Provided by COL Retired Doug Moore – Report originally submitted last quarter 1968 and first quarter 1969
The 159th Medical Detachment (Hel Amb) has been extremely busy with several major combat actions occurring in our area and small unit contacts were a daily occurrence. The 101st Airborne Division finally moved out of our area and the 25th Infantry Division resumed operations in the notorious Cu Chi to Trang Bang to Trung Lap triangle.
“Charles” has proven to be rather unfriendly recently and the detachment had nine aircraft struck by enemy fire. One took 44 hits while picking up 4 wounded Viet Cong captives. Both of the pilots and the medic received superficial wounds causing the aircraft commander, WO1 Doug MacNeil, to boast that he was running up his patient count that way.
Major Moore had one of the more exciting missions. Coming out of a landing zone before dawn, an AK-47 round struck his helmet at the lower end of the visor groove. It tore out much of the Styrofoam and rubber padding inside the helmet before exiting behind his left ear. Other than minor cuts and scratches, he suffered no serious injury, but it was too close for comfort and earned him the nickname “Chrome Dome” from Major Jim Truscott who claims he has proof that the round did not strike the helmet but ricocheted off Major Moore’s hard head.
The detachment’s location on the Cu Chi base camp, halfway between the airfield and the 25th Infantry Division Headquarters, continues to be a problem. The local Viet Cong mortar, rocket, and recoilless rifle crews aren’t getting enough training and keep missing those important structures. Instead, they are dropping too many rounds in and around our detachment area.
Early December brought a new dance called the “Bunker Shuffle” because a group called the “Bad Guys” seemed to play every night. In one case, a rocket overshot its target, screamed in low over our billets, and landed on top of our outdoor latrine. First Sergeant George Brevaldo walked out of that latrine only seconds beforehand and was returning to his room when the rocket landed. A jagged piece of 2”X4” went flying through the air and struck him as he was entering his room causing a nasty cut on his upper arm. Can you imagine his response in years to come when someone asks, “Now, how did you get your Purple Heart?”
Needless to say, there wasn’t much remaining of our former “burn-out” latrine. The washstand out front was all that was left upright, but its loss resulted in the construction of a flush-type latrine thanks to CW2 Tony Peters who landed at Bien Hoa Air Base and talked an airman into letting him take a damaged external fuel tank from one of their fighter planes. The tank holds a couple hundred gallons of water and provides the flush power for two French style porcelain commodes that Tony managed to procure (??) down in Saigon. Life at Cu Chi is not the Hilton but is improving.
The dry season has begun and for those on the way over, we would recommend doing a lot of night flying beforehand. It’s a thrill unsurpassed by any other to make an approach at night, particularly when you go IFR in a dust cloud at 50 feet while trying to land between two tanks on a narrow, dirt road while they are still firing. That kind of flying has proven to be challenging for our pilots, but they have handled it admirably.
One of our more interesting missions began on Christmas Day and ended on New Years Day. We provided an aircraft to go into the “Saw Tooth Woods” along the Cambodian Border west of Tay Ninh where three American prisoners of war were released. It was a highly classified mission and little is known about the events surrounding it other than several National Liberation Front (NLF) representatives were at the site and were flying a gigantic Viet Cong flag when Major Moore and WO1 Daily landed. Needless to say, a few anxious moments arose when a squad of heavily armed North Vietnamese soldiers surrounded their aircraft and the NLF sent photographers to take pictures while it was on the ground. After the American POWs were formally released, they were flown to a hospital at Long Binh to begin their long trip home. That was a first for Dust Off and we are anxiously waiting to see if WO1 Daily’s picture will be on the front cover of the Hanoi Daily.
Those of you who haven’t worked with tank and armored infantry units have missed a real thrill. The 25th Division’s 3/4th Cavalry Squadron (commanded by Jay McGowan’s brother), 2/34th Tank Battalion, 1/5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, and the 2/22d Mechanized Infantry Battalion are full of spirit and never miss an opportunity to tangle with the bad guys. The terrain around Cu Chi is particularly well suited for armored units, so they are out there day and night stirring up trouble and providing business for us.
WO1 Ted Jacoby practiced a “No Tail Boom” landing while making a pickup for one of those units recently. On short final to their hastily drawn perimeter, his rotor wash set off a booby-trapped 105mm howitzer round that blew off his tail boom just aft of the sink elevator. He managed to keep the aircraft level and after spinning 270 degrees; it came to a resounding halt. Fini helicopter, but everyone walked away.
The 88th North Vietnamese Regiment provided considerable excitement recently. They hit Cu Chi base camp with rockets, mortars, and ground attacks that resulted in 14 US soldiers being killed and 9 Chinook helicopters being destroyed. During the melee, an enemy sapper unit slipped on post, so daylight found a New England style “Witch Hunt” in progress as each unit had to search its bunkers, storage areas, and motor pools for any “bad guys.”
The fearless men of the 159th searched diligently, but their only success was flushing a mangy looking old dog out of one of our bunkers. Although the dog did not respond favorably to questioning, the undaunted medics turned infantry concluded he was probably just a sympathizer and not hardcore Viet Cong. The entire day was treated correspondingly as one or two sappers were picked up some distance from our unit, but just before dark, four Viet Cong sappers were found in a Conex container about 100 meters from our detachment’s billets, so an inspired Dust Off crew quickly became more diligent.
WO1 Steve Peth staged a one-man show while on a recent standby at Tay Ninh. When he arrived, he found the Special Forces, 1st Cavalry Division, ARVN Airborne Division, and everyone else with a weapon in heavy contact. After spending a normal two-day rotation there, he volunteered to stay two more days because he knew where all of the units were located. Battling mortars and heavy small arms fire, he kept maneuvering in and out of tiny landing zones from Tay Ninh Mountain to the Cambodian Border. A bedraggled young aircraft commander finally returned to Cu Chi with 51 missions flown during those four days and 251 patients evacuated. His only comment was that after pulling out 93 ARVN from one landing zone, a Vietnamese Air Force H-34 went in and scarfed up the remainder. “Would have hit 300 if those guys had stayed home,” he remarked.
Speaking of the ancient and respected art of scarfing patients implemented by men like Pat Brady and Jim Truscott, one of Bill Covington’s lieutenants crossed over the Saigon River into our area of operation and tried to pick up some Vietnamese patients while our first up ship was on another mission nearby. WO1s Jacoby and Daily heard their “May Day” call after a .51 caliber flamed out their ship. Although quite distressed because Covington’s guys had been trying to slicky patients from under their noses, they went in and picked up the fallen scarfers. Two of Covington’s crew were slightly wounded when they were shot down, so Jacoby and Daily added them to their patient count before returning to evacuate the Vietnamese wounded.
We do have a sad note this time. Our wonderful dog, Katum, a gift from the Green Berets at the Cambodian border outpost by the same name, managed to get himself squashed by a 2 ½ ton truck while ardently making love to a female dog in the middle of Taro Road near our detachment headquarters. An entry in the unit history log indicates that poor Katum maintained the Dust Off image to the very end. The only way to go!
Finally, the detachment just received three brand new “1968” model aircraft much to the chagrin of the 45th Medical Company’s Maintenance Officer, Major Al Borth, who seems to only get rebuilds from ARADMAC. Do you want to know our secret? First, you take a 1250 hour ship that has been shot up so many times until nothing electrical works any longer and get Field Maintenance to retrograde it, especially since it lost a cargo door while in flight because the sliders on both doors had all worn out. Secondly, park another 1200 hour ship in a revetment at Long Binh and let a transient 1st Cavalry Division helicopter hover into it while trying to maneuver out of an adjacent revetment. Lastly, let one of the WO1s land on a mine and, there you go, three new flying machines in one month. We wouldn’t recommend this procedure for the weak at heart.
Detachment Statistics for 1968 were:
Total Patients Evacuated 20,444
Others (Civilian, POWs) 3334
Total Combat Flying Hours 5496
Day Combat Flying Hours 4121
Night Combat Flying Hours 1375
Total Combat Missions 8159
Day Combat Missions 6355
Night Combat Missions 1804
That’s it from the 159th. Good luck and we’ll see you all here soon!