We Lose Another
ebruary 5, 1965: Evacuated TaKo in the morning. Had stinger standby in the afternoon. [mckee]
Tako was a Montagnard village situated on a 4500-foot mountain just a mile from the Vietnam/Laos boundary. According to the maps, it was located at coordinates YC528520. A U.S. Army Special Forces A-Team advised the Montagnard Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) company-size paramilitary force there. These CIDG units were led by ARVN Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB) or special forces personnel. Tako served as a patrol base from which the CIDG would venture into neighboring Laos to conduct interdiction and reconnaissance patrols against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese logistical efforts on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
A combination of factors made this site untenable. The only viable mode of transportation to and from the site was the helicopter. HMM-365 provided the thin thread of support that Tako depended on for resupply of food and war materiel, as well as for personnel reinforcement and casualty evacuation. The squadron's assets were spread very thin during the monsoon season due to increased demands for resupply, medevacs, search and rescue, and strike operations. Situated as it was on a high mountain in the Annamite Cordillera, Tako was subject to the foggy conditions so characteristic of mountain tops in that region. There were times that the site was "socked in" for more than a week. Indeed, I remember a period of about two weeks where HMM-365 had sent resupply helicopters out to Tako each morning only to have them return with their cargo still aboard because the fog that surrounded the mountain would not lift. Landings and take-offs at Tako were challenge enough during clear days but doing it in complete obscuration put the crew and aircraft of HMM-365, as well as the personnel on the ground, in unnecessary risk. Navigational aids consisted of UHF/VHF radio, flashlights, and smoke grenades.
Its physical isolation from other South Vietnamese and American bases meant that reinforcement and casualty evacuations would take several hours at best, but, in all probability, days to accomplish. Conversely, its position placed it in close proximity to the logistical line so vital to their enemy. This line was defended by the Viet Cong, assisted by "volunteers" from North Vietnam and, as our Intelligence section suspected, China and the Soviet Union. Enemy defense of this thoroughfare was not limited to static defense but also included offensive operations in the form of mortar and infantry assaults on ARVN outposts near this "trail".
An Australian Army advisor who I talked to at our compound dispensary told me of incidences of self-inflicted wounds among the indigenous and ARVN soldiers manning an isolated outpost near the Laos border. A serious wound or illness would make the soldier eligible for medevac thus relieving him of combat duty, for a time. Whether he referred to Tako, Aro, or Khe Sanh, I can't recall. In any case, morale at one or more of these isolated ouposts seemed to be dangerously low.
Economy of force factors dictating, it was decided that the ARVN would "di di mau", or fall back and punt. In other words, blow up this place and get the hell out.
We did a strike about 10 miles north of Kham Duc near Laos. I got my second exposure and 21st and 22nd mission. We evacuated all the Vietnamese and Americans from TaKo and then blew it up and bombed it. It has someting to do with the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Last week jets were bombing that trail. General Krulak came in today. He had some good words to say about the squadron, then he and Colonel Koler had a conference. I found out that before Sgt. A.A. Frye died he had the most missions in the squadron - about 140. [winkel]
Been trying to remember....was it Ta co, Taco, or Tako? Went there a bunch....on top of a mountain. Once recovered an H-34 tail from a shot down ship....sling load. The place was evacuated (it was found to be in Laos??)
We set the (demolition) fuses, and with the last ship out, we gave the Code Word - "Moon River".
On the way back, Armed Forces Radio was broadcasting the Orange Bowl game from the (states). [mayher]
2/6/65: Two strikes went out today near Tam Ky. I went along and as far as I know I got my third exposure and 23rd and 24th mission. The strike was a success, I believe. After the strike we circled the beach near the site of the strike. Some VC in boats were trying to get away until the Huey gunships fired on them. They jumped out of their boats and tried to swim away but the Hueys got most of them. One Huey pilot was shot under the arm but I don't believe he was badly hurt. Besides that, nothing happened. [winkel]
Williams and Baldridge had tail rotor strike. Later in the day L/Cpl. John G. Williams, Jr. was hit by a jeep as he was riding a xich-lo. He's not expected to live. [mckee]
The last few days we had in the States were spent going on liberty in and around the town of Santa Ana, California. I remember one particular night - there were five of us Marines who had gone into town and had missed the bus that would have taken us back to the Air Facility. Williams I remember, because he was the biggest and tallest of us, and the most quiet. We were walking on some road construction project (later to be Interstate Highway 5), trying to get back to the base before our Cinderella liberty expired. One of the Marines stopped in the middle of the yet unfinished road, opened his fly and pissed, declaring solemnly, "one day, millions of people in their cars will be zooming up and down this road and I can say to them, 'I pissed right where you now drive!'" We were young and laughter came easy. Then someone took up a song and we all joined in singing. It was Willy who started us on one of his favorite songs, popular at the time:
Today while the blossom still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine.
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
'Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.
I can't be contented with yesterday's glory,
I can't live on promise from winter to spring.
Today is my moment, and now is my story.
I'll laugh and I'll cry, and I'll sing.
[Today, words and music by Randy Sparks, recorded by the New Christie Minstrel Singers]
...and we sang, not knowing what tomorrow would bring.
Willy and I used to go on liberty together. How we got to be real good buddies, I really couldn't tell you. He was taller, heavier, and quieter than me. I'm short, slim, and sometimes talkative. But we would go out on liberty together just the same. When we were still in Okinawa, Willy and I used to go to the Black Sea Bar in the town of Futema. I used to have a neisan that always sat with me when we would be in that bar. Her name was Achiko. Willy had this girl named Michiko that liked him a lot and we would sit in that bar and talk about things I can't even remember about, and the girls would be sitting there with us all that time, and without us having to buy them but one or two "teas" all night.
One time, I was in the benjo making a head call and Willy was in the bar sitting with Michiko, when this guy comes up to me and tells me that I'd better get out of the bar. He told me that the bar belong to Army Special Forces and he and his buddies in the bar were going to kick any Marine's ass that they found in the Black Sea Bar. I finished what I was doing and went back into the bar and looked around. Sure enough, the only face I recognized among the ten or so G.I.s in the bar was Willy's smiling face and he didn't know what was about to happen.
All the Special Forces guys were giving me mean looks like they were going to mop the floor with my head and they were giving Willy the same look, but he didn't know that. He was busy enjoying Michiko's company. I hurried back to Willy, sat next tohim and whispered to him what the fellow in the head told me was about to happen to us. He looked around at all the mean looks that was being directed at us by these Special Forces guys and we knew, without saying anything to each other, what we had to do. Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to fall back and regroup.
We paid Michiko for our drinks, I waved bye to Achiko, and Willy and I headed for the door - me in the lead. But the green beanies apparently weren't going to let us go so easily. Willy and I picked up the pace to the door and then someone was yelling something like "we'll kick your ass, jarhead!" Fast walk turned into a run. I made it out the door but Willy didn't follow right away. I waited two seconds and then I started to go back into the bar when Willy came out on the run, yelling "Go! Go! Get out of here!" We ran, ducked into the Bar Number One Cherry and out the back, almost slipping in the benjo ditch. We kept running until we saw a skoshi cab, hopped in, and told the driver to just go. We made good our escape.
Then Willy started to laugh. "What happened?", I asked him. Laughing, with tears in his eyes, he told me. As he was just about to the door he felt one of the blanket heads gaining on him, so he just turned around and swung his fist as hard as he could and he connected on the face of one surprised Special Forces soldier. Inter-service training exercises on Okinawa, in those days, can be realistic and rough.
That was the only time I ever saw Willy really get pumped up and excited.
He was a great guy to go on liberty with. He was like a big brother to me, and I miss him. I wish that I had been on liberty with him the day he got hit, but I don't know if I could have done anything to save him, like he had done once for me. [delrosario]
See also: Aftermath
2/7/65: Strike in the morning. Williams holding on - no chance. Advance detail for HMM-163 arrives tomorrow. 8 days and a wakeup. [mckee]
JOHN GRADY WILLIAMS, JR.
Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps
Born: May 14, 1942, Mount Holly, North Carolina
Died: February 7, 1965, DaNang, Vietnam
Age: 22 years old; single
Vietnam Memorial panel 01E, line 086
2/8/65: HMM-163 advance team arrived. Ours left. Williams died at 2100 hours last night [mckee]
The First Light Antiaircraft Missile Battalion (1st LAAM) landed in DaNang today. They will take up positions on Hill 327. Their Homing-All-the-Way-Killer (HAWK) missiles are to provide DaNang air base protection against possible North Vietnamese air attacks. They will also provide for their own perimeter defense against VC ground attacks.[delrosario]
2/12/65: Flew strike. [mckee]
A Vietnamese force flown by U.S. Marines surprised Viet Cong rebels six miles southwest of here (DaNang). Nine insurgents were killed and eight captured, five of whom had been wounded in the skirmish.
Several rifles and an antipersonnel mine were sieized by Republic soldiers. There were no friendly casualties during the four-hour battle.
The operation began about 0700 when Marine pilots departing from the DaNang airfield landed swiftly moving raiders at three separate landing zones.
After rounting rebels from Xuan Nham village, Vietnamese soldiers converged on the VC and trapped them on the beach. The Gulf of Tonkin was at the rebels' backs.
Elements of the 11th Vietnamese Ranger Battalion and 779th Rifle Company participated in the operation. Both units are attached to the DaNang Special Sector.
The helicopter assault was triggered when an earlier ambush outside the village of TetEve netted three VC killed and two weapons taken.
Rangers entered the nearby village following the ambush and discovered three Viet Cong battle flags among the festival decorations. It was suspected the village harbored more hidden rebels.
U.S. Marine LtCol Joseph Koler Jr., Marine Helicopter Squadron Commanding Officer controlled the operation during the vertical assault phase. Majs. Warren H. Gustafson and Richard A. Bancroft and Capt Arthur A. Dittmeier, all squadron pilots, lead the sortie into the three landing zones. [WO Rob Robinson, USMC, The Rotor Blade]
2/13/65: Flew strike. Saw Army pilot Bob Lynn today. We went to high school together. [mckee]
On one of the "rice and pigs" delivery runs, Lance Corporal R.D. Reynolds' helicopter was just taking off from DaNang Field with a cargo of Vietnamese "C-Rations" - live pigs. Well, it seems that one of the pigs decided that he did not like flying and that anything was better than his present state, so he broke lose from his bonds. That pig made a mad rush for the huge door and before R.D. could move to dissuade that pig from his suicidal tendency, that pig leaped into open space, did a forward tuck, a double-gainer, was halfway through a beautiful swan dive, when it hit the runway, splattering itself - INSTANT PORK PATTIES! The HAC (helicopter aircraft commander), First Lieutenant Nick Werve, had to call the tower to tell him about the FOD. [layman]
2/14/65: Flew strike to Tam Ky. [mckee]
2/15/65: Flew strike in the morning. Went to Duc Duc on a rice run. [mckee]
2/17/65: Left Vietnam at 1300 hours. [mckee]
Between October 7, 1964 and February 17, 1965, HMM-365 flew more than 12,000 combat hours in Vietnam.
Got to MCAF Futema, Okinawa at 1615 hours. Went to the barracks and hit the rack. Colonel Koler doesn't know how long we will be here. [mckee]