A Note from The Virtual Wall
The III MAF Daily Summary for 03 June 1969 starts with the following entry:
The entry reports the loss of a Light Observation Helicopter ("LOH") about 10 kilometers west-southwest of Binh Son with the loss of three crewmen ... but there's more to it than that.
The DoD Casualty and Vietnam Helicopter Pilots' Association databases show only two helicopter-related deaths in Quang Ngai Province on 03 June, both from OH-6A tail number 67-16049 assigned to F Troop, 8th Cavalry:
The question immediately arises - Who was the third crewman? or were there only two men aboard the LOH?
- CPT Richard W. Watson of Goldsboro, NC, pilot, and
- PFC Paul W. Miller of San Diego, CA, crew chief.
On 22 January 2008 the VHPA advised that "We just recently got an answer to this puzzle..." and provided the following information from the man who led the rescue team inserted in response to the LOH shoot-down:
Watson was the LOH pilot and Miller the Crew Chief. I lost Italiano (my machine gunner) and Sandman (the assistant gunner). I don't think they got but a couple steps once off the bird before they were cut down. I was the first off the bird, the gunship following us in (I think was piloted by Wiggins) fired his 40mm around the area as I jumped off and ran to the LOH crew; it was surreal, cannon exploding all around me, but that kept the NVA heads down and that's what saved me. I checked out Watson & Miller, they were close together, burnt and obviously dead. I then saw a third man, a big fellow, and went over to him. It looked like he was wounded in the neck and maybe the stomach. He was laying on his belly face down, arms outstretched. I thought he was dead but then he moved his hand, clinching his fist, I think making a sign that he was alive but too afraid to move or get shot. The NVA had been taking target practice with him. Then I received fire from the bushes and emptied my magazine into the bushes. While I was changing magazines I was hit in the left side (I presume by an AK-47) that bowled me over. It was like a sledgehammer hit me (at the hospital the opening was 8 inches long but fortunately did not penetrate the stomach). I knew I was too exposed and could not drag the wounded man back to the ditch where the rest of the team had gathered (the C&C pilot had to leave us, he was shot in the foot and was afraid his bird would be shot down on top of my men in the ditch so he told his peter pilot to get out of there. I met the pilot in the hospital in Japan).
I ran back to the ditch zigzagging and firing behind me and yelling at my men to cover me, hoping that would take the fire off the guy laying there. If I tried to drag him to the ditch, I would have been too slow and we both would have been killed (although my Silver Star citation says I dragged him to the ditch, I did not). Just before I got to the ditch I remember thinking, "Ha Ha you bastards, I made it!" Just then at the edge of the ditch I was hit in the lower right leg by another AK-round, the bullet coming through the left and out the right, smashing the tibia and fibula. I tumbled into the ditch.
Sgt Scherf crawled to my position and I told him to take a boot lace off one boot and wrap the legs together as my wounded leg was throbbing with bones sticking out and it hurt like hell. He did that which helped stabilize the bad leg; he looked at me and assured me he would get us out of that mess, but his head was apparently too high up, just above the lip of the ditch and he caught a round in the head, put his hand to his head like he had a headache, and slowly lowered his head on my feet and died. That left me, my other squad leader, Randy Backovich and my RTO. They were at the other end of the ditch about 8 feet away; at that time aircraft were dropping 500 pound bombs all over the place.
Apparently Division had radio intercepts of a radio frequency coming from our area that only a regiment or higher would have that kind of radio. We were never told of that Intel before our mission on the Tra Bong Road, which was only about 500 meters away. By now the NVA were evading, some tracks finally came in from the road and picked us up. I was dusted off by the road along with the 5 dead. I don't remember seeing the other wounded man on the dustoff but he must have been there. I just kept staring at my men, thinking I could have done something different.
After surgery one of the orderlies pointed to a guy across from me and said he was brought in with me. He was tall and muscular and had swabbing wrapped around his neck and, I think, his stomach. He looked like a tall Scandinavian, very handsome. He was already trying to sit up although in much pain. I admired the guy, he had real guts. Sure would like to locate him some day. I'm sure he was from the Aero Platoon with Blue Ghost [F Troop, 8th Cav]. It all seems like yesterday.
When I was over checking the downed crew, Backovich, my other squad leader had his eye on that M-60 that was lying out in the open by Italiano and Sandman and jumped out of the ditch to get it. When he reached it an NVA was coming out of the bush with the same idea in mind; Backovich ripped him with his M-16 and grabbed the M60 and brought it back to the ditch.
The RTO was a guy by the name of Zimmerman, who was a dissertation shy of getting his PhD in Chemistry when he was drafted. I remember asking him earlier "which professor did you piss off?" I finally located him last year; he is living in Texas and he's doing what he always wanted to do: consulting.
D. W. Taylor
Mr. Taylor's reaction force was from C Company, 5th Bn, 46th Infantry, and the three men who died trying to rescue the LOH crew were
The LOH's third crewman apparently survived his injuries.
- SGT Michael G. Scherf, Golden, CO;
- SP4 Harry R. Italiano, Suitland, MD; and
- CPL Mitchell H. Sandman, Syosset, NY.