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CHAPTER 12

Fall and Winter Operations

Dry Weather Fighting-Monsoon and flood, Relief Operations-Changes and Improvements-Action as the Year Ends

 

 

Dry Weather Fighting

The military situation in I Corps remained essentially unchanged as HMM-162 began its assignment with SHUFLY. Hot, dry weather, with its promise of near perfect flying conditions and spirited fighting, continued over the mountainous northern provinces.

After a series of orientation briefings and familiarization flights. Lieutenant Colonel Curds' squadron initiated support operations in the closing days of June. HMM-162's first real taste of action came on the last day of the month when six UH-34Ds, escorted by two armed U.S. Army UH-lBs, attempted to resupply ARVN troops operating in the hills nine miles west of Tarn Ky. While trying to locate a Communist position which was firing on the resupply aircraft, one of the gunships was hit and crashed in flames. Two transport helicopters landed immediately to rescue the crew. The Marines pulled three of the four injured men from the wreckage before being driven away from the scene by approaching guerrillas. During takeoff, one UH-34D was struck by ground fire but was able to continue its flight to Da Nang. The wounded copilot of the downed Army aircraft died while en-route to the dispensary, but the injured pilot survived and later was evacuated to the Nha Trang Field Hospital. The heat from the still-smoldering aircraft hulk prevented a second attempt to extricate the body of the fourth soldier later in the day. It was finally recovered on 1 July.

The squadron's first critical troop lift came within days of its initial action when the task element was called upon to helilift urgently needed reinforcements to the Nam Dong CIDG camp which had come under heavy Communist attack. Situated in south central Thua Thien Province at a point where two prominent mountain valleys converge, Nam Dong held special strategic appeal to both sides engaged in the struggle for South Vietnam. It sat astride natural infiltration routes from Laos into the lowlands around Da Nang and Phu Bai and also protected some 5,000 Montagnard tribesmen who occupied a string of villages along the valley floor. The camp and the villages were defended by only a handful of U.S. Special Forces personnel and three CIDG companies, none of which could muster more than 90 men. Its status as a thorn in the enemy's side, its relative isolation, and its proximity to Communist base areas along the Laotian border, combined to make the outpost a particularly lucrative target for the Viet Cong. Nam Dong's hour of crisis came shortly after midnight on 7 July when the Communists launched a large-scale ground assault against the barbed wire-enclosed main camp. Shortly after 0400, with his position holding out against heavy mortar and machine gun fire, Captain Roger H. Donlon, the Special Forces officer in charge, radioed for assistance. Two hours later, six Marine helicopters, loaded with U.S. Special Forces and South Vietnamese personnel, launched from Da Nang for the beleaguered little fortress. Colonel Merchant, flying an 01-B, led the transport helicopters to the objective area while two U.S. Army UH-1B gun-ships provided escort. Meanwhile, two other HMM-162 helicopters launched for An Diem carrying U.S. Special Forces officers with instructions to assemble a company-sized reaction force for commitment to Nam Dong.

Intense enemy mortar and ground fire at Nam Dong initially prevented the six HU-34Ds from landing the reinforcements, whereupon Colonel Merchant and the flight returned to Da Nang for fuel. At the airfield the task element com-

 

 

 

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