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
Rescue and Evacuation Under Fire
XI. ACTIVITIES AT THE VINH LONG BASE AIRFIELD
Command and Administration
XIII INDIVIDUAL AND UNIT RECOGNITION