Report Of A Mission

Sergeant Oscar E. Creech
Helicopter Gunner
Article from the Raleigh, N.C. "News and Observer" circa Oct/Nov '68

(Click highlighted words for larger images)

PHU BAI - "A flare plane will light up the helicopter landing zone with illumination flares.  Huey gun ships will cover the area with machine gun and rocket fire, and the friendly troops on the ground will cover us with suppressive fire as we go in.  The friendly perimeter is set out about 100 yards, so if we take fire, be extremely careful if you shoot back."

So briefed Captain Anthony L. Keyfel, of Arlington, Calif., a pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, as he prepared to enter a small landing site, in the back corner of a box canyon, near the Demilitarized Zone.

Captain Keyfel had been diverted from a night resupply mission at Vandergrift Combat Base, to pick up four wounded Marines and evacuate them to the Quang Tri field hospital 20 miles away.

"Because of the sheer mountain walls rising on three sides of the landing site," said the captain, "it was necessary to drop down and fly up the valley.  This wouldn't have been too bad," he added, "but it meant flying right through descending flares."  "We were able to get in, pick up the wounded Marines, and get back out safely," the pilot said.

While making his approach back at Vandergrift, Captain Keyfel was directed on another medevac mission, to a small landing site on a mountain top near the "Rockpile."  Again, Huey gun ships and the flare plane were on station to assist.  Arriving over the site, Captain Keyfel discovered that because of the size of the clearing and protruding tree stumps, he wouldn't be able to land.  He decided to set the rear wheels of his CH-46D Sea Knight just over the slope, and keep the front end of the chopper in a hover so the injured men could be loaded through the rear.  "Meanwhile, the Marines in the zone fired up a storm," he said, "keeping the enemy pinned down while we picked the wounded up."

Returning from Quang Tri where again the injured were taken for medical assistance, Captain Keyfel and his crew were ready to call it a night.  They knew they had a full day of flying the following morning.  They returned to Vandergrift only to learn they were scheduled to make an emergency resupply of ammunition to the mountain top outpost they had just left.

"This time we weren't so fortunate," stated Captain Keyfel.  "The enemy soldiers knew the Marines were low on ammunition.  They really opened up on us as we came in.  Although we were armed with two .50 caliber machine guns, we couldn't fire back because the enemy was too close to the friendly lines."  He added, "This really took a lot of discipline on the the part of my aerial gunners," Staff Sergeant Oscar E. Creech, 26, of Smithfield, N.C., and Corporal John Sabol, 20, of West Hazelton, Pa.

SSgt. Creech
Cpl. Sabol

"As we were hovering over the zone, we took a hit through side of our aircraft.  I just kept hoping that the gunners wouldn't open up, unless of course they had a definite target without danger of hitting our own troops.  We never did have a chance to fire back, but were able to deliver the supplies and get out of the zone without taking any more hits."

Setting down back at Vandergrift, their mission completed after hours of continuous hazardous flying, Captain Keyfel and his crew briefly discussed the day's three activities before catching a couple of hours sleep before beginning another day of flying.

Raleigh News and Observer Article provided by:
    John Sabol, Jr. former Sgt. USMC

Thomas J. "TJ" Miller
Crew Chief of YK-7 Recalls

Pilot Capt. Anthony "Tony" Keyfel
Copilot 1stLt. Jerry E. Pletcher
Crew Chief Cpl. Thomas J. "TJ" Miller
Gunner Cpl. John Sabol
Gunner SSgt. Oscar E. Creech

Seems we had fairly busy night from the After Action Report.  As I remember the evening was cool and fairly windy.  We launched  on one of the medevac missions and headed out to the LZ.  As the Raleigh News and Observer article mentioned, this particular medevac was in a box like canyon.  A flare ship was supporting us overhead and radioed that they were dropping a flare.  As the flare brightened the night sky, there ahead of us at about 1000 meters was the side of a shear rock wall.  We banked to the right and avoided disaster.  We established radio contact with our grunt brothers on the ground and got straightened around and headed in the right direction.  As we closed in on the LZ we found there wasn't any decent place to land.

Capt. Keyfel, Lt. Pletcher and myself discussed the best plan for our approach.  We decided we would try and back into the LZ and set our rear gear on a rock outcropping that had kind of a flat spot on it.  The grunts said they were very close to the spot we were going to try and land on.  I positioned myself back on the ramp and laid down on my belly.  About the time we were going to attempt our approach the flare went out.  Our flare ship kicked another flare out and we had lights again.  Slowly Capt. Keyfel started backing into the LZ.  We were having a terrible time.  "Left, left,  back back",  I'd say left and Capt. Keyfel would go right.  "No sir, the other way, hold, hold, no right, hold, hold your drifting left."   WHOA.  I finally realized my directions were backwards.  I'm looking aft and Capt. Keyfel is looking forward.  About this time our illumination flare is drifting overhead so it's time to bug out until and flare passes.  Radioed flare ship and had him reposition so we wouldn't have flares drifting overhead and into our rotors.  So,  we start process all over.  Ah,  ha,  if I tell Capt. Keyfel left, the back of the A/C, from my orientation, will go right.  (Now I understand, "your other right".  Seems I've heard that before.)

Things were a bit tense,  SSgt. Creech and Cpl. Sabol are scratching there trigger fingers for all there worth but having friendlies scattered about and they couldn't return any fire.  Once in a while I'd see a muzzle flash or a tracer streak by.  As soon as the grunts spotted a muzzle flash they'd crank off a few rounds in return.  A dark night,  area lit with a flare, you get some real strange shadows and light effects.  Almost strobe light like.  After 2 or 3 attempts we were finally making progress on getting backed into the LZ.  Finally the rear gear is resting on firm ground.  I could see some grunts hunkered down about 10 to 15 meters behind the A/C.  I'm sure they heard me holler "where's your medevac". above the roar of our turbines.  I signaled, double time, by pumping my right arm up and down.  It seemed as if they were confused and didn't know what was going on.  Capt. Keyfel was curious as to our efforts and wondering how things were going.  Told him to ask the grunts to send medevacs.  I do recall receiving some fire during this time frame.  Finally a grunt jumps up and runs to the plane in a crouched down position.    Runs right up ramp,  got about center in the cabin section and sits down in a jump seat.  I told Capt. Keyfel we had 1 passenger, but no medevac,  because the man just walked onto the A/C under his own power.  Contact with the ground forces seemed to be getting nowhere so I asked our passenger where were the medevacs.  He seemed quite confused.  Are you a medevac?  Are you wounded?  His response, "I don't feel very good."  I relayed the info to Capt. Keyfel.  His response was, "What?"  "Yes, sir, he said he didn't feel good."  I believe at this time Capt. Keyfel emphasized to the troops on the ground that we needed our medevacs and we needed them expeditiously because we were about to make an exit from the scene.  As I recall, that's what we did with our single "medevac" from this location.

And so the evening went, emergency resupply, emergency medevacs, backing into LZs and dodging parachute flares.  Never fired a shot.  As I recall we suffered some sheet metal damage.

After 34 years, and I focus my attention on Capt. Keyfel,  the first thing I remember about him is that he was always bumming smokes from me.  Gave him a hard time a couple of times of never smoking his own cigarettes.  Next time we flew together he reaches in his helmet bag and tosses me a carton of cigarettes.  Kept them in my aircraft so he could smoke his own after that.  Good pilot, enjoyed flying with him.  Always maintained a cool demeanor  in a tough situation.

    Capt. Keyfel by, Earnest Kun, former Capt. USMCR
    SSgt. Creech and Cpl. Sabol by, John Sabol, Jr., former Sgt. USMC
    The Rockpile by, Franklin A. Gulledge, Jr., Maj. USMC (Ret)
    Cpl. Miller by, Thomas J. Miller, former Cpl. USMC
    After Action Report submitted by Thomas J. Miller, former Cpl. USMC

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