Helicopter AH-1G 68-15207

Information on U.S. Army helicopter AH-1G tail number 68-15207
Date: 04/07/1972
Incident number: 72040735.KIA
Unit: C/16 CAV
Casualties = 02 KIA . .
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: War Story as related by a witness. Also: James S. McCalla ()
Loss to Inventory

Crew Members:

War Story:
CW2 Joe Hudson was a UH-1H lift pilot assigned to C/16 CAV at Can Tho in 1972 when I joined the unit. Prior to WOC training, he served with the Army Special Forces and had one tour in RVN as a ground-pounded before returning as a pilot. Robert Stern was a AH-1G pilot on his first tour in Vietnam, and an Aircraft Commander at the time of his death. Their shootdown and loss was almost a classic story of what happened in a number of instances during the war. A day prior to the incident, Joe Hudson received his going home plaque from the unit at a ceremony in the Can Tho Officer's Club. He was very short, ready to get home, and was just beginning the out-processing procedures. Before leaving, however, Joe wanted to fly one more mission in a Cobra. Earlier in his tour when "Snake" drivers were in short supply, Joe volunteered to fly missions in the front seat and employ the turret weapons. Although he was never able to get a complete checkout in the AH-1G as he'd wished, he enjoyed that type of flying and wanted to get in just one more flight. Bob Stern, on the other hand, was a red-haired man of medium build and quiet disposition who enjoyed playing and teaching billiards in the Can Tho O' Club. He flew Cobras every day and was considered an extremely competent Aircraft Commander by all who knew him. In addition, he was married with a newborn baby he'd never seen, born while he was flying over the Mekong River Delta south of Saigon. The evening before the shootdown, Hudson and Stern were assigned a CH-47 escort mission for the following day. CH-47 escort missions were generally thought of as routine and uneventful--actually, boring for most Snake pilots--because the valuable Chinooks were rarely sent into areas considered "hot." by the standards of the time. Often when the big Chinooks took ground fire, the CH-47 pilots could not identify where the fire was coming from, and with the tight rules of engagement that existed, escorting Cobra pilots could do little but acknowledge the "Taking fire" radio call and not fire back. After mission assignments were posted, Bob Stern walked around asking other Cobra pilots to trade assignments or fly his mission for him. He asked almost everyone, including myself, explaining he didn't want to fly the boring mission. Later in his room, he told his roommate he "really didn't think he was coming back tomorrow," and later actually shed some tears in his depression. His roommate tried to cheer him up, saying it was only a CH-47 escort mission, and likely to be uneventful. The next day Stern and Hudson were performing their escort mission as #2 in a two-ship flight of Cobras escorting CH-47's on a resupply mission. Around midday, they were diverted from their escort mission to provide cover over a UH-1 downed over the U Minh forest, south of Rach Gia. While waiting for a CH-47 to arrive and attempt a sling load recovery of the downed Huey, the flight came under heavy ground fire from NVA troops in the area. Reacting to the ground fire, Stern and Hudson rolled in behind their lead to suppress and cover his pull off. During the second pass, their aircraft took numerous hit's from.51 Cal. machine-gun fire, causing a rocket pod to explode. Their aircraft appeared to begin an autorotation as the flight lead called, "You're on fire." No radio transmissions were heard from Stern during the descent, and witnesses observed the burning helicopter crash on the edge of an overgrown field. Despite a strong Search and Rescue effort, intense NVA ground fire kept friendlies from approaching that day. By next morning, however, the impact scene was secured by South Vietnamese Infantry, and a recovery team led by VHPA member Hugh Mills, C/16 Scout Platoon leader at the time, recovered the remains of Stern and Hudson. Hudson's remains were found in the wreckage, Stern's body was found submerged among helicopter wreckage scattered into a small stream on the edge of the crash site. It's a sad irony these two men were lost on what was suppose to be an uneventful escort mission, and underscored how so often in Vietnam death proved unpredictable and random. Also for myself, this was the only time I witnessed a person expressing an accurate premonition of death. If you seek confirmation of this information, VHPA members Hugh Mills, Dan Wright, and Dan Shaver should all be able to provide it. To make me feel better and confirm the information will be corrected, will you please acknowledge receipt of this e-mail? If you have any questions, please e-mail or call (608) 836-7003. Bob Hesselbein, Undertake 27, March 1996 Shot down on SP4 James S. McCalla's birthday (4-6-72), so he made a note. Cobra tail number was 68-15207. The guys were escorting a hook and took fire down toward Ca Mau. The crashed and the enemy activity precluded recovery efforts till the next afternoon. ARVN troops went to the site and secured it. Two graves registration personnel from Can Tho were flown out and I went with them on the ground along with one of my Outcast gunners. The aircraft was totally destroyed and under water in a canal. The bodies were totally destroyed and the only part of Hudson we recovered was his foot in his boot. Other body parts indicated Stern because of his red hair. There was not enough of the ship left to tell what kind it was. The graves guys were very scared cause they had never been in the field and they spent most of the day diving for parts. The ARVN just looked at us and ate rice. We filled one body bag with parts and departed before dark. The date of death is the day they went down but the recovery was the next day. I personally walk the ground and dove for parts. The largest piece of the ship was maybe four feet square and it looked to have gone in vertically. It was really a fierce impact. I recovered Joes' remains and am confident that it was instant and decisive for both. As I remember, the hook took fire and they dove on the gun and never pulled out. We think that they were hit in the dive and continued in. from Hugh Mills, Darkhorse 16 x 2, Oct. 97.

This record was last updated on 05/25/1998

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Date posted on this site: 11/13/2023

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