The 57th Transportation Company (Light Helicopter) (H-21) had for
several years ably supported the training and efforts of the STRAC 4th
Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. In addition to
this support which included every facet of military preparation both
domestic and overseas, the 57th Transportation Company repeatedly assisted
the local populace during times of strife or peril. Search and Rescue,
flood relief, transporting fire fighters in the rugged hills and mountains
of eastern Oregon, medical evacuation and a host of other duties that are
common to a well trained, highly skilled helicopter organization. All of
these tasks were performed with a minimum of fanfare and a maximum of
professional competence.
In May of 1960, orders were received (Inclosure No.1) that were to
change the entire perspective of the unit and eventually bring the
designation of the unit before the eyes of the world and the scrutiny of
the United States Army. These were the orders changing the status of the
unit to a STRAF II Category. The following days, weeks and months were
devoted to loading plans, alert plans, notification plans, basic loads and
a host of other projects enough that could favorably and adversely effect
the unit during the initial and critical moments of a movement. Never
satisfied and never quite perfect enough, these plans were studied, tried,
reworked, re-tried, and polished again and again. The fruits of this labor
would someday be enjoyed when the moment came and there was not time left
to correct mistakes.
April of 1961 found the world in a turmoil and South East Asia
floundering in internal dispute. All eyes followed the news reports
closely and speculation of assistance of the American public was a common
April proved to be a triple barreled month for this unit. On 1 April
1961 (Inclosure No.2) the 57th Transportation Company was selected as a
Superior STRAC unit and was awarded the streamer for the unit guidon and a
coveted scroll. Several days later messages were received directing the
unit to prepare for movement. Plans were pulled from the files, boxes
taken out of storage, and packing and crating began on a twenty-four hour
basis. Shot records received, wills, power of attorney, clothing
inspection, double checks on aircraft and vehicle maintenance, replacement
of short time component parts and the multitude of other items that must
be checked and double checked when you are about ready to move. All
loading was accomplished in the prescribed time frame and the waiting for
additional orders began. One day, two days, a week and then the word to
unload and prepare for immediate movement to Yakima Washington to support
the STRAC 4th Infantry Division throughout their yearly division maneuver.
Carefully each item was unpacked and stored. Massive notes taken to
emphasize the lessons learned and assist us should the day arrive for
another move.
During the tenure at Yakima Washington, the unit received a delayed
Army Training Test. In order not to interfere or impose any restrictions
on the maneuvering forces, the ATT was programmed over an eleven day
period. Umpires seemed to be everywhere and anywhere testing the unit at
every possible opportunity. Air raids infiltration, smoke, gas attacks,
night movement, security, operational missions, nothing was excluded. The
results were rewarding and justified the long hours and efforts which must
be put into any stimulated combat mission to receive the maximum amount of
training in a short period of time. A score of 97.8 was awarded the unit
for the truly outstanding job they did during this exercise and test.
(Inclosure No.3)
Immediately upon return to Fort Lewis an IG inspection was in order
and once again the unit went into high gear to make a good showing.
Operational missions were at no time slighted or delayed because of the
additional work created by the normal preparation for a big inspection.
Night flights, support missions and others continued on as normal. Once
again the spirit and esprit-de-corp of the unit emerged and each soldier
buckled down to the task at hand. Once again, these efforts were rewarded
by a rating of Superior by the Inspector General. (Inclosure No.4)
Early November found the officers and men of the unit starting to
think about Thanksgiving and Christmas leaves. Little did they realize
that Thanksgiving would be spent on the Pacific Ocean and Christmas would
be a sacred moment or two in South Vietnam, crammed between maintenance
and missions. When the flag went up and the order to move was received,
the procedures were old hat. Inspections, checks, allotments etc., were
more or less routine.
In four days, one hundred percent of all TO&E aircraft were flyable
and ready to depart. At 1000 hours, 6 November 1961, twenty H-21's
departed Gray Field, Fort Lewis, Washington for Stockton, California. At
1900 hours, 8 November 1961, twenty Helicopters arrived at Stockton,
California without incident. This included a night flight over the Sierra
Mountains, reaching an altitude of 10,500 feet.
On 21 November 1961, the unit departed for "destination unknown"
aboard the USNS Core. Twenty-one days later, crowds gathered to observe
the Banana Helicopters docked at Saigon, Vietnam. Hundreds and hundreds of
people gazed with admiration at the big helicopters with U.S. Army boldly
written across the side. As rapidly as possible the cacoons were removed,
engines pre-oiled and the crowds waited expectantly as the first
helicopter prepared for flight. Smoke blew out of the exhaust as the
engine roared into action. Slowly the blades started to turn. Faster and
faster until the pilot made all of his flight checks. Then with a powerful
lurch, the first United States Army Cargo Helicopter to fly in South
Vietnam, lifted off the deck of the carrier USNS CORE and sped down the
Mekong River to the Saigon International Airport. Another first for the
57th Transportation Company. One by one the H-21's moved noisily off the
carrier to their new home in a strange and unfamiliar land.
The 22nd of December 1961 will be long remembered by the men who
served with this unit on that day. Operating jointly with members of the
8th Transportation Company (Light Helicopter) a training exercise was
conducted north of the city of Saigon. Everyone knew that this was a
rehearsal for the real thing that was to follow. Thirty H-21 helicopters
loaded to maximum capacity with crack Vietnamese paratroopers raced across
the docile countryside. Take-off, check points, release points and the
landing area were hit with exact timing indicating the degree of
professionalism and training that these two units possessed. The training
exercise was completed successfully in every detail and we know that we
were ready for the "big one ".
At dawn on the morning of 23 December 1961, the pilots examined their
aircraft with unusual thoroughness. Each item on the pre-flight check list
was carefully scrutinized. Simultaneously the Vietnamese paratroopers
quietly and orderly broke themselves into chalk loads and assembled around
the helicopter that was to make history for them. Slowly the time passed.
One hour, two, then three. The pilots laughed nervously as intelligence
patiently tried to get a fix on the radio that we were after. Then the
word came. Go! With the 57th Transportation Company leading into a small
page in history, thirty helicopters formed in echelons right and left,
gaining speed as they left the Saigon Airport behind. On time, and on
target, the helicopters flared for a landing into and almost impossible
zone. Perpendicular rows of pineapple fields deep in mud and water. If
ever pilot training and technique paid dividends, this was the day. Small
arms fire broke out immediately and several of the aircraft were under
fire as they departed the area to return for additional troops and
reinforcements. All the aircrafts departed this area but one. As the
pilots looked back they could see the cloud of black smoke and orange
flames reaching for the sky and there was little doubt as to what had
happened. Another, but undesirable first for the 57th Transportation
Company. The first aircraft to be lost to insurgent activity while on an
operational mission.
On the 24th of December 1961, Specialist Fourth Class George F.
Fryett, was reported kidnaped by the insurgent Viet Cong. The 57th
Transportation Company and the 8th Transportation Company were jointly
alerted to prepare to mass a large number of troops as soon as the
location of this American soldier was determined. Frantic preparations
were made to continue making ready the H-21's for this most important
mission. On 2 January 1962, the word was received and for the first time,
a large number of troops were delivered into an otherwise inaccessible
area. One thousand and thirty six troops were flown into a hole in the
jungle. This landing zone was no more than 300 yards by 150 yards. The
ground was soft and the zone was further confined by isolated trees and
brush growing at random. Tall, towering jungle trees ridged the area and
the Viet Cong roamed at will throughout this dense foliaged area. Without
incident, this mission was performed to the amazement of the Vietnamese
staff and commanders who were now grasping the importance of helicopter in
their operations and the complete freedom and flexibility it would give
them in future actions.
A one time priority of training became our goal. Helicopters departed
regularly to train the Infantryman on the minimum procedures he must grasp
prior to being sent on an assault mission. In three months, the 57th
Transportation Company adequately trained 26,364 men. We now had the
flexibility to move anywhere in the Mekong Delta Area and displace trained
troops. At first awed by the helicopters, the Vietnamese soldier soon came
to look forward to an assault by the helicopter. Slowly, the local
commanders began to employ the helicopters more and more in less
stereotyped missions. New ideas were sought and in every case the pilots
of the 57th Transportation Company carried them out to the letter. An
entire new concept in thinking and maneuver against the insurgent forces
made the helicopter the most desired tool in their inventory. The ratio of
men employed, to Viet Cong destroyed, clearly demonstrated the soundness
of helicopter vertical envelopment.
With the arrival of the United States Marine Squadron came and even
greater lift capability. Instead of fifteen choppers, we could now employ
thirty or more. The men of the 57th Transportation Company eagerly greeted
the Marines and passed on to them the experience that we had gained during
the many assault missions we had flown. On 22 April 1962, another first
was recorded for the 57th Transportation Company. A massive mission of
thirty helicopters, lifting 1,104 troops, flown jointly by United States
Marines and United States Army Helicopter pilots descended upon a little
known area in an effort to suppress those who wish to overthrow the
government. With minimum planning and liaison, the mission was performed
in training-film style. Each unit moving directly to the appointed place
at the appointed time with split second timing.
Specialist Forth Class George F Fryett was released by the insurgent
Viet Cong forces on June 23, 1962.
On the 19th of July 1962, a triple threat was passed against the Viet
Cong. On this day, for the first time, forty helicopters deposited their
troops in an area south west of Ben Cat. These choppers were flown by the
57th Transportation Company, United States Marines, and Vietnamese Air
Force pilots. Four hundred and eighty soldiers were massed adjacent to a
suspected Viet Cong strong point. Landed in flooded rice paddies with mud
and water up to the waist and chests of the debarking men. A feat deemed
impossible just a few short months ago.
As of the 24th of July 1962 this unit has flown 4,583 hours in
support of the Vietnamese forces. A grand total of 133,464 ton miles of
cargo have been flown to assist this nation in its struggle for
independence and freedom form the Viet Cong. 51,358 troops have been
transported by helicopter to insure the eventual defeat of the insurgents.
Flying as many as eight hundred and fifty hours a month we have
clearly shown that helicopters have carved for themselves a notch in
history and have added a new dimension to modern warfare.
The eyes of the world have carefully followed the progress of this
unit. With true determination, outstanding Esprit-de-Corps and honest
dedication we have lived in contempt to the dangers that surround us and
performed each and every mission to the best of our ability.
The 57th Transportation Company became the 120th Aviation Company
(AML) on 25 June 1963, and later the 120th Aviation Company (AHC).
The 57th Trans Co was assigned to the 45th Trans Bn when it arrived 1
July 1962 and stayed with the 145th C.A.B. until July 1966. The 120th AHC
departed Vietnam in October 1972.