Stars and Stripes - April 1966

Hail of Fire Doesn't Stop
Copter on Supply Mission

CHU LAI, Vietnam (ISO) - A Marine pilot from the state of Utah can testify to the intensity of Viet Cong fire at landing zones during Operation Utah.

"It seemed as though the whole world started firing at us," commented 1stLt. Terril J. Richardson of Vernal, Utah, a pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364.

Richardson's helicopter received several hits from the enemy during one mission.  It begins when he received word to launch on an emergency resupply mission for a ground unit 18 miles south of here.

Approaching the landing zone, he followed a small light from a Marine unit into a clearing.  As the rear wheel touched down, the enemy opened up with an intensive sheet of automatic weapons fire.  The Utah Marine immediately flew the aircraft out of the zone.  as the 'copter climbed, crew chief Sgt. James R. Vance of Barlow, Ky. and crewman LCpl. George E. Sexton counted eight automatic weapons and two .50 caliber machine guns firing at them.  The two crew members were blazing away at the enemy positions with their machine guns.

Richardson radioed the ground unit to see if they would agree to a low altitude air drop of the critically needed ammunition.  The ground unit replied, "affirmative," and Richardson again began the descent.

Silhouetted by a full moon, the helicopter came in at top speed at an altitude of only 50 feet.  The enemy held their fire.  Getting closer to the zone, 1stLt. Richardson stared intently at a small light marking the drop area.  The copilot 2dLt. C. Eric Cederblom of Malvern, N.Y., kept checking the instruments and calling off speed and altitude to the pilot.

Nearing the light, Richardson pulled back hard on the cyclic stick and reduced engine power, slowing the aircraft but maintaining altitude.  Suddenly the enemy opened fire again.  Tracers flew at the chopper from all sides.

Vance was already dropping the ammunition from the aircraft.  Sexton was exchanging a steady stream of machine gun fire with three enemy automatic weapons in a tree line on the left of the 'copter.

The ammunition off-loaded, the pilot lifted up and away from the zone as an enemy gunners with automatic weapons and .50 caliber machine guns began playing a deadly game of tag.  Richardson pulled a hard left, then a right, and the enemy gunners would follow trying to lock their fire on the chopper to shoot it down.  "I even leveled off hoping they would fire over me, but they leveled off too," the pilot commented.  At 1,500 feet Richardson banked the aircraft to the right again and headed for the mountains.  With the mountains between his 'copter and the moon the aircraft was no longer silhouetted and the enemy fire ceased.

Several bullets had torn holes in the helicopter.  Yet, not one member of the crew was wounded and no vital parts of the aircraft were damaged beyond repair.

Richardson has been recommended for the Silver Star Medal.

The Silver Star Medal was downgraded to a Distinguished Flying Cross

1stLt. Terril J. Richardson's History Index

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