Excerpt from Volume 2, Chapter 9
Arma Virumque Cano by Dave Baccitich, USMC
Date of Hire by Western Airlines 6/6/1972
My name is Dave Baccitich. I was born and raised right in the city of San Francisco. In my junior year at the University of San Francisco I joined the United States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class (PLC). At that time only aviation billets were available, even though I was a history major with no thought of airplanes. This was a time before the war in Vietnam, the draft was still in existence, and I just wanted to do my time and get on with my life. In June 1964 I reported to Quantico, Virginia, for twelve weeks of officer candidate school (OCS). On August 2 of that summer all candidates were roused from sleep extra early by our drill instructors. An incident in the Gulf of Tonkin had just occurred and we were now preparing for an actual war in Vietnam. (Later it was proved that nothing actually happened. Just an excuse??)
In September I returned to USF, finished my degree work, and in March 1965 I reported to the US Naval Flight School in Pensacola, Florida. Thirteen months later I received my wings. Because of war preparation we were pushed through the usual eighteen month program as fast as possible, sometimes flying three training hops per day. On the day of my graduation from flight school, for some unknown reason, demand for helicopter pilots was very high. I was both fixed wing and rotary wing qualified, so…the summer of 1966 found me at Camp Pendleton in California training to pilot the UH-1E – the Huey! I felt that my training there was excellent, very intense, and closely related to actual combat conditions.
In September 1966 I checked into Marine Observation Squadron 2 (VMO-2). The basic mission of the squadron was gunship support for med-evac, troop insert and extraction, and resupply missions. We also supported ground operations by the “grunts” with our own machine guns and 2.75 inch rockets, and we called in and controlled fixed wing bombing and strafing by marking the targets. We also controlled artillery and naval gun fire attacks in support of the “grunts.”
While the main portion of VMO-2 was based at Marble Mountain Air Facility, adjacent to the DaNang Air Base, our squadron supplied small detachments to Phu Bai, Dong Ha, and KheSanh. I was assigned to fly wingman for our flight leader Bob Keefe on such a detachment to KheSanh when the following event occurred.
MARCH 2, 1967
On the morning of March 2, 1967, the air laison officer (ALO) assigned to the “grunts” at KheSanh, Harry Lake, requested that Bob Keefe and I take our gunships on a reconnaissance mission south and west of the base, but NOT into Laos. North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops had been reported in that area and the Marine CO wanted as much information as we could get on the size, armament, and location of that force.
The Hueys were armed up and fueled up, and led by Bob Keefe we headed out to do a little “snoopin and poopin.”Our squadron call-sign was Deadlock with lead being dash one and my call sign dash two. Our two Hueys were ship numbers VS-11 and VS-23 with Bob Keefe flying VS-11. We flew in a loose daisy chain formation about 1000 feet above the ground. On one of my loops my door gunner thought he spotted something moving on the ground. No friendlies were reported in the area so I radioed Bob that I was going to do a recon by fire and he should roll in behind me to cover my pull-out in case I were to take ground fire. I rolled in hot and let loose with a couple of machine gun bursts. As I was pulling off the target all hell broke loose, and unfortunately for Bob it was all directed at his aircraft.
NVA 12.7 mm (same as .50 caliber) and .30 caliber machine guns concentrated on Bob’s Huey. I pissed them off and now they were taking it out on Bob. His tail rotor was shot off, making the Huey very hard to control, and his engine was shot out – no power. That left Bob with only one direction to go and that was down. He did an excellent job of auto rotating (landing without engine power) and controlling the imminent crash landing. Thankfully he was able to put about 400 meters between his crash site and the NVA.
Climbing back to a perch, my door gunner screamed that Bob was hit and going down. I rolled back on target line and fired all fourteen of my 2.75 rockets at the NVA site. That lightened my aircraft weight quite a bit, and I also jettisoned the rocket pods themselves to lose even more weight. I instructed my co-pilot, Hank Trimble, to call DASC (direct aircraft support center) and have them send fixed wing aircraft to our position to help us out of this fix. My door gunners kept firing on the NVA and helped keep sight of Bob’s Huey as it went down.
Again, Bob did a masterful job of getting his Huey and crew on the ground. He even found a relatively open and flat spot to crash land—just what I needed for a rescue attempt. I immediately headed for that zone, keeping as far from the NVA as possible. Thankfully when I landed Bob’s Huey was between my Huey and the enemy, because lots of bullets were flying my way. Bob’s crew also used the downed Huey for cover as they ran about 100 meters to my aircraft. I do not know if this really happened or I just imagined it, but I think I saw Bob’s co-pilot, Dave Nazarian, shooting his pistol over his shoulder as he ran to my chopper AND, stopping, turning around, he took a picture.
As the four downed crewmen jumped into my Huey, a new problem cropped up. How do I get this overweight aircraft out of the zone? I pulled up into a hover and “beeped” (increased) the rotor RPM (turns) to the maximum. Gotta keep the turns up!! Again, I thank Bob for finding a relatively open and flat zone. As I eased the Huey forward and through translational lift (going from a ground cushion to forward flight) I needed more power, but adding more power would decrease my “turns.” No turns, no fly! We bounced a couple of times, chopped down a few little trees, and slowly made it into forward flight. The “turns” returned and we were able to fly away from the zone and start a climb back to altitude. An uneventful flight and landing back at KheSanh was followed by a great sigh of relief. I do not know how long all of this took, but we were back on the deck at KheSanh before the DASC responded and sent the requested fixed wing aircraft.
Of the four crew members of the downed Huey, only Cpl. Duane Fugate was injured. He suffered a back injury on the crash landing and was later med-evaced to the States. Since returning home and separating from active duty, I have seen Charlie Maddocks and Duane Fugate on several occasions. Charlie Maddocks passed away in January 2016. I have bumped into my co-pilot, Hank Trimble, only once or twice, and have seen Bob Keefe only once. I have not seen Dave Nazarian and crew members Hart and Meyers.This story is my best recollection of an event that happened 49 years ago.
After my thirteen month tour in Vietnam I extended my overseas tour for another six months and was reassigned to an H-34 helicopter squadron on Okinawa. The squadron task was half VIP transport and half grunt training. We did a lot of work with Army Special Forces and Marine Recon units, as they used our helos in training exercises. We practiced inserts and extracts of Marine Recon units and the Army SF teams, and their training included jumping out of our helos – truly some crazy guys!
When my tour on Okinawa was over I was assigned C-130 training with the Air Force and then had a three year tour with VMCR-352, a Marine KC-130 (tanker) squadron based at El Toro. My main job there was refueling and providing navigation assistance for trans-pac-ing F-4s, A-4s, and A-6s on their way to Vietnam. When my C-130 tour was over in March 1971 my active duty commitment was complete and I joined the USMC Reserve at El Toro. Later in 1971, Steve Waltripand I “stood up” the first reserve squadron of Marine Corps AH-1G Cobra helicopters.
I was hired by Western Airlines on June 6, 1972 and retired flying the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 for Delta in August 2002. For a history major at USF with no thought of airplanes in 1964, I had a pretty good run and it seemed to be all about airplanes!