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RR110 INSERTION MARCH 1968

by

Robin K. Hicks
Pilot, UH-1D

28 MAR 68
(Mission conducted 28-29 MAR 68)
This operation resulted in the following losses:
Aircraft shot down and lost:
3 Army Slicks
3 Marine CH 46 helicopters
1 Army gunship
 
Aircraft receiving extensive damage:
4 Army aircraft
2 Marine aircraft
 
Killed in Action:
3 Pilots
2 aircraft crewmembers
1 U.S. Special Forces Ranger
7 South Vietnamese Airborne Rangers
 
Wounded:
2 Pilots
2 Crewmembers
1 U.S. Special Forces Ranger
30 Approx. South Vietnamese Airborne Rangers
 

The probability was extremely high that all of the personnel on the ground would be killed if not evacuated immediately. A last minute rescue attempt performed late the next day was successful. The ground personnel could not have lasted one more night on the ground as a whole NVA battalion was closing in and we were just barely holding on against the smaller Company that we were in contact with.

SUMMARY OF THE AIRCRAFT ACTIVITY
 
Army Aircraft
26 Sinclair Command and Control
113 Weir Lift
135 McCoig Lift
127 Reitz Lift
129 McDougal Lift
227 Hicks Medical Recovery
 
Marine Aircraft

S1-5
S1-6
S1-7
S1-8

Lift
Lift
Lift
Lift

 
Lift one was fairly routine with only S1-5 and S1-7 reporting light fire.
 
2nd Lift  
Weir (113) was lead with Reitz (127), Young (228) and McCoig (135) to follow.
Weir (113) in and out ok
Reitz (127) in and out ok
Young (228) aborted on approach. Had taken fire and reported casualties. Was cleared to return to base with wounded.
McCoig (135)

went in but shut down in the LZ. #1

McDougal (129) was directed to go in and recover the crew of (135)
McDougal (129) went in and recovered the pilots of (135) one was wounded but the crew chief did not board. McDougal (129) did not take any fire.
S1-5 went in and out taking light fire
S1-6 was hit on final and aborted, reported wounded and was cleared to return to base.
S1-6 did not make it all the way back.
S1-7 went in
S1-8 went in and told S1-7 that he [S1-7] was losing fuel.
S1-7 abandoned ship and boarded S1-8. #2
S1-8 departed the LZ.
Anderson (33) had taken several hits and was cleared to return to the FOB.
Ham (35) was out of ammo and returned with Anderson (33) to rearm.
 

3rd Lift

2 Aircraft were left in the LZ and ground forces reported that things were quiet and they were not receiving any fire. It was decided that in addition to the lift, maintenance personnel would also be brought in to prepare the downed aircraft to be slung out. Arrangements had been made for 2 heavy lift helicopters to be onsite for this recovery operation.
26 & Hicks (227) would go back with smoke to provide cover
Young (228)
Reitz (127)
would bring in the Army and Marine maintenance teams.
Weir(113), S1-5, S1-6,
McDougal(129)
would then do troop lifts.
Young (228)
Reitz (127)
went in
Reitz (127) loaded up some wounded, nobody boarded (228).
Young (228)
Reitz (127)
departed without incident.
Weir (113)
McDougal (129)
were cleared to go in and bring out the ground crews.
Weir (113) started his approach but an Army helicopter cut in front of him, landed in the LZ and shut down. #3
Weir (113) was cleared to continue
McDougal (129) was told to break out and stand by.
Weir (113) reported that it was Young (228) who had landed in front of him.
McDougal (129) was directed to go in and help pick up the crews.
Weir (113) departed, reported heavy fire but did not take any hits.
McDougal (129) went in and loaded wounded but no crewmembers boarded.
McDougal (129) departed
S1-5 had not made any radio contact since departing earlier and was considered lost.
Hicks & McCoig (227) were directed to go in and pick up any remaining crewmembers and landed without taking any fire.
Hicks & McCoig (227) loaded 3 Marine crewmembers, one of which was wounded, and departed the LZ taking heavy fire on the way out. (McCoig) was hit in the head and went stiff on the controls. The aircraft shuddered violently and was observed in an extremely nose high attitude and veering to the right. (Hicks) was able to get control of the aircraft and make an emergency landing back in the LZ. The aircraft was smoking badly when landed and was shut down. #4
Weir (113)
McDougal (129)
were able to return to try and help but deteriorating weather conditions forced them to return to base without making a rescue attempt.
 
There were now 3 Army aircraft and 2 Marine aircraft down.

McCoig (135), Young (228), Hicks (227) & S1-7 were in the LZ and S1-5 was down somewhere in the jungle. 1 Army flight crew was still in the LZ and the status of S1-5 and its crew was unknown. There were approximately 15 crewmembers unaccounted for when the remaining aircraft left.

The marines did return and were able to get through the weather that night and located S1-5. The crewmembers of S1-5 died during the night. One Scarface gunship was lost in this effort.

The 281st only had 126(Command and Control), McDougal (129), and Weir (113) left to make a rescue attempt. Other units had been contacted and were going to provide support but as time neared none had showed up. The 281st returned to the LZ alone and at literally the last moment the other aircraft arrived. The rescue was successful but risky and the last marine aircraft lifted off with almost 2 times his allowable load limit to preclude having to leave anyone behind.

In addition to their time spent in the jungle, some of the personnel lifted out were ferried to a compound called Bastogne and offloaded. This was done to free up the aircraft in case they would have to make another lift. Bastogne came under a ground and mortar attack after the personnel were offloaded leaving them again fighting for their lives for another night.

Army Pilots:

  Maj Sinclair and Miller
227 Hicks and Allen, on the 3rd lift Hicks and McCoig
228 Young and Shanhart
129 McDougal and LT Beltch
113 Weir and Smith
127 Reitz and Galkowitz
135 McCoig and Kaufman
33 Anderson and O'Daniel
35 Ham and Fayer
38 Donald and Wall

AFTER ACTION REPORT

1 APR 68

(I submitted this after action report to Maj Sinclair. This report is copied from an original draft of the report that I still have in my possession. I copied it as written, I submitted one that I had rewritten and corrected the spelling, grammar and sentence structure in.)

On March 29th we were planning on infiltrating a ranger company into an LZ with aircraft from the 281st AHC being supplied with additional aircraft from a Marine Company. It was planned originally for three lifts to be made into the LZ. On the first flight I was flying a recovery aircraft with WO Allen as my pilot. During the first part of the lift our aircraft received heavy enemy fire while going in and coming out of the LZ resulting in two aircraft being damaged badly enough that they had to be left there. One was an H model the other being a CH-46. We were able to get the crews from these aircraft out at that time but were forced to return to our base camp to refuel and rearm the gunships before completing the lift. Later in the day it was decided that an attempt would be made to recover the two downed aircraft and a recovery crew from the 281st for the Huey and a recovery crew from the Marines for the CH-46 got ready to go out and prepare the ships for extraction. I was again assigned to fly a recovery ship this time with WO McCoig and since we were both AC’s we decided between us that McCoig would fly in the left seat.

We reached the LZ but in attempting to get the recovery crews in we had one more Huey and one CH-46 knocked down in the LZ and another CH-46 went down just north of the LZ. At this time it was known that the crew from one of the aircraft was still in the LZ and suspected that one of the recovery crews was also still there. We were told to go down and get them out and WO McCoig who was flying immediately started an approach into the LZ.

On the way in we were not fired at all and upon landing the crew from one of the 46’s ran for our helicopter and jumped on. There were only three of them one being wounded quite badly. As soon as they were aboard McCoig started to depart the LZ but we were just barely airborne when we were hit by enemy fire. The ship shuddered violently and I looked over at WO McCoig who was flying but he had been hit and was slumped over in his seat with blood gushing out of his face. I grabbed the controls but McCoig’s right leg had pushed full right pedal and was stiff so I called for somebody to get him off the controls but my crew chief was also yelling at me that he had been hit. McCoig’s right leg finally went limp and I was able to get directional control of the AC but by this time we had lost a great deal of airspeed and were heading for a tree. I pulled in all the power the AC had to clear the tree and told 26 that we were hit and that we were going down and that my transmission oil pressure was gone. 26 told me to get it back into the LZ but at this time the ship was shaking quite violently making it hard to control and I didn’t think that we could get back in but I made a 180-degree turn to the right and started back into the LZ. When I started my decent back down I unconsciously rolled off the throttle to make an autorotation in but realized that I still had sufficient power to land with so immediately rolled it back on and landed with power. As soon as we hit the ground I rolled off the throttle and turned off the fuel and battery but we were receiving automatic weapons fire from the right side some of which were hitting my Armour plate which was still locked forward. I saw my gunner on the ground next to the aircraft so tried pushing my plate back myself but it was again hit by enemy fire so I immediately departed the ship between the seats and dove to the ground on the left side of the AC. The enemy was firing at us and was churning up the ground around me with some type of automatic weapon.

I just lay flat for awhile and after a couple of minutes things quieted down a bit and we all made a run for it to get into the cover of a bomb crater on the edge of the LZ. We finally managed to get inside the perimeter that the rangers had set up on the east side of the LZ. The enemy was all around us and we were receiving a lot of sniper fire and they were shooting grenade launchers at us keeping us pretty well pinned down. Things finally began to quiet down a bit because we had located the snipers and been able to disable them giving us limited movement inside our perimeter. We were only receiving occasional enemy fire after this until just before sunset when they started lobbing rockets and mortars at us. They kept up a heavy barrage until after dark but never really got sighted in on us thus not causing too much damage. Every few hours during the night they would fire a few rockets and mortars just to harass us I guess. At dawn they again hit us with a heavy barrage and started probing our perimeter to find out how strong it was.

It had been decided that we would have to move and preparations were made to move the dead and wounded. WO McCoig had been killed when our ship was hit and the crew chief from one of the Marine CH-46’s had died during the night and another US Special forces ranger died about one hour before we started moving.

Our movement was very slow because of the terrain and vegetation and the fact that we had so many dead and wounded with us and the enemy seemed to be paralleling our path at the same speed that we were moving despite all the ordinance that was being directed against them by Tac-Air and gun ships for every once in a while they would shoot some rockets at our approximate position. They never got close enough to hurt us but they were close enough to make me quite uncomfortable. We kept pushing on through the jungle trying to find a suitable place for an extraction but the first one wasn’t satisfactory so we had to keep going looking for another one. We finally got to one about 1730 and began securing it and clearing an area for the A/C to land in. Up until this time we still did not know if we were going to be extracted because of a lack of aircraft and gun support so thing were getting pretty tense. At about 1800 though we were informed that there were aircraft on the way so we tried to get all the wounded and dead into the LZ so they could go out first. Well the ships finally got there and with the combined efforts of everyone out there, were able to extract us and get us back to safety. It was a very precarious situation and without the excellent leadership, command, and coordination exercised by the men in the command positions of our ground force and the men that were in the air protecting and trying get us out I think that we may have had to run for quite awhile. I especially want to thank Maj Sinclair and Maj Allen for all they did in getting us out in this statement. Signed WO Robin K. Hicks Dated 1 April 68”

RECORDED CONVERSATIONS:

Wolfpack (35) had a tape recorder connected to his headset and I was sent a copy of the tape he made that day. There were several conversations going on at the same time and all being recorded. I extracted the following from that recording. I have carried that tape around for 30 some years and Jan of this year (2000) was the first time I listened to the whole tape. I had listened to selected parts of it right after I received it in 1968, but had not played it since then.

(26) Transmitting "I've got you coming out there 227
uh how many did you get on board
(35) Intercom “Go 27 that’s Hicks”
(227) Transmitting “Hey 26 we’ve been hit!”
(26) Transmitting “Which on is it”
(227) Transmitting “We’ve both been hit” “Hang on a Minute I’ve got to get McCoig off these controls” “I don’t know everybody’s been hit”
(26) Transmitting “Get Back”
(35) Intercom “Oh God that’s Hicks”
(227) Transmitting My engine oil pressure is going down fast”
(26) Transmitting “Bring it back into the LZ. Bring it back in”
(35) Intercom “Just do a 180”
(35) Intercom “Look at him. Dad Gum---“
(227) Transmitting “Don’t think it’s going to make it”
(35) Intercom “Oh come on.. Robin”
(26) Transmitting “Bring it right back in there”
(35) Intercom “Come on babe---come on babe”
“22 this is bruiser watch out in the LZ”

At this point there were a lot of conversations going on cutting each other out and the sounds of the rockets being fired and the mini guns firing made the conversations hard to understand.

(35) Transmitting “OK you got him scarface”
Scarface “That’s a rodge on that”
(35) Transmitting “he’s smoking to beat shit----losing fuel-“
(26) Transmitting “--LZ—right in front of you”
(35) Intercom “He’s looking good—-He’s looking good, coming in pretty”
“we have the recovery team flying----“
(35) Transmitting “Hide your ass scarface—hide your ass”
“---coming down hard”
(35) Intercom “I’ve got negative---
Oh God—that 46 is burning----that other 46 is on fire!”
(35) Intercom “We out of rockets, are we?”
(35) Intercom “We’re out of everything—mini gun too”
(35) Transmitting “26 this is wolfpack 35, It looks like he made it down alright. We’re out of ammo though.”
(35) intercom “there’s 5 ships down in that LZ”

(I timed the recording and from the time that (26) said he saw us coming out of the LZ until (35) told him we made it down ok, only about a minute and a half had elapsed. It seemed a lot longer that that!!!)

(35) Intercom “God I’m glad Hicks got back in there”
(35) Intercom “Oh Boy I just knew he was fixin to turn that thing upside down—it looked bad”
(35) Intercom “Who was it”
(35) Intercom “Hicks”
(35) Intercom “It was McCoig flying AC---I think”
“No, 227 I think was Hicks—he was taking our recovery crew in”

(35) had watched the whole thing from up close and watched it all, yet immediately after the incident, even they did not know who was flying and where they were seated in the aircraft. I will try to explain why!)

WHO WAS FLYING (227) & WHY

McCoig was the assigned AC (Aircraft Commander) of 135 for this operation and I was assigned as AC for 227. On the second lift McCoig had to leave his aircraft in the LZ. When it was later decided to try and recover the aircraft, my pilot, WO Allen was assigned to the recovery ground crew. This left the pilot slot vacant on my aircraft. When McCoig found out about this he volunteered to take the pilot slot on my aircraft.

There was never any question as to who the AC of that aircraft was. I was the AC and McCoig was the pilot.

When McCoig and I were preparing to board the aircraft for the mission, he asked me if he could fly in the left seat. He felt more confident in that seat and I think he had the best interest of both of us in mind when he asked me the question. It was absolutely clear to both of us that he was not asking me to give up my aircraft to him. We were both rated AC’s and knew that the seat itself does not dictate who the actual AC of the aircraft is. If I would have thought that he was requesting me to give up my command of that aircraft I am certain that I would have refused him. I think that I would have actually requested to have another pilot fly with me if that had been the case. It is something that I would have never requested from another AC and I do not believe McCoig was requesting that from me. He wanted to fly from the seat in that aircraft where he felt most comfortable and competent as a professional army aviator. I also believe that if I would have said NO, he would have accepted my decision and my right to make that decision without any objection.

I always felt that when you are the AC of an aircraft you are responsible for that aircraft and you make the decisions as to how best carry out those responsibilities. You are then responsible and accountable for the consequences resulting from that decision! I made the decision to let McCoig fly in the left seat, I had flown with him before and I trusted his judgment as a pilot. This decision was not cleared with anybody, there would not have been time to go thru channels and get someone to authorize it anyway. You make decisions in situations like this, stick with them, and do the best you can. This I think is where all the confusion has come from. After we got hit, the information relayed back did not fit right, and we were not there to explain why. It was known that we were both on the aircraft but when it was relayed back that the AC had been killed and that I had made the emergency landing some of the other personnel just assumed that our names had been mixed up. I was told by another pilot that they did not know for sure who was actually killed until the next day

I have regretted that decision for over 30 years and feel that I am responsible for McCoigs death. He was in my seat and took the bullet meant for me. I made the decision and have to accept responsibility for that decision. I also felt that some of the other pilots felt the same way. McCoig was more popular and personable than I was and I always got the feeling that the others felt that they would have preferred me to take that bullet. It just seemed like things between the other pilots and me were never the same after that, especially the pilots with more time in country. Nothing was ever said, but there was always something there.

HOW I REMEMBER THAT 3rd LIFT

I had not thought of Viet Nam for over 30 years until norm Kaufman called me a couple of months back and it all came back as if it had been yesterday. My shrink tells me that I have been in denial. I started digging around and found some letters, Ham’s tape, my old original report and a tape I had sent home describing that day. I was amazed to learn that my current memory of what happened was so accurate and detailed. Going through the data just confirmed to me that my recollections were accurate and reminded me of several things that I had forgotten about.

McCoig was in the left seat, as explained earlier, and when we were directed to go in and extract any remaining crewmembers he immediately started an approach into the LZ. Things were a little crowded and it was difficult to pick a spot clear of the other aircraft. We both expected to receive enemy fire on approach but we did not receive any. Once on the ground McCoig had to stay on the controls because of the way we were sitting there, we were not real stable because of the terrain. Three Marine crewmembers started running towards the aircraft and I noticed that one of them was wounded and carrying a handgun. This stuck with me because the wounded Marine stumbled as he approached and when he fell he fired the pistol directly at us. I was practically looking down the barrel of that pistol when it fired but the round missed McCoig and me. I don’t know where it went. The other crewmembers grabbed the wounded marine and helped him into the aircraft.

We waited until the Marines were onboard and to see if there was anyone else approaching the aircraft. We still had not received any fire. We stayed long enough to give others a chance to get on and when we felt nobody else was coming McCoig lifted off. Right after liftoff, when we were still low and building airspeed I saw some movement and when I looked down almost directly under us and a little ahead and saw someone either just opening or closing the cover of a spider hole. He had one hand on the cover with it in the open position and a weapon in his other hand. We were so close to him I could see his face clearly. I had never seen one like that before and was going to make a comment to McCoig about it, but we both had other things to worry about. I looked back up and to the right for anything else that we might want to avoid when we got hit.

The aircraft felt like a giant had taken a big baseball bat and swatted us, it hit really hard. My first thought was that we had been hit with an M-79 grenade launcher. The aircraft changer attitude immediately and was shaking violently. I looked over at McCoig and it appeared that he was looking at me as well. What I saw though was a face with blood literally gushing out of it. His head swung back and down and as I was grabbing the controls I could see his right leg, which was fully extended pushing in right pedal. My control panel was lit up like a Christmas tree and a scan of the gauges showed that temperatures were going up and pressures were coming down. I was trying to get some type of control of the aircraft and notify 26 about our condition and I was also telling the crew chief to give me some help in getting McCoig off the controls. The crew chief was on the intercom telling me that he had been hit and the gunner was doing the same. 26 was asking who had been hit and I told him that we all had. I thought that McCoig had been hit in the jugular vein because of the amount of blood but I couldn’t do anything to help him.

McCoig went limp and I was able to get the aircraft to respond but by this time we were not in very good shape. I was in a nose high attitude veering to the right and heading for some trees. 26 was telling me to get back into the LZ but that idea seemed remote to me because I did not think I was going to be able to stop us from crashing into the trees. I was low and slow in an aircraft that was shaking so hard I could barely control it and thought that my engine or transmission would go at any time. The engine was running and I pulled out everything it had and then some. I cleared the trees and got some altitude and managed to get the aircraft turned around to try and get it back into the LZ as directed by 26. Once lined up I rolled off throttle to make an autorotation in and the aircraft smoothed out a little. I was still thinking about a transmission failure I guess and the potential consequences of that. Looking into the LZ changed my mind. It was crowded, had burning aircraft in it, was not really in my glide path and I was coming down much to fast. I said something to myself and decided my best chance was with that engine. I rolled power back on and was able to get on the ground without crashing. I rolled off throttle and turned off the fuel and power and tried to get out. I had expected by this time that the crew chief would have come forward and opened my door and pushed my armor plate back in order for me to get out but he was not there. I yelled at him to get my plate pushed back but did not get a response. It then dawned on me that my armor plate was shaking and stuff was bouncing around the cockpit. I was receiving fire from an automatic weapon. I looked back and the crew chief was on the ground with his weapon returning fire. My plate stopped shaking so I reached around to open it myself when I was fired on again with the same results. I grabbed my rifle and looked over at McCoig who was being held in place by his harness but there was no movement. I undid my harness and went out between the seats and could see where the round had gone into his head just above and outside of his left eyebrow. He had not looked over at me when we were hit; his head had been blown towards me by the impact of the round. I dove to the ground on the left side of the aircraft and could see the ground being churned up on both sides of me. One of the Marine crewmembers was beside me on the ground and we must have been protected by the aircraft because none of the rounds got closer that a couple of feet from us. The others had made it to the cover of a bomb crated not to far away and when the automatic weapon quit firing we made a run for it and joined the others. McCoig was still in the aircraft but we were not able to get to him with the amount of fire we were receiving

Robin was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during this throughout this mission.   McCoig was awarded the nations second highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross.  Several years ago we set out to find the family of WO McCoig and in so doing developed the story of this mission.  We set out to find the family of one hero and found a crew of heroes.  McCoig was KIA on the 28th of March 1968 and on March 29,  Robin, with the help of a Marine Captain carried McCoig's body throughout the day as the the Delta force attempted to evade a superior NVA force.  Late in the afternoon Robin handed McCoig's body to his comrades of the 281st who had come to recover them.   Robin, Ken Embrey the Crew Chief  and Lionel Wesley the Door Gunner were recovered. Each man did his duty in true Intruder fashion.
JM

_____________________________________

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