Marine officers visit Father Phwc's village. Left to right: Lieutenant Colonel Archie J. Clapp; Colonel John F. Carey; Father Phuoc; Colonel Julius W. Ireland; Colonel Gordon Gale; Major General Richard G. Weede; French Interpreter Gilles H. 'Rocheleau; and three unidentified Marine officers. (USMC Photo A410814').
the smoke signal, the squadron commander's helicopter was hit several times by small arms fire which severed the rudder control cable and punctured the main rotor transmission. The loss of oil required Rathbun to make a forced landing on a nearby road. After mechanics had been flown in and repairs had been accomplished, the helicopter was flown to a secure area. An investigation of the incident later revealed that the confusion had begun when the ARVN unit scheduled to be helilifted became involved in a skirmish with guerrillas less than a mile from the pick up point. A VNAF Forward Air Controller (FAC) in an observation aircraft had then marked the Viet Cong position for an air strike with a white smoke grenade rather than red smoke, as was normally used. This was the smoke whichLieutenant Colonel Rathbun had attempted to identify when his aircraft was hit.
From this incident the pilots of HMM-163 learned several valuable lessons about helicopter support in conjunction with ARVN ground operations. First, helilifts of government forces from the field at prearranged times required thorough last minute coordination. Secondly, helicopters could not be used safely on low-level reconnaissance or identification passes. Finally, prearranged colored smoke signals were easily confused and when used routinely were subject to enemy attempts at deception. Such signalling methods were most effective when used in conjunction with radio communications between air and ground units.
A somewhat humorous sequel to this incident