254th Medical Detachment (HA) DUSTOFF

“Dedicated Unhesitating Service to Our Fighting Forces”

Unit Motto:  “You Call, We Haul”

Barry Grubbs informed me that I did not have the unit patch for the 254th Dustoff shown on my earlier post about helicopter units and losses during the Vietnam War’, so he offered to send me a photo which I have inserted into that post. Barry then sent me a memory stick filled with information that he’d maintained about the unit over the years. I cherry-picked some stories and posted them here for your perusal.

On February 1st, 1966 the 254th Helicopter Medical Detachment became operational at Long Binh, adjacent to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital, northeast of Saigon with the primary mission to support the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 1st Brigade 9th Infantry Division, and the 1st Australian Task Force which commanded the 1st Royal Australian Regiment and New Zealand Army units deployed to South Vietnam in 1966. The 1st Australian Task Force was based at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province. While stationed at Long Binh, 254th Helicopter Medical Detachment covered joint operations with the Navy and the 2nd Brigade/ 9th Infantry Division Mobile Riverine Forces in and around Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta.

While at Long Binh, the 254th covered most of Corps III and IV along with the 57th and 283rd Medical Companies (Air Ambulance). The Area of Operation included War Zone C, War Zone D, the Parrot’s Beak and the Iron Triangle. With the arrival of the 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii they were added to the 254th’s area of support with their base camp at Cu Chi. Cu Chi was also home to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, call sign Manchu. This area was always hot. Coverage also included elements of the 4th Infantry Division at Tay Ninh.

From Bill Toy:

I would like to point out a few things about Ron Sweeney we were at Phan Rang with the 101st. We had just returned from a mission and we were shutting down. Ron’s ship landed beside us and dropped off a case of cokes for us. My CC was Jessie Knight. Ron’s CC was Gus Grissom. They came over to our bird to “To Eye Ball” several M-79’s that I had just borrowed from the 101st. Our pilots had gone over to theirs to BS a little or what ever it was when pilots did when they got together. Our blade was still winding down and I was waiting to tie it down. Gus and Ron turned to return to their ship when a strong gust of wind blew in from the ocean and caused our blade to tilt forward and down.

Spec. E-5 Barry G. Grubbs, Phan Thiet 1968 with his “little buddy”.

Gus was walking on the inside and Ron on the outside. The blade hit Gus and Ron both but by Gus being shorter and on the inside it just cracked and knocked his helmet off and caused him to do a flip and go down. On the other hand, by Ron being taller and on the outside he got the brunt of it. It crushed and knocked Ron’s helmet off too. Jessie grabbed the cyclic and pulled it back, as I ran to Ron. He showed no life signs and he was bleeding from his ears, nose, and mouth. I immediately started to give him CPR. I got him back but lost him several more times but after it seemed like forever I got him going again fairly strong on his own. At this time several guys from the aid station showed up with a stretcher and relived me. They took him across the runway to the aid station. We got another urgent at that time and had to leave. That was the last time I saw Ron, who was also called “Sweet Pea” by some of us other medics. At no time did I ever see a doctor…..I just wanted the whole thing told by someone who was there…Bill Toy

Another POV of the accident: While there, one crew member of our DUSTOFF got off the ship to speak to a friend on another helicopter. As fate would have it a C-124 was making its landing approach at the time and the turbulence caused one of the helicopter blades to flex more than expected and come to within a few feet of the ground. The rotor blade hit him in the base of the skull. Mr. Horde who was the aircraft commander of our chopper turned his head to the right and said “Oh my God, Sweeney’s hit!” I instinctively grabbed his aid kit which was still in our chopper and when I got to him another trooper was sitting down beside him. {Annotation by Barry: That was Bill Toy giving Ron CPR?} Thanks for the update. At the time I took no names or even paid much attention to who was there, what I recalled then and even now, was as I had written. Sweeney was bleeding profusely from his nostrils and both ears and his pupils were already fixed and dilated. I began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compression after sucking out the blood from his mouth and pulling his tongue out. One of the men there said, “Doc, he is gone”. I continued, and spat out, “He is dead when I say he is dead! No one is going to die on their birthday if I can help it!!

Oh yeah, Gus was OK although he did walk around with his eyes crossed and talking to himself, but that was pretty normal for most of our CC’s at that time.


Larry Miller, Crew Chief (l), Choi, ROK interpreter ©, Larry Turk, Flight Medic, (r) Photo Courtesy Rich Lindekens

Short tidbit by Lawrence G. Turk,

I was on quite a few missions with Choi….little fucker scared the bejeezus out of the whole crew on one of his first missions. We were picking up in rice paddies and Choi was jabbering away on the radio….when we set down. I hopped out and opened my side two ROK’s started toward my door with a litter. Automatic fire erupted from everywhere! Whoever the pilot was, his reaction was Pull Cyclic, right rudder, and away! I was left behind on the deck. It was all outbound suppression fire, Choi was directing his ROK’s to lay down suppression fire, even though there was no incoming fire. Scared the fucking hell out of us all!!


“One DUSTOFF I Remember”

From Spec. E-5 Barry G. Grubbs, flight medic 254th Medical Detachment

It is on rare occasion that any of the DUSTOFF crews get to know the identity many of the wounded soldiers the men from the 254th had the opportunity to remove from harm’s way. This memory has lingered with me for forty years. If it were not for the publication of a book dedicated to the paratroopers that served and died with the 3rd/506th 101st Airborne Division (Currahee’s) by a wonderful, hopefully a lifelong friend Jerald “Jerry” W. Berry. The author of “My Gift to You” published in 2006 1st edition. Jerry has given me permission to take excerpts from his book. He does know how grateful I am to him for allowing me this honor. It has given me peace of mind. I have lived all these years wanting to know the identity of the brave trooper that died from a horrific gunshot wound to the head shortly after being taken off our chopper. Spec. E-4 Timothy Wayne Keller, paratrooper and rifleman – Company E. Specialist Four Timothy Wayne Keller, a 19 year-old native of Wallingford, Connecticut, was a member of 1st Lt. Roy Somers Reconnaissance Platoon, Echo Company. SP4 Keller was among the first group of paratroopers assigned to the 3rd/506th after the battalion arrived in country on October 25, 1967. He had been in country 188 days when he died from enemy small arms fire on May 9, 1968 in Binh Tuanh Province, South Vietnam, II Corps. His tour of duty in Vietnam began on November 2, 1967 when he arrived in country shortly after the rest of the battalion. On May 6, SP4 Keller was a member of Romeo 2 Reconnaissance Team, which was inserted into enemy territory to locate a Viet Cong POW camp that was rumored to be there. It was also believed that two Red Cross nurses were being held as prisoners in this enemy camp. The Romeo 2 Team was sent to not only locate the camp, but also assess the possibility of rescuing these captive nurses. The recon team had been reinforced for this mission with additional soldiers, bringing its strength to fifteen or twenty paratroopers.

Spec. E-5 Barry G. Grubbs, flight medic 254th DUSTOFF

As the team moved through mountainous terrain and tense tree canopy, the first few days of the recon mission were uneventful, but the third day out, the team found a well-used trail winding through a dense undergrowth of fern. Holding in place for the night, the team decided to follow the trail at first light the following morning.

On the next morning of May 9, the recon team set out to investigate the trail. After following it for a couple of hours, the team came upon several Viet Cong walking in line almost out of sight down the trail. In hopes that the group of guerillas would lead them eventually to the suspected POW camp, the recon team followed the enemy patrol at a safe distance. The team spread out in single line formation and advanced down the trail about 25 – 30 meters apart. Medic SP4 John Wendelschaefer recalls, “After rearranging the order of the patrol, Locklear was near the front, with Tim Keller as his radioman. I was walking rear security. Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable clatter of an AK-47 and the return bursts of M-16 fire directly to my front. I could see three or four paratroopers in front of me drop down and begin to return fire. Then I heard the call for ‘medic’ being relayed back through the unit. When I finally got to the front of the column, Keller lay wounded beside Locklear.” After calling for a medevac, Medic Wendelschaefer set about administering first-aid to Keller, who was still conscious and talking. The immediate problem was finding a sufficient break in the thick tree canopy for the helicopter to drop in a jungle penetrator for Keller. Medic Wendelshaefer further recalls, “We all moved quickly and found a small opening in the overhead canopy. When the chopper arrived, I could plainly see its belly and the jungle penetrator being lowered toward us. As the penetrator began to rise, Keller was not totally strapped in, so I grabbed him and held him on as the device rose taking us both into the air.” Sadly, SP4 Keller died (correction stopped breathing, SP5 Grubbs, 254th DO) enroute to LZ BETTY. I have lived with this one event as with many others all these years. I was the medic on the DUSTOFF that hoisted SP4 Keller onto our medevac. Keller had a terrible head wound.

He was not strapped to the penetrator properly and when we got him up to the open cargo door of the aircraft his body was limp and lifeless. I told the pilots to fly at tree top level all the way back to the LZ because of the severity of his head wound. Our crew chief, nicknamed “PAPPY” and I pulled him quickly inside the aircraft, checked immediately for a pulse and respiration! Keller had stopped breathing. Unable to get him free from the penetrator it was awkward, so we tried to position him so that Pappy and I could start CPR. “I told Keller you’re not going too die on me!” It was not going well, needless to say. We worked frantically to free Keller from the penetrator. With some effort and positioning of Timothy we got him free, pushed the penetrator out of the way and laid Keller flat on his back on the cargo deck. I quickly inserted an endotracheal tube to maintain an open airway and Pappy started chest compressions. We feverishly kept up CPR on the flight back to LZ BETTY. Once we set down on the tarmac. An ambulance was waiting to unload Timothy. It all seemed too surreal! It seemed like we were resuscitating him for hours, it was so intense in the back of the helicopter. When the helicopter set down the medics from the 2nd platoon of the 568th Medical Clearing
Company were waiting with a litter. We immediately unloaded Timothy from the helicopter into the waiting ambulance. Timothy’s head started to tilt to his left and his endotracheal tube appeared to have become dislodged in all the commotion. I started yelling, actually screaming at the other medics to continue CPR, no one seemed to hear me over the noise of the engine and chopper blades in all the confusion. I knew he was only a short distance from the aid station at Phan Thiet. But damn it we kept him alive until we got him off the aircraft.

After refueling, we settled back into the revetment and parked for the next mission. Dr. Lovy came out later that afternoon to the flight line. I took the opportunity to ask how the trooper we brought in earlier was doing. He told me he had died. I suddenly felt sick at that moment and was hoping there would have been a better outcome. That was not to be his fate. Dr. Lovy told me that no one could have done anymore for him considering the severity of his head wound. Specialist Keller did not die alone that day, we all died a little bit after that. SP4 Keller appeared not to be aware of everyone’s efforts to keep him alive.

I want to thank Jerry Berry for helping me find the identity and become more intimate with a very special trooper. His memory has lived with me all these years. I am pleased to say that all the troopers we rescued over the months and years that lived to make it back to their families and to those soldiers that did not survive were our brothers and family. I guess that is why I kept going back to Vietnam. We were FAMILY! We are and will always be a “Band of brothers”!
Spec. E-5 Barry G. Grubbs, flight medic 254th Medical Detachment


From David E. Bohl

Combat Assault List

October 1965 to October 1966 I was assigned to the 254th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) in Vietnam. I was a Specialist 5th Class (E-5) working as a medical aid man (MOS911.10) on flight status. Our primary units to support were the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and, Australian and New Zealand forces, operating out of Bien Hoa Air Base; 1st Infantry Division operating out of Di An, Lai Khe, and Phouc Vinh; Special Forces camps, ARVN and Korean units in our Area of Operations (AO). The AO included War Zone C, War Zone D, the Parrot’s Beak and the Iron Triangle. With the arrival of the 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii they were added to our AO with their base camp at Cu Chi.In November 1965, while attached to 283rd Medical Detachment (HA), Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam, a battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade was attacked in War Zone D. I participated in evacuating mass casualties from the landing zone.

Specialist E-5 David E. Bohl, awarded Air Medal with “V” device by Brigadier General 173rd Airborne Division, Long Binh, 1966. Photo courtesy David Bohl

In December 1965, while attached to the 82nd Medical Detachment (HA), Soc Trang, Vietnam, I was a crew member on an evacuation helicopter that lost all power to its tail rotor approximately five miles east of My Tho. The helicopter crashed and we were evacuated to the airfield at my Tho, then flown back to Soc Trang.

In January 1966 an ARVN battalion was massacred at the Michelin Rubber plantation. Over 500 dead were evacuated including 8 American advisors. We were required to sort through the bodies to locate the dead Americans.

1 FEB 1966 – Lt. Williamson (aircraft pilot) was shot. All aircraft were fired on while picking up casualties from the area.

1 FEB 1966 while picking up casualties from another landing zone, we received mortar fire.

26 FEB 1966 while evacuating 84 dead and wounded in the vicinity of Xa Bau Sau during Operation Phoenix our aircraft lost all hydraulics and hard landed on the airstrip of an abandoned rubber plantation.

On 28 MAR 1966 the 1st Infantry Division base camp at Lai Khe was attacked. Many casualties were evacuated under fire.

On 11 APR 1966 Company C, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, was massacred east of Binh Ba South. Despite numerous attempts we could not rescue the wounded. An Air Force medic was inserted by hoist and was killed. He subsequently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Approximately 6 soldiers survived.

On 4 MAY 1966 elements of the 1st Inf Div were attacked from Cambodia. Many casualties were evacuated under fire.

16 MAY 1966 SP5 Hamilton, crew chief was wounded while we were evacuating casualties from a rubber plantation southeast of Ben Suc along the Saigon river.

17 MAY 1966, while supporting the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the vicinity of Binh Ba South, the helicopter I was in struck a tree while evacuating 8 dead and 21 wounded from a fire fight. The helicopter landed in a controlled crash and we were evacuated to the battalion aid station at Binh Ba South.

8 JUN 1966 an armored column from the 1st Infantry Division was ambushed south of An Loc. We evacuated mass casualties under fire.

15 JUN 1966 the 173rd Airborne Brigade was in a large fight by Xuan Loc. Mass casualties were evacuated. A troop helicopter crashed at Xuan Loc burning all passengers and crew members. We evacuated the casualties to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital.

2 JUL 1966 the Special Forces Camp at Gia Rey was attacked. The relief column was ambushed. Many dead and wounded casualties were evacuated.

9 JUL 1966 an armored column was ambushed north of the Michelin plantation. We evacuated 28 dead and 79 wounded. Also on 9 JUL 1966 I was wounded by a Punji Stick in the left leg while evacuating wounded from the 1st Infantry Division Engineer Battalion north of Phu Cuong. Medical treatment was received at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital, Long Binh.

17 JUL 1966, the aircraft I was in was hit by a command detonated explosive east of Phu Cuong as I was exiting the aircraft to retrieve wounded members of the 1st Infantry Division. I was blown back through the aircraft, receiving shrapnel in my shoulder and flak jacket and affecting my hearing. I believe I may also have injured my back at this time but have no exact knowledge of what I hit (possibly the stanchion in the helicopter). I was admitted to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital for treatment.

26 JUL 1966 our helicopter received mortar fire while picking up casualties in the vicinity of Cu Chi.

11 AUG 1966 a Vietnamese outpost was attacked at Phu My. We evacuated 14 ARVN wounded under fire.

13 AUG 1966 Aircraft 64-13660 crashed on night pickup. MAJ Phillips and MAJ Gandy were killed.

15 AUG 1966, in the vicinity of Ben Cat, the rotor blade of the helicopter I was in was hit by enemy fire while participating in a mass casualty evacuation. The helicopter made a controlled hard landing at the 1st Infantry Division battalion base in Ben Cat.

25 AUG 1966 mass casualties were evacuated east of Lai Khe. All medical evacuation units participated in extracting casualties and approximately 100 killed and 300 wounded were evacuated. The above stated information is documented on a tactical map that I have in my possession, segments of which were previously provided to the VA and are again attached.

Oct 1966 I Departed Vietnam.

In addition to the large casualty evacuations listed above casualties were evacuated virtually every day and night during my tour.

The 254th Med Det (HA) was awarded a Valorous Unit Award for action of 26 February 1966 and 16-17 March 1966 during Operation Phoenix and Operation Silver City.

I hereby certify that the information I have given is true to the best of my knowledge and belief. / David E. Bohl

Barry, thank you for your support, service, and sacrifice. Welcome Home, brother!

Here is the link in case you are interested in looking over the earlier helicopter unit/loss post: Helicopter Units and losses in the Vietnam War – CherriesWriter – Vietnam War website


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