War Stories 15

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The Night I Almost Killed a Friendly

By Ron (Baby Huey) Huether

Ahhhhhhh Tay Ninh Base Camp, what a beautiful standby location in the shadow of Nui Ba Den, the sacred Black Virgin Mountain. Anyone assigned to the 15th Med Bn spending time at Tay Ninh Base Camp remembers being told about the location of the Buddhist shrine on the side of the mountain. A Vietnamese myth centers around a woman, Bà Đen, falling in love with a soldier and then through betrayal or suicide Bà Đen dies on the mountain. It has special significance to the Vietnamese Buddhist15th Medical Battlion 1st Cav Division Medevac Vietnam population and has a famous shrine about two thirds of the way up the mountain.

Tay Ninh Base Camp was the home of Charlie Company, 15th Med Bn and most of the time one Medevac helicopter. For as close to the Cambodian border as Tay Ninh Base Camp was, it was not the busiest AO for 15th Med Bn. There was time for cook-outs and playing with the two clearing stations mascots – Ottis the pig and Saddles the dog.

15th Medical Battlion 1st Cav Division Medevac VietnamNot sure how Saddles came to be a mascot at Charlie Company, but I do remember the lineage of Ottis. Ottis was an orphaned pig raised by the female dog mascot belonging to the 25th Military Police Company at Cu Chi. Ottis could do anything his littermates could; bark, roll over, sit, etc. But alas, a new MP commander didn’t see the humor in the mascot for a police unit being a pig. He gave the order that Ottis be removed.

Through a series of lucky events for Ottis, he ended up at the clearing station at Tay Ninh Base Camp. And so Ottis enjoyed his daily walks around the clearing station, showing off his tricks and receiving lots of pats on the head.

As time passed and we headed into 1971 and the draw-down of the Cav, Tay Ninh Base Camp was one of the 1st Cav’s location going through “Vietnamization.” Day-to-day security of the base camp would slowly be given to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). At first every other bunker on the perimeter was manned by ARVN soldiers and later ARVN soldiers were placed in every bunker on the perimeter.

Curious problems started happening in the bunkers manned by the ARVN. Many of the bunkers at night seemed to be manned by inebriated ARVN soldier that would periodically shoot into the sky. One nighttime game they seemed to enjoy was shooting at our Medevac helicopters as we departed Tay Ninh Base Camp and again when we returned with a patient. We Medevac pilots learned to extinguish the nav lights and the rotating beacon and honk the nose over to gain as much airspeed as possible while holding the skids only inches above the runway. Then just before an imminent impact with a perimeter bunker the pilot would do a quick cyclic climb, clear the bunker, and descend to treetop level. By doing this we could approach, climb over, and depart faster than the ARVN soldier could track and shoot at us. Of course, the same procedure was used at night when returning with a patient.

Rumors (or facts) started circulating that some of the ARVN soldiers were leaving their posts in the perimeter bunkers at night and sleeping in the village. This left gaps in the perimeter defense that became worrisome for us.

One day, while stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp, I received a briefing that in the evening the base camp was going to Condition Red – an attack on the base camp was forthcoming. Night came, and my Medevac crew retired to our cots in our GP Medium tent, Condition Red was on our minds. Were the NVA sappers going to breach our perimeter through an empty perimeter bunker? If NVA sappers quietly snuck in the base camp our GP Medium tent offered no protection. About 0100 I heard tip-toeing footsteps outside our tent. Having gone to sleep with my snub-nosed 38, I positioned myself, so I had a clear view of the front tent flap. Sure enough, the footsteps outside slowly made their way around to the front tent flap. And then the tent flap slowly parted. I was seconds away from blowing whomever came into the tent when I heard two low-pitched grunts and realized it wasn’t the enemy, but just Ottis making his nightly rounds.


THE RESCUE OF CURLEY BOWMAN

Introduction and Summary
BY Terry A. McCarl

NOTE: This War Story is the introduction and companion story to two other War Stories: “Losing Cap” by Curley Bowman and “Medevac Down” by David Sheets. The full story, including this “Introduction and Summary, “Losing Cap” and “Medevac Down,” is 73 pages long and published as “Mission 1, The Rescue of Curley Bowman” in the book, Helicopter Rescues Vietnam, Vol. VIII by Phil Marshall ($19.95). Besides these three war stories, the chapter in the book contains: photographs; plus commentary by Kevin Raftery, the medic on the Medevac aircraft that rescued Curley; by Ron Carew, Artillery Forward Observer responsible for calling in artillery support; and by Glen Cunningham, Infantryman with C Co., 2nd Platoon, 2nd of the 8th Cavalry. Carew and Cunningham were on the ground that day and witnessed the events.

Helicopter Rescues Vietnam, Volume VIII, and Phil's other 10 books may be purchased by going to Amazon.com. If you desire a copy of any of the book signed by the author with a written dedication, it may be purchased directly from Phil for $20.00. Send cash or check (payable to Phil Marshall) with instructions where to send the book and what, if anything, you would like in the dedication. His address is 1063 Cardinal Dr., Enon, OH 45323, the phone is 937-371-3643, and email is dmz.dustoff@yahoo.com . Phone or email with any questions.

Helicopter Rescues Vietnam, Volume VIII also contains two additional 15th Med BN missions “Mission 9, Mission Stories” by MAJ (Ret,) Larry Hatch and “Mission 5, Hot Lunch on the Fly” by SFC (Ret.) Larry Bird.

Curley Bowman and CapOn 28 June 1971, scout dog handler, Carter "Curley" Bowman and his scout dog, Cap (4K87), of the 34th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog), were attached to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, which was on patrol near LZ Fanning, east-southeast of Fire Support Base (FSB) Mace. The patrol unexpectedly encountered a well-defended resupply point, manned by soldiers of both the North Vietnam Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC). In the ensuing firefight, Curley was shot seven times over a three-hour period, with injuries including a sucking chest wound. His scout dog, Cap, was killed by enemy fire. Three members of C/2/8; were Killed In Action (KIA): SSG Willie James, Mobile, Alabama; SGT Gerald Dowjotas, Hillside, Illinois; and CPL Bernard F Brzezinski, Clearwater, Florida.

Curley Bowman and CapEighteen wounded soldiers were taken by Medevac to the Medical Company, 1st Composite Service Support Battalion Clearing Station at FSB Mace, after a rigorous series of events!

LTC (then CPT) David Sheets, Aircraft Commander; Mark Holiday, SP5 Crew Chief (functioning as Door gunner that day); and Kevin Raftery, SP5 Medic, were there and remember much about the events and the soldiers involved.

According to their recollections, there were three aircraft involved in this incident. The first Medevac was attempting to pick up the wounded when it was hit by four Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and destroyed. The second Medevac was able to rescue and evacuate all five of the crew from the first Medevac. A third Medevac crew was a hastily assembled at Bien Hoa that picked up the wounded Infantrymen and others and transported them to the MedicalCurley Bowman Company, 1st Composite Service Support Battalion Clearing Station at FSB Mace.

After stabilizing medical treatment, Curley was transported from FSB Mace to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh for about a week, then to the Philippines for about a month, and then back to the United States. He has been on a quest for as much information as possible about the incident. His goal is to find and express his appreciation to as many soldiers involved in saving his life as possible.

Following is a summary of the personnel involved. "In contact" means the 15th Medical Battalion Association is in communication with that person.

Aircraft No. 1
  • Aircraft Commander: CPT David Sheets (In contact)
  • Copilot: 1LT William Cooley (In contact)
  • Crew Chief: SP5 Ray Flynn (Looking for)
  • Medic: SP5 Larry Lund (Deceased)
  • Door Gunner: SP4 Richard Dubray (Looking for)
David Sheets
David Sheets
William Cooley
William Cooley
Ray Flynn
Ray Flynn
Larry Lund
Larry Lund
Richard Dupray
Richard Dupray
Aircraft No. 2
  • Aircraft Commander: CW2 Warren G. Jackson (Deceased)
  • Copilot: CW2 Ralph D. McCall (In contact)
  • Crew Chief: SP5 James C. Keys (Deceased) (From memory of CW2 Ralph D. McCall. Not yet confirmed by official records.)
  • Medic: SP5 Lawrence F. Bird (In contact)
  • Door Gunner: Unknown
Warren Jackson
Warren Jackson
Ralph McCall
Ralph McCall
James Keys
James Keys
Lawrence Bird
Lawrence Bird
Aircraft No. 3
  • Aircraft Commander: Unknown
  • Copilot: Unknown
  • Crew Chief: SP5 Harry Halle (In contact)
  • Medic: SP5 Kevin Raftery (In contact)
  • Door Gunner: SP5 Mark "Doc" Holiday (In contact)
Harry Halle
Harry Halle
Keven Raftery
Keven Raftery
Mark Holiday
Mark (Doc) Holiday

The pilots on Aircraft No. 3 have not been identified as yet, due to uncertainty and inability to make contact with some of the individuals possibly on that aircraft. The list of pilots having possibly been on that aircraft that day is 1LT Benito Garcia, WO1 Ralph Mora, WO1 Bill Strohmer, CPT Jack Powell, 1LT John Goldsmith, and WO1 Burton Deehring (Deceased). So far, we are unable to contact Garcia or Mora, and Strohmer, Powell, and Goldsmith cannot say with certainty that they were or were not on aircraft No. 3.

George Tyler
George Tyler

Medical Treatment Personnel at Medical Company, 1st Composite Service Support BN Clearing Station at FSB Mace: According to Dr. (MAJ Ret.) Robert Cathey, the first Commanding Officer of Medical Company, 1st Composite Service Support Battalion, and later Medical Company, 215th Composite Service Battalion (Support), one of the doctors who treated Curley and other wounded at FSB Mace was CPT George Tyler (1939 - 2005). No other medical treatment personnel involved have been identified.

If anyone was in, or knows anyone that was in any of these three aircraft, or additional aircraft involved that day, or in the Clearing Station at FSB Mace when 18 wounded were brought in on 28 June 1971, or knows who the unknowns were, or has any contact information for the people we are looking for, please send an email to the 15th Medical Battalion Assn. Historian (historian@15thmedbnassociation.org) or call 402-457-9807.

When the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division stood down in April of 1971 and departed for Ft. Hood, TX, the Division Support Command Battalions, including the 15th Medical Battalion, ceased to exist in Vietnam on or about April 8, 1971. At that time, the 1st Composite Service Support Battalion (CSSB) was created for the purpose of supporting the 3rd Brigade, which remained in Vietnam until June 1972. On April 30, 1971, the 1st CSSB was re-designated as the 215th Composite Service Battalion (Support).

It is believed all persons involved in these missions on 28 June 1971 were members of the 15th Medical BN prior to on or about 8 April 1971 when they all became members of Medical Company, 1st Composite Services Support Battalion. On 30 June 1971, Medical Company, 1st CSSB was re-designated as Medical Company, 215th CSB (Support). Awards and decorations, including a Distinguished Service Cross for CW2 Warren Jackson, for valorous actions that day, identify recipients as with the 215th CSB.

EPILOG ON THE INVESTIGATION FOR THIS STORY

In December of 2017, Curley Bowman found this Web site and sent an email to webmaster Ron “Huey” Huether asking if our Association had any information relating to his rescue on 28 June 1971. Huey posted Curley’s inquiry on our Facebook page (15th Medical Battalion Association).

Immediately, Mark “Doc” Holiday posted a comment saying he was the door gunner, Kevin Raftery was the medic, and Harry Halle was the crew chief on a crew that was quickly assembled at Bien Hoa that day. He also commented that Ray Flynn was the crew chief on the first-up bird at FSB Mace that was shot down in the vicinity of FSB Fanning that day and that Warren Jackson was the aircraft commander on the second-up aircraft at FSB Mace that rescued the downed crew of the first-up aircraft. Mark’s comments really got the ball rolling with the gathering of information relating to this incident, and his response is much appreciated!

Before contacting the 15th MBA (Medical Battalion Association), Curley had gathered several documents including his Purple Heart award, and a list of other wounded, which included CPT David Sheets of Medical Co., 1st CSSB (1st Composite Service Support BN). David Sheets was found to be a member of the 15th MBA, and his contact information, albeit out of date, was on our database, or Unit Member Search List. Working with that information, Curley was able to locate Sheets, who had written his own unpublished detailed account of his experiences that day.

Early on, in December of 2017, Curley and I agreed to attempt to identify, locate, and contact as many of the soldiers in all three Medevac crews as well as medical treatment personnel at the Clearing Station at FSB Mace.

There were several obstacles to this effort. (1) We had no official personnel rosters for 15th Med BN from the National Archives past October of 1970. (2) Of the fifteen 15th Med BN persons involved, only 7 were members of the 15th MBA, of which only 2 had up-to-date contact information, and (3) The incident occurred in the midst of a time of transition from the 15th Medical BN to Medical Co., 1st CSSB, which was subsequently re-designated as Medical Company, 215th CSB.

Locating and contacting these individuals required the employment of every “trick in the book,”, including Facebook, Whitepages.com, Google searches, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) member and potential member lists, and the VHPA Died After Tour List.

Curley and I started to build a “Task Force” group by email as more and more people were located; not just individuals that were on the three aircraft involved, but also others who were not, but were in the unit at that time who could remember details of the event. The primary means of communication was email. This task force consisted of:

  • David Sheets
  • Bill Cooley
  • Larry Bird
  • Ralph McCall
  • Mark Holiday
  • Kevin Raftery
  • Harry Halle
  • Jimmy Norris
  • Jack Powell
  • John Goldsmith
  • Bill Strohmer
  • Robert Cathey
  • Ron Huether
  • Ron Carew
  • Glen Cunningham

The 15th Med BN Association Facebook Group was also very helpful in providing information about the incident and personnel involved.

Curley made a two-pronged effort to identify and locate the soldiers involved, both from 15th Med BN (and successor units), and persons who were on the ground with him that day. Curley took this effort on all by himself and accomplished the mission.

Raftery, Curley, and Holiday
Raftery, Curley, and Holiday

Typically, as far as the 15th Med BN personnel were concerned, I researched to the point of getting a phone number or in some cases, a street address, and Curley would take it from there, with bulldog tenacity until he made contact with each individual that we were able to find.

Curley and I are not through looking for the remaining participants. We are pleased that most of them have been identified and contacted. Hopefully, someone reading this article with some additional information will contact me with it.

To me, the high point of this effort was when I had the opportunity, at the 20-year 15th Medical BN Association reunion in Williamsburg, VA in April of 2018, to introduce Curley to his rescuers, Kevin Raftery and Mark Holiday!


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