Capt. James E. Givan, Pilot
(Survived the crash)
2ndLt. William T. Holmes, Copilot (Survived the crash)
Sgt. Gerald V. Glenn , Crew Chief (Survived the crash)
Cpl. John Thomas Corle, Gunner
MAG-36 Command Chronology entry of 8 December 1965: One HMM-364 aircraft, participating in a three aircraft administrative flight from Da Nang to Chu Lai, suffered an engine failure at coordinates BT 225550. The pilot made an autorotation into the surf. Upon landing, large waves tipped the aircraft forward into an inverted position. All four crew members were seen exiting the downed aircraft by one of the pilots of the other aircraft. These aircraft proceeded to rescue the two pilots first because they were in the heaviest surf. The lead aircraft by this time was in a position to rescue the crew chief (the gunner was seen again after his exit from the aircraft), but was unable to lift the man out of the water due to an inoperative rescue hoist. In a heroic, desperate and successful attempt to save the man, the gunner in the aircraft hung by his legs from the landing gear and held the man partially out of the water until the wing aircraft was in position for a hoist pick up. As the hoist was being commenced by the other aircraft, the rescue sling broke. The man was able to hold fast to the remnants of the sling while the pilot air taxied to the beach. Both aircraft landed on the beach and the crew chief of the lead aircraft removed its mounted M-60 machine guns, set them up on the beach and returned the fire. The pilot of the wing aircraft turned its tail toward the tree line and thus allowed both his crew chief and gunner to utilize their M-60s for return fire without removing them from the aircraft. After the enemy fire was suppressed, both aircraft proceeded to search for the lost gunner. However, a low fuel state forced them to return to Ky Ha with negative results. Two aircraft committed to MAG-12 for SAR duty were later utilized to search for the gunner but were forced to abandon the search when intense enemy small arms fire was again encountered. One of the aircraft received a hit as a result of this fire.
Expanded Narrative as Recalled by Members of the Flight
On the morning of December 8, 1965, Cpl. Corle was assigned as gunner on a logistical mission which by all of its attributes should have been a non-event. Cpl. Corle's aircraft was one of three which were assigned to fly a logistical mission from Ky Ha to Da Nang, 47 miles up the coast, and return. The crew of the aircraft were Capt. Jim Givan, pilot; 2ndLt. William T. "Tee" Holmes, Jr., copilot; and Sgt. Gerald V. Glenn ,crew chief. It was 2ndLt. Holmes' first flight in Vietnam and this "milk run" type mission was the standard way to get new pilots familiar with maps, radio frequencies and flight procedures before flying on real combat missions.
It was a miserable day with rain and fog which dictated that the flight of three UH-34's would do a little "scud running" and zip right up the coastline. They would have to fly low over the seacoast to stay under the clouds. But they reasoned they could remain far enough out over the ocean to avoid possible ground fire.
The flight of three, Cpl. Corle's aircraft was tail-end-charlie, took off from Ky Ha, flew over the steep cliff at the seashore, and then rotored northward toward Da Nang. The weather quickly turned rotten. A gale was brewing, and the wind swept in from the open sea at about 35 knots. Visibility fell to a couple of miles in rain, and there was a hard overcast about 500 feet above the surface of the ocean. Yet, except for the lousy weather the flight to Da Nang was uneventful.
The three helicopters landed at the depot at Da Nang, shut down their engines, and the crew chiefs, gunners and 2ndLt. Holmes started loading the supplies. These items consisted of about 80 cases of beer, plus helicopter spare parts and a variety of helicopter maintenance equipment. Then they fired up their radial engines, engaged their rotors and took off for Ky Ha.
As the flight progressed out over the South China Sea the weather really turned sour. Forward visibility had decreased to about a mile in rain and fog, and the cloud layer constituting a ceiling had dropped to about 200 feet above the sea. Still, the three helicopters managed to stay VFR as they skimmed along above the waves. The crew felt no cause for alarm. Nothing could go wrong, they reasoned. On Cpl. Corle's aircraft the crew kept up a sarcastic running chatter over the ICS system about the "beautiful" weather.
The TACAN (a bearing and distance navigation radio) picked up mileage and heading to Chu Lai. By the pilot's calculations they were somewhere near Tam Ky, and in roughly eight minutes they would be back on the ground at Ky Ha. But unfortunately he was wrong, the FM radio rasped, "Takin' fire from the beach!"
Exactly where the fatal round struck the helicopter, no one knows. The H-34's engine suddenly died. No warning, no cough, no sputter; it just quit. The abrupt and unexpected silence seemed almost deafening. Capt. Givan keyed the FM radio, "MAYDAY! MAYDAY!"
A UH-34 without engine power glides only slightly better than a falling anvil. And with only 200 feet of altitude, Capt. Givan had just a few precious seconds until impact with the water down below. Down collective! Full right rudder! Harness locked! Jam the cockpit escape hatches open! Here comes the water - - Flare! - - Flare! - - Flare! The UH-34 hit the water hard, rolled inverted, and began sinking toward the bottom of the sea. Under water in the upside-down cockpit, the pilots remembered their dilbert-dunker training from flight school at Pensacola. They yanked radio cords loose from their flight helmets, unlatched lap and shoulder harness, squeezed through the escape hatches and followed the air bubbles to the surface. The pilots saw the waves were about eight feet high, the wind whipped stinging salt spray across their faces and each time they topped a wave they could see and hear enemy firing at them from a tree line on the beach.
the other two UH-34's, (one piloted by 1stLt. Kenneth L. Gross and his
copilot 1stLt. Lenny Melancon; the other commanded by Capt.
Dick Gleason) had heard Capt. Givan's "MAYDAY." They circled
back, their gunners firing at the enemy muzzle flashes on the beach.
The Marines in the water did not know which threat was the greatest.
If they started waving their arms, they would attract more enemy fire from
the beach. But if they did not wave, their squadron mates might not
see them. Lt. Holmes would explain some years later that it became
an easy choice, "I waved and splashed like a maniac!"
As the two UH-34's bored in, their crew chiefs kicked out case after case of beer to lighten the load for the rescue. Lt. Gross sighted the survivors in the water and with verbal assistance from his crew chief, SSgt. Christman, was able to hoist Capt. Givan and Lt. Holmes into his aircraft. The hoist went down a third time for Sgt. Glenn. Once Sgt. Glenn was in the "horse collar" and ready to be lifted, the hoist malfunctioned and would not retract. Disregarding the enemy fire Lt. Gross' gunner, Cpl. Cone, crawled out onto the main gear to assist Sgt. Glenn. Again with verbal instructions from SSgt. Christman the helicopter was lowered within inches of the rolling waves. Cpl. Cone wound his legs around the main strut and laid back inverted holding on to Sgt. Glenn as the helicopter was air taxied toward the beach. Upon reaching the beach SSgt. Christman manned Cpl. Cone's machine gun to set a covering field of fire while Cpl. Cone assisted the beleaguered Sgt. Glenn into the aircraft. The rescued crew advised Lt. Gross that they were still missing one of their crew. The two helicopters repeatedly circled and searched in vain for they never found the missing gunner, and due to a low fuel state had to return to Ky Ha. The windswept ocean had swallowed Corporal John Thomas Corle at UTM grid coordinates, BT225550.
William T. Holmes, Jr. supplies additional information on 26 February 1999. "About all that I can add is that Cpl. Corle did make it out of the aircraft. I think I was probably the last person to exit the helicopter after it entered the water because I struggled for some time before I realized I had not released my seat belt and shoulder harness. I was going to the bottom with the aircraft. When I finally got out it was a long way to the surface and it seemed an eternity to get there."
"Once at the surface, though we were scattered over some distance and the high waves made it difficult to see anyone except when they crested a wave while I was also riding the crest, I do remember counting heads and I am sure that I saw all three of the other crew members. We were not close enough to communicate with one another, nor could I determine any one else's condition, but I am almost positive that all four of us were on the surface."
"After that first sighting, I did not see any of the other crew members until I saw Capt. Givan being raised on the hoist of one of the rescue helicopters." Click here for additional comments of William T. Holmes.
Information provided by:
Bonnie-Sue A Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron in Vietnam, by Marion F. Sturkey,
Heritage Press International 1996, pp 13-16
William T. Holmes, Jr., former Lieutenant USMCR
Kenneth L. "Uncle Harry" Gross, Major USMC (Ret)
Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association
MAG-36 Command Chronology of 8 December 1966
Robert E. Clark-Cone, former Cpl. USMC
Robert W. Christman, SSgt. USMC
ADDITIONS, CORRECTIONS, COMMENTS REQUESTED
LAST UPDATED: JUNE 9, 2000