In early January 1968 the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army increased their activity throughout South Vietnam as they positioned their forces for a major offensive. The offensive was planned to take advantage of the ceasefire expected at the end of the month to celebrate Tet, the beginning of the lunar New Year. During the night of 6-7 January a village near Phu Loc in the mountains south of the Marine base at Phu Bai was attacked by company-sized Viet Cong (VC) force. The fierce battle continued into mid-morning, as casualties mounted and ammunition supplies dwindled. The hard-pressed Marine Combined Action Platoon (CAP) assisting the local Popular Forces (PF) in the defense of the village called for an emergency resupply of ammunition and medevac of 12 WIA’s.
The Purple Foxes, operating out of Phu Bai, were tasked to provide a CH-46D for the mission. VMO-3 would provide Huey gunship cover. LtCol. Glen Hunter, CO VMO-3, quickly briefed the details of the mission with the CH-46 crew, Capt. Bob Wiegand and his copilot, 1stLt. Carl Stoehr, and they all took on ammo, saddled up and headed to the besieged village. In spite of efforts to make a quick response to the grunts’ emergency request the crew was frustrated to learn upon arrival that the WIA’s to be medevaced had already become KIA’s. LtCol. Hunter pinpointed the main sources of hostile fire and proceeded to “hose down the area” as Capt. Wiegand made his approach to the LZ in the village.
Captain Bob Wiegand Remembers:
We unloaded the ammo and the KIA’s were loaded onboard. They just piled the bodies on top of each other in the cabin area and in a minute the deck of the aircraft was covered in blood. Once loaded, we climbed up out of the zone and reached for some altitude. As I climbed I looked back and I’ll be damned if the bad guys hadn’t raised a large VC flag on the highest hill overlooking the village. That little gesture, mocking those few valiant CAP defenders, chapped my hide… and then…my brain stopped functioning. I told my crew, “We are going to tear that damned flag down…and right now.” I asked Glen Hunter to give us some really close fire support and told the crew chief, Cpl. Larry Johnson and the gunner, Cpl. Raymond Gies to lay down a blanket of fire as we approached the flagpole. Apparently the flag was fastened very well because it remained in place as I hovered over it. While I attempted to hold the aircraft steady Cpl. Johnson lowered the side door and with his safety belt attached reached out and removed the offending flag from the flag staff. Once he yelled that he had the flag, I pulled all the power available and we “hauled ass” out of there.
We took a number of hits, but nothing serious,
and didn’t sustain any WIA…Thank God! A foolish move? Absolutely!
I had no business hazarding my crew and my taxpayer provided aircraft.
I pled temporary insanity at the time and avoided a General Court Martial.
I guess, in retrospect, the caper was a bit “uplifting” for the CAP unit.
At least I’d like to think so. Upon our return to Phu Bai the flag was
the object of many photographs. The incident somehow got the attention
of Boeing Vertol and was included in one of their company publications.
1stLt. Emmett Carson still remembers the arrival of the Purple Fox crew and the VC flag on the flight line at the completion of the mission:
The crew carried the flag jubilantly across the
ramp, picking up supporters all the way to the Skipper’s office.
LtCol. Lou Gulling accepted the flag from the group, then spoke privately
to Capt. Wiegand. I learned a lesson in leadership that day.
LtCol. Gulling first chastised Capt. Wiegand for exposing his crew and
aircraft to unnecessary risk for a trophy, and in the next sentence commended
him for a job well done in accomplishing a difficult mission. It
took many years of experience for me to understand why the Skipper had
to do that, and why wars are fought by the young.
When his Vietnam tour ended Bob Wiegand retained custody of the flag, and some years later gave it to his copilot, Carl Stoehr. Subsequently, Carl has made the flag available to HMM-364 for several change of command ceremonies and other special events, thus linking present-day Purple Foxes to a part of their proud legacy.
Information Provided by:
Robert W. Wiegand, Col. USMC (Ret)
Emmett L. Carson, former Capt. USMC
Todd M. Ferguson, former 1stLt. USMCR
Robert B. Steinberg, former Sgt. USMC
James C. Taylor, former Sgt. USMC
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