YL 42 and the Death of Mike Carley

by Bill Willey Crew Chief

Through a lot of hard work, dedication, spirit, and commitment, Yankee Lima 42 of the Ugly Angels, HMM-362, was resurrected in 1998. She was subsequently memorialized as a tribute to all those Angels and other Marine air crewmen who perished in helicopters during the Vietnam War.

She is proudly displayed at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola ,Florida. I was the crew chief of YL 42 during 1966-67 . I thought the reader might be interested in some of the history, general and personal, lighthearted and very serious of the actual YL 42 and my relationship with her “in-country”. I suppose I should begin this rendition with the caveat that most of us probably share, that being memory or lack, thereof.

I arrived at Ky Ha, RVN and was assigned to HMM-362 in early June, 1966. The first task at hand was orientation, which mainly consisted of the instructions on setting up a 14 man tent on the side of a hill with 8-10 other FNG’s, and how to skillfully position all four legs of a cot on the 5 inch boards of a pallet during the monsoon season. Next, it was on to the flight line and various introductions, brief descriptions of the ops offices, etc.  After about a week I was introduced and assigned to Sergeant and crew chief Hardin, or Hardesty (not real sure of the name, his nick name was” Hard”), and he promptly clarified his expectations regarding my duties on his helicopter. I was soon flying as a port side gunner, as well as my regular assignments of checking all fluid levels, wiping down the plane with avgas and oil, cleaning the belly out, servicing the APU, cleaning the M-60s and returning them to the armory at days end, and other tasks that were assigned. By 7-11-66 I received my aerial gunner designation and by 7-23-66 I had earned my Combat Aircrew Wings.

   Before I got too used to my new status I went on mess duty. Several hot, and hard weeks into that assignment, I was awarded Meritorious Mast for outstanding performance. Lt.Col. Garotto, the CO of HMM-362  at that time, ordered me back to the squadron and returned me to full flight status. It was about this time(8-15-66) that I was assigned to be the crew chief of YL 42. I’ll never forget the feelings of anxiety, trepidation, apprehension, and pride that came with that assignment. After awhile, however, those emotions diminished when I realized that I had the best of the best for support. I’m referring to the wealth of skills and knowledge to help, guide, and instruct me on the fine-tuning of this monster, UH34D. The NCOs and Staff NCOs that comprise the Maintenance Section are the ones who make the whole thing work, especially Top Sproule (the only enlisted Marine that I know the pilots both feared and respected!)

     These mechanical experts and dedicated officers, as well as the side shops like the “bubble chasers”, “tin benders”, the “tweets” and all the others were all a part of YL 42. Although I was primarily entrusted with her care and may have had the most intimate relationship

with this Dog, she was frequently tuned, coaxed, manipulated, prodded, and stroked by all HMM-362 personnel and pilots. I was and always will be grateful to all of you who kept YL 42 in an ‘up’ status. My confidence in the pilots was the same. During the period of time (Aug.66 – Mar.67) that I crewed YL42, we managed to complete approx 200 combat missions. During one month alone we received special squadron recognition for having logged in excess of 100 flight hours. A few actual events that YL 42 and I shared during our 8-month association will illustrate how well the squadron functioned.

     We were on final approach to Ky Ha when the right dampener slipped out of the main landing strut housing, which made normal landing impossible. I forget who the pilot was but he knew what to do; he called Willie on the radio. Top Sproule and a couple of “Assistant Landing Officers” rolled out a flatbed cart stacked with sandbags allowing the pilot to sit down evenly without a hint of ground resonance. On another day, we were flying at about 3000 ft inbound for Ky Ha, about 10-15 miles out. We apparently took a direct hit in one cylinder, causing an engine failure. I’m sure Ron Fix was the pilot although he says he doesn’t remember the event. It was my first complete, unplanned, full auto-rotation and I must say that Ron sat the plane down so easily and skillfully that the main landing struts only collapsed half way down. They brought in a CH-53 and Top Sproule to the rescue again. They screwed an eye hook on the main rotor and Yl42 was lifted back to Ky Ha. I’ve got the pictures of that, and THANKS RON!!!

     On another mission we were sent to an LZ to confiscate and transport a large quantity of VC stored rice. Captain Sheehan was the pilot. Upon landing near the vats of rice, I stepped out of the plane wondering how we were going to get the rice onto the plane. The Captain calmly communicated to me over the intercom that he thought he was seeing dirt kicking up from bullets being fired at us. I immediately returned to the plane and he demonstrated the most amazing ground effect transition to forward air speed that I could have imagined possible from a UH-34D. I was still firing at the VC who were firing at us for at least a half mile past the breaking sea waves. To you, Father Sheehan, I say Thank you and Thank you. You were so calm in your greatness; I shall never forget you or your abilities. I got two confirmed kills that day and YL 42 received about 8 bullet holes in her. Thankfully no one was injured.

   Another memorable experience was the night that Lt. Sachs drew YL 42 with me as co-pilot for a fly-away. The six helo’s taxiing in front of us, also on fly-away duty progressively approached the T/O pad, did their instrument checks and were off to wherever for the night. As we began our engine run-up, Lt. Sachs called for the magneto check.....and you guessed it, I turned the switch to the right instead of the left or off instead of on and BANG! Lt. Sachs embarrassingly taxied back to the parking area and I remained on duty to remove the exhaust collection ring for magna-fluxing. Funny, I don’t recall ever flying along side Lt. Sachs again! Must’ve just been a scheduling glitch ....

     The following is my account of the tragic loss of Lt. Michael Carley and the downing of YL 42 on 27 Feb. 1967. We were one of a flight of three on a troop transport mission, with 6 grunts in the belly. The HAC was Capt. Jim Hippert. Lt. Carley had apparently been thru the same area on a similar mission earlier that day as I heard him  over the IC informing Capt. Hippert of the extremely low ceiling (perhaps 6-900 ft.).His last words were "the best approach thru here is tree top tall and balls to the wall".  The first round I heard was just moments after his statement which brought me to the ready. The bullet pierced the front wind screen and killed Mike instantly according to the surgeon who examined Mike’s body. We took additional fire but I was unable to pinpoint its origin. Immediately after Mike was hit, Jim Hippert took a round in his leg. By this time we were literally crashing thru the tree tops. Jim transmitted a mayday several times and still managed to maintain control of the A/C, although, we were going down fast. One can only imagine the obstacles and decisions he was faced with during those few critical seconds. First, the shock of just seeing his co-pilot shot in the face, his awareness that he is at max speed(approx.125 knots), max. gross weight with eight Marines in the cargo hold , critical and sudden loss of altitude, engine RPM fluctuating,  warning lights flashing on the instrument panel, a bullet piercing the leg that he needed to control the direction of flight, and finally, he needed a clearing beyond the trees in which to set the bird down .  We bounced thru what seemed to be about 3 rice paddies and we were later informed, was an active mine field, before coming to a complete stop. I am eternally grateful to Jim Hippert and thankful for his unquestionable and demonstrated proficiency in the face of certain peril. We were still taking small arms fire. The officer in charge of the grunts deployed his men to set up a perimeter around our A/C. I was aware that my gunner, Pfc. Robert Switzer had been wounded but he managed to maneuver out of the belly of the plane. My immediate concern was to assist Jim Hippert out and down from the cockpit and over to the nearest rice paddy dike. He informed me that Mike Carley had taken the first round in his face and he was certain that he was dead. I returned to YL 42 twice to retrieve the machine guns and extra ammo. By this time Ron Fix, our wingman was landing approx. 100-150 yards from our position and their crewmen were running over to assist us with the weapons and Capt Hippert. I recall being overwhelmed with a sense of guilt at leaving Lt. Carley still in the cockpit. I did, and always will regret that I was unable to get him out. As we lifted off in the chase bird I saw the HU-1E helicopter as it began circling the site. I later learned that it required the co-pilot, crew-chief, and gunner of the Huey to extricate Mike's body from the armored cockpit. YL42 was guarded throughout the night. The next day a small maintenance crew headed up by Willie Sproule was flown back to the site and after performing emergency repairs and replacing the lost avgas. Capt. Curt Ryan, I believe, with Willie flying left seat flew YL 42 back to Ky Ha. Captain Hippert was flown out to the hospital ship 'Repose' to recover from the wounds to his leg. My gunner had sustained minor shrapnel wounds to his arm and hand, and recovered rapidly. 

    The relationship between YL 42 and myself became quite intense over the next 2 to 3 weeks. First stop was the wash rack where we spent several days. Then we towed her to several fix'm'up stations such as the metal shop, hydraulics, avionics, and finally to the hangar where she received her third engine. She had taken a couple of rounds in the oil tank directly behind my seat and was setting off a number of magnetic warning lights. In this brief interim our Squadron transferred to an LPH and LSD headed toward the Philippines for war games. It was at Cubi Point that I began the dreaded replacement of 5 or 7 of the 11 fuel cells which were also pierced. By the way, none of the grunts in the cargo hold sustained injuries. I remember being dragged out of the belly several times, totally inebriated on 115/145 Avgas. After final repairs and several test flights, YL 42 proudly joined up with several other Ugly A/C and  ascended to that international  R&R spot, Bagguio, at least twice to transport a few of you lucky Marines to the  rest haven  you so richly deserved.

     YL 42 was also selected to participate in " In Flight Gunnery  School” with yours truly as the instructor. This, unfortunately, turned into an embarrassing encounter. To top it off, Lt. Deak Warner was our hack. You remember, Deak, the squadron Ordinance Officer who, in our cruise book is portrayed with one of every kind of weapon lashed to his body. I had 5 students including a First Shirt and a Warrant Officer apprehensively sitting in the belly to take their turn with the M-60. We would begin with a demonstration by me on the "how to do it right". Right! Remember your first instruction class on what to do with a hang fire with the M-60 machine gun? You are supposed to stop, count to 10 before attempting to eject the round from the receiver, (the one rule you shit-canned when in combat.) Get the ‘eff-ing’ round out, reload and keep firing. Well, with a short lapse in classroom protocol, I jerked the bolt back, not noticing that the first round had not ejected, slipped another round into the receiver behind the cook-off, and pulled the trigger. Very impressive! It was one smart son-of-a-gun that once said “two 7.62mm rounds will not simultaneously spiral easily thru the gun barrel.” You guessed it; in front of God, the Ordinance Officer and several shocked Marines who outranked me, the receiver blew up, both rounds went off (somewhere), the butt plate buried itself in my chest and shoulder and shrapnel bits hit everyone (except me). School was out and fortunately no one was seriously injured (other than my pride.) Deak took it all in stride, Thank God. However my instructor-hood was terminated!

     Over the following years Rusty (Gunny) Sachs and I maintained intermittent contact with one another, he on the East Coast and I on the other, thru letters, cards, and by phone. Somehow he must have sensed an unsettled, discontented part within me relating back to our time in-country . Thru his unrelenting, unselfish persona, and uncanny ability, he initiated a search for Mike Carley's family. He discovered that Mike had left a wife and a two-year-old son at the time of his death. With this information, he contacted Michael Jr. and Connie, in New York and Connecticut respectively, and made arrangements for them to fly to California to meet me. Gunny picked up Deak Warner in Southern California on the way and in 1991, almost 25 years after Lt. Carley's death I had the honor to be their host in my home. Michael Jr. was now a young man and still searching for information, confirmation, and some understanding of his dad's death. I in turn was needing very much to gain some sort of closure to that event on 2-27-67, and finally found it by looking directly at both of them and telling them that I was unable to retrieve their loved one’s body from the helicopter. It was a very emotional and, on their part, forgiving conclusion to that fateful day in'67. I can never thank Gunny Sachs enough for what he did to secure that peace of mind for myself, and I hope for Michael Jr. In 1998, when YL 42 was memorialized in Pensacola during our reunion, Michael Jr., his wife and infant son were in attendance. Currently, we stay in touch thru e-mail and hopefully future reunions. 

      In conclusion, I return briefly to those days “in-country” where we all share the memories; the good, the bad, and the Uglies (pardon the pun.) Some are happier memories than others, but they are of times shared with one another and with our fallen brothers.  They are memories that we’ll never forget in our private, and not so private, thoughts.

Semper Fidelis 

Bill Willey

E-Mail  YL42@juno.com




                                   SEMPER FIDELIS MARINES


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