78-man ARVN patrol which had been under frequent enemy fire for six days in the rugged jungle about 42 miles west of Da Nang. The transport helicopters encountered almost continuous small arms fire during the landing and subsequent evacuation. One Marine helicopter carrying a crew of four Marines and five ARVN passengers was shot down while climbing away from the contested landing zone. The pilot made a forced landing in a nearby clearing and the nine men were evacuated under fire by other UH-34Ds. Despite the hazardous nature of the mission, the entire South Vietnamese patrol was removed to the safety of Nam Dong, a well-defended Special Forces camp located in a valley 34 miles west of Da Nang.
Acts of heroism were commonplace during the 30 April evacuation. One Marine copilot assumed control of his severely damaged helicopter and flew it to Nam Dong after the pilot and crew chief had been wounded. Staff Sergeant John C. Thompson, who served as one of the loadmasters for the operation, was later awarded the Navy Cross for his role in the action. Having arrived in the landing zone aboard the first transport helicopter, the Marine noncommissioned officer exposed himself to Viet Cong fire almost continuously while supervising the loading of each aircraft. After the last five South Vietnamese troops had boarded the final helicopter, Thompson shouted to its pilot that he would remain on the ground to provide covering fire while the aircraft took off. But the pilot ordered Staff Sergeant Thompson on board and then succeeded in maneuvering the heavily loaded UH-34D out of the empty landing zone.
By late May it had become apparent to U.S. military authorities in South Vietnam that the demand for American transport helicopters in I Corps would continue beyond the 30 June date which had been set earlier for SHUFLY's departure. General Westmoreland, therefore, proposed to the Commander in Chief, Pacific, that the Marine unit be retained at Da Nang indefinitely. He further recommended thai HMM-364 turn over its helicopters and maintenance equipment to the Vietnamese Air Force on 30 June as scheduled, and that the unit be replaced by another Marine UH-34D squadron. These recommendations were forwarded to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who approved them on 10 June. In response, the Marine Corps began immediate preparations to deploy a new, fully equipped, medium helicopter squadron to Da Nang.
HMM-364 began its final month in Vietnam by supporting another heliborne assault into II Corps. This time the Marines teamed with the U.S. Army's 52d Aviation Battalion to lift an ARVN battalion from Dak To, a town situated in western Kontum Province, to an objective in the Do Xa base area. To support the operation, which was code named SURE WIND 303, Lieutenant Colonel La Voy's crews positioned a TAFDS fuel bladder at the Dak To airstrip on 1 June. Two days later, 15 Marine UH-34Ds contributed 180 sorties to the assault phase of the new government operation. No battle damage was recorded by Marine aircraft during this latest incursion into northern II Corps.
The Marine task element's responsibilities were expanded slightly in the first week of June when MACV directed Colonel Merchant to provide search and rescue (SAR) support for U.S. aerial reconnaissance operations which had begun over Laos and North Vietnam. After 7 June at least two UH-34Ds (one section) were positioned together either at Quang Tri or at Khe Sanh, ready to conduct SAR missions for downed American and VNAF pilots. While based at Khe Sanh the helicopters were also used to support Advisory Team One on Tiger Tooth Mountain. At Quang Tri the SAR helicopters operated from a clearing adjacent to a local soccer field. Years later. Marine pilots who had stood the SAR duty there would recall the incongruous sight of small Vietnamese boys playfully pursuing their soccer games alongside parked combat aircraft and a TAFDS bladder.
In addition to normal support operations, HMM-364's pilots devoted much of the second week of June to a search for Privates First Class Fred T. Schrenkengost and Robert L. Greer, two MABS-16 Marines who had disappeared from the Da Nang compound on 7 June. Intelligence reports indicated that both men had been captured by Communist guerrillas about five miles south of the airfield while sight-seeing on rented motor bikes. The aerial search produced no signs of the missing enlisted men but reliable Vietnamese sources reported that the Viet Cong had displayed them in several villages. The task element commander finally called off the fruitless search on 15 June, a full week after it had begun. Ground efforts by the