Copter Crews Fight Their Way to Wounded
The Providence Sunday Journal, June 7, 1970

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."

The Providence Sunday Journal article provided by:
    Kerry J. Wages, former Sergeant USMC

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