On the morning of September 9, 1969 I launched on a fragmentary order which called for the routine extraction of a reconnaissance team whose mission had been completed and the insertion of another team in the same location. The area where the "flip flop" was to be accomplished was known as the "Antenna Valley." 1stLt. Dave "Smiley" McSorley was copilot, Sgt. "J.J." Johnson was crewing the aircraft and I can't remember who the two gunners were. Arriving over the extraction zone, we discovered it was littered with dead trees which prevented us from landing. Since there had been no enemy activity reported by the reconnaissance team, it was agreed that a hoist extraction of one Marine at a time would be used. We had brought the first team member up the hoist, through the "hell hole" and into the cabin of the aircraft. The second team member was coming up when the hoist malfunctioned. It would go down put had ceased operating in the "up" mode. We lowered this Marine back to the ground, advised the team of the problem and that they would have to find an LZ we could land in. The lead escort gun ship reported a large LZ approximately a click (1000 meters) away. The team headed for the new LZ, Sgt. Johnson pulled in, hand over hand, the useless cable and I headed the aircraft toward An Hoa to refuel. The flight of two Huey gun ships, form Bhu Bai, remained on station to provide cover for the recon team moving to the new LZ.
While enroute to the new pickup zone we contacted the gun ships and found out that the commotion raised in the attempted hoist extract and the teams movement toward the new LZ had drawn the attention of the Viet Cong (VC an/or Charlie). The VC had fallen in behind the recon team as they proceeded to the pickup point. The gun ships were delivering suppressive fire at the VC to keep them off the backs of the recon team. When the team reached the LZ they found additional Viet Cong troops to their front at the far end of the LZ. What had been a "routine" extraction was now anything but routine. The enemy was still approaching from behind and now 100 or so yards on the other side of the zone were additional VC troops. While the Hueys worked the enemy they also called for additional air support. An OV-10 of VMO-2 showed up on scene with a full complement of white phosphorous (WP) rockets on board. After being briefed by the gun ship flight leader, he rolled in and laid down a well placed, you could call it beautiful, wall of WP smoke just in front of the VC in the zone. We slipped into the zone, picked up the recon team and with a handful of collective delivering topping power to the two turbine engines were departing the zone.
Both gunners were now "cleared hot" to deliver additional .50 caliber suppressive fire to cover our departure. They, and the gun ships, were tearing up some real estate. In addition Sgt. Johnson, who had picked up his personal M-16, was leaning out the crew door blazing away. Just as we cleared the LZ and were attempting to climb out of range, Sgt. Johnson came flying backward into the cockpit and landed flat on his back on the the center console. He was dazed and bewildered initially but soon he "came to" and I asked him, "What happened J.J." He sat up, felt around on the front of his bullet bouncer which had four holes in it and said, "Sir, I've been shot . . . but son of a bitch I'm not bleeding. Those sons'a bitches shot me." As soon as I realized that Sgt. Johnson was indeed not hurt, I broke out laughing because the way he said it, it sounded like he was accusing the VC of cheating by shooting at him. Sgt. Johnson had taken four hits right in the middle of his bullet bouncer and the impact had knocked him into the cockpit.
Years later (1990 or 1991) I was at MCAS Camp Pendleton and found myself at one of the HML/A squadrons maintenance shops. The sign by the door said that MAJOR J. J. Johnson was the maintenance officer. I asked if I could see Major Johnson and when he came out of his office, I immediately recognized my old crew chief. I asked J. J. if he wanted to go flying with me again and he replied, "Hell no, The last time I flew with you, you got me shot!". We had a good laugh over that one while his maintenance troops stood there looking puzzled. Anyway, J.J., I'll go flying with you anywhere, anytime.
Col. Dave McSorley, relates that it was an all day ordeal to accomplish this mission. He states, "Larry was a cool guy and did a professional job that day as always. He has always been a true gentlemen and a super Marine. In 1982 Larry and I were attached to Marine Aircraft Group 24. Larry was the Executive Officer of HMM-165 and I was a "Groupie" getting my flight time with any H-46 squadron who would let me fly. Larry and I went out one evening. He introduced me to the young crew chief in the following manner, "This is Major McSorley, the last time we flew together our crew chief was shot."
|1stLt. Larry W. Britton||Pilot|
|1stLt. Dave McSorley||Copilot|
|Sgt. Joe V. Johnson||Crew Chief|
|Cpl. Jim Bryson||Gunner|
1stLt. Larry W. Britton's 2nd Distinguished Flying Cross
After Ation Report of This Mission
Dave "Smiley" McSorley, Col. USMC (Ret)
Larry W. "Slick" Britton, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
Franklin A. Gulledge, Jr., Maj. USMC (Ret)
Back Browser or Home