Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Forgotten Mission — Chapter 1

BIEN HOA, Republic of Vietnam — On May 14, 1967, two U.S. Army helicopters made one of the largest air rescues of the Vietnam War.

After chopping through 40-foot-tall bamboo with their main rotor blades, the UH-1D “Hueys” whisked more than 100 South Vietnamese soldiers and 1 U.S. Special Forces advisor from the heart of an ambush. The enemy outnumbered them 6-1.
A UH-1D Huey from the 118th Assault Helicopter
Company flies toward a landing zone in 1967.

As the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) soldiers climbed aboard the helicopters, North Vietnam Army and Viet Cong soldiers used AK-47 assault rifles to pick them off in the back of the choppers. The soldiers following them dragged and threw their dead comrades off the Hueys to take their place.

Bodies were stacked three feet high on both sides of the helicopters. The outer perimeter was within the sweep of the rotors.

After both Hueys were filled with the survivors, they laboriously hovered up through the tight, 38-foot circles their rotors had carved through the bamboo. Once above the bamboo, the pilots eased the helicopters forward, through translational lift, and into flight. Gathering speed, the pilots kept the Hueys’ fuselage below the surrounding trees, overflying a narrow road.

A kilometer from the ambush, the pilots pulled back on their helicopters’ cyclic control. The Hueys climbed to 1,500 feet and flew 15 minutes to Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp.
After unloading their passengers at the dirt airstrip beside the camp, the Hueys returned to the ambush four more times, until all the living CIDG soldiers were pulled from the landing zone cut into the bamboo.

Later, intelligence showed the enemy force that had surrounded the soldiers was made up of 600-700 North Vietnam and Viet Cong troops.

When they returned to their home base at Bien Hoa Air Base after the rescue, one of the pilots was threatened with court-martial.

Later, three of the pilots would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other crewmembers the Air Medal for valor.

The rescue remained a secret for 41 years, a mission forgotten by all but the participants.

The rescue became public when Windfall Films of London came across it while researching for a 4-part series that would be entitled “Helicopter Warfare” in the United Kingdom. The series was renamed “Helicopter Wars” for international television broadcasting, and “Helicopter Missions” in the United States.

Details about the mission, the pilots and crewmembers who flew it, and the soldiers on the ground who lived through it will be the subject of a continuing series on this page entitled: “The Forgotten Mission.”


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