This section includes a
first-hand account on the medical evacuations of many critically wounded
Bravo Company troopers on July 24, 1968, which is based on information
received from the pilot who actually conducted some of these evacuations. We
hope that this gripping story will prompt those of you who were involved in
this action to come forward with additional information.
The brave crews of medical evacuation (Medevac) helicopters, commonly known as Dustoffs and Medevacs, were often required to perform heroic feats when evacuating wounded combat troopers. However, there was an important difference between a Dustoff and a Medevac. The 44th Medical Brigade was responsible for Dustoff operations for all the divisions in Vietnam with the notable exception of the 1st Cav Div. The 1st Cav Div had a dedicated Medevac capability directly under their control for very good reasons; faster reaction, crews were familiar with our concept of operating, and it fostered a closer bond with 1st Cav Div crews evacuating their “own” troops. The 15th Medical Battalion provided direct medical support to 1st Cav Div units and this included the aerial evacuation services provided by the Medevac Platoon, consisting of 24 pilots and 12 aircraft.
For Bravo Company troopers, it was extremely important to know that a Medevac would always come when needed and this frequently involved precarious missions at night, from locations deep in the jungle and during intense firefights. As the requirement for a Medevac was usually the result of hostile actions, most evacuations were conducted under extremely hazardous conditions and we greatly admired the courage and dedication of “our” Medevac crews.
The primary evacuation helicopter used by the1st Cav Div was a specially equipped Huey designed to carry three stretcher patients or six walking wounded. A Medevac crew consisted of the Aircraft Commander, Co-Pilot, Crew Chief, Door Gunner and a Medic. During some missions, gunships provided protection for a Medevac. Although most Dustoffs were unarmed, the 1st Cav Div Medevacs carried two M-60 machine guns for defensive purposes only (the Crew Chief manned the other M-60). The Red Cross on a Medevac Huey did not provide them with immunity and many were shot down. Consequently, when we were in desperate need of resupply, they were known to drop off critical supplies and ammo to us, referred to by one pilot as “preventative medicine”.
In response to our request for a Medevac, the pilot would contact us by radio announcing that he was inbound and request that we pop smoke as he approached our location. This triggered an exchange on the correct smoke color as our enemy also tried to mislead Medevac pilots and lure them to other locations with the use of smoke grenades. As we frequently sustained casualties in jungle or mountainous terrain, suitable landing zones were not always available and a hoist system was used to retrieve wounded soldiers from these locations. As the Huey hovered over the jungle pick-up location, the Medic would lower a litter or jungle penetrator (a folded seat with a harness) to the Bravo Company troopers on the ground. The wounded troopers would be strapped into these devices by a qualified person, usually the platoon medic, and hoisted up. During the flight to the treatment facility or clearing station, the crew medic would administer first aid using the medical supplies and equipment that he had in the cabin for this purpose.
On July 24-25, 1968, Bravo Company was conducting search and destroy operations in a jungle and mountainous area west of Hue. Not much is known about the details, except that Bravo had a fierce firefight with a large enemy force and suffered 13 KIAs and many wounded during this two day period. Evacuating our casualties was a major problem not only for Bravo troopers but also for the Medevac crews. Here is a first-hand account prepared by the Aircraft Commander, Art Jacobs, who conducted three aborted Medevac missions on 24 July 1968. Art’s call-sign was Medevac 21 and he remembers talking on the radio to “Eager Arms 26 India”, Blackfoot Platoon.
“On our first attempt, we took all kinds of hits coming in on the approach. My co-pilot was slightly wounded (shrapnel in the arm where a bullet had hit the side of my seat), and our door gunner was shot in the head (he remains 100% disabled and in a wheel chair to this day). We had our engine oil temperature and engine oil pressure lights come on from the hits and had no
choice but to go back to Evans.
On our second attempt, we actually got to a hover and got one of your guys up. But just as the hoist got to the skids all hell broke loose. Your wounded guy was hit in the hand, our crew chief was hit in the leg with shrapnel from the bullets coming through the floor, and we lost our hydraulics. Again, we had no choice but to return to Evans and I was worried that
we wouldn't make it because we also had fuel pouring out the bottom.
After losing the second aircraft, we were told that there was now a “moratorium” on making any future rescue attempts and that a ground unit would try to get the wounded to a landing zone. An hour later, your Battalion Commander (LTC John Gibney) showed up at our company area asking for volunteers to fly out there again. I was terribly impressed with how concerned and impassioned he was. He said, “my boys really need your help – the WIA’s will become KIA’s if you cannot go.” There was NO WAY we would turn him down and I went looking for another aircraft and crew.
On the third attempt I had a whole new crew and we were about to lower the hoist when they opened up again. I was shot in the arm, gave the controls to my co-pilot and told him to hold our position. Just then, about seven or eight warning lights came on, including the dreaded "Engine Chip Detector" light. We started climbing out and banking to the left (west), but we were still taking hits. We continued our turn and then the engine quit. At first we headed to a low spot in the valley, but then we saw a small clearing no bigger than the helicopter. Somehow we managed to plunk the Huey into that one spot. About a half-hour later there were gunships overhead and they called in one of our other Medevac birds...none too soon because the gunships started taking fire from what they said were bad guys coming toward us.
I was evacuated to Japan and did not return to my unit until September. Shortly after my return to LZ Sharon, someone from Bravo 2/8th came over and gave me a captured CKC bolt-action rifle, which I still have in my study today.” As a small token of our appreciation for his heroic deeds on 7/24/68, we have made Art Jacobs an Honorary Member of Eager Arms. Prepared by Art Jacobs and Peter O’Sullivan.
TO HONOR OUR FALLEN AND WOUNDED HEROES
Art Jacobs and the members of Bravo Company wish to honor the following crew members who participated in the Medevac operations on 24 July 1968:
SP4 John Alling, Crew Chief. Killed when his helicopter was shot down on 26 November 1968.
1LT Stephen Beals, Pilot. Killed when his helicopter was shot down on 26 November 1968.
SP4 Jerry Dick, Door Gunner, severely wounded during the Medevac on 24 July 1968 and 100% disabled.
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