THOMAS MILTON VAN ZANDT
THOMAS M VAN ZANDT
Happy Heavenly Birthday
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 CH-47A tail number 66-19006
An eye witness stated that the aft rotor assemble left the aircraft while the aircraft was terminating an approach for landing, then the forward rotor system also left the aircraft. The aircraft came to rest upright and two small fires were extinguished. One crewman, flight engineer SP4 William H. Campbell III, and seven passengers suffered fatal injuries in the crash. Those passengers included CAPT Michael E. Berdy, SP4 Barry S. Kyle, SGT Stephen M Vuga, 1LT Thomas M. Van Zandt, 1LT Daryl L. Ligons, CPL James L. Russ Jr., and SSGT Allen D. Ford. Another 25 personnel aboard the aircraft were injured. Personal account of this incident: It was o’dark thirty when the runner came around waking the flight crews, December 26, 1967. I was just a door gunner at that time. For some reason we were a standby AC. I believe the mission called for three hooks on that morning. I don't know if the FE and CC even knew what the mission was to be. At present time I cannot recall the names of the FE and CC. As the FE and CC readied the hook for the pilots, I unlocked the conex container that held the 60's. After inspecting them one more time, I hoisted them over my shoulders and carried them over to the ship. I locked them into place and got the ammo out and ready to feed into them. It was about this time that the pilots arrived and did their pre-flight. With the pre-flight out of the way, everybody took their position. The pilots settled into the seats in the cockpit and the CC took his position up front. As I plugged into the intercom, I heard the soon to be very familiar words, “Ready on the P chief?” The word went back, “Ready on the P, sir.” I could now see the other hooks firing up, their blades slowing starting to turn. Then came the words from the cockpit, “Ready on one?”, with the answer “Ready on one, sir.” The whine of the turbines started to grow and then leap to life. Once more the word from up front, “Ready on two?” “Ready on two, sir”, came the reply. Number two engine also lit up with no problems. Two of the three mission birds were now all fired up. But the third bird was not starting. For some reason the APU would not start. One and two to flight came the word from up front and with those words the six blades began to spin faster. This FNG had no clue what was about to unfold in the next few hours. The flight was now ready to take off, leaving the one hook sitting in the revetment, unable to come to life. The commands soon started to come, “Ramps up ready in the rear, sir,” “Clear right, sir,” “Clear left, sir.” The fat lady lifted up and backed out of her parking spot at An Khe's Golf Course. A slow peddle turn and the nose dropped, and off we headed towards the Bong Son plains. After the short trip, LZ English was now in sight, and we would make a quick stop at the POL to top off the tanks. I don't think the FE or CC had a clue as to what the mission was to be. Word came back that we were cleared for the POL. As the Hook settled down, the ramp lowered and out the back I went. A little JP4 for a thirsty lady. After topping off the tank, I headed back to the window. Plugging back into the intercom I caught the last of the conversation. It was to be a three ship extraction. Charlie was not in the area and there would be no gunships. Once more came the words ramps up, ready in the rear. Clear left, Clear right. The flight of three was cleared for departure. It was a short trip to the PZ. Smoke was popped and ID'd. As we approached the PZ, I could see the three groups of Grunts ready to board. As I would become use to the hook settled down and the ramp was being lowered before she was all the way settled down. No sooner had the ramp hit the dry rice paddy then the troops started loading. As the last Grunt walked up the ramp, the FE hit the lever and as the ramp started coming up, the words Ramps up, ready in the rear, sir, came the word from the back. Another look around and I punched the intercom button, Clear left, sir. About the same time the CC was clearing right. The lead bird lifted off with us bringing up the tail end of the formation. Soon we were up to altitude and heading off without passengers. Once more I don't recall the time of the flight, nothing sticks out that would make it eventful at the time, just three hooks flying in loose formation. Pretty soon we're nearing our destination and we start dropping down from altitude. I now see that we're at an Air Force base. Directions are given, and we will be landing in a marked off spot in a dirt area. Sure enough, an Air Force truck with the follow me lights and we land and park in a dirt area. The grunts are still onboard as we shut down. Here comes a bus and the pilots tell us to get on the bus also. What about my 60's? I was told when I signed for them if they got lost or whatever it would come out of my pay. Not to worry, there will be a guard there. The Grunts are told to leave their packs on the hooks, we're going to the Bob Hope show. We're ushered to a section for the Cavalry. Shortly after getting into our places, I hear short blurbs coming over the loud speakers. Captain so and so reports bla, bla, bla, x-ray tech bla, bla, bla report. Just a few short blurbs and I pay no mind to them, and for the next hour or so we watch as act after act is put on for us. The show is now over and we head out towards where we left the lady. As we get close to where the bird waits, I now see in the background, just behind and off to the left, the remains of a Hook sitting on a little knob of dirt. Its forward transmission is laying out in front of a scene of destruction. There in masking tape on its side in big letters which spell out the words, “MERRY XMAS.” C Co's Crimson tide 66-19006 sits in total destruction. Now the earlier message from the loud speakers comes clear in my mind: Captain so and so and all medical techs and x-ray techs report to their duty stations. That's what that was all about. Out of 28 passengers and 5 crew members, 8 died including the FE SP4 William H. Campbell III. One of the bell cranks hit the aft area of our rear pylon. After an inspection and calling the 15th TC back at An Khe, it was decided that the ship would be flown back to An Khe and another hook would be dispatched to pick up our passengers. The grunts gathered their gear and we cranked up and lifted off heading back to the Golf course for repair. By Bill Scott, B Co 228th Avn Bn 1st Air Cav ‘67-‘69 FE Longhorn 039, January 2002. [Taken from vhpa.org]