It was a typical monsoon night when Maj. Bob Cramer and his copilot Capt. Denny Colburn launched their UH-34D from the HMM-362 flight line at Phu Bai. The weather was lousy as they headed toward the blackness of the mountains south of Phu Bai…rain and low clouds with fog underneath. It was the night of Jan 8, 1968, and they were the medevac crew. There were emergency medevac’s awaiting their arrival. Some of them would likely die if they didn’t reach a medical facility before morning, and the medevac bird was their only hope. Maj Cramer was above the clouds when he arrived over the landing zone. He told the ground unit he would descend through the clouds and attempt to locate the landing zone when he broke out underneath. The Marines on the ground saw the flash and fire as the medevac aircraft hit a ridgeline and exploded, but were unable to get to the site because of the distance and extremely difficult terrain.
Both pilots died in the crash. The severely burned crew chief, Sgt. John Corona, and the gunner spent the night evading the Viet Cong in the area and were rescued some distance from the crash site early the next morning. The early morning rescue mission consisted of two Huey gunships from VMO-3 and a pair of CH-46D’s from HMM-364. One of the Scarface Huey’s located the two survivors and YK-5, piloted by Capt. R. C. “Dancing Bear” Moore and 2ndLt. G. L. Loomis, hovered over an opening in the jungle while the crew chief, Cpl. R. E. Hanna hoisted them aboard. At that point it was learned that the corpsman had also survived and was somewhere near the crash site with a broken leg. The Huey’s and the second CH-46D, crewed by Cpl. Floyd Case, proceeded immediately to the crash site but it quickly became obvious that the jungle was too dense to permit an adequate search from the air.
Cpl Floyd Case Recalls: As we searched near the crash site for some break in the jungle canopy the pilot asked me if I wanted to go down on the rescue hoist and see if I could find the corpsman. I said yes, and immediately started getting prepared. Cpl. Terry Springer and the other gunner (I don’t recall his name) helped me rig the hoist. Cpl. Springer was also a qualified crew chief. I don’t know why he was aboard as a gunner, as it was not a common practice to have two crew chiefs aboard the same flight. While we were getting things ready the pilot briefed me that we only had a limited amount of time because of our fuel state. He ordered me to get in, check things out and bring out any survivor if possible. He informed me that unless I came under fire or the aircraft came under fire I was to have my butt back on the hoist at the appointed time and depart with the rest of the crew.
I started down using the water rescue sling because we did not have a jungle penetrater on board. Although VC troops had been observed in the area earlier I was not receiving any fire. I was able to somewhat enjoy the ride down because I had always wanted to ride the hoist just for grins…but I was scared * * * * less. There was just enough cable to reach the ground, none extra. Once I was on the ground I felt very alone and vulnerable. I was on a rocky point some distance above the crash site, and as I started down the steep slope I set off a minor rockslide. One of the rocks hit the hidden corpsman and he yelled at me. He told me that although he had broken his leg in the crash he had been able to crawl out of the H-34 and up the hill away from approaching enemy troops. His movements got him far enough away from the crash to fool the VC into thinking there were no survivors. The VC were close by but apparently moving away from the crash site.
I told the corpsman I would try to carry him up the hill, attach him to the hoist and he would be on his way out. He asked me for a cigarette and a light, which I gave him. He was obviously in a great deal of pain. My attempt to carry him up the hill was unsuccessful, and very painful for him. He was a big man and too heavy for me to carry up the steep hill over the extremely rough terrain. I explained to him that we were low on fuel and I now had to return to the aircraft as the pilot had ordered me to do, but we would return to get him as soon as we refueled. He understood and replied that it was okay, he would be alright. I have spent many years regretting the fact that I didn’t think to leave my cigarettes and lighter with him. I wish I had.
The whole time I was with the corpsman was spent in anticipation of the enemy returning and getting both of us…I was terrified. I got on the sling feeling a terrible sense of guilt and disappointment with myself for not being able to get him up the hill and out of his predicament. I did not enjoy the ride this time. Getting back up the hill and on the hoist left me completely exhausted and it took a while before I caught my breath enough to give my report to the pilot. I was breathing so hard I am surprised he could understand a word I said.
Cpl. Case’s report was immediately relayed and soon another aircraft was over the crash site with equipment and personnel to complete the rescue of the injured corpsman. Although his heroic efforts were not enough to accomplish the impossible, Cpl. Case’s chilling descent into the unknown set the stage for the ultimate rescue of the stranded corpsman.
Cpl. Case did not learn of the ultimate success of the rescue mission until several years later. The Bronze Star award he received for his actions only served to intensify the guilt he continued to feel because of his unfounded belief that he had somehow failed the corpsman and possibly even left him to die. Like so many other Vietnam veterans he was for many years plagued by dreams, nightmares and intrusive thoughts of what he “shoulda, woulda, coulda” done differently.
Cpl. Floyd E. Case's History Index
Information Provided by:
Floyd E. Case, Former Cpl. USMC
J. A. “Al” Chancey, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
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