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Page 161 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)




FALL AND WINTER OPERATIONS


to its parent unit on Okinawa. It was replaced by a 78-man element from Company E, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines the same day. Led by Second Lieutenant Anthony A. Monroe, the newly arrived Marines would provide protection for the aviation unit until late November. The second alteration occurred about a week later when HMM-162 was relieved on-station by the officers and men of a fresh squadron. The rotation of helicopter units was completed on 8 October when Lieutenant Colonel Curtis officially signed over the aircraft and maintenance equipment to the new squadron's commanding officer. In a three month deployment to the war zone HMM-162's helicopters had conducted approximately 6,600 sorties for a total of slightly over 4,400 flight hours. Many of these sorties had been missions of mercy flown in the wake of the typhoons which had ravaged Vietnam's northern provinces. During three months of sustained combat support activities, the squadron had lost two UH-34Ds and one 0-1B in operational accidents.1


The newly arrived squadron, HMM-365, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Koler, Jr., an experienced Marine officer who had begun his career shortly after World War II as an infantry platoon leader with the 1st Marine Division in China. Under his leadership the squadron began performing resupply missions the same day that the last of HMM-162's personnel departed Da Nang. On their first day of operations, Koler's crews airlifted over 25,000 pounds of cargo to various outposts around Da Nang. The following day a flight of 12 HMM-365 helicopters provided transportation for ARVN troops who were being rotated between Kham Due and A Roe, an isolated outpost in southwestern Quang Nam Province less than seven miles from the Laotian border. On 11 October the newly arrived Marine pilots and crews tasted their first actual combat when eight UH-34Ds drew Vict Cong fire while landing a 112-man Vietnamese unit in the hills 10 miles west-southwest of Tarn Ky.


The day after its crews had witnessed their first ground fire, Koler's squadron lost its first aircraft in Vietnam. The incident occurred in western Quang Nam Province while a UH-34D was attempting to take off from a South Vietnamese landing zone located high in the mountains. The crash, in which the pilot was slightly injured, resulted from a loss of power due to the high altitude. After the crew was evacuated, a maintenance team salvaged the usable parts and destroyed the aircraft.


In mid-October Colonel Hay summarized the situation in I Corps for his superiors at the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The task element commander was particularly concerned about a new phase of Viet Cong activity which he saw developing in the coastal lowlands of the northern provinces. Although there were few visible signs of either combat or enemy movement to confirm the trend, intelligence sources indicated that Viet Cong main force battalions in I Corps had increased in number from nine to 11 in the past several months. During this same period, the number of local force Viet Cong companies in the area had jumped by 50 percent to a total of 17. These growth patterns, Colonel Hay noted, enabled the Communists to tighten their grip on the civilian populace. Likewise, they were responsible for increased enemy harassment of lines of communications in I Corps and posed a particular threat to Da Nang. 2


Colonel Hay's tour as task element commander ended on 17 October. After a brief change of command ceremony during which he expressed his appreciation to his subordinates for their assistance, Hay departed for Okinawa to assume command of MAG-16. His replacement at Da Nang, Colonel John H. King, Jr., an officer who had seen his first action as a fighter pilot during World War II, was well prepared to direct the task element's operations. A recent graduate of the National War College, King had commanded the first operational Marine transport helicopter unit, Marine Helicopter Squadron 161, during the Korean War.


HMM-365's operations continued throughout the remainder of October with only a few significant actions reported. One of these was an abortive medical evacuation mission attempted on 26 October during which the squadron suffered its first combat casualties. The incident, in which both the copilot and crew chief were wounded by Viet Cong small arms fire, occurred while the helicopter was approaching a poorly protected landing zone 10 miles southwest of Tarn Ky. The pilot managed to return the damaged helicopter to Tarn Ky and land safely, whereupon the seri-





Page 161 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)