Incident Date 19680510 HMM-265 CH-46A 151907+ - Fall from medevac helicopter
Fleming III, Horace Higley Maj Pilot HMM-265 MAG-16 1968-05-10 (vvm 58E:006)
N152208 E1074541 (YC965009)
Comment on Incident
Ngok Tavak was attacked by an NVA infantry battalion at 0315 hours on May 10. The base was pounded by mortars and direct rocket fire, and then the frontal assault began. Later that morning medical evacuation helicopters supported by covering air strikes took out the seriously wounded. Two CH46's were able to land 45 replacements from the 12th Mobile Strike Force Company. One helicopter was hit in the fuel line and forced down. Another helicopter was hit by a rocket and burst into flames, wrecking the small helipad. The remaining wounded were placed aboard a hovering helicopter. As it lifted off, two Mike Force soldiers and 1stLt Bud Fleming, one of the stranded aviation crewmen, grabbed the helicopter skids. All three fell to their deaths after the helicopter had reached an altitude of over one hundred feet.Submitted by: N/A, 20030818
Tom Perry and I knew each other from Training Group back at Ft. Bragg. I believe he was in the Medical Aidman class just ahead of mine. When I arrived at C Company in Danang in mid-February, we ran into one another when I reported in to the orderly room. He offered me a bunk in his room and I readily accepted.
We worked together for a couple of months in the CIDG hospital at the C team and became close friends. Some time before the battle of Ngok Tavak I had transfered to the Mike Force and had a combat convoy and a recon mission (operation Quick Track) with the Marine Force Recon out of Danang under my belt. On that May morning, 03:00 - 04:00, I was roused with the traditional, "Git yer' shit" and, "Ngok Tavak has been overrun"! Not, what? I'd never heard of the place and had no idea what the C.Q. was talking about.
Dawn found me, Mike Force commo man Jack Deleshaw and Perry from the C team on our way out to the battle in a Huey in advance of the Chinooks with our Mike Force troops aboard. I don't know why Perry was on the mission. He was not a member of the Mike Force. Obviously someone could have roused him out. Perhaps he had volunteered for MF and had as yet to move to the compound. He may have had CQ that night and had been on top of the situation, I don't know. None-the-less, he was there ultimately because he volunteered for the misson. I believe our chopper took out some of the wounded and/or dead. The position was under fire by mortar and sporadic small arms fire. Tom and I attended to the remaining wounded and waited for 12 Co. to arrive.
The first Chinook arrived and offloaded our Nungs. But before the chopper could get airborne it was struck by an RPG and grounded. There was still enough room beside it to land another Chinook and, indeed the second landed and the second group of Nungs deplaned. This second chopper was in turn struck by a second RPG. I don't remember any additional Chinooks trying to land as reported elsewhere. I was under the impression that the grounded helicopter and the remains of the second on the ground made the chopper pad too small to be used. That's why the med-evac chopper had to hover while we loaded the wounded aboard. One of the crewmen from one of the Chinooks was badly wounded. I bound his wounds, gave him morphine and pinned the empty styrette to his fatigue shirt.
It has been reported elsewhere that the NVA ceased firing and let us load the wounded into the medevac chopper. I don't remember it that way but I was very much afraid and thought firing continued as I stood and heaved the stretcher holding the wounded air crewman into the hovering Huey. I know I hit the ground immediately upon his being secured by the med-evac crew. When I put my head up again the last person was falling from the chopper's skids.
The word kept going around that we were to be re-inforced. But we had to wonder,"the chopper pad is unuseable; how they gonna' get re-inforcements in here? By foot"? "Look at all them indians out there: they ain' gonna' get 'em in here on foot"! We understood that we were surrounded by a division or more. So, finally, around noon Captain White called a formation of sorts. Seems like it was about noon.
We round eyes all gathered round and the captain told us we were gonna' have to walk out. "You will destroy all your gear and carry only arms, ammunition, grenades and one canteen of water." He went on to describe how everything must be destroyed, all the arms, radios, documents, ammo and so forth. Then he said the order of march would be one half of the indigenous troops would lead, single file; all the round eyes would follow, with the remainder of the idiges pulling up the rear. I looked over at Tom Perry on the other side of the formation and gave him a wink and a smile. That's the last time I saw him.
Capt. White assigned every one particular duties and we all dipersed to carry them out. My task was to haul equipment to the only bunker with overhead cover on the hill and help deploy C-4 to blow it all up. After blowing up all the equipment the single-file column began to move through the wire. When about two thirds of the round eyes had passed through the wire, I joined in. I don't remember going through any freshly napalmed areas. Maybe I've forgotten. I just remember dense, triple canopy jungle and leeches, elephant dung and wide swathes through the vegetation where they'd made their way. After some time we reached the foot of the mountian. A small mountain stream crossed our line of march. I crossed to a small sandbar on the far side of the stream and halted, letting the trailing column pass me by. Captain White aproached from up the mountain and I could see that he was the last or nearly the last round eye in the column. There were only indiges behind him. When he reached the sand bar I stopped him and told him that we had an American missing.
We began to climb after crossing the stream and when we reached the apex of our climb we began to hack out a helicopter landing pad on the ridgeline. Jolly Greens came in to extract us and I remember having to literally bodily throw two or three Nungs out of the chopper before it was light enough to take off.
It has been reported elsewhere that Perry went back into or back toward the wire to administer to some of the Nungs wounded by a mortar round. I'd like to have more details on this. I had never heard it before 2004, 36 yrs. after the fact. Also, I'd like to know more about the search party that went back to try to find Perry. Again, this is new to me. The only additional news I heard of Tom after his assumed capture was told to me by an S-2 officer at the C Team. About a month or two after the fall of Kham Duc. I went to S-2 and asked if there was any further information on Tom. A First Lieutenant told me that Tom had been spotted by Project Delta being forced to work somewhere in an underground NVA hospital in his capacity as a medic but was surrounded by too many bad guys to try a rescue.
I was the crew chief of a flight of 2 huey gun ships that was flying cover for 2 Army transports that brought in 2 105s and some troops to reinforce the base.
It was late in the day so we landed and spent the night. We were introduced to 2 Australian officers and they informed us that we could be overrun at any time. They asked us to bring our M-60s with us to our sleeping quarters. We played cards and had a few beers. We turned in about 1:00 a.m.
At about 3:00 a.m. we awoke to mortar rounds going off all around us. We scrambled out of our hooch to our fighting positions as directed by our Australian friends. One those officers stayed in the trench with me all night. My fellow crew chief and friend was almost hit by a mortar round and he returned to the hooch to get my boots. I didn't even realize I had forgotten them. The next morning we got word that we were leaving. We saddled up and took off. We flew cover for about an hour before we had to return to MMAF.
What really upset me was that we were told that the Americans and the Australians were taken out but a 100 or so Montagnards were left to be slaughtered by the NVA.
Task Force Omega Files
Submitted by: N/A, 20030818
SYNOPSIS: Kham Duc Special Forces camp (A-105), was located on the western fringes of Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, it was the only remaining border camp in Military Region I, and was located 46 miles southwest of Da Nang, on a narrow grassy plain surrounded by rugged, virtually uninhabited jungle. The camp and airstrip were bordered by the Ngok Peng Bum ridge to the west and Ngok Pe Xar Mountain, looming over Kham Duc to the east. Steep banked streams full of rapids and waterfalls cut through this tropical wilderness.
In late March 1968, US intelligence picked up information that the 2nd NVA Regiment, well over 10,000 men strong, was moving from North Vietnam, through Laos, and intended to enter South Vietnam somewhere south of Kham Duc, on its way to the Da Nang area. Capt. John White, Royal Australian Army, along with two other Australian Army advisors, commanded a company of some 130 Chinese Nung commandos who comprised the 11th Mobile Strike Force Company. His orders were for his "Mike Force" to ferret out all information pertaining to the movements of the 2nd NVA regiment. To this end, they staged out of the Special Forces Camp at Kham Duc.
Five miles south of Kham Duc, Capt. White and his men, discovered the old abandoned French fort of Ngok Tavak located between the Vietnamese/Lao boarder and Route 14. Like the old fort, Route 14 was built by the French, and it ran north/south along the boarder. Ngok Tavak was roughly 40 meters by 40 meters square (a little over an acre). It was surrounded by a 6 to 8 foot high berm with fighting positions cut into it. The fort itself stood atop a small mountain with the highest point being in the center of the fort. Both the fort and the road were badly overgrown with jungle, a fact that was to their advantage in using it as a secret base of operations.
Over the next 4 weeks, Capt. White's Mike Force located and tracked the movements of the NVA regiment as it moved through Laos, then began moving up Route 14 toward them. Each day Mike Force troops would scout for the Communist force. They were aided in their search by a Forward Air Controller (FAC) who daily, from his airborne vantage point, could easily observe the enemy troop movements as they repaired Route 14 as they traveled along it. A 6-man Special Forces A-team from C Company, 5th SFG, was also staging from the old French fort.
About 1 May, to Capt. White's astonishment, 3 Marines helicoptered into the old fort asking him where he wanted 2 - 105mm howitzers placed as well as the Marine unit that was coming in with the guns. Since it is a Mike Force's job to see and not be seen, the arrival of the Marine platoon called unwanted attention to the old fort. The next day the two howitzers, 44 Marines and 1 jeep of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines were airlifted into the area by CH46 Chinook helicopters over Capt. White's objections.
A CIDG platoon (local irregular defense forces) of 60 men were sent from Kham Duc to beef up the defensive manpower of the fort. Capt. White stationed them outside the fort itself on the eastern side in a perimeter position between it and Route 14. Within 24 hours of the CIDG force's arrival, the defenders found their telephone wires and claymore mine wires had been cut. It was later learned that the CIDG force contained Communist infiltrators. For the next week, the NVA moved steadily closer to Ngok Tavak. On 7 May, the CIDG troops told Capt. White "they had to be part of the inner defense" of the fort. When they were told "no”, they walked out vowing to return to Kham Duc. They got about 1 kilometer away from the fort when they ran into an NVA ambush. The ensuing fierce firefight could be heard by the allied forces inside the fort. Interestingly, when the CIDG force returned to Ngok Tavak, not one of them was wounded.
On the evening of 9 May 1968, Capt. White made the decision to move most the Marines and the howitzers to the highest part of the fort in the center of it. Over the next few hours, they dug their foxholes and prepared their positions. The rest of the Marines manned machine gun and mortar pits along the perimeter. At midnight, the defenders could plainly hear NVA troops moving into attack positions around their location. The commander of the 2nd NVA regiment determined that Ngok Tavak could not be bypassed because of the threat it posed to their flank once the regiment moved past the outpost. At 0300 hours on 10 May, the CIDG troops moved toward the fort yelling, "Don't shoot, don't shoot! Friendly, friendly!" Suddenly they lobbed grenades and satchel charges into the closest machine gun positions on either side of the entry, and ran into the fort. Right behind them were 2 companies of NVA with flame throwers. They ignited the ammo storage bunkers near the center of the compound.
By 0315 hours the old fort was being pounded by mortars, rockets, grenades, machine gun and small arms fire. According to Capt. White, conservatively there were 100 "friendly" troops and 300 "unfriendly" troops all within the interior of the fort fiercely fighting one another. The fighting was so intense and in such close quarters that no one could move without running into someone else. The problem was, was it friend or enemy? The allied troops were forced from the eastern and central portion of the camp, to the western quarter. In an attempt to halt the attack, an Air Force AC47 gunship, nicknamed "Spooky," was called in by the defenders to lay down a withering barrage of suppressive fire. The gunship continued strafing runs every ten minutes until it was out of ammunition, then remained on station until it was nearly out of fuel in order to provide Ngok Tavak with a desperately needed communication link. These air attacks decimated the enemy ranks to the point the NVA's attack was halted.
In the pre-dawn light, the tide of the battle began to turn in the defender's favor. Outside the fort two platoons of Nung were dug in in a "V" shaped defensive position on the old French parade ground just to the west of the fort. Each platoon had an Australian advisor with it; and because of the ammo fires, coordinated automatic and small arms fire was able to mow down the NVA troops who were now being silhouetted by the flames. As the NVA were driven back and out of the old fort, they took nearly all of their dead and wounded with them. As the allied forces secured their location, they found USSF Sgt. Glenn Miller dead with a gunshot wound in the right side of his head. They also found the bodies of 11 Marines who were killed during the fierce, and frequently hand to hand, combat which raged during the night. These bodies were placed in body bags and moved to a temporary morgue area so they could be recovered at a later time.
Also in the early morning hours, two CH46's were able to land 45 replacements from the 12th Mobile Strike Force Company and intended to remove Ngok Tavak's wounded at the same time. Both of the Chinooks were shot down, one wrecking the small helipad located to the west of the fort on the old parade ground. American medevac helicopter pilots, who were already in the area, requested permission to try to evacuate the wounded. In an uncharacteristic demonstration of honor, the NVA allowed all Red Cross marked helicopters to hover unmolested next to the berm where wounded defenders were loaded aboard them. As soon as each departed the area, the attack resumed. As one of the medevac helicopters began to lift off, 1st Lt. Horace Fleming, pilot of the Chinook that crashed on the helipad, and a Nung soldier, were attempting to board. They were able to grab the skid, but were unable to be rescued by those inside. Both men fell to their death from the skid into the thick jungle from an altitude of approximately 100 feet.
After the counterattack forced the Communists out of the fort, Capt. White made the decision to evacuate Ngok Tavak at 1200 hours if reinforcements were unable to get into them. After informing Kham Duc of his decision, he was told to "hold on" as "reinforcements were on the way." Unfortunately, all attempts to reinforce the tiny outpost were repulsed by the NVA. At 1300 hours NVA forces encircled three-quarters of Ngok Tavak, leaving only the northern side of the compound open along Route 14. The NVA plan was to allow the defenders to escape, and then ambush them as they moved along the road toward Kham Duc.
However, Capt. White devised an escape plan of his own. First, all the weapons, equipment and munitions that could not be carried with them were hastily piled into the command bunker and set afire. Air strikes were called in to drop napalm beginning at the northeast corner of Ngok Tavak, and then these strikes were "walked out" in a line away from the fort toward the northeast. As the flames began to subside, the escape column, totaling about 80 men, departed through the fire caused by the napalm. Nung commandos were in the lead followed by the Australians, Marines, Special Forces and a rear guard of Nungs. As they departed the camp, a mortar round exploded in the rear of the column killing and wounding several of the Nungs. Special Forces medical specialist Thomas Perry dropped back to aid the wounded. When the NVA entered the old fort, they captured Perry and the men he was treating. The rest of the allies were able to make good their escape, then were picked up by Chinook helicopters a safe distance away and transported to Kham Duc Special Forces Camp,
For those men killed at Ngok Tavak whose bodies were left behind, they have the right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. For Thomas Perry, along with many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Indochina, his fate could be quite different.
Jack Matheny gave a very good account of what happened after we arrived at Ngok Tavak. All of us that surived, know that we owe our lives to the brave men who supported us from the air. We can't thank ya'll enough. Good job JackSubmitted by: Jack Deleshaw, Det B-16 First Mobile Strike Force, 20041119
I have worn a POW / MIA bracelet for over 20 years with Major Fleming's name on it. I will wear it until the day I die or until I know where he is. Semper Fi Major. We will never forget.Submitted by: Gy Sgt Al Whitney (USMC Ret), 20120709