Helicopter UH-1H 68-15255
Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1H tail number 68-15255
The Army purchased this helicopter 1268
Total flight hours at this point: 00001760
Date: 02/18/1971 MIA-POW file reference number: 1706
Incident number: 71021810.TXT
Unit: A/101 AVN
UTM grid coordinates: YC481785
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. Also: 1706 ()
Loss to Inventory
CE SP4 DEMSEY WALTER EDWARD JR BNR
G SP4 JOHNSON GARY LEE BNR
AC CW2 BERG GEORGE PHILLIP BNR
P WO1 WOODS GERALD ERNEST BNR
Passengers and/or other participants:
SGT LLOYD ALLEN RICHARD, AR, PX, BNR
CPT WATSON RONALD LEONARD, AR, PX, BNR
SFC HERNANDEX SAMUEL, AR, PX, RES
Personnel in Incident: Gerald Ernest Woods; Walter E. Demsey; Gary L. Johnson; George P. Berg (all missing from UH1H); Allen R. Lloyd; Ronald L. Watson (missing from Special Forces team) YC481785
SYNOPSIS: WO Gerald E. Woods, pilot; WO George P. Berg, aircraft commander; SP4 Gary L. Johnson, door gunner; SP4 Walter Demsey, crew chief; were assigned to Company A, 101st Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. On February 18, 1971, their UH1H was dispatched as part of a flight of four on an emergency patrol extraction mission on the west side of the A Shau Valley in Thua Tin Province, South Vietnam. The patrol to be rescued included Sgt. Allen R. Lloyd, Capt. Ronald L. Watson and SFC Samuel Hernandez, part of Special Operations Augmentation, Command & Control North, 5th Special Forces Group.
The team was assigned to MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group). MACV-SOG was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (although it was not a Special Forces group) through Special
Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. The teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction which were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
During the attempt to recover the patrol, Woods' helicopter came under heavy fire and had to leave the pick-up zone with Lloyd, Watson and Hernandez attached to the three-staple rig. While in flight, the rope broke, and Hernandez fell 30-40 feet, landing in double canopy jungle. He was rescued the following day. The helicopter continued a short distance, and was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire, crashed and burned.
On February 19, a Special Forces recovery team was inserted at the crash site to search the area. Woods and Berg were found dead in their seats. Johnson's body was found in a tree. One leg of Demsey, the burned crew chief, was found in the cargo compartment. All remains were prepared for extraction, and the team left to establish a night defensive position. En route, the team found the remains of Lloyd and Watson, still on their rope slings, in the trees on the edge of a cliff. Because of the rugged terrain and approaching darkness, the rescue team leader decided to wait until morning to recover these two remains. However, the following morning, the search team came under intense fire, and the team leader requested an emergency extraction, and in doing so, left all remains behind.
All the crew and passengers on board the UH1H downed on the border of Laos and Vietnam west of the A Shau Valley that day were confirmed dead. It is unfortunate, but a reality of war that their remains were left behind out of necessity to protect the lives of the search team who found them. They are listed with honor among the missing because their remains cannot be buried with honor at home.
I am in contact with the brother of Sp4 Walter Demsey who went to the crash site in the A Shau in 1993, visited it, put down a plaque that he pounded in a rock, and made a video tape that I have of his visit.
The brother has a homepage that I am searching for. It was on a "Vietnam Stories" of someone else.
I KNOW Clewell personally and he carries the burden of this loss, very heavily on his heart. It happened while he was leading his company, the Comancheros into Laos during Lam Son 719. He has the most burdened heart of all the aviation company commanders I talked to in 94 when I worked on the VHPA directory's story of Lam Son 719.
No one was tortured, etc, etc,....they just died.
On 16 Feb, 1971, WO George Berg, AC, Sp4 Gary Johnson, Gnr, Sp4 Walter Demsey CE and WO Gerald Woods, PP, were flying UH-1h 68-15255 in a flight of four on an emergency patrol extraction mission on the west side of the A Shau valley.
During the attempt to recover the patrol, which included Cpt Donald Watson, Sgt Allen Lloyd, and SFC Samuel Hernandez, buy use of stabo extraction rigs, the helicopter came under heavy fire and had to leave the pickup zone with the three men attached to the the three stabo rigs. While in flight SFC Hernandez rope broke and he fell about 30 to 40 feet, landing in double canopy jungle. (He was rescued the following day)The helicopter continued a short distance and was then hit by anti-aircraft fire, crashed and burned in the vicinity of YC 481 785.
On 19 Feb 71, a Special Forces recovery team (Bright Light) was inserted at the crash site to search ofr and recover the bodies of the crew and patrol. Both pilots were found dead in their seats. The gunner's body was found in a tree. One leg of the CE was found in the burned cargo compartment. (The CE was identified by the jungle boot on the foot. He was the only crewmember that wore jungle boots.) All remains were put in body bags on the top of the aircraft wreckage for extraction.
While the search team was moving away form the aircraft wreckage in order to establish a night defensive position, they found the bodies of CPT Watson and SGT Lloyd avbout 50 feet down a cliff with the sling ropes hanging in the trees the top of the cliff. It appeared as the helicopter was crashing, CPT Watson and SGT Lloyd were thrown through the air against the side of the cliff.
Because of the rugged terrain and approaching darkness, the search team leader decided to wait until morning to attempt to recover those remains. The following morning the search team came under intense automatic weapons fire, so the team leader declared an emergency and had the search team extracted. All remains from this incident were left behind.
I personally talked to that team leader that put the bodies in the bag, and had to leave them. He is a retired SF E-9 living in Southern Pines NC, today. He told me his story over beer, one cigarette after another, and tears. I hold the green berets of the 5th Special Forces Group(Airborne) in highest regard. I found this man through the Special Forces Association. I will always believe I should not have contacted him and let him have his peace. However, at the end of our visit, this big guy gave me a hug and said, "I feel better about talking about it."
I asked him if anyone had gotten to the crash site ahead of him, and he said no. There were no footprints and the bodies still had the weapons on them, one of the pilots had a camera strapped over the seat and it was still there. So after having looked that man in the eye, I truly believe everyone died on impact.
I have read a POW/MIA group from North Carolina's version of torture and execution of the crew, so I showed it to him. He got real pissed off and said they were out just trying to make a buck on the losses of his friend Sgt Lloyd.
Mike Sloniker, firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sunday (10 Nov 96) some of the members of the VVA were visiting her during the day. Someone noticed a Decoration Box wedged into the A/C's door handle. When we opened it we found an Air Medal with V device and a 101 Aviation Bn coin. The Decoration set was complete. We wondered about it but there was nothing further we could do. We will display the Air Medal along with the small hand-made wooden Cross that was also left. The Cross was left on the nose, between the two windscreens.
On Nov 12, 1996 a letter was posted to the Chapter from somewhere in Baltimore. The letter reads as follows:
While reading the Saturday Sun, I saw that the VVA was dedicating as a memorial, a UH-1C. I have yet been able to go near the Wall, but found myself being drawn to this ceremony, arriving shortly before it started.
On Sunday, I returned early in the morning and sat in the quiet chill hoping to finally make sense of it all. Before leaving, I placed an Air Medal under the handle of the pilots door, Why? I really don't know. But hopefully you found it, and to honor The Men Who Never Returned, will find a fitting place for it.
Each year around Veterans Day, IO have pulled out this story and relived this particular mission, and many more. I relived it again during the dedication on Saturday, maybe it's time to share it.
The Crew was: WO Gerald Woods A/C
WO George Berg Pilot
SP4 Walter Demsey CE
SP Gary Johnson Gunner
I don't know the names of the Special Forces team members killed that day.
The date was: 16 Feb. 1971 The mission: CCN Support. The unit was: A Company, 101 Aviation Bn. (Comanchero's) Major Clewell was commanding.
I swapped birds with Demsey the day before, and was flying in the #3 bird on this mission. It took 2 days to get people on the crash site. From reports I later heard, 3 people had survived the crash with injuries, but had later been tortured then executed. Demsey was one of them.
Attached is a xerox copy of the U.S. Army Aviation Digest, August 1972, article titled "The Men Who Never Returned" by Major Robert L. Clewell, Data Center, USAAVS. In the article are the following clues: northern provinces, combat air-assaulted into the western mountains, deep in enemy territory, and high upon bouldery, forested ridge. The team repelled down to the ground. Team extraction was also by rope retrieval. Lead returned to pull the last three members of the patrol out and was shot down.
Here the letter ends with no signature. There is no return address on the envelope. All the clues that we have are contained above... We would like to find this vet and welcome him home and let him know that he is not alone. The challenge is to find out who he was and then to locate him. If we can get his name we can find him in Baltimore. We need his name. Any ideas?
From: Jim Henthorn November 1996.
The Missing Men of RT Intruder
MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation
Group, was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force
engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5 th
Special Forces Group at Na Trang channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though
it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentations
(SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG.
These teams, from the three Command and Control locations, CCN, CCC and CCS,
performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and
interdiction. They were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass"
or "Prairie Fire" missions.
RT Intruder was one of the teams that performed these missions along the Ho
Chi Minh Trail. These missions were most often performed in Laos, well
beyond radio range and artillery support. In early 1971, three American
Special Forces troopers manned RT Intruder, from Command and Control North
(CCN) at Da Nang. The Team Leader, or One Zero, was CPT Ronald L.
(Doc)Watson. The second in command, or One One, was SGT Allen R. (Baby
Jesus) Lloyd and SGT Raymond L. (Robby) Robinson, was the One Two.
Additionally, the team had ten Bru Montagnard tribesmen assigned. The team
makeup changed, according to the needs of the mission, but most of the
missions were conducted with all three Americans and five of the Bru
On 8 February 1971, the South Vietnamese government announced Lam Son 719, a
large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that
part of Laos adjacent to the two northern-most provinces of South Vietnam
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of
supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide
and command ground forces, while the US forces would provide airlift and
supporting fire. Phase I, named Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an
armored attack by the US from Vandegrift Base Camp toward Khe Sanh, while
the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase
II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along
Route 9 into Laos. American helicopters transported ARVN ground troops,
while the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.
Ten days later, on 18 February, two teams, RT Intruder and RT Python, were
inserted into opposite sides of the infamous A Shau Valley in support of Lam
Sam 719. RT Python would insert six or seven kilometers east of RT Intruder
on an abandon fire base. On the second day another team was to reinforce RT
Intruder at their location over looking the A Shau valley and bring in
additional ammunition and a couple of 60-MM mortars. Their mission was to
tie down NVA forces by calling in air strikes, gather intelligence and run
reconnaissance missions towards the valley. The A Shau Valley had never been
hotter. Captured documents revealed that the NVA had moved eleven
counter-recon companies there to reinforce LZ watchers, trackers, and dogs,
rear security units and infantry battalions. Additionally, they had two
anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) battalions defending the valley, with one
located at each end. The A Shau diversion was initially assigned to the
2000-man strong 1 st Brigade, 101 st Airborne Division. However, the specter
of heavy US losses forced the planners to reconsider using the airborne
brigade. The decision was then made to give the mission to MACV-SOG instead.
On that date, RT Intruder pulled their final mission together. The team was
being considered for a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) mission. For this
reason, their performance was to be evaluated on this particular road
watch/interdiction mission in the A Shau Valley. SFC Sammy Hernandez and SFC
Charles Wesley (Wes) joined the team as "strap hangers". They would
determine if the team got the nod for the HALO training and subsequent
missions. Both of these men were already HALO qualified and needed team
members that they could trust for these difficult missions. Sammy and Wes
did not volunteer for this mission. A few days prior to the insert, Sammy
and Wes were in the Recon Club having a drink or two. Sammy suggested that
they walk down to the TOC and see what was going on. When they entered the
S-2 section, they saw SGM Billy Waugh talking to Captain Watson and the AST.
SGM Waugh turned and asked, "What are you two doing?" Sammy, with a smile on
his face said, "Screwing off Sergeant Major." Billy replied, "Well, you two
get your rucksacks and weapons. I'm sending you where you can't screw off.
You two will be going with RT Intruder." As the two headed back to their
hooch to secure their weapons and rucks, Wes cursed Sammy and said, "See, I
told you we shouldn't go down to the TOC. I was in the A Shau Valley as a
Platoon Sergeant with the 101 st back in 1968. All the bad guys in the world
are in that valley."
The A Shau was probably the most NVA-infested area south of Hanoi! This
valley was not a place for amateurs, and a road interdiction mission was
doubly hazardous. However, RT Intruder was judged to be ready. The mission
of road watch and interdiction required that they go in a little heavier
than usual, so the addition of two Americans was welcomed. The team was
inserted onto a small rocky clearing, west of the A Shau Valley and just
over the Laotian border (YC473783). The Covey pilot for this insert was
Captain Tom Yarborough flying an OV-10. This clearing did not offer much in
the way of concealment. The enemy could spot the team from the ridge line
and objective (hill 1528) that they were heading towards, and they did just
that. RT Intruder waited for the choppers to leave and tried to attune their
ears to the jungle noises. Threading their way north-east through the lush
jungle growth, the team disappeared into the forest, just as they heard a
series of shots to their left and right front. This was the NVA's method of
signaling each other when they had a team spotted. Sammy was carrying an
M-60 machine gun and a CAR-15. Behind Sammy was Wes, and every time a signal
shot was fired by the NVA, Sammy would turn and give Wes a smile. Sammy was
on America's first combat HALO drop and had also run recon with Project
Delta. The M-60 that Sammy was carrying had the old style quick-change
barrel lock, and every so often it would unlock and the barrel would fall
out, making a nerve-racking noise. Sammy finally secured the quick-change
barrel lock with a string. Traveling east, they soon crossed the Vietnamese
border and arrived at the western-most ridge of the A Shau Valley.
The ridgeline was heavily canopied, and there, hidden by the overhanging
boughs, safe from aerial observation, was the trail! This wasn't just a
footpath. A large number of personnel could walk side by side on this
veritable walkway! Also strung along side of the trail were 10 or 15
strands of communications wire. The team crossed the trail and set up
security. They were not sure if they were on the correct hill to conduct
the road watch, so CPT Watson radioed Covey and asked him to make a low
level pass over the hill on which they were to set up. It turned out that
they were around 200 to 300 meters south (YC480784) of the hill where they
were supposed to set up. Not that it made much difference which hill they
were on; RT Intruder ran into trouble right after Covey made his
over-flight. Within minutes, the team made contact with a five-man NVA
element that was coming towards them on the trail, and quickly killed them.
Upon recommendation from Sammy and Wes, CPT Watson called for a STABO
extraction, since they were compromised almost from the start. It was
getting late and the clouds would roll in soon, making an extraction
impossible. Wes and Robby had retrieved the rucksacks from the dead NVA that
held several documents, a communist flag, medals and clothing. So it was
decided that Robby would go out on the first bird with Wes and two of the
It took about thirty to forty minutes for the helicopters to arrive on
station. The top of the ridgeline was now socked in with clouds and Watson
had to vector the helicopters by sound. The helicopter pilots that supported
SOG were among the best that Company A (The Comancheros), 101 st Aviation
Battalion, had to offer. It took nerves of steel to hover a helicopter at
tree top level in the clouds while moving forward a few feet at a time and
trying to locate a SOG team that had just made contact. Just knowing that at
any moment you were going to get shot out from under your rotor blades was
enough to rattle anyone's nerves. Lt. Larry Hull flying an O-2 replaced
Captain Yarborough for the extraction of the team.
The first of three helicopter piloted by WO Steve Diehl appeared out of the
clouds, hovered over the team and dropped an aluminum ladder out one door.
Robby, Wes and the two Bru snapped their rucksacks to the first rungs of the
ladder, and climbed up and snap-linked themselves to it. The Huey struggled
to lift them in the thin, mountain air, dragging the ladder through the
trees. The pilot was having trouble keeping the Huey straight. He had run
out of control pedal as the helicopter made a slow turn and twisted the
ladder in the trees. It may have crashed if the four had not jumped off the
ladder just seconds before the crew chief cut it from the chopper.
The team landed on top of the five NVA that they had just killed. Wesley's
rucksack was still snapped to the ladder as they ran back to the team's
perimeter. The next helicopter in line hovered over the team and dropped
four STABO ropes. Wes, Robby and the two Bru snapped their harnesses into
the STABO rope and gave thumbs up to the crew chief. In seconds, they were
catapulted up through the trees. The pilot pulled pitch, pushed the cyclic
forward, and nosed the helicopter towards the valley and down the side of
the mountain in order to gain the needed air speed. The four were only a few
feet above the treetops as the pilot gained air speed and flew up through
the clouds. For the next twenty minutes they were in excruciating pain from
the leg straps. Robby had the extra weight of the NVA's rucksack and one of
the Bru had managed to stand on Wesley's shoulders while he adjusted the
straps between his own legs. Wes promptly shoved the Bru's feet off his
shoulders. Because the first bird had so much trouble, only three
Montagnards were extracted on the next lift. This left Watson, Lloyd and
Hernandez for the last helicopter.
When they arrived at the 101 st ABN DIV firebase, instead of lowering them
to the pad, the helicopter came in too low and slammed the team outside the
perimeter, and then dragged them a few feet through the concertina wire. An
engineer stake pierced Robby's leg. When the pilot realized what had
happened, he immediately pulled the chopper up and set them back down on the
pad. As the team was putting their STABO ropes into the helicopter, CWO
George Berg got out and put his arms around Wes and said he was sorry for
dragging them through the wire. He then said that he was going back to the
area to pick up the rest of the team. Wesley, Robby and the two Bru got on
the other two helicopter. On the way to MLT-1, the pilot turned and told
Wesley that CWO Bergs helicopter crashed with Watson, Lloyd and Hernandez.
Wesley told the pilot to fly back to the ex-fill point and see if they could
locate the crash site with the help of Covey and rappel onto the site. By
this time it was already dark and the pilot was ordered back to MLT-1. The
helicopter that had the ladder cut by the crew chief evacuated Robby to the
at hospital Phu Bai.. .
After being released later that night from the hospital, Robby learned the
horrible truth. The last helicopter had crashed! Back in the launch site at
MLT-1, Wesley, the only American to make it out other than Robby, debriefed
the OIC and NCOIC on the mission up to the extraction. By this time, the
Covey rider, SFC Fernandez, had landed and came into the briefing room. He
stated that he saw the main rotor blade come off as the helicopter tried to
extract the rest of the team. The next morning, RT HABU, the on-call Bright
Light, team was flown up from Da Nang. The team leader was SSG Danzer. On
his team were SSG Cliff Newman, (also on the first combat HALO jump), SFC
Jimmy Horton, SGT Lemuel McGlothren, and SSG James Woodham as the Medic.
Cliff practically forced his way on this Bright Light team when he heard
that his friend Sammy was in trouble. They both were like that. Wes thought
he was going to return to Da Nang and was outside when SSG Danzer asked him
what had happened. Wes was briefing Danzer on the mission and showing the
infill LZ and the route to the extraction point on the map when SGM Waugh
walked up and said, "Wes, you'll go back with RT HABU and lead them to the
hill." Wes said, "Right, Sergeant Major, I think I've just volunteered
again." Wes got another rucksack and put one of the six body bags, extra
water and ammo in it. They would go in light, as they were not going to RON.
The team now had six Americans and six Montagnards. They loaded on two
helicopters and headed west for the A Shau Valley and the Laotian border. As
they flew high above the valley, the team could see what was left of the old
A Shau Special Forces A camp and its airstrip. Turning to the southwest, the
Hueys started final approach as they crossed over into Laos. Wesley,
kneeling between the two pilots, pointed to the LZ. The lead helicopter
turned to the northwest and started its final approach, with two snakes
flying along side. The LZ was the same rocky area with very little growth.
Once off the helicopters, the team started moving in the direction of RT
Intruder's extraction point. The team had been moving about thirty minutes
when Covey, Captain Yarborough came up on the radio and asked Danzer to
count his people because someone was on the LZ popping an orange panel.
Danzer informed Covey that all his team was accounted for. The Covey then
made a low level pass over the LZ, and reported that the person looked like
an American, that he was sending in the chase bird. The team later learned
that it was Sammy. SGM Waugh was in the chase helicopter and came in over
Sammy and threw him a STABO rope. Sammy looked up at Waugh in the door of
the Huey and showed Waugh his middle finger. SGM Waugh understood what Sammy
meant by that hand signal and had the pilot land. Sammy later said he was
not riding another STABO rig after the last one.
The Bright Light team made it to the top of the hill and the trail without
incident. Once there, they discovered a STABO rope that was frayed on the
broken end, like it had been stretched before it broke. Wesley found what
was left of his rucksack. It had been cut up and everything was missing.
This included ten toe popper M-14 mines, three or four claymores, hand
grenades, extra ammo and rations. A good piece of intelligence for the NVA
was left on the ground next to Wesley's rucksack. It was an envelope from
Sears with Wesley's name and unit on it. Wesley had received the letter just
prior to inserting on the first day and without thinking, stuck the letter
in the side pouch of his ruck. He had left the ruck snap-linked to the
ladder when he jumped off. Sammy later said he had secured Wesley's rucksack
to his own STABO rig. Sammy was then carrying an M-60 MG, CAR-15 and two
rucksacks. The extra weight may have saved Sammy's life by causing the rope
to break. Sammy said that when the rope broke that he was knocked
unconscious when he crashed back to the ground. When he regained
consciousness, he heard voices and could see flashlights not far from where
he lay. Sammy crawled over the side of the hill as the NVA passed by him. He
remained hidden until daylight and made his way back to the insert LZ.
SFC Jose Fernandez was flying right seat in an O-2A Skymaster as Covey
rider. This was his second Covey mission. He had run recon for many years
and he had had enough. Fernandez informed Danzer that he had the crash site
spotted. It was only a short distance over the side of the hill in the
direction of the A Shau Valley and he would direct the team to it. It was
real hairy on the trail and everyone wanted off as quickly as possible. The
team started moving in the direction that Covey had gave them. The thick
undergrowth hampered their movement, and they had to snake their way through
the wait-a-minute vines and deadfall. Wes used his signal mirror to let
Covey know their location. The team made a couple of course corrections and
found the crash site. Covey had already called for a CH-53 from NKP,
Thailand, to extract the bodies and team. Then the unexpected happened.
Covey was orbiting above the team and gathering information about the crash
from Danzer. On his last pass over the team, the pilot was in a sharp left
hand bank. The team could see the top of the wings. Seconds passed and then
the team heard a crashing sound; the noise of the O-2A Skymaster's engines
stopped. You would have had to been there to understand the feelings of the
six Americans. The team continued putting the bodies of the helicopter crew
into body bags. Both pilots were still strapped in their seats. One door
gunner, SPC Gary Johnson, was hanging from a tree. Wes and Cliff lowered him
down out of the tree. Meanwhile, McGlothren and Horton put the two pilots,
CWO George Berg and WO Gerald Woods, in body bags. A single leg was also
found, but not the rest of the body. It was assumed the body was that of SPC
Walter Demsey, and that he was under the helicopter, which had caught fire
when it crashed. The engine and transmission had completely melted and had
started to flow like lava. The only recognizable part of the helicopter was
the tail section and rotor mask, without its rotor blade.
Then another setback came; when a replacement Covey arrived on station, it
informed Danzer that the CH-53 that was enroute to extract the team would be
diverted to the crashed O-2A. The Air Force had declared a SAR emergency
because it was their aircraft that went down. They would extract the team
that had already rappelled onto the crash site.
CPT Fred "Lightning" (and that's another story) Wunderlich tells about his
rescue mission this way: "We would rappel onto the crashed O-2A from a Huey
and look for survivors. I picked only three men; my One One, SSG Kloecki,
and two Montagnards from my team, and my team only. One enduring memory is
giving the old 1-2-3 count down to rappel in on the wreck, and then only I
went down until I started yelling at the rest to join the party." It turned
out the pilot, 1LT James (Woodstock) Hull, and SFC Jose Fernandez, were
dead. Ironically, just before leaving on this mission, Horton had given
Fernandez his ten baht gold chain and Buddha for safe keeping until he
returned. Lightning and Kloecki found the gold chain and Buddha lying in
Fernandez's lap. "We were able to pull Fernandez from the wreckage, put him
in a body bag, strap him to the jungle penetrator and hoist him up. The
pilot could not be recovered because the engine was up against his chest. As
the CH-53 hovered over us, one of my commandos started firing from the
perimeter around the wreck site, we could not see the bad guys. A Parajumper
from the CH-53 came down to look at the wreckage, as it was a SAR mission.
It was found out many years later that he was not an Air Force Parajumper,
but actually a SOG Recon man." By the name of ?
At this point, it was late and the weather was closing in fast. The Bright
Light team knew they would not be extracted, so they placed the body bags on
top of the burnt-out helicopter.
Danzer decided to look for a RON site and moved the team away from the
crash. A short distance away, the team spotted two STABO ropes and followed
them to a cliff. At the bottom of the twenty to thirty foot cliff lay CPT
Watson and SGT Lloyd. They did not appear to be alive and Danzer decided to
retrieve them the next morning. It was almost dark and the team followed the
cliff for another twenty five to thirty meters and set up a perimeter with
their backs to the cliff. Danzer, with the radio, was at the edge of the
cliff, sending a spot report to Covey. McGlothren, Horton and Wesley were in
the center. Newman and Woodham were up the hill about twenty meters with the
Bru, putting out claymores and setting up the perimeter. Wesley and
McGlothren pulled the body bags from their rucksacks and spread them on the
ground. Wesley told Mc that he was going to use his for a sleeping bag
because it was getting chilly. Mc said hell would freeze over before he
would crawl in a body bag. The team had established an E&E route over the
cliff in the event they were hit by the NVA during the night. The night was
uneventful, so they thought. During the night, unknown to the team, the NVA
did sneak in close.
At first light, Danzer was on the radio giving a spot repot to the Covey
that was orbiting in the area. Across the valley, on an old, abandoned
firebase was RT Python with Captain Jim Butler, SSG Les Chapman and SFC
Brazer. They were inserted the same day as RT Intruder and had been
surrounded by two hundred NVA from the first day and had been in constant
contact. Stinger and Specter aircraft were used extensively during their
three-day, two night ordeal. A CH-53 was on its way from NKP, Thailand,
along with a flight of A1E-Skyradiers, to extract RT Python. Horton asked
Wesley for a cigarette and Wes said, "As soon as we light one, we will get
hit." Newman heard movement to his front and signaled Horton, then set off
his claymore and emptied a magazine at the approaching NVA. At that moment,
hand grenades rained down on the team and every claymore on the team's
perimeter went off. A grenade landed between Mc and Horton and exploded with
a bright yellow flash. Horton jumped up; his foot was nearly blown off and
was left just dangling. The grenades continued to be thrown onto the team.
Newman ran past Horton, grabbed him with one hand and pulled him over the
cliff. Woodham and the rest of the Bru followed close behind. Wes followed
Mc over. Danzer jumped off the cliff from where he had been standing while
talking to Covey. Danzer tried to pull his rucksack and radio with him. All
he ended up with at the base of the cliff was the handset. Horton was
dragged by Mc and Woodham a short distance from the cliff.
Most of the Bru had moved over the second cliff, which were only five or six
feet high. In between the two was an outcropping of large rocks, which
provided some cover from the AK fire and grenades. Wesley saw movement from
over the small cliff and thought the NVA had moved around behind them. He
was ready to fire them up when he saw the faces of the team's Bru. He
signaled for them to come up. They managed to climb back up and take up
positions in the rocks. The NVA were still throwing grenades over the cliff,
but not as many. Newman saw Danzer staring at his handset with nothing
attached. That's when Cliff thought it prudent to call for some help. He got
on his URC-10 survival radio and made contact with Covey, explaining the
grave situation to him. Covey had already launched a set of slicks and
Cobras to the area. In the mean time, CPT Butler, who had been monitoring
everything over his radio, told Covey to send his extraction CH-53 to RT
Habu and get them out first because his situation had calmed down some. Now
the team was getting movement from the left and right, as well as from the
top of the cliff. The team was now firing in these three directions with
everything they had. Covey told Newman that the CH-53 was still about thirty
to forty-five minutes out because they had to fly around the AAA sites, but
the A1E's would be there shortly. Mc was laying on top of Horton trying to
protect him from the grenades while Woodham worked on his ankle and foot.
A Huey showed up and while standing in the open, Newman directed him over to
the team. They dropped a STABO to take Horton out, but when it went over the
second cliff, Wes sent one of the Bru down to retrieve it so Horton could be
snapped to it and extracted. Instead, the Bru snapped himself into the rig.
At that same moment an RPG-7 was fired at the helicopter from the ridgeline
and exploded, sending hot shrapnel into the helicopter, wounding WO Scott
Optenberg, the pilot and the right door gunner. The pilot pulled away and
took a surprised Bru with him. Wes was at the edge of the cliff waiting for
the rope to be handed to him when the Bru went flying by, eyes as big as
silver dollars. The helicopter took fifty hits and still flew.
Newman was still standing in the middle of the small clearing talking to
Covey, who was in an OV-10, directing him to make gun runs on the ridge line
from where the RPG fire came from. After a couple of gun runs on the ridge,
Covey informed Newman that the A1E's were on station and that he needed
smoke to mark the team's location. Newman threw a smoke, but instead of
going straight up it followed the ground up and over the cliff. Covey could
not get a positive mark on the team's location. So, he tried to talk the
A1E's in on a gun run. The first A1E came in hot and low, releasing a string
of CBU's the size of baseballs, in one side of the team's perimeter and out
the other. Mc was wounded in the back along with some of the Bru. Wesley was
knocked down by the concussion but got to his feet and pulled the pin on a
smoke grenade, balanced it on the butt of his CAR-15, and held the weapon
above his head by the barrel. The smoke went up through the trees. Covey and
the A1E's now had a good fix on their position. During most of this ordeal,
Newman was standing in the open talking to Covey and continued to do so,
directing the air strikes and gun runs.
Two F4-C's showed up and dropped 500 pounds bombs on the east side of the
team's position towards the valley. Covey informed Newman that the CH-53 was
on final to their position, and to get Horton on the jungle penetrator
first. The A1E's continued to make CBU and gun runs "danger close" around
the CH-53 while the team was being extracted. In the CH-53, Mc was attending
to Horton's grenade wound. Out the left window, the mini-gun gunner was
spraying the top of the ridge where most of the enemy fire was coming from.
Two of the Bru were at the rear of the helicopter firing M-79 CS grenades
and an M-60 machine gun off the ramp. The CS was being whipped up by the
rotor wash, so the pilots were wearing their oxygen masks.
Newman kept Woodham and Danzer until the last ride up. As they cleared the
trees the winch released because of the weight and they fell back to the
ground. Newman unhooked from the jungle penetrator and stayed on the ground
by himself. Even when he was finally hoisted up, Newman continued to fire
his weapon. On the way back to the hospital at Da Nang Air Base, the pilot,
a full Colonel, asked Wesley where their NVA prisoner was. Wesley,
understanding the situation said, "We had to kill him." Wes reached in his
shirt pocket and pulled out the two NVA medals that he got off the dead NVA
two days before and gave them to the Colonel. Wes told the Colonel that they
belonged to the POW. A big smile came over the Colonel's face. Fourteen A1E
Skyraiders made victory rolls past the Jolly Green CH-53 before heading back
The pilot must have called ahead to the hospital and told them he was
bringing a seriously wounded Special Forces team member in and that they may
look a little different from the average Army troops, and that they would
have Montagnard tribesmen with them. As they landed at the hospital, a lot
of AP's encircled the helipad. It looked like every doctor and nurse was
also outside watching the big CH-53 land. It wasn't everyday that a
helicopter of that size landed on that small pad.
As the rear ramp was lowered, hundreds of expended shell casings from the
M-79 grenade launcher and M-60 machine gun fell onto the helipad. Some of
the hospital personnel were collecting the expended shell casings as the
American team members helped carry Jimmy Horton into the emergency room. The
Montagnards followed and one of the ER personnel told McGlothren that he
couldn't bring the Montagnards in. McGlothren told the nurse "If I was you,
I would not try to stop them from coming in." Newman informed the staff that
they were not to ask Jimmy Horton any questions about where he had been and
what he had been doing. The team loaded back onto the CH-53 and one of the
nurses was overheard saying, "Who are those guys?" Mc and the others would
have their wounds treated at the CCN dispensary.
The team was flown back to the CCN compound for debriefing, where they found
out that RT Python, commanded by CPT Jim Butler, was to be extracted by the
same CH-53 that extracted RT Habu. Butler had told Covey to divert the CH-53
over to RT Habu and extract them first. Remember, RT Python was surrounded
by hundreds of NVA and had been in continuous contact from the first day.
CPT Jim Butler stayed awake for three days by taking green Hornets. SSG Les
Chapman, the One-One of RT Python, had engaged an NVA with hand-to-hand
combat while trying to save one of his Montagnards, who had been wounded and
fell down the side of the hill into a ravine. The Montagnard died in that
ravine. Chapman received the DSC for his actions, although not until years
later. The next day, RT Habu learned that the CH-53 had taken 17 hits in the
SSG Les Chapman started flying as a Covey Rider after his mission with RT
Python. He stated that after a week, the jungle reclaimed the crash site. As
it could no longer be seen from the air.
A final quote that was written to Dave Demsey by Fred Wunderlich: "I want to
express my earnest thanks to the likes of your brother and his comrades. The
selfless and extraordinary brave men of the air assets who supported Special
Operations. Every single SOG hand has a special place in their tearful heart
for the sacrifice made by such hero's as a group lost so many in the rescue
of so few. Even with the SOG image of rough and tough warriors, we know we
were still standing on the shoulders of real men. I gladly take my part of
the obligation to pay homage to the largely unsung groups who quite
literally saved the likes of me and so many others. The few of us from SOG
remaining today would certainly be a much smaller number without them.
Perhaps such sentiments can give some closure where the actual physical word
may cloak its mysteries in time as events and evidence are dust to dust"
The Continuation of
THE LOST MEN OF RT INTRUDER
On 9 March 2002 Cliff Newman, Charles Wesley and Lemuel McGlothren will
return to Vietnam on invite from JTF-FA (Joint Task Force-Full Accounting).
Their mission is to lead or show JTF-FA team members the crash site of the
Bell UH-1H Iroquois. This return to Vietnam has been in the planning stages
for a number of years. It is due in part to the efforts of Dave Demsey, the
brother of Walter Demsey. Also traveling with the team will be Tanya S.
Biank, the Staff Writer for the Fayetteville Observer. (To be continued)
The Lost Men of RT Intruder was written in part by the men who were actually
there. Charles Wesley, Cliff Newman, Lemuel McGlothren, Sammy Hernandez, and
Fred C. Wunderlich. With Comments from Les Chapman, Jim Butler, Billy Waugh,
and permission from Robby Robinson to use part of his Web Site writing at:
http://www.geocities.com/pentagon/quarters/9463 . Other information came
from the after action reports (AAR). And last but not least, the Pilot's.
Tom Yarborough, Bob Clewell, Scott Optenberg, Steve Diehl. THE END
This record was last updated on 06/25/2009
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