YK-16 Should Have Been Named "Patches"

Photo by, Maj. J. A. "Al" Chancey

There were reports that on several occasions during the squadron's time in Vietnam that patching material was in short supply.  This did not stop the innovative Marines in the Metal Shop from getting the birds back in the air as they had, or could obtain, a satisfactory substitute known as metal (not aluminum) beer cans.  If the approved patching material had not been available, I am sure the Metal Shop Marines would have volunteered to empty several cases of beer to provide the material required to patch up YK-16!

Maj. "Al" Chancey
1stLt. Richard P.  Hardin

Webmaster needs photo of Cpl. John P. Labelle
Webmaster needs photo of Cpl. Dane N. Bauman
Cpl. John P. Labelle
Crew Chief
Cpl. Craig J. Dempsey
Cpl. Dane N. Bauman

On 8 April 1968 Maj. J. A. “Al” Chancey and 1stLt. Dick Hardin were flying as part of the Supergaggle  resupplying Hill 881S .  As they dropped their external load and departed the 881S LZ  they monitored a request for an emergency medevac from Hill 689, a couple of clicks southeast of 881S.  Elements of 1/9 had only recently captured the hill in a sweep west from their previous position on the Khe Sanh perimeter.  Now the NVA were conducting mortar attacks on the position and several Marines had been seriously wounded.  The enemy gunners saw the bird approach the zone and while the wounded were being loaded aboard, YK-16 was caught in another mortar barrage.  Maj. Chancey managed to depart the LZ with all medevacs aboard, but immediately lost one engine, all transmission pressure and most of the hydraulic pressure in both flight control boost systems.  Unable to maintain altitude or effective control, Maj. Chancey, with the help of Lt. Hardin, managed to pancake YK-16 onto a ridge.  The wingman, Capt. Ben Adams and his crew immediately swooped down and rescued the YK-16 crew and all medevacs.

This same day two other HMM-364  birds flying  the supergaggle were unable to make it back to Phu Bai.  Capt. Marcus Monk made it as far as Khe Sanh combat base, where his aircraft spent the night and was repaired and flown out the next day.  Capt. Bob Wiegand only made it as far as Hill 558.  His aircraft was also repaired and later flown back to Phu Bai.  The next day he joined the Supergaggle again and while positioning a load in the 881S LZ his aircraft took a direct mortar hit, was disabled, and had to be left on the hill.  Capt. Wiegand’s aircraft and YK-16 were not retrieved for several days because the CH-53’s were so heavily committed during this time.  This date, 9 April 1968,  is also significant because it marked the official end of the “Supergaggle” operations, although the Purple Foxes continued to fly extensive commitments in the Khe Sanh area beyond that date.

The aircraft recovery teams and maintenance personnel of HMM-364 probably never got the recognition they deserved.  They did a magnificent job under exceptionally demanding conditions.  A typical day during the Khe Sanh siege and the 1968 Tet offensive would have HMM-364  aircraft scattered throughout I Corps.  The recovery teams somehow managed to get downed birds back to Phu Bai with amazing speed, maintenance crews would work their magic, and frequently you would see them on the flight schedule the next day.

YK-16 was eventually retrieved by a CH-53 on Easter Sunday, 14 April 1968, and deposited back in the squadron area at Phu Bai as shown above.  The photographs below depict the damage not visible in the first picture.

Click on photos above for larger image
Photos by, Maj. J. A. "Al" Chancey

Click photo for larger image.
Photo by, Cpl. John Sabol, Jr.

YK-16’s crew chief, Cpl. John P. Labelle, was seriously wounded in the head and neck by the mortar shrapnel and required evacuation out of Vietnam.  Both gunners, Cpl. Craig J. Dempsey and Cpl. Dane N. Bauman were also wounded but remained with the squadron and were soon returned to duty.  From the shrapnel pattern it would be hard to imagine that the medical evacuees on board did not also receive additional wounds.

Now you see why the webmaster has chosen to name YK-16 "PATCHES"


Sir; I was on the above flight.  I was a corpsman with Charlie Company 1/9, wounded the morning of April 8.  If possible please extend my thanks to the crew for a great "ride" in their wonderful flying machine.  Their courage saved the lives of all on board.  I relive this flight every April 8, always giving a prayer to those who flew the chopper.

I had wanted to stay on the hill and continue, the XO ordered me onto the flight, during the emergency, well my thoughts about him are really not printable.  My thoughts about the pilot were not any better, I was thinking just where he obtained flight training.  Now I know the whole story.  Again my thanks for a job well done.

Semper Fi,

Robert "Johnny" Gaspard

 05 Feb 2009

I am Cpl. John P LaBelle, former crew chief YK16 aka “Patches”. Today is the first time I viewed your depiction of the events of that fateful morning of April 8th 1968.

After 14 months in Bethesda Navel hospital and many surgeries I was medically retired from the Corps. On Sunday January 14th I had the pleasure of visiting the Marine Museum in Quantico Va. As I rounded the corner that entered the Viet Nam depiction of a landing zone, I was awe struck by seeing for the first time since that day in April the “Purple Fox” on the aft pylon of a CH46 from HMM364.

Due to what was described in 1969 as post traumatic syndrome, I lost the majority of my memory of that day and the events that led up to it and, those Marines I served with in 364. Like it or not, memories flooded back, you might say that while I was standing in the fuselage by the back ramp I had a flash back of that day and all the events that took place during the attack and there after. I am going to document the best I can what I now remember. What I want to say is to whoever the crew chief was from our wing that picked us up after the crash and helped me into the Mash unit at Chu Li “Thank you”. All I remember is my arm over his shoulder while he helped me to the unit and my giving the pilot of our rescue helicopter the traditional “thumbs up” and he returned it.

I now live in Brentwood Tn. A suburb of Nashville where I own a sales a marketing firm. I work with other Marines who are from the local DAV and associate with other Marines from the Viet Nam era particularly from the Kha San conflict. Once I have concluded my papers I will send them to you along with my photo of the time. A group of us emulate the slogan “Not as lean, not as mean but, always a Marine!

 John LaBelle, Crew Chief YK16 “Patches”

Information provided by:
    J. A. "Al" Chancey, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    John Sabol, Jr., former Sgt. USMC
    Robert "Johnny" Gaspard, former Corpsman, USN
John LaBelle, Crew Chief YK16 “Patches”

Photographs provided by:
    J. A. "Al" Chancey, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    Peter Dunev, former 1stLt. USMCR
    John Sabol, Jr., former Sgt. USMC
    Richard P. Hardin, former 1stLt. USMCR

Last revision February 22,  2009

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