HISTORY OF THE 54TH UTILITY AIRPLANE COMPANY
1 JANUARY 1967 TO 31 DECEMBER 1967
Warrant Officer James M. Majors, Unit Historian
SP4 Gary R. Waldron, Clerk Typist
M. T. Peterson, Major, Infantry, Commanding
This history is written with a two-fold purpose. First, it is written for the members of the unit. It is hoped that 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, which is extraordinarily critical due to the combat support role of the unit – was kept to a minimum.
The 54th Utility Airplane Company was activated April, 1965, at Fort Ord, California and immediately began preparation for movement overseas. Although the unit’s 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.
The 54th arrived at its destination overseas (Vung Tau, South Vietnam) 20 September 1965. Almost immediately the unit began acquiring aircraft and by 15 October, 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 Tactical Zones also.
This history of the 54th Utility Airplane 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.
The 54th Utility Airplane Company has reached the close of its third and prosperous year of “Otter Air Service” to the soldiers serving in the United States Armed Forces and the people of The Peoples Republic of South Vietnam.
Holding the reins to the 54th as Company Commander throughout 1967 have been four exceptional Field Grade Officers. Those men are: Major George W. Shallcross, Major John R. Franznick, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Nichols and Major Jonah B. Davis, Jr.
Toasting the progress at the close of the year 1967 is Major M. T. Peterson, Infantry, Commanding Officer of the 201 officers and men of the 54th. From the dedicated work of those who served comes the statistical fruit of 365 days of toil. Utilizing sixteen aircraft, eleven at Vung Tau, in the First Platoon, three with the Second Platoon at Can Tho and two with the Saigon Section, the unit flew a total of 73,826 passengers and 255,094 tons of cargo throughout the Four Corps Tactical Areas. The missions of the Uniform 1-A, known to the Republic as “Big Daddy”, have grown to incorporate service to more than 150 airfields and outposts. These range in size from the 1100 foot Trung Lap Artillery Post 26 miles north west of Saigon, to the 11,000 feet of Ben Hoa Air Force Base, presently the world’s most active airfield, averaging better than 64,000 landings per month.
The missions flown show the versatility of the “Big Daddy” and the type of support rendered. Of the 23, 132 missions flown in 1967, the crews undertook radio relay, logistic resupply, psychological warfare leaflet drops, mail drops, photographic reconnaissance, extensive courier service, medical evacuation and on many occasions taxi service to the field forces for special U.S.O entertainers such as Martha Ray and Connie Francis.
The aviators did only half of the work by flying 16,335 hours during the year. Maintenance support from outstanding service of crew chiefs and the unsurpassible support given by the 255th Transportation Detachment, which together yielded an annual average of 93% for aircraft availability to the company was instrumental in keeping “Big Daddy” airborne. Adding to the high aircraft availability standard was a visit paid to the 54th by Mr. Robert Walking of AVCOM, St. Louis Missouri. Through close scrutiny of our overall maintenance operation, improvements were made in our first echelon maintenance in the form of reducing fuel and oil contamination by water. Also there were found means to reduce the influx of sand into the induction system of the engines. After a thorough study of equipment improvement reports found on the Spartan Rebuild R-1340-61 Engine, Mr. Walking returned to St. Louis and his experiences in the 54th lead to the improvement in quality control of these engines.
High standards provided by all elements of the 54th operation lead to high efficiency maintained throughout the year. Military rewards came in the form of: 1 Distinguished Flying Cross; 12 Bronze Stars; 1 Purple Heard; 1 Soldiers Medal; 25 Army Commendations; 48 Basic Air Medals with 283 Clusters; 6 Certificates of Achievement; and 2 Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
The other rewards, perhaps known only to the men who performed the missions were the sounds of joy from the troops at Me Phuc Tay, Me Ann or Kein Quan II where mail drops were made as often as conditions permitted, as well as other sorties which took food and drinks to Bon Me, Trung Lap, Hon Quan and other isolated locations.
Not all of the company’s time was spent flying, but much was developed into Civic Action Projects in Vung Tau. The focal point of the 54th was Bethame School and Orphanage. From the hearts of the men in the unit came a gift of 15,370 Piasters towards new books and better educational facilities for the Vietnamese children living in the local area. Making the presentation to the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Chantel, was the present Commanding Officer, Major Jonah B. Davis, Jr. and the Civic Action Officer, First Lieutenant Peter B. Garrigus.
Being twelve thousand miles away from home still hasn’t removed the Christmas spirit from the fellows of the “Big Daddys”. During the Holiday Season of 1967 those who were not flying or otherwise committed took part in a Christmas Party for the youngsters of Vung Tau which was held in the company mess hall.
For the crews of the “Big Daddys”, maintenance crews and company personnel came another addition to their off duty enjoyment, Uncle Harvey’s Saloon. Its name came from the organizer, building supervisor and manager, Sergeant Carl Harvey. Harvey’s has promoted a tighter Espirit de Corps for the fellows along with an American style of relaxing these many miles from home. In conjunction with better living conditions, the Can Tho Detachment of the 54th completed the recreation floor at their villa. Often referred to as the “Sump” the club has become an active interest in the life of the “Delta Daddys.”
The 54th Utility Airplane Company is also proud to have inaugurated during 1967 an integrated program with Australian Aviators. The Australian Army Corps Pilots from Nui Dat came to Vung Tau for a six week training period. The purpose of their stay with the 54th was to gain knowledge and experience in the operation, mission requirements and organization of the “Otters.” They likewise received flight instruction in the U-1A and orientation in various staff jobs throughout the company.
The 54th was honored to share with the Allies our Military Training and development in order to gain a universal understanding of Military tactics as well as strengthen the friendship among coharts.
The company is also fortunate to have the uniqueness of a husband and wife team serving together in Vietnam. This tribute is extended to Second Lieutenant Lynn Hudson, U. S. Army Nurse Corps and Captain Michael B. Hudson, Captain Hudson is serving as “Big Daddy 1” Administrative Officer. Both came into Country together on 1 November 1967.
The aircraft casualties have been light throughout the history of the 54th Utility Airplane Company. This year makes the first U-1A “263” to be lost to hostile fire, on August 11 in the Nui Dat Province, just north of Vung Tau. The mission was a psychological leaflet drop, flown by veteran pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Stanley Peterson and a new comer of two weeks in Country Warrant Officer James Fiscus. While trying to maintain VFR conditions in the drop zone, intense ground fire was received, damaging the oil system of the Otter which lead to engine seizure and ultimate landing in the trees of a rubber plantation. Although the Otter was a total loss, luckily no one was injured.
Humor was attached to the incident in that CWO Peterson was working on an article entitled “Why Doesn’t Charlie Shoot Big Daddy?” The U-1A is perhaps the most vulnerable target in the Army Aircraft inventory. Unarmed, unescorted and slow to climb above effective small arms range, “Big Daddy” offers an excellent target during take offs and landings, yet seldom are rounds received. The question is not with the “Ability” of Charlie to “Zero In” as his record of hits among the high performance Air Force Attack Fighters allows him this credit. CWO Peterson’s enthusiasm and curiosity was shot down 11 August 1967.
As our year ends our attention is focused on those who served in the 54th and throughout the Republic of South Vietnam and who gave their lives for Freedom, their Country and those they love. Of the 54th Utility Airplane Company Chief Warrant Officer David Kritzer and Warrant Officer Scott Burgess and Specialist Fifth Class Michael Allen goes this Post Mortum Honor.
HIGH LIGHTS – 1967–
JANUARY: COMMANDING: MAJOR GEORGE W. SHALLCROSS
“Big Daddy: 203 flown by Captain Phillip B. Szymanowicz and Warrant Officer Charles Spangler crewed by Specialist William Jones received hits during a radio relay operation Cedar Falls. Yet elected to continue the mission. Captain Szymanowicz and WO Spangler received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
Hours Flown: 1303
A/C Availability: 91%
Flight Program: 132%
FEBRUARY: COMMANDING: MAJOR GEORGE W. SHALLCROSS
“Big Daddy: 203 had an engine failure south of Saigon but dut to the professional skills of CW3 McKinney and Captain Couilleau the aircraft was landed safely without damage or injury to crew or passengers. CW3 McKinney and Captain Couilleau were recommended for the DFC and Army Commendation Medal with V-Device respectively.
Hours Flown: 1130
A/C Availability: 93%
Flight Program: 126%
MARCH: COMMANDING: MAJOR GEORGE W. SHALLCROSS
“Big Daddy: 203 (23 Mar). Engine failed near Duc Hoa, flown by WO Jacob Staples and WO Jack Crist. The A/C was landed safely without damage or injuries to crew or passengers.
Hours Flown: 1381
A/C Availability: 93%
Flight Program: 140%
APRIL: COMMANDING: MAJOR GEORGE W. SHALLCROSS
Company is recommended by 222nd Avn Bn Association of Transportation Award based on outstanding cargo hauling performance in support of combat operations.
Hours Flown: 1406
A/C Availability: 96%
Flight Program: 146%
MAY: COMMANDING: MAJOR JOHN R. FRANZNICK
Lt. C. W. Scott, 17699 Royal Australian Air Force is attached to company for training and duty for a period of 30 days.
Specialist Fourth Class V. Watson of the 255th Trans Det is awarded Soldier of the Month.
54th UAC sets a new Bn A/C availability record of 97.4%
Hours Flown: 1481
A/C Availability: 97%
Flight Program: 149%
JUNE: COMMANDING: MAJOR JOHN R. FRANZNICK
Captain Allan Simpson leads Company’s efforts in working with the Bethane School.
Hours Flown: 1379
A/C Availability: 95%
Flight Program: 144%
JULY: COMMANDING: LTC HERBERT NICHOLS
The maintenance section of the 54th UAC succeeded itself in providing a remarkable 98.6% A/C availability to the unit mission. Specialist Four R. Denton is awarded Bn Soldier of the month.
Hours Flown: 1471
A/C Availability: 98.6%
Flight Program: 148%
AUGUST: COMMANDING: LTC HERBERT NICHOLS
“Big Daddy: 263 CWO Peterson and WO Fiscus shot down. Mr. Robert Walking from AMS-AU-LUA AVCOM, St. Louis Missouri, visited the 54th, through his recommendation we gained useful 1st echelon maintenance procedures to further our U-1A engine lifetime. Captain Quesenberry force landed near Bien Hoa. WO Peter McHugh attended Escape and Evasion Training at the Phillipines.
Hours Flown: 1474
A/C Availability: 96%
Flight Program: 149%
SEPTEMBER: COMMANDING: MAJOR JONAH B. DAVIS, JR.
Hours Flown: 1230
A/C Availability: 90.7%
Flight Program: 124%
OCTOBER: COMMANDING: MAJOR JONAH B. DAVIS, JR.
Specialist Four R. Monigold awarded Bn Soldier of the Month.
Hours Flown: 1414
A/C Availability: 89.6%
Flight Program: 143%
NOVEMBER: COMMANDING: MAJOR JONAH B. DAVIS, JR.
“Big Daddy” 119 crashed at Long Binh taking the lives of all on board [CWO David Kritzer, WO Scott M. Burgess and SP4 Thomas B. Allen].
SP4 G. Washburn selected Soldier of the Month.
DECEMBER: COMMANDING: MAJOR M.T. PETERSON
Christmas Party for Vung Tau Orphans. SP4 C. Whitman awarded Soldier of the Month.
Hours Flown: 1368
A/C Availability: 89.7%
Flight Program: 138%
18th 54th 18th CAC Aviation Association