Incident Date 19680728 HMH-463 CH-53A 153284+ - Mechanical Failure, Crash
Zuehlsdorf, John William 1stLT Co-Pilot HMH-463 MAG-16 1968-07-28 (vvm 50W:028)
Marceaux, Eraste John Cpl Crew Chief HMH-463 MAG-16 1968-07-28 (vvm 50W:025)
Gordon, Gary Gene Cpl Gunner HMH-463 MAG-16 1968-07-28 (vvm 50W:023)
Dryden Jr., Ralph Marion Maj Pilot HMH-463 MAG-16 1968-07-28 (vvm 50W:023)
Clark, William Stephen Cpl Gunner HMH-463 MAG-16 1968-07-28 (vvm 50W:022)
MAG-16 Command Chronology - July 1968
NON-HOSTILE 28 July 1968. 3 miles northwest of Danang, Quang Nam, RVN. CH-53 aircraft was observed to burn while in flight during a supply mission. The aircraft crashed into a rice paddy and was consumed by fire. The exact cause is unknown. All five crew members were killed in crash.Submitted by: N/A, 20030831
I picked up Gary, Bill and Frenchy and put their remains in body bags. No enemy in sight. They were only two minutes out of Marble Mountain Air Facility. Gary and I were best friends and it was crushing to me. The wreckage was just past a paddy and I thought maybe they took fire from there. There were a lot of dinks in the paddy but we took no fire. I don’t know why they went down and there was no way I could tell because the wreckage was strewn pretty good. It’s a mystery to me to this day. I was on the scene two minutes after it happened.Submitted by: Paul Smith, Crew Chief, HMH-463, chase plane/recovery a/c, 20030821
Before we went on our mission that morning, Gary asked if I would trade places with him as he was scheduled as gunner on the a/c I was on, but apparently had issues with one of the pilots. I agreed, as it made no difference to me. My MOS was 6371, support equip. mechanic, so I did not really know the crews very well. We did not make the change on the board in ops.
Paul Smith must have been the Crew Chief of the a/c I was on. We set down as soon as the a/c went down. When we got back to MMAF, Ops was shocked to see me. I explained how the change had taken place. In one of the next letters I got from home, my mom asked me if anything unusual had happened on the date of this accident.
She had awakened in the middle of the night with an overwhelming urge to pray for me. The time correlated with same time Gary and I had switched. I have wondered ever since why God would choose to take Gary rather than me. I was not a Christian at the time, but am now. Maybe Gary had already made that choice!
This was a mid day cargo/passenger milk run around the Da Nang area, and the weather was clear. Maj. Dryden was the squadron safety officer and Zuehlsdorf was fairly new to the squadron. One of the engines (right?) exploded in flight, and the explosion caused a fire in the doghouse. After the explosion the aircraft remained airborne for several minutes, while smoke trailed from the exploded engine.
The aircraft made more than one attempt to land and waived off each approach, one of which was to a village. On its last approach to a rice paddy south of Da Nang, not too far from Marble Mountain, the aircraft went out of control on short final and separated 100 or so feet AGL. It undoubtedly lost all of its hydraulic systems. Wreckage was strewn over a fairly wide area.
It was said that an eyewitness saw someone try to jump off of the ramp before the aircraft went out of control, and that the jumper was pulled back by others on the aircraft. Enemy fire was never a consideration for the cause of these deaths.
Months later, after I left the squadron, I heard that Maj. Dryden had been awarded a DFC for baulking the approach to the village. I did not confirm that report.
On July 28, 1968 Team MAYFLY, 1st Recon Bn, was gathered on Keating Field, Camp Reasoner, west of the USAF Base. We were on our way to the Dong Den OP for 10 days. CH-53's were necessary to lift twelve men and supplies to the top of Dong Den.
We saw a 53 approaching from the Marble Mountain area and the patrol leader shouted for us to saddle up. Someone yelled an expletive and was pointing at the 53. A very bright light was showing below the main rotor and it grew larger as the 53 appeared to try and lose altitude. I do not recall an explosion, only this bright light consuming the entire rotor area and then the 53 split in half with the front section tumbling end over end to the ground. It appeared to be in slow motion. The attached picture shows my team members looking out at the oily smoke that was billowing into the air, approximately 1/2 mile from Reasoner.
Soon the air was full of other helo's circling the wreckage. It turned out that this had not been our bird - soon ours showed and the patrol report indicates that we departed Reasoner at 0800. We flew slowly over the wreckage. I assume the crashed 53 and the one I was riding were from the same squadron. It was still smoking when we flew over. The helo separating in mid air will always be part of my memories.
Thanks so much for your input. We have heard so many stories and want to know facts. You all did an awsome job and I will always be grateful for your service to our country.Submitted by: Nancy Clark Bradley, sister to William Stephen Clark, 20040205
Bill and I were recruited by the same Officer Selection Officer from Des Moines. I graduated from University of South Dakota and was in the 40th OCC at Quantico with Bill, same platoon and squad. We were both married from the Neb - SD/Iowa area and became good friends.
When we finished OCS, I went to The Basic School for ground training and Bill was put on a short wait list for flight training. We lived during that time at Melrose Gardens, in Triangle VA, with wives and new babies.
I had just returned from my first tour of duty with 1st Marines (also working south of Marble Mountain), and was assigned to MCRD at San Diego. I received the call that he had been KIA and that I had been requested by the family to escort the body. Bill was a great team player and a terrific person.
IS IT JUST MY HEART?
IS IT JUST MY HEART?
by Joyce (Zuehlsdorf) Medina
My Vietnam veteran and I attended our first Nebraska Vietnam Veteran Reunion recently.
I must say the comraderie was amazing, That is not to say it surprised me, only that the
people attending the reunion were a vast variety of personalities and they all seemed
to meld into one.
The veterans all had a story to tell and were willing to share them with anyone who would
listen. I mostly listened to the veterans who related their stories. Some had funny tales
to tell and others had horrifying stories. While they talked, I paid particular attention to
their eyes and facial expressions. Some spoke with hesitation in their voice and a
pained look to their face; but seemed to appreciate the chance to pass on their
experiences. The veterans in attendance, whether they realize it or not; are able to
heal their mental wounds by simply talking to their comrades. I saw many different
expressions on the faces of these veterans. Sadness, bewilderment, fear, even
shame to name a few. However, one constant was an expression of respect towards
all those in attendance. I hope my expressions and actions were perceived as respect.
My veteran, my husband Mike related a concern of his; not to me but to my sister when
I was in a hospital some years back. He has belonged to the Veterans of Foreign
Wars since he got out of the Navy, but questions whether he should be eligible for
that honor since he was on the "safety of an air craft carrier off the coast of
Vietnam". His words, not mine! If I thought a swift kick would be the answer
to his query; I would have done it long ago. I hope our attendance of the reunion
has belayed any of his doubts. There was one veteran who thanked my husband
for the support those on land received from those ships that were "safe off the
coast". Again, Mike's words, not the veteran who was thanking him. I know I thanked
him and the expression on my husbands face was one of disbelief and relief at the
same time. My story has had an effect on my husband, as well.
I am a Gold Star sister, having lost my oldest brother in
1968 to what has always been deemed to be a senseless "police action". War
by any other name is still war, regardless of what the politicians call it. It has been
37 years since I last saw my brother, but still have dreams that he will one day
show up on my door step. My sister has had an almost identicle dream to mine.
In the dream, I have many different emotions at seeing him again. Happiness,
of course; is the first emotion. Then other emotions creep in. I am afraid that he
will ask me why I didn't come looking for him and he may think I didn't care enough
for him to do so. Then a feeling of reassuring him that I did try by attempting to contact
anyone who may have known him and was witness to the helicopter crash. I still question
of myself if I have done near enough. I think part of this dream stems from the fact that the
casket was never opened and we were told that the only thing inside was his dog tags.
One of the questions that runs through my mind is if only the dog tags were inside, could
these have been torn off amid the crash? Could he possibly have been taken
prisoner? Could he still be alive in some stink hole in that God forsaken country
called Vietnam? Could any of these questions be a possibility or is it just my
heart? All of these questions exist, despite the fact that my other brother was
determined to seek out answers to our brothers death; as he was serving in
Army Intelligence(I know that seems to be a contradiction in terms, HA) and
requested to go to Vietnam and check out the possibilities of any mistakes.
His request was granted against our mother's wishes and he found his own
answers. Those answers have never been the ones that I wanted to hear, thus
the recurring dream.
Some would say that it isn't healthy to think the way I have for so many years.
What I say is; "What's so healthy about losing hope?"
I came to realize sometime during the reunion that I was there for much the same
reasons as the veterans. I think we are all looking for some answers. Anything
to help us come to terms with our questions. I came away from all those veterans
with a renewed sense of health. Hope and Love are eternally healthy, especially
when it keeps someone special in your heart forever.
E.J. Marceaux & I were bunk-mates while stationed at MCAS, Tustin, CA in 1967. We were in HMH-462. He was chosen or volunteered to deploy to SEA [SouthEast Asia] with HMH-463. I deployed in August of '68 and learned of his loss upon arriving in country at Hue-Phu Bai. He was a big-hearted person and great friend. I will never forget his, and all fellow aviators' sacrifice.Submitted by: Ron Chamberlain, USMC HMH-462 crewchief, 20090102
Cpl Eraste John Marceaux
1stLt John William Zuehlsdorf, HMH-463