WILLIAM E LEMMONS
WILLIAM E LEMMONS
I'm proud of our Vietnam Veterans
Remembering An American Hero
As an American, I would like to thank you for your service and for your sacrifice made on behalf of our wonderful country. The youth of today could gain much by learning of heroes such as yourself, men and women whose courage and heart can never be questioned.
May God allow you to read this, and may He allow me to someday shake your hand when I get to Heaven to personally thank you. May he also allow my father to find you and shake your hand now to say thank you; for America, and for those who love you.
With respect, Sir
You Are Remembered
Final Mission of U.S. Army helicopter OH-23G tail number 64-15194
SGM Edward J. Guillory, MAJ William E. Lemmons and MAJ James C. McKittrick were aboard an OH23 Raven helicopter on a visual recon mission operating in Quang Tin Province on June 18, 1967. They were to spot artillery targets for the Artillary Battery that McKitrick and Guillory were attached to. At 1845 hours, the helicopter was declared missing. Extensive searches were conducted that night aided by artillery flares and aircraft mounted searchlights, but no trace of the aircraft or crew was found. In the next few days several crash sites were reported and searches made, but all efforts were fruitless. William E. Lemmons and James C. McKittrick were promoted to the rank of Major and Edward J. Guillory was promoted to their rank of Sergeant Major during the period they were maintained missing. There are two personal accounts of the incident: #1 - I have some background information on 1st Lt. William Lemmons who became MIA in June 18, 1967. I was a fellow pilot with Bill in the 196th Lt. Inf. Bde. By chance, I was serving as the aviation duty officer at the brigade tactical operations center (BTOC) the day he went missing, and I helped sound the alarm that Bill was overdue. The first realization that one of our aircraft might be missing came suddenly when the infantry unit for whom Bill was flying called me at the BTOC. The infantry officer asked, 'Did the aircraft return directly to the brigade heliport for refueling without dropping our passengers off, first?' I immediately called our heliport, about five miles away at Ky Ha, where the operations clerk did a ramp check for the aircraft. He called back several minutes later to say, 'No, the aircraft isn't back yet'. This was about 1730 hours. With nightfall only an hour or so away, we needed to move fast. We scrambled our two UH-1 (Huey) aircraft to look for Bill and his passengers in the area we thought he should have been flying. At about 1845 hours, as you reported, we were into a full-blown night time emergency. We got helicopter gunship and flareship support from a nearby unit and continued looking until about 2300 hours. We suspended the search that night for two reasons. First, the area in which we were searching was incredibly dark with hilly and mountainous terrain. It was remote and, so, had no ground lights from peasant shacks or roads or even ponds to reflect moonlight and starlight. Without a full moon, it was like flying into a gunny sack. Spatial disorientation and flight into the ground or a mountain would be easy. The second reason we stopped looking that night was because we almost lost other aircraft. The supporting flareship, which carried many crates of magnesium flares, was hit by ground fire from a village in the dark below. Normally, crewmen in the rear of a flareship prepare and arm flares one at a time and then, very carefully, throw them out. After clearing the helicopter, the flares' small parachutes open and the flares float to earth. On their way down, they might light the ground enough to see survivors or, at least, a glint of metal from an aircraft wreckage. When the flareship started taking groundfire, one of the flares inside the aircraft was hit by a bullet, ignited, and started to burn. Realize that these flares burn at about 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Within seconds the temperature of the one flare burning out of control would ignite the others still in their crates and the aircraft would have exploded or -- more precisely -- would have vaporized. I was beside our unit commander who was coordinating the search from our radio in our BTOC. The flareship pilot keyed his microphone and yelled that he had a flare burning inside his aircraft. With his mike button still keyed from tension, we heard his increasingly more panicked yells to his crewmen. The radio was filled with 'Kick the flare out ... Kick it out ... GET IT OUT ... WE’RE ON FIRE ...GOD, HELP ...GET IT OUT!' With even a single flare burning inside the helicopter cabin, the light would have been like that staring into a bank of stadium floodlights from three feet away. The heat from the flare would have been rising constantly and putting your boot near it to give it a kick would have been like sticking your foot into a furnace. In about five seconds--which seemed like an hour--the flare was kicked out. Nevertheless, the ground fire from the enemy below continued. After a minute or so, when things got a little more quiet, the gunship flight leader reported over the radio that it was the heaviest fire he'd seen--let alone received--in all the time he'd been flying in Vietnam. He asked for permission to retaliate and our commander replied, 'Level the village'. In Vietnam, where we fought a 'politically correct' war, this was a very unusual reply. In fact, the gun flight leader was so surprised to hear it that he asked our commander to repeat the clearance. The commander did. Both gunships expended all their ammunition on the enemy hidden below. By then, all the search aircraft needed refueling and the gunships, rearming. Because of this--with the real threat we might lose several more aircraft that night--the search was suspended until first light in the morning. It was then after midnight. We all hoped that Bill and his passengers were alive and could evade the enemy until we resumed searching in few hours. If anyone slept that night it was only because we knew the tasks that faced us when the sun came up. We searched for days--again, like you reported--without luck. Nothing, not one single trace of even the aircraft was ever found. This alone was too unusual to believe. We crisscrossed all the ground we thought Bill and his passengers would have flown over and, depute the thick jungle, we should have seen at least something left from a wreckage. For weeks, whenever any of our aircraft flew near that area, crewmen would fly missions with one eye on the ground and an ear peeled for a rescue signal or Bill's missing aircraft. Nothing was ever seen or heard. Several months later--again, as if by chance for me--I drew a mission to fly the brigade intelligence officer (S-1) to Tam Ky. This was the Vietnamese administrative center just north of Chu Lai, the brigade's headquarters. A Chu Hoi -- a Vietcong who turned himself in to the South Vietnamese government -- was claiming that he knew something about'a downed pilot and two passengers.'After landing at Tam Ky, I accompanied the S-1 into the administrative center. I wanted to see a Vietcong up close, even if he was one who had just surrendered. A moment before his questioning started, my eyes locked with those of this former Vietcong. I will never forget my surprise at the look of hate in that disheveled man's eyes. I thought, 'That's strange. Here's a guy asking for mercy and now willing to work from his former enemies while looking like he'd still like to kill them.' I excused the look of hate to his fear and left the building. During the flight home, the intelligence officer told me what he'd heard. The Chu Hoi reported that '... Bill's aircraft was not shot down (evidently, then, it landed because of maintenance problems). When a Vietcong unit advanced on the pilot and his two passengers, a firefight started. Bill and his passengers took refuge in an old bomb crater and, during the firefight, the VC lobbed a grenade into their position. All were killed. The aircraft was then dismantled and hidden in a river'. The location that the Chu Hoi gave where all this happened we now realized contributed to why--at least during the first few search hours--we never spotted Bill, his passengers, or the aircraft. The area over which Bill had been flying was an area known to be infested with VC and North Vietnamese soldiers. It was, in fact one of their staging areas. This area was several large valleys to the West of Chu Lai and, therefore, outside of normal artillery support range. Because of this, our aviation unit had made an operating procedure for the area. No pilot was to fly over that area unless escorted by helicopter gunships. That Bill was flying in the area may tell you something about who Bill was as a person. Bill may have been the nicest guy in our unit. He was a religious person, who didn't smoke, drink, never lost his temper, or use bad language. Because of this he was teased--sometimes more than a little--by the rest of us. The day he disappeared we believe he'd been asked to fly over that area by his two passengers. Because their infantry unit planned to assault this dangerous area in a week or so, the passengers -- a senior sergeant and a major--wanted to take a quick look at the area just to see what it looked like. Bill was the kind of guy who was always ready to help. Perhaps, instead of saying 'no', because getting a gunship escort would be time consuming, Bill decided to accommodate his infantry passengers. If that is the area in which Bill went down, we couldn't have found him that first night. We weren't looking there. It was outside our usual operational area. However, because now we see from records on the POW-MIA Database that Bill perhaps didn't die in a firefight with the enemy, another possibility exists. The Chu Hoi who reported these events could have been a 'plant.' A Vietcong who purposely defected only to spread disinformation about Bill's real fate. If true, this Chu Hoi wanted us to think Bill and his passengers were dead so that we would stop looking for him. This might make it easier for the VC to transport him among their camps. Either way, it's not very pleasant thinking about what happened that day and, worse, the events for a long time afterwards. I've never forgotten Bill and I hope this addition to his biographical information may help his family or friends. (Reported by Fred Startz) #2 - Fred Startz covered Bill Lemmons pretty well with just a few exceptions. His OH-23 helicopter was not found several valleys over from where we normally operated. Fred had returned to the States when we got word that a farmer knew the location of the downed helicopter. I was chosen to go get that farmer, along with his ARVN interpreter and locate the aircraft. The farmer had difficulty getting his bearings from above, obviously because he had never flown before, so we went low level. When we were approaching the area where he said the aircraft was hidden, we began to receive a lot of automatic small arms fire. He kept pointing down excitedly and saying 'there' in Vietnamese, but we saw nothing. We flew out of the area and gained altitude and decided to fly further west and come back the other way along the water at low level. It was then that we saw the rotor blades sticking out of the water. We kept going as if we saw nothing and flew the farmer back to the ARVN compound. We went home and reported where the aircraft was located, and it was right where we had gotten most of the enemy fire from on the first night of the search for Bill. The next day an Infantry company, and two very scared volunteers, were airlifted into the area to recover Bill's aircraft. A sling was rigged up and a CH-47 came in, picked it up, and flew it back to Chu Lai. After the CH-47 left, I got a chance to look around the area. You could see where the NVAVC dragged it to the water. As I walked further back, I saw where Bill had autorotated. I was the unit maintenance test pilot, and I smiled at his ability to put it down that nicely with two additional passengers on board, not an easy job in that old antiquated aircraft. We were airlifted out by one of our Hueys and went right to Chu Lai to look at the aircraft. It was a mess, especially after being submerged under water for months. Although the fully intact OH-23 was full of bullet holes, obviously the NVAVC wanted to make it useless, Bill went down due to an engine failure; which was documented by the maintenance people. This would normally have ended the story, but for a strange development. The grunts (and I use that term with respect) always laughed at me for volunteering to go on that combat assault. About one month later one of them asked me a question that almost floored me. I had just brought some of them back from working an operation that was a lot further west than they had ever worked before. He said...'Have you ever heard of a guy named Clem?' I asked him why and he said that they had found the name 'Clem' scratched into the side of a destroyed NVA truck way back in the valley. Let me explain. CPT Jim Yoho, who was in our unit, gave a lot of us nicknames, and 'Clem' was the one that he gave to Bill, and Bill sure hated that nickname. This told me something, and I reported it right away. I feel strongly that Bill was a POW and I got in touch with Jim Yoho several years later, and he agreed that the name 'CLEM' scratched in that truck was Bill's way of saying...'ITS ME!' What appalls me the most is the totally wrong information that our government has on this incident. What happened to all of our reports? They even list the aircraft as unrecovered. If I had a map, I could still show exactly where Bill went down. (Reported by John Simpers) [Taken from vhpa.org]