Name: WO1 Roy Gordon Azbill
Status: Killed In Action from an incident on 12/30/1964 while performing the duty of Aircraft Commander.
Age at death: 25.0
Date of Birth: 01/01/1940
Home City: Weaverville, CA
Service: AV branch of the reserve component of the U.S. Army.
Major organization: other
Flight class: 63-5W
Service: AV branch of the U.S. Army.
The Wall location: 01E-079
Short Summary: Shot down. Aircraft Commander with Stephen Edward Morgan, copilot. Budny was roommate and wingman in Vietnam.
Aircraft: UH-1B tail number 63-08654
Call sign: DRAGON 31
Service number: W3151203
Country: South Vietnam
MOS: 062B = Helicopter Pilot, Utility and Light Cargo Single Rotor
Primary cause: Hostile Fire
Major attributing cause: aircraft connected not at sea
Compliment cause: weapons
Vehicle involved: helicopter
Position in vehicle: aircraft commander
Started Tour: 01/01/1964
"Official" listing: helicopter air casualty - other aircrew
Length of service: 04
Location: Unknown Province
Additional information about this casualty:
Roy Azbill was a classmate of mine and we went through helicopter school together. Except for a couple of ex students who went to Korea, the rest of us went to Vietnam straight out of flight school. I was assigned to the 120th Aviation Company to fly H21s; Azbill was assigned to the UTT company, the first armed helicopter company in Vietnam. Both companies were based in Saigon. The 120th eventually transitioned into UH1B's and I flew with the armed helicopter platoon (Razorbacks) until the end of my tour.
Azbill and his crew were killed in the battle of Binh Gia. Binh Gia was (and is still) a small catholic village located on the eastern side of the Baria Long Khanh road. The battle occurred only days before our one year tour was up. It was, I recall, the first battle in which the VC stood and fought as a regimental sized unit. It was also one that they won handily.
The entire UTT company fought the battle. We were next in line to go but were at the end of the day neither called nor needed. Indeed, Azbill would not have been flying in normal circumstances, as the helicopter companies in those days, where possible, avoided flying personnel with less than 30 days to go. That he was flying at all that day showed the seriousness of the fight.
At the end of the day this helicopter was shot down, the VC owned the battlefield and none of the crewmembers bodies could be retrieved and the VC eventually buried them in the corner of a rice paddy on the eastern side of the village.
On the Sunday after the battle, 2 of the Razorback helicopters were sent to Binh Gia to see what could be found. I was aircraft commander of the second helicopter. We flew around the area and particularly along the East-West road through the village. We were just trying to draw fire and locate any VC left in the area. The graves were still there, but the VC, as they were so skilled at doing, had vanished. Indeed, I recall rather strangely, that when we arrived at the village there was no evidence of a major battle, except for the graves.
I clearly recall all of this because we were shot down that day in a bizarre incident that really illustrates the nature of the conflict at that time. We happened to be east of the village flying along the east-west road, probably at about 1000 ft, when the crew chief saw a person pop out from behind a tree and fire at us as we passed over. It was a single person and we were flying away from him at the time, so we did not think much of it. Our entire situational circumstance was such that there was no chance that we would be hit, so we just noted what occurred and continued flying toward the village.
A short time later, as we approached the village, the crew chief reached up on the roof of the helicopter and then leaned over my seat and stuck a handful of oil in my face. It was not difficult to quickly conclude that we were losing engine oil and needed to land quickly. We weren't going to land to the east of the village (the VC line of retreat) and we couldn't land in the village, so I just kept flying until we cleared the village to the west and could land in a rice paddy about a quarter of a mile away from it. The low oil warning light came on just as I finished the approach.
We shut down and pulled back the engine cowling and discovered that we had been hit in an oil line. The crew chief removed the line and we decided to send the other helicopter to Vung Tau (about 20 minutes flight time away) to get a replacement and some oil. We thought we would just have lunch while they flew to Vung Tau, connect the new line when they got back, top up the oil and fly the aircraft out-all in about an hour and a half. There was no one around, so we weren't particularly worried about being left alone on the ground for that short period of time.
Well, we ended up sitting in the open on the battlefield for 3 1/2 hours while waiting for the other helicopter to return. Our problem was that it was a Sunday and no one was working in Vung Tau that day. As a result, the crew of the other helicopter had to land at Vung Tau, find out where in town the supply people lived, drive into town and pick up someone who could find what we needed and fly back to us. Eventually, they found someone, got the replacement line and oil and returned. We then spent 20 minutes screwing the oil line back on and topping up the oil before finally flying back to Saigon.
What's bizarre about the entire incident is that we thought little to nothing of sitting and having lunch on a battlefield in an area where upwards of perhaps 1000 VC had won a battle thbefore. It was just a small incident in what was at that time a small war, but when one thinks about it 50 years on, its not difficult to rather quickly conclude that we must have been out of our minds at the time.
(So just to add to or correct the record-the province where Azbill was killed was known as Phuoc Tuy at the time. I note also that my account of the crewmen's bodies being buried out in the open differs from a couple of accounts of the battle written afterwards, and long afterwards in some instances (see Wikipedia-The Battle of Binh Gia), but I recall 6 things that support my record of events-one, I saw the graves from the air; two, I knew whose graves they were; three, I clearly remember the bizarre event of getting shot down and what occurred afterward; four, I agree with the Wikipedia accounts that the Vietnamese attempted to retrieve the bodies at some stage during the battle despite receiving advisor advice not to attempt to do so, and I recall that they were ambushed, and failed; five, I recall that there is newsreel coverage of the attempt and it showed that it was clearly being made in open terrain along the eastern side of the east-west road through the village, not in any jungle or rubber plantation; six, the VC buried the bodies where they did as bait for their ambush. The Vietnamese forces took the bait and suffered heavy losses as a result)
From: Robert M. Hamilton, Former Armed Helicopter Pilot, 120th Aviation Company, Saigon, 1964-1965
Bribie Island, Queensland, Australia, 31 October 2016
Reason: aircraft lost or crashed
Casualty type: Hostile - died while missing
married male U.S. citizen
Religion: Protestant - no denominational preference
Burial information: GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL CEMETERY, SAN BRUNO CA
The following information secondary, but may help in explaining this incident.
Category of casualty as defined by the Army: battle dead Category of personnel: active duty Army Military class: warrant officer
This record was last updated on 05/22/2020
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