By Tim Lickness
It seems like yesterday that my friend Don and I were walking down the street checking out girls and cars like we did everyday after junior college classes. A little over a year later, I was a 21-year-old infantry platoon leader, part of the famous 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles, and Don was back home dying from the effects of that same place. Don would be forever assigned his destiny as a casualty of war.
Being in the infantry is always difficult and the Vietnam War was as bad as any. At its best we were uncomfortable, and at worst our lives threatened. Mostly we did what we had to and hoping just to get home some day. But once in a while something would happen that you sense would change you forever.
For me, that was the rescue of Dustoff 65. It was a rainy, foggy night on April 3, 1968, when my platoon came under attack. A savage firefight followed, which lasted most of the night. Two of the several men who got hit were critically wounded. We needed a medivac if their lives were to be saved. With no place to land a helicopter, it was necessary to use a device called a “jungle penetrator” to lift the injured men through the triple canopy jungle.
That was a dangerous mission as the aircraft needed to hover for several minutes as the evacuation took place. Pilots, First Lieutenants Mike Meyers and Ben Knisely, crew-chief James Richards and medic Bruce Knipe of the 498th Medical Company accepted the assignment. At first light they headed for us.
Using radio contact, Meyers and Knisely got close and identified the purple smoke we had put out to help locate our position. Coming in at treetop level and just before they got to us they were hit by a North Vietnamese Army rocket, which blew away their tail section. They managed a controlled crash some distance away from us. We quickly put together a search party and set off to, at least, find and secure their bodies. With a little help from God, we might even find survivors.
Finally, we smelled smoke and knew we must be close. We were in a race with the enemy to get there first. The terrain was rugged and hostile. It took four hours, including a brief firefight, but we were successful. We found three of the four crewmembers alive. The crew chief had been killed and it would be weeks before another unit is able to find and recover his body.
It took the rest of the day to move the injured back to our company’s position, and another three days to secure an area suitable to carve out an LZ (landing zone) large enough for another medivac to land. It was three days of being constantly wet, covered with muck, eating cold C-rations, unable to sleep. We were unable to move to a more secure position due to the need to protect the wounded. We used plastic explosives to blow trees for an LZ. The hole we created in the jungle was barely large enough for the rescue helicopter and we marveled at the skill and courage of that crew. Eventually we were all taken out to safety.
The entire mission took five days.
It is now difficult to explain those five days. They were not the most remarkable of my Vietnam tour. That mission won’t be mentioned when great books of the era are written. Few will know the lousy food, lack of sleep, being scared or being brave. Most of the world will never know what happened on that mountain. The one thing that cannot be changed is that three brave men were saved because a band of mostly teenage soldiers persisted in a dangerous jungle search just to find them.
This Veteran’s Day, I placed the American flag in front of my house in honor of my friend Don and the crew chief who died in that crash. The apologists for that war can say what they want, but I will never forget the sacrifice these men made to the cause of freedom we enjoy. I am proud to have served with them.
U.S. Army Sgt. James Richardson of Deville, La., and U.S. Marine Sgt. Don Barrington of Pasadena, CA. – I salute you.
Posted with permission from the author.