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South Vietnamese to locate the men continued but were also futile. The two Marines were never found.*

While the aerial search south of Da Nang was in its final stages, HMM-364 suffered its last aircraft loss in Vietnam when a helicopter crashed while carrying supplies from Khe Sanh to Major Gray's Advisory Team One on Tiger Tooth Mountain. The accident occurred on 13 June when a UH-34D was caught in severe down drafts while attempting to land in the small landing zone near the top of the jagged 5,000-foot-high peak. The crew and passengers luckily escaped injury and were rescued but the aircraft was damaged too extensively to be repaired. Marines stripped the UH-34D of radios and machine guns and then burned the hulk.

Changing the Watch

On 16 June, three days after the crash on Tiger Tooth Mountain, Lieutenant Colonel La Voy's unit ceased its operations and began preparations for turning over its helicopters and equipment to the Vietnamese Air Force. The Marines spent three days removing the automatic stabilization equipment (the helicopter's equivalent of an automatic pilot) and the USMC identification from the 24 UH-34Ds. While HMM-364's men accomplished the necessary last-minute preparations, pilots from a new Marine medium helicopter squadron, HMM-162, began flying their UH-34Ds ashore from the LPH-8, USS Valley Forge. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver W. Curtis, an Oklahoman who held four Distinguished Flying Crosses for air actions fought during World War II and Korea, HMM-162 was the first Marine squadron since Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's to deploy to Vietnam with its complement of aircraft and maintenance equipment. With HMM-162's arrival, elements of Lieutenant Colonel La Voy's unit began departing for Okinawa on board refuelcr-transport aircraft from VMGR-152. Also on board one of the KC-130s bound for Okinawa was Lieutenant Colonel Beal, who relinquished command of the MABS-16 sub unit to Major Marion R. Green on the last day of June.

The newly commissioned VNAF 217th Squadron informally accepted the aircraft from HMM-364 on 19 June. Formal acceptance occurred 10 days later with Major General Paul J. Fontana, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, attending a ceremony presided over by the I Corps commanding general. Following the exchange of equipment, the Vietnamese officials presented various orders of the Cross of Valor, their nation's second highest decoration, to Marine pilots who had distinguished themselves during Operation SURE WIND 202. Vice Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, commanding general of the Vietnamese Air Force, then presented Vietnamese pilot wings to Colonel Merchant, Lieutenant Colonel La Voy, and to each Marine instructor-pilot who had participated in the helicopter pilot training program. HMM-364's tour in South Vietnam ended officially on 30 June when the last of its members boarded KC-130's bound for Okinawa. Since initiating combat flight operations in February, the squadron's helicopters had logged 2,665 combat sorties and 2,365 combat hours. Another statistic underscored the intensity of the actions in which the unit had participated. Well over half of the squadron's 24 helicopters had been damaged by enemy fire during its five-month deployment in Vietnam.11

*The status of PFC Fred T. Schrenkengost was changed from missing in action to killed in action, body not recovered, on 23 July 1974. The status of PFC Robert L. Greer was likewise changed on 14 November 1975.

 

 

 

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