Photo above from 7/15/66 shows the crash that killed two men from the Fulton/Montgomery County area of upstate New York just west of Albany, SGT Robert R. Telfer (Fonda, NY) and CPL Orsen H. Case (Johnstown, NY). Thanks to Gus Kappler for the info.
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 Large groups of soldiers could be air-lifted into a battle and then be withdrawn after a few hours and flown to another area to reinforce other units or to engage the enemy again in a different portion of the country.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..
CIVILIAN HELICOPTER UNITS
UNIT CALL SIGN
U.S. ARMY HELICOPTER UNITS
B Co. 123rd Avn. Bn.
D Troop 1/1 Cav.
First Cavalry Division
1st Brigade – 1st Cav Div (Airmobile)
1st Aviation Detachment 1st CAV
First Infantry Division
Bulldogs, Rebel Guns, Longhorns, Danger Hawks
1st Infantry Division 1/4th Cav
1st Infantry Division A – C Troop 1/4th – Armored Cav Squadron / Troop
1st Infantry Division D Troop 16th Cav
Fourth Infantry Division Aviation – The Ivy Division
A Company 158th Combat Aviation Battalion 101st Airborne Division
B Company 158th Combat Aviation Battalion 101st Airborne Division
C Company 158th Combat Aviation Battalion 101st Airborne Division
B Company 159th Combat Aviation Battalion 101st Airborne Division
A Company 227th Aviation 1st Cav Div
B Company 227th Aviation 1st Cav Div
The Good Deal Company
C Company 227th AHB 1st Cav 1966-67
Ghost Riders / Snakes
D Company 227th AHB 1st Cav
229th Assault Helicopter Battalion
A Company 229t AHC
B Company 229th AHC
D Company 229th Aviation 1st Cav Div
D Troop 1st Squadron 10th Cav
D Troop 1st Squadron 1st Air Cav 101st Airborne
D Troop (AIR) 1st Squadron 4th Cav 1st Infantry
D Troop (AIR) 3rd Squadron 4th Cav 25th Inf Div and F Troop (AIR) 4th Cav
D Troop 3/5th Cav
Spooks / Raven / Long Knives
E Troop 82nd Artillery 1st Cav Div
F Trp 8th Combat
HHC 10th Combat Aviation Battalion
A/377 ARTY 101 ABN
2/20 ARA 1 CAV & F/79 CAV & 4/77 ARA & E82 (All ARA and AFA units)
8th Transportation Company
11th Armored Cav Regiment Aviation
12th Combat Aviation Group
14th Transportation Battalion (AM&S) (GS)
15th Medical Battalion
17th Assault Helicopter Company
Kingsman & Lancers
18th Corps Aviation Company (patches & info supplied by Lester Scates)
By mid-1971 most all U.S. military combat forces (including aviation assets) either had or were in the process of departing Vietnam and were transferred their combat responsibilities and equipment to the ARVN forces. This was especially true in the Mekong Delta (IV Corps) where no U.S. ground forces remain. However, there still remained a requirement for ongoing non-combat aviation support to ARVN military units, regional/provincial militia (Ruff-Puffs), MACV advisers, VIP transportation and non-combat classified missions. On 1 June 1971 the 18 th Corps Aviation Company was formed at Can Tho Army Airfield in IV Corps, Republic of South Vietnam.
When aviation units deactivated, portions of their assets and personnel were transferred to the 18 th CAC. Since the CAC was still evolving, the first couple of months was organized chaos. When the dust settled, aviation wise, the CAC wound up with four flight platoons and one VIP flight detachment. There were 30 UH-1H Hueys divided into two flight platoons of 10 aircraft each, one VIP detachment of 8 Hueys, one commanders aircraft and one maintenance aircraft. The Huey’s callsign was “Green Delta”. The maintenance aircraft callsign was “Short Shaft”. There was a platoon of 12 OH-58 Kiowas, call sign “Bartenders” and a heavy-lift platoon of 12 CH-47C Chinooks, call sign “Hillclimbers”. There were two maintenance platoons, one for single rotor aircraft (UH-1’s and OH-58’s) and one for the CH-47’s, each with their own hanger and maintenance personnel. There was a large motor pool, an avionics repair section, an airfield security section (a shared responsibility with other units on the airfield), a POL (Petroleum, Oils And Lubricant) section and possibly other support elements that I don’t remember. All told there were over 500 officers and enlisted assigned to the 18 th CAC. The first commander of this massive organization was Major Douglas Thorpe.
On 6 June 1972 there was a change-of-command. Major Jerry Childers became he new commander and remained until the unit stand-down on 13 March 1973. At 0800 hrs. 28 January 1973 the long-awaited cease fire became effective. Therefore, the war was officially over. However, someone forgot to tell our former enemies, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the local Viet Cong (VC). At 0945 hrs. a pilot, WO1 Anthony Del Pazzo, from the 18 th CAC, flying a marked Joint Military Command (JMC) UH-1 on approach to Can Tho Army Airfield, was killed when the aircraft was hit by small arms fire. WO1 Pazzo was the last Army pilot killed in Vietnam. On 16 February 1973 a CH-47 from the 18 th CAC, also marked as a JMC aircraft, on a supply mission for the peacekeeping forces had just delivered building materials to a joint NVA/VC compound near Song Be in Binh Long Province – north-west of Saigon. On departure, at about 300 feet AGL, the aircraft was strafed by heavy small arms fire, setting the aircraft of fire. The aircraft crash landed in flames. Flight Engineer SP5 James L Scoggins was severely burned in the crash and died 7 days later from complications relating to his injuries. SP5 Scoggins was the last Army aircrewman to die in Vietnam before the final combat troop withdrawal which occurred on 28 March 1973.
The 18 th Corps Aviation Company was to be short-lived. On 27 February 1973 the 18 th CAC received orders to stand-down and prepare to transfer all assets to the VNAF. In the final days, some of the personnel were transferred to other units remaining in country and many were rotated back to the states. A skeleton crew remained to facilitate the transfer. The draw-down was completed on 13 March 1973. All of the assets were left in place: aircraft, motor pool, weapons, tools and shop equipment – everything, including pilot and crew flight helmets. The remaining personnel moved off base to facilities in Can Tho. On 14 March 1973 the VNAF took over the facility. The colors (unit flag) for the 18 th CAC were folded and transferred to Ft. Bragg, NC.
18th CAC Aircraft Recovery Team
Green Delta Typical Flight Platoon
UH-1 Maintenance Platoon
UH-1 Flight VIP Platoon
25th Combat Assault Company
25th Aviation Battalion
Little Bears and Diamondheads
31st Transportation (CH-34) Company and 138th Transportation Detachment
48th Assault Helicopter Company
Bluestars and Jokers
52nd and 119th Camp Holloway
52nd Combat Aviation +Battalion
57th Assault Helicopter Company
Gladiators and Cougar
57th Medical Company
59th Combat Assault Company
60th Assault Helicopter Company
61st Assault Helicopter Company
Lucky Stars and Star Blazers
62nd Corps Aviation Company
62nd Assault Helicopter Company
68th Assault Helicopter Company
Top Tigers, Mustangs & Raiders
71st Assault Helicopter Company
Rattler and Firebirds
82nd Medical Detachment
92nd Assault Helicopter Company
Stallions and Sidekicks
101st Airborne Division Association
D Co, 158 Avn Bn (Cobras) Redskins A Co, 101st Avn Bn (Huey’s) Comancheros A Btry 377 Arty (Huey and LOH) Gunner A Btry 4/77 ARA (Cobras) Dragons B Btry 4/77 ARA (Cobras) Toros C Btry 4/77 ARA (Cobras) Griffins 326 Med Bn (Huey’s) Eagle Dustoff 1st Bde Hdqtrs (LOH and Huey) Deadbone 2nd Bde Hdqtrs (LOH and Huey) Brandy 3rd Bde Hdqtrs (LOH and Huey) Thunder 163 Avn Co. (LOH and Huey) Roadrunner A Co, 159th Avn Bn (Chinooks) Pachyderms C Co., 159th Avn Bn (Chinooks) Playtex 478 Avn Co (Cranes CH-54) Hurricanes
165-HMM (Helicopters, Marine Medium (Squadron)-165)
170th Assault Helicopter Company
Bikinis and Buccaneers
173rd Assault Helicopter Company
Robin Hoods and Crossbows
174th Assault Helicopter Company
Dolphins and Sharks
175th Aviation Company
Outlaws & Mavericks
176th Assault Helicopter Company
178th Air Support Helicopter Company
179th Air Support Helicopter Company
Shrimpboats & Hooks
180th Assault Support Helicopter Company
187th Assault Helicopter Company
Crusaders & Rat Pack
188th AHC and C/101
Black Widows and Spiders
189th Assault Helicopter Company
Ghost Riders and Avengers
190th Assault Helicopter Company
Spartans and Gladiators
191st Assault Helicopter Company
Boomerangs and Bounty Hunters
192nd Assault Helicopter Company
Polecats and Tigersharks
195th Assault Helicopter Company
Sky Chief, Ghost Riders, Sky Pilots and Thunder Chickens
196th Assault Helicopter Company
Flippers & Chargers
197th Assault Helicopter Company
Gangbusters & Playboys
199th LIB Aviation Group
200th Assault Support Helicopter Company
201st Aviation Company
203rd Air Support Helicopter
A Company 203rd ASH
B Company 203rd ASH
C Company 203rd ASH
What more can we do?
205th Assault Helicopter Company
213th Assault Support Helicopter Company
227th Assault Helicopter Battalion 1st CAV
228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion
Guns-A-Go-Go, Winged Warrior, Long Horns, Wildcats
235th Air Support Helicopter Company
237th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance)
238th Aerial Weapons Company –
240th Assault Support Helicopter Company
Greyhounds, Maddogs and Kennel Keepers
242nd Assault Support Helicopter Company
243rd Assault Support Helicopter Company
254th Medical Detachment (HA) DUSTOFF
271st Assault Helicopter Company
“Helen Sue” Crew Chief Ronald Hannon “Donna Sue II” Crew Chief Ronald Hannon “Crystal Ship” Crew Chief Jerry Schneider (Capt. Crystal) “The Rebel” Crew Chief George Roberts “The Iron Butterfly” “Mother Goose” Crew Chief Ben Trickle “Proud Mary” “Ugly Duckling”
Innkeepers & Bartenders
272nd Assault Support Helicopter Company
273rd Heavy Helicopter
281st Assault Helicopter Company
Intruders, Rat Pack, Bandits, Wolf Pack
282nd Assault Helicopter Company
Blackcat & Alleycats
334th Aerial Weapons Company
Sabers, Playboys, Raiders & Dragons
335th Assault Helicopter Company (A/82 in 1965)
Cowboys, Falcons and Caspers
336th Assault Helicopter Company
Warriors and T-Birds
339th Transportation Company (DS)
Always in good hands
355th Heavy Helicopter
361st Aerial Weapons Company
362nd Aviation Company – The Last Chinook Unit in Viet Nam
478 Heavy Helicopter
498th Medical Company (Air Ambulance)
610th Transportation Company (AM) (GS) 1966-1972
Fast and Sure
A Company 501st Aviation Battalion
Rattlers & Firebirds
USMC VMO-3, HML-367, HMLA-367
Deadlock, Hostage, Cowpoke & The Angry Two
Oakgate, Scarface, Eagle Claw, Cyclone
The Thunder Eagles
HMM-362 (first USMC helicopter unit in and out of Vietnam)
Lucky Red Lions
The Purple Foxes
The Magnificent Flying Circus.
Pennant Day, Dimmer, Pineapple
White Hat Airlines
U.S. NAVY HELICOPTER UNITS
Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Seven (HC-7)
Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 6 (HS-6) made WESTAC deployments in 1966 and 1967-8 on the carrier USS Kearsarge and provided Combat Search and Rescue in the Gulf of Tonkin prior to the establishment of Combat Support Squadron 7 (HC-7).
Combat SAR operations
U.S. AIR FORCE HELICOPTER UNITS
SOUTH VIETNAM HELICOPTER UNITS
VNAF (Viet Nam Air Force) was the air force of the Republic of South Vietnam.
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.
All UH-1 Huey Slicks/guns
All AH-1G Cobras
CH-3 Jolly Green’s
CH-46 / 47 Chinook
CH-53 Sea Stallions
CH-54 Flying Crane
HH-37 Heavy lift transport
HH-3 Jolly Green Giant
HH-43 Huskie Rescue
HH-53 Super Jolly Green
OH-13/23 Light Observation
OH-6 LOH Scout
OH-58A Armed Scout
Misc Sioux / Sikorsky SH-3/34
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 crashes…many after the recovery:
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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