This is my account of the assault at Binh Gia. You requested an account of a big battle and this one was the biggest that I was ever involved in.
Once again I am not a writer so please excuse any use of South Jersey Colloquialisms. I taught photography not English. Some people have told me that English is a foreign language to me. I think they might be correct.
On February 9, 1965 I was a young 23 year old Specialist Fourth Class . My MOS was 91B-30 or Medical Specialist and I serving as a combat medic with the 57th Medical Detachment Helicopter Ambulance.
I had enlisted in the Army in New Jersey. My house was located directly across the street from our volunteer fire company and rescue squad. The firehouse had a siren located on top of a telephone poll and when the fire trucks or ambulance was needed the siren would be switched on from the police station. It was loud enough for my entire township to hear. From a very early age I knew that I wanted to become a volunteer. At age twelve I took a first aid course at my church and received my first American Red Cross Basic First Aid Card. At Age eighteen I was old enough to join the fire company and rescue squad. I didn’t like being a fire fighter all that much but I did enjoy belonging to the rescue squad and helping people in need. To belong to the rescue squad I had to take a more comprehensive first aid course and receive my first Advanced First Aid Card. Two years later I became a First Aid Instructor. Little did I know that this training would help me on a larger scope.
When I was assigned to the 57th my previous experiences not only helped me in regards to administering aid to the sick and wounded but this training helped me cope with what I was about to see and what was expected of a combat medic. I thought that I had seen just about every conceivable way a person could get injured or killed while serving with the rescue squad but of course I was wrong. Man has developed many ingenious methods of killing his fellow man and I was to learn this in Viet Nam. But what I had seen and learned in civilian life had prepared me for this new experience. I have always thought that this had given me an upper hand on being able to tolerate one of the dirtiest, but rewarding jobs that the United States Army had to offer. I might add that I was quite surprised to find out that the other young medics that served with the 57th did not seem to experience any difficulty in performing their duties. I can only attribute this to their dedication to duty and the excellent training that they received at Ft. Sam Houston.
Those of us that were fortunate enough to have served with the original Dust Off were the luckiest men in the Army. What it boiled down to was the fact that while we had one of the dirtiest jobs in Viet Nam we also had one of the most rewarding. What could be more rewarding than giving aid and comfort to the victims of any traumatic mishap and on occasion actually saving a fellow human being? We were indeed a very fortunate group of young men.
Binh Gia, February 9, 1965
This is my account of the assault at Binh Gia on Feb. 9, 1965. The account is as I recall the events of that day and are from the perspective of a medic flying with the 57th Med. Det. I cannot account for the other crews that were involved in this report except one back up crew consisting of AC Capt. Doug Moore, Pilot Lt. Jay McGowan, Crew Chief SSgt Harbaugh & Medic SSgt. Charles Allen
Capt. Doug Moore SSgt. Harbaugh SSgt. Charles Allen with baby he
& Lt. McGowan he delivered while in flight
My ship’s crew consisted of AC Captain Paul Bloomquist, Pilot Lt. Walter Harris, Crew chief Sp/4 Ron Lewis, and Medic Sp/4 Bill Hughes.
Captain Paul Bloomquist Lt. Walt Harris Sp/4 Hughes Sp/4 Lewis
at embassy bombing
To start this report I think it is important that you know what an assault is and how we operated during an assault. The higher ups decided the when & wheres of an assault and notified the units that were scheduled to participate. The Operations Officer of each unit involved would attend a briefing on the assault and in turn would brief his unit on their participation. This data would include the date and time, amount and types of ships involved, etc. It should be noted that when an assault was scheduled and ARVN troops were involved it was necessary to hold the assault ASAP because of security. When ARVN troops were involved the Viet Cong almost, always knew of our intentions before hand.
The 57th’s participation would be determined by the overall size of the assault. The operation at Binh Gia was so large that it was determined that just about all of the 57th’s resources would be required. At this point we had five ships stationed at Ton Son Nhut because the 82nd Medical Detachment, which had arrived in country October 1964 had become fully operational. The 82nd had been assigned a permanent duty station at Soc Trang. This relieved the 57th’s two ships that had been stationed there since Major Kelly’s arrival in January 1964.
The primary tactical support for this operation had been assigned to the 145th Aviation Battalion. The various units of the 145th were to supply the troop carrying ships along with gun ship support. The units of the 145th were UTT (Utility Tactical Transport – slick ships) and the 120th -gun ships. Because of the vast size of this operation other units were called in but I do not recall their names. It should also be noted that at this time all American combat troops in country were classified as advisors. The rule governing our actions were: Do not fire unless fired upon. It should also be noted that Medevac helicopter crewmembers were armed with small arms. This was due in part to the fact that North Viet Nam did not sign on as part of the 1954 (?) Geneva Convention Accord. That, plus the wording of Article 28 of the Geneva Convention which stated:
Medical aircraft shall not carry any armament except small arms and ammunition taken from the wounded, sick and shipwrecked on board and not yet handed to the proper service, and such light individual weapons as may be necessary to enable the medical personnel on board to defend themselves and the wounded, sick and shipwrecked in their charge.
That plus the fact that our ships were clearly marked with Red Cross’ and were frequently fired upon by the Viet Cong.
This was the biggest assault to date in Viet Nam surpassing the Christmas Assault operation at Tay Ninh, which involved (I believe) 147 total ships. The staging area for the Binh Gia assault was the peninsula of Vung Tau, which was directly south of Binh Gia. A staging area was the place where all of the ships and troops met to form the different waves that would take off and head for the LZ.
The 57th’s roll in any assault was to attach a ship to each wave of slick ships and gun ships when they went into the LZ. The Dust Off ship would stay in a 1,500 orbit and wait there until a call came in that we were needed. The actual assault would involve the slick ships flying into the LZ with the gun ships on both sides providing fire support for the troops that were about to be deposited in the LZ. The slicks had two mounted machine guns hanging from straps. They were located on their rear cargo door openings. They would spray the landing zone area to help the ground troops advance. While the slicks were touching down the gun ships would be coming, at low level, on each side of the slicks firing their mounted M-60 machine guns and firing their mounted rocket pods. Of course the object of this immense firepower was to get Charlie to keep his head down and give the ground troops a chance to gain a foothold on the LZ. Included in this assault were a new concept for gun ships called “Hogs”. The “Hogs were primary a rocket launching pad. They had M-60 machine guns hanging from the cargo compartments like the “Slicks” but instead of having mounted machine guns on their exterior they carried a pod on each side with 24 rockets that could all be fired at one time. Needless to say when the “Hogs” cut loose it was sort of like a Fourth of July display and the area
covered by these rockets was considerable.
Rockets for gun ships
As I told you in an earlier email the enlisted men were not privy to advanced notice of assaults. The one exception – that I recall – was the Christmas Eve assault at Tay Ninh and the only reason we knew about that one was because we had an unheard of practice assault where we were required to wear our gas masks in the ships to determine if we could maintain contact via our in ship microphones and the ships were able to communicate with each other. But that is another story. I found out about Binh Gia about four o’clock on the afternoon of Feb. 8, 1965. My status that day was back-up medic. This meant that I was second in line to go on a call if the actual duty crew was called out on a medevac mission. The actual backup crew was Moore, McGowan, Harbaugh & Allen. This is why they were late arriving to the LZ. They were called in when we it was determined that additional help was required. On the morning of Feb. 9,1965 our crews arrived at the flight line to “prep” the ships for the assault. I believe we reported at the flight line around 6 AM and three of our ships departed for the staging area at Vung Tau around 6:30. Side Note – While we had five assigned ships we hardly ever had all five “up and ready”. The Army required ships to have major mechanical service every 100 hours of flying time and because of the nature of our duties – with so much flying time – we almost always had one or two ships down for this major maintenance schedule. One of our ships was in maintenance on Feb. 9th.
Staging Area – Vung Tau ARVN soldiers at Vung Tau
When we arrived at Vung Tau I was immediately aware that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary assault. I had never seen so many “Hueys” in one area at the same time. I might also add that I had never seen so many ARVN troops assembled in a staging area either. When we landed all of our ships were located together and my officers were gathered with a group of other pilots from the 145th. I didn’t have time for breakfast before we left Yon Son Nhut so I took a canvas litter out of my ship and placed the handles on the floor of our cargo compartment with the other two handles on the ground. This way I could lay down on an angle. I went to the rear compartment and opened a box of C Rations and proceeded to eat my breakfast while lying down on the litter. Shortly after we landed I heard a lot of noise like bombs exploding in the distance. I questioned Major Bloomquist about the noise Captain Bloomquist told me that the noise I was hearing was from our Air Force and the Vietnamese Air Force bombing the LZ. Of course our AF pilots were not supposed to be flying actual combat missions but it was a well-known fact that they were doing so. Then he returned to the group of officers that were having a lively discussion about something. I tried to hear what they were talking about because I was sure that it was important and the fact that there was so much laughter was also comforting. After all if there was such a casual atmosphere about their discussion then they obviously were not too concerned about the up coming events. The bombing of the LZ continued for at least one hour and it was very reassuring. I had never been on an assault where our combined Air Forces had hit a LZ with so many aircraft and for such a long length of time. When looked to the north of where we were I could see the tiny looking aircraft diving into the LZ. I saw VNAF Canberra Jets and propeller driven A1-E’s doing their stuff. There was an immense cloud of smoke raising from the LZ. I was convinced that this was an explanation as to why the officers were laughing so much. They didn’t seem to be concerned about the assault and I had convinced myself that the “softening” of the LZ was assurance that all of the VC’s were either dead or had left the area. This was going to a “Milk Run”
If I was pushed into guessing how many officers were gathered about 30 feet from my “breakfast table” I would have to say that there were over 35 of them. I was just about ready to “dig” into my first course of C’s when Captain Bloomquist called me. He told me to come over to where all of the officers were gathered. I just about messed in my pants. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind as to what I could have done that was wrong. When I arrived I saluted and asked Captain Bloomquist what he wanted and he told me that I should report “properly” to the senior officer. I looked around and I had never seen so much “brass” in one area at the same time. There were at least 3-4 Lt. Colonels, quite a few Majors’ etc. So I came to attention and saluted to the group and said, “ Sirs, Specialist Four Hughes reporting.” At this point Bloomquist chastised me stating that you do not report to a group by saying “Sirs” you report to the senior officer. I looked around and still couldn’t determine exactly who was the senior officer and told Captain Bloomquist my dilemma. At this point Captain Bloomquist pointed out the senior officer and performed a proper, military, introduction.
Side Note, Captain Bloomquist did not let me fly on what we referred to as “Harris Missions” These were (as I much later found out) the Agent Orange missions that the Air Force ran at least twice a week. Each one of their flights required a Dust Off ship to escort them because of the danger of being shot down. The Air Force crews that flew these missions used the call sign and were referred to as “Ranch Hand”. I often asked what a “Harris Mission” was but every time Bloomquist would tell me that they were secret missions and I didn’t need to know because I would write home and tell my mother about them and then he would have to have me Court
Marshaled. After about 3-4 months of these “secret” flights my name appeared on the flight board for a “Harris Mission”. When we returned Bloomquist asked me if I was happy because I finally got to see what a “Harris Mission” was all about. I replied honestly and told him that although I had been on the mission I still didn’t know what had happened.
All I had seen was two C-123’s flying low and spraying an area of jungle. At this point I should mention that I am color blind so I had difficulty seeing that there were certain areas of jungle that had tracks of dying vegetation. Major Bloomquist knew that I had an insatiable curiosity about everything
that involved our unit and, in particular, anything that might involve my participation.
Tracks left by ‘Ranch Hand” about one week after spraying
At this point my curiosity was running wild. Why was I standing in front of all of these officers? The following event ensued:
One of the officers asked me if I had a Top Secret clearance and I replied that I did not have that high of a clearance that I was only cleared at the secret level. At that point a group of them got together and had what appeared to be a serious, low tone, discussion. When they finished the officer told me that even though I didn’t have a top secret clearance he was confident that I could keep my mouth shut if they were to let me in on a Pentagon top secret mission. This “secret” mission was going to end the war and send all of us home by Christmas. He asked me if I would like to know about this secret operation? Needles to say I was shocked that they were about to let me know about such an important operation. The next thing they did was to make me swear that I wouldn’t tell anyone about the data that they were about to reveal to me. Then Bloomquist chimed in, “ Hughes, that also means that you can’t write to your mother about it”. Of course I swore that I wouldn’t tell anyone including my mother. After all of the preliminary clearance had been established he proceeded to tell me about the Pentagon’s secret mission. He said that this plan was “fool proof” and it was to be carried out in the immediate future. The operation called for a seven-step plan that would involve the following:
Step one – All Vietnamese civilians were to be removed from the country
and were to be placed on ships in the South China Sea.
Step two – All Vietnamese politicians were to be removed and placed
on ships in the South China Sea.
Step Three – All White Mice were to be placed on the ships in the South
on the same ships (note – White Mice was the nick name
we gave to the Vietnamese police. They wore solid white
uniforms and looked like “White Mice” to us).
Step four – All Vietnamese military personnel were to be removed and
placed on the same ships.
Step five – All American and Allied Forces were to be removed from the
country and sent home.
Step six – Our Air Force was to come in and “Carpet Bomb” Viet Nam
so that no one would be left alive and even all of the
vegetation would be incinerated. Viet Nam would be
He then asked me what I thought about the plan. I was astonished at the concept of such a plan and informed him that it sounded like such a plan would work I am sure that I had a dumb founded look on my face or a look of bewilderment when I inquired about the, obvious, missing seventh step. The officer looked me straight in the face and didn’t crack a smile when he replied, “ Step Seven “? “Then we sink the ships”! It took a few seconds for the punch line to sink in and I am sure that they all enjoyed my look of
utter confusion followed, immediately by doing an “about face” with head lowered and shaking, back and forth, as I returned to my breakfast. I am sure that their laughter was heard all over the entire staging area with Captain Bloomquist laughing the hardest.
I recall being somewhat mad about being the subject of such a cruel joke but as I think back on it I would think that the light heartedness of such a large group of officers was comforting. After all if they were having such a good time they couldn’t be, overly, concerned about the pending operation. I recall opening a can of C’s and continuing to shake my head while every one of the officers continued to laugh while looking over in my direction.
A short time later the order came down that we were about to “fire up” the ships. All of the ARVN troops were being loaded into the Slick Ships and the noise from so many Hueys was deafening. As I stated above, I had never seen this many ships located in one area. They had even set up a very elaborate first aid station in the staging area. This should have rung a bell ! If they had assembled this many troops along with that many ships and a large aid station they certainly were not expecting Binh Gia to be a “Milk Run”.
I later found out that the object of the assault was a town called Binh Gia and that the Viet Cong had over run the hamlet during a six day battle. This, hard fought, battle had taken place in late December into early January. Note – This was the subject of Doug Moore’s article entitled “ Bad day at Binh Gia’ – I am mailing you a copy of that article along with another article written by Doug. The Vietnamese ARVN forces had suffered mass causalities and this area had to be retaken at all cost to restore the honor and confidence of the Vietnamese Government. It was also the first time that NVA troops were detected to be, actively, involved in ground combat in South Viet Nam. Their uniforms had identified them. The Viet Cong wore traditional Vietnamese pheasant garments that resembled black pajamas. On occasion this lack of uniform had caused many Americans and myself great concern. One such mission was when we were called in when an American Caribou had crashed and a group of Vietnamese local militia (armed) was coming at us across an open field. We didn’t know if the were VC or friendly forces. I recall that even Captain Bloomquist had a look of concern.
About eight o’clock all of the ships were fired up. The ground troops were loaded on the “Slicks” and we were ready to go to the LZ. The first wave took off and we flew directly behind them. We were attached to a group consisting of (about) 10-12 “Slick” ships, six “Gun Ships” and two “Hogs”. The LZ wasn’t hard to locate. From the moment we took off you could see the smoke pouring out of the burnt out area that we were heading for. In regards to the actual flight time I would guess that from the time we left Vung Tau and the first wave formed up and arrived at the site would have been less than 15 minutes. This assault was so large that by the time the first wave was in the LZ there would still be ships in Vung Tau that hadn’t taken off. When we arrived at the LZ the other ships broke off of our 1,500-ft. altitude and headed into the smoking LZ. The “Slick” ships formed a straight line with each ship lined up one after another in a straight line. The “Gun” ships and the “Hogs” lined up on each side of the “Slicks” and the formation was formed for a classic “ text book” assault. The “Slicks” would approach the LZ at a high rate of speed and then slow down to an almost craw. They would be about 3-4 feet off the ground when the ARVN soldiers would start jumping off the ships. In past assaults the “Slicks” would actually touch down to let the troops out but it was found to be more efficient and safer to let the troops depart while the ships were off the ground and moving at a very slow rate of speed. While this was happening the “gun ships” were spraying the tree lines on each side of the departing troops with machine gun fire and rockets and the “Hogs” were putting quite a show by releasing all of the rockets from their pods all at once. Meanwhile we were at 1,500 ft. in a circular orbit waiting and watching the show below us. We weren’t there very long before the radio cracked with a desperate call for Dust Off! The call came in that a ship was shot down in the LZ. I recall taking a deep swallow and my heartbeat had noticeably increased. As Captain Bloomquist started to descend to the LZ another call came in that a second ship was down in the LZ immediately followed with a call that a third ship down! At this point I was more scared than I had ever been in my whole life. I had been on assaults with Hot LZ’s before but nothing like this. It was obvious that Charlie wasn’t going to make a hasty exit out of this area. He was going to make a stand at Binh Gia. What I did next I am not proud of but I was astonished that Captain Bloomquist was actually heading for an area that, moments before, had seen three ships shot down within a matter of seconds. I got on the intercom and asked in a somewhat scared voice if we were going into the LZ. Captain Bloomquist replied, Yes, Hughes we’re going in. Don’t you want to go”? My reply was, “Well, sir, I’d rather not. Three ships were just shot down’! In a typical, non-concerning, Paul Bloomquist voice he replied, “Then get out”! It wasn’t said in a sarcastic tone or anything like that. It was said, rather in a low-keyed tone that didn’t indicate any anxiety, excitement or fear. I’m sure that at that point he looked at Lt. Harris and cracked a smile. In the meantime
my heart was pounding out of my chest.
Huey shot down and on fire at Binh Gia LZ. The LZ was completely burnt out.
I am not in the least bit ashamed of the fact that at that moment I feared for my life. There had been several occasions in my previous eleven months when this exact response had happen to me. It was common going into a hot area to be “concerned”. I don’t think that you could be human and not witness an increase in your respiration and pulse under the circumstances. Once on the ground I was always too busy to be, overly, concerned about what was going on about me. Going in I had time to think about the worst possible scenario. As stated while on the ground the medic was too busy to worry about anything but getting the patients loaded on the ship. When we left an area we were occupied with, possibly, laying down fire as we departed and when we got at a safe altitude we had a few moments to have a total relapse or collapse before we had to go to work on the needs of our patients. I have always said that we medics had the easiest job because we were always busy when we landed. I am sure that a few minutes on the ground – in a hot area- seemed like an eternity to the pilots and crew chief.
As we approached the burnt out landing zone Captain Bloomquist headed to the left, or north side, of the LZ where a ship was down laying, partially, on its side. There was smoke coming from the engine area of the downed ship and the tail section of the ship was cracked in half. It must have been one hell of a hard landing. One thing was sure. The pilots didn’t have time to decide where to land as they were obviously at a very low altitude when they went down.
As it turned out the probable reason for the ship going down was that the AC was shot and the pilot didn’t have time to react as his mortally wounded comrade jerked on the controls. Dust Off ships developed a policy that required both the AC and Pilot to have their hands on the controls when approaching and leaving areas. This policy came about after Major Kelly was killed and flipped the ship after he was shot through the heart.
Captain Bloomquist put our ship down about seventy meters away from the downed ship. I wasn’t aware of this distance until a minute or two later. At that time I was more concerned about not being able to see anything. The rotor wash from our ship kicked up so much of the burned out saw grass that it temporarily blinded us. After all of the debris cleared out I could see the downed ship directly to the right of where I was sitting. At that point I didn’t notice any of the crewmembers of the downed ship and I recall thinking the worst. I grabbed my first aid kit and started the longest run of my life. As I approached the ship I noticed that there were three crewmember’s standing along side of the ship. I don’t know why I didn’t notice them on approach. I guess I was too busy or the downed ship wasn’t exposed to my side of the ship. When I finally finished my dash and arrived at the ship I noticed right away that all three of the men were not seriously injured. That is to say none of them had obvious bleeding type of wounds. They all looked like they were in shock and that was understandable. They were just standing there in plain sight even though the Viet Cong that occupied the adjacent tree line was firing upon us. Just as I arrived one of them sat down on the ground. This man was the worst off. His face had what we called the “ Ten thousand mile stare”. That is to say he was looking out into the distance but he wasn’t focused on anything. He wasn’t even blinking. He was obviously in severe shock. When I made my very quick assessment of his condition I became aware of the fact that bullets were hitting around us and striking the ship. I pushed my rifle to one of the two remaining men and shouted tot him, “Get your head out of your ass and fire at that tree line. Charlie is trying to kill us’!
I made a quick examination of the seated man and asked the other man where the other crewmember was? He told me that the pilot was dead. At that point I asked him to help me get the seated man back to my ship. We each grabbed the man under his armpits and helped him up. We each put one of his arms over our shoulders and started the long trip back to my ship. When we got back to my ship I got them positioned into the cargo compartment and got in my seat and put my safety belt on. I then got on the intercom and told Captain Bloomquist, ““Let’s go”! Captain Bloomquist relayed back, “What about the other crewmember”? I told him that it was the pilot and he was dead. Captain Bloomquist then told me to go get him. I turned around and looked at him. I know I had a look of disbelief on my face but I also read in his face that we weren’t going anywhere until all crewmembers were accounted for. It should be noted at this time that Paul Bloomquist always took off his sunglasses when we landed to pick up patients. He always polished them with his handkerchief. It didn’t matter if it was a secure or hot area. He did it every time. That is why I could see his facial expression and read his thoughts so clearly. So I knew that I had another seventy yard dash to make and I also knew that I couldn’t carry that pilot back by myself because I would be spent. I grabbed a litter and also grabbed the guy sitting closest to me and told him we were going to get his pilot. I could tell that he didn’t want to go but I didn’t offer him any choice. I grabbed the litter and his arm in one movement. The second run across the burnt out LZ was even more hazardous than the first. By this time some mortar rounds going off were accompanied with the small arms fire. There were bullets kicking up all around us. When we arrived at the ship it was not just smoking by now the ship was on fire. I climbed up on a skid and opened the pilot’s door. The pilot was slumped over with his head resting on his knees. I couldn’t find the release to his harness and really didn’t want to take time to fumble around. I took my knife out and cut the straps and grabbed him by his flack vest and pulled him out. Then I opened the litter up and put the dead pilot on it. We each grabbed the litter handles and I took the front because that is the most difficult to maneuver. I must have done that sub-consciously. One thing that was for sure I certainly didn’t want to drop our patient and have to take the time to have to re-load him. When we got back to the ship my crew chief and I loaded the litter and I strapped in for the second time. This time Captain Bloomquist was more then happy to depart the area. As were leaving I grabbed my AR-15 and started to spray the, unfriendly, tree line. Of course it jammed after firing about three or four rounds. I didn’t even try to fix it. I just hung it up next to my seat. When we got up to 1,500 ft. I had the opportunity to check out the three survivors and determined that they would be fine. They were shaken up but none appeared to be that serious. Even the one who collapsed at the ship seemed to be better once we were safely out of the LZ. A little bit of color had returned to his bleached face. It was now time for my nervous breakdown. I recall starting to shake all over. I lit a cigarette and started thinking about what could have been. I recall being totally exhausted and it wasn’t from my 70 yard dashes. I remember taking deep breaths and thinking how lucky I was that I could take them. A reminder of that fact was laying on a litter on the floor of my ship.
About 10-15 minutes later we landed at the aid station back at Vung Tau and then Captain Bloomquist flew our ship over to our original area. When we landed he called me over to the side of the ship. I expected to get my ass chewed out for not “automatically” going back for the dead pilot. But instead he told me that I had done a good job. In my previous eleven months I had never received a compliment from him. That meant a lot to me. Then he asked me to talk to Lewis and tell him that he didn’t mean to holler at him. He said that it would carry more weight coming from me. I didn’t understand what he was talking about but here I had a Captain, sort of, apologizing to an enlisted man so I told him that I would talk to Lewis. I approached Lewis and told him what Bloomquist had said and Lewis was really hot under the collar. He said that Bloomquist had unloaded on him without justification. It had something to do with Lewis not firing at the tree line. My guess is that Lewis’ AR-15 also jammed. They always did when you needed them the most. Anyway I couldn’t smooth things out and I didn’t tell Bloomquist that Lewis was unhappy because that wouldn’t help matters. My guess is that Paul was as nervous as the rest of us and that he must have really had extra clean sunglasses by the time we left that LZ. Perhaps the one member of our crew that was the most nervous was LT. Harris. Walt was a “Short Timer”. He only had a few weeks left in country and I’m sure that he was thinking that he was going to go home sooner than planned. So we have Lewis getting chewed out. Bloomquist taking the surface off his sunglasses and Walt thinking it’s all over. Like I said, “ The medic had the easiest job”. I was too busy to think about too much. I was aware of what was going on and I was scared but at least I wasn’t a stationary target and I was much too busy to think about anything but my patients and getting the hell out of there in one piece.
While we were back at the staging area I had heard that another gun ship had been shot down and that it went flaming into the jungle. It was said that no one could have survived the crash and that it was in an area that Charlie held so we weren’t required to try to recover the remains until the area was secure. So that made four ships down and it was still early in the day and the LZ wasn’t secured yet.
Early in the afternoon my ship was called back into the LZ to pick up a seriously wounded ARVN solider. I sure didn’t like the idea of going back in that area but Captain Bloomquist informed us that the LZ was now secure. For some reason I didn’t take too much comfort in his statement. Our other crews had experienced the same type of reception that we had experienced and they had made at least one more trip into the LZ to pick up wounded ARVN’s. I guess it was now our turn. This time we touched down very close to where the wounded solider was and as I got out of the ship a mortar round hit about 15 meters away from where we touched down. So much for the “secure” theory. I got out with a litter and Bloomquist got out and helped me bring the patient back to the ship. We were on our way back to
Vung Tau when a call came in that a 120th pilot had been hit. Major Bloomquist arranged for us to pick him up in a clearing that was several miles away from the Binh Gia LZ. The wounded pilot turned out to be Capt. Johnson. All of my pilots knew him because they all billeted at the same villa. Capt. Johnson took a round through his right wrist. It was a ticket home. His wrist was already bandaged up and I offered him a morphine shot but he declined. He did accept a cigarette and I gave him my flight helmet so he could talk to Walt and Paul. I recall thinking that was quite a contrast between that medevac and the earlier one. Maybe it was going to be a good day after all.
Capt. Johnson & Lt. Harris.
Capt. Johnson is about to leave Viet Nam
for recuperation back at a hospital in the
States. About one week after Binh Gia.
We returned to Vung Tau with our wounded ARVN and Capt. Johnson we dropped them off at the aid station and things seemed to clam down. That is until about 4 PM when a call came in that another ship was down. This time the ship was down in the second LZ. Bloomquist fired up the ship and we were off again. I’m sure that all kinds of bad thoughts were going through my mind as we approached the landing zone.This extraction was made very quickly we were in and out in a matter of minutes. The pilot of the downed ship was hurt badly and Bloomquist radioed our CO, Major Huntsman that we were going to take our patient back to the Naval Hospital at Saigon. Major Huntsman told us to call it a day after our delivery. I know that made me happy and I’m sure that our entire crew was relieved to be going home. Especially Lt. Harris.
We landed at the soccer field in downtown Saigon with our patient. His name was Lt. Craft. I helped load him into the waiting ambulance when he asked me to go get Major Bloomquist. I did as requested and when Captain Bloomquist went to him he gave his 38 pistol to Captain Bloomquist. Lt. Craft wouldn’t take “No’ for an answer and Captain Bloomquist did take his gift. He was grateful that Captain Bloomquist had come in to take him out of the landing zone. On the way back to our ship Captain Bloomquist told me that he would return the pistol to Lt. Craft later on that evening. He was going to go visit him at the Naval Hospital.
We had three ships at Binh Gia and because of the intensity of the battle our crew that was back at Ton Son Nhut was called in to help us out. That crew consisted of AC, Capt. Doug Moore, Pilot, Lt. Jay McGowan, Crew Chief, SSgt. Harbaugh and Medic SSgt. Charles Allen. They were called in to evac a seriously wounded American Advisor. He was an officer and was the son of Gen. Throckmorton. That was the only medevac that our crew at Ton Son Nhut made. But it was equally as exciting as my first trip into the LZ. SSgt Allen told me later about how hot that LZ was.
Another one of our Medics, Bill Allen had an experience at Binh Gia. He went to one of the downed ships that was also on its side and on fire. He was alone at the ship and didn’t have any help. Charlie was bouncing bullets all around him and his patient was crewmember that had his leg pinned under the downed ship. Bill didn’t know what to do? He couldn’t free the man’s leg so he informed him that he was going to have to shoot his leg off. Thankfully before this last option had to be performed a few ground troops showed up and, together, they were able to get the ship off of the poor man. When Bill finally got back to the ship with his patient and they were airborne the patient was screaming at Bill, “ Were you actually going to shoot my leg off”? Bill replied calmly, ‘It was that or you would have burnt to death”. This is the type of decisions that medics had to make. Lost of life or lost of limb?
Sp/4 Bill Allen
That’s the kind of day it was at Binh Gia. Next day I had an exciting day at Song Be with major Christie. At that time it seemed to me that extending my tour might not have been a good idea.
These are the events of Feb. 9,1965 at a place called Binh Gia. They are true as I remember them. Other crews will have to provide accounts of their experiences on that day.
Thank you,Bill Hughes