unit history information

For date 660519

AIR AMERICA LAOS was a Air America unit
Primary service involved, Air America
Incident reference: 660519AA.KIA This information is available on CD-ROM.
South Vietnam
Location, LS-48
Description: The following is an extract from Across the Mekong by Davis starting on page 129. Note that Charlie Davis names the dead pilot as Bill Wilmont while the AA Memorial has him John W. Wilmot Jr. While he is still at LS-48, Davis continues his account of the events: General Vang Pao (VP) arrived from the Alternate. He is getting his soldiers together and they are to be transported near the crash site. The area needs to be secured in case the Pathet Lao are still around. I assume that Wilmont’s body is still in the chopper and needs to be removed. Marius Burke, the assistance chief pilot, is up with the customer, a man named Mike, and VP is there also. Burke comes down shortly and says we are to shuttle troops up near the crash sight. I can see VP, with his arm in a sling, outside the headquarters hut. Mike, another American I have not seen before, are in some intense discussion with the Meo general, who is excited about something. He was shot a few months ago in the arm, and is still wearing his arm in a sling. LS-36 had been overrun at that time, but VP and his Meo troops retook it a month later. The wound has not slowed VP down much, and I am not surprised that he is here on the front lines. For the next few hours, troops are shuttled from LS-48 to a flat area near the crash site. VP is on the ground near this site, having probably gone in the first helicopter. Every time I land with a new bunch of troops, he is there giving directions. I see no improvement in the weather and flying has remained very taut. The mountains all around the area are wrapped in heavy gray clouds. To the east, dark clouds storm across the sky and the visibility is down to nothing in that direction. A raw gray chill has infested the whole area. Time flies by. We are flying back and forth from LS-48 to the pad. Some flights are over to LS-50 and return. First we transport troops and then supplies, always dodging the weather and staying alert for other air machines that are on this mission. Then it is over. We have gotten everything to the crash site that General VP needs. Marius Burke decides that the four choppers remaining will head to Sam Thong for the night. It is not deemed safe to overnight the choppers and crews in this area. The location of the enemy, or more important, how close they are to LS-50 or LS-48 are unknown. It is less than an hour to dark, and Burke says we should all head back to Sam Thong before the weather closes in on us. I start out following Burke, but that does not last long. I am reluctant to get too close to his chopper in case he needs to make a sudden turn and I lose sight of him in a rain storm. We keep radio contact, but sheets of rain are all around me. I am thinking about doing a 180 degree turn, but am not sure where the other choppers are, so am leery about turning back. I look ahead with misgivings, but keep going. All of a sudden, the visibility improves and I hear Burke transmit that he is over LS-57, and is turning south. Shortly, I see LS-57 and turn south also. Again the visibility deteriorates and I know we must be only a few miles from Moung Soui, the headquarters of Kong Le, and his neutralist troops. I have about had it. The weather has just about given me as much as I can stand for one day. I see that the clouds are lowering all around me, but to the left I see what appears to be a dirt runway. As Moung Soui should be the only strip nearby, if I have my directions right, so this has to be it. The visibility is so bad that I am not really sure where I am until I touch down, and the buildings come into view. I have never been so happy to be on the ground. When I taxi off the strip towards where I think might be a good place to shut down, I see three other helicopters. They apparently arrived just before me as one of the choppers still has its rotor blades turning. I let out a big sigh of relief. We have all made it. The home of the neutralist command is not my first choice, but any port in a storm, as the old saying goes. I am not sure how we will be welcomed here, but it does not matter too much now. Our choppers are finished for this night, because it is almost dark and we have run out of options. These neutralists have a history of fickleness as to who they are supporting, and even though they are supposedly on our side now, I am never sure. By the time I taxi my chopper over to the others, shut down, and get my sleeping bag and other gear together, Marius Burke has negotiated a place for us to sleep. It is a large tent, with at least a dozen cots set up among some wooden boxes. I decide not to ask what is in these boxes, as I really do not want to know. I could sleep on top of an ammo dump this night, I am so exhausted. The tent has a strong smell that reminds me of creosote. It must be a fairly new one, as the smell has not faded. There is one light bulb hanging from a socket that is fastened to romex wire, which is wrapped around a support pole near the center of the tent. Several insects fly in concentric orbits around this bulb. There is a chill in the air that is not altogether caused by the cool temperature. Part of it is caused by the death of Wilmont. It has started raining hard again, a plunking sound against the canvas tent. The weather has turned sour to match our moods. I renew acquaintances with some of the crew members I had not seen for awhile. Steve Nichols, Harvey Potter, and Larry Wildrom are here, along with Ricky DeCosta who is in a rare sullen mood. DeCosta always smiles and uplifts people around him, but not this day. We try to make small talk, dancing around the subject of death, as pilots always do. The talk keeps fading off to a minor key, and finally into silence. The dry tent does not help us back to any form of happiness. The death of a comrade has bent our realities and we are all on separate journeys in our minds. Death means different things to each of us. The silences widen and we each drift away to stake out a cot for the night. Someone unscrews the light bulb and the world grows very dark. The only thing heard is the rain hitting the tent, and the splattering sound of the runoff hitting the soggy ground. For a long time I try to get comfortable, but am unable to do so. It is not the cot that is keeping me awake, but thoughts about the events of the day that keep turning over in my mind. What a miserable day it has been.
Comments: CPT Davis, Charles O.; AA pilot; ; CPT WILMOT JOHN W JR; AA pilot; KIA; GEN Pao, Vang Pao; Meo commander; ; CPT Burke, Marius; AA assistance chief pilot; ; GEN Le, Kong; Leader of the Lao neutralists; ; CPT Nichols, Steve; AA pilot; ; CPT Potter, Harvey; AA pilot; ; CPT Wildrom, Larry; AA pilot; ; CIV DeCosta, Ricky; AA flight mechanic; ;

The source for this information was Across the Mekong by Charles Davis P:129+

Additional information is available on CD-ROM.

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Date posted on this site: 05/16/2021