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Emergency Medevac May 29,1969; A Reunion

May 29, 1969, The 3rd platoon leader (Dan Gardner) for Hotel 2/1 was leading a recon patrol along the LOD for Operation Pipestone Canyon. While investigating bunkers along the river bank of the Song La Tho, a booby trap was tripped resulting in the platoon leader being seriously wounded.

While flying the General’s huey in the area that day, Jim Hobstetter heard the distress call and flew into action.

On May 29, 1969, as the 3rd platoon leader of Hotel 2/1, I was leading a recon patrol along the LOD for Operation Pipestone Canyon, an operation that was to jump off the next morning to clear Dodge City and Go Noi Island. Our job was to locate tank and Amtrac crossings and I had been joined by a young Marine Captain (forget his name) who was the tank company commander. While investigating some bunkers along the river bank of the Song La Tho, southeast of Hill 55 and east of the railroad line, I tripped a M-26 grenade that had been booby trapped. Myself, a S-2 Intelligence Scout named (Corporal) Cooper, and my platoon’s Kit Carson Scout named KY were all wounded seriously. I had taken shrapnel wounds to my entire body and had multiple internal injuries. My radio operator put out an emergency medevac call, but I was having real difficulties. I knew that if the chopper was coming from Marble Mountain, I wasn’t going to make it. Because I was still conscious, I was aware of what was going on, but I’d pretty much given up hope. I knew anything flying from Marble Mountain was going to have about an hour turn around time to get me to NSA.

Jim had been flying General Simpson (1st MARDIV) in VT-14 that day and had dropped him off at Hill 55. He was monitoring the Da Nang net as he flew around the area awaiting the General to call him back for a pick-up. He heard the medevac call, gave instructions through the net to pop smoke, landed, and flew us to NSA, Da Nang. Just in time, because my lungs began to collapse as I was rolled into triage.

I now know from talking with members of my platoon that the bunkers were occupied. Jim was flying a slick without a co-pilot. Fortunately, the LZ was quiet, but it could have turned bad at anytime from what we know now. The next day a number of sappers were killed in that exact same area.

I spent 273 days recovering in the USNH in Portsmouth, VA. My roommate in the hospital for the majority of that stay was Captain Alan F. Davis, who flew with both HMM-262 and HMM-364 from late 67 through 68. Al had been in a jeep accident in Gitmo and was being treated for a compressed skull fracture. The word on the hospital ward was that Al did the walking and I did the talking. Al encouraged me through all the painful surgery and physical therapy that I had to go through. I was blessed to have two extraordinary Marine pilots in my life during that difficult time.

About a year ago, because of your research and some other battalion and regiment that I was able to locate, it became clear to me that Jim Hobstetter was the pilot that flew me and the two others out that day. I wrote him a letter to thank him. We talked on the telephone several times and planned to get together. Jim lives in Dayton, OH and I live an hour south of Charlottesville, VA.

In the interim, Jim’s wife Sherri was talking to Bob Hamilton, an Army pilot, who was organizing the 2009 reunion of the OH River LZ Chapter of the Vietnam H-Pilots Association in Louisville, KY. This association is predominately Army pilots. She told Bob about me contacting Jim. It was Bob who organized the surprise for Jim. Paul Bartlett who was also an Army pilot and makes plaques, etc. made a beautiful plaque for Jim commemorating the medevac. Jim received the plague at the reunion dinner. The guest speakers that night were Lt Gen. Hal Moore and UPI reporter Joe Galloway who wrote the book, “We were soldiers once.”

We are still trying to figure out who the crew chief was.

On the day that it happened we dropped the general off at Hill 55 and in doing so experienced a very unusual one time control problem with the aircraft. It is my recollection that the general’s regular aircraft (the one with the red cloth seats) was having some maintenance done. Upon shutting down, the 2nd aircraft just jumped about 50 ft for no apparent reason. It scarred the hell out of the general and me as well. Because it was the general I decided not to take a chance so I called for maintenance pilot to come out and check it out. I cannot be sure, but I thought that pilot was a Captain Thomas. I think we flew the original ship back to Marble with no incidents. By that time the general’s plane was ready to fly so I took it back to Hill 55. It was while I was headed back that I heard the distress call on the DaNang DASC frequency. They said that a platoon commander was in dire circumstances and needed an immediate evacuation or he was not going to make it. I asked where they were and it turned out that they were very near Hill 55. I asked if they were in radio contact with them and they were. I directed them to pop a smoke and I immediately saw it coming up. I did a low pass, saw what looked like a bunch of marines running around waving at me and landed. They said it was a hot zone but I do not recall taking any fire. A big black sergeant brought several people out and put them on the chopper and I departed directly for NSA DaNang. That is the last I ever heard of it until Dan Gardner contacted me this summer. Because I had already been in trouble for other unauthorized behavior I used the fake call sign of Mystery Medevac. I did not want to get in trouble for any other unauthorized action. I was concerned about the whole incident because there was a lot of blood all over the general’s airplane. I told him about it when I finally picked him up and he had no problem with it. I would like to get in touch with Hunseker if he was the crew chief that was usually assigned to the mission. If he is the one he should remember me because I let him fly the aircraft out on the island in DaNang Harbor.