The McCoig Building,
2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Brigade, Ft. Drum, NY
3 May, 2000
Remarks by COL John
W. Mayhew, USA Ret.
Representing the 281st AHC Association
GEN Spears, COL Smith, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen;
COL Smith, on behalf of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company Association we sincerely thank you, your officers and men and women for inviting us and especially for selecting and honoring one of our own. Joining me today are four individuals who served in Vietnam with the 281st AHC:
LTC, soon to be Colonel, Bob Mitchell who is a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard and is representing the Great State of Tennessee. LTC Mitchell served with the 281st from 1969 to 1970.
LTC Dennis Crowe and his wife Helen are with us from Philadelphia. Col Crowe was with the 281st from 1968 to 1969 when he received a battlefield commission and was reassigned.
Ken Boling, and his son Ken, Jr. Ken served as a Door Gunner with the 281st in 1970 and kept us safe.
And Command Sergeant Major Bob Ohmes and his wife Yvonne. CSM Ohmes was the 1st SGT of our Maintenance Detachment in 1967 and 1968 and was responsible for keeping us in the air. We are very pleased to have CSM Ohmes’ son SFC Larry Ohmes carry the 281st Guidon on this special day. (SFC Ohmes is currently a member of the 10th Aviation Brigade.)
The Guidon that SGT Ohmes is carrying today is the original Guidon of one of the most unique Aviation units that fought in the Vietnam War. The 281st was a self-sustained unit that had the distinction of being attached to the 5th Special Forces Group and as such, provided Direct Support for Special Operations Missions and Special Forces Teams throughout the northern sector of Vietnam.
Like most of the Assault Helicopter Companies in Vietnam the 281st Aviation staff consisted of young men, who like LTC Mitchell, LTC Crowe and Ken Boling, were on their first aviation assignment following flight school or aviation MOS training. Unlike other Assault Helicopter Companies the 281st operated independently and had little contact with its parent organization, the 10th CAB. The 281st lived and worked with the Special Operations units and Teams of the 5th SFG. In this highly challenging environment, the young pilots of the 281st grew up fast. The nature of the mission brought them together as a team and taught them to depend on each other for success and survival.
The 281st lost 45 young men in Vietnam. Ten of which are still missing. Each one of the individuals that we lost was a hero. Many of the individuals that we lost gave their all trying to prevent the loss of their fellow crewmembers, or to rescue them when they went down. The man that we are honoring here today is such a hero.
Donald Bruce McCoig was born in California on January 21st, 1946. He was the only child of Donald and Phyllis McCoig. He spent his early childhood in Ventura, California; moved with his family to Los Vegas, and returned to California to complete high school. In his junior year of high school, Donald was one of 40 students from throughout the United States selected to attend the LSU "Summer on the Seas Program," and following graduation from high school he signed on as a sailor on a lumber freighter sailing to Australia. Upon returning from his sailing adventure, Donald enrolled in Ventura College where he completed his first year of studies. In May of 1966 he married his high school sweetheart, Margaret and about the same time made the decision to follow in his father and grandmother’s footsteps by joining the Army. His father served as a CWO under General Patton in WWII, and his grandmother served in WWII as a combat nurse.
In the summer of 1966 Donald said goodbye to his new wife and his prize sports car and went into the Army where, like so many others, he was put on a fast track toward earning the Silver Wings of an Army Aviator. He completed his flight training in 1967 and was immediately assigned to the 281st AHC located in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
WO Donald McCoig joined the 281st in the summer of 1967 at the age of 21. He soon became known by his fellow aviators as an easy going individual, and a good pilot who could always be counted on to do more than his share. He was known by the crewmembers and maintenance teams as a gentleman and an individual who would always lend a helping hand. Donald was also known to us as "Steve McQueen," as he could have easily served as double for the actor. He built a reputation as a quick learner and developed into a respected pilot that could be counted on to handle the tough missions. He was one of the first of his group to become an Aircraft Commander, which in the 281st was a coveted designation.
On 29 March 1968, WO Donald McCoig was a member of a 281st Task Force supporting a Special Operations Mission in the northern sector of South Vietnam. In the morning of the first day of the operation Donald was serving as Aircraft Commander for the 281st rescue ship when he was called upon to make a pickup of a downed crew in the LZ, which at the time was under heavy fire. Donald and his co-pilot, WO Norm Kaufman, made an approach into the LZ and immediately received heavy ground fire which wounded Norm and downed their aircraft. A second 281st rescue ship was able to recover Donald and his crew. WO Kaufman’s wounds were superficial and both he and Donald were returned to duty shortly after returning to the base camp. At this point Donald was told to remain on the ground for the remainder of the day. According to the accounts of his fellow aviators he was concerned that he had left his aircraft in the LZ. In the late afternoon when it was decided to recover the downed aircraft, he asked the Mission Commander for permission to fly with the flight. He was again assigned to fly the 281st recovery aircraft along with WO Robin Hicks, who was the Aircraft Commander.
Upon approach to the LZ the aircraft carrying the rigging team received heavy ground fire and crashed into the LZ. The 281st Gun ships covered the area and the rescue ship was vectored into the LZ to pickup the 281st crew. Without hesitation, WO McCoig maneuvered the rescue aircraft into the LZ and quickly loaded the downed crewmembers. Upon departure from the LZ they received heavy ground fire and both WO McCoig and the Crew chief SP4 Kenneth Emberly were hit. WO Hicks was able to take command of the heavily damaged and out of control aircraft, and he skillfully maneuvered it back into the LZ. The crew took cover in a bomb crater and then moved inside the perimeter of the defensive position that a small Ranger Team had established next to the LZ.
A combination of darkness and bad weather forced the downed crews to remain on the ground that night. In the very early hours of the next morning the Rangers and the 281st crewmembers moved to escape a large NVA force that was headed their way, and to find an LZ which could be used to recover their dead and wounded.
In the late afternoon of that day, 30 March 1968, the downed crewmen located a clearing that could be used as a pickup point. The weather had lifted and at 1800 hours, WO Robin Hicks lifted the body of WO Donald Bruce McCoig into a 281st recovery ship. Robin had carried his friend and fellow aviator throughout the day.
In another war, Ralph
Waldo Emerson said it best when he wrote:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust
So near is God to man
When duty whispers low,
The youth replies, I can!
WO Donald Bruce
McCoig was 22 years, two months and 6 days old when he said, "I can," and in
turn he gave his life for his fellow soldiers and his country. For his actions
on 29 March 1968, WO McCoig was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service
Cross, The Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.