Department of the Army
159th Medical Detachment (Hel Amb)
The first quarter (January – March) of 1969 found the 159th Medical Detachment celebrating (??) the Lunar New Year or, more specifically, one phase of it called the Tet Offensive.
Dust out landings and tracked vehicles charging all over the Ho Bo Woods and the Bo Loi Forest signaled that we were in the midst of the dry season. We have all experienced several hairy landings at night in powdery dust, but have managed to bring them all home without mishap.
Those of you who haven’t worked with tank and armored infantry units have missed a real thrill. The 25th Division’s 3/4th Cavalry Squadron (commanded by Jay McGowan’s brother), 2/34th Tank Battalion, 1/5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, and the 2/22d Mechanized Infantry Battalion are full of spirit and never miss an opportunity to tangle with the bad guys. The terrain around Cu Chi is particularly well suited for armored units during the dry season, so they are out there day and night stirring up trouble and providing business for us.
WO1 Jacoby practiced a “No Tail Boom” landing while making a pickup for one of these units recently. On short final to their hastily drawn perimeter, his rotor wash set off a booby-trapped 105mm howitzer round that blew off the tail boom just aft of the sink elevator. He managed to keep the aircraft level and after spinning 270 degrees; it came to a resounding halt. Fini helicopter, but everyone walked away.
Several personnel changes were made this quarter. Captain George Hurtado departed for a couple of snap courses; HIFC followed by the career course. CW2 Anthony Peters went to Hunter Army Airfield and CW2 James Ellsworth to Fort Wolters. Both of these officers spent an 18-month tour and compiled a fantastic flying record. Inbounds were Captain Roger Hula, a second tour officer who came from the newly arrived 247th Medical Detachment via the Vung Tau Beach Bums where he flew the Otter for a while. WO1 Christopher Crowley arrived in early January. No newcomer to Vietnam as he spent a couple of summers working here as a stevedore at Saigon and Danang. Lt George Grandy arrived in early February. Then in early March, WO1s Taylor Grady and Dennis Derber arrived to round out the detachment’s pilot strength.
The 88th NVA Regiment provided considerable excitement at 0400 hours, 25 February. They hit the base camp with rockets, mortars, and ground attacks that resulted in several killed and the destruction of several Chinooks, the ammo dump, re-arm point, etc. During the melee, an enemy sapper unit slipped on post, so daylight found a real New England “Witch Hunt” in progress as each unit had to search its bunkers, storage areas, and motor pools for the bad guys.
A fearless five from the 159th searched diligently, but they only succeeded in flushing an old dog out of one of our bunkers. Although the dog did not respond favorably to interrogation, the undaunted medics turned infantry finally concluded that he was probably just a sympathizer and not hardcore NVA or VC. The entire day was treated correspondingly as one or two sappers were picked up some distance from our unit, but at around 1600 hours, four sappers were found in a Conex container about 100 meters from our billets, so an inspired Dust Off crew quickly became more diligent.
WO1 Steve Peth staged a one-man show while on our Tay Ninh standby during the period 7-11 March. When he arrived at the battle area, the Special Forces, 1st Cavalry Division, ARVN Airborne, and everyone else with a weapon was in heavy contact. After spending his normal two-day rotation there, he volunteered to stay two more days because he knew where all of the units were located. Battling mortars and heavy enemy small arms fire, he kept maneuvering in and out of tiny landing zones from just east of Tay Ninh Mountain to the Cambodian Border. A bedraggled young aircraft commander finally returned to Cu Chi with 34 hours flown and 251 patients evacuated. His only concern was that after pulling out 93 ARVN from one landing zone, a VNAF H-34 went in and scarfed up the remainder of his little brown buddies. “Would have hit 300 if those guys had stayed home,” he remarked.
Speaking of the ancient and respected art of scarfing patients, one of the lieutenants from Bill Covington’s unit sneaked across the Saigon River into our area and tried to police up some Ruff Puffs just north of Trang Bang while our first up ship was on another mission. WO1s Jacoby and Daily heard their “May Day” call after a .51 caliber flamed their ship. Although quite distressed because Covington’s guys had been trying to slicky patients from under their noses, they went in and picked up the fallen scarfers. Two from that crew were slightly wounded when they were shot down, so Jacoby and Daily added them to their patient count before “Ho Hum” returning to evacuate the Regional Forces wounded.
There was one sad note this quarter. Our dog, Katum, a gift from the Green Berets at a outpost by the same name on the Cambodian Border, managed to get himself squashed by a 2 ½ ton truck while ardently making love to a female dog in the middle of Taro Road near the detachment headquarters. An entry in the unit history log indicated Katum maintained the Dust Off image to the very end. The only way to go!
The detachment received three new “68” model aircraft during March, much to the chagrin of the 45th Medical Company’s Maintenance Officer, Major Al Borth, who can only get rebuilds from ARADMAC. Do you want to know our secret? First, you take a 1250 hour ship that has been shot up so many times until nothing electrical works any longer and get Field Maintenance to retrograde it, especially since it lost a cargo door while in flight because the sliders on both doors had all worn out. Secondly, park another 1200 hour ship in a revetment at Long Binh and let a transient 1st Cav ship hover into it while trying to maneuver out of an adjacent revetment. Lastly, let one of the WO1s land on a mine and, there you go, three new flying machines in one month. We wouldn’t recommend this procedure for the weak at heart.
Officers assigned at the end of the quarter were:
Major Douglas E. Moore
Captain Roger P. Hula
Captain Richard C. Hill
1LT George S. Grandy
CW2 Douglas G. MacNeil
CW2 Kevin J. Murrell (Departs 3 April for Fort Benning)
WO1 James E. Daily
WO1 Dennis R. Derber
WO1 Taylor W. Grady
WO1 Theodore C. Jacoby
WO1 Stephen B. Peth
WO1 James N. Ratliff
WO1 Christopher Crowley
The detachment has been extremely busy this quarter as evidenced by our statistics. Our flying time doesn’t match that of the Delta Detachments because we are more centrally located in our Area of Operations. Ninety percent of our missions are less than 8 minutes one way and that adds up to beaucoup missions and exposures. The Quarterly statistics were:
January February March
Total Patients 1678 1932 2319
US Patients 623 842 1089
Arvn Patients 546 534 783
Others (Civilian, POWs, etc) 509 556 447