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      This page is dedicated to the daring young Vietnamese Pilots, Copilots, Crew Chiefs, Gunners of the KingBee 219th Squadron and the men of SOG teams. As an old saying has said: "All gave some, some gave all." You are the latter and not forgotten by all.

Throughout the Vietnam war, VNAF KingBee 219th was a legendary Squadron that flew countless harrowing missions of inserting the SOG commando teams behind the ennemy line. While waiting for more documentary materials on KingBee Squadron to be collected, we are posting the KingBee Man's photo collection. Thank you, KingBeen Man for such a privilege of sharing your precious photos.

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      The "219th Helicopter Squadron, Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF), had twenty-five CH-34 helicopters assigned. Eight H-34 helicopters were used on a daily, average bases" to support SOG, "By the end of 1971, the average amount of helicopters used was forty-six (46) every day; averaging twenty-four for 'PHU DUNG' (Laos) and twenty-two for 'THOT NOT' (Cambodia) operations". (Note: Prairie Fire was changed to "PHU DUNG" and Salem House changed to "THOT NOT" in 1971). Harve Saal, SOG, MACV Studies and Observation Group, Behind Enemy Lines, Vol 1, pp183 and 259 respectively.

The 219th was with SOG from the beginning: After the 219th's Kingbees inserted the first SOG Shining Brass Reconnaissance mission from FOB-1, Kham Duc,with SGM Petry, SFC Card, and Smith on 18 October 1995, a Vietnamese Pilot, Co-Pilot, and Door Gunner were lost along Cpt Larry Alan Thorne of Norwalk, Conn, when the CH-34 crashed returning from the insertion outside Da Nang.

(Source: Mark Austin Byrd.)

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Special Forces 5th group Flash   HAUNTING MEMORIES OF BRAVE COMRADES

By J. Stryker Meyer

SOG Team        When I die, if the Lord gives me a moment to reflect before I breathe my last breath, my first thoughts will be not of my loved ones, nor my children.

I'll reflect on and thank God for Sau, Hiep, Phouc, Tuan, Hung, Son, Quang, Chau, Cau and Minh. Captains Tuong and Thinh and lieutenants Trung and Trong will follow them in my thoughts. Then, I'll think of my loving wife, our talented and unique children, and our folks.

Why the Vietnamese men before my loved ones? Without the courage, strength and fearless verve as combatants in America's secret war in Southeast Asia, I wouldn't have returned to the United States.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I'll pause to salute those warriors, men most Americans will never hear about, including the more than 3 million U.S. troops sent to South Vietnam during America's longest and costliest war.

There are many who do not respect or salute the Vietnamese who fought in Vietnam. That's because our country has failed to educate them about the Vietnamese, the country they sent us to and its history and customs. As Green Berets, we fought side by side with them, laughed with them and learned about their families, their dreams and hopes and fears.

The first group were members of Spike Team Idaho, a reconnaissance team that ran classified missions into Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observation Group ---- SOG. Green Berets, Navy SEALs and U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance troops manned several special operation commands throughout South Vietnam.

I joined Spike Team Idaho in May 1968, after six members of the team disappeared in a Laos target area. Three U.S. Green Berets and three Vietnamese mercenaries were never heard from again and remain listed as missing in action today. By '68, Idaho operated out of Phu Bai, 10 miles south of Hue. In May, there were 30 recon teams there. By November, Idaho was the only operational team left in camp. The enemy troops in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam were well-trained, fearless and well-equipped.

Captains Tuong and Thinh and lieutenants Trung and Trong were helicopters pilots who flew Sikorsky H-34s in the Vietnamese 219th Helicopter Squadron for SOG. Time and again, they flew the older H-34s, which we called "KINGBEES," into landing zones where enemy soldiers tried to knock them out of the sky.

For several months in '68, the KINGBEES were the only aircraft flying SOG teams "across the fence" deep into enemy territory. In Laos, the CIA estimated there were between 30,000 and 40,000 North Vietnamese troops keeping the Ho Chi Minh Trail open, bringing supplies from the north to South Vietnam ---- and fighting SOG troops.

During my 17 months on Idaho, we always left targets under heavy fire from North Vietnamese troops. The ride home was in KINGBEES and every time we asked for one, it came, regardless of enemy fire. There are many Green Berets alive today thanks to the incredible flying skills of Vietnamese Kingbee pilots. And without the Vietnamese or Montagnard team members, there would have been more than the 161 killed in SOG operations.

Sau was the Vietnamese team leader on Spike Team Idaho. When I landed at Phu Bai, Sau had been fighting for Special Forces nearly five years. Weighing less than 100 pounds soaking wet, Sau had a remarkable sixth sense: He could smell the enemy. In the jungle he moved with complete stealth and silence, often cursing his larger American counterparts.

Hiep was the team's interpreter, who sometimes corrected U.S. troops on their English, as well as speaking Vietnamese, French and some Chinese.

Phouc, Chau, Son and Hung all signed up with Special Forces when they were 15 or 16. After hundreds of hours of intensive training, their age didn't matter as they stood tall in combat.

On Oct. 7, 1968, Spike Team Idaho, after trying to escape from North Vietnamese trackers, was attacked by NVA soldiers, who opened fire on full automatic. Sau had warned they were near. Although none of the Americans heard anything, Sau, Phuoc, Hiep and Don Wolken were on alert, with their weapons on full automatic, ready to go.

In those firefights the first seconds are crucial. The submachine guns we carried fired 20 high-velocity rounds in 1 1/2 seconds. Sau, Phouc and Hiep reloaded and drove the NVA back down the jungle-shrouded hill. We gained fire superiority, but the NVA never stopped coming at us. After a while, they were firing at us from behind stacks of dead bodies. They came at us from 2 p.m. until dusk, time and again rushing us, trying to overrun our position. We had Air Force Phantom jets, Skyraiders and helicopter gunships dropping bombs, napalm and cluster bombs and make strafing runs. That was the first time I could recall smelling burnt human flesh.

By dusk, we were low on ammo, hand grenades and rounds for our grenade launcher. Capt. Thinh flew his H-34 to a slight rise above our position, hovering in deep elephant grass ---- thick-bladed grass that grew more than 12 feet tall. Because the grass was thick and the NVA tried to close in on us again, it took us several minutes to get to the Kingbee.

When I arrived under it, I looked up at Capt. Thinh, sitting there looking as calm as a Rocky Mountain breeze in springtime, and he smiled. Finally, we were loaded and he yanked us out of there. Sau, Hiep, Phouc and I fired off our last magazine of rounds and threw our last grenade as we pulled out of the landing zone, again under heavy enemy fire.

Within a few minutes we were at 4,000 feet, returning to Phu Bai. We were safe and unharmed. The Kingbee had 48 holes from bullets and grenades in its side panels and propellers. The new American on the team quit the next day. Sau, Hiep and Phouc ate dinner before I arranged for Sau and Hiep to return to their families that night. That scene unfolded hundreds of times over the course of SOG's history.

I carry a deep, haunting guilt for having left them in South Vietnam.

(J. Stryker Meyer, a North County Times staff writer, served in the Special Forces from 1968 to 1970.)


H-34 Video


       The H-34 started as a private Sikorsky Aircraft development, which the military ignored. However, it soon became a true workhorse in service with all branches of the U.S. armed forces, in addition to a host of foreign nations, and a variety of civil operators. The H-34 was also the final evolution of large piston-engine helicopters before the rise of turbine powered designs.

Designated by Sikorsky as the S-58, the H-34 took form as an improvement on the company's revolutionary S-55. That model appeared in the late 1940s, as other manufacturers began to break Sikorsky's hold on large military helicopter contracts with designs such as the tandem-rotor Piasecki HUP-1. Early Sikorsky designs placed the large reciprocating engine behind the cabin. This had the effect of restricting the center-of-gravity of the helicopter to a very narrow range. Igor Sikorsky and his design team discovered that if they moved the engine to the front of the cabin, closer to the axis of the main rotor, the center-of-gravity envelope became much larger. This configuration required the relocation of the cockpit to a position on top of the engine. Sikorsky engineers inclined the engine at a 45-degree angle so that the drive shaft would not run through the main cabin, though this created a partition between the cockpit and main cabin. However, the addition of clamshell doors to the nose of the aircraft made maintenance access to the engine far simpler than it had ever been before.

The U. S. Army employed the H-34 principally for general utility purposes, as well as VIP transport flights, and SAR missions. One of the most challenging missions flown by Army H-34s was the evacuation of the Congo in 1964, but Army H-34s did not participate in Vietnam, and did not fly in the assault helicopter role.

Beginning in 1956, the H-34 saw its introduction into combat during intensive operations with the French in Algeria. In 1955, the U. S. Marine Corps received its first HUS-1s as an interim type, ostensibly until the HR2S (later H-37) entered squadron service. However, the HUS lasted far longer in USMC service, and in much greater numbers, than the HR2S ever did. Ultimately the Marine Corps took delivery of 515 UH-34Ds. From the late 1950s until the CH-46 entered service in 1965, the UH-34 operated as the mainstay of Marine Corps helicopter units.

On April 15, 1962, Lt. Col. Archie Clapp's Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362 (HMM-362), know as Archie's Angels, deployed to Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam as part of Operation SHUFLY. This was the Marine Corp's effort to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops in actions against the Viet Cong. HMM 162,163, 261, 361, 364, and 365 joined the operation later. During late 1962, the SHUFLY H-34s traded places with an Army squadron and moved to Da Nang because the H-34 was more capable in the mountainous terrain of northern South Vietnam than the Piasecki H-21.

Pilots of H-34s flying in Vietnam discovered in the combat zone that some of the design's innovative features carried penalties. The high cockpit made it an obvious target, and the drive shaft created a partition that made it difficult for crew chiefs to come to the aid of the cockpit crew if they became injured. The H-34's magnesium skin resulted in very intense fires, and contributed to significant corrosion problems. The airframe was also too weak to support most of the weapon systems that allowed the UH-1 to become an effective ad-hoc gunship. Nonetheless, the H-34 demonstrated an ability to sustain a substantial amount of combat damage and still return home.

Early in 1965, Operation SHUFLY ended as U. S. Marine and Army units landed in Vietnam, following the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and took the lead in the war against the Viet Cong. In March 1966, the more capable turbine-powered CH-46A began to replace the UH-34s. However, in August 1967, several fatal crashes caused by tail pylon failures resulted in the grounding of the CH-46As, and the somewhat haggard but reliable H-34 remained in service until engineers resolved the CH-46 structural problems. In August 1969, the last Marine UH-34D in Vietnam was retired from HMM-362 at Hue Phu Bai. It had served the Marine Corps in Vietnam for seven years. During that period, enemy action and operational accidents downed 134 of the venerable helicopters. To this day, whether they were pilots, crew chiefs, gunners or maintenance troops, the Marines who operated H-34s (which they affectionately labeled the "Dog") all fervently believe that "When you're out of H-34s, you're out of helicopters."

An example of the actions experienced by H-34 crews occurred on 27 and 28 April 1964 with the helicopters of HMM-364, commanded by Lt. Col. John Lavoy. The squadron received orders to insert a regiment of ARVN troops into a Landing Zone (LZ) that they believed to be unoccupied. Upon arrival at the LZ, the aircraft became the target of an ambush, which presumably occurred because of leaked information. A South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) A-1 Skyraider (see NASM collection) attempted to dive-bomb one of the many gun positions but was shot down. Later, courageous Army pilots, flying armed UH-1 Hueys (see NASM collection) suppressed some of the fire, but .50 caliber guns and hundreds of smaller weapons continued to pour fire into the landing zone. Despite the intense fire, Lt. Col. Lavoy led his helicopters into the zone, disembarked the ARVN troops, and departed. Every Marine H-34 suffered from damage inflicted from the ground fire, which resulted in the loss of one aircraft. An H-34 specifically tasked to rescue downed crews immediately picked up the crew.

In the late 1950s, Air America, a CIA-created airline, began flying UH-34Ds in Laos, manned by crews on leave from the Marine Corps. When the last military UH-34 left Vietnam, Air America was still in operation with the type, including upgraded S-58Ts powered by the powerful turbine PT6T-6 "TwinPac."

Ultimately the S-58/UH-34 was flown by all branches of the U. S. military and also by the armed forces of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Haiti, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Katanga, Laos, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, Soviet Union, Thailand, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Vietnam. In addition to its military service, the H-34 still performs a number of civilian duties including air taxi and fire fighting. The S-58T remains one of the most popular helicopters in the aerial crane role because of its large lifting capacity and relatively low operating costs compared to those of other aerial crane platforms. The abundance of ex-military H-34s, retired in favor of higher-performance turbine models, allowed many operators to acquire a powerful helicopter quite easily.

That an aircraft, initially rejected by all the armed services, should ultimately serve for so long and in such numbers is remarkable. Even more commendable is the genuine affection with which the aircrews who flew it in combat recall their service. Every year thousands of Marines who flew the H-34 in Vietnam still meet at venues all around the country to recall their experiences in a magnificent flying machine and one that meant so much to them.

(Source:National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution).