Page 158

Page 158 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)




mander briefed VNAF A-1H Skyraider pilots and the crew of a Marine 0-1 B on the battlefield situation. He took off again at 0910, this time to act as TACA in an Air Force U-10. Meanwhile, a U.S. Army CV-2 Caribou (a twin-engine, fixed-wing light transport) had managed to airdrop small arms ammunition to Donlon and the embattled defenders. Following this emergency re-supply, air strikes were conducted on the hills to the south and west of the outpost, causing enemy ground fire to diminish somewhat. At 0945, a flight of 18 Marine helicopters, led by Lieutenant Colonel Curtis and escorted by four UH-1B gun-ships and two VNAF Skyraiders, began landing a 93-man relief force which had been collected earlier from Da Nang and An Diem. Evacuation of the dead and wounded began immediately. At 1545, a flight of 10 UH-34Ds lifted 9,500 pounds of ammunition, medical supplies, radios, and miscellaneous equipment to Nam Dong. Six passengers, five wounded Vietnamese, and eight more bodies were evacuated to Da Nang on the return trip. By then, the battle was finished. Two Americans, one Australian advisor, and 55 South Vietnamese had been killed. Captain Donlon, who earned the first Medal of Honor awarded for action in Vietnam, and 64 other defenders had been wounded. The Viet' Cong, who had failed to eliminate the Nam Dong outpost, left 62 bodies on the battlefield.*


Four days after the battle for Nam Dong, Colonel Merchant's tour in Vietnam ended. He returned to Okinawa to assume command of Marine Aircraft Group 16 whereupon Colonel Hardy ("Tex") Hay, a 1940 graduate of Texas A&M, assumed command of Task Element 79.3.3.6.**


Normal flight operations continued during the remainder of July with no major heliborne assaults conducted and no Marine aircraft lost. These operations, however, did not lack excitement. Supporting the Marine and ARVN forces on Tiger Tooth Mountain proved extremely hazardous as the HMM-162 crews soon came to realize. On 11 July, for example, the mountain nearly claimed one of their helicopters when a UH-34D lost power as a result of the extreme altitude while delivering supplies to Advisory Team One. As the aircraft plummeted into the hillside landing zone, its tail pylon struck the vegetation around the edge of the tiny clearing causing some structural damage. Fortunately, the damage was such that the crewmen were able to make emergency repairs while Major Gray's men provided security around the aircraft. This accomplished, the crew returned their damaged helicopter to Khe Sanh without further incident.


Daily operations continued to produce action for the newly arrived squadron as July wore on. On the 15th a UH-34D was hit by Viet Cong fire while performing a routine resupply mission south of Da Nang. Again, damage was only minor and the aircraft continued its mission. Support for Tiger Tooth Mountain dominated SHUFLY's operations on the 18th after MACV officials ordered Major Gray's Advisory Team One withdrawn to safety. Colonel Hay directed HMM-162 to commit all available aircraft in order to complete the withdrawal as rapidly as possible. Good weather and flying expertise helped the helicopter crews transport the entire Marine force (92 men) and over 21,000 pounds of equipment to Khe Sanh before nightfall on the 19th.


In a simultaneous but unrelated development, HMM-162 was called upon to detach four helicopters to Udorn, Thailand, for temporary duty. These aircraft and crews were assigned to assist with search and rescue operations in support of ongoing U.S. aerial reconnaissance efforts in that area.


In early August, the heightened international tensions which accompanied the Gulf of Tonkin crisis prompted General Westmoreland to order all American military installations throughout South Vietnam to brace for possible enemy attacks. Colonel Hay responded to ComUSMACV's instructions by placing his Marines on high alert status for several weeks. The precautions were relaxed gradually as the crisis eased and the likelihood of a sudden Communist attack diminished.


The pattern of helicopter operations in the northern provinces throughout the remainder of the summer differed little from that which had


*For a. more detailed account of the battle for Nam Dong, see Donlon, Outpost of freedom.


**For his role as Task Element Commander, ARVN I Corps Aviation Headquarters Commander, and Senior U.S. Aviation Advisor to I Corps, Colonel Merchant was later awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat "V." He was also decorated with two Vietnamese Crosses of Valor-one for SURE WIND 202 and the other for the relief of Nam Dong.





Page 158 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)