16 March 1968, an ordinary day, at least it
looked that way. Cpt. Buckley, or Blue as he’s known in the Troop,
struggled out of bed at 0600. It was a nice morning. Dawn was just
breaking and the temperature was 70 degrees outside. After washing and
dressing, putting on his web gear (which included 1 canteen of water, 1
compass, 1 night signaling lite, 1 flare of green smoke, 4 fragmentation
grenades, 1 spare case of classes, 1 gas mask, 1 first aid bandage, 1
bayonet and 12 magazines (19 rds per mag) of M16 Ball Ammo) and picking up his steel helmet and
M-16 rifle, Cpt. Buckley walked the 150 yards to operations and checked
with SFC. Stephens, the Blues’ platoon sergeant. Thirty-one men would
be going forward; 28 would be available for a platoon mission.
The flight plan was made up, the infantry
loaded up and after a quick cup of coffee, Cpt Buckley and SFC. Stephens
climbed aboard different ships. All ships took off at 0700 on schedule
and arrived at the forward fire base 20 minutes later.
The morning routine went into effect. Everyone
was asking for coffee cups and those who had already found them were
lined up at the thermos of coffee.
By 0800 the maps had been posted with the
latest friendly positions, the infantry had been assigned specific
aircraft in case of a “scramble” (an emergency mission) and in
preparation for the mission to take place at 1030 hours.
AT 0815 the first team was sent out to screen
around the flanks of an infantry unit moving on the ground. The area was
bad so the infantry wanted someone in the air to prevent them from
walking into an ambush.
The team chosen was WO1 Shanahan (call number,
26) and WO1 Nicely (call number, 14). WO1 Shanahan was flying a gunship
and WO1 Nicely, a scout bird.
At 0845 most of the platoon leaders were
sitting around the radio room listening to the radio crackle and talking
about anything but getting shot down. At 0850 WO1 Rock called on the
radio that he (call number, 29) was enroute from Chu Lai to the forward
base. PSG Stephens was standing outside talking to a couple of the guys
in the platoon.
At 0855 the radio sounded again “3ALFA
(operations); this is 29. I think I heard 26 call 14 and say that he was
going down, over.” “26 this is 3ALFA, over.” No response.
Immediately the rescue began. Cpt. Buckley ran
out of the bunker yelled down to the Blues that we had an emergency
scramble – 26 is down. The lift ships began their engines, Cpt.
Grooms, the weapons platoon leader, ran for his ship. Major Earwood, the
X.O., ran for his gun ship. Cpt. Buckley grabbed his gear and dashed for
his ship. Sp5 Carney, the medic climbed aboard, Sp4 Dennis Wood, climbed
aboard with his radio, SGT Carrillo, Sp4 Pugh and PFC Plamondon jumped
on, all with rifles and plenty of ammo.
Cpt. Asay, the senior pilot, pulled on the
collective and the 6,000 lb. helicopter lifted up off the ground with
the rescue team.
In the meantime, operations called 14, got the
location, 29 changed course and opened up full throttle for the crash
Maj. Earwood and Cpt. Grooms in separate ships
lifted off the ground. The other two lift ships with 18 infantry aboard
lifted off. The time: 0857.
In 3 minutes, 4 ships were over the crash
site. Cpt. Buckley spotted the debris of the downed gunship out the left
front of the lift ship. We turned a hard left headed due west, swooped
down, turned 180 degrees and landed in a rice paddy/swamp. We jumped off
the ship. The burning aircraft was at the base of a hill on the edge of
the clearing. Sitting and laying about 20 yards from the wreckage were
the 4 bloody crew members.
Sp4 Woods with a radio on his back sank into 3
feet of mud. Sp5 Carney sank about 2 ½ feet, struggled to get free and
ran and fell, clutching his medic’s bag the 40 yards to the injured
crew. SGT Carrillo and Sp4 Pugh ran to the right front to provide cover,
PFC Plamondon ran, fell, and crawled to the right rear to provide cover.
Cpt. Buckley jumped into 2 ½ feet of mud and water and stumbled and
fell and crawled and ran the forty yards to the crew. Sp4 Wood covered
the left front.
Six men, all now covered with thick mud, on
the ground, one lift ship in the paddy, sinking in the mud. The back of
the tail boom resting in the mud. Three gunships circling above ready to
land if they’re needed. Time: 0900. - six minutes after the first call.
Carney, Wood, and Buckley worked their way
over to the wounded. WO1 Shanahan had a two inch gash on his forehead
and his face and shirt were covered with blood. WO1 Bushette, the
co-pilot, had shrapnel wounds in both legs and a broken ankle. SP4
Crites, the door gunner, was laying in the mud unable to feel or move
his legs. Sp5 Brady was the most serious with two bullet wounds in his
back. As Cpt Buckley moved over to Sp4 Crites he realized the engine of
the crashed helicopter was still running full throttle and flames were
shooting out the back. At any second the aircraft could have bust into
flames, spewing its fuel over a wide area. Since the wounded were only
15-20 yards from the flames, the first move was to drag the crew further away from the wreckage.
This was done; however, it used almost all the strength we had. We moved
about 15-20 yards further away. Sp4 Carney was administering first aid
and gathering information on the extent of injuries and wounds.
Cpt. Buckley called Sp4 Wood over and got on
the radio. Several times during the events so far it seemed like we had
been sniped at from the thick growth on the opposite side of the paddy.
It was impossible to tell for sure because the metal of the burning ship
was snapping. Cpt. Buckley’s estimate of the situation: call for the
other two loads of infantry to be inserted and a medivac to be called
because he felt he needed stretchers for the leg and back injuries. Maj.
Earwood decided against such a move and decided to evac the wounded on
the lift ship. The lift ship in the meantime had extracted itself from
the mud and moved across
the rice swamp to get out of range from the
exploding ammo inside the burning aircraft. Upon hearing Maj. Earwood's
instructions to Cpt. Buckley, Cpt. Asay moved his ship back across the
rice paddy to within 30 feet of the wounded.
Cpt. Buckley, Sp4 Wood, & Sp5 Carney
carried, pulled, and dragged the wounded over to the ship. Since it was
impossible to get any footing in the mud and water, for every 3 feet we
moved we fell in the mud-all the time carrying our weapons and waiting
for the enemy fire that we were sure was going to open on us. The door
gunner climbed down from the ship and helped us lift the injured men
aboard. WO1 Shanahan
managed to climb aboard by himself.
Sp4 Pugh hurried over from the right front and
climbed aboard. Sp4 Wood climbed aboard and radioed SGT Carrillo that
there wasn’t enough room for Carrillo and Plamondo and that one of the
other lift ships would be in to pick them up.
With the four wounded and Carney, Wood, Pugh,
and Buckley aboard we took off for the aid station. Time: 9:15 am.
A second lift ship immediately landed and
picked up SGT Carrillo and PFC Plamondo.
During the 5 minute flight back to the aid
station Carney and Pugh continued to administer first aid.
We arrived at the aid station at 0923. The
injured were given additional first aid and a medivac helicopter called
in to take them to the hospital at Da Nang.
The Blues landed at the forward base at 0930
and again sat waiting. The waiting was not long. At 0945 WO1 Nicely
called in that his door gunner had been hit. Immediately Cpt. Buckley
jumped into the jeep and drove to the aid station. WO1 Nicely landed in
his scout ship. The doctors put a bandage on the wound which was in the
left wrist and started a bottle of plasma flowing in the man’s other
arm. I jumped on the helicopter, held the man’s arm steady so the
needle would not come out and held the bottle of plasma. We took off for
the field hospital at LZ Baldy. We landed 10 min. later. The wounded man
Sp4 Ventura was put on a stretcher and put aboard medivac ship for Da
We returned to the forward base and attempted
to piece together the events of the past hour.
After talking to WO1 Shanahan later in the
day, we found out that two machine guns had opened up on him and ripped
his ship right down the belly, destroying the controls and the engine.
The power lever was broken off in the crash and the fuel shut off switch
was shot away so that it was impossible for him to turn the engine off
after he crashed.
Brady was in surgery all afternoon. The bullets collapsed one lung and
tore him up pretty bad inside but the doctors said he’ll pull through
if no further problems develop. He is staying at Da Nang for 10 days and
then will be flown to Japan.
Sp4 Carter tore some ligaments in his knee
when he was thrown out of the aircraft. He underwent an operation in
Japan on the 18th. He’ll be ok in a couple of months. WO1
Bushette had a broken ankle and was sent to Japan enroute to the States.
WO1 Shanahan will be back in the Troop in about 3 more days – as soon
as the doctor takes the stitches out.
The aircraft was totaled: it broke into 5
pieces by the time it finally stopped.
All four men will be alright. No one can
really believe that they all got out of the aircraft. All four were
conscious all during the rescue.
The rest of the day was quiet.
The 18th we had a short uneventful
mission in the afternoon.
The 19th we set up for a mission
with the tanks and APCs for a search and clear mission in a village. At
1030 hours the lead tank hit a 500 lb. bomb. Thank God none of my
infantry were riding the tank. I had 5 men on an APC which was a few
yards behind the tank. They didn’t get hit. The tank protected them
from the flying shrapnel. To let you know what a 500 lb. bomb will do,
read on. The explosion picked the tank up 5 feet in the air and threw it
20 feet through the air. A tank weighs 52 tons. The four men in the tank
were all evacuated with moderate to serious injuries. Had an APC hit the
mine, everyone riding in or it would have been killed. We were lucky