Two U.S. Army UH-1D “Huey” helicopters took off from Bien Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam, on the morning of May 14, 1967.
Though the Vietnam War was in full swing, the crews looked forward to a quiet Sunday of flying to various U.S. Special Forces camps in the III Corps. One Huey was flying a chaplain between bases. The other was carrying a paymaster.
When the Hueys returned to Bien Hoa that night, their rotor blades would be in tatters.
Their crews would be credited with saving 126 South Vietnamese soldiers and 1 U.S. Special Forces advisor from an ambush sprung by a reinforced battalion of more than 600 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.
To reach the allied soldiers on the ground, the pilots of the 2 helicopters used their Hueys’ rotor blades to chop through 40 feet of bamboo and tree limbs. After the initial landing, the helicopters returned to the battle 4 more times to rescue all the soldiers who were still alive.
The pilots of the 2 Hueys — Tom Baca of Albuquerque and Jack Swickard of Roswell — will speak about the mission during the annual Spirit of Angel Fire Dinner sponsored by the David Westphall Veterans Foundation on March 10 at Sandia Resort and Casino north of Albuquerque. The dinner begins at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available online at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Gift Shop at:
The Westphall Foundation supports the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park at Angel Fire, New Mexico.
The rescue at Cau Song Be has received international attention more than 40 years after the rescue with the television showing of a documentary produced by Windfall Films of London on the 5 Channel in the United Kingdom, National Geographic Network International, and the Smithsonian Network in the United States.
Baca and Swickard returned to the scene of the rescue north of Saigon in October 2008 for filming in the landing zone where they rescued the soldiers. The pilots have returned to Vietnam several times since then.
At the time of the rescue, Swickard was a pilot with the 118th Assault Helicopter Company. Baca formerly flew for the 118th Assault Helicopter Company before being assigned to II Field Force Vietnam. On the day of the rescue, he was flying an unarmed VIP aircraft.
The Huey helicopter on display at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire was one of the helicopters Swickard flew with the 118th Assault Helicopter Company in 1967 and 1968.
Baca remained in the U.S. Army and retired as a major. He later worked as a corporate pilot and served as state aviation director.
After four years on active military duty, Swickard returned to The Albuquerque Tribune, where he was a reporter and city editor. He later served as editor and general manager of the Roswell Daily Record and the Farmington Daily Times. In 2000, he founded The Triton Group Inc., a public relations company headquartered in Roswell.