Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1D tail number
Incident number: 67031655.KIA
Unit: 155 AHC
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: War Story as related by a witness. Also: Ban Me Thuot Barb - Sortie #9, Feb 1999 ()
Summary: Crew of Chalk 3 rescued crew of Chalk 2 when it was shot down
AC 1LT SPERLING RICHARD A
CP CRISTOBAL WILLIAM RAY
CE SP5 BAUCOM MIKE
G DESIMONE TOM
The February 1999 issue of the Ban Me Thuot Barb contained the citation for the DSC for Dick Sperling and a photo of the crew taken shortly after the day's action. The photo came from Dick's collection. Dick Sperling remember - It was my very first mission as an AC; in fact, I still felt more comfortable in the right seat, so that's where I flew that day. Bill Cristobal was my copilot, Mike Baucom was the crew chief, and Tom DeSimone was the gunner. It was a hot LZ, and I thought we had made it OK, but on my left I saw Chalk 2 on fire. They didn't make it very far before going into the trees. As Chalk 3, behind the ship that went down, it was 155 SOP for us to go down and help - and that's what we did. We hovered around the crash site, but couldn't see much. We found a small clearing not too far away. I'm not sure if I asked the crew or not, but I remember everyone agreed on the intercom, "Let's go down to help, LT." I set the ship down, told Bill to stay unless it got too hot, and took off running toward the smoke. After only a few meters I was gasping for breath, so I returned to the ship to throw off my chicken plate and helmet. I motioned Mike (and his M-60) to come with me, and we went crashing through the trees toward the downed ship. When we got to the crash, the two pilots and the crew chief were standing off to the side watching their helicopter burn. The crew chief had a leg wound; the pilots were dazed but uninjured. The ship had crashed on its right side, killing the door gunner. Gulping air, I told them we should get back to my ship - but they wanted to stay until the fire died down so they could get their weapons! I remember fusing some pretty strong words to get them moving. The pilots may have been in shock, so I led them while Mike helped the injured crew chief. Very soon after we started toward our ship, I realized that we had a new problem. Getting to the downed crew had been easy, we just ran to the smoke. But I hadn't given a thought to getting back! I couldn't see our ship, and it was far too noisy to hear it. Uh-oh! I'm the LT, I'm in charge here and I'm lost in the jungle! Well, I'm pretty sure we didn't take the most direct route back, but eventually we did find the ship. That's a sight I'll never forget! We ran to it, climbed in quickly, and made it out OK. Of course we talked about the mission that evening. I found out that Bill had been told it was too dangerous to stay on the ground, and the C&C wanted him to depart the area - but he wouldn't leave us. (I've often thought that just waiting on the ground, as Bill and Tom did, was probably the toughest part of all.) There was some talk of medals for our crew, and I remember thinking that, as a pilot, a DFC would be something to be proud of. I didn't give it much thought. Then a couple of days later, my platoon leader Baryney Hancock told me I had been recommended for the DSC. I said that was OK, no big deal. Actually, I didn't even know what a DSC was - I had to go back to look at my Officer's Guide to find out. Postscript: That's what I remember. I got a nice medal, and I think Mike got a Silver Star, but this wasn't any hero thing. We just did what had to be done for our buddies - because that's what was expected in the 155th. And what we did was a crew effort; that medal has my name on it, but it really belongs to the whole crew. The 155 was such a close unit because we all knew we could depend on each other. On that day, it just happened to be our turn. Tom DeSimone remembers - I was the door gunner on Mike Baucom's ship that day, we were supporting the 4th Infantry Division. For some reason, LZ 510A sticks in my mind, I don't know whether that's right or not. I do remember, we knew from the start that it was going to be a bad one. Charlie was ready for a fight that day. We were in the third 'Vee' of three, as we headed inbound we listened as the two flights in front of us took heavy fire on the LZ. Then it was our turn. There was a lot of fire, and I was doing what I could with my free 60, and we made it in and got off OK. Somebody must have said something on the intercom, because I remember looking around the well to see Chalk 2 on the left side of our Vee. From just above and behind the cargo compartment, the whole ship was on fire! The door gunner was standing on the skid outside the ship, looking up at the fire; I'm sure he was telling the pilots what he saw. We knew he couldn't go very far. The ship gradually settled and slowed; I remember it going into the trees as if in slow motion. When the rotors hit, pieces of tree branches and rotors flew every which way, and the ship crashed on its right side. LT Sperling circled the downed ship as we all watched for survivors. We found a small clearing not too far from the crash site, and landed there. The LT told Bill and I to stay with the ship, while he and Mike headed off toward the wreck. I took my M-60 about 20 meters in front of the ship and watched for enemy activity. Man, it was noisy! Mortars were going off. And there was constant small arms and machine gun fire. Fortunately, none of it seemed to be directed toward us - but I knew it was close. To emphasis that, one of my most vivid memories is the sound of spent 20mm shell casings (from strafing A-1 Skyraiders) crashing through the tree branches. I have no idea how long we waited there, but it seemed forever. Finally, I caught sight of our guys coming back. LT Sperling was leading the two pilots, who seemed to be somewhat dazed. Mike was helping the crew chief, who had a leg wound. I ran to them and, since I was bigger than Mike, threw the crew chief over my shoulder and ran to our ship. We got everyone aboard, and then got the heck out of there! After Action: The rescued pilots were Jerry Johns and Robert Schurr. The crew chief is unknown. Two 155 guys died that day, SGT Keith Griffin and SP4 James Patterson. One of them was the door gunner on the downed ship. If anyone has additional information on this incident, please contact 155 AHCA Historian Bob Alberts.
This record was last updated on 03/01/1999
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Date posted on this site: 05/16/2021
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