18th 54th 18th CAC Aviation Association
54th Avn Co - Organizational Chart 1965
The unit was directed to form at Fort Ord, California and on 2 April 1965, Captain Donald D. Wilkes, Infantry, 04030311, became the first member of the unit – and its Company Commander.
Although he was on loan from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Infantry Training Brigade, 1st Sergeant Robert S. Van Dyne became the units First Sergeant in early April. By the end of April 29 men had reported into the unit and 60 men by the end of May. The unit had nearly reached full strength by 1 July 1965.
Change of Command
On 21 June 1965 1st Sergeant Grant J. McBee, RA15225773, became the new unit First Sergeant and 1st Sergeant Van Dyne returned to the 4th Brigade. On 19 June 1965 Captain Wilkes was promoted to Major. Three days later he turned over the Command to Major Edison V. Hoey, Artillery, 084862. Major Hoey has remained Company Commander and Sergeant McBee has remained the First Sergeant.
FORT ORD AND THE TRIP TO SOUTH VIETNAM
The unit at Fort Ord worked toward effectively preparing for “further assignment overseas”. Although routine administrative functions connected with all military units carried on as usual, all effort was directed toward being ready when movement orders were received. Some newly assigned aviators were not U1-A qualified and a transition program was started by operations to prepare them. POR qualifications was of first priority. A personnel readiness date of 9 August 1965 was received, and Major Hoey directed that POR qualifications should be completed by 20 July 1965 so that those who wanted to do so could take leave prior to departure. The equipment readiness date was 26 July 1965 and it was met. By the 26th of July it was a matter of routine functions and waiting for unit movement orders.
On 27 August 1965 Movement Order 37, Headquarters United States Army Training Center, Infantry and Fort Ord, California, that the main body of the unit report to Terminal Island, Long Beach, California on 30 August 1965 for departure by surface transportation. The ultimate destination was classified and thus had not been released to the unit.
The morning of 30 August 1965, 4 Officers, 13 Warrant Officers, and 95 Enlisted men departed at 0900 hours for Salinas, California by buses. At Salinas they boarded a commercial aircraft for Long Beach, California. They again bused to San Diego Naval Supply Depot where they boarded the MTSM General Alexander M. Patch. The MSTS Patch left port at 1720 hours 30 August 1965. This accounted for all the assigned personnel with the exception of two Warrant Officers and two enlisted men who accompanied the unit equipment on the MSTS Green Cove, and two commissioned officers, one Warrant Officer, and three enlisted men who comprised the Advance Party. The Advance Party departed by aircraft on 15 September 1965 and arrived in South Vietnam 17 September 1965.
On 13 September 1965 the men were told that their destination was Vung Tau, South Vietnam. On 15 September 1965 the MSTS Patch and the men of the 54th arrived in Qui Nhon harbor, South Vietnam. Because the majority of the personnel aboard ship were 1st Cavalry Division Troops, the remained in Qi Nhon harbor for three days while these personnel disembarked. The 19th of September was spent in Cam Rhan Bay and at 0630 hours the following day the unit reached its new home at Vung Tau.
The 54th disembarked at approximately 1030 hours on the 20th of September 1965 and immediately began setting up headquarters. The Advance Party had done a good job. Things were well organized and prepared for the units arrival.
THE COMPANY IN OPERATION
The 54th Aviation Company Supply section was established 12 April 1965 at Fort Ord, California by provisional Supply Sergeant SSG Alfred Gutierrez, 19301699, with the assistance of SP5 Freddie L. Maxwell, 53161983, and SP5 Joseph Minor of the 255th and 256th Transportation Detachment respectively. Since these detachments were being activated at the same time and in the same area, the supply sections were consolidated.
First Lieutenant Walter W. Taylor, 05318430, reported into the unit on 10 June 1965 and became the first supply and property book officer for all three units. Later, the 256th Transportation Detachment Supply was separately organized, but to this day the 54th and 255th maintain a consolidated supply. On 17 May 1965 SSG Donald L. Suggs, 18286127, was assigned to the 54th and became the unit supply sergeant.
The 54th was organized under TOE 1-59D. The supply section was assigned the mission of preparing for immediate deployment to a restricted area overseas. To do this it was necessary to requisition, receive, and pack for shipping all TOE equipment in as short a time as possible. All equipment was requisitioned from Fort Ord Post Supply. To expedite receiving equipment a priority of 02 was assigned to the 54th. Almost immediately equipment began flowing in from all over the United States and by 20 August 1965 unit equipment and supplies were prepared for movement and on their way to Oakland, California to be loaded aboard the MSTS Green Cove.
On the 4th of October 1965 the MTST Green Cove pulled into the Port of Saigon, South Vietnam and 6 October 1965 unit equipment was off loaded onto LCM landing craft for movement down the Saigon River to Vung Tau – its ultimate destination. Supply was set up in the east end of a one story building located in the assigned unit area on the northwest corner of the Vung Tau Airfield. In mid-November the 54th was assigned a new location on the airfield. It was an area vacated by an element of the 82nd Airborne Division and was located about 200 meters south of the previously assigned area.
On the 27th of September 1965 the first U1-A Otter in the 54th was picked up on the unit property book. TOE aircraft strength of sixteen was reached on 18 December 1965.
Shortly after the 54th was activated, the motor section began receiving its TOE vehicles. The 2 ½ ton trucks received were substitute M-211’s, an older model than the TOE authorized. With the exception of seven M-211 2 ½ ton trucks and one M-37B1, ¾ ton truck, the vehicles were received from Fort Ord Post Supply. The excepted vehicles were received from various units at Fort Ord. On 17 May 1965 SP5 Wayne A. Garber, 17569954, arrived in the unit and became the first motor sergeant in the 54th Aviation Company. 1 July 1965 WO Norman Charpentier signed in, and he became the first motor officer.
On 27 August 1965 the units first motor march began. It was a 120 mile trip to Oakland Army Base, Oakland, California. The march was completed without an incident occurring. At Oakland the vehicles and trailers were loaded on the MSTS Green Cove for shipment overseas. Four personnel were assigned to accompany the vehicles enroute to South Vietnam. They were CWO Weldon C. Cooke, W227449, WO Alton F. Livingston, W3151661, SFC James B. Toth, 13312665, and SP5 Joe B. Belcher, 14773346. The MSTS Green Cove departed the Port of Oakland at 0001 hours 1 September 1965 and arrived at the Port of Saigon 4 October 1965. After three days of unloading at Saigon the vehicles were moved – some by C-130 and some by LCM landing craft to the 54th’s new home in Vung Tau, South Vietnam. At Vung Tau SGT William J. Maring, 16472221, was appointed the new motor sergeant and a few days later CWO Alton F. Livingston, W3151661 became the new motor officer.
After becoming operational the motor section received two inspections from the 14th Aviation Battalion and one inspection from the 553rd Ordnance Battalion. In all these inspections the vehicles and trailers were termed “outstanding”. Because of the operational circumstances in Vietnam, many newly arriving units were provided transportation until their own vehicles arrived. This caused additional maintenance problems, but they were overcome without any difficulty.
Since the 54th Aviation Company was activated, not a single accident occurred involving unit vehicles.
The 54th Mess Section was established in April of 1965. Since there were only a few personnel assigned to the unit at that time, planning and getting set up for the personnel that would soon be arriving was the order. The first mess sergeant was SSG John B. Amparan, 17258245. He ran the mess hall until the units first Mess Officer was appointed. He was CWO Verdell K. Shug, W2203899. In addition to providing mess support for the unit, the 255th and 256th Transportation Detachments were also being messed and this, by the first of July, ran the total being fed per day to approximately 200 men.
Prior to departing Fort Ord for overseas, those mess supplies that were authorized TOE equipment were packed for movement and other mess supplies were properly cleaned and turned in to Post Supply. On the ship enroute to South Vietnam, many of the unit mess personnel worked in the ships kitchen preparing food for the troops aboard.
Of course, high priority was given to setting up the mess hall upon reaching our destination, Vung Tau. Within a few days, two weeks prior to the deadline set, the mess hall was in operation feeding unit and other additional personnel. A few weeks later, the unit was assigned a new area on the Vung Tau Airfield and the mess section began moving into its new home.
After a hard days work in the heat of Vietnam, the men look forward to a good meal. The 54th mess hall earned the reputation of being the best in the Vung Tau area.
After the organization of the 54th Aviation Company (AIR MBL FW) at Fort Ord, California, the operations section was delegated the task of transitioning ten newly assigned aviators who were not qualified in the U1-A. From the period 10 July to 15 August, all but two aviators were completely qualified. Two aviators reported to the unit too late to complete the transition. These aviators, however, completed their training on the 9th of November in Vietnam.
Under TO&E 1-59D thirty-eight aviators are authorized, ten are commissioned officers and twenty-eight Warrant Officers. Of the sixteen available pilots at Fort Ord, five were instructor pilots. These pilots conducted the transition training program.
All TO&E equipment except the sixteen aircraft authorized were deployed on the 20th of August. The advance party, consisting of an operations officer and a maintenance officer, departed Travis AFB on the 15th of October 1965, the unit prepared to assume full operational status. Mission assignments were directed by USARV and included the following:
Direct support aircraft:
Three to IV Corps
Two to II Corps
Two to Special Forces
One to USARV
One to JUSPAO
General support aircraft:
One on standby
Because of the large geographical area to be supported, operations were decentralized. First Platoon headquarters was established at Tan Son Nhut airport in support of III Corps, JUSPAO, Special Forces and USARV. Fourteen aviators were assigned to the platoon. Direct contact with the users was affected and continuous Otter support was maintained with the supported units.
The mission of the Second Platoon, located in Can Tho, was to provide direct support Otter air service for IV Corps. Mission assignments were made directly to the platoon from the MACV Combat Operations Center (COC).
Company operations was not involved in any direct support missions. General support missions were channeled through Army Operations Center (AOC) at Tan Son Nhut airport, through Battalion headquarters to the company operations. Such missions were normally received at about 1700 hours and one aircraft was allocated for general support. The remaining six aircraft were used as maintenance backups.
Since no 2nd or 3rd echelon maintenance could be established at the platoons, it became necessary to replace aircraft as they become due for scheduled maintenance. The operation section was responsible for scheduling replacement aircraft.
The company became operational on the 15th of October. By the end of the month, the ten operational aircraft had transported a total of 4279 passengers, of which 2509 were U.S. troops and the remainder ARVN. Total cargo tonnage for that month amounted to 130 tons. Cargo consisted mainly of food, medical and sundry supplies. A majority of the cargo transported was to Special Forces outposts. Cargo carried for JUSPAO normally consisted of Warfare Literature. In November and December, the total passengers carried increased to 4961 and 5867 respectively. Total cargo tonnage increased to 165 tons and 250 tons respectively.
Flying hours from the time the company was organized until departure overseas was primarily devoted to the training of aviators. After the unit arrived at Vung Tau, South Vietnam in September, the first three to four weeks was concentrated toward familiarization of pilots with the flying methods and conditions in Vietnam. As mission sorties steadily increased, so did the flying hours – from 893 in October, to 1110 hours in November and to 1215 hours in December. The average aviator hours increased from 48 hours in October, to 55 hours in November and 65 hours in December. Most of the flying hours were contributed by the platoons where the bulk of the missions were being flown.
During the first three months of service in Vietnam, the unit experienced one major accident. It occurred within the first two weeks after becoming operational. Since, the unit accumulated approximately 2930 accident free hours.
Since the U1-A Otter is such a vulnerable aircraft when on approach and takeoff from a strip, the best technique has proven to be a close traffic pattern and a steep approach. Even with these precautions, three aircraft were hit by enemy small arms fire. The damage in each case was to the aft portion of the aircraft.
Maintenance support for the 16 U1-A Otters of the 54th comes primarily from three sources. The Service Platoon provides organic first and second echelon maintenance. The 255th Transportation Detachment (ACFT REP), an assigned unit, provides third and limited fourth echelon maintenance, and the 342th Signal Detachment, also an assigned unit, provide avionics support for the aircraft.
Since the unit had no aircraft assigned until it reached Vung Tau, maintenance actually did not begin until the first aircraft were received.
The first unit maintenance officer was Captain James L. Knight, TC, 04231153, and the first Service Platoon Sergeant was SFC Orval E. Brown, 18369550. At Fort Ord they worded to ensure that maintenance supplies, PLL, and necessary technical publications were requisitioned and available when the unit became operational.
Since becoming operational in Vietnam, the maintenance problems encountered resulted from the nature of the job being done and logistical problems due to the buildup of forces. Organic maintenance found that needed parts many times were not available through normal supply channels. Also, due to the frequent requirement for operating the aircraft from short, sandy, and in some cases unimproved, strips, the mortality rate on engines, tires, and all bearing surfaces were found to be from two to three times greater than under normal operating conditions. The monthly availability of aircraft was as follows:
On the 29th of November 1965 Captain Brooks Homan, CE 01941366 became the new maintenance officer in the unit.
Assumption of Command 255th
Although the 255th Maintenance Detachment was connected with the 54th from its beginning, it was not formally assigned until 1 October 1965. The first Commander of the Detachment assumed command on 6 July 1965. He was Captain Charles D. Grim, TC, 095028. Previously, MSG Albert E. Rhode, 33812761, had been in charge of the unit and he remained the Detachment First Sergeant.
Change of Command 255th
On 1 November 1965 Captain James L. Knight, TC, took command of the Detachment.
The 255th began providing 3rd and limited 4th echelon maintenance of 54th aircraft as soon as aircraft were received in the unit. At that time, and as is still the case, approximately 25% of the units TOE special tools had been received. This caused much improvising and field expedience such as making rivet sets and bucking bars. The 255th supported the 54th to maintain a high availability of aircraft and a safety record above comparison in this theater.
342nd Signal Detachment Assigned
On 31 August 1965 the 342nd Signal Detachment, Commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Robert O. Mott, SigC, 0518938, was assigned to the 54th. The unit was allocated with the 258th Signal Detachment and provided direct and general support to all aircraft on the Vung Tau airfield. The two units provided around the clock avionics support for nearly 100 aircraft located at Vung Tau. The unit, as with other units in the theater, experienced major difficulties receiving needed supplies. These problems were largely overcome by sharing resources with other units through close coordination with other Aviation Electronic Maintenance and Repair units throughout South Vietnam.
The 342nd provided outstanding avionics support for the aircraft of the 54th Aviation Company.
LIST OF KEY PERSONNEL - 31 December 1965
Major Edison V. Hoey, 084862, Artillery
Major Stephen Farish, 01919960, TC
Captain Brooks Homan, 01941366, CE
Captain Benjamin I. Kahalekulu, 094868, Artillery
Captain John J. Malpass, Jr., 05304477, Infantry
Captain Kenneth S. McTaggert, 05706432, SigC
Captain Peter M. Noyes, 05010015, Armor
Captain Erwin A. Schmidt, 05405363, SigC
Lieutenant Walter W. Taylor, 05318430, Infantry
Lieutenant David L. Perkins, 05415163, SigC
CWO Irving E. Britton, W2208803, AV
CWO Weldon C. Cooke, W2207449, AV
CWO Leon L. Rogers, W2203328, AV
CWO Charles W. Goodling, Jr. W3151642, AV
CWO Laverne S. Hurlbut, W3151655, AV
CWO Charles L. Phillips, W2215360l, AV
WO James R. Anderson, Jr. W3152024, AV
WO Oscar G. Brockman, W3152695, AV
WO Norman Charpentier, W3151878, AV
WO James C. Erickson, W3152698, AV
WO George M. Gernard, W3152211, AV
WO Phillip R. Hannan, W3152364, AV
WO David G. Lather, W3152369, AV
WO Brooke W. Myers, W3152224, AV
WO Donald L. Nevels, W3152373, AV
WO Laird P. Osburn, W3151909, AV
WO Glenn R. Pelkey, W3152374, AV
WO Michael C. Ryan, W3152376, AV
WO Gayle W. Scaggs, W3152082, AV
WO Arthur R. Sobey, W3152377, AV
WO Raymond L. Springsteen, W3152378, AV
WO Jacob D. Staples, Jr. W3152273, AV
1st SGT Grant J. McBBee, 67E5HF
SFC Orval E. Brown, 67E40
SFC Carl Harvey, 67E40
SFC Earl J. McWhirter, 71P40
SFC James B. Toth, 67E40
SSG John B. Amparan, 94B40
SSG Jerold M. Jones, 67E40
SSG Joe L. Ferrel, 67E40
SSG William J. Olivoira, 67E40
SSG Stephen R. Reed, 67E40
SSG Donald L. Suggs, 76K40
History of the 54th Aviation Company (AIR MBL FW)
1 April 1965 – 31 December 1965
Prepared by David L. Perkins, Unit Historian
PFC Dennis M. Crawford, Clerk Typist
Approved by Edison V. Hoey, Major, Artillery Commanding
Table of Contents
Section I, Activation: The Mission, The Organization, The Beginning
Section II, Days at fort Ord and the Trip to South Vietnam
Section III, The Company in Operation: Supply, Motor, Mess, Operations, Maintenance
List of Key Personnel – 31 December 1965
Supporting Documents (footnoted in numerical order)
The year 1965 marked the beginning of the 54th Aviation Company (AIR MBL FW). The unit was activated at Fort Ord, California and immediately began preparation for movement overseas. Although the units mission from its inception was to provide logistical airlift for movement of supplies and personnel in the combat zone and to provide tactical airlift of combat units and air resupply of units engaged in combat operations, the real objective at Fort Ord was planning and preparing for movement so that an effective organization could be quickly put into operation at the units destination. No aircraft were assigned to the 54th while at Fort Ord.
The 54th arrived at its destination overseas – Vung Tau, South Vietnam – on 20 September 1965. Almost immediately the unit began acquiring aircraft and by 15 October 1965 the unit was operational and performing its primary mission. The 54th has since provided “Otter Air Service” primarily to III Corps and IV Corps areas, although frequently missions call for “Service” to I and II Corps.
This history of the 54th Aviation Company is dedicated to the men of the unit. They worked long hours and made numerous personal sacrifices to make the 54th an outstandingly efficient and effective aviation unit.
This history is written with a two fold purpose. First, it is written for the members of the unit. It is hoped that a knowledge of the history of the 54th Aviation Company will contribute to both unit and service pride and Espirit de Corps. Secondly, it is written to provide a record of the units development and achievements. Collectively, individual unit histories provide the foundation for what eventually becomes American Military History.
Keeping these purposes in mind, the scope of this history has been limited to a narrative account of only those facts which objectively relate the unit history and appear to have significant value in the broad sense. This was done so that interference to the units operation – being extraordinarily critical due to the combat support role of the unit – was kept to an absolute minimum.
ACTIVATION: THE MISSION, THE ORGANIZATION, THE BEGINNING
The 54th Aviation Company (AIR MBL FW) was activated 1 April 1965 by General Order Number 30, Headquarters Sixth United States Army, Presidio of San Francisco, California.
This action has been directed by DA message 709045 and CONARC message ATUTR-TP-404568, both dated 30 March 1965.
The unit was activated under TOE 1-59D with an authorized personnel strength of 10 Commissioned Officers, 28 Warrant Officers and 128 Enlisted men.
The 54th was assigned the mission of providing logistical airlift for movement of supplies and personnel in the combat zone and to provide tactical airlift of combat units and air resupply of units engaged in combat operations. Although the TOE called for 16 CV-2 Caribou aircraft, the 54th was authorized instead 16 U1-A Otter aircraft to accomplish the assigned mission.
The organization of the 54th Aviation Company consisted of Company Headquarters, Flight Operations Section, two Airplane Platoons and Service Platoon. After reaching South Vietnam, effective 31 August 1965 and directed by unit paragraph 19, General Order number 3, 12th Aviation Group, 342nd Signal Detachment was assigned to the 54th. Also, effective 1 October 1965 and directed by paragraph 20, General Order number 3, 12th Aviation Group, the 255th Maintenance Detachment was assigned. (See Organizational Chart)