| By BARNEY SIEBERT
Da Nang, South Vietnam - (UPI)
The Army calls it "dustoff." To the Marines the assignment is "medevac."
Whatever the terminology, the medical evacuation helicopter's mission is mercy.
In the U.S. Army, "dustoff" is a full time job and the crews fly helicopters marked with red crosses. The Marines use their big CH-46 Sea Knight troop carrier helicopters to speed the sick and wounded from the firing line to the hospital and rotate the duty among regular helicopter crews of the First Marine Air Wing based at Da Nang. Whether the helicopters are marked with red crosses makes little difference. The Communists fire at either type of air ambulance.
At the controls of the Sea Knight this day is 1stLt. Bruce Jensen, 25, Spo- kane, Wash.,a slender, blond man. His copilot is dark haired 1stLt. John Narney, 24, Aurora, Ill., who has been in Vietnam only one week and is still learning the landmarks. "You remember that asphalt landing zone with the red cross painted on it?" Jensen asks Narney. "If anything happens to me, that's where you head for." Others aboard the helicopter are crew chief Cpl. Kerry Wages, 20, Fort Worth, Tex., Navy Hospital Corpsman Scott Pearson, 37, New London, Conn., and gunners, Sgt. Ernie H. Lambright, 35, Elberton, Ga., and LCpl. Bob Wellington, 20, Oklahoma City.
Two CH-46 Sea Knights of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 are assigned to medevac during each of the six-hour day tricks and the 12-hour night watch. A third is standing by if needed.
To protect the Sea Knights there are two UH-1 Huey helicopter gunships of 167 Squadron, armed with eight machine guns and rockets. The Sea Knights each carry two .50-caliber machine guns.
Most of the missions are routine this day - shuttling malaria victims to the Navy hospital ship, Sanctuary, in Da Nang harbor, picking up the surviving two or three Vietnamese children who played with a dud rifle grenade round and taking an accident victim to an Army hospital.
But, during one of the trips to the Sanctuary, Jensen gets an emergency call. A patrol of the 5th Marine Regiment has clashed with a Communist force in the tree lined rice paddies of Arizona Territory, a Communist sanctuary since the Vietnam War began. Between two hamlets 12 miles southwest of Da Nang are three seriously wounded men awaiting removal to a hospital.
Over the landing zone there is no sign of hostile fire but Jensen descends in a series of tight turns to make it appear the helicopter is out of control and crashing. But, the enemy is not deceived by his maneuver. As he levels out to make the final descent, they open fire from the nearby tree line.
Wellington, manning the starboard .50-caliber, fires a burst in reply. Wages, at a window ahead of Wellington, opens up with his M-16. Jensen pours on power to the twin turbines and climbs away.
In the Huey gunship are Maj. John S. Martin, 34, the pilot, 1stLt. Lynn Boyer, 25, the copilot, and the gunner Cpl. James Golden, 21. Martin comes in for a firing pass. Boyer launches a salvo of rockets which drives the enemy back into the trees.
Jensen turns the Sea Knight for another approach and as he levels off to land the Communists again open fire. Wellington fires a burst in reply and the Sea Knight unharmed, settles to the ground.
The Marines on the ground dash from cover amid enemy fire and load the wounded aboard. There are only two stretchers on the Sea Knight and the Marines on the ground must retain their only stretcher for possible use later, so the least seriously wounded man must lie on the floor. Then a fourth Marine is loaded abroad. He, too, lies on the floor, for he was the point man and he is dead. Pearson says he has dozens of bullet holes in his body. "They must have all let go at him at once."
As the Sea Knight soars away, Martin comes in for another firing pass and Boyer sends another salvo of rockets into the enemy position.
Returning to Da Nang, Narney said, "Do you realize the whole thing took less than an hour from the time we first got the emergency call until they were in the hands of a doctor. It was only 15 minutes from the time we flew to the area. If it weren't for our medevac, two of those men would have died before they got to a hospital."
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