1968 Public Information Activities


Public Information Activities

2 January 1968

DALAT – 1st Platoon – 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company
"Sea Horse and Casey Jones”

On 2 January 1968 at 1000 hours intelligence agents discovered that a large charge of demolitions had been placed on the railroad track about midway between Dalat and Phan Rang.  As arrangements were being completed for an operation to enter the unfriendly area and remove the demolitions, word was relayed up the line to stop the next train, scheduled to arrive in the critical area at about 1100 hours.

For some undetermined reason, however, the train was not stopped, and was proceeding toward the danger area at a high rate of speed when Sea Horse # 18, 1Lt. Montague T. Higginbotham (Age:  23, from Jacksonville, FL) got the frantic call that disaster was imminent.  As fate would have it an American convoy was traveling the highway that parallels this railroad track between Don Duong and Song Fao.

The train, however, was rapidly approaching the deadly Viet Cong demolitions trap.  “Sea Horse #18” determined that drastic measures were required and fired one WP rocket about 100 meters in front of the onrushing train.  Needless to say, this did the trick, and one frightened engineer came to a screeching halt..  At this point the personnel of the convoy explained the danger ahead, and for once “Charlie” had been thwarted in his often successful efforts to interdict this vital supply line.  Again teamwork between “Sea Horse” and ground troops did the job.

Third Platoon – 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “ Sea Horse” Company

Nha Trang - 31 January.  At a ceremony on the 30th of January held at the Operations Office of the 3rd Platoon 183rd  RAC, four “Sea Horse” pilots were designated as Honorary Members of HHD 16th Military Police Group.  Col. Shanklin, 16th Group Commander, presented a certificate and a unit patch to Captain Douglas L. Thorp (age: 29 from Honolulu, HI.), Cpt. Joseph F. Peters (age: 26 from St. Cloud, MN), Cpt. James E. Leathers (age: 30 from Oakdale, TN), and Cpt. William H. Jackson (age:  24 from Ridge Road Kellers Church, PA).  This was to commemorate the many missions the four “Sea Horses” have flown in support of the MP operations.

Taking off at first light, a “Sea Horse” pilot and an MP observer performed a visual reconnaissance missions as they cover the area between Nha Trang and Phan Rang.  Primarily looking for obstacles to vehicular traffic, the pilot – MP team also observe convoys heading north and south form Cam Ranh Bay and provide security.

Col. Shanklin personally flew as observer on the day of the honorary citations and remarked that the flight was very interesting and beneficial.  Continued cooperation between the Nha Trang “Sea Horses” and the 16th Group is expected and shall greatly assist the traffic flow in the Khanh Hoa area.

2nd Flight Platoon – 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Phan Thiet – 7 March:  On the 25th of February, at 2130 hours, the Viet Cong in the area, as a last act before discontinuing attacks against Phan Thiet for the remainder of the month, blew up the ammunition storage area located near the runway at the airfield.  No one is exactly sure as to what was used in the attack or what started the chain reaction in the stockpile.  This chain reaction lasted for four hours and destroyed most of the RVN ammunition supply point, damaged the operations office of the 2nd Platoon with shrapnel, and other building along the airfield.

Cpt. Gene Holloway (age: 27 from Dothan, AL.); Cpt. Fred C. Hankinson (age: 29 from Fairbanks, AK); and Lt. Donald L. Parker (age: 24 from West Monroe, LA), were airborne shortly after the first large explosion.  They decided to circle the city to see if the intensity of the explosions would diminish so the aircraft could return to Phan Thiet.  After two hours of circling the area, it was decided that Cpt. Holloway and Lt. Parker would fly to Phan Rang and Cpt. Hankinson would remain over Phan Thiet to help spot enemy positions for as long as his fuel held out, then fly to Phan Rang and be relieved by Lt. Parker.  Cpt. Hankinson then started his spotting job for a “Spooky” class C-47 attack airplane.  His job entailed finding the source of enemy fire, and having “Spooky” prevent any further attacks on the airfield.

The Sector advisor team requested continuous air cover by the “Sea Horses” of the 2nd Platoon, and arrangements were made to fly form Phan Rang to Phan Thiet, in shifts, to provide the requested coverage for the remaining six hours of darkness.

During these last six hours, “Spooky” was again deployed to the area to further discourage any new VC attempt on the airfield or the Sector Headquarters itself.

The following morning, a mop-up operation was carried out by platoons from the 101st Airborne and RVN detachments.  Shortly, a body count of 57 enemy dead was taken and attributed to the efforts of “Spooky” and the 2nd Flight Platoon of the 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane Company.

This again showed the worth of the “Bird Dogs” in the area and its worth in coordination with attack aircraft in the war.  It also showed the worth of the 183rd in the war effort.

2nd Flight Platoon – 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Phan Thiet – 27 February:  At 1200 hours the “Sea Horses” of the 2nd Platoon, 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane Company received word that a company of Vietnamese Regional Forces at Song Mao were in contact with a force of Viet Cong of undetermined size.  Lt. Donald L. Parker (age: 24 from West Monroe, LA) was in the air shortly afterward and in the area east of Hoa Da.  He entered the area to find gunships already in the vicinity and ground forces in contact with the enemy.  Fifteen minutes later, Lt. Parker spotted about 25 VC moving north along a stream bed, and he directed the gunships against the enemy.  At the same time he kept ground forces briefed as to movements of the sighted enemy.  After the gunships expended all their ammunition, they returned to Phan Thiet for rearming and a previous commitment.  This left Lt. Parker without any offensive power other than his own marking rockets.  He expended his white phosphorous rockets, marking the routes of retreat, indicating to the Regional Forces where blockages of enemy might be effective, and trying to contain the VC themselves.

Lt. Parker then called for an Air Force air strike, and approximately 35 minutes later the Air Force was hitting the area with F4C Phantom jets.  Cpt. Harold E. Holloway (age: 27 from Dothan, AL) relieved Lt. Parker shortly afterward and continued surveillance of the area.  After two Air Force air strikes, Cpt. Holloway went in for a close look of casualties.  He counted 75 VC retreating, of which several were wounded.  He counted 31 enemy dead lying along the stream bed and in the rice paddies.

Two hours later, Cpt. Fred C. Hankinson (age: 29 from Fairbanks, AK) relieved Cpt. Holloway.  Minutes later, Cpt. Hankinson spotted one VC in a clearing, apparently retreating from the previous action, and quickly disposed of the VC straggler.

Late in the afternoon of 11 March 1968 Captain James E. Leathers and Lt. James R. Bazzell, responded to a call from the MACV subsecter in Van Nihn, located near the northern border of Khanh Hoa Province.  Based on a report that the North Vietnamese Army soldiers had entered the villages, close to the foot hills, to gather rice.  The American advisor, called for visual reconnaissance, to assist in finding and destroying the enemy before they could retreat into their mountain hideaway.

The 183rd Aviation Company (Sea Horse), who supports this area, answered the call.  Captain Leathers flew his Army O-1 Bird Dog directly to the area.  He made a low pass over the village so the enemy would not have time to hide.

While in route to the target area, two armed Huey gunships were requested.  They quickly moved forward to rendezvous with the Bird Dog surveillance aircraft.

From the rear seat, Lieutenant Bazzell observed one NVA soldier filling his rice bags, and directed the gunships to engage this individual.  The hungry NVA soldier was dropped, while running toward the jungle covered hills.  He had a sack of rice on one shoulder and a machine gun on the other.

While Captain Leathers circled low to confirm the kill, he received gun fire from a grass hut in the area.  Lt. Bazzell located several unfilled rice bags made of gray NVA uniform material and Cpt. Leathers directed the gunships against the hut and the tree line adjacent to the rice bags.

The following day, a popular forces company found two bodies and one rifle with blood trails to indicate two or more had also been hit.

The gunships were from the 48th AHC Minh Hoa, Vietnam.  The Subsecter Advisor, Cpt. Hester indicated that rapid strikes of this nature are necessary to help suppress enemy activity in South Vietnam.

 1st Flight Platoon – 183rd reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Dalat – 16 March:  On 9 March, the town of Bac Lang in the Duc Trong Sector of  Tuyen Duc Province was reportedly occupied by a large Viet Cong unit.  Quickly, a RVN reaction force was dispatched to the area and found “Charlie” in mass.

Cpt. Gerald E. Bedford (age: 25 form Huntsville, AL) was sent out from the 1st Flight Platoon of the 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane Company’s Headquarters in Dalat to locate enemy positions and radio his findings to aid government forces.

Several times during the ensuing three hour engagement, Cpt. Bedford flew in low to prevent friendly units from being pinned down by the larger VC force. He would fly in, locate the enemy positions, then radio the locations to waiting “Huey” gunships.  They then would fly in and lay fire on “Charlie”.

As the fighting slowed to an occasional sniper round, everyone was settling down for the night.  Suddenly the Subsector headquarters, only tow miles away, came under mortar fire.  Almost immediately, the headquarters artillery section began pounding the enemy held hill from which the mortar rounds had come.  Soon the hills were silenced.

However, at the same time, Cpt. Bedford noticed men scurrying about in the contested area of the town.  A quick radio call confirmed his doubts that the men were friendly.  He then concluded that the mortar barrage was just a cover for their retreat.  Diving in, Cpt. Bedford spotted a house from which soldiers were running.  On this pass, he fired a rocket that hit the house, killing all inside.  On a second pass, he hit a neighboring house that had fired on him on his first pass.  It too burnt to the ground with it’s occupants.  On his third pass, Cpt. Bedford caught one VC in the chest and felled another next to him with a rocket.  The forth found its mark in a group of VC.  Of these, the majority were either killed or wounded by a white phosphorous type rocket.

Being low on fuel and out of rockets, the eagle-eye “Sea Horse” had to turn for home.  But as he left he noted 45 VC either dead or wounded, being dragged away by their buddies.

Such is the daily routine life of the sharp-eyed “Sea Horse” pilots of the 1st Platoon in Dalat.

 2nd Flight Platoon – 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Phan Thiet – 28 March:  The early morning of 23 March found Lt. Donald L. Parker (age: 24 from West Monroe, LA) returning to base from a routine dawn patrol mission, when received a call from Sector Headquarters stating that one of their units was receiving heavy mortar fire.  At this time, they asked that Lt. Parker proceed to the area to assist in any aerial reconnaissance that may be needed.  As Lt. Parker approached the area, he observed exploding mortar rounds hitting in the vicinity of the friendly forces, and was able to determine the location of their origin.

Shortly after establishing where the friendly locations were, he spotted movement to their south.  It was “Charlie” closing in for the kill under the cover of their mortar fire.

At the same moment, Cpt. Fred Hankinson (age: 29 from Fairbanks, AK) was adjusting artillery fire in a nearby area.  He was then contacted to come and help Lt. Parker, so that they could hold off any enemy advances until ground help arrived.  A call for helicopter gunships had already been requested when Cpt. Hankinson arrived and started his runs with his marking rockets.

After Lt. Parker had expended all four of his rockets on “Charlie”, he was low on fuel and had to return to the Phan Thiet airfield.  During this time, Cpt. Hankinson continued his operations of directing gunships until Cpt. Harold E. Holloway (age: 27 form Dothan, AL) relieved him.  Now it was Cpt. Holloway’s turn to observe “Charlie’s” actions.  On one pass over VC positions, Cpt. Holloway fired one white phosphorous rocket, and return fire from “Charlie” denoted that he was irritated by the “Sea Horse” persistence to know what he was doing.  However, no hits were reported.

Cpt. Robert Marrifield (age: 27 from Dothan, AL) relieved Cpt. Holloway in the early morning hours.  During his time the battle becomes so intense, that Cpt. Marrifield, under the direction from Sector Head quarters, called the Air Force for an airstrike.  In about twenty minutes, 4 F-100s from Phan Rang were in the area, drawing smoke on “Charlie”.

During the morning daylight, VC and RVN units were still engaged in combat.  But around noon, the VC pulled back into the hills leaving behind them approximately 75 bodies of VC.

183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Dong Ba Thin – 6 April:  The 183rd reconnaissance Airplane Company’s mess hall was the recipient of the “Best Mess Hall” award of the 17th Aviation Group today.  Making the presentation were Co. Bill Smith (17th Group Commander) and Lt.C Henry Dethlefs III (223rd Aviation Battalion). SSG William H. Page (183rd Mess Sergeant) accepted the award as Major Robin Speiser (183rd RAC Commander), SSG Goodman (former 183rd Mess Sergeant) and SP5 Simon Everson (Head Cook), looked on.

The award to the Company Mess Hall was from competition with 31 other Mess halls in the 17th Group.  Judging was drawn from scores on appearances of personnel and facilities, improvements to the structure, service given to company personal, cleanliness, and food preparation.  The award is testimony to the hard work the Mess Hall staff puts into their jobs.  The personnel also include SSG Earl Unholtz, SP5 John Mackey, SP4 Michael S. Kostick Jr. and PFC James Rolzhausen.

 1st Flight Platoon – 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Dalat – 11 April:  A relative calm of 2 weeks was suddenly shattered on April 3rd, when Cpt. Montague T, Higginbotham (Age:  24 from Jacksonville, FL) spotted 6 logging trucks stopped at a suspected VC tax collection point.  An area probe by ground forces found this to be true.  The Dalat based “Sea Horse” went to work calling in artillery and mortar support and flew back into the area observing any enemy movement.  Evidence that at least 1 VC was killed and many blood trails were found after the action.

On the afternoon of the 6th, Cpt. Higgenbotham, while covering a ground force movement, spotted a defensive VC position very near the objective.  The ground unit engaged the VC for approximately 30 minutes while Cpt. Higgenbotham was in the process of obtaining gunships in support of the friendly ground forces.  As the “Huey” gunships arrived at the scene, Cpt. Higginbotham coordinated from the gunship to the suspected enemy positions.  This action netted 1 confirmed kill, plus 2 large graves which were discovered the following morning.

By the midmorning of the 7th, ground forces had begun approaching to within 150 yards of their objective.  Suddenly, all of the civilians in the village rushed onto a dirt road and fled the area.  Almost simultaneously, mortar and 57mm gun fire began falling on the friendly units.  Once again the ground command sought aid from above.  Within 20 minutes a flight of F-100s were on the scene after being called in by Cpt. Higgenbotham.  As the F-100s hit the area, the “Sea Horse” observed many VC being dragged away through the smoke and dust.  It was estimated that “Charlie” lost 40 men in the engagement.  

 2nd Flight Platoon - 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

Phan Rang – 28 April:  While flying on a normal visual reconnaissance mission, Cpt. Lloyd White (Age:  28 from Elmira, NY) received a call from an 0-2 from the 504th Tactical Air Squadron.  They stated that 25-30 VC had been sighted in a free fire zone and in an area of sparse vegetation.  Being nearby at the time, Cpt. White changed course and was on location within minutes.  After surveying the situation, Cpt. White called the Air Force for a Forward Air Controller for the situation so an airstrike could be called.  In the meantime, he kept “Charlie” busy until the FAC and the fighters from the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron arrived.  Cpt. White kept the VC busy by dropping his four rockets on them and diving on their positions to keep them pinned down.  During this time Cpt. White personally accounted for four enemy kills, and after the fighters arrived, they accounted for approximately 5 more..  In keeping the VC pinned down, Cpt. White reported heavy ground fire, but as his luck held, no hits on his aircraft were recorded.

After Cpt. White’s fuel was exhausted, he was relieved by Lt. Steven Smith (Age:  25 from Cocoa Beach, FL.)  Lt. Smith then called upon the Navy to help shell the area.  Within minutes the Navy unleashed 200 rocket rounds on the area.  Again Lt. Smith went in to make a report.  He reported that the 5 inch rockets had “put the big hurt” on the VC in the area, and that there was no sign of life.  Truly “Charlie” was hurting.

2nd Flight Platoon - 183rd Reconnaissance Airplane “Sea Horse” Company

On the 6th of May, Lt. Paul E. Sottak (age: 22 from Gilford, NH) was on an early morning visual reconnaissance mission when he got a call from the MACV Advisors at Song Mao.  They informed Lt. Sottak that an unknown sized force of VC had infiltrated the village of Xuzn Hoi in Binh Thuan Province.  He was then asked to cover the reaction force.   When Lt. Sottak arrived, he noticed several VC moving in the graveyard, south of the village.  This was reported to the ground commander of the reaction force.  Lt. Sottak was then relieved as his plane became low on fuel. Lt. Joseph J. Carrague (age: 21 from Buna, TX) took over for Lt. Sottak.   Paralleling this time, the VC began firing on the two company reaction force.  Lt. Carrague immediately started radioing coordinates to the RVN artillery emplacement in Song Mao.  Within minutes, the VC had stopped their harassment of the friendly forces and had started pulling back. 

The VC force broke contact for a couple of hours, but then renewed the contact to a greater extent than before.  Cpt. Harold E. Holloway (age: 27 from Dothan, AL) relieved Lt. Carrague and continued the job of spotting for the artillery.

The engagement continued throughout the day, but finally when “Huey” gunships could be brought to the area, the VC pulled out for good.  The combination of artillery and gunships, plus pinpoint spotting by the reconnaissance pilots of the 183rd Airplane Company’s “Sea Horses” had proved to be too much for the VC.  As the VC retreated, they were further harassed by naval gunfire.  It seemed that it just wasn't “Charlie’s” day.

Captain Jimmy Coffman, a section leader with the 183rd Recon Airplane Company was at the controls of his 0-1 light observation aircraft on a routine administrative liaison mission between Dong Ba Thin and Phan Thiet on 21 December 1968.  He was at a respectable altitude of five thousand feet, because of the nature of the mission.  Weather was eight thousand feet scattered clouds with more than ten miles in-flight visibility and winds generally out of the northeast.  This type of flight was a most welcome relief from the rigorous everyday duties he performed as a visual reconnaissance pilot in Ninh Thuan province.

Perhaps he was thinking of his upcoming leave when he experienced that sudden loss of power:  At any rate, he wasted no time evaluating the situation.  He completed the emergency procedure, thinking, “It can’t be happening to me, it must be a dream”.  The dream was a reality when the power loss became a complete engine failure.  This is the real thing:  The acid test that proves the worth of countless practice forced landings.  In response to his mayday call, a C-123, a C-47, two F-4’s and two helicopter gunships covered his forced landing.  Captain Coffman made a successful dead stick landing from about four thousand feet at the relatively secure Song Mao airstrip.  The cause of the trouble was traced to a dirty carburetor finger screen, and repairs were initiated by Lt. Dean Roberts, the platoon maintenance officer and SP5 James Lewis.  A local RF platoon was assigned to guard the aircraft, but it was doubtful that security could be maintained during the night at this remote location.  Every effort was made to repair the aircraft so it could be flown to a more secure area.  When the dirty finger screen had been cleaned and checked out, Cpt. Coffman decided to fly the aircraft back to Phan Thiet.  Lt. Roberts was to fly cover ship in case any difficulty should develop.  They launched just after sunset and Cpt. Coffman’s ill-fated ship had a complete lighting systems failure half way home.  He used a penlight to monitor the vital instruments and climbed to a higher altitude because the engine began to run rough again.  He made his descent over Phan Thiet airfield from four thousand feet and executed a normal landing.  Just one of those days!!!

Any doubt about their decision to evacuate the aircraft from Song Mao was soon extinguished.  Two hours after they landed at Phan Thiet, Song Mao airfield received six mortar rounds.  Cpt. Coffman’s actions are an example of self discipline and cool professionalism that is the mainstay of Army Aviation.  WELL DONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!