By Bill Kelbaugh

The recent Helivets discussion of the medevacs brought back a memory.

The 9th ROK Infantry was guarding Highway 1 from Phan Rang up to north of Tuy Hoa.  We lived at the Division HG at Ninh Hoa.  The Koreans would get frustrated because the ARVN would piddle around in the mountains overlooking the Korean AO and the Koreans didn't really know what was going on up there.

It was a dark and rainy night.  The Koreans had sent a patrol up into the mountains way out of their Area of Operations.  It was out west of Dong Ba Tin - probably 15 minutes or so.

The patrol got hit and took some KIA and WIA.  Found out later that the WIA did not have life threatening wounds, but mostly problems with lower legs, ankles, feet, etc.  The topography was really rugged and these guys could never have made it out on foot.

Anyway, I was sitting around when they made up a crew and sent us down to the regimental HQ at Cam Ranh City (on the land side of Cam Ranh Bay).  We were told that there was a problem getting a Medivac so we were going to try and see what we could do.  I was the aircraft commander; Wally Leeper was a senior Peter Pilot; Moredia was the crew chief;  I can not remember the door gunner.

We arrived at the regiment and were told that our Joker guns were on station.  We could not land, so they were going to drop a cargo net on a rope down to them and try to pull them up.  They were going to send a Lt. along to help.  They had Colonels and Majors out the wazoo watching the Lt. tie the rope to the floor of the aircraft.  Then the Colonels tied the Lt. to the rope so if the rope went, the Lt. would go also.  I guess that is motivation to do a good job.

We took off and headed out to the location.  The Jokers said thet there had been some ground fire, but nothing for the last 20 minutes or so.  Luckly there wasn't any when we were there, because I was scared enough as it was.  They were well up in a dead end draw.  Just enough room for us to hover over the trees on one side and the gunships to fly a pattern on the other.  The base of the clouds were probably 200 or 300 feet above us so we could not see the tops of the mountains.  We turned off the lights and went in.  There was a Spooky circling around in/or above the clouds dropping flares.  Still really dark down in the trees.  When we finally saw a flashlight on the ground, but I was really worried how I was going to maintain a steady hover.  Must have been living right because suddenly in front of us was a tree about 20 feet higher than anything else in the area.  Just put the nose right up in that tree and we were able to hold a steady hover.  While we were hovering, one of the Jokers told Spooky that he needed to drop his flares a bit further in our direction.  I assume the guy was being directed by radar from Cam
Ranh.  We then worried because we were looking up through the green house and seeing flares glowing in the clouds right over us.  Somehow they missed us.

Moredia, the gunner, and the Korean Lt. with the rope tied around his waist dropped the cargo net down to the guys on the ground.  Somebody on the raido said to pull it up.  They pulled with all their might and didn't make any progress.  Only thing to do was to try to hover straight up and fly somewhere where we could land and let the guy out and come back to see if we could do it again.  I figured it would take all night, assuming we didn't snag the net in a tree on the way up.  Moredia was unbelievable in talking us straight up out of the hole without catching a tree on the net.  I will never forget how calm he was.

We decided that the best thing to do was to go back and land on the runway at Dong Ba Tin.  We sweated bullets the whole way back about how we were going to gently drop a cargo net at night with a man in it on a 75 or 100 foot rope and not kill the poor guy.  On the way back we heard a Medivac from Phan Thiet calling that he was inbound.  I contacted him and gave him a briefing about the one tall tree to look for, etc.  He went to the site and we worried about our landing.  We flew along in the cold misty rain and thinking how miserable it must be riding in the cargo net.

We were on final into DBT when we hear the Medivac yelling about the Koreans sending nothing but the "stiffs" up the hoist.  He wanted to get the wounded taken care of first after coming all the way from III Corps.

Again Moredia was outstanding in talking us down to where the cargo net made a fairly gentle landing on the PSP runway.  We hovered back from the net so we could set down and the Medivac was still yelling about them sending up "stiffs".  As I looked down on the cargo net, it looked like half a company of Koreans were getting out.  Probably no more than 5 or 6, but all the injured.  No wonder my crew and the LT. couldn't budge the rope.  (Don't really know if they could have pulled one guy up that far, but we will never know.)  I immediately called the Medivac and
told him it looked like we had ALL the wounded.

The thing that amazes me to this day was the reaction of the Koreans getting out of the cargo net on the runway.  They were smilling and waving and acting like they had just had the most fun ever in their lives.  I was shaking, and they were having a grand old time.  I'm glad they didn't know how scared I had been.

We went back to the regiment and were warmly greated by the Korean Colonel who didn't have to worry any longer about losing guys out where they weren't supposed to be.  He rewarded each member of the crew with a case of OB beer.  After the "awards" ceremony, we flew back to Ninh Hoa.  While we were over at the refueling point, the Op's Officer called and asked what had gone on.  I told him the gist of it and he says "Sounds like it ought to be a DFC, write it up and I will put it in for you."  I figured that if I had to write it up myself, I didn't need it.  Besides, we all had our very own case of OB beer.  Guess you can say our DFC's came in beer cans.

The crew chief, Moredia, was the real hero of the entire thing.  Later events made me wish I had written him up for somethng.

A couple of days later we had some occassion to land at Dong Ba Tin.  There was a new company fresh in country who were forming up there.  I remember one of them talking about some crazy SOB's who had been sling loading Koreans.

Postscript:  Leeper and Moredia flew this mission with me.  A month or two later they were on BlueStar 811 which was missing in December, 1967.  Also on 811 were Strange and Crosby and a Korean Captain.  The crew and passanger of 811 were listed as missing until recently when the aircraft was found and they were changed to KIA.  Rest in Peace guys.

Bill Kelbaugh
Vietnam 67/68
48th AHC Blue Stars
Jacksonville, Florida

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