In September 1970, one of the missions
for the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry, 198th Infantry
Brigade, Americal Division, was to secure the the area around Hill 43 (BS 685 917) ten miles
south of Chu Lai, Vietnam. The 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing) used their D7
bulldozer tractors in that area to knock down the hedgerows and bury the bunkers and “spider
holes” that provided cover for the enemy. When these land clearing operations began, the
bulldozers' large blades frequently struck booby-trap artillery shells that the enemy had
put there to slow the progress of the work. Vietnamese civilians had been removed from the
area to expedite the progress of land clearing and to prevent them from supplying the Viet Cong.
On 13 September 1970, B Co, 1st Bn 6th Inf,
replaced D Co, 1st Bn 6th Inf, in carrying out
the security mission for the engineers. Rather than merely providing local security for them
from behind the bulldozers and waiting for the enemy to put mines and booby traps in the area
about to be cleared, the soldiers were deployed in multiple day and night ambush positions
that were intended to exclude the Viet Cong from the area.
The 2nd Platoon operated in the areas to the
northeast of Hill 43, [Map] while the 1st
Platoons participated in several “Eagle Flight” helicopter combat assaults from Hill 43 into suspected
enemy locations. [Photos] The soldiers would land on the LZ, quickly sweep the surrounding
area, and then return for pickup. From 1445 to 1715 hours, the 1st Platoon hit landing zones at
BS 653 964 and BS 693 954, while 3rd Platoon hit landing zones at BS 706 908 and BS 727 869.
Thereafter the 1st Platoon began patrolling approximately one kilometer to the northwest of Hill 43,
while the 3rd Platoon operated in the area three kilometers to the southeast.
The 3rd Platoon consisted of approximately
twenty soldiers under the control of the platoon leader,
1LT Henry A. Schutz, and platoon sergeant, SGT Dennis Lynn. At 0813 hr.. on 14 September 1970,
as they were moving on a daylight patrol, the point man for the platoon engaged two VC soldiers at 50
meters with semi-automatic rifle fire at BS 710 908 and captured one medical pack. At 1325 hr., the
platoon fired at six VC soldiers 75 meters away at BS 708 908 and then called in artillery fire in support
with unknown results. At 1400 hr., the point man fired at six VC, observed three others and captured
the ponchos and packs that the enemy dropped as they fled. By 2035 hr., the 3rd Platoon was situated
in two night ambush positions at BS 719 918 and BS 722 911.
On 15 September 1970, the two elements of the
3rd platoon joined and moved to BS 714 897 for
their daylight patrol. At approximately 0900 hr., they were concealed in the vegetation on the east
side of small river at BS 718 918. 1LT Schutz reported that his point man heard several voices
speaking Vietnamese in low tones from the thick vegetation on the west side of a river that was about
20 meters wide and five to ten feet deep. The B Co. Commander, 1LT Johnston, was above them in a
OH-6A Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) from D Trp., 123 Avn. Bn. piloted by WO1 Harold
Woods. After discussing the situation with 1LT Schutz over the radio, 1LT Johnston ordered the pilot
to make a high speed pass by flying just above the treetops over the suspected enemy location.
1LT Johnston determined that no Vietnamese civilians remained in the area and ordered the platoon to
conduct a reconnaissance by fire. The soldiers on the ground opened fire and reported hearing screams,
yells, and the sounds of people crashing through the underbrush. 1LT Johnston then ordered the 3rd
Platoon to move across the river at once. 1LT Schutz attempted to do so, and jumped into the water,
but it was over his head.
1LT Schutz left an RTO and several soldier with an M-60 machine gun to keep the enemy location under
observation and, if needed, automatic weapons fire. The platoon moved around the right flank of the
enemy position and crossed the stream near the beach. [The RTO, SP4 Ray Tyndall took this photo of
his view of the river as he waited for the rest of the platoon to move into position.]
As the aircraft orbited the location, WO1 Woods informed 1LT Johnston that he was running low
on fuel and would have to return to Chu Lai. By this time, most of the 3rd Platoon had crossed over
to the west side of the stream. As the aircraft touched down next to the platoon, 1LT Johnston and an
artillery forward observer, 2LT Loren Odne, jumped to the ground and joined the other soldiers.
1LT Schutz was on the left flank of the platoon
in the vegetation, 1LT Johnston was in the middle of
the unit close to where the LOH had landed and the platoon sergeant, SGT Dennis Lynn, was on the
right flank. Much like a door on a hinge, the platoon swung around and moved on line into the thick
vegetation that concealed the enemy positions.
1LT Johnston entered the tree line and stepped
over a grenade booby-trap tripwire. At the same
instant, he noticed a severely wounded Viet Cong female soldier, wearing a full set of fatigues and armed
with an AK-47 rifle, who was lying about thirty feet to his left front. 1LT Schutz reported that on the
left flank they had found a dead Viet Cong soldier clad in a fatigue uniform and armed with an AK-47.
SGT Lynn reported that his soldiers on the right flank had found several trails of dripping blood leading
southward into the underbrush. A medivac flight for the wounded Viet Cong soldier was completed
at 1010 hr., even though the 3rd Platoon medic thought she was too badly wounded to survive.
SGT Albert Sierra and his squad set up a blocking
position across the river bank about 300
meters to the west to prevent the enemy from escaping. While the unit was moving through the under-
brush searching for the enemy, WO1 Woods flew to Chu Lai, refueled, and grabbed bandoleers of
ammunition for this M16. He returned to the scene of the action, and 2LT Odne climbed into the right
rear seat while 1LT Johnston was seated in the left front. He informed the pilot of what had transpired,
and the aircraft started hovering over the trees following the course of the river.
As the aircraft flew slowly just above the
tree tops where the stream curved westward, suddenly
1LT Johnston spotted mud being kicked up in the shallow water by several persons who were
concealed by the underbrush about 150 yards ahead of the soldiers below. He immediately opened
fire with his M-16 rifle from the left door of the aircraft. As his soldiers approached from the east,
1LT Schutz could see the rounds slamming into the water. 1LT Johnston informed SGT Sierra that
the enemy were moving in the water toward the blocking force position.
As the aircraft flew directly over the location
where the Viet Cong were thought to be hiding, 1LT
Johnston heard a loud “pop, pop, pop” from underneath and behind the aircraft. The aircraft suddenly
fishtailed, started shaking violently, and began trailing billowing clouds of blue and dark gray smoke.
As the pilot banked the aircraft and made a steep turn to the right toward the north side of the river,
the engine sputtered, whined, and then stopped.. 2LT Odne noted that “suddenly the bottom seemed
to fall out of the aircraft and we lost altitude very fast.” WO1 Woods initiated auto rotation, but the
aircraft barely slowed. The helicopter crashed into the water on the river bank about 50 meters from
where SGT Sierra was located with his blocking force. Only fifteen to twenty seconds had transpired
since the first sign of serious trouble.
2LT Odne got out of the aircraft as fast as
he could, fell on the bank and just laid there, knowing
that he had a severely injured back. 1LT Johnston, who thought that the aircraft might burn,
unsnapped his seat belt and tumbled into the water, unable to move. WO1 Woods had the presence
of mind to shut down the aircraft after impact. He fired his M-16 over the bushes and trees on the
right side of the wreckage to slow down the Viet Cong who might be headed their way along the
The first person to the crash scene was SGT Sierra.
He stepped into the water, grasped the front
of 1LT Johnston’s equipment harness, pulled him from the water like a limp doll, and laid him on the
ground. While they waited on the medivac aircraft for the pilot and injured officers, 1LT Schutz
placed his soldiers in defensive positions around the downed aircraft and along the bank. At 1035 hr.,
Dust Off 86 evacuated the three officers who had to be carried and assisted to the aircraft.
Shortly after the medical evacuation aircraft
departed, the 1st Bn 6th Inf Commanding Officer,
LTC Fred F. Woerner, and the Battalion S-3, arrived on the scene. Satisfied with the situation on
the ground, they departed. The extraction of the downed OH-6A was completed at 1215 hr..
[Photos of the damaged aircraft ]
At 1230 hours, a complete report of the weapons
and equipment captured was reported to
the 1st Bn 6th Inf TOC:
1 AK-47 Rifle SN 06836--K51 MR with the inscription “Phan
1 SKS Rifle SN 42885 and ammunition
1 SKS Rifle SN 49883
1 M-16 SN 1539989 and three magazines of ammunition
1 M-16 SN 628211
Trip wires for booby traps and grenades
5 or 6 Blue uniforms
Numerous other items of clothing
After the Battalion Commander had departed
and the extraction of the downed aircraft
was complete, the soldiers got on line along the stream bank. They fired into the underbrush and
shallow water to the east of where the downed aircraft had been located. A short time later, as
they were wading abreast through the vegetation, SGT Sierra heard a cough just to their right.
They fired in that direction and swept the area. As 1LT Schutz was standing in the water, he
lowered his weapon to his side. The barrel of his M-16 hit the head of a Viet Cong soldier who
was holding his breath underwater. That soldier, who was slightly wounded in the abdomen, was
holding another Viet Cong who was shot through both legs. 1LT Schutz recalled the cold stare
and look of hatred that characterized a “hard core” Viet Cong soldier. The two wounded Viet
Cong soldiers captured in action were flown to the 91st Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai by
Dust Off 86.
Shortly thereafter, the platoon began moving back across the mouth of the stream to where they had
dropped their rucksacks before flanking the enemy. Approximately three hours later, at 1720 hours,
the 3rd Platoon of B Co. was back at Hill 43 to provide defensive forces for that position.
[Note: It was later determined that because of a bearing failure, the aircraft engine assemblies
seized. In spite of the pilot's efforts, the aircraft was in “free fall” from a height of fifty or sixty
feet. The vertical crash force component was calculated at about 25 G’s--approaching the upper
limit for human survival.
WO1 Woods injuries were the most serious.
He had a fractured vertebra with spinal cord
compression. He he was paralyzed from the waist down. Both 1LT Johnston and 2LT Odne
suffered back injuries and were placed in the same ward at the 91st Evacuation Hospital at the
Americal base camp at Chu Lai. That night when the base came under a rocket attack, the nurses
covered the men with flack jackets to protect them from shrapnel fragments. Later all three men
were flown as litter patients to the 249th General Hospital in Japan. Eventually 2LT Odne and
WO1 Woods were medically evacuated to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
WO1 Woods was from Johnson City, Texas, and
his father worked at President Lyndon
Johnson's ranch on the Perdanales River. When the President learned that WO1 Woods was
in the Army hospital at San Antonio, Texas, he ordered the crew of the presidential helicopter to
fly the parents to the site. This gracious gesture was repeated several times without publicity.
When the doctors told WO1 Woods that he would never walk again, he said "Just let me out
of here and I'll show you." Eventually, he was able to walk with braces and crutches. After a
“miraculous” recovery, he was able to work as a cowboy near Johnson City, Texas. He died
of cancer in 1997.
After sixty days of extensive physical
therapy, 1LT Johnston left Japan and returned to serve
in Viet Nam with the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry. 2LT Odne returned to duty at Fort Ord,
California, three months after the crash. In 1999, they were reunited for the first time since they
were hospitalized in Japan 29 years before.]
Copyright 2000 by Wayne Johnston (B/1-6 Inf 1970). This story was based
on the 1st Bn
6th Inf S2/S3/S5 Journal and crash investigation records now located at the National Archives II,
and interviews with Henry Schutz, Loren Odne, Dennis Linn, Ray Tyndall, and relatives and friends
of Harold Woods.
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