A Day Remembered!
OPERATION CONCORDIA I � MEKONG DELTA
Written By Evans “Sonny” Kayser (Huey Gunship Pilot) – July 7, 2011
VIEW POINT OF DELTA TROOP (AIR CALVARY), 3rd SQUADRON
5th ARMORED CALVARY, 9th INFANTRY DIVISION
BRIEF HISTORY OF DELTA TROOP
Delta Troop was the air cavalry unit of the 3/5 Armored Calvary. The Troop’s makeup was: Headquarters, Gunship Platoon (Crusaders), Air Lift Platoon (Long Knives), Aero Scout Platoon (Spooks) and a Maintenance Platoon (Scavengers), plus an in house Infantry Platoon (Doughboys). When Delta Troop became activated and ready to involve itself in the war, the Commanding General of the 9th Infantry Division separated D Troop from the Armored Calvary Squadron and made us a ready reaction force, to fly counter mortar for the Brigades stationed at Tan An and Dong Tam, work in tandem with the Infantry Brigades on major assaults, and other chosen missions G2 decided were necessary. Since our Aero Scout Platoon consisted of Korean vintage OH-23G aircraft that were not armed with fixed weapons, they were utilized as Division taxies for the most part. Thus was the role of D Troop 3/5 Armored Calvary.
INVOLVEMENT IN OPERATION CONCORDIA I
On 19 June 1967 at approximately 1400 -1500 hours, a Crusader Fire team led by then Captain Sam Slaughter departed Bearcat base camp in route to Tan An to fly counter mortar for that evening. Our fire team consisted of two UH-1C gunships armed with the M-21 system (2 mini-guns and 2 7 round 2.75 rocket pods plus 2 M-60 machine guns in the doors). I, 1st Lt. Sonny Kayser, was flying as Capt. Slaughter’s pilot and Capt. Paul Osterlin was aircraft commander of our second gunship. As we departed Bearcat, our flight was routine. Approximately 30 minutes into our flight, Capt. Slaughter received a radio call from the 3rd Brigade S-3 advising that units from the 2nd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division had been ambushed (see footnote) by enemy units and were taking extreme heavy fire. He was further advised that the American troops had sustained heavy casualties and needed immediate assistance. Capt. Slaughter was given radio frequencies of the units as well as the coordinates of their location to which we immediately proceeded.
As we headed towards the area, Capt. Slaughter made radio contact with one the units on the ground and could tell immediately from the background noise on the radio that there was one hell of a battle going on by the screaming, the ground fire and chaos, plus the difficulty of trying to get someone to talk to him. It was apparent to Capt. Slaughter from his listening to the chatter on the radio, that some of the officers had been killed or severely wounded. To quote Capt. Slaughter, “I think the person that initially spoke with me was not an officer but a non-commissioned officer. He did a great job while clearly under tremendous pressure.” Capt. Slaughter added, “After some time and difficulty, someone got us oriented on the friendly and enemy locations, and we rolled in firing our weapon systems. We were stunned by the volume and the different locations from which we received enemy ground fire and also by the heavy caliber of the machine gun fire. Some of it was probably 51 caliber. My God, My God �� were my thoughts as I said aloud (I will never forget)�. the troops are in awful trouble!”
As we were about to make our next gun run, we saw a Med-Evac helicopter that was loaded with wounded, attempt to take off. As the Med-Evac lifted, he took significant enemy fire, turned upward at an 80-90 degree angle, climbed to an estimated 150 feet, rolled to his right and crashed with all on board. As we were making our second run, one of our lift aircraft commanded by Capt. Jerry Brown and WO Ron Ferguson, landed and immediately had wounded troops loaded on board and barely made it out of the LZ. Capt. Brown’s aircraft sustained numerous hits.
After our fire team made several firing passes, during which we took several hits to our aircraft, we climbed south of the area to regroup and take stock of the situation. Capt. Slaughter then made an emergency blanket call on the UHF emergency guard radio frequency, declared a tactical emergency, troops in contact and requested fire support from any capable aircraft with the appropriate weapons systems. Just prior to Capt. Slaughter making this emergency radio call, he instructed me to contact our operations back at Bear Cat and have a minimum of two more fire teams scrambled to our location.
The response from other combat aircraft was remarkable. Helicopter gunships and Air Force tactical aircraft were calling in and coming from everywhere. At one point, there must have been a dozen aircraft waiting to attack. Capt. Slaughter set up a line of aircraft that extended several miles to the south and set up what we call a “Daisy Chain”, directing their fire as they rolled in to the north firing on the enemy positions. The aircraft were instructed to break right to the east after they made their firing run, then circle to the south and then back toward the target area again firing to the north. Our fire team directed the other aircraft fire by attacking and marking the enemy positions with our own weapons system and then by marking enemy positions with smoke grenades after our ammunition was expended. As our fuel was getting to a point that we needed to refuel and rearm, Capt. Slaughter turned over control to another Crusader fire team and we departed to the airstrip at Tan An. Once rearmed and refueled, we returned and Capt. Slaughter reassumed command. In a report that Capt. Slaughter wrote, he stated the following:
“You fear shooting friendly’s more than death itself. I can say now after having flown helicopters two full tours in Vietnam combat with the Air Cavalry doing this same kind of stuff, this was one of the most complicated and difficult combat operations I have ever supported while under fire. We had been thrown into a large battle, and we had become an aerial operations center.”
The friendly’s were in several different ground locations, and their positions changed as the battle progressed, making safe fire support scary as hell and difficult with which to stay oriented. (Later when nightfall came this was an absolute gut wrenching nightmare). We were marking enemy targets for the air support that we had generated including tactical air, and were constantly focused upon keeping their fire on the enemy positions and away from the friendlies on the ground. We were adjusting artillery, and at the same time keeping supporting aircraft clear of all this friendly fire support, tactical air and the artillery. The ground troops were also firing artillery making our contact and coordination with the artillery support vital to insure all the aircraft remained clear of friendly fire. We were communicating on FM, UHF and VHF radio frequencies at the same time and constantly changing frequencies to coordinate activities on the ground and in the air. Our fire was effective. Lt. Kayser’s rocket fire was routing many enemy positions from their bunkers, and we killed dozens when they ran in the open as well. Our firing had generated numerous secondary explosions that continued to burn. We stretched our fuel each trip (marking targets) until we later lost most all of our air support which started leaving us as it became dark.
At the same time we had wounded friendly’s on the ground, and we were constantly escorting medical evacuation helicopters in and out of the area under tremendous ground fire and trying to keep them clear of all the friendly fire too. We already had 4 helicopters shot down and many other aircraft leave the area with serious battle damage. We knew that we also had sustained aircraft hits and damage to our own aircraft, but all our instruments were staying in the green. So we continued on station because of the troop’s dire situation. Our whole crew was well aware of this situation.
In the meantime, our lift platoon, “Long Knives”, made runs bringing much needed ammunition, and taking out the wounded. 1st Lt. Wayne Lovell wrote, “I had made several trips into them (in several different helicopters) carrying ammo in and WIA’s out. Bob, Capt. Robert Groff) brought the maintenance officer’s helicopter out to wherever we were flying in and out of (I think it was the last thing flyable we had left at Bear Cat) and we went back in and lost the tail rotor on takeoff. A Dust-off crashed on landing right after we did and they quit trying to fly in until things settled down some. The door gunner took a bullet in the hand and was sent home. We spent a few hours (seemed like days) on the ground and when they got us out they dumped us off at Hotel 3.” What 1st Lt. Lovell did not say was that while he and Capt. Groff were on the ground, they distributed ammo, moved the wounded to secure locations for possible extraction and on occasion, picked up an M-16 and fired at enemy positions. Capt. Bob Groff (killed on his second tour) was awarded the DSC for his actions on the ground and the CIB. 1st Lt. Lovell received a Purple Heart and DFC I believe.
In Capt. Slaughter’s report, he wrote:
“As night fall came we lost most all of our aerial fire support. The battlefield smoke and haze that covered the area was now much worse, and the onset of darkness made fire support almost impossible. We no longer had to direct other aircraft toward the targets. We were essentially alone with the artillery and the troops (a disappointing situation), But we now had a better sense of the enemy and friendly locations. So we began to speed up our flights to and from Tan An air strip, fortunately just a short few minutes away, where we rearmed and refueled. We did “hot rearming and refueling”, that is without shutting down the aircraft to rearm and refuel to expedite the return trip. We did this all night long, flying to and from the battle sight. As most gun ship pilots realize, you run out of ammunition before you run out of fuel unless you conserve. There was not much need for ammunition conservation because we were so close (just a few minutes) to our well stocked ammunition supplies at Tan An. We rapidly fired loads of ammunition on the enemy going back and forth to rearm as quickly as possible. In those 2 days of constant battle we logged 11.4 hours of flight time mostly during darkness (I later realized we actually flew much longer). Our flight time while directly engaged in actual combat was estimated to be 10 hours. We only shut our aircraft down a few times during the entire battle because of the urgency to rearm, refuel and get back to help the troops, and then, we shut down only to check for battle damage. Inspecting for damage was not very effective because at night at the unlit dirt strip we could only see what damage the numerous bullet holes might have done under the aircraft cowling using flashlights. We overflew required timed aircraft maintenance checks and inspections that, if not completed by aircraft maintenance, would normally ground the aircraft. Aware of the extreme emergency, the whole crew, pilots included, constantly rushing helped with physical reloading and rearming of the aircraft weapons systems each time we landed.”
Soon after daylight on 20 June 1967, our gun team was replaced and we went back to Bearcat.
Impressed upon all helicopter pilots was the fact that our sole mission was to support, assist and defend our brothers on the ground. It is said, “War is Hell” and only those who have experienced combat can truly understand that very short phrase. We, the pilots of Delta Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th Armored Calvary Regiment, and 9th Infantry Division know firsthand the price that our brothers on the ground paid. If we in any way saved a brothers life, then everything we did was absolutely worth it! And, MOST OF US WOULD DO IT AGAIN!!
It should also be noted that Capt. Sam Slaughter was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during Operation Concordia and it was justly deserved.
Your Brother in Arms,
Elmore Evans (Sonny) Kayser
Footnote: After action reports reveal that Alpha Company, 4th, 47th was indeed ambushed. However, the primary objective by means of an infantry battalion size search and destroy mission was to make contact and eliminate elements of the 5th Nha Be Viet Cong force. At the battle’s conclusion, approximately 250 Viet Cong lay dead while US Infantry units suffered 47 soldiers “killed in action” and numerous others wounded.