History: The Big Flood
OVEMBER 1, 1964: The VC took a camp we had just resupplied. They got two 105 millimeter howitzers. [mckee]
Vietnam Mosaic - photo by Corporal Glenn Turley, Vietnam, 1964
11/2/64: Some people in the squadron will be going on R&R (rest and recuperation). L/Cpl Ruettiger went to Bangkok today. Sgt. Androlevich goes to Futema (Okinawa) tomorrow. OEs are flying security all through the night. I guess it's to pinpoint enemy fire immediately in case of an attack. [winkel]
11/3/64: Our planes went in for a landing somewhere and they started to receive heavy fire. The gunners fired back. They hit quite a few VC. The only thing that was hit on us were some rotor blades. [winkel]
Took Stevens to Tam Ky to receive a medal from the ARVN. [mckee]
Two Americans, off by themselves, talked over the final plans for the large combat assault about to begin. Calmly puffing on a cigar, LtCol Joseph Koler, Jr., Commander of the Marine Squadron, looked at the landing zones on the map and compared them with aerial photos. U.S. Army Capt Christopher O'Sullivan reviewed the enemy situation. It was estimated that two Viet Cong companies armed with 60-mm. mortars, .30 caliber machine guns, and an assortment of small arms, occupied a series of eight small hamlets along a peninsula about 20 miles southeast of DaNang.
Four Army UH1B armed escort helicopters orbited overhead. Koler gave the signal to "load up" and the 39th Rangers boarded the transport 'copters. Capt O'Sullivan and 1stLt Donald R. Robinson serve as advisors to the unit and accompanied it on the operation.
Shortly after 0900 the Army helicopters entered the area of the first landing zone (LZ) adjacent to the small village of Tan Hop. The UH1B "Hueys" were immediately brought under intense fire from the vicinity of the village and from fishing boats along the Truang River on the far side of the zone.
Capt. Fred Smith, an Army pilot was wounded in his left arm during the first exchange of fire. The armed choppers returned enemy fire as the Marine helicopters descended into the LZ. Marine machine gunners in the transport choppers opened up on the rebels as LtCol Koler led his flight in for the landing.
The Rangers charged from the aircraft and engaged the insurgents.
One mile farther south the secon flight of Marine helicotpers approached the hamlet of Van Doa Dong. Flying the lead was Capt. George F. Boemerman.
Muzzle flashes from the rebel weapons were sighted from the air as the Viet Cong again opened fire. Tracers from the Marine guns streaked across the LZ kicking up puffs of sand as they sought their targets. Bullets knifed into the water of the river near the boats from which the rebels fired. Debarking their passengers, the choppers took off to rejoin the first flight near the 5th Regimental headquarters to the southwest.
Soldiers of the 5th climbed aboard the second heliborn assault of the day swung into action.
Using similar tactics, the Marines split into two flights and landed at separate LZs about five miles south of the Ranger landing. The second area was a large rice paddy complex between the river and parallel to the South China Sea.
Viet Cong Reds started firing at the helicopters from the landing zone. The escort choppers poured suppressing fire into the site as the Marines landed.
Several rebels were wounded in the landing zone, and others attempted to flee by crossing the river. One VC was struck by the lading gear of a Marine helicopter.
1stLt Curt Platte saw movement behind a paddy dike on his approach. The controls was the copilot, 1stLt Rudolph Fahrner. When the aircraft was within 50 yards of his position, the rebel jumped to his feet. Platte, the pilot shouted over the intercom, and Fahrner flew the chopper right at the VC.
Their mission completed, the Marines returned to their base at DaNang.
The two Vietnamese units, working toward each other, began to search and clear the area. They were backed up during the operation by an Armored unit and a Regional Force company that had moved into the area by road the previous night.
Enemy casualties for the assault totaled 93 killed, 10 captured, and a supply of Viet Cong weapons were taken. [WO Rob Robinson]
Heard that Lyndon Johnson was elected president. [mckee]
11/5/64: Had USO dancers put on a show for us. [mckee]
In the show's finale, the woman who was Major Bancroft's friend, picked Lance Corporal Charles McKinney out of the crowd of Marines to sing to. She looked right at him and started singing:
She went to McKinney, bent down, and planted a red lipstick kiss on his cheek.
He was the envy of every Marine there that night. [delrosario]
11/6/64: Got the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. [mckee]
11/10/64: November 10th is the holiest of holy days in the Marine Corps religion. It is the day, in 1775, that the U. S. Marine Corps was founded, in accordance with the Second Continental Congress resolution: "that two battalions of marines be raised.". Legend has it that the cadre that met to oversee the initial organization of this band of sea soldiers met at Peg Mullan's Beef Steak House located on the corner of King Street and Tun Alley. What probably happened, after exhaustive hours of organizing and drinking, two of them staggered out into the alley to relieve themselves of the beer that was liberally supplied by Peg. In the darkness behind the tavern one of them got a bit disoriented and asked of the other, "Where the hell are we?" Whereupon the other replied indignantly, "why you boot, back in the Old Corps everyone could navigate night or day. We're on Tun Alley." Thus forever, generations of Marines will come to know that their beloved Marine Corps received its first baptism at or near or behind Tun Tavern.
Today the United States Marine Corps is celebrating its 189th birthday. But that didn't influence the weatherman. It rained all day. But it did make for a better birthday. All duty sections were secured, except for Duty Section 2, who had to go to the hangar and standby until 1800 hours in case a med-evac or SAR was needed. At 1100 hours we had the traditional cake-cutting ceremony. Colonel King, the Commanding Officer of the Marine Task Element, spoke to us. His speech was very inspiring. After the speech and the Marine Corps Hymn they could have shipped over about fifty percent of the men. The colonel spoke abouthow proud he was of this command and that this is the real Marine Corps - here wearing our utilities (field uniform) and not dress blues, no dependents, rain and dirt outside and being fired at every day. He also read a letter from the Commanding General of the First Marine Air Wing.
Sgt. Robert L. Frye received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal today for saving two men in an aircraft (OE) crash at Twenty-Nine Palms, California last February. We had turkey, ham and cake for noon chow and steak for evening chow. At about 1700 hours word was passed for an immediate max launch. [winkel]
It is the tradition in the Marine Corps that the oldest and the youngest Marines present at the Marine Corps Birthday cake cutting ceremony should receive the first two pieces. Colonel King cut the cake and presented one piece to the oldest, Gunnery Sergeant Michael Caruselle, and the youngest, Private Angel Torres. Gunny Caruselle had enlisted in the Marine Corps prior to the Second World War and, along with Korea, was fighting in his third major war. Angel, from California, had been a rock and roll singer in his even younger teen years and had, in fact, cut a couple of records. I don't think that Angel was much over 18 years old when he arrived in Vietnam in 1964.
The word came like a thunderbolt that shocked us back to the realities of war. "All pilots, crewmembers, and duty sections report to the flightline. We have a max launch."
We exited from the little building we had crowded into for the cake-cutting ceremony and headed for the flightline. Each of us knew what we had to do. The pilots donned their flight suits and went straight to the operations ready room for their pre-flight briefings. The crew chiefs were already scurrying around their aircraft doing their pre-flight inspections while their gunners were mounting the M-60 machineguns onto the swivel bases at the hatch and ports of the UH-34D. The Combat Recovery Team were being briefed by First Sergeant Force on their mission. The Marines of HMM-365 and the Marine Task Element, Vietnam, were being called upon to use all of their resources, skills, and courage to effect the rescue of thousands of Vietnamese people who were in danger of being swept away by the fast rising flood waters. Darkness would soon fall and there was an sense of urgency that was felt by all. We knew that this mission would be one of the most difficult tasks we would have to perform.
Within minutes the first of the helicopters were airborne. They fanned out to search sections around Danang, looking for people in distress. The OEs had been aloft before them reporting on the flooding, the weather, the locations of people to be rescued, the tactical situation. National Highway One, in addition to many sections of the road already under water, had four or five of its bridges cut by the Viet Cong, further complicating any rescue and subsequent rebuilding operations we would have to undertake.
At the flightline, ground personnel had established a receiving and staging area for the flood victims we were expecting our helicopters to soon deliver. Medical personnel had an aid station, supply personnel had brought woolen blankets and crates of C-rations to warm and feed the Vietnamese, riflemen and machinegunners had established a perimeter around the flightline to insure the security of the area. The CRT were waiting for the first of the helicopters to return so that we could check for weapons that the refugees might have snuck past the crewchiefs.
The helicopters didn't have far to go before they came across the first group of people needing rescue. Having been driven to higher ground by the rapidly rising flood water, the Vietnamese were found in wretched huddles of humanity, cold, wet, frightened, clinging to each other, their children, the few precious belongings only the poor can treasure. Often with them were water buffaloes, geese, ducks, chickens, pigs, dogs, and any other living thing that could not live in the angry waters. From the air, the pilots and crew could see the precariousness of their landhold. Sometimes, pieces of houses would be swept away by the strong flood current, or an animal would be seen paddling for higher ground. Even the snakes fled the waters, their undulations leaving barely a ripple in the rushing flood.
Most of the people that the rescuers found were sitting on top of the roofs of their dwellings. They had stayed with their property and belongings until the very last, having done everything they could in their losing fight against the elements. When the helicopter crews found them they found few places of ground to set down on safely so that they could load the flood victims. Working against time, the diminishing of daylight, blinded by heavy rains, and having to keep control of the aircraft against the gusting and ever changing wind, the pilots deftly maneuvered the H-34 over the people. The crewchiefs would then talk the aircraft to its best position over the people before they would winch down the "horse collar" rescue sling. The trouble was, most of the Vietnamese did not understand what the sling was for. It took having the crewchief or gunner to set the example and for the people to follow, by the crew having to be lowered by the hoist and sling, attempt communication with two divergent tongues and a confusion of arm-and-hand gestures, for the Vietnamese to entrust their lives and the lives of their children to strangers, to leave the relative stability of their rooftops to ascend a slim line to a craft without wings, and then finally, to overcome the natural fear of heights, before any rescue could be effected.
Although the primary concern of the pilots and crew was to rescue as many people from the flood as possible, they could not forget for one moment that they were flying over potentially hostile territory. The war did not simply wash away with the flood. Quite a few of our helicopters were taken under fire by VC who did not appreciate our humanitarian effort and some sustained minor damage by hits from small arms fire. Hovering almost motionless while the hoist brought people up from the dangerous waters, the choppers presented fat targets for the Viet Cong. It was up to the gunners to keep vigilant and, if need be, keep the heads of the VC down with machinegun fire while the crewchiefs directed the rescue sling up and down. To keep the helicopter at a steady altitude and position while wind and rain lashed the craft about takes tremendous skill and courage. To do so while being subjected to hostile ground fire earned the pilots of HMM-365 the admiration and respect of the entire helicopter community.
Leatherneck helicopter crews dodged Communist antiaircraft fire and flew into raging storms to snatch helpless Vietnamese from almost certain death. More than 1,500 were rescued from rooftops, trees and islands.
Part of the full story of Marine heroism began to unfold Thursday as the rains finally let up. Ten days of violdent weather left hundreds of Vietnamese dead or missing and more than 1,000,000 without food or shelter.
The Communist Viet Cong guerrillas infiltrating the disaster area took pot shots at the Marine mercy mission. Several helicopters were hit, but none was downed.
The floods also took their toll of the Communists. Many guerrillas who have been living off the land faced starvation unless they can capture food supplies stored in government-controlled towns and villages.
One guerrilla band attempted a raid on a village seven miles north of DaNang Thursday and was driven off by artillery fire.
Other guerrillas were caught up in the floods and drowned. One Viet Cong was rescued by a helicopter (that WO Rob Robinson of Tampa, Florida, was riding in).
Robinson's crew had to wrestle hand grenades away from the dripping rebel, who had apparently intended to blow up the helicopter once aboard. The guerrilla was disarmed before he could do any harm.
Acts of heroism by American servicemen were common.
Frye's pilot, Lt. Charles Swan, Highland Park, Illinois, managed to hover over the exhausted Frye and drag him from a torrent that almost swept him away.
(Swan, a rangy, 215-pound, 6-foot-3 former basketball player at Lake Forest College, is a son of Charles G. Swan.
"he loves to fly," said his mother, Patricia. Swan was a 1956 graduate of Highland Park High School.)
Major Marion R. Green of Gage, Oklahoma, nearly had one more passenger when he landed than when he took off. A Vietnamese woman had a baby in a truck a few minutes after she was carried off Green's helicopter.
[Chicago Daily News, November 12, 1964}
Igor Sikorsky, America's foremost helicopter engineer and manufacturer, honored our pilots and enlisted combat aircrewmembers with a special award, the Winged S, in recognition of their outstanding skill and unwavering courage in the face of wind, rain, and fire - a quality few men could have possessed or delivered.
After the Vietnamese were lifted up and brought into the hovering chopper, another danger had to be dealt with. Some of the Vietnamese were armed with small arms or grenades. The crewchiefs had to disarm them before they could possibly do any harm to anyone on board or to the helicopter. A few Vietnamese who attempted to cling to their weapons found themselves joining their weapons on a 100-foot free fall, with boot-assisted launch from the crewchief.
At the flightline, the wretched evacuees were met by a contingent of Marines and Navy personnel from the squadron and the Task Element. After the Combat Recovery Team eyed them carefully to see if any might be attempting to bring weapons into our security zone, they were led to the squadron hangar where they were given a new woolen blanket to warm them. Attending to those suffering from hypothermia and diahhrea were the "bac si", the corpsmen and doctors. Also among them was Chaplain Heim who greeted them, offering them food from our C-ration cache, and whole milk, something the Vietnamese had never had except as babies from their mothers. [delrosario]
"Tucker and Mayher kept piling them aboard and Pettis gave her every inch of manifold pressure there was", Eilertson said.
"If we hadn't had a good wind we'd never have gotten off the ground."
Eilertson and his crew ferried 127 refugees in four trips. [Miami Herald, 11/13/64]
11/12/64: VC shelled the compound. [mckee]
The VC tried to get on the base today. They lost 75% of their rice and they need chow. I believe they were trying to get into the compound. There were 20 to 50 of them. They were hit by mortar shells - firing continuously. They were about 1,000 yards out.
11/14/64: Flew to northern outpost (Khe Sanh?). 7.4 hours and carried 6900 lbs. of cargo and 34 passengers. [mckee]
Yankee Mike 13 was shot down today. It made a safe landing in a clearing. They found the round in one of the fuel tanks. A maintenance chopper was sent out to make the necessary repairs. After they made the temporary repairs they found out the starter was not working. A new starter was brought out and both choppers returned to the base safely. No one was hurt.
11/19/64: This morning ten Army Hueys with Nungs went out and raised some hell. They captured 8 more VC. Two of the VC kept saying, "No VC - farmers...use grenades to blow up stumps". One of the Nungs finally got pissed and took a jump at the VC and hauled off and let him have it across his cheek with his left hand. This afternoon the Huey slicks went out again with the ARVN, accompanied by Stingers YM10 and YM22. Our stingers have 36 rockets on each chopper compared to just 14 on the Army gunships. When they came back, an Army lieutenant came over to Major Dick Bancroft and said, "I never saw anything so beautiful", praising the shooting of the Marine stingers. [winkel]
Said another Army advisor, "Beautiful? Hell, they are magnificent!"
In one of the incidents, Captain George Boemerman, flying the stinger of crewchief Sergeant Willard Reeves, fired one rocket from each side pod simultaneously at a Viet Cong who was trying to duck into a culvert. One rocket hit 3 feet from the hole and the other went right inside the culvert, blowing him all to hell. Our stingers also fired at a water tower under which a VC was taking cover. The rockets collapsed the tower on top of the VC. Still another was the stinger attack on a VC mortar site. After the rockets fired at it by our stingers, we sent ARVNs to check out the damage and they confirmed that there were no survivors among the VC mortar crew.
The TK-1, an externally mounted combination of M-60 machine guns and 2.75-inch rocket launchers, was first used on 19 November in support of a Tiger Flight mission conducted just south of the Song Thu Bon about 17 miles from DaNang. Two armed UH-34Ds expended 90 rockets and 500 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition on enemy positions during prelanding strikes. The effectiveness of the new system could not be determined after this particular strike, but an estimated 10-15 Viet Cong were killed in a similar action by the armed UH-34Ds the next day. [Robert H. Whitlow, U.S. Marines In Vietnam, 1964-1965]
MARINE MEDIUM HELICOPTER SQUADRON in Vietnam: History
Pre-Vietnam 1964 OCT 64 DEC 64 JAN 65 FEB 65 MAR 65 APR 65 MAY 65 JUN 65 JUL 65 AUG 65 and After
Copyright © 2000 by
Enrique B. del Rosario