Prepared by WO James D Tew, V
Approved by Robert D. Moore, Major, INF Commanding
282nd Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter)
APO SF 96349 (Marble Mountain Air Facility, Da Nang, RVN)
(OPCON) Deputy Senior Advisor I Corps
The third full year of operations for the 282nd Aviation Company (AH) in the Republic of Vietnam showed a number of changes in unit structure, type and number of missions performed, and the techniques in the performance of missions. Most of the changes were a result of changes in the overall physiognomy of the war: i.e., increased Vietnamization, a marked decrease in enemy activity in I Corps (particularly in the later half of the year), and changes in the command structure of the I Corps Headquarters Advisory Team.
Although the basic mission of the unit remained the same as in 1968, i.e., support of I Corps Headquarters, the I Corps Advisory effort, and the operations of the 1st and 2nd ARVN Divisions, the role of the Black Cats has evolved from the purely assault phase to a more administrative capacity. In spite of this, the 282nd has remained always prepared to revert to the assault role when called upon to do so. With the enlarged scope of the unit's responsibility it has become necessity for the crews of the "Blackcats" (slicks) and "Alleycats" (gunships) aircraft to convert on short notice from administrative or escort missions to combat missions. This has at times placed a great strain on the personnel involved, but as in the past, the 282nd has responded admirably to the challenge. The capabilities of the unit are impressive: combat assaults, medevacs, resupply, visual reconnaissance, command and control, firefly, armed escort, target attack, suppressive fire or whatever is required.
A discussion of the major changes in the 282nd's operation is in order. The unit provides fourteen mission ready UH-1H aircraft, one maintenance recovery (UH-1H) aircraft, and a minimum of four UH-1C aircraft per day for the use of support units in the I Corps Tactical Zone. Two slicks are assigned to each of the ARVN Divisions, one is assigned to the Quang Tri Province Advisor, in northern I Corps. The crews of the two aircraft assigned to the 1st ARVN Division are quartered in the Imperial City of Hue, returning to Marble Mountain Air Facility, Da Nang, only for 2nd and 3rd echelon maintenance. The aircraft assigned to the Quang Tri Province Advisors, quartered in Quang Tri City, follow a similar procedure. It has become policy that additional aircraft are dispatched to these units when one or both of their assigned aircraft are down for maintenance. The two aircraft assigned to the 2nd ARVN Division, quartered in Quang Ngai City, southern I Corps, operates in the same manner as their northern counterparts.
The remaining nine aircraft are dispatched daily from Marble Mountain as required by Aviation Section, I Corps Headquarters. Two of the UH-1H aircraft are permanent 24 hour standby under control of the Protocol Branch of I Corps Headquarters. These aircraft are especially equipped "VIP" aircraft for the use of the I Corps CG, General Lam, the Deputy Senior Advisor, Brigadier General Meuller, and the rest of I Corps Staff. The aircraft, designated Protocol I and Protocol II, are also on call for visiting VIP's. The crews for these two aircraft are permanently assigned on the basis of flying, ability, knowledge of the I Corps area, and competency in handling the type of mission involved. They normally remain on a 15 or 30 minute standby, but must be able to respond on short notice when called upon to do so.
The remaining seven aircraft are assigned on a daily basis to the Quang Nam Sector, The Quang Da Special Zone (including the 51st ARVN Infantry Regiment, the 1st ARVN Ranger Group and 1st Armored Brigade (ARVN), Food Service, various CORDS elements, Naval Advisory Group, Naval Gun Fire, and Province Advisory Teams as the need arises.
The gunships of the 282nd, affectionately know as the "Alleycats", having performed for two years with antiquated UH-1B aircraft, transitioned into the UH-1C in December. Two light fire teams (four aircraft) of Alleycats are on 5 minute standby daily at Marble Mountain to aide units in the I Corps area. With the standby aircraft, the gunships participate in escort missions in support of the "Hurricanes", CH-54 flying cranes, and on occasion provide escort for VIP flights and combat assaults or extractions. Again, like their "Blackcat" brothers, the gunships have been affected by the administrative trend of the 282nd operations. In spite of the increase in escort type missions, the Alleycats are always ready to respond to an emergency, or support a unit in contact.
One of the most interesting aspects of the 282nd gunship operations in 1969 was the acquisition of the XM-22 wire guided missile sub-system which employs the French SS-11 missile. This system, originally designed as an anti-tank weapon, was put into service in I Corps by Major Robert Webster, Commander of the 282nd from May to November 1969. Major Webster had worked extensively with the XM-22 at the U.S. Army Aviation Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama and made good use of the wire guided missile as a bunker destruction weapon. As a result of his efforts in I Corps other units of the 1st Aviation Brigade throughout Vietnam have acquired the system and are using it in its new capacity. For several months the 282nd was operating the only XM-22 system in RVN, setting many records for its use in the process.
It has been a trying year for the men and machines of the 282nd. Keeping abreast of the ever changing face of the war in Vietnam has provided the "Blackcats" and "Alleycats" with some of the greatest challenges of their careers. The key words for the year has been flexibility. As missions have become more diversified, so has the 282nd. As in the past, the "Noble and Valiant Warriors" have continued to accomplish their mission with the highest degree of professionalism and dedication to duty. Always prepared for the unexpected, the 282nd Aviation Company, has provided the expected, the best.
A brief discussion of activities of the 282nd on a monthly basis is in order. On 1 January helicopters from the 282nd conducted "people sniffer" missions near Quang Nhai City, south of Da Nang. The team, composed of a "Blackcat" lift ship, equipped with special electronic "sniffer" gear and escorted by two "Alleycat" gunships, detected an enemy location west of the city. The first team decided to go down for a closer look and came under heavy enemy fire. Returning the fire with 2.75 rockets, 7.62mm mini-guns, and 40mm grenades, the enemy fire was silenced. A total of 17 kills, 3 structures and 3 bunkers destroyed, were confirmed.
On 14 January the company incurred the mission of providing overhead cover for a LOH on scout missions along the "Rocket Belt" which surrounds Da Nang City. One gunship escorts the LOH to provide suppressive fire if needed.
On 27 January four slicks and a heavy fire team were dispatched to Quang Ngai Province to support the movement of 750 ARVN troops into two landing zones 15 miles west of Quang Ngai City. The Blackcat aircraft were forced to hover at 10-15 feet above the trees while the troops jumped to the ground. Due to the small size of the LZ only two aircraft were able to enter the zone at a time, making gun cover extremely difficult. Contact was light and quickly eliminated by the gunships.
On 1 February the 282nd, formerly the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, was redesignated the 282nd Aviation Company (Airmobile Sight), and later the 282nd Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter).
On February 6 a faint distress call was received from aircraft #499 which was on a resupply mission south of Da Nang. The crew reported that they were unable to locate the supported unit, unable to orient themselves to their position on the map, and running low on fuel. Chase aircraft were launched immediately from Da Nang and maintained radio contact with #499 as they reported flying north in an attempt to reach Da Nang. Radio contact was lost as the chase ships reached #499 's last reported position and were unable to located the aircraft. Aerial search for #499 continued for several days but the aircraft was not located. Lt David E. Padgett (pilot), WO Charles E. Stanley (pilot), Sp4 Robert C. O'Hara (crewchief) and Sp4 Eugene F. Christian(sic) (gunner) are Missing In Action. [ed, note correct name is Eugene F Christiansen. Passengers LTC Donald E. Parsons and 1LT Ronald Daniel Briggs (MACV Adv Tm 4) were also lost. More information about crash and recovery. ]
During the first quarter of 1969, the 282nd flew a total of 5,963 hours and was engaged in operations against the enemy on 92 consecutive days. Over 18,000 sorties were flown, over 34,000 troops were lifted, and over 260 enemy kills were recorded. During this period every aircraft in the company sustained battle damage with one lost and one turned in.
During the month of February Alleycats were called upon to aid units engaged with enemy on 18 consecutive days. On 23 February the long awaited enemy offensive began as numerous mortar rounds landed in the Marble Mountain complex. As a result of the attack, one UH-1H received major damage.
On 1 March a UH-1H was fired upon while departing an LZ southeast of Da Nang. The aircraft received 10 hits, wounding the Aircraft Commander who flew the aircraft to the 95th Medical Evacuation Hospital where he was treated and evacuated to the states.
Sp4 Clifford Rush, from Gerardeau Mo. was with the Service Platoon and worked in the hanger. He and his friends went to the beach behind the German Orphanage south of China Beach next to the 1st Logistical Command. Cliff was caught in the undertow and drowned. His friends pulled him from the water but were unable to revive him. Sp4 Rush was pronounced dead at NSA Hospital.
On 21 March Lt. Edward Holmes, AC of a gunship flying LOH cover, received a Mayday call from Dolphin 36 (UH-1H), a downed aircraft near Hoi An. The aircraft was located and suppressive fire provided for the crew which was receiving heavy enemy fire from all sides. Since no other aircraft were in the area, Lt Holmes elected to land in the zone and extract the crew. After a successful extraction he returned to the area to provide fire support for recovery of the downed aircraft.
During the quarter ending April 1969, 24,000 sorties were flown, 44,000 troops were lifted, in a total of 5,247 hours of flight time. The 282nd was in contact with the enemy on 89 consecutive days, recording 698 confirmed kills.
On 18 May, Marble Mountain Air Facility was hit with seven rounds of 81mm mortar and four aircraft (2 B's and 2 H's) were damaged.
[ed, note On 11 June 1969 Sp5 Harry Grover Kunkler, III was killed in an air crash]
On 18 June six Blackcats engaged in a troop lift, west of Quang Ngai, and received intense fire from enemy ground positions. As observed by Black Cat 22 Richard Leister in Chalk 2, the lead aircraft took ground fire shortly after leaving the LZ, went nose up and continued onto its back; crashing and killing all on board: Second Platoon Leader, Cpt George C.. Carr (pilot), Company IP, WO Gary C. Salenetro (AC), Sp4 Jose M. Delatorre (gunner) and Sp4 George R. Browning(crewchief). All five of the other aircraft in the lift were hit numerous times, with several other aviators receiving minor wounds. The company mourned the loss of this fine crew.
During the quarter ending 31 July 1969, the 282nd flew 4,195 hours and was engaged in operations against the enemy on 92 consecutive days. Sorties flown; over 24,000, troops lifted ; over 44,000, with 136 enemy kills confirmed and every aircraft in the 282nd inventory receiving battle damage.
On 2 August four slicks and three gunships made a combat assault in an area ten miles west of Hoi An in which over 250 troops were lifted without incident.
On12 August the 282nd was hit with perhaps one of the worst mortar and rocket barrages of the year. Numerous structures were damaged in the company area, two aircraft were damaged and 3 minor casualties were sustained.
On 23 August a light fire team was scrambled for troops in contact in the Hoi An River delta. Seven confirmed kills resulted.
On 22 August the company published the first issue of the Cat's Meow, a weekly. The Editor was James D. Tew. The Assistant Editors were J. R. Chitko and Warren C. Steiner.
During the month of August the 282nd participated in two additional combat assault for the 51st ARVN infantry Regiment with no incidents.
On 6 September the 282nd compound was hit by 75 rounds of enemy mortar fire. Two pilots were hospitalized, later to be evacuated to the US, and four other men received wounds of a minor nature. Aircraft #278 received 123 shrapnel holes, the majority being in the tail boom. The Alleycats, assisted by a Blackcat light ship, were scrambled at 0330 and fired on the enemy mortar positions, ending the attack.
During the months of September and October the gunships worked extensively with Swift Boars on the Hoi An River, recording numerous confirmed kills, and in one case evacuated the crew of a sinking Swift Boar which was blown apart by an enemy mine.
During this quarter the unit was in contact with the enemy for 92 consecutive days, flying 6,738 hours, with 244 kills and 28,000 sorties.
An aircraft, in support of the 51st ARVN Regiment, was downed by enemy fire recently while performing a visual reconnaissance mission 10 miles southwest of Da Nang. Aircraft Commander 1Lt Joel Simmons, reported that a suspicious sampan was spotted and as he circled the area heavy automatic weapons fire was encountered. 1Lt John Lopresti related that as the aircraft was hit it almost "shook" apart in the air. He couldn't even reach the radio to make a call. As the aircraft neared the ground Lt Simmons maneuvered the aircraft through bamboo thicket into a rice paddy. Due to recent rains, the paddy was about four feet deep which made exiting the aircraft very difficult. When the pilots and crew, Sp4 Roland Wolfe and Sp4 Richard Little got out of the aircraft they returned the sporadic enemy fire they were receiving. When the sniping subsided they were able to retrieve a survival radio from the wreckage and attempt to call for help. A Black Cat Command and Control ship was in the area and as it flew overhead the downed crew popped smoke which crewchief Sp4 Arthur Hayes and gunner Sgt. George T . Uten spotted immediately. The Command and Control ship contacted other Black Cats and within minutes Alleycat gunships and Blackcat slicks were overhead to rescue the four crew members and one observer. The Blackcat slick piloted by WO Ronald McBride and WO Samuel Ronci was unable to land due to the water, and was forced to hover while crewchief Richard Singleton and gunner Joe Walters pulled each individual into the ship while the Alleycats provided suppressive fire.
On 8 November 12 slicks and 4 gunships were scrambled to Go Noi, south of Da Nang to extract 250 ARVN troops trapped on the island by raging flood waters. The ARVN unit was under 3 feet of rising water and in danger of drowning. The weather was 50 feet with heavy overcast and little more than a few hundred feet visibility. Every available aircraft and crew was dispatched to the area and all personnel were safely evacuated without incident. There were many instances of individual heroism as the 282nd worked as a team in this endeavor and several awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross are pending as a result.
William C. Keeler, from Hamburg, NY extended his tour in Vietnam and transferred out of the 282nd around the summer of '68. While serving with the new unit he was Killed In Action on December 1st.
As the pace of the war was slowed down by degrees as the year wore on, the pace of the 282nd did not falter. With the new year, and new challenges, we of the 282nd Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter) look forward to more challenges, and to more opportunities to prove that we are ready to accomplish the mission with disregard for personal perils. We remain, the "Noble and Valiant Warriors".