to my beloved brother
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, and the best salute a civilian can muster for you, Sir
Crash Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1H tail number 66-17051
Aircraft commander 2LT James C. Williamson and pilot 1LT Donel J. Dobbs departed Lassiter Helipad at Bien Hoa at 1030 hrs. on March 17, 1972 on an authorized mission in which troops were to be inserted. Their aircraft was number 2 in a three-ship formation. The crew chief was SP4 Richard A. Crocker, the gunner was SP4 John J. Moynahan, and the fifth crewman was PFC James J. Pockey. The 3rd aircraft in the trail formation was late in taking off and was therefore some distance behind the formation at 1035 hrs. when the accident sequence began. Witnesses state that the formation was just climbing through 1500 feet MSL, when aircraft 66-17051 entered a slight pitch-up attitude then rolled forward into an extremely nose-low dive terminating in the Dong Nai River. The entire crash sequence started with a radio call by one of the pilots (undetermined who or what radio), 'Mayday, mayday, mayday' simultaneously, the aircraft pitched-up then rolled forward with the nose in very low attitude and the aircraft in a dive. Prior to or near the big tree in the flight path, the aircraft experienced violent mast bumping, causing the main rotor to break its drive shaft and separate. At or near this point on the flight path, the rotor blade sliced through the cockpit and fuselage area at least two times and possibly more, causing massive amounts of in-flight disintegration. The main rotor traveled, generally, from the area above the big tree to its resting place in the shallow water by the river bank. The main body of the aircraft continued in a steep dive from the area above the big tree to its impact in the Dong Nai River, losing its vertical fin just at impact. The vertical fin had been severed partially by the tail rotor at about the time of main rotor separation and the impact completed its removal. Upon impact, the fuel cells burst open and there was a flash-type fire on the surface of the water, probably caused by the burning of the JP-4. The aircraft disappeared beneath the surface of the water in 5-10 seconds and came to rest in 35 feet of water. All aboard the aircraft suffered fatal injuries, including the four crew members and their passengers: SP5 Alberto Vadirodriguez, SGT Thurman Woody Jr., SFC Turner C. Johnson, PFC Howard E. Drain, SP4 Charles H. Schelling, and PFC Columbus Watson Jr. Personal account of this incident: As I remember it, March 17, 1972 started out as a superb day around Bien Hoa. The Monsoons were over and the summer heat had not hit full steam just yet. Just the night before a bunch of us played flag or touch football in the sandy area next to our hooches. We were letting off steam after a full day of flying and pulling an intermediate maintenance on one of the birds. The day had as pretty a dawning as I could ever remember. There was a bright gold sun on the horizon a few bright white scattered clouds and no wind to speak of. It was for most of us just another day in F Troop 19th Cav. Operations had given us our missions the night before and I was to take part in a three ship combat assault. We were going to put some grunts into some place so they could do what they did best, break things and kill people. Breakfast, weapons issue and preflight all went more or less the same day in and day out. We lifted off out of our company area and headed to Lassiter helipad to pick up the Infantry. As we landed, I remember thinking at the time that I would hate to have these guys coming after me. They were loaded for bear. I don't remember any rucksacks but they had enough ammo and grenades on their LBE (load bearing equipment) to start a small war. We waited for the grunts to load up and I noticed that they seemed to be taking longer to get on the bird than normal. It must have been true because the next thing I know the flight lead and the number two bird start pulling pitch. My AC (Aircraft Commander starts yelling for me to tell the grunts to hurry up or they are going to be left behind. They finally got in and we pulled pitch. It turned out that our bird (chock three) was well behind the first two. We could see them, but they were not real close. My AC asked the flight lead to cut back a little on his airspeed and at the same time we poured on the power to close the gap. A couple of minutes later we were almost completely back into a normal trail formation. My AC told flight lead we had caught up and the flight lead picked back up his pace. We were flying pretty much the way we always flew, 1,500 feet and around 120 knots. Things were going so normal they almost were boring. I knew things would heat up once we got close to the LZ (landing zone). For now though we were just enjoying watching the ground go by and making sure nobody was taking potshots at us. As the CE (crew chief) of the bird, I was flying in the left side gunner's well. Suddenly, the peace is shattered when a bunch of stuff comes flying out of the bird in front of us. The bird pitches up and to the right and just as suddenly banks left and noses into a dive. I had been crewing Hueys for five months and knew something was terribly wrong with chalk two. The bird continued to dive straight toward a river. About two hundred feet above the river I saw the crewchief jump out of his bird. I could only guess that he thought his chances of surviving the crash would be better if he got out of the bird. He almost made it to the water's edge. To my horror I watched him hit the ground a few feet from the edge of the river. At almost the same time chalk two hit the river. Rotor blades and parts of helicopter and equipment were slung in every direction. The bird went almost immediately to the bottom of the Dong Nai River. There was such a knot in my stomach I could not really believe what I just saw. One minute we were flying along just as normal as anything and the next we were trying to rescue our comrades. Our AC told the flight lead what was going on. I normally listened to all five radios on the bird and don't remember hearing a word out of either pilot in chalk two. Our then flight of two circled around the crash site as the pilots of both birds decided where to land to try and secure a perimeter. We landed long enough to insert the grunts we were carrying and then returned to our unit to get our own 'Blues,' (grunts which belonged to our unit). We came back and put them in the same LZ we had the other grunts. Someone made a request for a team of divers to be flown from Saigon to retrieve the bodies of our brothers. The only body that was immediately found was that of SP4 Richard Crocker. Dick was the CE who tried to jump out but didn't make it to the river. I was so glad that I did not see his body. The grunts who found him said it was not a pretty sight. I still remember him the way I saw him the night before while we were playing football. The divers had to retrieve the rest of the bodies. Eleven people died in that crash, I only knew the flight crew. The grunts were all strangers to me. It didn't help not knowing the grunts very much because they were still Americans killed in action. It was later told to us that the accident investigation team figured a grenade got lose and accidently went off inside the bird. That seemed to make the most sense to us as we tried to piece the events back together. Fragmentation grenades had both a pull ring pin and a thumb safety to keep them from accidently going off. Because some grunts in the heat of battle would pull the pins and forget to remove the thumb safety there were many reports of grenades either not going off or that the enemy would pick up the grenade remove the thumb safety and throw the grenades back. I don't know how true these reports were, but enough grunts believed it that they often would remove the thumb safeties as soon as they were loading up on our birds. Many times the grenades would be hung on the LBE by the spoon (handle) of the grenade. With six or seven grunts packed inside the cargo compartment of the Huey it would be reasonable to figure that a grenade pin got snagged on someone's equipment and was accidently armed. After the bodies were retrieved they were flown to the morgue in Saigon. Morale in our unit took a pretty heavy hit that day. One thing I did notice though was that for several days after the loss of my friends I didn't take anything for granted. I realized as did many others in our unit that life is a sometimes very fragile thing. May God bless the eleven souls that gave their lives that day so many miles from home. (From MAJ Leonard B. Shearer (Ret.), October 2003.) [Taken from vhpa.org]
John is buried at St Marys Assumption Cemetery, Haydenville, Hampshire County, Mass. Range 5
You are not forgotten
It has been 39 years and still seems like yesterday.
We spent almost two years together as Brothers-in-Arms and then the Lord called you Home. Your Ultimate Sacrifice will Never be Forgotten and was not in vain.
You are a True American Hero