Helicopter UH-1B 63-08557

Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1B tail number 63-08557
Date: 06/10/1965
Incident number: 65061020.TXT Accident case number: 0C245 Total Loss Accident
Unit: 118 AML
This was a Combat incident. This helicopter was LOSS TO INVENTORY
for Air/land Assault , Hot Area.
While on Landing Zone this helicopter was on the Ground at 0000 feet and 000 knots.
South Vietnam
Helicopter took 1 hits from:
Explosive Weapon; Non-Artillery launched or static weapons containing explosive charges. (MORTAR)
causing a Blast.
Systems damaged were: PERSONNEL
Casualties = 04 KIA . . Number killed in accident = 0 . . Injured = 0 . . Passengers = 0
The helicopter was parked. Aircraft Destroyed.
Both mission and flight capability were terminated.
costing 193648
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: Army Aviation Safety Center database. Survivability/Vulnerability Information Analysis Center Helicopter database. Also: UH1P1, 01509, CRAFX, CASRP, STMNT, CALTR (Crash Facts Message. Casualty Report. )
Loss to Inventory

Crew Members:

Passengers and/or other participants:

REFNO Synopsis:
South Vietnam Walter L. Hall Bruce G. Johnson Fred M. Owen Robert L. Curlee Donald R. Saegaert Joseph J. Compa, Jr. Craig L. Hagen (0096) On June 19, 1965, those involved in this loss incident were on board a UH-1B helicopter on a combat operation into a landing zone six kilometers from the town of Dong Xoai, Phuoc Long Province. Their helicopter was hit by ground fire and crashed. Captain Johnson, an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army's 5th Infantry Division, reported to another helicopter in the area that the aircraft's crew and all others on board were dead and his position was receiving incoming enemy mortar fire. There was no further transmission from Captain Johnson after the end of the mortar fire. A later search of the area failed to produce any sign of the seven servicemen. In late 1965, a Viet Cong produced film was captured which appeared to depict a portion of the battle at Dong Xoai. The film appeared to show the dead bodies of Sergeant First Class Owen and First Lieutenant Hall. Information was later received from another source that the seven U.S. were killed in this incident, four found in the helicopter and three others at the airstrip. Intelligence reports of unidentified U.S. POWs sightings several months before this incident occurred were received later and were placed in the file of these servicemen. One report associated with the capture of an American at the battle of Binh Gia was placed in Captain Johnson's file, but may have correlated to the capture of another Captain several months earlier. Captain Johnson was initially reported missing. Returning U.S. POWs were unable to provide information about his precise fate or the fate of the others. Captain Johnson was declared dead/body not recovered in February 1978.

War Story:
On 6/10/65, while flying a single ship mission, I received a call for all available helicopters to procede to Phouc Vinh for TACE operation into Dong Xoai. I had just infused from the 118th into A82, so joined up with the 118th for the TACE lift. I flew next to last ship in formation and Don was last when going staggard trail. First lift with ARVIN was no problem. On second lift, C&C advised lead to select another LZ as they had lost contact with advisors on first lift. Lead selected the Dong Zoai French rubber plantation grass runway (NVA knew we were dumb), on final approach we went staggard trail, on short final a herd of water buffalo came walking out of the rubber trees about halfway down the runway ( never seen them that close to the plantation house where the French broads were playing tennis). At any rate, we landed short of the buffalo and instantly came under heavy atomatic weapons fire. My C/P was hit in his right arm, I had my helmit shot off my head and the ARVIN were mowed down like flys as they exited the aircraft. When I got my helmit back from over my eyes I saw Dons aircraft hit by a mortor or RPG and explode on the ground. My heli had numerious strikes and rotor damage but by some stroke of luck after the 118th B Mdls. were out of my way, I made it into the air and back to Phouc Vinh where my C/P was medevaced. I was flying a brand new D Mdl. When my C/P got hit he flinched, pulling up on collective and we lost rpm. I was the last ship out after bouncing down the runway trying to get rpm back. A few days after Dong Zoai was secured, I flew back over that plantation and took photos of where we had landed but no site of the helicopter. Hope you can read this and if further is needed, let me know. Jim Meyers CWO4 Retired. >p> JC Meyers

I'm interested in the Battle of Dong Xoai. The narrative on the 118th website, and on the 145th website, and the separate URL (?) that talks specifically about the loss of helicopter # 63-08557 also called Incident 63-08557 are of particular interest to me. I'm not sure who I should be directing this toward but I have some questions about all of those reports.

I was a door gunner in the 118th and flew through, what I assumed to be, the major involvement's of the 118th in that battle. First the lift into the plantation and second the rescue of the SF folks from the compound at Dong Xoai. I was the door gunner on Blue Tail 4. My crew chief's last name was Alley; I don't recall his first name. Captain Hill, second platoon (Choppers) Platoon Leader, was the AC that day; I don't remember the pilot for sure but I think it was "Crazy Mr. Baker." We flew lead. Blue 4 had Decca System mounts and Captain Hill flew it because of that, and because it was a strong bird. In as much as he was the Platoon Leader, we were usually the lead bird on Combat Assaults.

I don't recall things happening exactly the way the story is told on the 118th web site or the 145th web site. For example, I don't believe we landed short when the "herd o f cattle" (actually, as I recall, a herd of water buffalo) ran onto the air strip. We couldn't have landed short and still had room for that long line of ships behind us to land. Also, we were almost right over the buffaloes; if it happened as told on the web sites, we'd have sat right down among them. I suspect the pilot was actually flying because I remember we flared momentarily as he seemed to be making a decision, then I'm quite sure I remember CPT Hill simply saying, "go long."

We staged the lift into the plantation from Phuc Vin. I remember, as we were waiting for the ARVN's to get organized and onto the birds that many of them had been drinking, some heavily. They seemed to know what was in store for them. The unit commander almost couldn't navigate he was so wasted. We had an "Aspirant" in Blue tail 4 who was nearly paralyzed with fear. Being new in country I didn't know if this was normal or not...I didn't know what to expect.

We landed in trail. Something tells me that we somehow became the second bird in line. I can't say why I think that; we should have been first. I know that the ARVN's who unloaded from my side were dead before they got past our rotor blades. I was shooting up and to the rear as far as I could go without hitting the blades. As far as I remember all the VC fire was coming from the upper story of a building on the right side (gunner side) of the air strip.=2 0In the ship behind me the ARVN's were being hit inside and outside of the cargo door. They fell or were thrown out dead. That was mostly the case up and down the line on the right or door gunners side. When we got back to Phuc Vin we lined up the bullet entry and exit holes in one of the ships and there was no way the gunner could have been in his seat and not gotten hit several times. There were multiple holes in the fuel cell that matched up with holes in the floor, most of which would have struck him in the back and traveled down through his hips and legs. Apparently, because he was constantly moving around to shoot and throw dead ARVN's out, he never got scratched.

My memory is that there were multiple explosions as the buffs ran in panic onto the air strip. My memory is that they ran into a mined area that was either contact or command detonated. I have always believed that had they not run out onto the strip we would have landed in that mine field. My assumption has always been that that's what was intended by the VC; that it was a set ambush. That all those automatic weapons that fired down on us from the windows of the large building to the right of the air strip (the right side as we shot out approach) were part of a well laid ambush. That the water buffaloes, panicked by all that aircraft activity or whatever, ran onto the air strip and saved our fannies. Neither narrative talks about an ambush; I don 't understand that. That's what I remember and that's what I recall all my fellow door gunners, crew chiefs and pilots talking about afterwards; that we had flown into a set ambush. Maybe we were wrong; I really don't think so.

I did not see Blue Tail one (was it one?) go down. Those who did, that I know, all said that a mine (buried mortar/arty round?) blew up just to the left of the bird, blowing it up and to the right, tipping it past the point of no return and into that big three story building. That doesn't seem to match up with what I read on the web site or the web site pictures. I do remember hearing the Blue Tail pilot very calmly saying, "This is Blue One; we're going in." A simple drawing of the place would help me a lot. (I was there for less than a minute.) Unfortunately, and for no particular reason, I never got to go back to the plantation.

The name Hagen sticks in my memory but I've always thought that he was a member of the aviation company. His name is not listed on my roster of door gunners from the 25th Division (actually First BN, 14th INF, 25th INF Div). It is possible that he traveled on separate orders but I doubt it. LT Scott, (James T. OF102369) went ahead of the main body by about two weeks. Still, he's on the group order, but no Hagen. I don't remember him in training or the long delayed trip over but I could be wrong on that.

Also, I don't recall there being any strap hangers on any ship that day. The report says there were two and that could have been. I don't recall seeing them at Phuc Vinh where we staged. Usually in a deal like that you would know if there were any "air medal pirates" around. We knew it was probably a "Hot LZ" from the get go; I can't imagine Captain Hill allowing strap hangers in that situation...but maybe.

I'm surprised that no one remembers (in either narrative) Blue Tail 1 saying they were going in. I'm surprised that the (I thought) famous three picture sequence by Horst Faas was not in the story when the bandits (I think it was the bandits) did their recon. I'm really surprised that the great line we heard from them as they flew over the plantation (or maybe the SF compound) wasn't in there: "We haven't seen anything but be careful...two trees just ran across the road." (I've used that line many times afterwards in my 33 year SF career.) It really should be in someone's narrative.

Finally, at the SF compound, I do not recall three birds on the ground, only two. We were volunteers. We volunteered on the basis of the fact that we were the first two birds to be refueled at Phuc Vinh, after the lift into the plantation. That was it. It was all about where the fuel truck stopped and nothing else. Also, there wasn't room for a third bird at the gate of the SF compound. Everyone says Mighty Mouse (MAJ Stewart) was there and it was definitely in his nature but I don't remember seeing him there at all. Were they flying cover in case we needed a dustoff? I remember my crew chief SP5(?) Alley unhooked his helmet and went through the gate into the compound to get the SF folks (maybe two) and the CB's (I think like seven) to move toward us while I had the hot side of the compound. The other bird was more or less hidden from the VC, being on the far or south side of our ship from them. Nether our crew chief nor their door gunner could shoot because they were facing each other, not many feet apart. Beating away that mob of Vietnamese from getting into the birds was a real chore. I believe we had 7 Americans, 1 Vietnamese (don't know how he got by me) and a 4 man crew for that C (B?) model to lift out in the early afternoon air. The landing strip, less than 50 meters from, and perpendicular to, the front gate of the compound was a section of old route 14 that ended in a solid wall of jungle a couple of hundred meters to the south. I don't know how long they kept firing at us as Captain Hill backed up as far north as possible then ran along the asphalt on the front of the skids, and pulled pitch just in time for us to break through the tops of the trees, cracking the chin bubble, and finally stagger into the air. As a member of Shot Gun X, it was our thir d day in county; I was in no position to appreciate the skill and nerve he displayed at that moment.

If MG (Ret.) Scott, James T. OIC of Shot Gun X at Bein Hoa or CPT James (I think James) Hill, Platoon Leader of 2nd Plt, 118th AML, or SSG (E-5) Emlick Golf, Shot Gun X Platoon Sergeant at Bein Hoa could be contacted, I'll bet a lot of this could be readily cleared up.

Somewhere, someone said that there were two (?) silver stars and one DFC awarded for that day. I've always thought that of the two ships who flew the rescue mission the four pilots each got Silver Stars and the four crew members got DFC's. I can say positively that there were at least two DFC's because I got one at the same time the other door gunner from the 1st of the 14th got his. Can't say for certain about the others but my memory is Silver Stars for the pilots, DFC's for the crew.

Please understand, I don't claim to know everything that happened that day. Everything I've said is what I remember, not what I know; there may have been three birds at the compound etc. I'd love to discuss...not argue just discuss...these things with whoever put these narratives together. Some things I've always believed to be true seem now unlikely; others, despite the narratives, still seem quite true. I would hope we might achieve some greater clarity on that long ago battle .

If possible, I would like to hear from someone.

SGM (Ret.) John W. Boyce
2915 Se 35th Ave
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 231-9038

This record was last updated on 09/12/2011

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