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  Page 83 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

One of 22 helicopters involved in the mission was struck in the fuselage by small arms fire despite the use of preparatory air and artillery strikes on the landing zone. The day after this incident another of the squadron's helicopters was hit by enemy fire while attempting to evacuate wounded ARVN soldiers from the battlefield. On the 29th two more aircraft were damaged by ground fire while participating in another troop lift. One round passed through the windshield and exited at the rear of the cockpit, missing the copilot's head by inches. During the first week of October another HUS was struck while landing at Tien Phuoc, a government outpost about 15 miles southwest of Tarn Ky. In this incident two ARVN troops were killed and the Marine crew chief, Lance Corporal James I. Mansfield, was wounded before the pilot could fly the aircraft out of the danger area. In each of the instances the helicopters were able to return to Da Nang where necessary repairs were made.

The most serious incident recorded during the early operations in I Corps ironically resulted from mechanical failure rather than Viet Cong fire. It occurred on 6 October when a search and rescue helicopter crashed and burned on a hillside 15 miles southeast of Tarn Ky while covering a 20-plane helilift of 2d ARVN Division elements.* Unable to land near the downed aircraft because of the thick jungle, other helicopters landed troops at the base of the hill with instructions to proceed to the crash site on foot. When the Vietnamese soldiers reached the downed aircraft after cutting their way through dense vegetation, they found the copilot, crew chief, and five other members of the task unit dead. The pilot. First Lieutenant William T. Sinnott, who was injured seriously, was hoisted through the trees and evacuated by an HUS which came to the rescue. The five Marines killed in the crash were First Lieutenant Michael J. Tunney, Sergeant Richard E. Hamilton, Sergeant Jerald W. Pendell, Corporal Thomas E. Anderson, and Lance Corporal Miguel A. Valentin. Two Navy personnel, Lieutenant Gerald Griffin, a doctor, and Hospitalman G. 0. Norton were also dead. These were the first deaths suffered by Marine Task Unit 79.5 since deploying to Vietnam.3

An administrative measure which eventually resulted in the extension of the length of tours for the Marine helicopter squadron as well as all other personnel assigned to SHUFLY was initiated in the first week of October. Colonel Ireland dispatched a recommendation to the Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing proposing that the tours for both the squadron and the individual Marines serving with the sub unit and the task unit headquarters be set at six months. Pointing out that the U.S. Army helicopter company which had occupied Da Nang previously had operated from January to September without rotating personnel, the task unit commander outlined the positive features of such an adjustment. It would, he contended, provide more continuity for administration and operations, thereby resulting in a more effective utilization of manpower. To underscore his argument, Ireland emphasized the number of man hours involved in the rotation of a helicopter squadron. Adding his opinion that the two-month extension of all tours would not measurably affect the morale of the Marines at Da Nang, he recommended that the next rotation of helicopter squadrons be postponed until January. After being forwarded to FMFPac for consideration, Colonel Ireland's proposals were approved later in the fall and instructions were passed to all involved commands to implement the new policy.4 Another adjustment-this one in the area of tactics-had been made during the task unit's first two months at Da Nang. By November the Eagle Flight concept had been tailored to complement reaction force plans which already existed in I Corps at the time of SHUFLY's relocation. ARVN authorities in the northern corps tactical zone had developed a system whereby their various infantry units were placed on alert for use as heliborne reaction forces. Designated the Tiger Force, the alert unit was staged at its base, ready to react to any tactical emergency. HMM-163 Marines executed one of their earliest Tiger Flights on 7 November in response to a train ambush sprung by the Viet Cong several miles northwest of the Hai Van Peninsula. Four Marine helicopters launched from Da Nang, made an airborne rendezvous with two other HUSs, and proceeded to Hoa My, four miles away, to pick up a 52-man ARVN Tiger Force. The Marines then helilifted the South Vietnamese into a suitable

 

*For larger operations the task unit commander usually designated one HUS as a search and rescue aircraft. This helicopter normally carried several mechanics and Navy medical personnel and was equipped with a hoist.

 

Page 83 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)