Ex-Santa Anan's Grim Flight
In Viet Has Slapstick Ending
Special to the Register
CHU LAI, Vietnam - The mission was grim enough, but the get-away resembled a slapstick movie, although the helicopter crew thought it anything but funny at the time.
Answering a radioed "May Day" from a pilot of a helicopter which had gone down in the midst of a gunfight, Captain Richard E. Gleason, formerly stationed at Santa Ana Marine Corps Air Facility with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM-364) swung his UH-34D toward the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) outpost at Due Pho. The compound was still being attacked by waves of Viet Cong when the captain passed between a tree line and a barbed wire fence. Some of the crew of the four-man crew of the downed chopper were wounded, so the crew chief and his assistant leaped from the rescue ship to tear down the fence separating the the two planes. Bullets sliced the air around them as the wounded were carried aboard.
The Port Townsend, Wash., pilot tried to lift off. The 'copter was sluggish. Capt. Gleason turned its nose down a hill, hoping to get enough forward speed for a gradual lift. Suddenly, a strand of barbed wire was in front of the windshield. The captain strained energy from the engine. The chopper just barely leaped over the barbed wire . . . and touched back down on the ground. There was another strand of fence just ahead. Another successful, but close, hurdle. Then, a third with still another perimeter of wire.
After all the leap frogging, the plane was responding to lift. It began to climb . . . . just as a hill topped by a straw roofed house loomed up. By this time Capt. Gleason was straining every muscle battling the bulky bird. Getting every ounce of performance he could, he skimmed up the hill, praying he could get enough altitude to clear the house. He didn't quite make it. The wheels plowed into the straw roof. It didn't bring the 'copter down. Instead, the roof came along with the captain, and a handful of Viet Cong who had been using the house scattered over the countryside.
Once clear of the ground obstacles, the helicopter laboriously gained altitude . . . . and kept it until landing safely at a field hospital. Knowing the rescued men shouldn't have added enough weight to cause all the trouble, Capt. Gleason had his crew check the 'copter. They found what made the bird reluctant to take wing. Three refugees, taking advantage of the crew's absence when they tore down the fence, had stowed away in the tail section.
The Register article provided by, William V. M. "Bill" Peck, GySgt. USMC (Ret)
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