mountainous area roughly 22 miles south-west of Tarn Ky to begin Operation BACH PHUONG XI. The squadron was less fortunate during this operation than it was during the lengthy Quang Tri effort. One helicopter was shot down by Viet Cong fire which wounded the pilot, Captain Virgil R. Hughes, in the leg. The crew and the embarked ARVN soldiers escaped further injury when the aircraft made a crash landing in which it suffered extensive damage. After the crew was rescued, a salvage team from Da Nang stripped the helicopter of all usable parts and burned the hulk so the Viet Cong could not make use it. This was the first Marine helicopter loss definitely attributed to direct enemy action.3
Following the initial heliborne assaults into the Do Xa area, two UH-34Ds were rotated to Tra My from Da Nang on a daily basis. Refueling from the TAFDS bladder, these standby aircraft were used primarily to perform medical evacuation missions for VNMC and ARVN units involved in BACH PHOUNG XI. Before the operation ended in mid-May, HMM-162's crews had evacuated nearly 100 Marine and ARVN casualties from hazardous landing zones scattered along the border of I and II Corps. The task element's 0-lBs also provided aerial reconnaissance support for all phases of the operation. On 19 May, the day before BACH PHOUNG XI terminated, 12 Marine UH-34Ds lifted the two Vietnamese Marine battalions to the provisional brigade command post at Tra My. This particular phase of the operation evoked favorable comment from an anonymous U.S. Marine pilot who noted on an unsigned debriefing form that the heliborne withdrawal had gone smoothly and that the Vietnamese Marines appeared "well organized in the landing zones and at Tra My." 4 BACH PHOUNG XI ended unceremoniously the following day when HMM-162 helilifted the ARVN battalions from the Do Xa base area.
One trend which became increasingly apparent as the spring of 1963 unfolded was the growing utilization of the Army UH-1B helicopter gunships as escorts to and from landing zones. The gunships accompanied all Marine assault helilifts and medical evacuations, and when available, also escorted resupply flights in order to provide suppressive fire around government positions while landings were in progress. Although well suited for the escort missions, the lightly armed UH-lBs did not replace the Vietnamese Air Force attack aircraft as the principal source of preparatory air strikes around landing zones being used for assault hcli-lifts. The Marines continued to rely on the more heavily armed VNAF T-28s and A-lHs to conduct the so-called "prep strikes." *
May was the last full month of combat support operations for Lieutenant Colonel Leu's squadron. In the first week of June, transports from VMGR-152 began landing at Da Nang with the Marines of a new UH-34D squadron. Since assuming responsibility for helicopter support in I Corps in mid-January, HMM-162 had compiled a solid combat record. While under the squadron's operations, the UH-34D helicopters had flown 17,670 sorties for a total of 8,579 flight hours. The 0-lBs added approximately 400 sorties and another 1,000 hours to these figures. In the month of May alone HMM-162's helicopters flew over 2,000 flight hours-a number which approached the record set by HMM-163 during the previous summer in the Mekong Delta. Other statistics reflected the growing intensity of the Vietnam war. Since its deployment to Da Nang, Lieutenant Colonel Leu's unit had lost three helicopters-two as a result of operations at extreme elevations and one to enemy fire. One member of the unit had been killed and three others wounded since the squadron entered the combat zone.5
After a brief change-over period, the outgoing squadron commander officially turned over his unit's aircraft and maintenance equipment on 8 June to Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Shook, the commanding officer of HMM-261. Shook, who had flown Marine helicopters in combat during the Korean War, committed his crews to their first actual combat missions that same day. A significant change took place in the coordinating arrangements that governed U.S. helicopter units supporting I Corps at approximately the same time that HMM-261 initiated combat support operations. Since its relocation at Da Nang, the Marine task element, along with all other aviation units in I CTZ, had received its missions from the
*As a result of the joint helicopter operations in I Corps, a vigorous debate developed within the Marine Corps concerning the value of armed helicopters. This debate and the subsequent development, procurement, and operations of Marine helicopter gunships will be covered in a separate historical monograph being prepared by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.