HH-43 SAR pilot’s diary, 1964-1965, Vietnam
November 16, 2013
Archie Taylor, commander, Det 4, Pacific Air Rescue Center (PARC), October 1964-May 1965
As mentioned in the introduction, Major, later Lt. Colonel Archie Taylor, his crews and his HH-43F Pedros were located at Bien Hoa AB, Republic of Vietnam (RVN), located outside Saigon. This photo shows a Bien Hoa-based HH-43 taking off in 1965.
This map shows you Bien Hoa’s location outside Saigon. Note Tan Son Nhut AB also outside Saigon. The former was more of an operational base than the latter. The latter hosted many headquarters though combat aircraft did launch from her.
The PARC was co-located with the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) during the war and administratively subordinate to the Air Rescue Service (ARS), which was part of the Military Air Transport Command (MATS).
I provided some history about the decision process to send the HH-43 to the RVN in a separate report. I’d like to provide some additional background:
“Major Alan Saunders, USAF, an H-43 “Huskie” helicopter driver, did a study in August 1963 that said the H-43 helicopter, heretofore used for LBR operations, should be modified for combat operations and be used for the SAR mission … The study bounced from the ‘too-hard-to-handle’ box to ‘too-hard-to-handle’ box in the military hierarchy.”
A note to remember as you read ahead. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution did not become law until August 1964. In effect, it authorized the president to go to war in Southeast Asia. The truth was the US had been fighting there for several years before that.
It turns out Saunders, who did this August 1963 study, was the commander of Det 3, PARC, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP RTAFB), long before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He recommended air rescue detachments be deployed to Da Nang, Pleiku, Bien Hoa, and Can Tho, all in the RVN. The study emphasized that the standard HH-43 helicopter be modified for combat operations. These modifications included a longer hoist cable, self-sealing fuel tanks, and armor plating. He sent the study to the commander, 2nd Air Division (AD) in Saigon, the forerunner of the 7th Air Force.
Headquarters USAF approved the transfer of three HH-43B detachments to the RVN in March 1964 and planned for that to begin in June 1964. A decision was made to modify some HH-43s which meant the deployments would have to wait until October 1964.
But, in April 1964 MACV and CINCPAC still had not agreed to use the Huskies in the SAR role. The whole reason for wanting to deploy them in the first place was because the air war was ramping up. The problem was most of the air war was supposed to be covert. Introducing SAR forces would open up the box. Nonetheless, PACAF was ready to go. It needed SAR forces for its pilots already flying combat.
Then the next shoe dropped.
In May 1964 the USAF began flying reconnaissance missions over the Laotian Panhandle to get a handle on traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Then so too the Navy over Laos. They found it had grown to be a major thoroughfare for the enemy. Air America (CIA) was tasked for the SAR job. It could not handle the whole task, so Anthis again pleaded for the introduction of US military SAR forces.
PACAF approved a rescue combat air patrol (RESCAP) and sent F-100 fighters to the scene from Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), a base the USAF was trying to keep covert. The Navy sent in aircraft as well. CINCPAC ordered them to leave the area, so Air America again took over the SAR. The Pathet Lao captured Klusmann. Klusman and two Laotian soldiers escaped on August 30, 1964, evaded enemy forces for two days, and were successfully rescued.
But the incident highlighted the problem with the SAR program.
After all kinds of weird plans were set up, CINCPAC finally said to hell with all this, bring in the USAF SAR forces. That decision came in May 1964. The USAF moved two HH-43B Huskies into NKP RTAFB on the Laotian border. But they did not come with USAF pararescue forces (PJs), only medical people crew. The 33rd ARS LBR in Okinawa activated the unit at NKP as Det 3 PARC Provisional, meaning temporary, on June 19, 1964. The 33rd ARS sent two more to Korat RTAFB on temporary duty.
It also sent in two Grumman HU-16 Albatross amphibious flying boats (example shown here) on temporary duty to operate as a command and control (C2) aircraft, and also to do seaborne rescues.
In August 1964 came the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and bombing of the NVN.
The NVN began to gain the upper hand against Royal Laotian Army (RLA) forces in the PDJ region, so President Johnson sent in F-100 fighters (example shown here) to retaliate against the enemy. These attacks expanded through December 1964 and the Rolling Thunder operation began in March 1965. Rolling Thunder was a gradual and sustained USAF, USN and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) aerial bombardment campaign conducted against the NVN through November 2, 1968. As you will see, SAR was now mission essential stuff. Old hands know the military services were not prepared for SAR at the levels they would have to fly them, and in the hostile environments they would encounter. As has always been the case, the honchos played catch-up while the fliers figured out how to get it done with what they had.
Archie’s Det 4 PARC notes
This part of Archie’s diary deals with the time he commanded Det 4, PARC at Bien Hoa. He had three HH-43Fs. Much of my presentation of his diary for this period is drawn from his written notes and his formal reports to higher headquarters.
In August 1964, a HH-43B unit arrived in Korat, designated Det 4, PARC Provisional. The HH-43B was powered by a 860 hp Lycoming T53-L-1B turbine engine, a change from the piston powered engine of the A model. In essence, the HH-43As were upgraded.
The photo shows a HH-43B at Korat, provided by Mike Hoffman to westin553.net. It started SAR operations right away, nicknamed the “Pedro,” call signs Pedro with a number following. They flew deeply into NVN. This was amazing since the aircraft was designed for short range, about 185 miles.
Now the US got more serious about SAR. In August, five stateside LBR units were ordered to the theater. The ambassador in Vientiane was authorized to use T-28s flown by USAF pilots to escort the HH-43s.
In September 1964 PARCS were set up at Bien Hoa and Da Nang, each with two HH-43Bs. Then in November 1964 the various PARCs were moved around, and Det 4, the unit we are interested in for Archie’s diary, was activated at Bien Hoa with three HH-43Fs, a new rendition of the Old Huskie designed for SAR operations in war. It had added armament and better fuel tanks for extended range.
Bien Hoa was the home of the 34th Tactical Group (TAC GP), Colonel William Bethea in command. Major Archie Taylor, in command of the newly activated Det 4 PARC, and his detachment had already arrived at Bien Hoa on October 22, 1964. They managed to secure a couple tents and put their equipment under cover at night because of the weather. That same night, the airmen moved into a 1,000 sq. ft. hut where they lived for a month. They started assembling two HH-43Fs the next day. Apparently only two of the expected three had arrived. The photo shows the men assembling a HH-43F 63-9712 at Bien Hoa in October 1964. Photo by Mr. Joseph T. Connell -via Mr. Steve Mock.
I want to back up for just a moment to address the 34th TAC GP and Bien Hoa, aerial photo of base shown here.
Bien Hoa was a Vietnamese base commanded by a Vietnamese officer with a control tower operated by Vietnamese. Here you see Vietnamese, I believe hoisting the Vietnamese Flag at the base, photo taken by Lt. Col. Wayne Adelsberger and seen at vnafmann.com. The South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) used the base as an air depot and an IRAN (Inspect and Repair As Necessary) facility for the VNAF. The VNAF operated 50 A-1H and 25 A-1E aircraft which had just been turned over to them by the USN. They also flew O-1F Bird Dogs as forward air controllers (FAC).
The 34th TAC GP trained VNAF pilots and observers in counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare. It commanded the 1st Air Commando Squadron using A-1E, C-47 and U-10 aircraft, the 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) using A-1E aircraft, and the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron employing O-1Fs. The 8th and 13th Bomb squadrons were also there with B-57B Canberra aircraft. This was a major base at the time. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) moved its U-2 “Dragon Lady” photo reconnaissance aircraft and its “Blue Springs” drone operations to Bien Hoa in October 1964. There were three Army companies with 25 UH-1 Huey helicopters assigned to the base as well. Archie said that not counting helicopter operations, some 15-20,000 takeoffs and landings occurred here each month using all types of aircraft. His Det 4 in October 1964 was among the newest units to be assigned to the base.
I’ll be showing you some of these aircraft types and others during the course of the story.
His detachment was assigned to the PARC for administrative, command and technical control but was under the operational control (OPCON) of the 2nd Air Division (AD) in Saigon. The 2nd AD exercised this OPCON through Det 3 PARC, which was located at NKP, though I believe it then moved to Ubon RTAFB when Det 2 moved to NKP in November 1964. I am not sure why this arrangement was needed; i.e., why couldn’t 2 AD go directly to Det 4 as it did to Det 3? Perhaps because Det 4 was so new. I will remark here that units were being moved all over the place all the time, aircraft and crews were being sent from Japan and elsewhere on a temporary duty (TDY) status, and trying to keep up with all the changes today, over 50 years later is a real task. This was happening because none of the services were prepared for this SAR job, and frankly the USAF was not prepared for the bombing missions that were being tasked out, so the USAF had to grab aircraft and crews and ordnance from wherever it could and get them over there as fast as they could. TDYs were a fast way of moving things around.
In any event, the mission for the PARC units was “recover aircrew personnel in support of the United States Armed Forces counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam.” A secondary mission was to provide LBR coverage within the unit’s capabilities.
When Archie’s Det 4 PARC got going, it had three HH-43Fs, nine officers, and 27 airmen. Ten of the airmen had been trained as firefighters, five were PJs, and five were crew chiefs. The unit moved to Bien Hoa from Stead AFB, Nevada. This photo shows a HH-43 flying near Bien Hoa in 1965, taken by Joseph T. Vonnell via Steve Mock.
I mentioned the crews started assembling two HH-43Fs on October 23. On October 24 Capt. Layman flew the first test hop on #711 by noon. By sundown he had flown the second aircraft, #712 on her first test flight.
Business began almost immediately thereafter. You will see as we march through the diary how diverse Det 4’s activities were.
Speaking broadly, the new HH-43 units had no written directives, no tactics, no rules of engagement, and no concept of combat rescue operations on the part of the Air Rescue Service. The learning curve had to be mounted with dispatch.
Lt. Glenn Dyer, USAF, A-1E, 1st Air Commando Squadron, Tan Son Nhut, RVN, October 26, 1964, KIA
This photo of Dyer was taken while he was at A-1 flight training school, class “Express 02”. As you will see in a moment, three other class mates would crash their A-1Es as well, two KIA, one rescued, all near Bien Hoa.
This photo shows a HH-43 responding to a A-1E crash at Da Nang AB, RVN just to give you an idea of the HH-43 responding to such a crash. It is hauling what was known as a fire suppression kit (FSK), which was a foam system. I will describe it more in a few moments.
Capt. Edward Aloysius Blake, USAF and Capt. John Christopher Knaggs, USAF, A-1E, Bien Hoa AB, RVN, October 29, 1964, KIA
Then on October 29, 1964 another A-1E crashed five miles south of the base and Det 4 delivered its FSK to the crash and again helped remove the two bodies. This crash has been listed as non-hostile, an air accident that occurred on a training flight. One of the crew was Capt. Edward Aloysius Blake, USAF (left) while the other was Capt. John Christopher Knaggs, USAF. Both were also assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron, 34th TACGP, Bien Hoa. It turns out Knaggs was in the same A-1 Skyraider training class as Lt. Dyer who died on October 26.
Bien Hoa was hit by a Viet Cong (VC) mortar attack on November 1 shortly after midnight for about 15-20 minutes. Archie said the crews were awakened by the sound of “whump-whump” followed by more “whump-whumps.” Jumping out of the rack, they looked outside and could see the flight line was under attack near the control tower. The crews hurriedly dressed and ran to the gun room for armaments. This photo shows burning aircraft on the ramp at Bien Hoa following the attack.
Aircrews were called to report to the flight line and worked feverishly to get airborne to counter-attack the enemy infiltrators. The Det 4 Econoline was fired up to take the Det 4 crews to their helicopters but an ambulance backed into it before they got very far, mostly because of darkness. The Det 4 alert area was hit by at least six mortar shells. One dud was sticking up through the Pierced Steel Plank (PSP) right next to a HH-43. The auxiliary power unit (APU) for the alert HH-43 was on fire after taking a direct hit. They dragged it out into a dirt area. This photo shows a HH-43B damaged during the attack. Photo credit: Joseph T. Connell (HH-43 pilot at that time), photo received via Steve Mock, MSgt, USAF (Ret.),
The Army launched every UH-1 Huey they could fly to evacuate wounded, but the downside was that their prop wash spread sparks all over the place. The Army area just across the street from Det 4 took direct hits on the huts and killed four soldiers. I don’t know if these were those barracks, but they are the damaged barracks of the Army’s 118th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) which flew UH-1 Hueys. The Det 4 tent took a direct hit and wounded two men sleeping there. Just about everyone was at least scratched when shrapnel blasted the trailer and also took .30 cal fire. Airman Walsh was hit in the leg as he ran toward the Army area and also took shrapnel to the back before he passed out. Colleagues carried him to safety and help. Airman Snook was also hit when he prepared to evacuate the tent.
All together, after investigating the attack, seven mortars had landed on or near the PSP parking area damaging all helicopters. Aircraft #712 had blade damage. Nr 711 had a hole in the skin and one in the glass. No problem, she flew that morning to an emergency when a C-47 suffered damage from a mid-air during the counter-attack. The smoke was so thick it was hard to see but she launched anyway.
The attack was a good one for the VC as they hit 20 B-57s of which five were destroyed, four helicopters and three A-1Hs. This photo shows damage to one of the B-57s.
Det 4 men guarded the helicopters and watched the A-1Es taking off, striking their targets, landing, getting uploaded again and launching again. Army helicopter tracers were used to direct their attacks. Archie said the Army helos had some firepower and “they put out tracers like we dispense foam (to put out fires).”
When the fighting was over, the men returned to their tents which were filled with holes and tears. Archie said, “Parachutes, flak vests, fire fighting clothing, chairs and even waste paper baskets suffered either flak damage or damage from the .30 cal fire.” They had to condemn four parachutes and the rest were drenched in rain. Following all this, the men had to put their damaged helicopters back together.
As an aside, Major Archie then outlined helicopter crash procedures which addressed crew behavior and signals.
- First, the crew must take defensive actions as necessary to protect themselves and their aircraft. They should use a smoke signal to indicate security of the area. Green smoke should be used when a rescue aircraft is spotted if the area is considered safe. The crew should not limit themselves to signaling just rescue helicopters, but should signal any friendly aircraft since any of them could be used in a rescue effort.
- If a crew member has sustained an injury and rescue is urgent, the crew should employ green smoke and then white smoke in close succession.
- If there are hostile troops in the area, the crew should fire a red flare in the general direction of the enemy. Rescue aircraft will know what that means and will get the word out to other aircraft in the area.
- Crew has to worry about being used as decoys by hostile forces. If the crew feels they are being used as decoys that would endanger an aircraft that might land or hover to rescue the crew, one of the crew should wave his left arm overhead regardless of any other signals the crew may have employed.
- When bringing a rescued downed crew member aboard, that crewman should be searched by a paramedic when bringing him aboard. The flight mechanic will assist the paramedic in removing any dangerous weapons from the rescued crewman during flight. The Pedro crew is to keep weapons aboard the aircraft and on the rescued crewman out of all unknown persons during the flight.
- Red smoke will be used when it is unsafe to land for a rescue.
VNAF crashes near Bien Hoa
The VNAF conducted an air attack on November 7 against the VC located some 15 miles north of the base in the woods and Det 4 flew four hours during the night in case the VNAF needed SAR help. On November 13 Det 4 delivered firemen by hoist to a crash site two miles from the end of the runway and removed one body from the wreckage. Since he is not listed on the Vietnam Wall, I have assumed this pilot was VNAF. Det 4’s Airman Donnigan helped a VNAF fire truck fireman when a round of ammunition cooked-off. Donnigan found himself alone with the hose and continued putting out the fire.
On November 14, 1964 a VNAF pilot crash landed his A-1H, was hit by a strong crosswind, veered off the runway and overturned in a shallow muddy ditch. The aircraft was sinking. One of the aircraft’s fuel tanks was ruptured and leaking gasoline over the area. Capts. John Boyles and Kenneth Spaur went out in their Huskie. They set down the FSK close to the crash site so TSgts Charles Watthers and Dominick Cocuzzi could put it to use. The two fireman immediately foamed the area and had to dig a tunnel down to the canopy to see if the pilot were still alive. Walther was also a paramedic, found a way to grasp the pilot’s hand, and felt a strong pulse. The aircraft kept sinking. The two NCOs dug with their bare hands to keep an airway open.
A few minutes later, a fire truck arrived and the Vietnamese firemen shoveled their way to the pilot. Then a heavy American crane truck arrived manned by Vietnamese who were able to hitch the crane to the front of the aircraft and lift it up a bit. Walther moved under the cockpit, cut the pilot’s harness, and carried him out to the waiting Huskie which evacuated him right away. Archie made a note indicating that the VNAF pilot later returned to the Det 4 area hoping the crew had found his scooter keys. He wanted to go to Saigon to party I guess!
HH-43 Ranch Hand escort mission
While talking about the firefighting mission, I want to switch to another mission that Archie did not like and he complained about it ---- escorting Ranch Hand missions. As it turns out, the example he presented below involved his crews escorting the Ranch Hands but also involved a firefighting mission when one of them crashed.
Between 1962 and 1971 US aircraft conducted chemical warfare missions known as Ranch Hand, spraying defoliants and herbicides over rural areas trying to destroy food and vegetation cover used by the VC. This photo shows an UC-123 Ranch Hand mission spraying in 1962. On November 29, 1964, two HH-43s were escorting a Ranch Hand mission, the UC-123 was hit and his engine caught fire. This aircraft made a mad dash for the Bien Hoa runway with the two escorting HH-43s in hot pursuit. Capt. Warden was flying the second Pedro and realized the tower was not operating due to a power failure. He called the Army company on FM and asked them to alert the command post that a burning aircraft was coming in to Bien Hoa for an in-flight emergency (IFE). A third HH-43 carrying his Fire Suppression Kit (FSK) was launched and met the Ranch Hand aircraft when he touched down. All three Pedros converged on the incident to help.
Archie objected to escorting these Ranch Hand missions. He felt he had too few aircraft, and too few crew to fly such missions given they were so busy doing their main mission. An off-base crash or escort mission required four pilots. A (FSK) mission must be manned by two more pilots. Yet another pilot is needed to work as a controller, keep track of everyone, have fuel and flight information ready, and, as Archie pointed out,”point out the nearest latrine as well.” He lost this argument to his seniors.
Let me pause to describe the HH-43’s “FSK,” Fire Suppression Kit.
The HH-43 achieved its original fame by responding to local base area and on base crashes, especially when the aircraft was on fire. This was especially useful for off base crashes and other locations inaccessible to fire trucks. In many instances, it would take too long or even be too hard to get fire trucks to the scene. So the USAF called on the HH-43. On the alarm, the HH-43 would rev up engines, get up in the air a bit, move over to the FSK, and hover. A red FSK was prepared by a man on the ground, the HH-43 would hover over it, the crewman on the ground would attach it to the HH-43’s hook, and the Pedro would head out as you see above in this training flight at RAF Upper Heyford, England. The HH-43 would set the FSK down on the ground as close to the fire as the firemen wanted it, the firemen would unhook it and move it into better position if required, and then start spraying foam over the fire. The HH-43 in turn would back away, continue hovering, and, if required, move closer and use its propeller wash to force the flames away from the firemen so they could get as close as possible to the wreckage to lay down the foam and, hopefully, rescue the crew.
F-102, Det 5, 509th Fighter Intercept Squadron (FIS), Tan Son Nhut, November 27, 1964, Rescued
On November 27, oner of Archie’s pilots, Lt. Cook, was alerted to a Tan Son Nhut-based F-102 crash four miles south of Bien Hoa. As an aside, Lt. Cook held the record with 12 scrambles in a 24 hour period. In the instance of this F-102 crash, the pilot got out and ran safely into the woods. Friendly soldiers came to his assistance but he ran into the woods and it took several hours to get him out. A “loud hailer” aircraft equipped with a bullhorn was called in to convince the pilot to come out for rescue. He did, walked over to the road, waived at an Army helicopter just ahead of Lt. Cook’s HH-43 and picked him up. Again on a light note, the F-102 pilot had collected $6.00 in change from his buddies and he threw the money away in the woods because it made too much noise, a lesson learned. He had suffered engine failure and was from Det 5, 509th Fighter Intercept Squadron (FIS). This was the first F-102 lost in Vietnam.
1st Lt. K.P. B”Buddy” Roedema, USAF, A-1E, 1st Commando Air Squadron, Bien Hoa AB, RVN, December 1, 1964, Rescued
On December 1, an A-1E pilot was conducting a napalm run when he was shot down 14 miles north of Bien Hoa. The pilot bailed out at 700 ft. He had a VNAF student with him whose chute did not open and he landed in the trees. While hiding in the brush, the pilot heard the VC chopping on the wings of his aircraft. A RESCAP arrived and caused the VC to run and hide very close to where the A-1E pilot was hiding. The area of the crash was known to be infested with enemy.
Capt. John Boyles flew an HH-43F in for the rescue effort with SSgt. Miehlke and put Capt. Kenneth Spaur, A2C Steinert and Airman Donnigan on the ground to inspect the downed aircraft and see if they could find the A-1E pilot. Spaur, Steinert and Donnigan were recommended for the Silver Star for searching on foot in the middle of concentrated enemy forces. They were so close to the enemy that they observed the enemy dismantling the crashed aircraft. Boyles and Miehlke were recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. Boyles hovered his HH-43 over the three on the ground for over an hour before picking them up.
During their first combat month at Bien Hoa, Det 4 enjoyed a very high in-commission rate, 95 percent, and flew almost 97 hours with their three aircraft. The problem was that their in-commission rate was so high and business so frequent that the Det did not have enough crews and could not rotate them properly to give them sufficient crew rest. Taking on the dual mission of SAR and fire-fighting-LBR put on a special strain, but the Det met all its commitments. This underscores why Archie did not want to escort Ranch Hand missions.
Boyles may have established another Det 4 record on December 16, 1964 when he used a 150 foot hoist cable to rescue a Special Forces sergeant who had impaled his knee on a “Pungi” stake which was found in hospital to be tipped with poison. This is a photo of a Pungi stake pit exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. These sticks could be placed in high numbers above ground, or in hidden traps such as this where an infantry man would fall into the trap and go through the stakes.
Throughout December, the Det was kept busy with aircraft coming in with battle damage. Two A-1Es landed with gas tanks shot up in what was a dangerous night landing. An O-1F FAC such as shown here took bullets through his cowling and windshield, and an A-!E was shot while on the taxiway.
Archie decided to recommend the HH-43F for the LBR mission and the Sikorsky CH-3C such as shown here for the combat aircrew recovery mission in the Bien Hoa area. The CH-3C became known as the Jolly Green Giant. The CH-3C was built to be a long range transport helicopter. It is my understanding that the CH-3C did not have a refueling probe to extend its range and did not have a hoist to lift up a down crew member, though it did have a winch cargo hoist with 100 ft. of cable below the fuselage.
A note on the CH-3C vs. the HH-43. In July 1965 the USAF was becoming gravely concerned about it losses. It needed to act quickly. At the time, the USAF felt the longer range HH-43 was the best bet, but a near term solution was needed. That solution was to send CH-3 crews to Udorn RTAFB to fly two CH-3s located there. TAC would loan these to the SAR guys. You will see later on that Capt. George Martin in early July was flying support missions with the CH-3 at Eglin AFB, Florida, and then promptly found himself in charge of 120 airmen on TDY status to Vietnam to fly these two CH-3 loaners on SAR missions. On July 27, 1965 he not only would fly a beat-up old CH-3 on a SAR mission, but he would penetrate deeply into the NVN and conduct the first CH-3 rescue mission in the war. Here again, the crews were not in the SAR business, had no experience, no tactics, no rules, no nothing except their expertise, ingenuity and aircraft.
Archie had forwarded some recommendations for modifying the HH-43F, and PARC had forwarded these to the ARS with comments. PARC agreed the torque limit on the transmission should be increased to take advantage of available engine power and also supported Archie’s ideas on installing an auxiliary fuel tank. PARC favored the idea of attaching externally mounted drop tanks instead of using dump valves to operate with the internal tank.
Then Derck raised what seems to have been a controversial point with Archie. Derck reminded Archie that the original requirement for air recovery units was to support tactical forces, not specifically for the RVN, but anywhere USAF tactical forces might be exposed to hostile fire. Derck said they wanted to make this a world-wide application. As a result, he urged Archie not to confine his thinking about air recovery to the RVN environment, but for all those other areas where the HH-43 might be exercised to its fullest. He seemed to be very down on continued discussions of modifying the internal fuel tank and instead wanted to concentrate on getting a wholly new fuel tank or new aircraft.
Archie also had complained about having to escort fighter aircraft to their targets. While Derck agreed this was not part of the original mission, the brass wanted to project the fighting image of the ARS. Archie’s argument I think was centered on how this added mission was creating excessive fatigue on sparse crews. Nonetheless, Derck urged him to do the best he can. Archie was not pleased with this response, scribbling this on the memo, “Easy for you to say when it’s our ass!”
Archie reported January 1965 as a very busy month. An A-1E experienced an engine failure and did a belly landing on a dirt strip about 10 miles from Bien Hoa. Lt. Cook launched out and brought the crew back safely.
Capt. Lyal H. Erwin, USA, the pilot, and Pfc. Alton L. Hornbuckle, USA, the gunner, UH-1B, January 15, 1965, KIA
Escorting the Ranch Hand missions had to continue. They returned to Bien Hoa twice with emergencies while the HH-43s were still on their way out. Archie said he needed another aircraft.
Major George F. Vlisides, USAF, A-1E, 1st Air Commando Squadron, Bien Hoa AB, RVN, January 27, 1965, KIA along with a RVNAF crew member
There was no let-up in February. The Det flew 104 hours of which 88 were mission hours. Capt. Cook had a tough month. The good news was he was promoted from 1st lieutenant. The bad news was he was hit in the rear by hostile fire, but was okay, and he tried to get out on Rest and Relaxation vacation (R&R) but was trapped in Saigon during a coup. He would finally make it to Hong Kong for a few days off.
As an aside, this was a coup attempt of February 19, 1965, led by an ARVN general which would eventually bring Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky to power. Interestingly, the coup leader, General Phat, attempted to seize Bien Hoa but Ky had already flown there to take control Ky immediately put air patrols up to protect the base. Ky himself took to the air and flew an air patrol over Tan Son Nhut AB threatening to bomb the rebels, but General Westmoreland intervened and stopped the attack. US forces stayed out of the fray, but Ky became a wonder boy in the eye of the Americans. So Capt. Cook didn’t pick a trivial coup while waiting for his plane in Saigon.
Capts. Thomas C. McEwen, USAF and Kurt W. Gareiss, USAF, A-1E, 1st Air Commando Squadron, Bien Hoa AB, both KIA, February 24, 1965
An A-1E ditched 80 miles south of Bien Hoa after being hit by ground fire. An Army UH-1 picked up the pilot but his observer bailed out and was captured. The Huey took the rescued pilot to Soc Trang, leaving the HH-43 rescue aircraft flying around there at night with an AC-47 providing cover. The HH-43 was forced to Soc Trang and returned in the morning, after which the VNAF took over the rescue effort.
Another A-1E went down on February 24 with two USAF crew aboard. They crashed on a rubber plantation about 15 miles south of the base. The rescue effort got to be, as Archie put it, “(a game of) musical chairs with three helicopters between Bien Hoa, Tan Son Nhut and the crash site.”
Here’s how it went down.
Capt. Warden and Lt Connell for Det 4 were on secondary alert and got aloft in HH-43 #712. Capts. Boyles and Spaur launched with the FSK in #711. Capt. LeFevre and Archie assumed LBR alert in #716 and were scrambled on another aircraft incident just minutes later.
Nr. 712 lowered two men by hoist to cut a landing pad for #711 and the FSK. Capt. Warden recovered one body and two wing guns and returned to Bien Hoa for fuel. As he approached the base, LeFevre and Archie departed in #716 to help Capt. Boyles in #711. But when they got there, Boyles had to return for fuel. So #716 circled to land, but in swooped a VNAF H-34 from Tan Son Nhut and he took #716’s landing pad. An H-34 was brought in by USAF Capt. Fetzner and an EOD team. They picked up two more guns and left. They received one hit from hostile fire on departure. LeFevre and Archie on #716 landed with a chain saw. Then Capt. Boyles returned with #711 and helped search for the second body. In the mean time, Warden flying #712 with an A-1E body was ordered to got to Tan Son Nhut. Armed UH-1s arrived to provide cover as a group of Lambettas (motor scooters) were seen coming down the road. They also spotted a couple ox carts approaching, often used to transport mortars and shells.
As an aside, the Det 4’s HH-43’s were unarmed. Archie, in his report, said he felt the ARS had to outfit the HH-43 with what he called “some FORCE,” which I interpret to mean some weapons. The HH-43s had only the weapons carried by the crew which they would strap out the door to fire when aloft.
Archie was promoted to lieutenant colonel in April 1965. Col. Derck told Archie he was making progress on getting some CH-3Cs and talked to him about taking two of Det 4’s “long range tanks” and putting them up at NKP to be installed on other HH-43s. Det 4 had the HH-43F which had additional internal fuel tanks for extended range.
There is a most interesting story to go with this told by Robert L. LaPointe in his book, PJs in Vietnam: The story of air rescue in Vietnam as through the eyes of Pararescuemen. LaPointe wrote that the NKP HH-43 pilots were worried the pilots shot down in NVN were out of the HH-43B’s fuel range. LaPointe said that one of the crew members, Fred Glover, had devised a means while in Texas to refuel the aircraft from 55 gallon barrels while still in flight. Basically, the crews did some midnight requisitioning while at Udorn RTAFB and got some hoses and plumbing parts. Then the HH-43 maintenance guys built a cradle with lumber and put it on the crew cabin floor. The cradle could hold three 55 gallon drums, two on the bottom, one on top. They equipped each drum with a spigot adapter and attached horse that could run to the HH-43’s main fuel tank. That was a 200 gallon tank under the cabin floor. When the skipper needed fuel, a crew member would open the spigot and fuel would gravity feed into the main tank.
This is known as GI ingenuity. Now these guys might have been aerial fireman, but this was of course a dangerous arrangement. However, they did increase their total fuel capacity by 75 percent and extended their range from an 85-miles radius to a 145 mile radius. Once a drum was empty, they just rolled it out of the aft of the helicopter. My guess here is that once word got out about this to the honchos in Hawaii, Col. Derck ordered the HH-43F’s larger internal fuel tanks sent to NKP’s HH-43Bs. The cartoon, by Udo C.J, Fischer, was in LaPointe’s book and tells the story as only a GI can tell it.
LaPointe’s book is very interesting in that he tells of a lot of things the crews did to arrange their helicopters the way they wanted, and never asked permission. It’s good military tradition for the guys in the fight to have a bad taste in their mouths with the higher headquarters, especially those located in Hawaii!
Colonel Derck was adamantly opposed to Archie’s idea of arming the HH-43s. Fundamentally, he said he wanted other aircraft built for the job to come in and sanitize an area for a recovery and provide the needed air cover. He did not want HH-43 pilots spending their time and energy hosing down recovery areas. In short, he opposed the idea of a “self-contained rescue force.” This is very similar to an issue associated with the RF-4C photo reconnaissance aircraft. It’s pilots urged they be armed for air-to-air combat to protect themselves. My recollection is that the USAF opposed that fearing the RF-4C pilots would turn into dog fighters instead of photographers.
April 1965 began with a “bang” at Bien Hoa as twelve 500 lb. bombs on a flat bed coming from the bomb dump exploded. Apparently a bomb had rubbed against a tire for half the trip, which caused the explosion.
A1C Robert Doss, USAF, Fireman, Det 4, PARC, Bien Hoa AB, RVN, April 27, 1965, KIA
On April 30 Capt. Cook, Sgt, Walthers and Sgt. Hughes responded to a fully loaded B-57 fire on the flight line. Cook carried an FSK and determined the fire was not from the fuel tank but rather from flares under the open bomb-bay. He felt he could save the bomber and the flight line. His crew smothered the flames with foam from the FSK, and moved back to allow the fire trucks to move in. The water used by the fire trucks simply made the flare fire worse. Cook returned to the immediate area and used prop backwash, foam and courage to suppress the flames. The firefighters on the ground used their hands to pile the foam on top of the flames. Cook was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross and the two NCOs for the Airman’s Medal.
In May 1965, Archie was moved to Tan Son Nhut where he would work in the SAR Rescue Center. His notes wile there are voluminous and the stories surrounding them, well ...
HH-43 SAR pilot’s diary, 1964-1965, Vietnam: Introduction
Section One: Archie Taylor, commander, Det 4, Pacific Air Rescue Center (PARC), October 1964-May 1965
Section Two: SAR Rescue Center, Tan Son Nhut AB, RVN, May-October 1965