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Article Dong Ha

Discussion in 'Vietnam War' started by rotorwash, Mar 5, 2016.

  1. rotorwash United States

    rotorwash Sergeant Major MI.Net Member

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    As part of their new strategy to win a major battle before the peace talks began, the NVA sent 2 divisions across the DMZ with the objective of taking the big Marine Base at Dong Ha on the Cua Viet river. The Marines only had one battalion available so they asked the Army for help. The Americal Divison sent the 3/21 Infantry Battalion from the 196th LIB.

    Knowing the Marines were short on helicopters and very stingy with the ones they had, the CO of the 196th asked if our battalion could provide helicopter support for his infantry battalion and a battery of 105 howitzers. A Chinook from the 178th Aviation Co and two slicks from our company, one for resupply and the other one for the battalion co were sent up with the infantry. They did not request gunships, so I was not along on this adventure, but I knew all of the guys involved.

    The C and C aircraft for the bn co was crewed by A/C WO1 Ken Johnson, Pilot WO1 Marty Wifholm, Crew Chief SP4 Frank Dailey and Door Gunner SP4 Wally Nunn. Wally would later come to the gunships and would fly with me occasionally.

    They arrived on May 2, 1968 and the very first day the resupply aircraft was shot up so badly they were forced to land behind the infantry. The gunner jumped in the trenches with the infantry and asked if anyone had a spare helmet. The aircraft was recovered and repaired back at Duc Pho. A replacement aircraft was sent up.

    On 3 May, 1968 Johnson and his crew were called to extract wounded Alpha Company 3/21 GIs. Marine doctrine in the event of a medevac was to stop artillery and airstrikes a half hour before and after the medevac helicopter pick up.

    At the time jets were attacking over the casualties to destroy the NVA that had them pinned down. Johnson advised the FAC and the pilots that they were going to fly in under them and not to pull up if they saw the helicopter beneath them. The Marines thought Johnson was crazy, but he hoped that the NVA would have their heads down or be shooting at the jets giving him time to get in, load and get out. Wally later told me that they were loading wounded right out of their foxholes. They loaded through one cargo door and closed the other one so no one would fall out.

    Later the same day, a Marine aircraft making a bomb run was hit by enemy fire and crashed. No one saw a parachute, however, US Personnel with a nearby ARVN unit spotted a lone figure walking around east of the battlefield. A FAC in the air above confirmed the sighting.

    Johnson was ordered to pick the guy up. The FAC Birddog guided them and after hopping over some trees, they spotted an unarmed olive drab figure wandering aimlessly in a rice paddy. When they approached, the man just stopped and looked up, when they saw the man’s black hair and misfit fatigues they realized he was an NVA. Aware they could be flying into a trap, they wanted to shoot him or leave him be, but the Marines wanted him taken prisoner. After circling, they landed and a very nervous Wally Nunn jumped out with his M-16 and motioned for him to get on the aircraft. Frightened, the NVA complied. Wally held a pistol to the man’s head all the way back to the 3/21st CP, but the NVA was noticeably trembling from the helicopter ride and hanging on for dear life.
    At the CP, he was turned over to a Marine Captain who pulled some identification out of one of his pockets and a Chicom Grenade out of another. Wally about crapped his pants.

    The job of a command and control ship is to sit around and wait for the bn co to tell you to go somewhere and do something. Times in between flights can get boring. The bn cp was located on the bank of the Cua Viet River and this is where the aircraft waited. WO1 Marty Wifholm, the pilot, had kept complaining about how hot it was, and for two cents he would jump in the river. With Johnson’s permission, the crew-chief and gunner threw him in. Wifholm took off his flight suit to let it dry moments before a call came over the radio for help. A Marine unit had gotten hit on accident by an Air Force fighter and needed urgent medevac, so with Marty in his underwear, boots, chicken plate and helmet, they took off. While dropping off the wounded, they got a priority call that The Commander for the 3rd Marines, COL Milton A. Hull, needed a lift.They had to refuel first and landed nose to nose with a Marine CH-46 at the POL point. The look on the Marine pilot’s faces was hysterical. Wifholm wanted to get dressed, but the Marine COL would not allow a delay so off they went. COLHull and a few staff climbed aboard in their fresh fully starched fatigues and spied Wifholm's lack of clothing. With his trademark cigar between his teeth, he stated, "I always knew you Army Aviators were weird." Upon landing, Hull told them to land 'angled' away from “his Marines” and take off as quickly as possible to avoid his fellow Marines and counterparts from seeing them. After Wifholm was dressedthe Marine unit that requested the medevac made contact and asked them if they wanted to stop by for lunch. They landed and shut down and while everyone was enjoying a C-ration lunch, a Marine CH-34 escorted by two gunships came in overhead. It was in response to the earlier medevac request.

    The replacement resupply aircraft was flown by A/C Hank Tews, Pilot was Jerry Johnson, crew-chief was Sam Davis and Allen Weamer was gunner. On 7 May, around 1300 hours, they were asked to check out noises that sounded like a tracked vehicle. On the first pass they saw numerous tracks and decided to make another pass at 110 knots 25 feet off the deck. They found the tank and were promptly hit by a .51 caliber round that came up through the fuel cell, hit the gunner’s ammo box and lodged in the chest protector he was sitting on. The ammo began cooking off so the gunner started slinging machine gun ammo out the door.

    Fuel was pouring into the cabin and out of the belly going from a full tank to 400 pounds in less than 20 seconds. They made it about a half mile to the location of an Army platoon where they set down. Later, a CH-47 took the aircraft back to Camp Evans. The next day they plugged the fuel cell with wooden plugs cut from a sapling and safety wired in place. They made it back as far as Chu Lai making numerous fuel stops along the way. The airframe was so severely damaged the aircraft was sent to the States for repair.

    By the 15th of May the two NVA divisions had retreated back across the DMZ, the operation was declared over and the 3/21st returned to the 196th.

    Carl McCoy, crew-chief on the first resupply ship was killed on the 29th of May, AllenWeamer and Jerry Johnson were killed on the 13th of June and Hank Tews was killed on December 29th.
    Firefox and Bombardier like this.
  2. Bombardier

    Bombardier Admin & Arbiter Staff Member Site Admin

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    All that time in the Helicopter with a feckin grenade :eek:

    R.I.P Carl McCoy, AllenWeamer, Jerry Johnson & Hank Tews Gone but not forgotten

    Thanks for this post RW I always enjoy reading your posts.

    Things still good for you mate
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  3. Firefox United Kingdom

    Firefox Foxtrot Oscar MI.Net Member Mi.Net Supporter

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    great post @rotorwash
    Thanks for sharing that with us. I have read some of your older posts too and very much enjoyed them.

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