Donald L. "Corky" Corkran "Wolf Pack 33" November 1966 - August 1967 This is my "War Story": I arrived at the 281st in Nov. 1966. Two weeks later, I was flying 2nd recovery and watched one of my 66-13 classmates, Don Harrison, get killed in Laos. What a way to start a tour! In Al Rampone's book, "Silent Birdman", he refers to a WO1 Daniel Cockrell, the Aircraft Commander of 480 on 21 May 1967. However, the Aircraft Commander was in realty WO1 Donald L. Corkran. I was with Walter Francis Wrobleski the day he was shot down. My army records still state: Vietnam From Nov 1967-------to DIED Crew member on aircraft shot down due to enemy action. Aircraft exploded and burned on impact. No known survivors! As I remember, it was Sunday morning and I was flying gun cover as Jerry Montoya went in to attempt an extraction of a team that was being chased, when Jerry got shot. The attempt was aborted due to heavy ground fire. The attempt was made again that afternoon after a few air strikes. The pickup ship started it's run. I can't remember who was flying the pickup ship. All I can remember is, as we turned inbound on the daisy chain, all hell broke loose in the aircraft! We were in a left turn when we were hit and started to roll right. Neither Walter nor I could do anything with the controls. We became passengers as the aircraft started in the direction that it wanted to go! The rotor started to unwind and we were only able to get the collective part of the way down. Craig Szwed told me a few days ago (June 10, 1999) that he was unconscious in the aircraft and that it was Gary that I saw going out the door. It was told to someone later that he looked out toward the back of the aircraft and all he could see was fire, smoke and bullet holes. Just as we reached the jungle canopy, I remember being able to pull back on the cyclic and the nose of the aircraft pitched up in response. I tried pulling up on the collective ; it came up, but it didn't do much (not enough turns I guess). As we thrashed down through the canopy, objects flew everywhere. We then hit. The transmission came down between Walter and me. That was the last time that I remember seeing Walter. The aircraft rolled over three times and stopped upside down. We were on fire! Without thinking, I released my seatbelt and fell on my head! I couldn't get my door open, there was fire around the transmission on my left and movement behind me. I saw Gary or Craig, don't remember which, going out the back door. To this day, I don't know how I got over the back of my seat and out of the aircraft. The aircraft was already a roaring inferno and ammo had started to cook off as Gary Hall and I ran away from the aircraft. We realized that we were by ourselves. We discussed going back to the aircraft, but by now the fire was intense. Ammo was really cooking off (an SF team member told me later that they found a rocket stuck through a tree in front of the aircraft). We figured everyone else was dead and that fire would attract unwelcome attention, so we moved about 50 meters from the wreckage and hid in the elephant grass. We didn't have any survival gear or weapons other than my .45 cal. and 6 rounds of ammo. Everything else was thrown from the aircraft or burned. Exhausted, we collapsed on the ground. I had no idea what was going on overhead. There were slicks & gunships everywhere and they were making passes and shooting over the crash site. We couldn't see them because of the canopy. There was a small hole above us, so every time I thought that someone was above, I would signal with my "sheet". After a while, a "Jolly Green Giant" came down the valley towards us. We could see part of the rotor system, but we couldn't signal to him. I was informed later that the intention was that they were going drop some paramedics on the site. As the density altitude was too high, they couldn't sustain a hover so had to leave. About dark, a 281st "slick" appeared above our heads. ( I found out later that they had stripped everything out of the slick and there was only enough fuel on board to make one attempt at a pickup). The jungle penetrator dropped down ten feet from us, so they must have seen my "sheet". Just as we ran to the penetrator and got on it, all hell broke loose as Charlie started firing at the pickup ship. (Roger Barnes pilot flying one of the Wolfpack guns, reminded me a few years ago that one of the rescue crew members, possibly Pfc. (gunner) Michael Gallagher ?, was lying down on the floor of the aircraft and was hit, and died). We were jerked off of the ground and up through the trees but never cleared them. Giant "hands" (trees) reached out and grabbed us and jerked us off of the penetrator. I crashed down through the trees and hit the ground, afraid to move. Someone very close to where I landed was firing at the pickup ship. I was now alone as Hall had been thrown off the penetrator in the opposite direction. I thought Hall had gotten out on the hoist, and he thought I had. I was now alone. It got very dark and I thought I heard chickens clucking and Vietnamese voices very close, so I didn't move at all!! The fear of being discovered in my sleep kept me awake most of the night. The Air Force made runs dropping cluster bombs all night long in the valley below, and the ridge above. Exhaustion must have overcome the fear of being discovered or bombed because I suddenly realized that it was daylight and I was lying face down. There was a leech stuck on my lip and a couple of others on exposed parts of my body. I don't remember how I got them off. My canteen was missing, so no water, and of course, no food. The next two days, I kept myself in "food and water" by chewing into a banana tree and swallowing the pulp. Suddenly, our aircraft were back! They were being shot at and I'm not sure that they were even aware of that. There were no more shots close to where I landed so I started to crawl back toward where I thought the aircraft was located. There was a clearing on the slope. I stopped at the edge and could see an Air Force FAC. Taking out my "sheet" and laying on my back, I signaled to the FAC. He rolled over on his back so I knew he had seen me. I moved back into the tree line and watched. Things were quiet for awhile. Suddenly there was a Marine CH-46 hovering in the vicinity of what I thought to be the crash site. I saw them lift and leave with someone hanging on a McGuire rig, maybe Craig Szwed or Gary Hall? No shots were fired from the ground as far as I could tell. Maj. Smith told me later, Craig Szwed ? had jumped out of the aircraft when we hit the canopy. He sprained his ankle when he landed. He used a pink pay voucher to signal the rescue aircraft. In the debriefing he told Maj. Smith that "there was no way that anyone could have survived the crash. The impact and fire had to have killed everyone." He was asked about a signal mirror that they had spotted. Craig said that he knew nothing about a mirror. Maj. Smith knew now he had to have at least someone else alive, however, none of us that were recovered had ever used a mirror! Walter? Then I heard a giant voice. The Air Force brought in the psychological warfare aircraft with it's giant speakers and were using it to communicate with me. They told me to flash the "sheet" once for "no" and twice for "yes". They asked me if I was hurt, did I have weapons, did I have food and water, etc. I didn't realize that they weren't talking to me, but to Hall. (he had used his white undershirt as a "sheet"). Sometime later the shooting started above and around me. An Air Force jet made a low pass over me and the ground shifted; there was an explosion and more after that, altogether around six. After the firing stopped, I saw a helicopter drop a bundle which contained survival gear, radios and weapons for three people. I guess they thought there were three of us?? I never got any gear though! Gary knew that he was by himself so he buried the extra equipment. However, he knew that I had survived the crash initially, so he told the C&C on the radio. The psy-war aircraft told me to stay put and that help was coming. Later I found out that they were using Marine CH-46's to insert Vietnamese Rangers with Special Forces advisers into a clearing in the valley about a "click" away (one CH-46 had it's hydraulics shot out on the insertion in the LZ). The intention was to rescue us. The Vietnamese Rangers linked up to Hall first. They got to a clearing where the pickup ship picked him up but no shots were fired. The rangers were then vectored toward me by the FAC. The psy-war aircraft kept me informed of the progress of the rangers. I kept myself covered with elephant grass for protection and waited. The bugs were crawling on me and were becoming more tempting to eat. To pass the time I would "threaten" the bugs with becoming my meal if they didn't leave me alone. This, the third day, was to be my last day of waiting. Tomorrow I would head for the coast. There was a movement in the grass not too far from me. I raised my 45 pistol and prepared to defend myself! The point man, a Vietnamese Ranger appeared. I probably would have shot him but realized that he had on American field gear and he grinned and waved his hand, so I kissed him instead! I shook hands with the Special Forces man, they gave me food and water and we started to move toward a clearing that was close to us. The intention was to get me out. The main body would move back to the valley insertion point so that they could be picked up by the CH-46's. As we reached the clearing, the pickup ship started it's run. All hell broke loose. The ship aborted and Wolfpack "prepped" the area. The pickup ship started it's run again and the hills came alive with fire. Several ships were hit. The Air Force was called and dumped on the trees around us until it got quiet. Again, when the helicopters started their run, the hillsides again exploded with fire. We were down in the valley but the S.F. man said it was a bad place for a pickup. He said the ideal place would be back at the insertion point so the decision was made and we started out on foot. We had gone 200 meters down the hill when we were hit! Snipers were in the trees but they disappeared. Another 300 meters and we were ambushed again. I fell on the ground as the fire fight started. I pulled out my 45 with my six rounds of ammo and raised up to see if we were being overrun. One of the Special Forces men stepped onto the middle of my back. He told me to keep my head down, that he had come too far to get me out and that he did not want me killed now! Three Vietnamese Rangers died, one from a bullet in the arm. The Vietnamese medic could not figure out why he died until he raised the man's arm and found out that the bullet had gone through his arm, into his chest and through his heart. The rest of the trek back to the insertion point was without incident. The downed Marine CH-46 was still sitting where they had left it. The S.F. man torched it with a thermite grenade. Marine 46's came in and picked us up to take us back to TOC. They then ferried me to the Marine Hospital for a check up. I was "shaken from the ordeal" and doctors at the hospital said that I was starting to dehydrate. I was then taken back to TOC for a debriefing by some people in TOC. There was a meeting with Smith, Moberg, Boyd and Cartwright (Wolfpack platoon leader). They told me they had been in conference with the Company commander and they all agreed that I had served my time in hell with Project Delta. I would be going back to Nha Trang on the first available aircraft. I would pull ash and trash flights until DROS. When I reached Nha Trang, I was allowed to call my wife. She told me that she was working in a doctors office when a Captain from the Army showed up to inform her that I was missing in action and presumed dead. He had the insurance money and was ready to help her settle my affairs! My wife called my parents and then traveled to their home to make final arrangements for my funeral. Three days later I called. They would not believe that it was me! (During this time frame, anti-war protesters would call families of Mia's and Kia's and harass them). I finally convinced my family that I was alive. Two days later a Pfc in Saigon called and asked my wife where they should send my personal effects! My wife then asked the voice on the other end of the line if I had been "killed" again! I was debriefed by the CIA and had to sign a statement to the fact that I had not been in personal contact with any enemy soldiers. Three days later, I was called in by the Company Commander and the Exec and told that tomorrow I would be going back to Delta! His comment was that he was "the Commander" of the 281st and that Moberg, Smith, Boyd and Cartwright "were not"! I was having problems examining my decisions prior to, during, and after getting shot down. Dealing with these decisions that may have had a direct bearing on the death of Walter were causing me some real anxieties. Now here I was going back to Delta and I had not physically recovered, not to mention my mental state. My decision was that I would take myself out of the Aircraft Commander's seat for awhile. I went in and told the Company Commander and he agreed. I returned to Delta much to the surprise of Smith, Moberg and Cartwright. Two days later the Company Commander was at Delta having some kind of meeting with Smith (with me being part of the reason for the meeting!) The Company Commander called me in and told me that he needed AC's and that I was returning to my old slot in Wolfpack. I told him that I was not refusing to fly, but that I felt that I could not be a competent Aircraft Commander at that point. He got mad and told me to pack my bags, that I would fly back to NA Trang with him as his co-pilot. This made me look like I was lashing out at anyone with authority which was not entirely true. When we arrived at Na Trang, the Company Commander scheduled me with a psychiatrist who said that there was nothing wrong with me. He said that I hadn't refused to fly and therefore the problem was the Company Commander's. Then he scheduled me with the flight surgeon who said that there was nothing wrong with me. He also said I hadn't refused to fly, so again, this was the Company Commander's problem. The Company Commander threatened me with a Flight Evaluation Board, however, he didn't have a leg to stand on with an FEB as I had never refused to fly. He sent me to the Battalion Executive Officer. We talked. The Battalion Executive Officer sent me back and told the Company Commander that I had not refused to fly and the problem was not his. The Company Commander then sent me to the Battalion Commander where we also talked. He said there was no mandatory requirement for me to be an Aircraft Commander so therefore I was the Company Commander's problem, not the Battalion Commander's problem. No one would help the Company Commander hang me, so he told me that he was going to do me a "favor" and let me transfer out of the unit. He did transfer me, and I went to the 129th Helicopter Assault Co. as a gun pilot. The 129th Commander told me that he had been briefed by the 281st Company Commander about my 'problem", but he told me he didn't see one. My job as the Aircraft Commander of "Cobra 33" commenced immediately. I finished my last two months in Vietnam with the 129th. One month after going to the 129th, I was presented with the Bronze Star with a "V" device for my actions in the Au Shau Valley while serving as Aircraft Commander with the 281st Helicopter Assault Co. The paperwork was signed by "the" Company Commander of the 281st.! His part in this story is only to fill in some details. As the Unit Commander, I am sure that he had his reasons for what he did as I had mine. I've told this story many times, but this is the first time that it has been put in writing. I'm not sure why, after over 20 years, I would now put down my memories, but perhaps reading, "Silent Birdmen" provoked me to realize that writing them has been my first opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to all of the people who risked or lost their lives to save us. Signed, Donald L. "Corky" Corkran April 9, 1989 (Reviewed and revised, June 12, 1999)
This record was last updated on 05/19/2001
The following is crew member information for this incident:
The following is Goldbook
information on US Army helicopter UH-1C tail number 65-09480
It is provided here as an ESTIMATE of the history of this helicopter and is not intended to be the final authority.
This helicopter was purchased by the US Army in .
Please provide any additional information on this helicopter to the VHPA.
DATE FLT HRS UIC UNIT AREA POST COUNTRY 196705 0 0 WFJFAA 281 AHC VIETNAM
Please send additions or corrections to:
Printed from databases on: 12/16/2016
Return to Main Index
Copyright © 1998 - 2016 Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association