Thomas Edger Mortice, III
A Note from The Virtual Wall
On 12 Aug 1968 the 191st Assault Helicopter Company was conducting operations in support of the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division. After a rather full day of flying four aircraft were released to return to Bear Cat. The VHPA database contains the following description of what occurred.
"The flight picked up passengers that were returning to Bear Cat and White 5 [UH-1D 66-00820] loaded six passengers, then the flight departed for Bear Cat at approximately 1650 hours. The flight was at 1500 feet in a diamond formation with White 5 in the slot. Approximately 10 minutes out of Dong Tam White 5 transmitted, "White 5 going down, tail rotor failure." The aircraft was observed to descend in a relatively level attitude with the main rotor turning very slowly. The number two aircraft in the formation, flown by aircraft commander CW2 Wiegman, broke from the formation and followed the aircraft down. The aircraft struck the ground in a slightly nose low attitude in a rice paddy with apparently very little forward motion. The aircraft commander and the pilot were pinned in the wreckage by the instrument panel. The passenger compartment was on fire. An attempt was made to extract the personnel from the burning wreckage and one passenger was removed but was apparently killed upon impact."
The ten men who died in the crash were:
As noted, only one body could be removed from the wreckage before the fire made further rescue efforts impossible - that was SFC Merlin H. Bergan. The remains of the other nine men were recovered the following day, 13 Aug, and seven of the Americans were identified within a reasonable period - but SSG Lonnie Tullier's body could not be positively identified. He was carried as Missing in Action until 30 April 1973, when a positive identification could be made.
Note: SGT Thomas Edger Mortice received 2 Bronze Stars and 3 Purple Hearts per his family. On his cemetery marker below, it only shows two Purple Hearts.
Part of an article in The Des Moines Register on Sunday, March 9, 1969 on Page 17 has a photo and the rest of an article from page one, that has not been located:
(Photo Caption): A Case of Army Snafu - Thomas E. Mortice, II, of 3111 Bowdoin St., DCS Moines, displays a letter received recently addressed to his late son, Thomas III, who was killed in action in Vietnam last Aug. 12. The letter mistakenly reported that the younger Mortice was absent without leave from the Army. In the background are medals awarded to Specialist Mortice.
. . . out right away," Mortice said. "There was a phone number on the letter and I called it collect--they wouldn't accept the charge so I had to pay."Different Reaction
Mrs. Mortice had a different reaction: "I felt like just letting the Army find out for itself about the mistake." In February---about two weeks after the A.W.O.L. letter and the phone call---the Mortices received ard apology. "Please accept my personal apology and my assurance that we honor the memory of your gallant son, a Major General at Fort Benning wrote.
The Mortices have all the letters and medals and pictures of Tom, 24, to remember their son. For Tom's father, a Navy veteran of World War II and a Des Moines fireman, it's not enough. Mortice, 48, thinks that his son was treated badly by the Army, and he hopes to change things so that others may be treated better.
Mortice said that he plans to write Iowa's U.S. senators - - Harold Hughes and Jack Miller - - to urge changes in the present draft system and in the Army. Better Examination "To begin with," Mortice says, "I think there should be a much better and more extensive physical examination before these boys are inducted. They take care of the whole thing in less than a half-day now."
Mortice doesn't think that his son would have been drafted had he been given a thorough physical. He suffered from polio in 1952, was in a serious head-on auto crash in 1961, stood about 5 feet, 2 inches tall and had weak eyes. He was drafted in May, 1967, with no question about his physical qualifications, Mortice said.
"I wanted Tom to appeal, but he wouldn't," Mortice said. "He just wanted to get his service over with. He'd seen my war record, and he didn't want to 1 appeal - - I wish I'd never shown him my record." In December, 1967, Tom suffered his first wounds in Vietnam - - he was hit with mortar fire. He lost his glasses at the time and it took the Army 54 days to get him a new pair. During that period he was wounded twice again. He suffered severe headaches from eyestrain, his father said.
Sent to Headquarters, Tom was taken out of combat after receiving three wounds and sent to work at headquarters. Mortice said that he thinks Tom should have been shipped out of Vietnam after three wounds. He's still not sure just what Tom's medical history was: "I've asked the Army about it and the Red Cross was supposed to send us the full record, but it never came." .
The Mortices aren't even sure how Tom died, the commanding officer mentioned a "troop movement" Tom was on when his helicopter crashed after a "suspected mechanical failure." The Mortices wrote to inquire what this meant and a lieutenant who knew Tom wrote back to say that the "troop movement" is the military's way of saying that Tom was on his way out of Vietnam for rest and recuperation - - a short vacation.
"We don't know whether something was wrong with the helicopter, or if it was shot down," Mrs. Mortice said. "We have three purple hearts now, but they said they'd send another for Tom's death. I guess that means he was shot down, but I don't know."
Mortice believes that the Army should be required to take more care in keeping its records so that other parents won't experience the same uncertainties and indignities that the Mortices have.
Thomas was survived by his parents Dorothy A and Thomas Edger Mortice II, of Bowdoin Steet, Des Moines; two sisters, Cherie and Diana (Coulthard), and brother Timothy, all of Des Moines.
Thomas Mortice III is buried with his parents and grandparents, in Glendale Cemetery, Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa.
- - - The Virtual Wall, September 10, 2016
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