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Rescue of DUSTOFF 65 by tim lickness

printed in the FORT BEND SUN May 28, 1998
copyright by Tim Lickness, November 1997

Rescue of Dustoff 65
By Tim Lickness
November, 1997

It seems like yesterday that my friend Don and I were walking down the street checking our girls and cars like we did everyday after junior college classes. A year later, I was a 21-year-old infantry platoon leader, part of the famous 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles, and Don was back home dying from injuries he received a year earlier in that same place. Don would be forever assigned his destiny as a casualty of war.

Being in the infantry is difficult and the Vietnam War was as bad as any. At its best we were uncomfortable, and at worst our lives threatened. Mostly we did what we had to and hoping just to get home some day. But once in a while something would happ en that you sense would change you forever.

For me, that was the rescue of Dustoff 65. It was a rainy, foggy night on April 3, 1968, when my platoon came under attack. A savage firefight followed, which lasted most of the night. Two of the several men who got hit were critically wounded. We needed a medivac if their lives were to be saved. With no place to land a helicopter, it was necessary to use a device called a “jungle penetrator” to lift the injured men through the triple canopy jungle.

That was a dangerous mission as the aircraft needed to hover for several minutes as the evacuation took place. First Lieutenants Mike Meyers and Ben Knisely of the 498th Medical Company accepted the assignment. At first light they headed for us.

Using radio contact, Meyers and Knisely got close and identified the purple smoke we had put out to help locate our position. Coming in at treetop level and just before they got to us they were hit by a North Vietnamese Army rocket, which blew away their tail section. They managed a controlled crash some distance away from us. We quickly put together a search party and set off to, at least, find and secure their bodies. With a little help from God, we might even find survivors.

Finally, we smelled smoke and knew we must be close. We were in a race with the enemy to get there first. The terrain was rugged and hostile. It took four hours, including a brief firefight, but we were successful. We found three of the four crewmembers alive. The crew chief had been killed and it would be weeks before another unit is able to find and recover his body.

It took the rest of the day to move the injured back to our company’s position, and another three days to secure an area suitable to carve out an LZ (landing zone) large enough for another medivac to land. It was three days of being constantly wet, covered with muck, eating cold C-rations, unable to sleep. We were unable to move to a more secure position due to the need to protect the wounded. We used plastic explosives to blow trees for an LZ. The hole we created in the jungle was barely large enough for the rescue helicopter and we marveled at the skill and courage of that crew. Eventually we were all taken out to safety.

The entire mission took five days.

It is now difficult to explain those five days. They were not the most remarkable of my Vietnam tour. That mission won’t be mentioned when great books of the era are written. Few will know the lousy food, lack of sleep, being scared or being brave. Most of the world will never know what happened on that mountain. The one thing that cannot be changed is that three brave men were saved because a band of mostly teenage soldiers persisted in a dangerous jungle search to find them.

This Memorial Day, I placed the American flag in front of my house in honor of my friend Don and the crew chief who died in that crash. The apologists for that war can say what they want, but I will never forget the sacrifice these men made to the cause of freedom we enjoy. I am proud to have served with them.

U.S. Army Sgt. James Richardson of Deville, La., and U.S. Marine Sgt. Don Barrington of Pasadena, CA. - I salute you.

Epilogue by Tim Lickness

There is actually a little more to this story if you are interested. For reasons that I do not now remember I wrote down the surviving crewmembers names and ranks. Unlike us grunts, they were wearing uniforms with their names and rank on them. After we got them back to our company position I was pretty much busy with providing security to our position. Our medics took over taking care of the crew. My CO had suffered a serious injury. He was shot in the shoulder and pretty much out of commission until we got him medivaced with the crew. In addition to the three crewmembers, my CO, the two original wounded we also took several more casualties including one killed.

By the time we could get in another helicopter it was several days. Last year I learned that the two pilots of the second medivac, were also from the 498th. I discovered this at a reunion of the Dustoff Association in San Antonio last year. The Association had invited me as their guest and made me an honorary member. They were Knisely’s and Meyer’s commanders and had taken it upon themselves to get Dustoff 65 out. Their names are Byron Howlett and Joe Brown. In my story I mentioned how we “marveled at the skill and courage of that crew”.

In October of 1968 I was recuperating from wounds in a hospital in Japan when I remembered the piece of paper with the Dustoff 65 crewmembers names. I checked with the hospital administration and found that Knisely had been there following his evacuation from VN. They had a forwarding address for him.

I wrote him a letter telling him who I was and what I remembered about their crash. He wrote me back, but that was it for nearly thirty years.

Back in 1996 I wrote a story about my tour in VN for the Wall Street Journal. It was published on November 11, 1996 ( It was because of this story that I learned about Internet searches and a friend did a search for Ben Knisely. There were two and one of them was the right one. We made contact by phone and e-mail and then saw each other again at the reunion. That inspired me to write the story of Dustoff 65.

I still have a copy of the letter I wrote to Ben back in 1969 and his response as well as a letter he sent me in 1997 after we made contact again. Pretty amazing when you think about it. In any event here is the Dustoff 65 story in its original manuscript form. Tim

stories like this need to be told.
this account vividly shows the real picture of war,
but more than that, it depicts the brotherhood of man
at its best.
Lt. Tim Lickness and those, "GRUNTS," in the field-
we salute you!

498th DUSTOFF at LZ English-1968

photo and dustoff patch by GA Rawles

VIET NAM 1968 by tim lickness
from Viet Nam Veterans Homepage
RESCUE DO65-bruce knipe