Memorial Prayer  Used in the HMM 362 Cruise Book

November 22nd, 1965

First Fatalities

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).

Background Notes:   

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):  HAC designation was 150 hours in the UH-34D Sea Horse.  Our 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 out of Ky Ha on or about 14 September 1965.

  Larry M. COLLINS   (ClipClop 13)


Francis Visconti                     HAC


Richard A. Miller COPILOT  
Thomas E. Douglas CREW  
Victor J. Pirker CREW  


MAG-36 Command Chronology - November 1965:
22 November 1965 - An emergency lift was made by HMM-362 to relieve the ARVN outpost at THACH TRU, south of Quang Ngai. The mission was successfully completed in very poor weather conditions which apparently caused the loss of YL-36, last seen in IFR conditions in a climbing turn at night over the sea, northeast of Quang Ngai. To date no sign of the aircraft or crew has been found, and it is assumed that it crashed at sea with the loss of all hands: 1stLt F VISCONTI, 1stLt R A MILLER, Cpl V J PIRKER and Cpl J E DOUGLAS

A flight of 4 UH-34 Ds were returning from Quang Ngai to Ky Ha.  Here the weather was the enemy with towering, driving thunderstorms. This crew had already become separated from its original flight and had joined up with another flight lead by Sandy Gideonese.  When the others arrived at Chu Lai, they were missing and presumed lost at sea.  Numerous letters and after action reports are on file from other members of the flight who attested to the weather as being both very bad and vertigo inducing.

To learn more click here

                                   SEMPER FIDELIS MARINES


                                        Copyright HMM362.ORG and the UGLY ANGELS MEMORIAL FOUNDATION
                                               SITE DESIGN, "SGT. BRAD" RYTI
                                                  Updates, corrections or comments to UGLYEDITOR@GMAIL.COM