James V. King, former Cpl. USMC

My memories of being shot down on 14 April 69 have been clouded for years, especially about who was the Pilot of the helicopter I was shot down on, etc.  My memories are strongest about the recovery of YK-5 crew, Gomez and Bianchino.

I received a call from Bob Steinberg last Saturday night.  He had been in contact with former Major O.C. Baker who asked about his gunner the day he was shot down, April 14, 1969.  The gunner was Corporal King....my question about the Pilot was now answered.  I contacted Mr. Baker and he sent the attached reply.  I called Mr. Baker and asked that I be allowed to share the note with the squadron.  He agreed, and has revived a lot of my memories.

Please read Mr. Baker's letter and add it to our squadron memories for 1969.  It means a lot to me to know he was my pilot that day and even more to know he remembered me. 

This was my first reunion with anyone from the old squadron since 1969.

It was an absolute thrill to arrive at Ontario, CA, and be met by Col. Gene Brady, Richard Bianchino, and Ernie Gomez.  Col. Brady presented me with a squadron watch which means more to me now than any decoration I have earned.  This was my homecoming parade after all these years.  It was great!

It was such a relief to see Richard Bianchino and Ernie for the first time since the crash of April 14, 1969. I had truly believed Richard had lost his arm in the accident, but the hug I got convinced me differently.  I had hidden from reality for 30 years and refused to ask any questions for fear of the answer I might get.

We had a great time and a lot of good conversation. A lot of old wounds were healed.

I now know that I did all I could to save Lyle Sperb and that his wounds were fatal as explained by Richard and Ernie.  The Corpsman at Da Nang who said we should have taken better care of Sperb was probably reacting at the loss of a friend.  I understand his grief and hope he has found peace.  My guilt over Sperb's loss was a burden which is now lifted.  With the help of my friends I have accepted the loss of those great men that day and life goes on.

Ernie also reminded me about the cold spam sandwiches we used to get on guard duty.  That too is behind me now!

Through the internet I recently located Greg Gramlick, the brother of Mike Gramlick who was killed in action July 27, 1969.  Greg was in the Army and stationed in Da Nang when Mike was killed and I went with the Chaplain on that fateful day to give Greg the bad news.  I recently told Greg about Mike's Vietnamese girlfriend who was a waitress at the E-Club and the great times he and I shared there.  I indicated I would like to find a photo of her for old times sake. The next day Greg sent an email with an attachment, and there she was, our favorite barmaid.  She always stood by him to serve our drinks and would always serve him first.  After Mike was killed she would no longer wait on our group.


I remember Mike Fettig and I were playing with the radios in a helicopter at Marble Mountain Air Facility one night and I heard a thumping noise.  I thought it was radio beat noise but, when I took off my headset I realized it was mortars being walked across the flight line.  Mike and I made a quick exit to a bunker and escaped harm. I learned a lesson in paying attention to my surroundings that night.

Whenever I get a bit down, I go back to my old magazines.  In the Sept. 1970 issue of Leatherneck, the awards list contains no less than eleven pilots from HMM-364.  Col. Brady's Navy Cross and 1stLts. Robert Barnes, William Beebe, and Glenn Burgess each received the Silver Star. The best part is the list of DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) recipients;  1st.Lt. James D. Hintz ( I recall him being called Gunny or Gunner) is listed as receiving his FOURTH DFC !!!  Is this a record for squadron Pilots? Also listed are Owen Baker, Larry Britton, Charles K. Butler, George Cox, Charles Dunbaugh, John Pipa. What a list.

Did HMM-364 win all the awards or just most of them?

I remember well the day YK-5 was shot down on Charlie Ridge and the subsequent loss of some great Marines.  The morning of April 14, 1969, at about 10:00 AM I was on a chopper picking up a team near An Hoa.  As we left that zone ground fire hit our aft section, oil sprayed on the turbines, and the interior filled with smoke.  The pilot (unknown) was losing hydraulic pressure and sat us down in a rice paddy.  We were receiving sporadic ground fire from both sides; I stayed on my gun in the chopper as the Marine troops we had picked up and other crew members disembarked to form a security perimeter around the aircraft.  I kept firing, alternating from the left and right gun positions, as needed.  The suppressive fire from all of us allowed the chase aircraft to pick us up without casualties.  I pulled the but plates off the 50 cal. machine guns per standard operating procedure before leaving the downed bird.  I didn't want Sgt. Richard "Big Rich" Kiselewsky on my butt for leaving the guns in firing order.

When we returned to MMAF we filled out reports, reviewed the incident, etc.  While we were in the hangar area, a call came about YK-5.  A volunteer crew assembled, me included, for the recovery.  Arriving at the site, we saw Capt. Bianchino's tracer rounds and first thought it was ground fire.  I volunteered to go down on the hoist first.  I saw Cpl. Gomez and LCpl. Burdick, both in fairly rough shape.  The first two wounded were hoisted out and a second unidentified Marine came down to help with the rescue.  After  Capt. Bianchino, Cpl. Gomez and HM2 Sperb were hoisted aboard, I looked at the other crew members and confirmed they were dead.  There was nothing we could do for them.  The decision was made to leave them for later because we had to get the survivors back for medical attention.  The weather was deteriorating and it was getting dark in that zone.  I and the other Marine were hoisted aboard and we headed for Da Nang.  HM2 Sperb died enroute to Da Nang.

Cpl. "Gooie" Gomez called me by various names such as Bob, Larry and Dave.  I guess he really only knew my last name or as in some cases he simply referred to me as "Hey Asshole."  I didn't use my first name much, most everyone just called me King.  As for the earlier incident that day, it was set aside over the tremendous loss of Lt. Nickerson, Cpl. Gendron, LCpl. Banister and HM2 Sperb.  I especially carried a lot of guilt about losing Lyle Sperb, he was a good man.

I'd like to know who the crew members were on the earlier incident, and who was crewing the rescue bird at the YK-5 crash site.  John Gruenwald was the crew chief who sent me down the hoist.  The "Purple Fox" web site has stirred my memories and now it's hared to shut up.

Cpl. James V. King's Squadron Histotry Index

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