Shoot Out at the Hai Van Pass

Mission: Support the grunts.

In early May 1968 a Marine patrol, M/3/5, operating a couple of clicks west of Hai Van Pass (Vicinity of AT875895) encountered a superior enemy force along a rugged jungle covered ridge line.  The Marines were encircled by the enemy and engaged in a fierce fire fight.  They sustained heavy casualties and soon were short of supplies.  They desperately needed help, but their position was located on a very steep mountainside, where the terrain dropped off almost vertically in places.  There were no landing zones, even marginal ones, anywhere near their position.  Their situation appeared hopeless. Concerned operational commanders and staff agonized over their plight and searched for any feasible plan to bring relief.  A request was sent to MAG-36 at Phu Bai for helicopter support.

For 6 days commencing on May 8, the aircrews of HMM-364, with the support of others, made one desperate attempt after another to bring relief to their beleaguered Marine brothers.  The numerous operational uncertainties concerning the exact location and condition of the survivors, enemy strength and locations and the impossible terrain placed the aircraft and aircrews at the extreme limits of their capabilities.  Each attempt to locate and approach the Marine position was met with intense automatic weapons fire.  Before the ordeal was over the Purple Foxes had lost operational use of at least 4 aircraft to extensive battle damage, including one that crashed adjacent to the patrol's defensive perimeter, and had suffered at least six crew member WIA’s.  The mission, “support the grunts” was seldom an easy one, and it was sometimes costly, but it was a mission the Purple Foxes took seriously.

May 8: Trouble on the Mountain

Mike Company’s battle with the entrenched NVA was just beginning to take shape in the mountains west of Hai Van Pass.  The intensity of the initial encounters and the mounting casualties indicated that they were in for a serious battle.  HMM-364 was called into action early in the day from the base at Phu Bai, and continued to put aircraft on station throughout the day and into the night of May 8.  At least three different aircrews made attempts to pinpoint the location and evacuate the wounded.  The last effort of the day was a night medevac attempt that resulted in an emergency landing at Marble Mountain Air Facility due to aircraft battle damage.

After Action Reports identify these participants on 8 May and early morning 9 May

* YK-24
Piolt Capt. R. W. Wiegand Maj. W. H. Birt Capt. R. J. Spohn
Copilot Capt. E. J. Kun 1stLt. G. Geske Capt. J. A. Cantrell
Crew Chief Cpl. R. A. Clack Sgt. T. D. Pestor Cpl. S. Cirri
Gunner LCpl. J. L. Elmes Cpl. W. P. Minard Pvt. M. Horawicki
Gunner Cpl. J. E. Melton LCpl.R. V. Hendrickson Cpl. S. Shupp
Corpsman Rank? R. Lemmerman . .
* = Aircraft received battle damage of 12 hits.
May 9:  Launch The Medevac

Flight Log Entry: Cpl. H. Dean "Kahuna" Cohoon, Crew Chief, YK-22.

Mission No. Date Coordinates Flight Code Remarks
51A 9 May 1968 AT875895 1R6 Rec. Fire

Cpl. Cohoon’s letter home, written May 13, 1968 describes his May 9 flight.  “My plane took four rounds and had to make an emergency landing at Da Nang (fire wagons and all). I had one engine on fire and one over-temped.  I spent two days there fixing my plane enough to get it back to Phu Bai.”

Cpl. Cohoon recalls: We had a ridge line above and to our left as we searched for the smoke in the dense jungle canopy. Four incoming rounds hit the aircraft on the port side. One of the rounds destroyed the # 1 engine compressor. The pilot did a great job keeping us out of the bush and not melting down the # 2 engine. He rolled the aircraft and kicked the pedals to starboard to follow the slope of the mountain, while nursing the collective to keep the turns in the green. With the airspeed up and turns stabilized he banked left, following the valley toward Da Nang Air Base. The gunners and I threw all unnecessary equipment out the windows, hatch and ramp to reduce weight.  We littered the valley with oil, bullet bouncers, tools, flares, ammo and miscellaneous personal items. The remaining engine was smoking as we made a running landing at Da Nang.  The Air Force Crash Crew was ready to hose down the good engine before I stopped them. The only thing wrong with that engine was it had been over-temped and would have to be replaced.  If they had hit the hot engine with fire retardant it would have been destroyed.  I directed the Crash Crew inside the aircraft, then loosened the quarter-turn fasteners one at a time while prying down on the forward corner of the #2 engine door.  This allowed us to visibly check for fire/oil/fuel from the high side of the door.

When Cpl. Cohoon’s YK-20 was forced to make an emergency landing at Da Nang, the Purple Foxes launched two more aircraft, YK-21 and YK-23, to continue the medevacs mission and to attempt a resupply.  Although they continued the effort until after dark they still were not able to evacuate any of the wounded.

After Action Reports identify these participants on 9 May

Pilot Capt. G. W. Smith Capt. R. W. Wiegand Capt. R. J. Feeney
Copilot Capt. K. A. Kuhn Capt. E. J. Kun Capt. S. R. Gale
Crew Chief Sgt. H. Dean Cohoon Cpl. R. P. Young Cpl. J. E. Melton
Gunner Cpl. L. J. Cheatham Sgt. D. W. Steinburg Cpl. R. A. Clack
Gunner Sgt. R. Duerschmidt SSgt. J. D. Deese LCpl. J. L. Elmes
Corpsman Rank? R. Lemmerman . .
* = Aircraft received battle damage

May 10: Damn This Weather

As if the North Vietnamese Army, heat, triple canopy jungle and impossibly steep mountain terrain were not enough, clouds now covered the 3,500 foot peaks.  Hoping that the clouds would at some point begin to break up and expose Mike Company’s position, HMM-364 launched two more aircraft, YK-24 and YK-11.  The Squadron Commanding Officer, LtCol. Joe Dobbratz, led the section of aircraft throughout the day, making attempt after attempt to approach the location.  When they ran low on fuel they would refuel, return and try again.  As darkness approached clouds still shrouded the mountain and the wounded were doomed to suffer through another night.  Hopefully they could make it through this night, and maybe tomorrow would bring relief.

After Action Reports identify these participants on 10 May

Pilot LtCol. J. R. Dobbratz 1stLt. C. C. Stoehr, II
Copilot Capt. D. G. Davidge Capt. E. Schriber
Crew Chief Sgt. T. D. Pestor Cpl. P. D. Key
Gunner Cpl. E. E. Olson Cpl. R. C. Rynearson
Gunner Cpl. G. E. Mills Sgt. W. C. Barbier
Gunner Cpl. R. A. Clack Sgt. D. W. Steinburg

May 11:  Hai Van HAC Check

Capt. Dean Davidge joined the Purple Foxes in March 1968.  By early April he had accumulated enough time in the CH-46 to be considered for designation as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander (HAC) in the squadron.  He completed the written test and the necessary paperwork and was awaiting the flight check, in which he would have to prove to a NATOPS check pilot that he was ready to assume the responsibilities for the safety of the aircraft and the crew.  On May 11 he got that opportunity.

The flight schedule for the day assigned Capt. Davidge to fly as Maj. John A. "Al" Chancey’s copilot, with a notation that a HAC check was to be conducted in conjunction with the day's assigned missions.  The Operations Duty Officer (ODO) handed the FRAG order for a two plane mission to Maj. Chancey, the section leader, and advised him to go to MAG-36 Operations for the mission briefing.   LtCol. Glen Hunter related the situation regarding a Marine patrol near Hai Van Pass that was unable to break contact with a superior NVA force, had numerous emergency medevacs and was low on supplies. Over the past 2 days attempts to bring relief had been unsuccessful because aircraft assigned to the mission had sustained extensive battle damage and had to abort the mission.  Subsequent close air support missions had been conducted, which should improve the prospects for success on today's mission.  This early morning mission would concentrate on lowering a chain saw and a few other essentials so that a clearing could be cut for a helicopter to descend into the triple canopy jungle.  Some of the most critical medevacs would be sent back up on the hoist.  A UH-1E would already be on station to coordinate when the CH-46s arrived.

After the other crewmembers were briefed and the equipment loaded on the aircraft the section proceeded to Hai Van Pass and made contact with the UH-1E.  With the CH-46’s orbiting nearby the UH-1E made a pass to mark the approximate location of the grunts.  The grunts only had one smoke canister left and that would be used when the CH-46 was ready to start the approach.  The terrain looked really ugly.  The rugged ridgeline ran essentially west from Hai Van Pass as the elevation increased.  The ground fell away sharply on both sides of the ridge to valleys several hundred feet below.  It was covered by deep, dense jungle.  The Marine perimeter was on the south side of the ridge about 100 meters below the crest. There was no easy approach available.  Since the most intense fire on previous days had come from the north near the crest of the ridge the pilot elected to approach from the south, flying directly toward the ridgeline.  On cue the grunts popped their last smoke.  It was completely undetectable from the air because of the dense jungle.  The pilot commenced the approach, telling the grunt radio operator to listen for the helicopter and provide directions based on the sound.  He could hear it coming toward him but could not see the aircraft.  Then suddenly he screamed “Stop you are right over us.”  The pilot had already slowed to an “air taxi” speed, so with a little back cyclic the aircraft settled into a hover over the perimeter.  Time to get to work.

At that moment the ridgeline directly in front of the CH-46 came alive with intense automatic weapons fire.  The fire was close-in and deadly accurate, slicing through the cockpit, cabin area and engine compartment.  One round came through the Plexiglas bubble, caught the pilot behind the left knee and sliced lengthwise through the thigh, taking the femoral artery out as it exited the top of the thigh.

Maj. John A. "Al" Chancey recalls:

I saw tracers flying toward the aircraft.  They didn’t veer right or left as I’d seen tracers do many times before.  Suddenly, I felt my left leg slam against my bullet bouncer.  At the same time I felt the aircraft start to settle toward the trees.  A quick glance at the gauges told me #2 engine had dropped off line.  We could not hover single-engine.  I kicked hard right rudder and turned the aircraft down slope, hoping to catch translational lift and flyable airspeed before we settled into the jungle canopy.  The master caution light was bright and several individual caution lights were on, but I didn’t have time to see which ones.  We were very close to the trees, but the good engine was topped out and each time I tried to pull more power it only drooped the RPM.  I continued “milking” turns.  For some reason my vision was becoming blurred and I was searching for instruments through a milky tunnel.  As I completed my right turn I brought the aircraft back level.  I attempted to push left rudder but my leg was twitching helplessly above the rudder pedal and would not respond.  I continued “milking” turns—the trees were very close.  Airspeed was painfully slow in coming.   I needed to shut down #2 engine, find out what was not working and clean up the cockpit.  Even though it was early morning it started getting dark.  I heard the crewchief, Cpl. Randy Young say, “Sir, fuel is pouring out of the engine compartment.”  I turned toward Capt. Davidge.  I could not see him.  I keyed the mike button and said, “You have it”.  I felt movement on the flight controls and immediately descended into peaceful oblivion.

The aircraft was severely damaged, still had not achieved sufficient airspeed for single engine flight and was perilously close to crashing into the thick jungle canopy.  The failed engine had not yet been properly shut down and raw fuel was pouring from the hot engine compartment.  The now unconscious HAC was slumped over in the right seat.  Capt. Davidge’s HAC check had just begun in earnest.

Capt. Rean Davidge recalls:

I was riding the controls lightly, backing up the pilot as had been briefed, while looking straight down at the jungle canopy trying to see the smoke that would tell us where the grunts were.  I didn't see the incoming tracers, so I was surprised to hear Maj. Chancey say, “You have it”.  My first thought was, “This is a strange time for him to want me to fly the aircraft”.  Then I heard the gunfire.  My control movements were so rapid that later inspection revealed I had popped a pocket out of one of the blades.  I dumped the nose and pulled lots of power to try to get out of there fast.  Then I realized the turns were drooping.  A quick check of the gauges showed the #1 engine temp was redlined.  The only gauges that seemed to be working were the #1 engine temp and rotor tach.  I looked over at the pilot and saw his flight suit was saturated with blood.  I thought a bullet had gone under the bullet bouncer and ricocheted back and forth between the seat back and bullet bouncer.  He had already passed out.  The quick reaction of the crew chief, Cpl. Randy Young, probably saved our lives.  He ran into the cockpit and switched off the #2 boost pump. That stopped raw fuel from pouring into the cabin from the severed fuel line. Finally I was able to gain enough airspeed to fly single engine.  I headed for the hospital ship in Da Nang harbor so I could get medical help for the pilot as soon as possible.  I quickly changed course when I thought about landing on the helicopter pad with only one engine.  Even if I made a perfect landing I probably wouldn't be able to take off.  I told the wing man that I would head for Marble Mountain instead and he handled all the communications to alert Delta Med.  The final approach was really exciting because the pilot was beginning to regain consciousness.  He didn't seem to hear or respond to anything I said but was thrashing around in his seat, making it difficult to control the aircraft.  I asked Cpl. Young to come forward to try to restrain him so I could land.  I have forgotten how many bullet holes were in the aircraft, but it was a lot.  The squadron didn't get it back for a long time.

Cpl. Randall P. "Bald Eagle" Young recalls:

I remember hanging out the crew door, on the right side of the bird, trying to locate the smoke grenade but all I could see was very tall trees and heavy triple canopy foliage.  All of a sudden there was a violent jerk of the helicopter and I realized something serious had happened.  I looked to the rear of the aircraft and saw we had a severe fuel leak emanating from the #2 engine and notified the pilots.  It was then that Capt. Davidge told me Maj. Chancey had been wounded and that he, Capt. Davidge, needed my assistance in the cockpit.  Upon entering the cockpit the first thing I noticed was that the fuel control to the number two engine had not been turned off and I turned it off immediately to lessen the chance of a horrific fire in the troop compartment.  Next I looked at Maj. Chancey who was covered with blood and thrashing about a bit.  Capt. Davidge asked me to restrain Maj. Chancey to keep his legs from hitting the controls as he was having trouble enough controlling the bird.  After a very few minutes Maj. Chancey ceased thrashing about and turned an ashen white color, I remember thinking that he wasn't going to make it.  Upon landing at the medical facility I popped open the the pilots emergency exit panel and lowered him to the waiting corpsmen.

I recall cleaning out all the blood from the cockpit and finding the bullet which had struck Maj. Chancey on the left foot pad.  Upon returning to Phu Bai several days later I gave the bullet to Capt. Monk to be delivered Maj. Chancey.  I have often wondered if he received it, and have recently been advised that the spent bullet did find its way back to Maj. Chancey who still has it displayed in a prominent spot within his home.  He tells me that his leg still hurts a bit every time he looks at it.

Maj. Chancey continues:  On the way to Marble Mountain I remember hearing occasional radio transmissions as I drifted in and out of consciousness, but was not able to comprehend what was being said.  I remember being surprised and greatly relieved that we were still flying.  That beautiful, ugly “Phrog”!!   Although I was not aware of it at the time I now know that I added to Capt. Davidge’s already difficult task of landing a badly damaged aircraft by thrashing around in the seat and interfering with his control movements.  It must have been an out-of–control survival response.  Early in my tour I recognized that some of us would likely deal with badly damaged aircraft and possibly crashes.  I vowed to myself that my crew and I would survive because I would never give up on flying the aircraft, or any piece of it, as long as I had a breath left.  That attitude had served me well.  In my semi-conscious stupor, that may have been what I was doing when I felt the aircraft descend and saw the runway coming toward us.  In any event, I will be forever thankful for the exceptional flying skills exhibited by Capt. Davidge under some extraordinary conditions, and for the quick reaction of a very knowledgeable crew chief Cpl. Randy Young.  There is little doubt that their actions saved my life and that of the rest of the crew on YK-23 that day.

After Action Reports identify these participants on 11 May

Pilot Maj. J. A. Chancey # Capt. R. J. Spohn
Copilot Capt. D. G. Davidge Capt. E. L. Carson, Jr.
Crew Chief Cpl. R. P. Young Cpl. C. A. Franklin
Gunner Rank? M. J. Murray Cpl. W. P. Minard
Gunner Cpl. L. E. Ogle Sgt. L. D. Steward
* = Aircraft received battle damage
# Major John A. "Al" Chancey was wounded and evacuated to the U.S.

MAY 12: Crash in the Jungle

Cpl. Robert B. "Steiny" Steinberg relates:

Here's what happened at Hai Van Pass that day:  We were briefed that morning that for the previous three days the gooks had been shooting birds out of the zone on every attempt made to medevac the wounded.  We were informed that they were even chained to trees.  The plan was to make only one trip in to recover all the wounded so as not to expose ourselves to a second approach and the accompanying enemy fire.  As every previous attempt to reach the Marines had met with the aircraft getting shot out of the zone, we knew our effort would require us to shoot our way in, during loading of the wounded, and when leaving.  We wanted to make sure we didn't run out of ammo, so instead of the usual 500 rounds per gun, the .50s were carrying at least 1,000 rounds each that day.  To cover our rear, both literally and figuratively, there was a tail gunner (me) with an M-60, and well in excess of 2000 rounds, placed on the half-masted ramp.

We were informed that the grunts were going to have to blow a zone for us out of the triple canopy, but they'd still have to cut down some stumps so we could get in close enough to take on the medevacs.  Maj. Horace S. "Hoss" Lowery informed the crew that it was his intention to first go in, hold about a 100 ft hover while I lowered a chain saw through the hell hole to the grunts.  We were then going to leave the zone, wait for the okay to come in, then, before making the approach, dump fuel until we got the low level lights.  At that point, with minimum fuel, we'd commence the extraction of the wounded.  The rationale was, with minimum fuel we'd be able to carry more medevacs, and we'd be less likely to burn (a lot) in the event of a crash.  After all the wounded were aboard, Maj. Lowery would then accelerate down the mountain, using the triple canopy to stay within ground effect until attaining translational lift, at which point, he briefed us, the highly loaded aircraft would be flying on its own.  We all realized that with the number of medevacs we were expecting, the aircraft would be over max. gross weight coming out, but we couldn't expect a successful second try, so everyone had to be extracted on the first attempt.  We would have just enough fuel to reach the hospital ship in Da Nang Harbor, drop of the wounded, fly the short distance to the air base (on fumes, it was expected) to top off, and then go home.

Everything began as planned.  I unhooked my gunner's belt from a tie-down on the ramp so I could lower the chain saw.  That sucker started to build up some momentum on its way down, and I managed to get a nasty friction burn on my right hand.  I would've lowered it more slowly, but I was expecting the enemy to open up on us at any moment, and didn't want to be too far from my M-60 when that happened.  I went back to the ramp, but didn't re-attach to the tie-down ring.  We got the okay to come in, and then dumped fuel, just as briefed.  On final we were all expecting the trees to come alive with enemy fire, but there wasn't any. Maj. Lowery was going to have to maintain a level cabin by holding the nose gear to the mountainside while keeping the mains about six feet off the deck; this would allow the crew chief, Sgt. Kenneth A. "Al"  Altazan, to bring the medevacs in through the main cabin door.  I was pretty anxious because I knew that once we started receiving fire, I'd be the only one in position to return it until the .50s could be brought to bear after departing the zone.  I didn't think I'd be able to take out or suppress the enemy gunners quickly enough to keep us from taking extensive hits.

After we "touched down" it seemed like only moments passed until we had all 17 (!!) medevacs on board.  I remember quickly looking back and being amazed at all the Marines that had been so quickly piled up in the cabin behind me.  I was still nervously scanning the trees for muzzle flashes and straining to hear any small arms fire, but again, there was no enemy activity.  As the 46 backed away from the zone the ground dropped precipitously, and we were quickly out of ground effect, but not yet able to use the triple canopy as a cushion.  As Maj. Lowery pulled more pitch, we started losing turns.  I was shouting over the ICS (because of the engine and transmission noise I couldn't hear myself speaking, and assumed the pilots couldn't hear me either...I was wrong) that we were getting close to trees on our left, and to not go left any further.  Of course, by this time our fate was sealed.  I saw the aft blades hit the trees and disintegrate.

The grunts told us we fell about 60 ft.  Fortunately, the ground broke our fall.  On the way down I remember wondering if I was going to remember any of this when I was dead, just moments from then.  We landed on some rocks and tree stumps.  The cockpit was laying on its right side; the ramp, 25 ft aft, was sitting level.  A 90 degree twist.  The crash had impaled the cockpit on a stump that protruded almost to the left seat.  The right seat was ripped from its mounts, the armor plating protecting Maj. Lowery's head from a more serious wound than the large abrasion to the right forehead he sustained.  Lt. Byrnes was the only crew member to not receive some kind of wound from the crash.  Seat belts (and armored seats) save lives.  Randy Geis, the left gunner, got banged about pretty bad by the .50 cal ammo boxes, and I believe he suffered injury to his tail bone that day.  I'm not certain what kind of damage was done to Altazan, but I believe he was back at work the day after our own medevac on the following day, May 13th.  I don't know what the status of the right gunner was.  Several trees had come up through the ship in the aft cabin area, creating sharp edges on the deck.  My right palm was cut by two of these edges as the trees pushed through when we hit.  My bullet bouncer impacted my right hip, which really hurt, and a tree brushed my left forearm, causing a really frightening-looking swelling.  I thought my hip was chipped and my forearm broken. Both situations, thankfully, not the case.

Once we impacted, and knew we weren't dead, yet, the crew started the next phase of the mission: securing the ship and helping the wounded get out.  One of the first things Altazan did was reach up to the cockpit and pull the engine condition levers back to cut-off.  The engines were still turning, and the blades were beating against the ground.  The medevacs had been in a bad way when we picked them up, and were even worse off now.  They were all in pain, and were crying and praying for their lives.  Miraculously, no lives were lost.  I had been sitting on the ramp for a couple of seconds when I regained awareness of the situation and thought, "NATOPS training: "help the passengers".  Before I could take action I heard footsteps running up the mountain towards our position.  The terrain was so steep just beyond us that I couldn't see down at who was approaching.  I decided that as soon as I saw their heads I'd open up with my M-60.  But then I reconsidered: we hadn't taken any enemy fire our entire time in the zone, so I'd confirm who these guys were before blasting away.  It was a good decision: the grunts had sent a patrol down the  mountain to rescue us, and it was that patrol coming to us from below.  We'd fallen out of sight, and all they could hear were the blades slapping the deck, which they thought was us rolling down the mountain.

With the arrival of the grunts our crew assisted with bringing the wounded back to their perimeter.  I have a vague recollection of at least one medevac having been "stuck" on a small tree that had pierced the aft cabin, but I don't believe he was impaled, just caught by his clothing.  As I was assisting with one wounded, I remember a dazed Maj. Lowery, with that bloodied right forehead, standing on the ramp.  After we were all back inside the perimeter, and it was determined the gooks were no longer a threat, Air Force Jolly Greens came in and hoisted out the wounded grunts.  I briefly considered leaving with the Jollys because I thought my hip and forearm were seriously injured, but when I realized I'd be the only crew member leaving, I reassessed my wounds and decided to stay (I didn't want to be a pussy).  We spent the night with the grunts, and the next day one of our own ships medevaced us.  That aircraft had the new, main cabin door-located articulated hoist, making easy work of bringing wounded into the cabin.  The crew chief on that ship was Cpl. Pestor, and, I found out just a few years ago, the pilot was Maj. Birt.  I was medevaced first to Cam Ranh Bay, where I bumped into Lt. Hopper, then to Japan; and sometime in June, I made it back to the squadron.  I'm afraid I don't know/remember what happened to Randy Geis, or the other gunner.  That's about the whole story, as well as I can remember it.

"Steiny" Steinberg

After Action Reports identify these participants on 12 May

* YK-2
Pilot LtCol. Patrick Maj. H. S. Lowery
Copilot Capt. E. R. Moore Capt. J. P. Byrnes
Crew Chief Unknown Cpl. K. A. Altazan
Gunner Cpl. P. F. Robitaile Cpl. R. L. Gies
Gunner Sgt. D. W. Steinburg SSgt. E. P. Kahalaheli
Gunner Rank? J. W. Mott Cpl. R. B. Steinberg
* = Aircraft Crashed and all crew members were injured.
May 13: Rescue the Rescuers

After spending much of the day and a long anxious night on a hostile mountainside Maj. Lowery and his injured crew were in need of medical attention and a ride out.  As soon as the mission could be coordinated and briefed on May 13, the Purple Foxes set out to rescue their own and continue the effort to evacuate Mike Company's wounded.  LtCol.  Dobbratz led a flight of two aircraft out of Phu Bai at 0700 and began the successful evacuation of the wounded to various medical facilities.  These two aircraft continued the operation until early afternoon and then Maj. Birt launched with another section of aircraft.  His section continued the mission throughout the afternoon and evening.  As darkness began to descend on Mike Company's perimeter the last of the wounded were lifted safely aboard the aircraft and were on their way to a medical facility to receive much needed care for their wounds.  A total of 42 medical evacuees were lifted off the mountain on May 13 by the four Purple Fox crews.  Mike Company's ordeal on the unfriendly mountain was finally over.  And for the Purple Fox air crews; Mission Accomplished.

Flight Log Entry: Cpl. Dean Cohoon, Crew Chief, YK-22.

Mission No. Date Coordinates Flight Code Remarks
51E 13 May 1968 AT868917 1R6 Medevac

Cpl. Cohoon’s letter home, written May 13, continues: “Now my aircraft is down for metal repair.  I’ve spent the last two days flying in Jack’s plane because he was sick.”  (Note: Cpl. Jack Kuklis was YK-24 Crew Chief.)

Cpl. Cohoon relates:  This mission took us to an area north of Da Nang called Hai Van Pass, a zone we later referred to as “the garage” because it required flying under the jungle canopy and making a right turn.  To make things worse, the only landing pad was a few logs piled up for us to set just the nose gear on while loading and offloading our cargo and troops.  As we entered the garage I caught a glimpse of Cpl. Altazan’s aircraft wreckage in the jungle below the garage entrance.  I had a “monkey belt” on and the rear ramp partially down lying on my back with head and shoulders extended over the edge of the ramp.  I stayed in that position from entry to final exit of the garage, giving the pilots left/right and high/low directions to keep the aft rotor clear of trees.  I don’t remember taking hostile fire on this trip, and I don’t recall the number of  medevacs/inserts/extracts or the equipment we carried.  My flight log does indicate that it was a medevac flight and I do recall a chainsaw on either the May 9 or May 13 mission.  A special thanks is due every crewmember that participated in this operation.

Maj. Wesley H. Birt recalls:

On May 13, I was scheduled to fly a medevac mission to the Hai Van Pass LZ.  My copilot was Capt. Earl R. Moore.  It was an early morning flight to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and added payload capability.  This LZ was one of the most complex zones I’ve ever attempted.  I couldn’t see the LZ from the air.  I put my full faith in the crew chief.  He directed me into the LZ-- all I did was keep the aircraft in a level air taxi.  He lowered me into the canopy, moving forward, then right, then left, more forward and finally directly ahead.  The entire aircraft was under the canopy of trees.  I could then see the LZ and the Marines on the ground.  I taxied forward avoiding the overhanging limbs—the slope was steep.  I hooked the front wheel of the helicopter on a tree stump.  The rear ramp was still several feet above the ground.  The crew chief used the front passenger door to load the medevacs.  It was difficult to keep the aircraft level, as there was no natural horizon under the canopy.  I used the trees as a vertical reference but the steep slopping ground provided no clue as to the horizontal attitude of the aircraft.  When the crew chief signaled he was loaded and ready I lifted the front wheel off the stump and followed his directions to taxi backward.  The LZ was like flying into and backing out of a covered enclosure completely surrounded by trees.  As soon as I could see the sky and heard my wingman report he had a visual on me I climbed up above the canopy.  We flew the wounded to Delta Med and returned to Phu Bai.  The mission was over.

After Action Reports identify these participants on 13 May

YK-24 (AM)
YK-9 (AM)
Pilot LtCol. J. R. Dobbratz Maj. L. P. Reiman
Copilot Capt. R. C. Moore 1stLt. S. Tucker
Crew Chief Sgt. T. D. Pestor Cpl. F. E. Case
Gunner Cpl. P. F. Robitaile Cpl. E. P. Gumatadtao
Gunner Cpl. R. A. Clack .
Gunner Cpl. R. C. Rynearson .
YK-24 (PM)
YK-9 (PM)
Pilot Maj. W. R. Birt Capt. P. R. Hemming
Copilot Capt. E. P. Moore 1stLt. L. B. Jividen
Crew Chief Sgt. H. Dean Cohoon Cpl. L. J. Cheatham
Gunner Cpl. J. C. Higgins LCpl. W. D. Murray
Gunner LCpl. J. R. McJilton Cpl. C. A. Franklin

Sgt. Curtis Batten of M/3/5
Recalls the Shoot Out at Hai Van Pass

LCpl. Rocco (Rock) Giambrocco's (M/3/5)
Dairy Entries Recall Hai Van Pass Shoot Out

Jolly Green's Hai Van Pass Rescue

As a note of interest, the CMD Chronology lists 4 Officers and 22 Enlisted WIA during the month of May.  A pretty tough month for the Purple Foxes.

Information Provided by:

    Wesley H. “Wes” Birt, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    John A. “Al” Chancey, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    Dean G. Davidge, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    H. Dean “Kahuna” Cohoon, former Sgt. USMC
    Robert B. “Steiny” Steinberg, former Sgt. USMC
    Randall P. "Bald Eagle" Young, former Cpl. USMC
    HMM-364's May 1968 Command Chronology
    HMM-364's May 1968 After Action Reports
    Sgt. Curtis Batten, M/3/5
    LCpl. Rocco (Rock) Giambrocoo's Dairy
    Lt. Jack C. Ritticher, USCG

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