by Bruce Knipe-DUSTOFF 65 Medic
A couple of weeks ago I contacted you in regards to
the story on the 498th web site concerning the
Rescue of Dustoff 65.
I was absolutely flabbergasted to read Tim Lickness' and later John Cook's account of my misadventures.
I thank you and others for "givin a damn" and taking the time operate the 498th web sites.
Attached is my part of the Dustoff 65 story and a photo that I have been carrying around for thirty years.
The Other End of the Hoist
A picture of a picture that was on the wall at Hunter
Liggett Army Airfield-the original seems to be from
Taken by a photographer on the ground during a previous hoist operation in support of the 101st Airborne Div.
ANOTHER VIEW TO THE RESCUE OF DUSTOFF 65
On searching cyberspace I found the 498th Dustoff web site and was shocked to read Tim Lickness' article "The Rescue of Dustoff 65".
A week later I read John Cook's Rescue Under Fire: The Story of Dustoff in Vietnam and again I was overwhelmed.
I want to thank Tim and John for their efforts at recording the events of April 3-6, 1968.
I was the medic on board Dustoff 65 and I would like to share my memories from an another viewpoint:
the Infantryman who rescued us.
To begin my story of the Infantryman of the "1st of the Eagle" and Dustoff 65, I need to go back in time a couple of weeks.
The first night of the Tet offensive, Dustoff 65,
1LT Charles "aka Michael" T. Meyer IV,
1LT Ben M. Knisely,
Sgt (PP) James E. Richardson,
and SP5 Bruce A. Knipe,
left An Son for the Battle of Hue with the sky lit up from the explosions at the Qui Nhon Ammo Dump.
We stopped at Da Nang but were quickly dispatched to meet up with the 101st Airborne near the City of Hue at Camp Eagle.
The 1st Brigade, 101st AB Infantry Companies were constantly in contact with NVA & VC troops in the hilly jungle that bordered the city and the Perfume River.
During this period, the term "hot landing zone" took on new meaning.
Before, there were cold and hot LZs,
during Tet there were degrees of hot ranging from "kinda hot but you can make it" to "G-- D--- M----- F------ hot, but if you don't try our folks are dead".
My first recollection of Camp Eagle was the Dustoff helicopter bunker and radio shack
(the 101st provided the helicopter a sandbagged protected area, but the crew was on their own).
The radio shack served several distinctly different purposes: dispatching Dustoff and coordinating the Hue Alternate Procurement System.
Why else were Navy truck drivers showing up asking an Army SSgt where to dump a load of wood and what items were they to pick up and deliver to some Marine Sergeant across base.
The most inspiring transaction was the theft and near instant distribution of a whole truckload of USMC beer.
I didn't actually see the heist go down, but Richardson came out to our helicopter with a case of beer and told me to be cool and say nothing.
Shortly, Marine Officers and the accompanying MPs started a tent by tent, vehicle by vehicle, search of Camp Eagle.
The whole time that the search was going on there were heavily loaded and "buttoned up" 101st slicks leaving.
The Marines were pissed, but I was impressed with the 101st logistical expertise.
Slow days were rare. More then likely, Dustoff 65's day started early and ended after dark.
One day, the 18th MASH was overwhelmed with casualties and we were diverted to an USN Hospital Ship.
I believe that it was Meyer and Knisley's first landing on the fantail of a moving ship and I think they did an "adequate" job.
Further, it is my belief that the guy with the paddles directing our landing, over-reacted when he jumped off the landing deck into the safety nets.
But that's Meyer and Knisely's story, not mine.
My story involves Richardson and the hamburgers.
After off-loading the patients, we were surprised by a sailor that presented us with hot meals
(you need to know that the Army never ran up to helicopter crews preparing to take off in order to ensure that they were properly fed).
In the back of the helicopter we were getting ready for another hot LZ and eating was the last thing on our minds. So the hamburgers just sat there.
As usual, 18 minutes later we were again picking up wounded paratroopers, but this time we shocked the hell out of an 101st Medic.
Just as we finished loading patients (I slung and Richardson blocked them from going out the other door - no room for litters)
Richardson poked me and pointed at the hamburgers. I took the two still warm hamburgers from their bag and handed them to an open-mouthed Medic who had probably not seen a hamburger since being Stateside.
Not all Dustoff operations are glamorous or readily capable of being retold.
The Rescue of Dustoff 65 clearly falls in the category of pain and suffering.
As I remember the situation, we knew that we were going to take hits because we were wearing our breast armor instead of sitting on them
(unlike up front in the pilot's area, in the rear of a Huey the bullets come from below, not from the front or side).
On this day there was no place to hide. The trees were too big and tall to lawn mower our way in.
We simply hovered and I ran out the hoist cable and jungle penetrator. I sure pray that no one down there had time to get on the penetrator.
There was a 50/50 chance which side of the helicopter was facing the NVA gunner and Richardson lost big time.
Richardson was killed when he was blown out of the aircraft into the trees.
On the other hand, Cook's description of my getting "blown out of the aircraft" is a bit of stretch (page 120) because on this occasion I was wearing my monkey tail attached to the chopper on a short leash.
I was able to scramble back into the aircraft and still have time to prepare to die.
From that point on, I only remember fire and pain.
I owe my life to Meyer or Knisely, or both, for getting our half of the helicopter down to the ground without getting killed.
But fun and games did not stop there. I was well torn up, but highly motivated to evacuate the crash.
As I lay on the ground, I witnessed Meyer repeatedly try to rescue Knisely from the burning chopper. His success was truly heroic.
We could not find Richardson and until reading Lickness' account, I did not know that his body was recovered days later.
There is one thing I know for sure; you can easily tell the difference between the sound of NVA troops and American paratroopers that are looking for you.
Lt Lickness, in his article, is far too modest when it comes to the courage of his troops and he kindly did not mention the fact that it cost his folks a lot more to rescue us, than they would have gotten if we had been successful in our mission.
There is also no doubt in my mind what the consequences were of Lickness' unit not winning that race to rescue us.
By the time Lickness' platoon had gotten the three of us back to the main group on some nameless hilltop in a seamless jungle, it was dark.
The year before, I had been a field medic with the B Comp. 2nd Bn 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, and I had seen night fire fights.
At night, it seemed that our fiery crash and rescue had attracted the attention of every NVA south of the DMZ.
Needless to say, it was a loud and colorful night. In the morning the same hoist operation was repeated, but this time Dustoff 65's crew were the folks being saved
For a long time I have not dealt with Richardson's death and my less than spectacular performance.
On seeing Tim Lickness' article, I was moved to personally acknowledge and thank him for his efforts at recording a "mission that will not be mentioned when the great books of the era are written".
I do not know if Tim was aware that a Life Magazine Photographer (?) was accompanying one of his battalion's other companies a couple days earlier, during a different hoist operation.
The photographer took this picture of what was at the other end of the hoist.
I think everyone who has, or now flies combat rescue, needs to see why we do the job.
I would also like to thank John Cook for recording the stories of Dustoff in Vietnam.
Note to Readers:
I know that Richardson was married, but I do not know if he had children.
Maybe his parents are still alive.
Does someone out there in the Web know how you find out these things and how these stories can be passed on them?
Also does anyone know the whereabouts of Lickness, Meyer, or Knisely?
I can be reached by way of 498th Dustoff Forum-address messages to: bknipe
Thank you for sharing your story.
Some more pieces of the puzzle of Viet Nam have been added.
I believe I knew Sgt. Richardson at Nha Trang and Lane Field.
He was a mechanic, as I recall, and didn't fly during his first year in country.
I heard about his being killed when I returned to the states and Hunter Army Airfield at Savannah.