by Larry Collins
On the evening of 21 November 1965 Tac
Tru, an ARVN outpost in southern I Corps, was attacked and almost overrun
by the Viet Cong. It would require reinforcement/resupply to survive a
second night attack. The frag order from 1st MAW in Danang was given to
HMM-362 early on the 22nd. A company sized unit of ARVN would be picked up
at Quang Ngai (ASAP) and flown to Tac Tru 50 + miles SSE of the
ARVN base at Quang Ngai. The mission would be accomplished by a flight of
twelve UH -34D's no escort was assigned. Prior to loading our second
sticks, all up a/c would refuel at Quang Ngai. The second/final sortie to
the LZ would be by Division in day/VFR conditions and then RTB non-stop.
As I recall the Flight Leader was LtCol Aldworth (Clip Clop 6) 2nd Division
- Major Smith (Clip Clop 3); 3rd Division: Capt Gideonse (Clip Clop 8). I
was Section Leader of the last Division (co-pilot: l/LT Yung).
The brief/preflight was completed
mid-morning but Wing put the mission on Wx hold due to forecast inclement
weather around Tac Tru. Ky Ha was VFR with a l500 + solid
overcast. Although the local Wx gradually deteriorated all day, the hold
was not lifted until mid-afternoon, about three hours before sunset.
After completion of the first lift into
Tac Tru my original wingman and a couple of other aircraft were released
back to Ky Ha for mechanical problems. Sometime during the second lift,
1/LT Visconti joined our Division as #4. As I recall when he joined on my
wing he was NO RADIO, but did not signal any other problems then or
anytime thereafter. Because of darkness and worsening weather, the final
leg from Tac Tru to Ky Ha was by section. My section was the last one out
of the LZ. It was necessary to use Route 1 as our visual reference. The
ceiling was now about 600’ and the tracers (small arms) along the Route 1
indicated our external lights made us attractive targets.
I decided to turn east towards the South
China Sea and use the breakers to navigate until we received the Chu Lai
TACAN. We were never able to contact Approach Control because all
channels were already assigned/in use. When we reached the coast we
turned north and then east again when we got to the Van Tuong peninsula.
Visconti crossed over to our starboard side and accordingly I went visual
and my co-pilot went on instruments. During this time the weather worsened
to monsoon like conditions. In order to stay VFR we descended to 200 +
feet in order to see the surf.
About 15 miles south of Chu Lai I think
we started receiving Chu Lai TACAN and commenced a left turn inbound to
the base. The instrument turn was too steep and nose down. I recognized
vertigo and transitioned to instruments. (The radio transmission reported
by Larry Farmer was probably me thinking I was on “intercom”.) We
bottomed out as our running lights lit up shrubs on the hilly terrain. As
we climbed, we got a lock on Chu Lai about 10 miles to the north. I
contacted Chu Lai Tower and were informed that Ky Ha was closed and Chu
Lai had no fixed wing traffic. We were instructed to maintain VFR east of
the base and to make a final landing at the north end of the runway –
“caution numerous parked helicopters”.
To the best of my memory the only
aircraft from our flight that landed at Ky Ha were those that had to RTB
after the initial lift before darkness. Eight UH-34Ds were secured
overnight where they landed at Chu Lai until the next morning. Crews were
trucked in the rain the remaining three miles to Ky Ha (crewchiefs
probably RON'ed at the Sikorsky Hotel). My crewchief and I were the last
to see Visconti’s aircraft. I suspect that he and Miller recognized our
disorientation and chose to continue along the coastline, as it would get
them to Ky Ha. Their NO RADIO status may have been as the result of the
ground fire prior to joining us and if they had been hit by ground fire
subsequently there may have been additional damage they did not signal us
about in the pitch dark of the RTB leg.
I think Major Persons led a Division on a
search south of Chu Lai on Nov 23d. Our squadron searched for 2 or 3 more
days without a trace of the aircraft or crew. I first heard the “ID in a
cave” story in June ’66 at MCAS Futemna Okinawa. I had been medevaced to
Naval Hospital Yokuska, Japan on 28 Feb ‘66 (660221).
In the early 60s the
Marine Corps recognized the coming requirement for experienced company
grade pilots in the helicopter community. In ‘63-‘64 a large number of
fixed wing Captains and senior 1/LT's (with regular commissions) were
transitioned to helicopters. Example: On 1 Feb 1964, the Death Angels of
VMF (AW) 235 (F- 8 Crusaders) completed a one year unit rotation with
MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi, Japan. 7 of 12 Captains received orders to
helicopter transition. HMM-362, MAG-36, 3dMAW was the training squadron
for FMFPac. The transition syllabus was 75 hours to Co-pilot (H2P):
designation was 150 hours in the UH-34D Sea Horse.
last transition class completed 30 June ‘64. Capt Jim Reynolds and I
remained in HMM-362 which continued to be the training squadron for
nuggets (H3P) fresh from Pensacola.
In early July ‘65
MAG-36 received a warning order to deploy to South Vietnam during
August. At the time HMM-362 had about 12 H3Ps assigned. Their training
was priority for the next two weeks before a maintenance/embark stand
down. They had about 15-20 flight hours in the Marine Corps when we flew
our a/c to the USS Princeton (LPH-5) at NB Long Beach on 6 Aug. The
carrier sailed on 11 Aug with 100 + aircraft on board (including a
half dozen F-lO5s). Enroute we anchored in Subic Bay for three days to
crane off the Air Force jets to make room for flight ops. USS Princeton
arrived off the coast of Vietnam late 31 Aug and on 1 Sept disembarked the
HR-2S squadron and three UH-34D squadrons of MAG-36.
On 15 Aug ‘65 the 7th
Marines had conducted Operation "Starlite" on the Van Tuong peninsula
to secure the TAOR around Chu Lai. Construction of the A-4 base began on
7 May ’65 about 55 miles SE of Danang. Sea Bees had not completed the
matting at Ky Ha by the end of Aug. Consequently approximately 75% of
MAG-36 helicopters were flown to Marble Mountain on 2 Sept, folded and
parked hub to hub south of the matting for ten days. During this period
there were significant pilot transfers made between groups to balance the
experience level of HMM-362. All but two of the H3Ps were transferred to
MAG-16 in return for a like number of HACs and H2Ps with in country flight
experience. This included Major Smith (S-3), Capt Gideonse (S-2) and 1/LTs
Visconti and Miller.
The Ugly Angels
commenced full tactical operations
Ky Ha on or about 14
Larry M. COLLINS (ClipClop