One out of every ten Americans who served in Vietnam became a casualty. As a result, 58,169 were killed and 304,000 wounded out of 2.29 million who served. Although the percent of dead is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were 300% higher than in World War II. 75,000 Vietnam Veterans are severely disabled.
MEDEVAC helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions, airlifting 900,000 patients (nearly one-half were Americans). The average lapse between being wounded and reaching a hospital was less than one hour, and as a result, less than one percent of those wounded died of their wounds within the first 24 hours.
The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without helicopters, it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords of 1962 would secure the border).
Army Huey’s totaled 9,713,762 flight hours in Vietnam between October 1966 and the end of American involvement in early 1973. Cobra helicopters totaled 1,110,716 flight hours in Vietnam. This is also the main reason that soldiers in Vietnam saw more action than those soldiers of preceding wars. Large groups of soldiers could be air-lifted into a battle and then be withdrawn after a few hours and flown to another area to reinforce other units or to engage the enemy again in a different portion of the country.
The chart below is not all inclusive but includes most of the helicopter units that served during the Vietnam War. Where it is known, I’ve indicated their unit name / call sign, and a sample of nose art or unit patch for those units. I did post another article on this website a while ago that includes hundreds of photos of nose art used by these crews in-county. I’ll leave a link at the end of this article in the event you want to check it out.
If I’ve erred on the chart below, please let me know so I can make corrections. Also, I invite you to get back to me on any missing units, call signs or duplicates. I am aware that many of the units mentioned herein had multiple call signs and nose art – I’m just limited to the available space I can’t show them all in this format..
Approximately 12,000 helicopters saw action in Vietnam (All services) and it’s estimated that 40,000 pilots served in the war. Those red figures in the chart below represent the combined total of all other helicopters / crews outside of the Huey category; I was unable to locate individual statistics for each line item for that group. The numbers in the destroyed column are actual numbers which are verified by tail numbers.
It should also be pointed out that 532 American passengers were killed in downed aircraft and are not included in any of the KIA totals.
|Model||# Served||# Destroyed||Pilots Lost||Crew Lost|
|All UH-1 Huey Slicks/guns||7,013||3,305||1,074||1,103|
|All AH-1G Cobras||⇑||272||⇑||⇑|
|CH-3 Jolly Green’s||⇑||14||⇑||⇑|
|CH-46 / 47 Chinook||⇑||284||⇑||⇑|
|CH-53 Sea Stallions||⇑||23||⇑||⇑|
|CH-54 Flying Crane||5000||9||1128||1601|
|HH-37 Heavy lift transport||⇓||2||⇓||⇓|
|HH-3 Jolly Green Giant||⇓||21||⇓||⇓|
|HH-43 Huskie Rescue||⇓||13||⇓||⇓|
|HH-53 Super Jolly Green||⇓||9||⇓||⇓|
|OH-13/23 Light Observation||⇓||240||⇓||⇓|
|OH-6 LOH Scout||⇓||842||⇓||⇓|
|OH-58A Armed Scout||⇓||45||⇓||⇓|
|Misc Sioux / Sikorsky SH-3/34||⇓||14||⇓||⇓|
It’s believed that the Huey and Cobra have more combat flight time than any other aircraft in the history of warfare assuming you count actual hostile fire exposure versus battle area exposure. As an example, heavy bombers during World War II most often flew missions lasting many hours with only 10 to 20 minutes of that time exposed to hostile fire. Helicopters in Vietnam were always exposed to hostile fire even in their base camps.
The following short video offers an animation presentation that shows crash sites during the war on a map of Southeast Asia. It’s interesting to note that only three major areas of the country show heavy concentrations in additions to the many locations in Cambodia and Laos.
The following article was published in the San Diego Union Tribune by John Wilkens on January 8, 2017 about the last pilots to die in Vietnam:
History remembers them as the last two American pilots to die in Vietnam, killed when their Marine Corps helicopter went into the South China Sea during the frantic evacuation of Saigon on April 29, 1975. Their bodies were never recovered
“I’ve thought about it every day for 41 years,” said Steve Wills, who was on the helicopter as crew chief and survived the crash. “I think it would be a healing thing for the whole nation.”
One of the aviators was Capt. William Nystul, who grew up in Coronado. The oldest of four sons, he graduated from Coronado High and San Diego State. He was 29 when he died, married with a young son. His co-pilot, 1st Lt. Michael Shea, from El Paso, Texas, was 25.
YT-14 was on search and rescue duty off the carrier Hancock that day, ready to swoop in if other helicopters crashed and the crews needed to be pulled from the water. It took off at 6 a.m. for what would turn out to be about 17 hours of flying, interrupted a half-dozen times to land on the carrier to refuel.
About 1 p.m., Nystul and Shea came on board to relieve the original pilots. Nystul, who had been teaching at a fixed-wing flight school in Pensacola, was sent back to Vietnam for his second tour after about 20 hours of re-training in the CH-46. Shea, a CH-53 pilot, had about 25 hours of training in the 46 before he was deployed.
Wills, the crew chief and right gunner, and Richard Scott, the mechanic and left gunner, were the other crew members. It was a busy day. They transported refugees from one ship to another. They rescued a Vietnamese man who crashed his small plane in the water.
“We were dodging aircraft left and right,” Wills said in a phone interview from his home in Kalispell, Mont. “The helicopter flew good that day.”
At about 11 p.m., YT-14 was running low on fuel and needed to land on the Hancock. But there wasn’t room. Nystul got waved off twice. Finally cleared to come in, he had to make a hard right turn away from the carrier to avoid being hit by a plane arriving from behind.
“Missed us by less than 100 feet,” Wills said.
He remembers the pilot telling the crew, “Somebody is going to die up here tonight.”
Into the water
Bruce Collison was a medic that night on board the Hancock. Now living in Sarasota, Fla., he recalls being on the flight deck, transfixed by the red, blinking anti-collision light of a helicopter overhead: YT-14.
“It continued circling the length of the ship, running out of fuel, looking for a place to land, losing altitude with every pass,” he said. “I’m convinced that if they had tried to land, with all the other helicopters there, some of them refueling, there would have been a total conflagration and a lot of people would have been killed. So they took it into the water instead.”
Others have surmised that the pilots got disoriented; it was a pitch-black night, no visible moon, impossible to see the horizon. The last thing Wills remembers hearing over his headset was a voice saying: “Pick it up! Pick it up! Pick it up!” Then darkness.
He regained consciousness underwater and made it to the surface. His left leg was fractured and his right hip dislocated. His helmet had been torn off. He fired two pen flares, then activated his rescue strobe. Scott was nearby and turned on his strobe, too.
On the Hancock, Collison remembers seeing the two strobes and thinking, “Great, there are survivors!” Then it dawned on him: “There should be four strobes.”
Another CH-46 lifted off the carrier, and to those on the flight deck, it looked as if it might disappear, too. Its landing lights went under water. Moments later, the engines roared and it lifted into the air and back toward the ship, carrying the engines roared and it lifted into the air and back toward the ship, carrying the two survivors.
The next day, on board the Hancock, they held a traditional burial at sea for the pilots. There were no bodies, so they put mock corpses under the American flags, and slid those into the ocean.
“We were numb like zombies,” Collison said. “We’d spent all day saving people and then we lost two Marines. Nobody wanted to be the last guy to die in Vietnam, and then it happened to two guys that we knew. The whole thing felt surreal.”
It’s part of military lore that no man is left behind, but the evacuation task force had orders to move on. Saigon had fallen to the Viet Cong.
A sobering video showing the aftereffects of helicopter ccrashes…many after the recovery:
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Click on this link to read the entire story written above: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/military/sdut-vietnam-helicopter-crash-2016may28-story.html
Link for nose art: http://wp.me/pRiEw-1P4
Information for this article was obtained from Wikipedia, The Military Channel, The History Channel, https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty, and Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. (Visit the VHPA museum in the near future at http://www.vhpa.org )
I want to personally thank the 40,000 pilots and crews for being there when called. You are all held in the highest regard by us grunts and others who were in harm’s way. Thank you for your service and Welcome Back to those who made it home. Side note: Every time a Chinook or Blackhawk passes overhead from nearby Selfridge National Guard Base, I still find myself looking into the sky and watching it cross over until it’s gone…and then sometime when I’m outside, I hold my cane in both hands overhead in tribute to those magnificent men in their flying machines – and was then thankful that they didn’t land in my backyard.
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