Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1D tail number 63-08808
Date: 12/28/1965 MIA-POW file reference number: 0224
Incident number: 0D506ACD Accident case number: 0D506 Total Loss Accident
Unit: 229 CAB 1 CAV
Number killed in accident = 4 . . Injured = 0 . . Passengers = 0
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: Defense Intelligence Agency Reference Notes. Defense Intelligence Agency Helicopter Loss database. Army Aviation Safety Center database. Also: 0224 ()
Loss to Inventory
P CW2 PHELPS JESSE DONALD RR
P CW2 STANCIL KENNETH LEON RR
CE SP5 GRELLA DONALD CARROLL RR
G SP4 RICE THOMAS JR RR
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. SYNOPSIS: The large influx of American combat and support battalions arriving in Vietnam in the mid-1960's afforded the Army Special Forces a wealth of potential military backup and engineer support. Airmobile infantry promised quick and decisive response to CIDG patrolling opportunities or adverse camp situations. The availability of engineers assured required camp construction and defensive strengthening of existing sites. In exchange, the Special Forces provided support, regional intelligence and area indoctrination for the arriving Army formations. In mid to late December 1965, Special Forces Major Brewington's B-22 Detachment helped the 1st Cavalry Division to settle into the An Khe area. Assisting, was the 299th Attack Helicopter Battalion of the Aviation Company of 7th Special Forces Group (Assault Helicopter). On December 28, 1965 a UH1D helicopter from the Aviation Company departed An Khe on a supply mission to a combat unit in the early hours. Radio transmissions revealed that flight was difficult because of weather and darkness. The pilot, WO2 Jesse Phelps, radioed for weather reports. The other crew of the aircraft consisted of SP5 Donald Grella, crewchief; WO3 Kenneth Stancil, co-pilot; and SP4 Thomas Rice, door gunner. When the aircraft was about 10 minutes' flying time from An Khe, radio contact was suspended, and no further word was received from the aircraft. When the UH1D failed to return, an intensive search was conducted, with no sign of either the lost aircraft or its crew. The crew was believed to be all killed.
The following is the truth about what happened to the crew of flight #808 on Dec. 28th, 1965, as told by Cpt. Ed Freeman, the platoon leader for CWO Jesse D. Phelps.
On Dec. 27th, CWO Phelps was selected to fly from a base camp near Qui Nhon, about 20 miles north of An Khe, to the "golf course" at An Khe. The reason he was selected was because he was the most qualified to fly by instrumentation. The crew stayed the night at An Khe, so they could get a good nights rest and clean up. The next morning they departed from An Khe with a cargo of machine guns and hot food for the troops at the base camp near Qui Nhon. They radioed ahead to the forward camp that they were in the air and on the way. There was no contact after that.
Within a short time of being overdue a search was ordered of a grid area that was determined to be where they could have run out of fuel, in all directions. According to Capt. Freeman, (Too Tall), the search went on by air for a period of 3 days. There was one spot that appeared to have had disturbance in the trees and a Chinook helicopter was brought in and troops did repel into the area. They didn't find anything. A ground search was conducted in various areas, but some areas were not accessible, due to the jungle and swamp conditions.
MCT COLUMN 286 (04/10/2009) Commentary: Fallen brothers found _ and lost By Joseph L. Galloway McClatchy Newspapers As with so much in life and in death, there was news this week that was joyous and sad and bittersweet all at once for the small community of the Vietnam War's band of brothers of the Ia Drang Valley. Early in the morning of December 28, 1965, a U.S. Army Huey helicopter, tail number 63-08808, lifted off from the huge grassy airfield at the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) base at An Khe in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Two experienced pilots, CWO Jesse Phelps of Boise, Idaho, and CWO Kenneth Stancie of Chattanooga, Tenn., were at the controls. Behind them in the doors were crew chief Donald Grella of Laurel, Neb., and door gunner Thomas Rice Jr. of Spartanburg, S.C. All four were already veterans of the fiercest air assault battle of the war, fought the previous month in the Ia Drang. Huey 808 was one of 10 birds in a platoon of A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, led by Capt. Ed (Too Tall to Fly) Freeman. It was bound on a short, routine flight down Route 19 to an infantry field position just over the high pass between An Khe and the port city of Qui Nhon. It was what Army aviators called an "ash and trash mission," hauling cases of C-rations, ammunition and other essential supplies to a company of grunts preparing for an air assault mission. Normally, all missions were flown by at least two helicopters, but this one was so brief and so routine and along a route so well known and marked by the center white line of a familiar highway that Capt. Freeman and his boss, Maj. Bruce (Ol' Snake) Crandall, already at the Landing Zone with the rest of A Company's 20 helicopters, agreed to waive that requirement and let 808 fly alone. With that, 808 flew off the face of the earth. It disappeared without a word on the radio of distress or trouble. The helicopter was gone, and a massive search effort began almost immediately and continued for months, both as an organized and methodical search and by individual Huey pilots who flew anywhere near that route. For weeks, they combed the rugged jungle hills on both sides of the road and on both sides of the mountain pass. Choppers hovered over every break in the tree cover peering down if they could see or sending crewmen rappelling down ropes to look around clearings that were not easily checked from the air. They found nothing. The Huey and its four crewmen had vanished. The families of the crewmen joined the ranks of those who wait for news, for hope, for some closure of an open wound. More than 1,600 American servicemen are still listed as missing in action in Vietnam. This week, the Department of Defense liaison officers who work with MIA families called Ol' Snake Crandall and surviving family members of the four missing crewmen to confirm that after 43 years, search teams following one of thousands of leads had found and positively identified the wreckage of Huey 808. In what amounts to almost an archaeological dig the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team assigned to this lead also recovered dog tags, other personal artifacts and some human remains. After so long a time in the acid soil of Vietnam, that usually means bone fragments and maybe a tooth or two. Often that adds up to no more than will fill a small handkerchief. The remains will now be flown to the Central Identification Library in Hawaii and every effort will be made through DNA testing to identify them and attach a name to them. "They told us it could take several months to complete that process," said Shirley Haase of Omaha, Neb., the sister of crew chief Donald Grella. "I only wish my mother was here for this news. She waited for so long." The men of Huey 808 will be coming home at last. Grieving mothers and fathers have died waiting for news that never came. Siblings have grown old. Their buddies have never forgotten and never rested in pressing for a resolution to this case. Too Tall Ed Freeman and Ol' Snake Crandall, his wingman and boss, never missed an opportunity to ask questions or get a little pushy with a government official, even a president of the United States or a North Vietnamese Army general, in seeking an answer to the mystery. Too Tall Ed died last summer in a Boise, Idaho, hospital. In their final farewell visit, he and Crandall, both Medal of Honor recipients, talked about Huey 808, and Bruce promised Ed that he'd keep pushing the search as long as he lived. A week ago, the Ia Drang fraternity buried Doc Randy Lose at the National Cemetery in Biloxi, Miss. Doc was the medic of the Lost Platoon of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th U.S. Cavalry at Landing Zone X-Ray in November 1965. Doc's old company commander, Col. (ret.) John Herren, was there. So was Sgt. Earnie Savage, who inherited command of the Lost Platoon after Lt. Henry Herrick and three more-senior sergeants were killed in the first 10 minutes of battle after the 30-man platoon was cut off and surrounded by hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers. In all, nine men were killed and 13 were wounded in the opening minutes of a struggle for survival that lasted 27 hours for the cut-off Americans. Doc Lose used up all the bandages and kept plugging wounds with small rolls of C-Ration toilet paper. He crawled from man to man under intense enemy fire, was wounded twice himself and kept every one of the 13 wounded alive during the longest day and night of their lives. Doc earned a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, and his battalion commander, Lt. Gen. (ret) Hal Moore, and I did everything we could to get that upgraded to the Medal of Honor we think he deserved. Doc Lose died last month, killed by the Vietnam War just as certainly as if he'd been shot in the head by a sniper during those 27 hours with the Lost Platoon. You see, my friend Doc Lose came home from Vietnam a different man. He carried wounds no one but other combat veterans could see. Doc carried the battlefield memories of suffering and death and killing, and they never let him rest. All that's over now. Doc has crossed the river to be with some other great soldiers. The rest of us will be along soon enough, Doc, so pop smoke when you hear us inbound. The goofy grape (purple smoke) will work just fine.
U.S. Soldiers MIA from Vietnam War Identified The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. A group burial for U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth L. Stancil, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Chief Warrant Officer Jesse D. Phelps, Boise, Idaho; Spc. Thomas Rice, Jr., Spartanburg, S.C.; and Spc. Donald C. Grella, Laurel, Neb., as well as Rice's individual remains burial will be tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery. Stancil, Phelps and Grella were buried individually last year. The four men were aboard a UH-1D Huey helicopter which failed to return from a mission over Gia Lai Province, South Vietnam to pick up special forces soldiers on Dec. 28, 1965. The exact location of the crash site was not determined during the war, and search and rescue operations were suspended after failing to locate the men after four days. From 1993-2005, joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam teams led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command attempted unsuccessfully to locate the site. But in April 2006, a joint team interviewed two local villagers, one of whom said he had shot down a U.S. helicopter in 1965. The villagers escorted the team to the crash site where wreckage was found. In March 2009, another joint team excavated the area and recovered human remains and other artifacts including an identification tag from Grella. JPAC's scientists employed traditional forensic techniques in making these identifications, including comparisons of dental records with the remains found at the site. For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1169.
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