Army, Air Force, Marine, Navy and Vietnamese Air Force pilots. The "Low, Slow, and Reliable" at Marble Mountain met this challenge under severe conditions such as bad weather, intense ground fire at times, one partial engine failure and fatigue.
While on one relay mission, a patter of air bursts from 37mm bracketed an Otter. Although there was no damage, the mental strain was enough to destroy one's tranquility.
On another occasion over the valley, Captain Coutoumanos and CWO Clark experienced a partial engine failure as the exhaust rocker box cover blew apart on number 4 cylinder. A MAYDAY was transmitted and the aircraft began dropping at 500 feet per minute. But due to skill and determination, the aircraft was nursed back to Hue Phu Bei some 35 miles away. This was a job well done.
April produced 1,185.7 hours, 1,396 sorties, 337 missions, 145.2 tons of cargo and 3,854 passengers.
May 1968 was the most productive month of the year in all aspects of the missions performed by the 18th. The monsoon season ended along the coastal regions and moved inland. The inclement weather harassed the Pleiku Platoon only by making it necessary to obtain IFR departures until breaking out on top. Then it was clear flying to any location along the coast and lowlands of South Vietnam.
At Nha Trang and Marble Mountain, the platoon's aviators utilized every hour of daylight to accomplish their missions.
The 1st Platoon flew in addition to their normal missions, a special "Delta Project", Special Forces radio relay mission from dawn to dusk and beyond if an emergency arose. Also the 1st Air Cavalry Division reduced their radio relay missions to a standby basis.
The best month of the year tallied 1,623.4 hours, 1,719 sorties, 422 missions, 143.1 tons of cargo and 4,636 passengers.
June 1968 brought increased radio relay missions over the Ashau Valley. Most of these missions were for 24 hour periods of continuous coverage. During this period, each member of the 1st Platoon averaged between 120 and 140 hours for the month.
(Bill Stewart's Story)
"I was the A/C and flying the otter coming back in to Pleiku in June of 68. Chuck was in the right seat and did jettison the cockpit door on his side as he could see much better than me."
"A little story about this I always remembered."
On June 27th, Marble Mountain underwent another 122mm rocket attack. A 1st Cavalry radio operator on TDY with the 1st Platoon was among the fatalities when a rocket hit the enlisted men's billets. Another rocket flew right over the platoon's line of Otters on the ramp and landed 25 yards beyond, but failed to do any damage as the projectile buried itself so deep under the ramp that the ground absorbed the explosion.
Lt Hunt and CWO Whigham experienced a crash landing at Phan Thiet during June as they tried to land an Otter that had oil splashing over the windshield. The Otter entered the traffic pattern too high and overshot the runway. Their last resort was to make a downwind landing but they undershot that attempt and crash landed short of the intended touchdown point causing major damage to the aircraft and injury to the crew. The crew was "Medically Evacuated" and later the company received word that the injuries were not serious.
Good weather and maintenance by the 256th Transportation Detachment who provided the 18th Aviation Company with field maintenance, made it possible to obtain a respectable monthly score.
During June 1968, 1,003.7 hours were flown along with 1,296 sorties, 293 missions, 119.8 tons of cargo and 3,793 passengers.
With July 1968, came the heaviest of the monsoon season to the central highlands. The aviators at Pleiku were held on the ground for days as below minimum ceilings and visibility kept Pleiku inaccessible to light aircraft.
Whenever possible, the aviators received special VFR clearances and IFR departures in an attempt to complete their missions but were turned back most of the time due to bad weather at the destinations and lack of approach facilities.
It was also during July that a rash of engine breakdowns occurred in the Spartan build Pratt and Whitney engines on the Otters.
One morning, CW2 Chuck Wedge and CW2 Bill Stewart were on an IFR departure from Pleiku to Qui Nhon. When they were about 25 minutes out of Pleiku, the engine blew a push rod and the aircraft began losing power fast. Unable to maintain above 15 inches of manifold pressure, they began a controlled descent in solid IFR conditions back to Pleiku. Pleiku approach reacted to the emergency and provided radar vectors and cleared airways all the way back.
Mr. Wedge had serious doubts about making it safely home and prepared the passengers and crew for a crash landing. The best he could hope for was a break out of the clouds, spot the runway and try to land short of Pleiku to the east.
His approach was keeping below the glide path and a crash landing was imminent. In front of him as he broke out of the clouds was the perimeter fence, beyond that, the runway. The doors were jettisoned and bodies braced for impact. Mr. Wedge rounded out he had run out of altitude just short of the fence. Then, a miracle happened, a sudden gust of wind from behind lifted the almost stalled Otter just over the fence and happiness on that day was the chirp, chirp sound as the wheels made firm contact with the runway.
Elsewhere at Da Nang, a 1st Platoon flight crew and passengers faced another drama.
Forced to fly low because of weather, Captain Kenneth Waldrop and CWO Clark along with crew chief Robert Christiansen, were approximately eight (8) miles east of Hue Phu Bai flying the morning courier run when the aircraft was raked from front to rear by automatic weapons fire. The burst caused partial power failure and a rapid MAYDAY call was transmitted.
The windows were shot out along the first burst but luckily, the three (3) crew members and eight (8) passengers escaped injury. Approximately a quarter mile later, another machine gun opened up and smashed into the engine compartment causing the faltering engine to quit. The crew chief was wounded in the ankle with a tracer round as the burst swept through the fuselage.
The aircraft then crash landed into a rice paddy about five (5) miles from Phu Bai. As the aircraft careened along the ground, a third burst from another automatic weapon ripped open the fuel tanks of the Otter but the tanks failed to ignite
Passengers and crew were able to make their way from the ship for about ten (10) yards when machine gun fire pinned everyone down in the mud. CWO Clark attempted to crawl back into the aircraft to get a rifle but was pinned down again before he got five feet.
For the next 25 minutes, the survivors received intense fire from a nearby tree line. Hugging the ground, they heard the voices of approaching enemy soldiers. Captain Waldrop, the only one of the group that was armed readied his 45 pistol and aimed at a trio of enemy troops closing in fast with AK47's. His aim was good, down went one of the enemy. The other two fired in the direction of Captain Waldrop but were unable to place effective fire on him because of the high grass. Captain Waldrop fired again. The two soldiers withdrew taking the body of their companion with them.
A few minutes later, Marine helicopter gunships answering the MAYDAY arrived on the scene. Directions were given to the gunships by hand signal and friendly machine gun and rocket fire blasted the enemy positions while a rescue ship whisked all the survivors away to safety.
Captain Waldrop was awarded the Silver Star for the safeguarding of the survivors. His quick and accurate firing saved eleven (11) lives. Tis portion of the story is from Capt Waldrop
We departed Da Nang at 8:30 am on a routine courier run. The passengers were 6 Vietnamese civilians, a LTC Courier and his Staff Sergeant. Conditions at Da Nang were VFR and we began our flight with no weather issues, to complete our assigned morning courier mission.
We flew the coastline north and turned west to approach Hue Phu Bai, a direct shot straight inland. The weather was deteriorating and we dropped to 1500 feet. Not wanting to abort the mission, we flew inland under the ceiling (apparently not very intelligent according to Stewart).
On that particular morning the VC had lined up on the approach path to Hue Phu Bai with automatic weapons and we were one of the early aircraft to fly the approach. We were at about 1200 feet when the inbound rounds begin hitting the aircraft roughly 5 miles east of the Hue Phu Bai runway. A rice patty was to our left and we put down dead stick with only a right strut collapse. The aircraft settled to the left, parallel to a wood line where we were immediately under fire from automatic weapons. We yelled for all to exit the aircraft.
The LTC and his Staff Sergeant were fully armed, an M-16 was behind the co-pilots seat and our crew chief was always armed with an M-16. I routinely wore a 45 pistol as did all the pilots in the platoon. CWO Clark tried to get his weapon out of the aircraft but was pinned down with automatic weapons fire.
The LTC Courier and his Staff Sargent exited the scene and abandoned us, unannounced to me, and made their way to Hue Phu Bai 5 miles away on foot. The Vietnamese civilians were not armed and our crew chief was hit in the ankle. Thus was the reason for lack of firepower from the group.
End of story on the Silver Star
What he didn't know was that nearly all of the rocket and mortar attacks were from the South of Marble Mountain, not the West as the Air Force base was to the West and acted as a 4 mile buffer. I was present in many of the rocket and mortar attacks, all from the South, and the bunkers served us all very well. The only time they failed was from a direct 122mm rocket hit – 1 enlisted man was killed on that one.
The maintenance crews the 18th had to offer and were the best I ever flew with in 1968. They flew in bad weather, thunderstorms over the Ashau Valley at night, and flew all missions professionally, rarely aborting missions due to weather conditions. They might not have looked great, but they were.
Just wanted to set the record straight. - Ken Waldrop, Captain, 18th Aviation Company.
Major James H. Thacker took over as Executive Officer for the 18th, a position that had been vacant since May.
During July 1968, despite the engine failures, bad weather and encounters with enemy forces, the company flew a good total under the circumstances: 910 hours, 1,042 sorties, 256 missions, 79.7 tons of cargo and 2,856 passengers.
August 1968 brought several more forced landings due to engine failures, forcing the 18th Company Commander to restrict all aircraft to VFR day flying only. This necessary move reduced the output of the Low, Slow and Reliable to the lowest of the year. The restrictions remained in effect for most of the month, until the cause was finally determined as push rod failures.
The totals for the month stood at 778 hours, 1,071 sorties, 28 missions, 97.7 tons of cargo and 2,837 passengers.
September 1968 had continued monsoon weather plague the Pleiku operations but aviators capitalized on every moment of VFR conditions.
The Da Nang Platoon had a very fine flying month with maximum number of hours and able to rest at night as the enemy left them alone during the entire month. The company flying record climbed upward and remained on the ascent until the end of the year.
The totals for the month posted 834.1 hours, 946 sorties, 272 missions, 80.5 tons of cargo and 2,846 passengers to the records.
October 1968 marked the return of the monsoon season to the coastal areas.
The men at Pleiku saw sunlight again and were moving into high gear to improve on their flying time.
While flying near An Hoa, CWO Yarbrough and WO Cantu of the 1st Platoon picked up a bullet through the floor of the aircraft near crew chief SP5 Jack Richie's seat. The bullet went through the bill od=f the cap on the floor just inches away from his feet and disappear out the top of the fuselage
The 3rd Platoon at Nha Trang also flew up the An Hoa Valley in support of "Delta Project", evacuating casualties and hauling supplies and key personnel into the area
The Company flew 833.4 hours, 1
The Company flew 833.4 hours, 1005 sorties, 274 missions, 83.4 tons of cargo and 2,836 passengers.
I was promoted to SSgt and transferred to the 256th Trans Det as NCOIC of Tech Supply
I was promoted to SSgt and transferred to the 256th Trans Det as NCOIC of Tech Supply
By November 1968 the 2nd Platoon has assumed the full burden of their missions and flying the II Corps area in its entirety.
Most of the flying was into dirt strips at Special Forces' camps.
Nha Trang's 3rd Platoon received a new mission from "Delta Project". This new mission required the Otters to fly into Dong Xoai strip located about 40 miles north of Saigon, to carry out casualties and bring in supplies.
The missions often required downwind landings due to many firefights between units of the 1st Air Cavalry and the NVA regulars just outside the perimeter. The action took place over rice and weapons caches. During one battle, 53 Viet Cong bicycles were captured. One bicycle now augments the transportation needs of the 3rd Platoon.
Flying time and missions increased during November over the previous three (3) months bringing this month to a close with 906.7 hours, 1,274 sorties, 286 missions, 95.0 tons of cargo and 2,951 passengers.
December 1968 brought to a close another chapter in the 18th Aviation Company's history.
Although the aviators consider themselves to be the best in the United States Army, special award should be put in for the crew chiefs whose field expediency and resourcefulness techniques kept the U-1As flying despite many failures of equipment while operating into strips.
Each crew chief experienced failures of some kind when in the field and each one was able to cope with the situation in a professional manner that characterizes the spirit of the 18th Aviation Company.
The month went by very smooth, even as the monsoon season began to put its grip along the coast. Pleiku was having good weather and their flying helped boost the company's total for the month.
The 256th Transportation Detachment provided high quality field maintenance throughout the year by keeping a high rate of availability for the tired, old Otters.
The 163rd Medical Detachment provided good medical assistance to the 18th Aviation Company's flying personnel during 1968.
The company headquarters and the Da Nang platoon were active throughout the year in the Civic Action Program by supporting several orphanages. The highlight of the year was Christmas when they arranged Christmas parties for the children. These were great successes and new friends were won.
During the period 1 January 1968 through 31 December 1968, the Service Platoon at Qui Nhon completed 126 major periodic inspections in addition to numerous instances of unscheduled maintenance. A vigorous maintenance training program was initiated. This was necessitated by the lack of school trained U-1A Otter mechanics. The high Esprit de Corps and "Can Do" attitude of the Service Platoon enabled it to meet the most challenging demands placed on it by the company's mission.
During the year the Technical Supply section of the Service Platoon traveled to all of the outlying platoons and established a realistic PLL. This enabled the platoons to be more responsive to their unscheduled maintenance, and increased each platoon''s aircraft availability.
This year found the Service Platoon with a much improved and more secure aircraft parking area. This was accomplished by the assigned aircraft mechanics in addition to their normal duties. The Service Platoon closed out the year knowing that they had fulfilled all maintenance requirements placed on them and improved their working and living conditions substantially.
The 1968 history summarizes the unit Achievements.
Between 1962, when it arrived in Vietnam, and 1968 the 18th Aviation Company transported more than 350,000 passengers and in excess of 22 million pounds of cargo and mail. Not bad for an Army Aviation unit that flew a single-engine transport capable of carrying eight passengers and a crew of three. The activities of the Flight Platoons and of the Headquarters were described for 1967, with no changes of mission or location.
The year 1968 saw another continuing chapter in the unit history of the 18th Aviation Company. Now nearing its sixth consecutive year of combat support missions in the Republic of Vietnam, the 18th Aviation Company takes honors as the oldest fixed wing company in the country today. Consequently, each year of its operations is almost a chronicle of the Vietnam War.
There is little doubt that if an inquiry was taken of a roster of Vietnam veterans, that a good number of them will be familiar with the 18th and its lumbering aircraft, the U-1A "Otter". For in the intervening years, the 18th and the Otter practically have become synonymous. Between 1962 and 1968, the company transported more than 350,000 passengers and in excess of 22 million pounds of cargo and mail. Not bad for an Army Aviation unit that flies single-engine transports capable of carrying only 8 passengers plus a crew of three.
Pilots of the 18th fly their aircraft with unusual pride as the De Havilland Otter is the Free World's largest contemporary single-engine transport in its fixed wing category.
Built for STOL operations, Otter pilots have nothing but admiration for the aircraft's slow approach speeds which can take an 8,000 pound gross load into unimproved strips of 700 feet. Of course, getting off the strip with the same load is another matter.
It's interesting to note that despite the tremendous increase in the number and type of other aircraft in Vietnam since 1963, the role of the 18th Aviation Company has continued to increase rather than diminish. For example, total flying hours by the 18th exceeded 12,000 during the past 12 months. This represents an increase of 2,000 hours over the 1962 - 1963 yearly totals.
This year 421 awards had been presented to personnel of the 18th.
Eighth Year in Vietnam
Corps Area Map Vietnam 1969
[From the annual historical supplement of the 18th Aviation Company, 1 January - 31 December 1967]
The following organizational chart shows the company configuration for 1969:
The 18th Aviation Company (UA) has sixteen U-1A aircraft which were manufactured by De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited. The aircraft is used primarily for troop and cargo operations but can and has been used for supply dropping, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance, photographic duties, radio relay and liaison duties. The U-1A Otter was build for STOL operations. It can land on unimproved strips 700 feet long with an 8,000 pound gross load.
Qui Nhon - (13 46'N, 109 14'E) - The Company Headquarters, Operations Platoon and Service platoon were located at Qui Nhon. The mission of the Company HQ is to provide administrative and logistical support to the two flight platoons.
The Operations Platoon is to insure that aircraft are on hand with which the flight sections may meet their daily operational requirements on a priority basis and is also responsible for the communications network within the company, flight safety, flight standardization and maintenance of flight records and compiling statistical data for the submission of operational reports, awards and decorations.
"Pig Farm"and "Speed Shop"
The Service Platoon has the supply and motor sections, responsible for organizational maintenance. The platoon provides extensive on-the-job training and cross training of newly assigned maintenance personnel, the training of crew chiefs and the selection of flight platoon sergeants and maintenance personnel. This platoon does an outstanding job of supporting flight sections separated by as much as 250 miles. Because of the dislocation of the flight sections a great deal of flexibility is required by operations and maintenance. Close coordination is required by these two platoons combined with the outstanding job done by each, means cancellations due to lack of aircraft or grounded aircraft is virtually unheard of. The Motor Pool is known as the Qui Nhon "Pig Farm and Speed Shop".
For 1969, there were only two flight platoons, down from three the previous year, with the platoons divided into sections. The support of JUSMAAG in Thailand was no longer the responsibility of the 18th Aviation Company, having been taken over by the 54th Aviation Company.
The New Year saw the 1st platoon flying 3 missions daily for two headquarters and by the end of the year it had grown to 5 missions for four headquarters.
The 1st Platoon often flies the coast of Vietnam, much like the Sea Gull, on various missions for units throughout the Republic. The wear the "Sea Gull" tab above the unit patch and have adopted the Sea Gull as their mascot.
Nha Trang - (12 14'N, 109 11'E) The 1st Platoon, 1st and 2nd Sections, are located at Nha Trang. Flying in support of Special Forces, JUSPAO and 17th Group, the platoon flies from the DMZ to the tip of the Delta, from the South China Sea on the east to the islands on the west. The amazing fact is that they may do all this on any given day. 'The Seagulls', as the Nha Trang platoon came to be known, fly mostly liaison and courier type missions. As a result, their average flying time per mission is the highest in the company.
The 18th Aviation Company's 1st platoon representatives at Pleiku fly the Otter with fierce pride born on the knowledge that they "Can do" the job. Their acceptance by their brothers in arms is statement enough of the job they do.
Pleiku - (13 59'N, 108 02'E) - The 3rd Flight Section, 2nd Platoon is located at Camp Holloway, Pleiku in the Central Highlands. The Eagle tab is worn by members of the 3rd Flight Section. The Eagle is a well known bird that lives in the Highlands of South Vietnam, and since the Pleiku Section does most of its flying into and out of various "A" Camps controlled by Company "B" of the Special Forces located in the mountains and otherwise inaccessible regions of South Vietnam, the nickname 'Eagle' is therefore most appropriate for this Flight Section. These strips include the likes of Dak Pek which is a 1400 foot dirt strip surrounded by hills with a D. A. usually in excess of 5500 feet. In addition there are strips like Ben Het where the RVNS repulsed the most concentrated V. C. effort this year; Plei Me, only 900 feet usable; and Tieu Atar, 1400 feet long surrounded by 100 foot trees.
Capt Spieldenner was flying Reliable 209 From Pleiku to Phu Hief AAF., While landing the aircraft hit hard on two different attempts causing damage to the main wheel housings and rear wheel housing.
Late March to May the "Otters" of the 3rd section averaged nearly 100 hours per month under good flying conditions.
On 12 May 1969 Capt Frost,WO1 Porter were flying Reliable 703, while on climb out of Ben Het enroute to Kontum, the special forces camp came under attack. The "Otter " was hit once but was unnoticed until it got back home.
The Southwest monsoon season arrives.
Starts the season of poor flying conditions and the start of flying by instruments. On 10 July CW2 Welsh WO Porter and SP/5 Estabrooks were on a instrument flight from Pleiku to Nha Trang. At 7000 ft, 25 miles southeast of Pleiku Reliable 327 blew a thrust plate seal. Maintaining poise the crew declared a emergency and vectored to Camp Holloway in actual instruments conditions. The aircraft landed with incident.
The 18th Aviation Company's representatives at Pleiku fly the "Otter"with fierce pride born on the knowledge that they "Can do".
The job they acceptance by their brothers in arms is a statement enough of the job they do.
The 3rd Flight Section, 2nd Platoon flies in support of Headquarters, II Corps on a daily basis. In support of II corps the missions are of two types. When requested on missions as required basis for the 23rd RVN Division, the mission is troop shuttle. When flown as direct support of II Corps Headquarters, missions tend to be a liaison type function.
Da Nang (16 02'N, 108 14'E) - The 4th Flight Section, 2nd Platoon is located at Marble Mountain Airfield, four miles east of Da Nang. Their primary mission is to provide tactical air support to the Third Marine Amphibious Force daily from the Army Aviation Element of the Tactical Operations Center, I Corps Advisory Group.
The normal daily activities of the 3rd platoon consist of flying North and South Courier missions. This courier mission is flown in support of III MAF. The purpose of the courier mission is to move key personnel and high priority cargo, to include mail and money, to the various military installations in the I Corps area.
The courier departs Marble Mountain daily and flies north to Hue Phu Bai, Hue Citadel, returns to Hue Ohu Bai and then flies back to Marble Mountain. The flight departs Marble Mountain for the southern half of the courier mission landing first at Tam Ky and then at Quang Ngai. The flight then returns north to Tam Ky and back to Marble Mountain. The afternoon courier repeats the same route of flight.
Because of the short distance between stops, maximum utilization of the U-1A's cargo and passenger carrying capabilities is obtained. A major advantage of these short haul flights is that the fuel load can be reduced, resulting in the aircraft being able to carry as many as eight passengers plus crew and several hundred pounds of cargo into and out of airfields less than 2,000 feet in length. One aircraft flying both north and south courier missions throughout the day is capable of carrying 128 passengers and 3,200 pounds of cargo.
Additionally, the platoon aircraft fly special missions for the Tactical Operations Center. These missions are flown for the Advisory Teams and the 5th Special Forces "C" Team on a regular basis. In addition, Inspection Teams and Civilian specialists often use our services.
Two transfers in short period
On 23 January 1969 I was transferred out of the 256th Transportation Detachment back to the 18th Aviation Company and then transferred to the 281st Aviation Assault Helicopter Company in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
Crash of Reliable 691
At the beginning of the year things were running normal until 27 January 69 when 1LT Theodore Barber and WO1 Andrew Sanford were flying Reliable 691. Receiving ground fire on climb out from Quang Ngai enroute to Da Nang, at 400 feet AGL, the engine coughed and then failed completely. A forced landing was made in a rice paddy. Eight passengers were aboard, yet none were injured and the aircraft was not damaged due to the forced landing. The aircraft received two rounds in the engine compartment, one hitting the carburetor causing the engine failure.
[From Andy Sanford's Old Otter Pilot website]
This Tribute will introduce you to "My OTTER".
Her Tail Number was "Six-Nine-One"
But to me, Her Name was "The RELIABLE - ONE"
and she lived up to her Name.....especially during Her Last Flight in VIET NAM, 27 January 1969.
She Loved Me ... Unto Her Dying Day!
(And I loved her too.)
She Flew Like An ANGEL!
My OTTER "RELIABLE ONE"
She Never Let Me Down!
OTTER Mates in the Da Nang Flight Platoon -1968
This was the end of "RELIABLE ONE's Final Flight!"... Shot-down while on Climb-Out from Quang Ngai - 27 Jan 1969
I had 13 Souls on board, including My Co-Pilot: Lt.TED BARBER;
My Crew Chief: Sp5 BRUCE BOATNER; and 10 Vietnamese soldiers.
We all survived without a scratch!
"The Reliable One" remained intact long enough to shelter us thru the Forced Landing! ... Even in her final moment, she didn't let me down!
- SHE WAS A LADY -
[End of Andy Sanford's story]
Crew Chief Bruce Boatner has written his own recollections of this Event!
[Bruce Boatner story]
THE LAST FLIGHT OF RELIABLE 691
On January 27th, 1969, we were on the south leg of the afternoon courier mission. That day Reliable 691 was being flown by W.O. "Andy" Sanford and Capt.Ted Barber. Otter 691 had the head of an Indian girl stenciled on the tail, and was sometimes called the "Iroquois Princess". It was mid afternoon when we approached the vicinity of Quang Ngai and there was chatter on the radio about local ground fire. This was not unusual for those parts except that in this case it appeared that the location referenced was off the departure end of the runway.
As we landed I noticed two Huey "Slicks" parked on a grassy area near the approach. We were on the ground for some time, so I wandered over to talk to them. They confirmed hearing the ground fire reports, but didn't seem too concerned about it.
Some poor fool was sweating through his last day in country and was hitching a ride to Da Nang for his plane trip home. Two large cardboard boxes containing all of his belongings were loaded on board along with a full load of passengers. At Quang Ngai we frequently had to hold the ARVN's off at gunpoint to prevent them from storming the plane, they were so desperate to get out before nightfall.
They didn't seem to understand that the old Otter couldn't get off the ground with 75 people on board.
As we taxied to the run-up area, I asked if the pilots had heard the reports of ground fire on the way in. They said they had and I informed them that the slick crews had confirmed the reports. The tower had not mentioned a hazard when they cleared us for departure, but when queried, acknowledged that they had received unsubstantiated reports of ground fire off the end of the runway.
During the run-up I had a sense of dread (I later found that both pilots were feeling it as well). We did the world's longest run-up, checking everything twice, hoping something would blow up so we wouldn't have to take off. W.O. Sanford and Capt. Barber discussed the procedures for executing a high-performance takeoff as an evasive maneuver. They would keep clean flaps until we hit about 80-100 MPH on the ground then rotate and drop the flaps simultaneously.
It was a truly splendid takeoff and we were all in the process of congratulating ourselves on our cleverness when there was a loud bang and the engine dropped dead. We were in a very nose high attitude and I could see the pilots both struggling to push the nose over and avoid going into a tail slide. I yelled to the passengers to brace themselves that we were going to hit hard. I remember wondering if I had given my pre-flight emergency spiel and then feeling a sense of relief as all 8 passengers executed a perfect choreographed response. There was a momentary sensation of weightlessness then the wind again began whistling past the open window next to my seat.
I estimate we were at about 500 feet when we got hit. Apparently they had set up a machine gun in a perfect position directly off the end of the runway, so they could pick off a plane like a fish in a barrel right after takeoff. Usually they were more careful about the risk of giving their position away, but in our case I guess the temptation was simply too great.
One of the pilots managed to get a mayday back to the tower. After a hard but otherwise nearly perfect 3- point landing in a rice patty we skidded into a dyke, which tore off the engine and the left landing gear. The left wing then impacted the ground and bent up about two thirds of the way out. The Otter stood up on its noise and felt like it was going to flip over on its back, but then slammed back down on its belly. For the slightest moment there was complete and total silence.
I opened the cargo doors and the passengers jumped out into mud up to their knees. The crew's first concern was changing the radio frequencies, locating mailbags and other sensitive materials. We were sitting ducks in the mud, but taking refuge in an aluminum eggshell filled with several hundred gallons of 115/145-octane fuel was not an attractive alternative, so we followed the passengers out.
After what seemed like a very long time, the sweet sound of approaching Huey's filled the air. Our old buddies from back at the field had heard the Mayday and had jumped in and cranked up, still in their t-shirts. Both Huey's circled and opened fired on something we could not see, then one landed and picked up most of the passengers and the mailbags. The other Huey continued to circle and fire then the first one returned and took the upper position while the other one landed to pick up the rest of us.
I made one last pass through the plane to check for classified materials. I grabbed my Canon Super-8 movie camera that had slid to the cockpit, then slogged out to the waiting Huey. The door gunner grabbed me by the collar and physically hauled me onboard. I'll never forget the look of fear in his eyes. With no flack vest, gloves or fire retardant clothes, he must have felt naked. I wondered what he'd seen up there, circling and shooting.
The Huey leaped up as I was barely on board. Feeling the Canon in my hand I pulled the trigger and sweep the camera in the general direction of Reliable 691. When I got the film back a few weeks later it showed in the back ground a ragtag band of humanity making its way across the field, bent on reaching 691. From our position on the ground, we never even saw them. Later we learned that the Huey's had returned to the area and fired over 2000 more rounds to try and keep the plane from being ransacked, but to no avail.
Another plane from our platoon flew in and took us back to Marble Mountain. It was a very odd feeling to be again sitting in an Otter and about to repeat the same departure that had recently proved so traumatic (though this time under heavy escort by a couple of Cobras). Of course this is the great (get back in the saddle) philosophy that is necessary to banish the fear of flying. The next couple of weeks were terrible, being a crew chief without a ship, but I was eternally grateful when the 18th assigned me Reliable 282, which would prove to be a strong and faithful beast through the rest of my tour.
We never found out what exactly hit us in Quang Ngai, or precisely where the firing had come from. I imagine the machine gun and its crew had silently disappeared back into their shadowy world by the time the Huey's arrived. Later the first Americans soldiers at the site would find heavy cardboard boxes had been shredded open by what appeared to be human fingernails and their contents vanished. Several attempts by an accident reporting team to access the crash site were aborted due to sniper fire.
Reliable 691 was eventually retrieved by a Chinook and dropped off at the airfield at Quang Ngai. As an ignominious ending, the fuselage was hoisted up on supports to be used as jump practice for Vietnamese paratroopers. This sad spectacle was a daily memento for the Otter crews of the I Corps Courier henceforth.
[End Bruce Boatner story]
[No significant events noted in unit historical supplement for this month.]
This month was routine in all aspects of flying
Precautionary landing of Reliable 295
On the morning of 16 April 1969, CW2 Norman Baker was test flying Reliable 295 and experienced loss of RPM during the flight. He returned to Qui Nhon and made a precautionary landing without damage.
Engine Failure of Reliable 319
On 26 April 69, CW2 William Roche was flying "Reliable 319" to Hue Phu Bai when the engine began to run rough and finally failed at 1,500 feet AGL. A forced landing was made on a beach just east of Phu Bai. There was no damage or injury. The cause was a suspected push rod failure.
Reliable 319 Destroyed During Recovery
On 26 April 69, when CW2 Roche and WO1 Staurset had an engine failure and made a perfectly executed forced landing east of Phu Bai on the beach. But "Reliable 319" was not to fly again as it was dropped on the runway at Marble Mountain, completely destroying it.
(Ted Barber photo Credit)
"Reliable 319" on the runway at Marble Mountain.
Incident with Reliable 703
On 12 May 69, CPT Daniel Frost and WO1 "Porky" Porter were flying Reliable 703. While climbing out of Ben Het enroute to Kontum, the Special Forces camp at Ben Het came under enemy attack. The aircraft was struck with one round from a 30 cal. It went through the main spar but was unnoticed until the aircraft landed at its home field.
As June moved in, so did the Southwest Monsoon, resulting in a drastic reduction for 3rd Flight Section in flying time.
July 1969 - Phoenix Section
July brought in continued poor flying conditions and served as a period the 3rd Flight Section again began flying instruments. Weather time served little in helping them support the "A" Camps as they aren't known for their instrument approaches.
In the beginning of July 1969 the Da Nang Section became known as the 'Phoenix Section'. In Egyptian mythology, the Phoenix symbolized immortality. Because of its immortality, and not its beauty, the section felt the Phoenix best exemplified the "Old, Reliable Otter" which may also live for 500 years.
Unit Aircraft Grounded
On 20 July 1969, the aircraft of the 18th Aviation Company were to be grounded until modified in accordance with TB-55-1510-205-40/1. The urgent Technical Bulletin grounded all aircraft with Spartan rebuilt R 1340-61 engines because the aluminum exhaust push rods have been proven to be subject to failure due to installation procedures during overhaul. The TB allowed 64 hours per engine modification, but due to the devotion to high standards of professional competence and performance, of the Maintenance Section lead by SGT Carl M. Cessna, SGT Jess P. Hackenburg, and supervised by CPT Dan Frost, the aircraft engines were modified with 16 man hours, thus giving the unit the required aircraft for essential missions.
Reliable 703 Destroyed During Recovery
On 5 August 1969, Captain (then 1LT) Close and WO1 Porter badly damaged the landing gear on "Reliable 703" while landing at the Special Forces "A" camp at Thrang Phuc. CPT Close stayed at the "A" camp for three days waiting for a "Chinook" to lift 703. The "Chinook" finally arrived and proceeded to drop 703 from about 200' in the air.
[No significant events recorded by unit historical supplement for this month.]
October saw improvement in flying conditions, but Eagles continued to experience problems with blown thrust plate seals resulted in three precautionary landings made in this period due to blown seals.
Reliable 294 Destroyed During Recovery
Reliable 294" met its demise on 26 October 69 at Cam Ranh Bay. CW2 Cameron was giving transition training to CPT Camp when a wheels first landing caused the aircraft to pitch out of control and come to rest between the runways with major damage to landing gear, prop and wing. True to form, when 294 was lifted to go to Dong Ba Thin, it also was dropped, making it 3 for 3 on the year.
November being the month of the sieges at Bu Prang and Duc Lap found the 1st platoon Eagle operations curtailed somewhat by the closure of these strips. By the close of the year II Corps was quiet and the "Otters" of the 18th could be seen daily from Phan Thiet to Mang Buk.
On 8 December 1969, Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. McGuffin presented the 18th Aviation Company (UA) with the Presidential Unit Citation (Navy). The award was made at the Change of Command ceremonies between Major William A. Bloemsma and Major Thomas L. McCord. Significantly, the period during which the award was earned, 29 March 1966 - 30 January 1967, was during the former tours of both these officers (then Captains), with the 18th Aviation Company. The award was presented by authority of General Order #59, Headquarters, Department of the Army, for valorous service in support of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, I Corps, the Republic of Vietnam.
Presidential Unit Citation (Navy) - 29 March 1966 - 30 June 1967 GO6959
Since June 69, the Special Forces have relied very heavily on our unit for resupplying their eight accessible camps in the I Corps area. They consider our performance so outstanding that the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry was awarded to members of the unit involved in the mission.
Since the beginning of the year, the Da Nang Section has been interested in the children at the Sacred Heart Nursery and Orphanage located there. CW2 Andrew T. Sanford and other members of the section began writing home for food, clothing, toys, candy, diapers and sundry essentials. Both civic and church organizations, as well as individuals and families started sending staggering amounts of aid to these children - fine story of civic action performed by members of this unit. Esprit de Corps is very high and the Phoenix Section is proud of their accomplishments thus far in 1969.
Thanks to the professional skill not one crew member or passenger was injured this year in numerous forced and precautionary landings.
Ninth Year in Vietnam
[From the annual historical supplement of the 18th Aviation Company, 1 January - 31 December 1970]
The unit structure of the 18th Aviation Company for 1970 was the same as the previous year, although one important change occurred during the year. The Headquarters and service platoon remained at Qui Nhon.
The First platoon ("Seagulls") started the year at Nha Trang but in October 1970 moved to Tuy Hoa. They supported:
The mission carries them through the length of the country and help explain the 18th proud claim that their planes from from the "Delta to the DMZ".
The Second Platoon had one section ("Eagles") at Pleiku The second platoon is split with one section located in Pleiku and the other section in Da Nang.
The Pleiku Section of the section platoon is known as the "Eagles ". This section continues the role that brought the unit to Vietnam, direct support of the Special Forces "A" camp of B Co. SFG. In addition this section also provides courier and airlift services for the Headquarters advisory personnel of the II Military Region.
The ("Phoenix") Section at Da Nang, provides and proudly serves the northern most provinces along the DMZ. This section supports the 67th Medical Group and I Military Region Headquarters , providing airlift of anything from Mail and food to VC prisoners.
[No significant events noted in unit historical supplement for this month.]
[No significant events noted in unit historical supplement for this month.]
Brought improved flying conditions, therefore missions and flight hours began a steady climb. Nov 1969 Otter S/N 5-53307 arrived in the 18th Aviation Company from the 54th Signal Battalion and then made history for the 18th Aviation Company. The following is a extract from the unit history of the 18th Aviation Company offical unit history. On March 25, 1970 A/C 5/53307 at 11:15 AM in the morning did log flying hour 105,264 to break through the ten million mile mark. The flight crew involved was the newest aviator in the company 1st
Lt. Mackey and who arrived in the unit on 22nd of Mar 1969, the other pilot was CW2 Norman R. Toler who was on his 2nd tour with the 18th as a Instructor pilot, the Crew Chief was SSG Bennie Garret who has been with the unit for 33 months and and was also on his 2nd tour with the unit. While flying ten million miles is a accomplishment in itself,the 18th has also flown 25,294,400 pounds of cargo, and 407,710 passengers on combat support from the Delta to the DMZ
Brought with it even better flight conditions.
Was very profitable for the Reliable aircraft, for the coastal regions were experiencing good flying weather while the Central Highlands had lower ceilings and reduced visibility due to the monsoons. Seventy-five percent of the missions are flown along the coastal provinces from the "Delta to the DMZ", thus accounting for the high mission completion.
Was a repeat of May as far as mission accomplishment is concerned, until the 27th.
Crash and loss of Reliable 250, 2 crew and 2 passengers
On 27 June 1970 while flying in support of Bravo Company, 5th Special Forces Group out of Pleiku, aircraft 5-53250 piloted by CW2 Fabrick met a tragic fate. On an aborted landing attempt at Dak Pek Special Forces Camp the aircraft crashed and burned on the north end of the strip, killing the copilot, the crew chief and two passengers.
[No significant events noted in unit historical supplement for this month.]
[No significant events noted in unit historical supplement for this month.]
Proved best for the year with 1031 hours flown due to extremely good weather caused by the shift in monsoon season.
Was a very busy month for the 1st Platoon when they moved from Nha Trang to Tuy Hoa along with the 17th Aviation Group Headquarters.
On 14 October 1970, Captain Mackay McDonald experienced a complete engine seizure shortly after takeoff from Qui Nhon Army Airfield. The aircraft was successfully landed on a beach 10 miles to the south of Qui Nhon where a Chinook helicopter retrieved the passengers and crew. The aircraft was safely evacuated after the wings were removed on the beach.
Brought deteriorating weather along the coastal provinces, flight hours started dropping but moral was high due to the upcoming festive holiday season. Thanksgiving day was very heart warming, for a large number of the children from the Save the Children Hospital devoured their first turkey dinner in the 18th and HHC 223rd mess hall.
Combat loss of Reliable 298 over water, Not recovered
On 23 December 1970 aircraft 5-53298 "Reliable 298" piloted by WO1 Michael W. McAndrews, WO1 Bain W. Wiseman, & crew chief SP4 Gary P. Booth was returning from Tuy Hoa from a Special Forces mission to Bien Hoa and had already radioed Tuy Hoa tower that they were 15 miles south for a landing. This radio call was the last thing heard for 298. Witnesses testified that "Reliable 298" was seen burning in flight and impacted into the South China Sea in two parts about eight miles south of Tuy Hoa. Neither the aircraft nor the remains of three crew members have been recovered. Needless to say the Christmas spirit of the Low, Slow and Reliable was severely dampened.
STATEMENT (Edited for spelling)
Below is a statement of what I saw on Dec 23, 1970.
I, Henry Laurent, was assigned as a Top Secret Courier for the 5th Special Forces Group (Abn). I was on light duty from Chi Lang, B-43 RVN. On Dec 23, 1970 I was picked up hot at Nha Trang, RVN by U1A Otter from 18th Aviation Co. from Qui Nhon, RVN. We traveled south to Bein Hoa, Can Tho and Long Hai. These three places were the regular stops and I cannot remember if we went to all three or to two of them. All the way down and back all the pilots could talk about was their unit X-Mas party that night at their base in Qui Nhon. They even invited me to go. On return to Nha Trang the Otter refueled and took off back to Qui Nhon. At their Point of departure I took out my camera and took the three pictures enclosed. I had flown with WO1 McAndrews before and he was a good, self-assured pilot- funny and easy to talk to. Everyone from the 18th Aviation was friendly to me and I always considered them to be a top notch unit.
I decided, at the last moment, not to go with them, they took off and I later heard that they were shot down and crashed into the ocean south of Phu Bi, RVN about 20 to 30 minutes after they left Nha Trang.
WO1 Michael William McAndrews - 23 Dec 1970
(Henry Laurent photo credit)
LAST PHOTO 55-3298 & CREW PRIOR TO LOSS
SP4 Gary Preston Booth,
WO1 Michael William McAndrews &
WO1 Bain Wendell Wiseman, Jr - 23 Dec 1970
SP4 Gary Preston Booth & two RVN personnel during refueling operation
- 23 Dec 1970
(Henry Laurent photo credit)
END OF STATEMENT
Christmas Even though saddened by the loss of three brothers on the 23rd, the Officers and Men of the unit still had it in them for the kids of Qui Nhon. A float had been built with Santa's Sleigh complete with Santa in his costume and reindeer. The float toured Qui Nhon City while Santa and ten children from Save The Children Hospital threw thousand pounds of candy to the bright eye little ones in the street. The day was capped off by passing out gifts to all the children at Save The Children Hospital.
Crash of Reliable 325
On 30 December 1970, aircraft 5-53325 had landed at Cam Ranh Army Airfield and was attempting to turn around in heavy winds when the aircraft nosed over causing extensive damage to the prop, sudden engine stoppage and damage to fuselage tail cone.
Now starting its ninth consecutive year of combat support missions in the Republic of Vietnam, the 18th Aviation Company has taken honor as the oldest fixed wing company in the country today. Consequently, each year of its operation is almost a chronicle of the Vietnam War.
Updated statistics: Between 1962 and the end of 1970, the company transported more than 430,000 passengers, in excess of 26.5 million pounds of cargo, while flying 110,000 hours over a distance of 11 million miles.
Now nearing its ninth consecutive year of combat support missions in the Republic of Vietnam, the 18th Aviation Company has taken the honor as the oldest fixed wing unit in Vietnam today and the 1st fixed wing unit to arrive in Vietnam in Feb 1962. Each year of its operation is almost a chronicle of the Vietnam war.
There is little doubt that if an inquiry was taken of a rooster of Vietnam Veterans a good number of them would recall the 18th and its "Otters".
In Memory of those who flew above the best 6 February 1962 - 31 December 1970
Captain Curtis J. Steckbauer
Captain Clarence L. Moorer
Second Lieutenant Louis A. Carricarte
Specialist Five Michael P. Martin, Jr.
Private Duane E. Limberg
Specialist Five Joseph Benson
Private First Class Kenneth B. Sykes
Private First Class Jerry W. R. Sanks
Private First Class John J. Victory
Chief Warrant Officer Wayne E. Jones
Warrant Officer Don R. Harger
Warrant Officer Lance M. Lofman
Specialist Four Gary Pridgen
Warrant Officer Michael W. McAndrews
Warrant Officer Bane Wiseman
Specialist Four Gary P. Booth
The Two Final Years in Vietnam
The 18th Aviation Company's use of the Otter came to an end during February 1971. By the following month, one of the Otters had been sent back to the United States and the other 13 flown to Vung Tau, where they were placed in the charge of the 388th Transportation Company, where they joined the Otters recently retired by the 54th Aviation Company. The 388th Transportation Company was responsible for disposing of all the Otters which had served in Vietnam, and did so over the following months.
Of the 63 U-1A Otters that flew with the 18th Aviation Company from 1955 until 1971, several went to other countries under various Military Aid Programs, others were scrapped during the 1971 draw down, and as of this year (2010) several U-1As grace aircraft museums in many different countries while 14 aircraft are still flying (many as Turbo Otters) around the world. Go to Chapter 3 for more detailed information and recent photos of each of these aircraft.
18th Aviation Company Inactivated.
The 18th Aviation Company was formally inactivated on 16 April 1971.
I transfer to 388th Transportation Company (ADS) - Vung Tau
I PCS to the Big PX
26 July 1972, it was time to leave Vietnam. My time in Vietnam came
to an official end and I headed stateside for another adventure with the
United States Army.
As the motto goes "You Call, We Haul, You ALL" - "Low, Slow and Reliable" - 18th Aviation Company (Otters)
We thank you for your service.
To all welcome home!
18th Aviation Company (FWLT)
"Low - Slow - Reliable"
Otter Nest History
18th Aviation Company (Fixed Wing Light Transport)
6 February 1962 - 16 April 1971
Arrived 6 February 1962 in Saigon, Vietnam
Inactivated 16 April, 1971 in Qui Nhon, Vietnam
STATEMENT OF SERVICE
5 March 1959 - 16 April 1971
Constituted 5 March, 1959 in the Regular Army as 18th Aviation Company
Activated 1 May, 1959 at Fort Riley, Kansas (HQ, 5th US Army GO 46 - 27 April 1959) & (HQ Fort Riley, Kansas GO 116 - 1 May 1959)
Boarded USNS Core at Alameda Naval Station, California - 15 January 1962, (destination South Pacific)
Arrived 6 February 1962 in Saigon, Vietnam
Inactivated 16 April, 1971 in Qui Nhon, Vietnam
(On 15 August 1971 the unit began transitioning over to UH-1 helicopters, in Vietnam as the 18th Combined Aircraft Command (CAC) and is the forerunner of today's 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.)
CAMPAIGN PARTICIPATION CREDIT
Vietnam Advisory Campaign (15 March 1962 - 7 March 1965) GO6883 Note 1
Vietnam Defense Campaign (8 March 1965 - 24 December 1965) GO6883 Note 1
Vietnam Counteroffensive (25 December 1965 - 30 June 1966) GO6883
Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase II (1 July 1966 - 31 May 1967) GO6883
Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase III (1 June 1967 - 29 January 1968) GO6883
Tet Counteroffensive (30 January 1967 - 1 April 1968)
Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase IV (2 April 1968 - 20 June 1968)
Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase V (1 July 1968 - 1 November 1968)
Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase VI (2 November 1968 - 22 February 1969)
Tet 69/Counteroffensive (23 February 1969 - 8 June 1969)
Vietnam Summer-Fall 1969 (9 June 1969 - 31 October 1969)
Vietnam Winter-Spring 1970 (1 November 1969 - 30 April 1970)
DA Sanctuary Counteroffensive (1 May 1970 - 30 June 1970 & 1 July 1970 - 30 June 1971)
Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase VII (1 July 1970 - 30 June 1971)
Consolidation I (30 November 1971 - 1 December 1971)
Consolidation II (1 December 1971 - 29 March 1972)
Vietnam Cease-Fire (30 March 1972 - 28 January 1973)
UNIT DECORATIONS 18th Aviation Company (FWLT)
Meritorious Unit Commendation, Streamer embroidered
"VIETNAM 1964 - 1965"
Presidential Unit Citation (Navy), Streamer embroidered
(29 March 1966 - 30 June 1967) GO6959
Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Streamer embroidered VIETNAM 1966 - 1967
(1 March 1966 - 26 March 1967) GO6822
Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Streamer embroidered VIETNAM 1967 - 1968
Vietnamese Civil Action Honor Medal, First Class, with Oak Leaf Device, Streamer embroidered VIETNAM 1970, 1971
26 June 1970 - 30 July 1970
28 October 1970 - 6 December 1970
12 January 1971 - 25 February 1971
The "Otter" Patch
18th Aviation Company (Fixed Wing Light Transport)
Unit Patch: Consists of an "Otter" with headphones on, the company designation and the company motto, "Low, Slow and Reliable". The U-1A originally built for short hops into and out of the various dirt strips and lakes of Canada came into its own right in Vietnam. Often times flying very low to get into various Special Forces strips throughout Vietnam gave the first part of the company motto. As the "Otter", also known as the "BUF", is a very slow aircraft, having a cruising speed of only 95 knots, the second part of the company motto came into being. "Reliable" is the only word which best describes the efforts of the personnel who maintain the "Otter" and the pilots who fly them. Hence the motto "Low, Slow and Reliable" is one that is truly typical of the U-1A Otter and all who play a role in keeping the "BUF" airborne.
Unit Patch Trivia: The "Otter" unit patch was designed at Fort Riley Kansas by Capt. Carl Yoder, Capt. George Baker, and Capt. Rubeum Black on a summer afternoon in 1959. It was submitted to the US Army's Department of Heraldry as the official unit patch of the 18th Aviation Company and proudly worn by unit personnel in Vietnam (1959-1961