1stLt. Zeb Rush, and the crew of YK-5 had been assigned the Marble Mountain Air Facility (MMAF) lead aircraft medevac mission the morning of 12 August 1969. The crew consisted of 1stLt. Paul Pierman, copilot; Sgt. John F. Gruenewald, crew chief; Cpl. R. A. Rodrigues, right gunner; LCpl. S. C. "Steve" Lovelady, left gunner; and HM2 Kelly the corpsman.
It had been a rather quiet morning, devoid of much activity in the way of medevac requests. The medevac package would soon be relieved by two more CH-46s, two gun ships and their associated crews. Then a "routine" call was received to pick up two dead Marines from a patrol southwest of Da Nang. Upon arrival at the scene it was found that the patrol was on a roadway on top of a hill. Sgt. Gruenewald relates, "We made a normal approach to the hill top LZ and as the aircraft settled to the ground I lowered the ramp and the Corpsman walked off to supervise the loading of the bodies. I was headed toward the ramp and had just turned sideways to pass between mytwo gunners when the RPG round hit. All three of us were knocked silly and Lt. Rush immediately lifted from the zone. When I finally got my wits together, I realized that all three of us in the cabin were wounded with my gunners having the more serious wounds. HM2 Kelly, the Corpsman had been left in the LZ."
"I was still a bit addled and Lt. Rush and I were yelling at each other since my microphone would not work. Then I realized it had come unplugged when I was thrown forward from the force of the explosion. I fixed the problem and we discussed our options. Lt. Rush had initially simply wanted to get out of the zone and hoped he had enough aircraft left to make it to a more secure area at the bottom of the hill. As we assessed the condition of the aircraft we found everything was still working (both engines, SAS, ASE, etc.) and that the chin bubble beneath Lt. Pierman's feet had been blown out with the impact. Since we had two seriously wounded crewmen it was decided to "gently" fly the helicopter to the hospital at Da Nang."
"It was then that our wing man, and I, noticed red smoke gushing from the cabin area of YK-5. The wing man thought it might be hydraulic fluid, but it was simply that the RPG had ignited some of the day/night flares which were stowed in the May Wests hanging in the cabin area and the place was a mess."
"We dropped the gunners at the hospital. I performed another visual inspection of the ship to confirm the extent of the damage. Lt. Rush and I agreed that we were OK to continue on to MMAF . . . if we went real easy. He did."
"Lt. Rush called the tower at MMAF requesting a straight in approach for one aircraft. At this point our wing man piped up and asked if we had forgotten we had a wing man or did we think we had lost him. Lt. Rush corrected his transmission to the tower and asked for a straight in for a flight of two CH-46s. We landed without further incident and taxied to the revetments. Once we had YK-5 shut down and secured, I was flown over to the Naval Support Activity (NSA) hospital by the "missing" wing man".
Cpl. Rodrigues and Sgt. Gruenewald returned to the squadron following some rehabilitation time. LCpl. Lovelady was air evacuated back to the United States. A comment in the squadron's command chronology indicates that it was probably Lovelady's "bullet bouncer" that saved his life. 1stLt. Pierman had also suffered a minor injury to his left hand.
YK-5 spent considerable time as a "hangar queen" while technical representatives from Boeing and squadron personnel put her back together. Sgt. Gruenewald continued to crew her until his tour ended and he rotated home. Sgt. Gruenewald still refers to YK-5 as, "a tough lady".
HM2 Bruce L. Williams-Burden relates that HM2 Kelly, the Corpsman who was left behind in the LZ, walked out with the Grunts wearing his heavy and hot "bullet bouncer."
Additionally, it is believed that the enemy gunner who fired the RPG at YK-5 was subsequently located and killed.
Information provided by:
Larry "Slick" Britton, LtCol. USMC(Ret)
John F. Gruenewald, former Sgt. USMC
Dennis Welch, former Cpl. USMC
John L. Lane, former Cpl. USMC
Chic Schoener, Col. USMC(Ret)
Bruce L. Williams-Burden, former HM2 USN
LAST UPDATED, AUGUST 10, 2000
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