On or about 15 October 1965, a mission had been laid on to use three aircraft from our squadron for an insertion and extraction. Nothing unusual about that as it was a daily set of operations for all the Marine Helicopter squadrons. The crews were in the air by double zero dark thirty. They picked up a reinforced squad from Marine Battalion 3/9 south of the air base at Chu Lai. They inserted them near a village 5 or 6 clicks (Kilometers) due west of Chu Lai. The planes and crews were back at base by 0730.
The recon units mission was to sweep the village and then sweep further west another 2 or 3 clicks to the extraction point and the planes were to come and extract them. About half way through the operation the rains came and shut down all flights. It was one of those local storms were the clouds are thick and low and the rain is heavy and continuous. The recon unit had sweep the village and was proceeding to the extraction point when they got jumped by a point unit for a VC Battalion. The Marine recon unit suppressed the point unit while one Marine was seriously injured in the shoulder. The recon unit had also captured a VC from their point unit. Realizing they were outmanned they made for the alternate extraction point several clicks north of their position.
The VC were in close contact with the recon unit and several fire fights broke out. It was at this point that the recon unit was told of the flight status and that they would have to move and evade the VC unit as best they could. During the first day command decided that if the weather held as it was then the crews would be rotated every 24 hour period.
The weather didn't change and the recon unit was ten miles further north from the village. The plane crews were changed early the second day and they had to stay with the planes relief was provided as well as hot coffee. They had c-rations for meals. The engines were started every four hours and all systems were ground checked for operational readiness. The evening of the second day the next days crews were selected. I was drawn as a gunner for one of the planes. Tensions were running high as we were unable to provide the only thing we did and were very proud to do and that was to support the ground units in their functions.
Revillie went at double zero dark thirty, the rains were still pouring down with low cloud cover. The crews made it to the planes and relieved the old crews. The planes were quickly pre-flighted and turned up. Then the wait began. During the second turn up fours later the weather changed as rapidly as it had started. The rains fell off and the clouds thinned. Contact with the recon showed that they were experiencing the same thing in the weather. The coordinates were passed and a decision to launch given.
It took between 10 and 15 minutes to reach the extraction point. Word was passed that the zone was hot. The zone consisted of a broken down rice field. The levees were broken in many places and the field showed dirt were there should have been rice. On the south levee the recon unit was hunkered down. The ground unit indicated the direction that fire was being taken from.
The pilots pulled a 180 and landed about thirty yards from the recon unit. The crew chiefs door was facing the recon unit and the crew chiefs were providing suppression fire towards the enemy position. The enemy fire was sporadic and came from positions about 150 to 200 yards out. None of the recon Marines moved, then slowly 3 or 4 used their rifle butts to push them selves up with, one never made it as he fell back on his rump. It was clear that these Marines were way past their physical limits. The lead pilot passed the word for the gunners to de-plane and assist those Marines to the planes. With the medic that had come along three gunners ran to aide the recon Marines. The crew chiefs' guns were firing away so we had to squat run to the Marines then grabbing the gun belts of two men we draped their arms over our shoulders and half duck walked half squat ran made it back to the planes. It only took a couple of minutes but it seemed like hours. Those that I had helped back to the plane were shaking from exposure, lack of sleep and food and shear physical exhaustion.
We launched and when we had achieved the transition point leveled out and started flying towards the Marine recons base and hospital. I am a smoker, had a pack of cigarettes, took one out and lit up. Then I really looked at our passengers. What a sight. They were drenched muddy shaking human beings their eyes though tired looking were bright and clear. The exposed skin was wrinkled from having been in the water for over 60 plus hours. They looked like prunes with uniforms. I passed a cigarette to those who wanted one and lit them. Have your ever seen a prune smile? Those smiles twisted the wrinkled skin in such funny way that sight has lived with me all these years.
A week later that same Recon unit drove to our squadron area and invited the crews to a party that coming Saturday afternoon. Our command made a fair decision as to who would get to go, the First Sergeant drew the enlisted names. I didn't get in on that bash but I was told later they had steak, frozen prawns ,salad, canned peaches, and beer . Supper at the Ky Ha mess-hall that night was fried spam, spit pea soup and crunchy bread. Go figure!
MSgt. William V. M. Peck's History Index