Richard Joseph Hawco

Army of the United States
16 May 1949 - 26 January 1970
New York, New York
Panel 14W Line 068

Combat Infantry

Bronze Star, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign


The database page for Richard Joseph Hawco

1 Dec 2004

I was 3 years old when my Father Sgt Richard Joseph Hawco died and no matter how hard I try I cannot remember him but I do know that he was a BRAVE, caring young man who gave his life for our country. He was not drafted and willingly entered into this war. My Grandmother told me that he said if he had to die he wanted to die a hero and this he did. I could not be more proud of him and all of the other brave selfless men and women.

From his daughter,

Richard Hawco as a child; with his mother, right.

At Jump School after after completing NCO School.

In Vietnam.

31 Dec 2004

I led the Artillery Forward Observer team attached to A Company, 3/21 Infantry. During the days prior to Segeant Hawco's death the company had been on an extended patrol in the vicinity of Fire Base Center. When we returned to FSB Center we had a few hours of debriefing before the company was lifted out to the Division rear.

I did not know much about these rear base breaks as this was my first, but I found the infantry put quite an "unwind" mat out. The first thing that greeted the troops was a basketball court with two dumpsters. One was filled with ice and sodas. The other was filled with ice and beer. It was considered high society to just jump in and have a drink of your choice. There where all kinds of activities for the troops along with showers, new uniform and PX trips.

During this fun time a commotion broke out - there was a fight between two of the troopers. That wasn't uncommon and usually was not very serious, but this time one soldier stabbed another. The sergeants and officers locked up the stabber in a storage container til the MPs arrived and medevac'd out the wounded trooper. The next day word that the fight had become murder got out and the company was returned to Firebase Center. Several sergeants and officers were told to be prepared to give testimony and depositions for the Court Martial and were to meet with the military lawyers at the Infantry Day Room, a sandbagged bunker half in the ground and large enough for chapel services, briefings, general service and in this case a Court Martial.

I recall at least two other Alfa Company infantry lieutenants, Sergeant Hawco and me waiting outside the bunker where there was a little makeshift bench, chatting away about the new camera I had just purchased in the rear. Sergeant Hawco seemed to know a lot more about the camera then the rest of us so he was showing me how to use it. He took a picture of me. I then experimented taking pictures of the other officers standing with me. It was a grey overcast day with slight dew on everything. The temperature was not uncomfortable.

A light helicopter came in overhead from our left. Someone said "That's JAG". I had never seen military lawyers before so I keenly watched hoping to size them up as they landed. We were standing with the bunker to our back with a makeshift bench and a half wall of sand bags in case of attack. All of this formed a little patio area by the bunker entrance. The 50'x50' infantry helicopter pad, formed out of metal runway planking that interlocked together, was about 30 feet to our front. There was a walkway made out of metal milk crates about three feet by three feet and six inches high extending that distance to the landing pad. These crates were recycled quite often as walkways because they would not sink too deep in the mud while the open gratings made natural boot scrapers to remove mud off the bottom of our combat boots. It was second nature to traverse these crate freeways to get to various bunkers within the firebase.

Typically the pilot came in what I call cowboy style, swooping down like a bird of prey from high then easing back to float level a few feet above the helipad. In this maneuver the tail rotor is below the landing struts with the nose pointed slightly upward. As the pilot adjusts the controls, the nose of the craft leans forward, leveling out the landing struts to allow a smooth landing. This maneuver also would create a minimum target to antiaircraft fire.

This helicopter came in like an eagle, tail feathers down and in that critical time to pull back did so, but the tail rotor scraped the ground to the edge of the left of the landing pad. In a fury of mechanical screams the rear rotor blades, moving thousand of revolutions per second, desintrigrated into lethal flying debris flying all around the unit.

The craft slammed down about four feet landing just off center left of the square metal landing pad. With the tail blades sheared off the whole craft started spinning in wild rocking circles. In this unbalanced spinning the tail of the craft would dig in the ground, sending the craft off in another direction like an out-of-control top. Depending on where the tail hit there would be a shower of sparks from the metal landing or a dirt shower as it dug into the earth around the pad. It spun at least five times, maybe more, and "climbed" on and off the lips of the landing pad several times. It came to rest off center right of the pad sitting on its belly. Unbeknownst to us at the time the reason it was sitting on its belly is that the landing struts were sprung outward and the main rotor blades, still spinning. were now about two feet lower than the normal height.

Sergeant Hawco uttered "My God, I'll get them out!"

He raced out of our group which was the closest to the accident. I yelled "Blades" but I do not believe he heard as he raced down the raised metal crate walkway.

The main blades were spinning over the last of the raised milk crate walkway. Sergeant Hawco did the characteristic hunch of all soldiers going under a moving blade. In this case with the collapsed skid booms and raised walkway it was not enough and his head was struck by one of the main rotor blades. He was hit again by the second rotor blade, which threw his body onto the top of the glass canopy. The pilot and passengers watched their would-be rescuer's lifeless body as it slid down the canopy, coming to rest face down just under the cockpit window.

No one moved as the blades slowly stopped spining, coming to rest even lower to the ground. The pilot was white as a ghost and needed help in getting out. The JAG officer was completely shaken so all court martial work was canceled and he left quickly.

I cannot say what happened next because I did not witness his body removal. Perhaps I went down to the artillery area to let them know what happened. In less then an hour I did go back up into the Infantry area and at that time the body was already removed. The accident report work apparently had already taken place as clean up-was just starting. It was at this point I took several pictures of the accident area exactly as it was minus only the body of Sergeant Hawco.

The following day I was once again in the Infantry area about mid-afternoon. A flash of gold caught my eye coming from the recesses of the day room bunker where the Court Martial was to have taken place the day before. The olive green field table where the officers would have sat in judgment had been covered in bright white linen from the Chaplain's field kit. A large gold cross, brilliantly shined, was the golden beacon that caught my eye. On each side of the cross were white candles in golden bases that matched the cross. In front of the cross sat a pair of shined leather and canvas jungle boots. A standard cloth-camouflaged cover had been neatly pulled over a steel combat helmet which had been placed on top of the boots so just the boot toes were visible. There was also the standard band holder around the helmet neatly holding the helmet's camouflage cover in place.

In our world of mud, olive drab green and camouflage the whole scene seemed very surreal. The brilliance of the white and the shining of the gold was mesmerizing. The sadness of those boots covered by the helmet makes me melancholy even three and half decades later. The altar in the bunker, less then 30 feet away from Sergeant Hawco's sacrifice, was where fellow soldiers would say goodbye in a field memorial attended by an Army Chaplain. The space was only large enough for maybe twenty troops, which would mean that even those who could get free of their combat duties would find it crowded. I deferred to his infantry comrades and did not attend.

I never heard a bad word or negative thing about Sergeant Hawco, who by time he was 21 years old had become an Army Sergeant, led men into combat, and selflessly gave his life in an attempt to save others. May God protect this forever young trooper.

R. David Thomas
Captain, U. S. Army
San Jose, California

Editor's Notes

Mr. Thomas' text above is exerpted from a longer version which includes information on Alpha 3/21's activities during the weeks leading up to Sergent Hawco's death. The complete paper is available by clicking here.

The murdered soldier was Corporal Robert D. Kramer of Cincinnati, Ohio.

A Note from The Virtual Wall

Landing Zone CENTER was located on Hill 348 in Quang Tin Province about 14 kilometers east of Hiep Duc. On 26 Jan 1970 the Hill 348 ridgeline was partially covered by cloud. The cloud cover forced an OH-6A light helicopter (tail number 68-17246, pilot 1LT P. M. Hadfield, HHC, 196th Inf Bde) into an unusual landing approach. On final Hadfield realized he had an excessive sink rate and added power but was unable to avoid a crash landing. The aircraft hit in a tail-low attitude, severing the drive shaft but not breaking off the tail assembly, and came to rest off the side of the landing pad. The helicopter's sprung skids placed the fuselage closer to the ground than usual and the broken drive shaft permitted the rotor blades to windmill.

Three men on the ground immediately made for the helicopter in order to assist the crewmen. Sergeant Richard Hawco was struck and killed by the helicopter's still-rotating blades as he approached the aircraft to rescue the crew.

These two photographs, taken and provided by David Thomas, show the position of the OH-6 after it came to rest off the landing pad and the milk-crate walkway leading to the pad.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
his daughter,
1 Dec 2004

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Last updated 01/01/2005