The following report describes the death
of Mike Carley, told principally through the eyes of Ron Fix. I have
combined three separate letters from Ron written over several years and
trust that I have kept to the spirit in which he wrote them. I have also
included bits from other interested parties that added insights to the
events of that day. Bob
Captain Jim Hippert was HAC of YL-42 (BUNO
143968). Mike Carley was the copilot and Bill Willey was the crew chief.
I don’t have the name of the gunner. Jim was leading a flight of 3 Uglies
from Ky Ha to Nui Dang (Nui Loc San area.) in the Duc Pho district of
Quang Ngai Province on 27 February 1967. I was the HAC of the second
UH-34D, YL-37 (BuNo 148783) and Bob “Deak” Warner was my copilot. We were
carrying troops (US Marines) and some resupply materials. We stayed to
the west of Nui Dang, heading south, just to the east of Highway 1. We
began our descent into Nui Dang with a left hand turn so we would approach
west to east. This would place us several clicks southwest of the Marine
CP and airstrip at Duc Pho. During the descent we began to take a heavy
mixture of small arms and .50 cal fire. Our crew chiefs and gunners were
returning fire and we were trying to go as fast as possible.
YL-42 received extensive battle damage
and could not sustain airspeed or altitude. Jim Hippert had his hands
full. He was wounded and I believe Mike was dead before they landed. I
was on the inside of the turn and looking at Mike when he was hit. Jim
subsequently made an emergency landing several minutes flying time from
Nui Lac Son and we plotted the coordinates. I directed dash 3 to stay
overhead and cover YL 42 while I flew to Duc Pho where I offloaded my
grunts and asked the Ops O at Duc Pho to organize a reaction force. I
returned to extract the crew and passengers from YL 42.
I landed approximately 50 meters from YL
42. There was a rice paddy between us and the zone was hot. The overhead
34 provided cover. My crew chief and gunner made their way to the downed
helo and retrieved the ambulatory members of the crew. We extracted them
to Nui Loc San and then returned with elements of a reactionary platoon to
secure the sight and retrieve Mike’s body. We then helped organize and
transport a reactionary and recovery operation. All the time that this
was going on, “dash 3” remained overhead protecting YL 42’s precious cargo
of Mike Carley. I have no specific recall who “dash 3” was (for some
reason, I think it was Ed Hunneyman).
Mike’s body was recovered that day and
Deak flew it back to Ky Ha. The grunts who did the work reported that YL
42 had landed in a minefield. There were stories that the Grunt
lieutenant who recovered the body received the Navy Cross for the work he
did that day.
I have always considered Jim Hippert a
hero for the professional job he did that day. Every crewmember in that
lead aircraft was a hero.
I have never forgotten my time in the
company of Mike Carley. I remember telling Mike Jr. the pride his father
had in his uniform, particularly his spit-shined flight boots, thus the
nickname of “PigPen”
One of my favorite pictures of the time
of that time in my life is a picture of Mike and Smokey (James D.) Norton
doing the skit where their torsos are painted to resemble faces and their
arms and heads are covered by oversized top hats. Their navels were
mouths with cigarettes hanging from them and somehow they could make the
darn things puff like someone was really smoking them. I think Pat Bray
or Beetle (Gene) Bailey taught them how to do that. Mike and Smoky were
the two JO's who kept the rest of us smiling.
The Marine Grunt
lieutenant who secured YL 42 and recovered Mike’s body was identified as
Ron Benoit of Montpelier, Vermont by Rusty Sachs, also of that state.
According to Rusty, Benoit and Carley were well acquainted with one
another. Benoit was no “boot second lieutenant” but a salty former master
sergeant who had recently been commissioned. He had, in fact, been Mike’s
instructor at Brown University’s NROTC program. Mike had been so
impressed with the professionalism of the Marine that he had opted for the
“Globe and Anchor” and had chosen Marine Air.
There were reports that
Benoit had gotten the Navy Cross for his activities that day. A little
investigating revealed that Benoit had not gotten it for that day’s action
but for another action 2 days earlier when his platoon had been lifted
into a zone that was booby trapped and completely surrounded. I do have a
jpeg file of that citation if anyone wants to see it.
As mentioned throughout
this series, Mike Carley was the first of many Ugly Angels to die or be
wounded in YL 42. Think of them when you see Jim Moriarty’s flying
version or the static version at the Naval Aviation Museum at NAS
Pensacola. Also, keep in mind that YL 37 was the chase bird on this
mission and it is still wearing our colors out in Oklahoma.