18th 54th 18th CAC Aviation Association
[Unit history - annual historical supplement 1 January 1968 - 31 December 1968]
The 18th Aviation Company has the mission to provide air transport to expedite tactical operations and logistical support in the combat zone.
5th Special Forces
MACV, I and II Corps
3rd Marine Amphibious Forces
16th Combat Aviation Group
17th Combat Aviation Group
24th Corps, Vietnam
34th Transportation Group
During January 1968, bad weather conditions prevailed along the coastal regions of Vietnam making the accomplishment of missions difficult. However, the skill and determination of the 18th's aviators and crews outweighed this disadvantage. They flew an impressive total of hours and sorties for the month under the command of Major James T. Bridges, Major Osceola DeDeviess (XO) and Sergeant First Class Donald F. Hausfelder (1SG). The activity of the three Flight Platoons and the Headquarters were as described for 1967, with no changes of mission or location.
January 1968 was a normal month until the last two days. Then, without warning, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched an offensive on every major city and allied base in Vietnam.
TET OFFENSIVE 1968
At Nha Trang, the 1st Platoon “Seagulls”, continued normal operations throughout the Tet offensive as this city received only a small taste of combat.
At Marble Mountain, Da Nang, home of the 3rd Flight Section, 2nd Platoon “Eagles”, the early morning calm of 29 January 1968 was smashed by the bursting of approximately 38 rounds of 82mm mortar rounds. The following morning brought a follow up of 40 122mm rockets. Every round hit the airfield and parking areas. But thanks to the large revetments, the Otters were not damaged beyond a small flak received by two (2) of the U-1A's.
The Marine and other Army aircraft were not so lucky. As a result of the extensive damage, the 1st Platoon was called on for help to perform a multitude of various additional missions to include resupply of mortar and artillery rounds, small arms ammunition and gasoline in 55 gallon drums to beleaguered cities throughout I Corps.
At Pleiku where the 4th Flight Section, 2nd Platoon “Phoenix”, is assigned, similar conditions existed. The men were forced to spend almost five (5) days in their bunkers while withstanding repeated mortar and rocket attacks. The enemy thought that they could overrun Pleiku in a mass ground attack but were beaten badly at their attempt.
Peaceful conditions finally returned and the men of the platoons began normal operations again.
During January, the 18th Aviation Company flew 1,014.1 hours, 1,327 sorties, and 315 missions while hauling 95.0 tons of cargo and 3,871 passengers.
Change of Command
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Luckenbill assumed command of the 18th from Major James T. Bridges in February 1968.
Throughout February 1968, the 3rd Platoon at Marble Mountain received numerous enemy mortar and rocket attacks.
Luckily, there were no casualties among our so called "combat platoon", but nerves were constantly being shattered. Most of the rounds impacted in and around the living area. The men had no time to run to their bunkers and had to stick it out under their bunks with shrapnel making hundreds of holes in the walls and roofs over their heads.
Again these "hard core" 3rd Platoon members answered the call for help throughout the I Corps area. They continued to provide various units with needed war material and other supplies while accomplishing their regular assigned missions.
Two incidents occurred on the same day within 3rd Platoon to mark the beginning of 1968.
The first incident occurred when small arms fire hit and punctured a tire on one of the platoon's Otters while the aircraft was making an approach at Tam Ky. Warrant Officers Owen Yarabrough and Stan Anderson successfully landed the aircraft at the then deserted airstrip. A defensive perimeter was quickly formed . Another of the platoon's U-1As was temp diverted from a mission and flew in a replacement tire.
The second incident for the day included a precautionary landing at Marble Mountain by CWO Allen Ebbers and WO Monroe Mitchell when a worn thrust plate allowed the entire oil supply to the "Otter" blanket the windshield. A hasty retreat back to the field saved the plane and crew that day.
Elsewhere throughout Vietnam, the rest of the 18th experienced a normal month while flying a total of 1,013.6 hours, 1,224 sorties, 283 missions, 126.3 tons of cargo, and 3,295 passengers.
March 1968 saw the breaking up of much of the bad weather which brought about an increase in flying hours. Each platoon put forth great efforts to gain maximum flying time.
The 1st Platoon “Seagulls” at Nha Trang was easily moving around while supporting "Delta Project" Detachment B-52 of the 5th Special Forces. This unique unit went to any spot where a Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army threat was imminent.
On one such occasion CWO Peter Vanden Eynde and CWO Thomas flew a 4.2 mm mortar and 1,000 pounds of ammunition to Bao Loc located southwest of Dalat when a communist attack threatened to overrun the Special Forces camp there.
Meanwhile at Marble Mountain, the 2nd Platoon “Phoenix”, was still under the gun.
On 4 March 1968, 50 - 22mm rockets slammed into the airfield destroying aircraft and troop billets. Still no casualties, but it was time to build a solid bunker system to keep the casualty rate at zero. The bunker complex was constructed partially underground and featured bunks for six to eight men plus a recreation area. While Marine and Army aircraft were constantly being damaged by enemy fire, the 1st Platoon received little or no damage due to the resourcefulness of each man in the platoon plus the large revetments.
A Bunker complex was constructed underground and featured bunks for six to eight men plus a rec area. Decor included interior wood paneling, a six foot ceiling and duel outlets. A reason for the bunkers was so that the unit could achieve zero casualties.
The 2nd Platoon “Eagles”, at Pleiku flew an average of 100 hours per aviator.
New Sergeant at 256th Tech Supply
On 20 March 1968 this writer is a Sgt E-5 being transferred to the 256th Transportation Detachment to take over the 256th Technical Supply operations.
The 18th put together 1,474.2 hours, 1,626 sorties, 399 missions, with 162.0 tons of cargo and 4,234 passengers.
April 1968 monsoon weather held a tight grip and members of the 2nd Platoon had no problem getting their annual weather and instrument requirements.
With the addition of the Saigon maintenance courier run for the 17th Group, the aviators of the 2nd Platoon at Pleiku averaged a hundred hours per man during April. The Nha Trang platoon continued with "Delta Project" and JUSPAO missions.
It was at this time that four (4) RU-1A aircraft were dispatched to Marble Mountain along with crew chiefs and maintenance support personnel in preparation for a high priority special mission with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. These Otters were outfitted with a multitude of various radios. It was apparent by the sight of these modified Otters, with antennas sticking out of the fuselage and wings that this was going to be a radio relay mission. Twenty-four hours a day these Otters flew over the northern end of A Shau Valley (the North Vietnamese main supply route in I Corps).
Ashau Valley has been the grave yard for many an aircraft downed by expert enemy gunners. Air bursts from 37mm anti-aircraft guns are a common sight over the valley. A Shau is a respected place by many Army, Air Force, Marine, Navy and Vietnamese Air Force pilots. The "Low, Slow, and Reliable" at Marble Mountain met this challenge under severe conditions such as bad weather, intense ground fire at times, one partial engine failure and fatigue.
While on one relay mission, a pattern of air bursts from 37mm bracketed an Otter. Although there was no damage, the mental strain was enough to destroy one's tranquility.
On another occasion over the valley, Captain Coutoumanos and CWO Clark experienced a partial engine failure as the exhaust rocker box cover blew apart on number 4 cylinder. A MAYDAY was transmitted and the aircraft began dropping at 500 feet per minute. But due to skill and determination, the aircraft was nursed back to Hue Phu Bei some 35 miles away. This was a job well done.
April produced 1,185.7 hours, 1,396 sorties, 337 missions, 145.2 tons of cargo and 3,854 passengers.
May 1968 was the most productive month of the year in all aspects of the missions performed by the 18th. The monsoon season ended along the coastal regions and moved inland. The inclement weather harassed the Pleiku Platoon only by making it necessary to obtain IFR departures until breaking out on top. Then it was clear flying to any location along the coast and lowlands of South Vietnam.
At Nha Trang and Marble Mountain, the platoon's aviators utilized every hour of daylight to accomplish their missions.
The 1st Platoon flew in addition to their normal missions, a special "Delta Project", Special Forces radio relay mission from dawn to dusk and beyond if an emergency arose. Also the 1st Air Cavalry Division reduced their radio relay missions to a standby basis.
The best month of the year tallied 1,623.4 hours, 1,719 sorties, 422 missions, 143.1 tons of cargo and 4,636 passengers.
June 1968 brought increased radio relay missions over the Ashau Valley. Most of these missions were for 24 hour periods of continuous coverage. During this period, each member of the 1st Platoon averaged between 120 and 140 hours for the month.
On June 27th, Marble Mountain underwent another 122mm rocket attack. A 1st Cavalry radio operator on TDY with the 1st Platoon was among the fatalities when a rocket hit the enlisted men's billets. Another rocket flew right over the platoon's line of Otters on the ramp and landed 25 yards beyond, but failed to do any damage as the projectile buried itself so deep under the ramp that the ground absorbed the explosion.
Lt Hunt and CWO Whigham experienced a crash landing at Phan Thiet during June as they tried to land an Otter that had oil splashing over the windshield. The Otter entered the traffic pattern too high and overshot the runway. Their last resort was to make a downwind landing but they undershot that attempt and crash landed short of the intended touchdown point causing major damage to the aircraft and injury to the crew. The crew was "Medically Evacuated" and later the company received word that the injuries were not serious.
Good weather and maintenance by the 256th Transportation Detachment who provided the 18th Aviation Company with field maintenance, made it possible to obtain a respectable monthly score.
During June 1968, 1,003.7 hours were flown along with 1,296 sorties, 293 missions, 119.8 tons of cargo and 3,793 passengers.
With July 1968, came the heaviest of the monsoon season to the central highlands. The aviators at Pleiku were held on the ground for days as below minimum ceilings and visibility kept Pleiku inaccessible to light aircraft.
Whenever possible, the aviators received special VFR clearances and IFR departures in an attempt to complete their missions but were turned back most of the time due to bad weather at the destinations and lack of approach facilities.
It was also during July that a rash of engine breakdowns occurred in the Spartan build Pratt and Whitney engines on the Otters.
One morning, CW2 Chuck Wedge and CW2 Bill Stewart were on an IFR departure from Pleiku to Qui Nhon. When they were about 25 minutes out of Pleiku, the engine blew a push rod and the aircraft began losing power fast. Unable to maintain above 15 inches of manifold pressure, they began a controlled descent in solid IFR conditions back to Pleiku. Pleiku approach reacted to the emergency and provided radar vectors and cleared airways all the way back.
Mr. Wedge had serious doubts about making it safely home and prepared the passengers and crew for a crash landing. The best he could hope for was a break out of the clouds, spot the runway and try to land short of Pleiku to the east.
His approach was keeping below the glide path and a crash landing was imminent. In front of him as he broke out of the clouds was the perimeter fence, beyond that, the runway. The doors were jettisoned and bodies braced for impact. Mr. Wedge rounded out he had run out of altitude just short of the fence. Then, a miracle happened, a sudden gust of wind from behind lifted the almost stalled Otter just over the fence and happiness on that day was the chirp, chirp sound as the wheels made firm contact with the runway.
Elsewhere at Da Nang, a platoon flight crew and passengers faced another drama.
Forced to fly low because of weather, Captain Kenneth Waldrop and CWO Clark along with crew chief Robert Christiansen, were approximately eight (8) miles east of Hue Phu Bai flying the morning courier run when the aircraft was raked from front to rear by automatic weapons fire. The burst caused partial power failure and a rapid MAYDAY call was transmitted.
The windows were shot out along the first burst but luckily, the three (3) crew members and eight (8) passengers escaped injury. Approximately a quarter mile later, another machine gun opened up and smashed into the engine compartment causing the faltering engine to quit. The crew chief was wounded in the ankle with a tracer round as the burst swept through the fuselage.
The aircraft then crash landed into a rice paddy about five (5) miles from Phu Bai. As the aircraft careened along the ground, a third burst from another automatic weapon ripped open the fuel tanks of the Otter but the tanks failed to ignite.
Passengers and crew were able to make their way from the ship for about ten (10) yards when machine gun fire pinned everyone down in the mud. CWO Clark attempted to crawl back into the aircraft to get a rifle but was pinned down again before he got five feet.
For the next 25 minutes, the survivors received intense fire from a nearby tree line. Hugging the ground, they heard the voices of approaching enemy soldiers. Captain Waldrop, the only one of the group that was armed readied his .45 pistol and aimed at a trio of enemy troops closing in fast with AK47’s. His aim was good, down went one of the enemy. The other two fired in the direction of Captain Waldrop but were unable to place effective fire on him because of the high grass. Captain Waldrop fired again. The two soldiers withdrew taking the body of their companion with them.
A few minutes later, Marine helicopter gunships answering the MAYDAY arrived on the scene. Directions were given to the gunships by hand signal and friendly machine gun and rocket fire blasted the enemy positions while a rescue ship whisked all the survivors away to safety.
Captain Waldrop was awarded the Silver Star for the safeguarding of the survivors. His quick and accurate firing saved eleven (11) lives.
Setting the Record Straight
After 44 years I found this site and need to set the record straight as to comments from an individual named Bill Stewart.
I was the pilot on that flight in July 1968 when we were shot down on our approach to Hue Phu Bai. We departed Da Nang at 8:30 am on a routine courier run. The passengers were 6 Vietnamese civilians, a LTC Courier and his Staff Sergeant. Conditions at Da Nang were VFR and we began our flight with no weather issues, to complete our assigned morning courier mission.
We flew the coastline north and turned west to approach Hue Phu Bai, a direct shot straight inland. The weather was deteriorating and we dropped to 1500 feet. Not wanting to abort the mission, we flew inland under the ceiling (apparently not very intelligent according to Stewart).
On that particular morning the VC had lined up on the approach path to Hue Phu Bai with automatic weapons and we were one of the early aircraft to fly the approach. We were at about 1200 feet when the inbound rounds begin hitting the aircraft roughly 5 miles east of the Hue Phu Bai runway. A rice patty was to our left and we put down dead stick with only a right strut collapse. The aircraft settled to the left, parallel to a wood line where we were immediately under fire from automatic weapons.
We yelled for all to exit the aircraft.
The LTC and his Staff Sergeant were fully armed, an M-16 was behind the co-pilots seat and our crew chief was always armed with an M-16. I routinely wore a 45 pistol as did all the pilots in the platoon. Where Stewart gets the information that orders said that all weapons were kept with the crew chief is at best a joke and at worst an illusion. Otherwise, I would have not have had a weapon during the fight that ensued. CWO Clark tried to get his weapon out of the aircraft but was pinned down with automatic weapons fire. The LTC Courier and his Staff Sergeant exited the scene and abandoned us, unannounced to me, and made their way to Hue Phu Bai, 5 miles away on foot. The Vietnamese civilians were not armed and our crew chief was hit in the ankle. Thus was the reason for lack of firepower from the group.
In addition, Stewart on another occasion mentions that the bunkers at Marble Mountain had the entrances facing the West and thought that was stupid. What he didn't know was that nearly all of the rocket and mortar attacks were from the South of Marble Mountain, not the West as the air force base was to the West and acted as a 4 mile buffer. I was present in many of the rocket and mortar attacks, all from the South, and the bunkers served us all very well. The only time they failed was from a direct 122mm rocket hit – 1 enlisted man was killed on that one.
And finally, Stewart states that the platoon in Da Nang was a rag tag bunch – well maybe – but they were the best pilots and maintenance crews the 18th had to offer and were the best I ever flew with in 1968. They flew in bad weather, thunderstorms over the Ashau Valley at night, and flew all missions professionally, rarely aborting missions due to weather conditions. They might not have looked great, but they were. Just wanted to set the record straight.
Ken Waldrop, Captain, 18th Aviation Company
Major James H. Thacker took over as Executive Officer for the 18th, a position that had been vacant since May.
During July 1968, despite the engine failures, bad weather and encounters with enemy forces, the company flew a good total under the circumstances: 910 hours, 1,042 sorties, 256 missions, 79.7 tons of cargo and 2,856 passengers.
August 1968 brought several more forced landings due to engine failures, forcing the 18th Company Commander to restrict all aircraft to VFR day flying only. This necessary move reduced the output of the Low, Slow and Reliable to the lowest of the year. The restrictions remained in effect for most of the month, until the cause was finally determined as push rod failures.
The Nha Trang Platoon began flying "Delta Project" personnel into Quan Loi to reduce the communist threat there.
The totals for the month stood at 778 hours, 1,071 sorties, 28 missions, 97.7 tons of cargo and 2,837 passengers.
September 1968 had continued monsoon weather plague the Pleiku operations but aviators capitalized on every moment of VFR conditions.
The Da Nang Platoon had a very fine flying month with maximum number of hours and able to rest at night as the enemy left them alone during the entire month. The company flying record climbed upward and remained on the ascent until the end of the year.
The totals for the month posted 834.1 hours, 946 sorties, 272 missions, 80.5 tons of cargo and 2,846 passengers to the records.
October marked the return of the monsoon season to the coastal areas.
The Platoon at Nha Trang also flew up the An Hoa Valley in support of "Delta Project", evacuating casualties and hauling supplies and key personnel into the area.
The men at Pleiku saw sunlight again and were moving into high gear to improve on their flying time.
While flying near An Hoa, CWO Yarbrough and WO Cantu of the 1st Platoon picked up a bullet through the floor of the aircraft near crew chief SP5 Jack Richie's seat. The bullet went through the bill of the cap on the floor just inches away from his feet and disappeared out the top of the fuselage.
The Company flew 833.4 hours, 1005 sorties, 274 missions, 83.4 tons of cargo and 2,836 passengers.
I was promoted to SSgt and transferred to the 256th Trans Det as NCOIC of Tech Supply.
By November 1968 the 1st Platoon has assumed the full burden of their missions and flying the II Corps area in its entirety.
Most of the flying was into dirt strips at Special Forces' camps.
Nha Trang's platoon received a new mission from "Delta Project". This new mission required the Otters to fly into Dong Xoai strip located about 40 miles north of Saigon, to carry out casualties and bring in supplies.
The missions often required downwind landings due to many firefights between units of the 1st Air Cavalry and the NVA regulars just outside the perimeter. The action took place over rice and weapons caches. During one battle, 53 Viet Cong bicycles were captured. One bicycle now augments the transportation needs of the 3rd Platoon.
Flying time and missions increased during November over the previous three (3) months bringing this month to a close with 906.7 hours, 1,274 sorties, 286 missions, 95.0 tons of cargo and 2,951 passengers.
December 1968 brought to a close another chapter in the 18th Aviation Company's history.
Although the aviators consider themselves to be the best in the United States Army, special award should be put in for the crew chiefs whose field expediency and resourcefulness techniques kept the U-1As flying despite many failures of equipment while operating into strips.
Each crew chief experienced failures of some kind when in the field and each one was able to cope with the situation in a professional manner that characterizes the spirit of the 18th Aviation Company.
The month went by very smooth, even as the monsoon season began to put its grip along the coast. Pleiku was having good weather and their flying helped boost the company's total for the month.
The 256th Transportation Detachment provided high quality field maintenance throughout the year by keeping a high rate of availability for the tired, old Otters.
The 163rd Medical Detachment provided good medical assistance to the 18th Aviation Company's flying personnel during 1968.
The company headquarters and the Da Nang platoon were active throughout the year in the Civic Action Program by supporting several orphanages. The highlight of the year was Christmas when they arranged Christmas parties for the children. These were great successes and new friends were won.
During the period 1 January 1968 through 31 December 1968, the Service Platoon at Qui Nhon completed 126 major periodic inspections in addition to numerous instances of unscheduled maintenance. A vigorous maintenance training program was initiated. This was necessitated by the lack of school trained U-1A Otter mechanics. The high Esprit de Corps and "Can Do" attitude of the Service Platoon enabled it to meet the most challenging demands placed on it by the company's mission.
During the year the Tech Supply section of the Service Platoon traveled to all of the outlying platoons and established a realistic PLL. This enabled the platoons to be more responsive to their unscheduled maintenance, and increased each platoon's aircraft availability.
This year found the Service Platoon with a much improved and more secure aircraft parking area. This was accomplished by the assigned aircraft mechanics in addition to their normal duties. The Service Platoon closed out the year knowing that they had fulfilled all maintenance requirements placed on them and improved their working and living conditions substantially.
The 1968 history summarizes the unit Achievements
Between 1962, when it arrived in Vietnam, and 1968 the 18th Aviation Company transported more than 350,000 passengers and in excess of 22 million pounds of cargo and mail. Not bad for an Army Aviation unit that flew a single-engine transport capable of carrying eight passengers and a crew of three. The activities of the Flight Platoons and of the Headquarters were described for 1967, with no changes of mission or location.
The year 1968 saw another continuing chapter in the unit history of the 18th Aviation Company. Now nearing its sixth consecutive year of combat support missions in the Republic of Vietnam, the 18th Aviation Company takes honors as the oldest fixed wing company in the country today. Consequently, each year of its operations is almost a chronicle of the Vietnam War.
There is little doubt that if an inquiry was taken of a roster of Vietnam veterans, that a good number of them will be familiar with the 18th and its lumbering aircraft, the U-1A "Otter". For in the intervening years, the 18th and the Otter practically have become synonymous. Between 1962 and 1968, the company transported more than 350,000 passengers and in excess of 22 million pounds of cargo and mail. Not bad for an Army Aviation unit that flies single-engine transports capable of carrying only 8 passengers plus a crew of three.
Pilots of the 18th fly their aircraft with unusual pride as the De Havilland Otter is the Free World's largest contemporary single-engine transport in its fixed wing category.
Built for STOL operations, Otter pilots have nothing but admiration for the aircraft's slow approach speeds which can take an 8,000 pound gross load into unimproved strips of 700 feet. Of course, getting off the strip with the same load is another matter.
It's interesting to note that despite the tremendous increase in the number and type of other aircraft in Vietnam since 1963, the role of the 18th Aviation Company has continued to increase rather than diminish. For example, total flying hours by the 18th exceeded 12,000 during the past 12 months. This represents an increase of 2,000 hours over the 1962 - 1963 yearly totals.
This year 421 awards had been presented to personnel of the 18th.