I completed a training flight with Bill Yancey out of Marble Mountain with HMM 361 after running the surgery suite at Mag 12 in Chu Li. I had no battle experience except for one big ass motor attack and later going out with EOD to blow up captured ammo confiscated from the VC and NVA. They would be waiting for us to find a crater to put the ammo in and ambush us on our way out before we set off the ordinance. How exciting lying in the back of an armored troupe carrier while the VC shot at us. Once the ammo exploded then they quit trying to shoot us.
I was sent out by myself a few day later. My first casualty was a newbie LCPL on his first patrol in 6 foot high jungle grass He was 6’3″. I remember thinking about his mother not knowing he was my first KIA on my first ever mission out West of Danang/MM.
I was never the same ever again.
The above photo was when I first arrived in Dong Ha. I had been flying long hours and was able to acquire all the arms you see behind my bunk. The M 14 automatic was from a deceased Marine in the DMZ. These were collector guns since the M 16 came out and it was a joke since it jammed all the time and it took a 3 foot long metal screwed together rod to un-jam the rifle. The M 14 was the gun of choice for Marines.
I never got to sleep in my cot since the artillery was always going on at night. This kept you diving in and out of the bunker all night. It was better to just sleep in the bunker with the rats. The guy on the right is Jerry, our Senior Corpsman, and the other guy was the head of getting us our gear with HMM 363. There were no big parties when Jerry was in charge, but things got crazy when 361 arrived along with Yancey, Blankenship, and Sean. The parties would scare the NVA away since they thought we were crazy. AND…we were.
This picture was late June 1967, the thirsty gang sitting were both Corpsman- the second one was DB Winter who later followed us to Dong Ha. I am standing sucking on my finger followed by Bill Yancey and Bill Timans, who had just arrived to begin training and had just gotten his wings as seen on this left chest.
By the time we finished at Dong Ha and Bill Timans headed to the Rock Marines (South Korean Marines), we had all been wounded at least once, but unfortunately none received a Purple Heart. Why? Mainly because many of the bodies we carried only received this one honor. We felt this was our job. Crashes in the sense of hitting the ground and rice patty dikes was ultimately our future disability.
This is a pic from 2017. Squadron (361) reunion in Arlinton VA. We went to the USMC museum at Quantico to dedicate the display of YN-19 restored uh-34. that was restored by members of Popasmoke. It got too expensive to fly and was donated to the museum. This picture is of (L) John Noble, (C)Don Wagoner and (R)Mike Cornell. We all live in Indiana.
Dong Ha Vietnam began for me in early July of 1967 at Mag 16 Forward helicopter base. This base was also home for the Marines and Delta Med all just a few miles form the DMZ and North Vietnam. When I first started flying out of Marble Mountain (MM), I was there long enough to get banged up in one of my first missions. It injured my shoulder and neck. Since I was from Midland Texas and hanging out with WG and Gene Clark, this mini rice paddy dike mishap was not worth reporting since we made it back to base. Now this was when HMM 363 was preparing to go back to Marble Mountain replaced by HMM 361. The latter is who I flew with for the next few months until Sept 3 1967. Since I had run out of gas, I flew out for a break late on the 2nd just as the artillery began. What happened on 9/3/67 was historic.
The guys that stayed behind for the Big Bang on this day were many, but of note are Bill Yancey, Tom Blankenship, Sean Barry, John Noble and Mike Cornell. The others were several hundred, if not 1000’s, since we took up one small area for 20 25 UH 34-D helo’s.