Incident Date 19660808-1 HMM-161 UH-34D 150264+ YR-22 - Hostile .50 cal Fire
Belknap, Ronald Lee Cpl Gunner HMM-161 MAG-16 1966-08-08 (vvm 09E:110)
HMM-161 Command Chronology - August 1966
8 August 1966 - In support of Operation Prairie squadron aircraft carried 185 passengers, 2 med-evacs and 1200 pounds of cargo.
At approximately 1830, YR-22, involved in an emergency ammunition resupply, received automatice and small arms fire. One .50 cal. round passed through the cabin, wounding two passengers and killing the gunner. The other aircraft in the flight received hits but sustained no casualties.
Synopsis from THE VIRTUAL WALL
At 7 PM on 06 August, Recon Team 61 consisting of four men from the 6th Plt, 1st Force Recon Co, call sign "GROUCHO MARX", was inserted on the southern slope of Mutter's Ridge overlooking a valley about 12 kilometers north of Ca Lu Airfield. At 11 PM the patrol heard movement and voices down-slope from their position, but the noises stopped by midnight. By the following evening it was clear there were several groups of North Vietnamese troops, some as close as 100-150 feet to the patrol's position. At 9 AM on 08 August, it appeared the NVA had formed a line abreast and were actively searching for Team 61. The team leader called in artillery and helo gunships while moving further up-slope. The designated "Sparrow Hawk" reaction force (2nd Platoon, Echo Company, 2/4 Marines, led by 2ndLt Andrew M. Sherman) departed Dong Ha for insertion near Team 61 at noontime. The following entries taken from the 3rd Marine Division's Operations Log pick up at this point:
081250 - 1st element of Sparrow Hawk touched down
081308 - Reaction force and 1st Force Recon 6F-1 expect to link up at 1500. Neg contact so far.
081518 - 1st Force Recon 6F-1 and E/2/4 reaction force linked up at 081518. Extraction is scheduled for 1600 for both units. Neg contact.
081652 - At 081640 retraction helo was fired at when lifting from pick-up zone at YD985496. No hits reported on acft. This helo was lifting first elements of group. Rest of group still on the ground awaiting extraction.
081740 - 4 helos down by enemy fire, 2 in Cam Lo area and 2 in Dong Ha area. Half of 6F-1 has been lifted out. Other half is presently undergoing mortar attack. Estimated contact with a VC company. Fixed wing requested, casualties unknown. More to follow.
081800 - 4th Marines called 3rd MarDiv watch officer and informed that there were no helos down as stated 081740.
081935 - Helo attempting to land received ground fire and were waved off.
081950 - 6 helos reported down (some by ground action). There are 32 USMC effectives in contact. Commanding Officer E/2/4 going in to bring out casualties. One aircrewman KIA, 3 USMC evacuated.
082010 - The following aircraft were sent to [contact] area: 21 fixed wing sorties, 1 USAF flare ship, 11 CH-34s, 4 HU-1E gunships, 3 UH-1E "slicks", 4 additional CH-46s, and 2 resupply CH-462 with emergency rocket resupply for UH-1Es.
082055 - 12 WIA evacuated
082100 - Recon team and reinforced unit, total number friendly in action about 40. Capt Lee, Company Commander, in with them. In contactwith est enemy company. Taking some friendly casualties, possibly 9 friendly KIA. 8 helos have been hit by ground fire but all have gotten back safely - none lost. 3/4 Marines has one company on 1 hour alert, one company on 2 hour alert. CO 2/4 Marines does not consider they are needed at this time. Plan is to box in position with artillery and [radar-controlled] fixed wing strikes. 9 probable friendly KIA. Intend lifting in one company in morning at first light to hit NVA/VC in rear. Have been able to identify the enemy positions and working them over with plenty of arty and gun birds.
082120 - No incoming being received by unit in contact. ... Casualty tally as follows: 4 Recon MIA. 12 WIA out (1 DoW). 6 aircrew WIA minor, 1 aircrew KIA. 22 USMC still in area with 6 WIA and 4 KIA.
082230 - Attempt is being made to make ammo resupply at this time. One previous attempt missed position.
082245 - Estimate reinforced company based on contact. Receiving heavy volume of fire from numerous positions. Air strikes with napalm before darkness, flare ship and Puff the Magic Dragon on station. Still receiving sporadic fire from the enemy ... [they] continue to advance during darkness between flare drops.
082345 - C.O. E/2/4 [Captain Lee] has been wounded but is still functioning, still in command.
090005 - One UH-1E down at 2/4 position. Ammo resupply successful. UH-1E was shot down by ground fire, no injuries.
090122 - E/2/4 hasn't been under attack for some time. Doing fine.
090330 - E/2/4 position all secure
090425 - E/2/4 all quiet. C-47 armed with Gatling guns is adjusting fire closer to reaction group's lines
090545 - E/2/4 all quiet. Captain Lee now incapacitated. Senior pilot of helicopter now in charge.
090720 - Fox 2/4 landing, one helo down.
090845 - Fox 2/4 lift nearly complete
090930 - E/2/4 all WIA are out, helos received no fire during medevac. Fox 2/4 received no fire in landing zone. E/2/4 effectives will remain in place until link uo with Fox 2/4 is complete.
091000 - E/2/4 reports at least 30 VC/NVA KIA in area and have captured 20 weapons. Junction [with Fox 2/4] has been effected. Evacuation started.
091120 - Personnel from Sparrow Hawk and Recon retracted at 091000. Fox 2/4 remains in area.
091350 - 2/4 final report. Total VC/NVA KIA confirmed 37, 100 probable. Friendly casualties: Ground 4 KIA, 16 WIA, 0 MIA. Air 1 KIA, 10 WIA, 0 MIA.
The 1st Force Recon Company's post-patrol report provides additional information:
081700 - 30 to 40 VC/NVA started moving up toward the top of the hill from the north. They were able to come within hand grenade throwing range. Most of the casualties came from wounds inflicted by the fragments from grenades. Contact was broken by the VC at 081730.
081800 - Second assault made by 30 to 40 VC. The VC once again broke contact after throwing more grenades and firing into position of patrol. Resupply was made and a captain from Echo Company was dropped off to take command.
082130 - During 30 minutes of darkness, the VC made a third assault coming up three sides of the hill. They threw grenades and tried to penetrate the perimeter but were repelled by Marine rifle fire. Ammunition supply at this time was critically low.
082200 - Fighting resumed, VC/NVA broke contact, and a chopper came in for resupply. While on the ground, enemy grenades or 3.5" rocket hit the rotor blade and downed the chopper. After this, all contact with the VC was lost. Movement was still heard in the area from 50 to 100 meters from the patrol's position.
The terse and sometimes confusing entries in the 3rd MarDiv Operations log hide many of the details of the engagement. The first point to be made is that Team 61 consisted of four (4) men - and they were being pursued by many times that number. The second point is that the Sparrow Hawk quick-reaction force took six hours to arrive on-scene and link up with Team 61 ... helicopters had to be diverted from other missions, rearmed, refueled, sent to Dong Ha to collect the infantrymen, and finally sent from Dong Ha to the contact area. Six hours from "Go!" to "Got there!" may seem like too long, and sometimes it was - but it is difficult to redirect resources, particularly since Team 61 wasn't the only unit in contact in the 3rd MarDiv area. In this instance the cavalry arrived in time to save Team 61's collective rear.
The log entries don't reflect the fact that the 2nd Platoon's CO, 2ndLt Sherman, was wounded and then killed in the late afternoon assaults, leaving a wounded Staff Sergeant in command. Nor do they make it clear that Captain Howard V. Lee, CO of Echo 2/4, actually was wounded several times, not just once, but managed to maintain command until almost dawn.
The Team 61 post-patrol report mentions the critical ammunition situation and the downing of a resupply helo at about midnight, as does the 3rd MarDiv Ops Log (the 090005 entry). Not mentioned is the fact that Major Vincil W. Hazelbaker had earlier landed his UH-1 under fire and off-loaded 3000 rounds of his own ammunition - and then went back to Dong Ha, loaded up, and brought 800 pounds of ammo into the perimeter. While the Ops Log says Hazelbaker's crew suffered no injuries, in fact two of the four crewmen were wounded (believed to be Capt J. E. Browne and Cpl W. K. Luby).
Considering the circumstances, US casualties had been surprisingly light - only four Marines had been killed on the ground, all from Echo 2/4:
2ndLt Andrew M. Sherman, Doylestown, OH (Navy Cross);
Cpl Dennis R. Schmidt, North Plainfield, NJ;
Pfc Benjamin N. Hamrick, Kingmont, WV; and
Pvt Vernal G. Martin, Marshfield, WI.
The helicopter units also took casualties:
HMM-265 had three pilots and four crew members wounded
HMM-161 had two wounded and one dead - Cpl Ronald L. Belknap of Daly City, California
VMO-2 had two wounded
The fight cost another Marine's life; almost 13 years later, on 31 March 1979, one of the wounded HMM-265 crewman died from an illness complicated by the after-effects of his injuries - MSgt Herbert S. Murff of Pemiscot, Missouri. His name was added to the Wall in May 1997.
Comment on Incident
A/C was hit by intense enemy fire during an emergency resupply mission 50 miles NW PhuBai