BATTALION HISTORY, 114th AIR MOBILE LIGHT (1963, part 1)
I. A NEW COMPANY IS FORMED
On 16 January 1963, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the 114 Aviation Company (Air Mobile Light) was activated. It was assigned to the Second U.S. Army and attached to School Troops, U.S. Armor School. Though originally designated the 114th Air Mobile Company, on 7 Augest 1963, it was renamed the 114th Aviation Company (Air Mobile Light). The company was organized under TOE 1-77E (Draft), and, after augmentation, was authorized a strength of 15 officers, 43 warrant officers, and 124 enlisted men. Its basic organization consisted of a company headquartes, three aircraft platoons, and a service platoon. Major items of equipment which this new company was authorized included twenty-five UH-1B utility helicopters ( the Army's first turbine-powered helicopters), one TO-1D fixed wing observation aircraft, and one U-6A fixed wing utility aircraft.
The primary missions of an air mobile company are: to provide tactical air transport of combat troops, supplies, and equipment within the area of the supported unit, and to provide supplemental aerial fire support to the maneuver elements of the supported unit. Besides these basic missions, however, the 114th had another important mission: it was to test the air mobility concepts for the Army, while assisting the Government of the Republic of Vietnam in its flight against communism. The company was to be brought to full strength in personnel, trained supplied and equipped, provided with direct support units, and moved to Southeast Asia. The target departure date was "classified" at the time, most of the men did not know they were going untill they actually departed the United States.
On the day of its activation, the company strength was 32 officers, five warrant officers,and 130 enlisted men. All were carry-overs from the 114th predecessor, Troop C (Air), the 17th Cavalry, which was also stationed at Fort Knox. The Troop was Deactivated, upon the activation of the114, and transferred from to Department of the Army control. Key personnel transferred from Troop "C" included Captain Calvin R. Bean, Armor, commanding officer; Captain Gerald M. Okarski, Infantry, executive officer; and First Sergent (E8) Wade Hooper. On 13 February, Major Edwin S. McClure, Armor, assumed command of the 114th from Captain Bean. Major McClure had arrived at Fort Knox from assignment with the Lawson Army Aviation Command at Fort Benning, Georgia.
II. PREPARTION FOR OVERSEAS
The company soon learned that it had a very short time to accomplish its immense task. Those men who were not eligible for overseas assignment were transferred to other units, while at the same time, requisitioned fillers began to arrive. The enlisted personnel turnover exceeded 75 percent. Besides the normal workload expected in preparing a unit for overseas movement, the incoming new personnel placed another burden on the company. Though the aviators carried over from Troop "C" were considered fully qualified, the twenty-four newly assigned aviator replacements were not qualifeid to fly the principal aircraft in the company, the UH-1B helicopter. To qualify these officers, a 5 week transition training program was started on 21 February 1963. The experience of the new aviators ranged from some who had many years of cargo helicopter flying, to a few who had just completed flight training. The previously cargo rated pilots received at least 50 hours of flying instruction and training. The program included basic and advanced flight maneuvers, formation flying, simulated tactical flying, low-level cross-country navigation, night flying, flights with loads both internal and external, and simulated instrument flying synthetic trainers. In addition, each aviator became qualified in the firing tech and operation of the XM-6 aircraft gun system.
Under the supervision of Captain Ralph J. Powell, Armor, and with the assistance of the other units instructor pilots, the training was conducted in a highly professional manner, and all of the aviators became fully qualified UH-1B pilots. As an indication of the high quality of instruction given and the ability of the aviators, over 900 hours were flown without an accident or incident. Credit for making this safety record possible must go to the maintenance personnel of the company and supporting units who spent many long, hard, hours each day keeping the aircraft flying. Upon completion of the transition program, all of the aircraft in the company were transferred to other units.
Along with the transition program, the company conducted the required POR training and processing. Wills and powers of attorney were drawn up, along with other personnel processing. Necessary shots and physical examinations were given. Many hours of physical training mandatory classes were attended by all personnel. Re-qualification with his basic weapon was required of each man. In addition, the aircraft crew chiefs and other maintenance personnel gained experience from on-the-job training and maintenance classes during the transtition program.
While the training was being conducted, the unit was receiving supplies and new equipment which had to be packed and prepared for shipment. This major task fell mainly upon the maintence and supply personnel of the service platoon and company headquarters. Throughout the preparations, the work was well organized, and each man contributed his share to make sure that all the work was ready.
III. SUPPORT UNITS ATTACHED
In consonance with its missions, three direct support units were attached to the 114th to accompany it overseas. The first of these was the 544th Transportation Detachment (CHFM), commanded by Caption J.C. Droke, Transportation Corps. The 554th, with an authorized strength of one officer, one warrent officer, and 75 enlisted men, was attached on 2 February 1963. Its mission was to provide third echelon maintenance support for the company aircraft. The second unit to join the company was the 96th Signal Detachment (Avionics Maintenance), command by First Lieutenant James E. Van Horn, Signal Corps. Authorized one officer and six enlisted men, this team was attached on 8 February, with the mission to provide up to forth echelon maintenance on all aircraft radio equipment. The 83rd Medical Detachment Team (OA), commanded by Captain Edward F. Cole, Medical Corps, was the third team. It was attached on 15 March 1963. Its mission was to preform primary medical srevice functions for the company to include preventive medicine, physical examinations, dispensary services, and aeromedical srevices. Besides being a qualified physician, Caption Cole was also a rated Avaition Medical Officer (flight surgeon).
IV. AID TO FLOOD VICTIMS
On 12 March 1963, the 114th Air Mobile Company was called upon to furnish helicopters and crews to provide desperately needed assistance to flood victims in eastern Kentucky and the western part of West Virginia. Heavy rains and melting ice had brought a deluge of water down through the Cumberland and Big Sandy river valleys, causing extensive flooding and damage. The company responded instantly to this disaster and dispached four helicopters with crews, who began working from a temporary base in the heart of the stricken area. Added to the already hazardous flying conditions due to the mountainous terrain were many power lines which spanned the valley, and extremely poor weather with low ceilings, fog and rain. Nevertheless, Working closely with relief agencies, the helicopter crews transported food, clothing, and medical supplies to isolated areas. Distaster relief teams were flown to the sites of major damage. Sick or stranded persons were evacuated, and public officials were flown to and from the area. After one week, their mission completed, the crews returned to Fort Knox. This humanitarian service performed by men of the 114th was greatly appreciated by the many public officials and flood victims who recieved assistence.
V. UNIT DEPARTS FORT KNOX
Between 18 and 20 March 1963, two small advance party elements left Fort Knox enroute to their new destination. One group accompanied the heavy equipment which was shipped via surface to Vietnam. The second group flew to Vietnam to establish liasion with higher headquarters and to see that the new area was ready for the main body to occupy when it arrived.
During the first week in April, with nearly all of the processing and training completed, the men were given ordinary leaves from seven to ten days. After that, they would not see their families again for at least a year. Also in Apr, word was recieved that the departure date for the main body had been delayed untill 5 May. The last two weeks in April found the company improving on all it had learned in prior training. Classroom instruction was presented by unit instructor who covered such subjects as air mobile operations, tactics, and other subjects related to combat and counter-insurgency operations.
Early on 5 May 1963, the members of the company and attached units assembled in the darkness outside the company headquarters and, with their baggage, quietly boarded buses which rushed them unnoticed to Fort Cambell, Kentucky, to complete the first leg of their journey. From Fort Cambell, after a short delay, huge (MATS) C-135 jet transports whisked them away on a three day flight which would cover over 7,000miles.
VI. FIRST AIR MOBILE COMPANY IN VIETNAM
Ten full plane loads of men and their baggage were flown to Saigon's Tan Son Nhut International Airport, after intermediate stops at Honolulu, Hawaii, and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. The airlift was completed in five days with the last increment landing in Saigon on 10 May. The 114th was the Army's first air mobile company to arrive for duty in the Republic of Vietnam.
Shortly after their arrival in Saigon, the men were shuttled in U.S, Air Force C-123 transport aircraft to the dusty airstrip at Vinh Long, which was to be their new home. Vinh Long was a provincial capital city located on the Mekong river just 55 air miles southwest of Saigon in the heart of the famous delta.
The advance party had done its job. Lining both sides of the company street were long rows of wooden-floored squad tents which greeted their new occupants as they arrived. The tents were to serve as temporary living quarters for the next eight months when permanent buildings would be constructed. The weather was miserably hot and dry, and the tents provided the only shade from the blazing sun. To some of the men, this new, nearly barren, area was dissappointing; others were still exicited about their environment. The challenge of transforming this barren place into a "home away from home" was readily accepted by the men, and considerable improvements begun to appear as their ingenuity and hard work helped to make the area livable.
All of the necessary facilities, men, and equipment to permit the company to operate independant from all but normal logistical support began to arrive at Vinh Long. While the company was setting up its headquarters, mess, operations, supply, maintenance, dispensary, and living quarters, an engineer team established a water point which supplied purified Mekong water for drinking and bathing. Engineers also set up large diesel generators capable of producing enough power to operate all of the lights and electrical equipment in the area. A team from the 23rd Quartermaster set up a POL supply and distribution point, using 55-gallon drums and 3,000 gallon collapsible tanks for storage. From the 30th USAF Weather Squadron came three weather observers and a forecaster, with all of the equipment necessary to determine, record, and forecast the weather conditions in the area.
While internal wire communications were being installed by unit communications personnel, a detachment from the 39t Signal Battalion, consisting of radio teams from the 23d and 362d Signal companies, established local/long distance telephone and telegraph service and from Vietnamese-American Army installations. A highly sensitive tropospheric scatter radio set and allied radio equipment were used to provide multi-channel service.
The company arrived in Vietnam with 55 officers , four warrant officers, and 124 enlisted men. With all of the attachments included, the Vinh Long camp strength reached over 300 men and officers.
VII. ASSIGNMENT AND MISSION
When it arrived in Vietnam, the 114th became a part of the U.S. Army Support Group, Vietnam, under USARYIS and USARPAC, and was attached to the 45th Transporation Battalion for operational control. The general mission of the company was to augment, within the "rules of engagement", the aviation capability of the Rupublic of Vietnam forces by providing Army aviation support for ARVN forces of IV Corps. More specifically, the aviators of the company would be called upon to fly troops and supplies over the delta jungles and swamps to remote or otherwise inaccessible areas to avoid ground ambush and to provide the third dimension in warfare, the vertical envelopment. While providing aviation support for the Republic of Vietnam, the company would also test and evaluate air mobility concepts for the Army.
On 15 July 1963, operational control of the company was transferred from the 45th Transporation Battalion to the newly formed Delta Aviation Battalion (Provisional). The Delta Battalion coordination Army support within the IV Corps area from its headquarters at Can Tho.
VIII. AREA OF OPERATIONS
IV CORPS TACTICAL ZONE
The IV Corps Tactical Zone, which the 114th shared with the 121th Aviation Company (Air Mobile Light) located at Soc Trang, covered nearly all of the delta south and west of Saigon. The two major ARVN units under IV Corps were the 7th and 21st Infantry Divisions. When the 9th Infantry Division moved to the delta from Qui Nhon on 1 October, an additional demand was placed on the company for support. In November, however, following the coup d'etat, the Revoluntionary Military Government in Saigon reorganized the IV Corps and changed the tactical boundaaries. Control of the area north of the Mekong, as well as control of thr 7th Division, was given to III Corps. The IV Corps area then converted the delta south and west of the Mekong, and only the 9th and 21st division remained to be supported.
Weather and Terrain
It would be significant to consider the weather conditions that prevailed in the delta, and the terrain over which the aviators had to fly. During the dry season, from November to May, except for isolated thundershowers, the skies were generally clear. Prevailing winds were from the east and would seldom exceed 30 knots. Dust was a primary consideration in air mobile operations. During the rainy season, from June to November, numerous heavy rainshowers and thunderstorms occured almost daily. Low overcast conditions were experienced frequently, and the prevailing wind was from the southwest. The temperature and humidity remained high throughout the year.
The terrain in the delta was characterized by a flat, poorly drained, surface, criss-crossed by an intricate network of canals and streams. The average elevation is about 15 feet. During the rainy season, the delta is subjected to widespread flooding with up to 70 percent of the terrain covered by one to three feet of water. Mangrove swamps predominate in the coastal fringe area which surrounds the delta on two sides. The inland terrain is covered mainly with the rice paddies lined with earthen dikes and leaves. Except for the trees that border settlements and waterways, the low-lying marsh grass or reeds, there is little other concealment. Most of the settlements are linear in pattern and boarder roads, rivers,and canals.
XI. PRE-OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES
To carry out its mission, the company was equipped with twenty-five UH-1B helicopters broken down into two airlift platoons with eight aircraft each, and one platoon of eight armed aircraft. The remaining helicopter was placed in the aircraft maintenance section of the service platoon. Each airlift platoon could transport 80 ARVN troops. The armed helicopter platoon, with its rockets and machine guns, would provide escort for the troops carriers to and from the landing zone. The platoon were further divided into two sections, each with four aircraft. For simplicity and control, the three platoons were given a code name: "Red" designated the first airlift platoon; "Blue", the second; and "White" the third. Soon after, however, the third (armed) platoon was renamed, appropiately, "Cobra".
On 10 May, the company recieved the first seven of the twenty-five new helicopters. Immediately, the aviators were given the orientation rides by the unit instructor pilots to familiarize them with the local area and flying conditions. During the last week in May, the remainder of the aircraft were recieved including three TO-1D and one U-6A airplanes. Eight of the new helicopters were equipped with the XM-6 aircraft machine gun system and a 16-tube rocket installation. Each of these armed aircraft carried a normal load of sixteen 2.75-inch rockets, and 6,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition for its four M60 machine guns. Later, two XM-3 rockets kits, capable of carrying up to forty-eight 2.75-inch rockets, were installed on two of the armed aircraft, replacing XM-6 systems.
Armed Platoons Trains With UTTHCO
In May, members of the armed platoons were given on-the-job training with the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company which is based in Saigon. By working with the experienced crews, the114th pilots gained experience and knowledge in armed helicopter tactics and techniques developed by the UTT company in Vietnam.
Wheel Vehicles Arrive
After the wheel vehicles of the company and attached units arrived in Saigon, the trucks were driven in convoy, 46 vehicles with trailers in all, through the communist infested delta area, and across the Mekong by ferry, to Vinh Long. Drivers, and armed guards riding "shotgun" for security, were provided by the company and attached units. Aerial convoy control and cover was also provided by the company. The road march was completed without an accident or incident.
Aircraft Gunners Trained
Each helicopter carried a crew of four: pilot, copilot, crew chief (who served as a door gunner on all flights), and a second door gunner. The second gunners were selected from among volunteers in the company and attachments. The gunners served in this capacity in addition to their duties. One gunner faced out the door on each side of the aircraft ready to return fire when fired upon. The gunners were well trained in safety procedures and in the techniques of fire from a moving helicopter. On 15 September, the company gunners were replaced by a group of volunteers from the 560th Military Police Company. In addition to serving as expert gunners, these eager military policemen assisted the crew chiefs of their assigned aircraft with the first echelon maintenance.
Support for SEATO Exercise in Thailand
On 31 May, the four aircraft with crews from the second section of the first airlift platoon, plus attached maintenance support, under the control of Captain Donald L. Becker, Artillery, were airlifted from Saigon to Bangkok, Thailand, for temporary duty to support the SEATO forces in Exercise Dhanarajata. During the peroid 3-20 June, they provided support for the SEATO Field Headquarters at Lop Buri, Thailand. Their missions which included direct support for the Commanding General, SEATO Field Forces, airlift of troops, material and weapons, and medical evacuations were ".enthusiastically pursued and successfully completed in a highly professional manner despite very limited operating facilities". One of the highlights of their efforts was the air transport of a Little John rocket and launcher system during the exercise. Upon their return to Vinh Long at the end of June, the crews found the company fully operational and busily engaged in flying combat support missions.
X. COMBAT SUPPORT OPERATIONS
114th Becomes Combat Operational
Though the company had actually been flying operational missions since 23 May, it was not officially declared operational ready for combat missions untill 10 June 1963. The demand for aviation support was heavy during the month of June, and 1,513 flying hours were logged on the aircraft, a new record for an Army aviation company in Vietnam.
Many types of missions were flown. They ranged from routine administrative support to "eagle flights", used to seek out and destroy the enemy. They included troop transport into hostile landing zones both day and night, resupply and evacuation both day and night and rescue operations. The company also transported many VIP's, among whom were the Secretary of Defense, Mr Robert S. McNamara; Army Chief of Staff, General Maxwell D. Taylor; numerous Congressmen; and many other high-ranking U.S, as well as Vietnamese, officials.
Not all of the missions required the crews to fly into heavy enemy fire; this would be the exception rather then the rule. But sometimes, the most routine type of mission would turn into a very hazardous one when unexpected fire was recieved. The crews found that they were up against a very determined, elusive, and cunning adversary: the Viet Cong guerrilla.
A few of the operations in which the company participated were outstanding either new doctrine was gained from experience, or because they typified the flexibility of the company. All were typical of the bravery, courage, determination, and discipline constantly shown by the crews. The following of significant operations:
Combat Assault-Troop Airlift
11 June 63
The 114th participated in its first air assault. Using ten troop carriers and three armed aircraft, the company joined the 57th Trans Co to airlift ARVN troops from Bien Hoa to a landing zone (LZ) 15 miles northwest of Tay Ninh. In one lift, this unit transported 110 troops. After departing the LZ enroute to Tay Ninh, one aircraft was forced down after receiving a hit. It was recovered the following day without incident.
20 Jun 63
The company was alerted at about 0515 hours that an ARVN outpost was under attack at coordinates XR585625. Orders were received to move to Tra Vinh to pickup a company of troops and airlift them to the outpost. Eleven troop carriers and five armed aircraft arrived at Tra Vinh at 0630. At 0740, 110 SDC troops were airlifted to the outpost. The VC (Viet Cong) had disengaged and the landing was made without incident. The aircraft then evacuated wounded from the outpost airlifted a resupply of ammunition into the area.
5 Jul 63
Eleven troop carriers and five armed aircraft, plus a TO-1D for vector control, were on standby at Vinh Long to be committed when the ground forces had developed the situation. At 1230 hours, a change in mission was recieved and the aircraft proceeded to Ben Tre immediately to airlift an ARVN unit to reinforce another unit engaged with th VC eight miles southeast of Ben Tre. Upon arrival of the control element at Ben Tre, the MAAG advisors explained that one ARVN battalion was heavily engaged with a VC force at XS550200. The 114th was to airlift an ARVN battalion into an LZ to the rear of the battalion engaged. The LZ was to be marked by panels. The first airlift was directed by the control O-1D into LZ marked by panels. On take off from the LZ, the flights received heavy automatic weapons fire from the north side of the LZ. Seven troop carriers and three armed aircraft received hits. Two door gunners were wounded. However, all of the aircraft were able to fly out of the LZ back to Ben Tre. After assessing aircraft damage, the mission continued without futher incident with nine and four armed. Three additional lifts were made into an LZ 400 meters to the rear of LZ#1 and two lifts were made from Vinh Long to Ben Tre. Due to a lack of coordination between the unit on the ground and the reinforcing unit, the panels on the ground were marking the front line position and not the LZ. During the operation, 634 troops were airlifted.
10 Sep 63
Five troop carriers and five armed UH-1B's were sent Ca Mau to lift troops to an outpost that had been attacked by Viet Cong. Four troop lifts were made to the outpost and three were made to a landing zone to block the VC withdrawl. During the operation, a T-28 escort aircraft was forced down by ground fire. The armed helicopters rescued the pilot and observer. One armed aircraft was damaged by small arms fire. VC weapons captured in the area included on 57mm recoilless rifle, one .50 cal anti-aircraft machine gun, two 7.9mm anti-aircraft machine guns, and numerous rifles and automatic weapons. During the operation, 273 troops were transported.
19 Oct 63
Eight troop carriers and eight armed aircraft supported the 121st Avn Co in transporting an ARVN unitto an area 25 miles northeast of Ca Mau. In the first LZ, contact was made with a large force of VC. Four additional lifts were made into the same general area with the aircraft receiving intense ground fire. Five armed and two troop carriers from the company were hit, and four crewman were wounded. The company element transported 356 troops.
The company was called to scramble all available aircraft to Ca Mau to reinforce an outpost hit by Viet Cong. Ten troop carriers and seven armed aircraft participated. In the first LZ near the outpost 12 miles south of Ca Mau, intense ground fire was received from VC dug in along the edge of the LZ. Four armed helicopters, and three CH-21's from the 121st Avn Co, were hit, causing one CH-21 to crash near the LZ. Five additional lifts were made from Ca Mau to the area. This unit transported 492 troops.
First Night Heliborne Operation In Vietnam
29 Oct 63
One of three Vietnamese civilian irregular companies ran into a bitter fire fight with the enemy and suffered extremely heavy casualties, including a wounded commander, and capture of three American advisors accompanying the unit. With approaching nightfall, the need for reinforcements evident and the only way to deliver them there fast enough was by helicopter, but there had never been a night helicopter lift of troops in Vietnam. Nevertheless, within thirty-five minutes after receiving the alert, nine troop transport and five armed UH-1B's from the 114th Avn Co were loading troops- a company of rangers- on the runway at Can Tho. Major Edwin S McClure, the 114th commander, was briefed on the tactical situation as the loading took place and all coordination was accomplished by radio while enroute to the outpost. The Delta Bn Commander, Lt Col Phillips, arranged for tactical air support, selected the LZ, and established a method for lighting the zone. Minutes before the 114th was scheduled to arrive, the outpost was well covered by a VC battalion and darkness. Two flashlights and the landing light from the command and control helicopter were used to mark the LZ. From the arrival of the first transport helicopter, only 90 seconds had elapsed before the range company was positioned to support the Tan Phu outpost. In just one hour and ten minutes, the 114th Aviation Company had left supper tables, donned necessary flight grear, picked up one ranger company, traveled 80 nautical miles, and position ranger in a tactical landing zone, in the blackness of the night on strange, hostile terrain.
Rescue and Evacuation Under Fire
The company participated in numerous aero-medical evacuation, rescue, and mercy mission, some of which were at night; many of which were made under fire from the enemy. The evacuation of the Ba Dong outpost, located near the coast southeast of Tra Vinh, on September 1963, was a typical example of this type of mission. It typifies also the dogged determination of the crew to accomplish the mission:
19 Oct 63
Eight troop carriers and eight armed aircraft supported the 121st Avn Co in transporting an ARVN unit to an area 25 miles northeast of Ca Mau. In the first LZ, contact was made with a large force of VC. Four additional lifts were made into the same general area with the aircraft receiving intense ground fire. Five armed and two troop carriers from the company were hit, and four crewmen were wounded. The company element transported 356 troops.
20 Nov 63
The company was called to scramble all available aircraft to Ca Mau to reinforce an outpost hit by Viet Cong. Ten troop carriers and seven armed aircraft participated. In the first LZ near the outpost 12 miles south of Ca Mau, intense ground fire was received from VC dug in along the edge of the LZ. Four armed helicopters, and three CH-21 's from the 121st Avn Co, were hit, causing one CH-21 to crash near the LZ. Five additional lifts were made from Ca Mau to the area. This unit transported 492 troops.
First Night Heliborne Operation in Vietnam
29 Oct 63
One of three Vietnamese civilian irregular companies ran into a bitter fire fight with the enemy and suffered extremely heavy casualties, including a wounded commander, and the capture of three American advisors accompanying the unit. With approaching nightfall, the need for reinforcements was evident and the only way to deliver them fast enough was by helicopter, but there had never been a night helicopter lift of troops in Vietnam. Nevertheless, within thirty-five minutes after receiving the alert, nine troop transport and five armed UH-1Bs from the 114th Avn Co were loading troops - a company of rangers - on the runway at Can Tho. Major Edwin S. McClure, the 114th commander, was briefed on the tactical situation as the loading took place and all coordination was accomplished by radio while enroute to the outpost. The Delta Bn commander, Lt Col Phillips, arranged for tactical air support, selected the LZ, and established a method for lighting the zone. Minutes before the 114th was scheduled to arrive, the outpost was well covered by a VC battalion and darkness. Two flashlights and the landing light from the command and control helicopter were used to mark the LZ. From the arrival of the first transport helicopter, only 90 seconds had elapsed before the ranger company was positioned to support the Tan Phu outpost. In just one hour and ten minutes, the 114th Aviation Company had left supper tables, donned necessary flight gear, picked up one ranger company, traveled 80 nautical miles, and positioned rangers in a tactical landing zone, in the blackness of the night on strange, hostile terrain.
Rescue and Evacuation Under Fire
The company participated in numerous aero-medical evacuation, rescue, and mercy missions, some of which were at night; many of which were made under fire from the enemy. The evacuation of the Ba Dong outpost, located near the coast southeast of Tra Vinh, on 17 September 1963, was a typical example of this type of mission. It typifies also the dogged determination of the crews to accomplish the mission:
17 Sep 63
Four troop carriers and four armed escort aircraft were requested to resupply ammunition and rice to the defenders of the beleaguered outpost at Ba Dong, and evacuate its wounded. During the resupply, the aircraft received small arms fire from near the outpost, and it was discovered that the outpost was still in danger of being overrun. While the armed helicopters attempted to draw the fire away from the unarmed carriers, the rice and ammunition was dropped off and 31 wounded were evacuated. One armed escort was damaged by small arms fire. Three hours later, an order was received to airlift the remaining people from the outpost which was to be evacuated and destroyed. In one final lift to Tra Vinh, 115 persons were evacuated, many of whom were women and children, with 23 riding in one of the aircraft. One armed aircraft was hit by small arms fire during this operation also.
One of the more successful types of operations conducted by the company was the "eagle flight". Eagle flights were usually flown in conjunction with a troop lift in support of a ground operation, or in search of VC activity or concentrations in an attempt to develop a situation. Normally, six transports carrying 54 aggressive Vietnamese rangers, and five armed helicopters made up the flight, with the armed aircraft providing security for the troop carriers as they would in a regular air mobile operation. The force was flown over the area of interest at an altitude of about 800 feet, sometimes lower, to search for signs of VC. Often, at that low altitude, the aircraft drew fire from the ground, which gave the eagle force commander a good idea of what and where to search. After the troop commander had selected the area he wished to search, he would coordinate the selection of an LZ with his advisor and with the pilot of the lead aircraft. The flight then swooped down into the LZ, with armed aircraft leading to provide suppressive fire if needed. The troop carriers landed in a staggered trail formation, the troops departed rapidly, and the aircraft climbed to altitude to orbit over the area until the troop commander requested to be picked up. Meanwhile, the armed aircraft were flying their "daisy chain" pattern in low sweeps, searching for likely targets or fleeing enemy. During these operations, prisoners, supplies, and weapons were often captured, and hidden VC facilities such as arms factories and hospitals were located and destroyed. The following example illustrates a typical eagle operation conducted on 11 July:
11 Jul 63
After routine airlift of troops from Ca Mau, eight aircraft were committed to eagle operations. Four (4) troop carrying ships carrying ten ARVN troops each and four (4) armed ships departed the Ca Mau airstrip at approximately 1000 hours. Eagle proceeded in a southerly direction for approximately fifteen (15) miles descended to 800 feet altitude and started a search of suspected VC areas. After approximately fifteen minutes of search an armed ship in the rear the formation reported receiving fire from a canal junction. The area from which the fire was positively identified by the pilot from smoke coming from the weapons was in the vicinity of a straw shack. Eagle was immediately ordered into action with four armed ships taking the area under fire with XM-6 and rocket systems. Using two ships on each side in a daisy chain pattern, a corridor was formed for the troop carrying ships to land. Troops were landed some fifty (50) meters from the area under very close support from the armed ships. The troops were actually engaged in a fire fight before departing the helicopter. Using armed helicopter fire for close support, the troops were able to move into the area from which the initial fire was received. As the troops moved in on the VC, the enemy was contained by armed helicopter fire on all sides of the area. After a brief fire fight, ground troops secured the area. Armed helicopters assisted further by marking hidden VC with smoke grenades thereby enabling the troops to locate them. The entire operation lasted about twenty (20) minutes.
RESULTS: Friendly: No casualties, three armed helicopters were hit by ground fire.
Enemy: 15 KIA, 1 Czechoslovakian light machine gun. Numerous ammunition and grenades.
COMMENTS: The aggressiveness of the ground troops and helicopter pilots made the operation a success. The close support provided the ground troops (at times not more than ten to fifteen meters in front of them) was outstanding and a tribute to the pilots of this unit.
Evaluation of Doctrine
Throughout all of the operations, new techniques were developed, procedures were standardized, and many lessons were learned. Among current doctrine evaluated were: contour flying, reconnaissance and selection of landing zones, scheme of maneuver, supporting fires including air cover and artillery fire, and new tactics and techniques. The company also evaluated the aircraft armor and armament systems. A few of the techniques developed and used by the company were: flying at contour only when the weather forced the aircraft down, formation flying in flights of four or five aircraft in a heavy right or left echelon or wedge, staggering succeeding flights to avoid flying over the same area, spreading the formation just prior to landing to avoid rotor wash, and having the armed aircraft precede the troop carriers into the landing zone to provide suppressive fires and secure the LZ.
The armed platoon proved its worth many times and can be given part of the credit for the low number of hits taken by the troop carriers. Old techniques were refined and new ones developed to provide the best support for the troop carriers. The pilots in the armed platoon showed how better coordination and teamwork can be achieved in an operation with organic close support.
Summary Of Operations
From the day the unit began flying combat support missions, it has established an outstanding record of responsiveness and support. In the seven and one-half months of flying in Vietnam, the company aircraft were flown over 11,800 hours during which time they were exposed regularly to communist fire, and frequently hit. A total of 38,726 passengers and nearly 300 tons of cargo were transported during the 20,398 sorties flown. There were 62 separate instances of aircraft damaged by fire, and two were forced down. In all, 22 crewmen were wounded in action as a result of enemy fire.
XI. ACTIVITIES AT THE VINH LONG BASE AIRFIELD
Command and Administration
From his tent headquarters, Major McClure very capably commanded the 114th Aviation Company and attached units at Vinh Long - over 300 men and officers. Frequently, he would participate in major operations by flying the lead aircraft in a troop carrier flight, or by flying one of the armed aircraft in the "Cobra" flight.
Major McClure was assisted in the company headquarters by the executive officer, Captain Okarski; the administrative officer, Captain Bill H. Williams, Armor; and the first sergeant, Wade Hooper. The voluminous reports and correspondence generated or processed by the company placed a heavy demand on the administrative personnel. Since the normal tour of duty in Vietnam was one year, there were few personnel changes before the end of 1963.
An overall rating of "Excellent" was achieved by the company on its Annual General Inspection (AGI) conducted by higher headquarters on 21 June 1963. This was especially significant since the company had been in Vietnam only a short time, it was still in the process of organizing, it was still receiving equipment and supplies, and it was flying operational missions .
Due to limited facilities, the operations section was, at first, without an adequate place to carry out its duties. However, they soon occupied the only permanent structure in the area which was located near the airstrip. There, under the supervision of Captain Powell, operations officer, the team set up its offices and began coordinating all flight missions and keeping the necessary flight and operations records. The airfield control team set up its van and navigational homing beacon beside the runway and controlled or monitored the air traffic in the vicinity of the airfield. In December 1963, construction of a new 60-foot high, air-conditioned, glass enclosed control tower was completed and the tower personnel wasted no time in moving from their dusty radio van on the airstrip to the new facility. With tower frequencies available on FM, VHF, and UHF, a nondirectional radio beacon, and a 3,400 foot runway, Vinh Long was one of the major airfields in the delta.
Supporting the heavy operational demands on the company and aircraft required many long hours of work by the maintenance and service personnel. The bulk of this load fell upon the service platoon, commanded by Captain Harold L Rose, Armor, and the direct support maintenance units.
When the company arrived at Vinh Long, no hangars or maintenance shops were available. There were no aircraft parking ramps. Also, there was very little usable space due to the many ponds and rice paddies that surrounded the area. Using canvas tents, the aircraft maintenance personnel erected temporary shelters, which provided only limited protection from the hot sun, blowing dust, and rain. Until a permanent hangar and working areas were completed, much of the maintenance was performed in the open under the direct rays of the sun and in the short but heavy rain showers that occurred almost daily during the rainy season. To provide maximum aircraft availability, the aircraft maintenance crews often worked both day and night. :Eventually, after a long delay, new work areas were ready. A hanger large enough to hold up to eight aircraft was completed in October. Parking ramps were constructed and shop space was made available- As a result, the maintenance procedures were improved.
Backing the company with third echelon field maintenance and spare parts was the 544th Transportation Detachment. In a very short time after arrival in Vinh long, their huge shop vans were in operation. with aircraft damaged frequently by enemy fire, the sheet metal team remained especially busy at times.
The 96th Signal Detachment, also operating from shop vans, performed the maintenance on all aircraft radio equipment.
On all major troop lift operations, a maintenance team from the company was taken to the staging area where it remained ready to provide emergency on-the-spot repairs, aid in the recovery of downed aircraft, or determine whether damaged aircraft could be safely flown to the base field.
In addition to aircraft maintenance, the service platoon was also responsible for providing airfield services such as POL, and crash-rescue crews, The motor park and wheel vehicle maintenance, as well as the armament and ammunition in the company, was also under the responsibility and supervision of the service platoon.
The men in the service platoon and attached maintenance units provided outstanding support for the busiest Army aviation unit in Vietnam.
Logistical support for the company was no small task. Since travel by road was unsafe, nearly all supplies and equipment were flown in. Being 55 miles away from logistical support created problems in supply procedures, and a liaison team from the company supply section spent a good part of its time in Saigon to coordinate the procurement and shipment of supplies. Air transportation was seldom a problem. Almost daily, large quantities of supplies, including ammunition and rations, arrived at Vinh Long on scheduled flights made by Army CV-2B "Caribou" or USAF C-123 transports. Organic aircraft were also used occasionally to fill the gap. With refrigeration being less of a problem due to modern equipment and the short flying time from the lockers in Saigon, ice cream and other frozen foods were received frequently.
All POL products were brought in by commercial trucks and tanker.
From its tent, the 83d Medical Detachment operated a dispensary and provided other primary medical services including sanitation services, preventive medicine services, physical examinations, aeromedical evacuation, and emergency treatment. Captain Cole and the members of his team participated in many combat support missions and volunteered to go on day and night medical evacuation missions when they felt their services were needed. On major troop lift operations, they accompanied the flights to the staging area where they were able to administer emergency treatment when required. The 83d immediately responded to all emergencies during this period and through their skill and care, lives were saved.
Area Facilities and New Construction
Throughout the year as the men continued to live in crowded, dusty tents, contractors and their Vietnamese laborers were making improvements in the Vinh Long camp. The airstrip and roads were resurfaced. Aircraft parking ramps, a hangar, offices, and shops were constructed, as well as a motor park, control tower, water tower, theater, and living quarters. Many delays were experienced in the construction due partly to heavy rains and flooding which lasted from May until November. In the last week of December 1963, the men finally vacated their tents and moved into newly completed permanent quarters. By the end of the year the officers quarters were also ready to be occupied. The tents were brought down and all that remained in the "old" area were the mess hall and dispensary which would not be moved for some time due to slow progress and delays in completing the new facilities.
Supervision of the construction project, as well as all engineer facilities including power and water, was done by Captain John L. Phillips. Corps of Engineers, who also commanded the first airlift platoon. Acting as engineer representative for the company commander, Captain Phillips served in the additional capacity of repairs and utilities officer. His contributions to the area and to the welfare of the men, both in providing utilities and in supervising the construction, were high commendable.
It was not all work and no play for the men at Vinh Long. Many recreational activities were provided for leisure hours. The Special Services remote area R&R program permitted a large number of men to visit such interesting places as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, and The Philippines. Leaves to these areas ranged from five to seven days and military air transportation was furnished at no cost to the individual. In addition to R&R leaves, the men spent an occasional weekend in Saigon. Motion pictures made available through Special Services were shown in the company theater nightly. The theater was a large screened-in shelter that had a wide, curved screen to accommodate all movies received including the many "Cinemascope" pictures.
To highlight the pre-Christmas week, a USO entertainment group presented a lively show for the company. The performers brought music, fun, and laughter to the men, and the show was enjoyed by all.
Mail, always an important morale factor, was delivered from Saigon to the company three times weekly. Mail service was rapid and letters often arrived at Vinh Long within three or four days after they were mailed in the States. The Vinh Long address was: APO 157.
In the company area, a post exchange (PX) was open daily. It supplied the men with essential items plus many luxuries such as radios,
Both officer and enlisted clubs were opened in the tent city shortly after the company arrived in Vinh Long. The "Tie One On" enlisted club and the "Mekong Manor" officer's club provided refreshments and, understandably, the most comfortable surroundings in the area. Many leisure hours were spent at the clubs.
Each Sunday both Protestant and Catholic services were held in the area by chaplains who arrived at Vinh Long on special "chaplains flights",
The morale of a unit is reflected in the degree of devotion, discipline, and efficiency shown by its members. Throughout the year, the morale of the 114th Aviation Company and its attachments has been extremely high. Despite the field conditions under which they had to live and work, the fact that they were away from their families and loved ones, and the pressing demands of continuous operations, the men realized that they had a very important job to do and carried out all missions and assignments boldly, efficiently, and willingly.
"Knights of the Air"
In June 1963, the 114th adopted the nickname: "Knights of the Air". Also, from among several entries, a unit insignia was selected which the men wore on the right breast pocket of their work uniform. The insignia was a tri-color shield outlined in black, with a narrow band of red in a slightly concave arc across the top. Under the red band, the shield was divided into a blue field on the left and a yellow field on the right. These three colors represented the basic combat arms, armor, artillery, and infantry, which the unit supports. In black letters across the red strip were the words: KNIGHTS OF THE AIR, the unit nickname. Emblazoned in the center of the blue and yellow portion of the shield was a black "Knight" chess-piece bearing a horses head with large white wings attached. This symbolized the unit's capability of rapid vertical and horizontal movement over the battle field. In white figures on the base of the chess-piece were the numbers "114".
XIII INDIVIDUAL AND UNIT RECOGNITION
The sacrifices and deeds of the 114th Aviation Company (Air Mobile Light) did not go unnoticed:
Many members of the company were decorated for their many hours of flying combat assault and support missions for the Republic of Vietnam forces while exposed regularly and frequently to enemy fire. By the end of the year, the air crews had earned over 850 Air Medals. Thirty-three Purple Hearts were awarded to members of the unit who were wounded in action. In addition, 16 individuals were recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross for outstanding heroic actions above and beyond the call of duty.
For its outstanding support, cooperation, and meritorious achievements, the 114th received considerable praise and recognition. numerous laudatory articles appeared in such local newspapers as the Stars and Stripes, The Observer, and The Ryukyuan Review, as well as in many prominent newspapers and magazines in America. The airmobile support, provided by the company was greatly appreciated by the supported units, as evidenced by the many letters of appreciation and commendation that were received.
In 1963, the "Knights of the Air" made significant contributions to Army aviation, as well as toward winning the war against communism in the Republic of Vietnam.