CW3 John Downing 25 Aug 95 Mobile, Al.
Final Flight as Army Aviator with Alabama National Guard.
Following is a synopsis of my recollection of the morning of 16 June 1966. It has been almost 40 years so the times or events may be somewhat different Than what I remember. However, this is my recollection to the best of my memory And I will stand by it as what I recall.
Recollection of HMM-361 helicopter pilot Lt. John Downing regarding the Morning after the battle for Nui Vu (Hill 488) 16 June 1966.
I was already on the flight schedule for some resupply mission around mid-morning on 16 June 1966. However, around 0300-0400 the duty officer awoke two or three pilots in my tent and told us to report to the ready room for an emergency recon extraction from Hill 488 west of Tam Ky. The briefing called for our helos to proceed to Hill 54 and pick up C/1/5 and drop them into an LZ at the base of 488. The LZ was at BT 151191 near the village of Dich An Tay. When the assaulting company (C/1/5) secured the hill we were to extract the recon unit (SGT Howards 18 people) and return to lift Charlie Company back to Hill 54. The brief included the position of four .50 Cal. AA guns which the enemy had bracketed on the top of Nui Vu. I still have this very map today with the .50's marked as reported by SGT. Howard and the VMO-6/ HMM-361 helos who had attempted the MEDEVAC/ Retraction earlier. After the brief I was approached by Lt. Jerry Johnson my squadron mate who had attempted the emergency retraction around 0300-0330 and was unable to land due to intense automatic weapons fire from the four .50 Cal. AA guns. He cautioned me to be extremely careful on this mission due to the proximity of these guns to the recon teams position and that they had taken several hits on their flight. Jerry was my tent mate at Marble Mountain for six months and he wanted to impress upon me that this would indeed be a dangerous situation. The troop insertion at the base of 488 went uneventful as I recall. I can't remember receiving fire into or out of the LZ. I think we may have returned to Chu Lai and refueled to give C/1/5 time to secure the hilltop, but I am not sure. We may have orbited in the area for some time. When we returned for the extraction we only encountered sporadic small arms fire. When we landed on the northwestern slope of 488 there were so many dead enemy bodies that we actually had to set the helo down on some of the dead bodies...unavoidable as it were. I do remember vividly wondering to myself just what in the hell happened on this hill last night. There were dead VC/NVA scattered all over the LZ. Shot, bled out, burnt, torn and otherwise done with their tour in this war. We were loaded up with some KIA/WIA's and returned to Division Med. I don't recall if these were recon casualties or those from C/1/5. I don't remember ever landing on Hill 488 again, so I guess the troop lift of C/1/5 back to Hill 54 was completed by another helo squadron from MAG-36. That is my recollection of the operation.
John A. Downing Lt. HMM-361 16 June 1966
Lt Tom Parsons (left) being debriefed by Operations NCO, circa Sept 1966, as Lt John Downing (right) looks on. Tom Parsons along with Jerry Johnson were the pilots that attempted the Medevac on Hill 488 at 0230 16 Jun 66. According to Parsons, he and Johnson stayed on station for 3.5 hrs and acted somewhat like airborne FAC's. Parson's last mission was 22 Sep 66 flying Recon insertions and retractions.
Here is an account of the incident on the USMC Combat Helicopter Association web site:
The remaining images are from Bill Luplow who flew an A-4 Sky Hawk.