Two Helicopter

by: Jim Groeger
© 2000

One of my favorite stories has to do with two helicopter pilots from HMM-263. It was the summer of 1967. I was a forward observer for naval gunfire in Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment ("A" 1/12) attached to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. We had just completed a search and destroy operation and we were being flown back to the U.S.S. Okinawa, which was our Special Landing Force (SLF) home base. The Battalion had set up a 270 perimeter circling most of a steep hill with jungle to the front. The rear 90 was open land spotted with rice paddies, which the last people on the ends of the perimeter could observe. As wave after wave of H-34's came and extracted our group the word "came down" that volunteers were needed for the final wave. Since my friend Cpl. John K. March (F.O./N.G.F.) (Downingtown Pa.) and I had been through some tough times we figured we'd be able to survive better than most, so we said we'd stick around for the "final wave". As our ranks thinned out we started to receive light fire from out of the jungle about 150M to our front, by the time all but the final group was ready to be extracted it was a hot LZ.

As the "final wave" came in we felt a great sense of relief. Our focus was on the enemy in the jungle as we tried to return accurate fire. Had we looked up at the wave of birds coming in we would have seen that they were 1 bird short. Needless to say it was gut check time. The call went down for volunteers again Cpl. March, myself and 5 grunts decided to stay and wait for the final helo. The enemy's numbers had grown to where they would break cover to get to us. As this was unsuccessful they kept us pinned down with heavy fire, trying to pick us off. After what seemed like an eternity, probably only 10-15 minutes we could hear the thwp thwp thwp of the H-34 coming in. We had dug in positions at the base of the hill but now it was time to go. The copter landed at the top of the hill about 100M away. We broke cover and ran up the hill shooting as we went. The enemy came out of the jungle as we retreated. As the last Marine got into the H-34 the pilot revved up the engine to whisk us away. A problem came to light, there was one too many in the aircraft to take off. I looked up and noticed holes appearing in the fuselage. I then leaned out the aft port side window and started returning fire. Repeatedly the pilot tried to take off but the only thing that would happen was the landing gear would flex out, but the wheels would not quite come off the ground. My next thought was, who would be the one to get out or would we all stay and make a fight of it. If something wasn't done quickly the decision would be made for us as we were sustaining a lot of hits. The pilot was thinking along the same lines. Down the back of the hill he swung the bird and as fate would have it a path was there for us to drive down. Each side of the narrow path was covered with small boulders making it imperative to stay on it. We finally got away from enemy fire as we rolled down the hill. What happened next still amazes me. I looked forward to see a 4 ft boulder in our path that blocked our way to freedom. The pilot rolled up to it and hit the brakes causing the landing gear to compress, in the next split second he revved the engine to its maximum and released the brakes causing us to hop over the boulder. This was our last obstacle as we continued down the side of the hill. The path led to a flat road which we cruised down for about a quarter to a half mile until we built up enough speed to shudder into the air. The flight to the ship was uneventful, we touched down and jumped out. Another day flying with HMM-263. I'd like to express a belated heart felt thanks to those pilots and the fine job they did.

Jim Groeger
(F.O./N.G.F. "A" 1/12 - Attached to 1/3 SLF) Logo

Larry Poss

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