Saber Article Index

2001 May-Jun

MEDEVAC 15th Med\15th FSB
Mike Bodnar
307B N Main Copperas Cove, TX 76522
1704 254-542-1961

The following eulogy for SNORE was sent over to me by '70-'71 MEDEVAC door gunner Larry ASH: "This has been a most disquieting year thus far. In January, we lost one of our most active and creative alumni: Sherman (SNORE) BREEDEN. Sherman died of a sudden heart attack after an extended illness. He was instrumental in the founding of our [15th MED] association and the locating of former members of 15th Medical Battalion, First Cavalry Division, who served in Vietnam. It was Sherman's dream that we all be reunited both physically and spiritually. He devoted his time and means to this effort for a very long time. I'm so glad to know that he lived to see the fruits of his labors.

The Sherman that I knew was very family-oriented and the love of his life was Ann, whom he referred to as, "My wife of 100 years." His granddaughter, Alyssa, is a gem and you could always see the sparkle in his eyes when she was with him or when he spoke of her. Sherm was very proud of his son, Chris, and his sweet daughter-in-law. After his family; his faith and country always sustained him. We all came to admire Sherman BREEDEN and count him among our true friends. Our hopes and prayers are with the family and Sherman, "We'll miss you."

MEDEVAC MEDIC Mark "DOC" HOLIDAY DOC459@EARTHLINK.NET from Valencia, CA wrote to say that he is sorry to learn about Sherman's passing and that he was a great friend and person.

Ann BREEDEN MARYSHERMAN@JUNO.COM , SNORE's wife, wrote to say, "To the "brothers" of The 15th Medical Battalion Association: Thank you for the beautiful flowers, many cards, letters, and phone calls. Special thanks to Jim "Fergie" FERGUSON and Dillard CARTER for the visit. You touched my soul. A loving supportive family and comforting words from friends is helping me through the worst time of my life."

Chris BREEDEN MOTOMAN45@JUNO.COM , SNORE's son, wrote: "I thank you all for the friendship, and love you have given my Dad."

MEDEVAC crew chief Jim FERGUSON JIMFERG@HOME.COM says, "To all of those who knew Sherman, and especially to his family, you have my most heart felt sympathy. To Sherman: You epitomized the meaning of 'Friend.' A place in heaven is reserved for you, because if anyone deserves to be there, it most certainly is 'you.' So long old buddy." Dan PETERJOHN UHLAN@AOL.COM e-mailed to tell us: "I was assigned to 2-8 Cav in 1990-1992. I have been asked by the 8th Cav Association to organize a soldier support program for 1100 young troopers currently deployed to Kuwait for six months as a part of TF 3-8 Cav. The details of this program can be found in the attached letter.

My purpose in contacting you is to solicit your help in getting members of the 15th MED\15th FSB alumni to participate in the program by adopting some of the support units that form a part of TF 3-8 Cav. As you will see by the Troop List in the attached letter, not many of the 'slice' units are technically part of the 15th MED or the 15th FSB.

However, as you probably well know from hard experience, the Troopers who are chopped from support units to DS of the line units are the ones most likely to be left out of any good deals. I would hate to see that happen to any of the young men and women attached to TF 3-8 Cav.

I believe the attached letter is self-explanatory but if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at my e-mail address. If you could give a brief mention of the program in your next column in the Saber and give my address as a POC, I'd appreciate it. If you have an e-mail list of your members around the country, you could forward the letter with a request that they share the program with community groups such as the Scouts, VFW, American Legion, newspapers schools etc. I think it would very beneficial if the general public got to know our young defenders as well as those of us who have been there do. Thanks for your Time."

Ron STRUB KRISTYGIRLS@AOL.COM , 15th MED '65-'66, wrote in to comment on SNORE's Web site Guestbook: "What happened? Did everyone from the 15th forget how to write. Let's let each other know we are still out there. I'm doing great & hope you are also."

Mark DRAKE MARKADRAKE@USWEST.NET did just what Ron requested and wrote in to say that he was just checking in and submitting new information for updating his records. We now know that he is still with us.

Randy CARSON STEVKITCARSON@AOL.COM wrote to say, "I was with the 15th '67 to '68 at An Khe. Looking for anyone who was there in this time range."

I found a sign in on the 1st Cav Assn. Web site Guestbook by Michael F. AHERN MILDREDMA@AOL.COM of 1603 Alice Dr. El Reno, OK 73036, who said that he was a pilot in 15th MED in 1967.

Some 1st Cav MEDEVAC history from the book: Army Aeromedical Evacuation in Vietnam by Peter Dorland and James Nanney states the following:

"In early 1970 the U.S. military leaders in Vietnam saw the need for larger strikes against the supply routes. Insurgents in Cambodia were stepping up their campaign against the new anti-Communist Cambodian government of Lt. Gen. Lon Nol, and Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, was soon isolated. On 1 April the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces began to clear a corridor ten to fifteen miles wide along the border all the way from the Gulf of Thailand to the Fish Hook region north-northwest of Saigon, threatening III and IV Corps Zones in South Vietnam.

"Responding to these threats, the allied forces decided to openly assist the new Cambodian government. In mid-April ARVN forces conducted a limited cross-border raid near the Parrot's Beak region, south of the Fish Hook region. At the same time U.S. and ARVN staffs started planning for a joint operation against several enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia, especially in the Fish Hook region, and on 28 April President Nixon approved the final plan. From early May to the end of June elements of several large U.S. combat units in South Vietnam-the 1st Infantry Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment-took part in these joint strikes at suspected Viet Cong bases over the border. USAF B-52 tactical bomb strikes and large-scale U.S. heli-lifts and helicopter gunship strikes prepared the way for the ground forces.

"DUSTOFF and MEDEVAC helicopters supported both South Vietnamese and American soldiers in this operation. During May the 1st Cavalry's Air Ambulance Platoon supporting the attack flew 1,042 missions (307 in Cambodia) and evacuated 1,600 patients (946 from Cambodia). The dense jungle and forests along the border resulted in eighty hoist missions for 182 patients.

"Although constituting only 7.6 percent of the total missions for May, hoist missions accounted for 53 percent of the ships hit by enemy fire that month. In May four ships were destroyed and eleven damaged. Ten crewmen were wounded and one killed. In June deeper penetrations into Cambodia increased flying time for the pilots and crews, even while the number of missions declined as the fighting tapered off. The crews flew 682 missions (199 in Cambodia) and evacuated 1,056 patients (397 from Cambodia). They also extracted 185 patients in ninety-one hoist missions. The 45th Medical Company and the 159th Medical Detachment helped the Air Ambulance Platoon by backhauling many patients to hospitals around Saigon. Because the Viet Cong had been warned of the foray and had fled the area, casualties were far below the April estimates. What had loomed as a severe test for the Dust Off system proved to be largely routine work, except for the dangerous hoist missions over triple-canopy jungle and forest."

The following excerpts from the above book are based on an article by MEDEVAC pilot Stephen F. MODICA (who is deceased since the Vietnam War) called "MEDEVAC Meadow," and written in the United States Army Aviation Digest 21 (June 1975). This incident happened while I was flying on MEDEVAC on the opposite end of the 1st Cav A.O. somewhere in Cambodia with other crews. I flew with every one of these pilots at one time or another that are mentioned in these excerpts. They were all great pilots and most of them are still alive. This story is also about a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who earned that while on a mission with MEDEVAC:

"A Medevac in Peril-One of these hoist missions during the Cambodian operation demonstrated that the air ambulance pilots had no monopoly on heroism among the U.S. Army medical personnel in Vietnam. On the morning of 24 May 1970 a helicopter of the Air Ambulance Platoon was ferrying S. Sgt. Louis R. ROCCO, the medical adviser of a MACV advisory team stationed at Katum.

"Since December 1969 Sergeant ROCCO had served as liaison to the 1st ARVN Airborne Division's medical battalion. He had trained ARVN personnel on mission requests, use of the hoist, the forest penetrator, and the semi-rigid litter, and he also had presented classes on basic first aid. Whenever his duties allowed him the time, ROCCO rode the medical helicopters on live missions to help the medical corpsmen and to practice some "hands on" medicine himself.

"At 1100 on 24 May, MEDEVAC 2 with Sergeant ROCCO on board flew toward its base at Katum, in northern Tay Ninh province along the Cambodian border. A request for a pickup came in through the radio of a command-and-control helicopter flying overhead. The call was on behalf of eight urgent patients of the 1st ARVN Airborne Division. Two of the division's companies, the 61st and 63d, were on a sweep operation five miles inside the Cambodian border. The day before, the two companies had made contact with a North Vietnamese force that broke off and withdrew. The commander of the 61st Company had the small task force dig in for the night. The enemy attacked at dawn on the twenty-fourth but was repulsed by the defenders. In pursuing the North Vietnamese the ARVN soldiers took eight casualties. The U.S. advisers to the 61st and 63d Companies radioed their evacuation request through Maj. Jesse W. MYERS, Jr., senior battalion adviser, who was overhead in a command-and-control helicopter. The pilot of MEDEVAC 2, 1st Lt. Stephen F. MODICA, radioed that he would take the mission as soon as he dropped off a load of supplies. At Katum, the crew threw the beer and sodas onto the pad, grabbed an extra chest protector for ROCCO, and took off again. Regulations of the 1st Cavalry required gunship cover for evacuation missions if a unit had been in contact with the enemy within the past twenty-four hours. Usually C Battery, 2d Battalion, 20th Aerial Rocket Artillery-the "BLUE MAX"-provided this cover by orbiting a team of two AH-1G Cobras, one high and one at treetop level. MEDEVAC 2 had already learned from the U.S. adviser with the ARVN companies that the last contact had been to the north two hours earlier. Soon the BLUE MAX gun team arrived on station; MODICA briefed them on the situation and said he would shoot his approach from the south. When the helicopter dropped to the landing zone, North Vietnamese hidden in the trees and along the ridge line opened fire with small arms and automatic weapons. The lower gunbird opened fire at the muzzle flashes in the trees. On its second pass it used its grenade launcher; the enemy redirected some of its fire and the gunship took its first hit. On its next run it again took enemy fire.

"Just before the MEDEVAC landed, two enemy rounds hit MODICA in the chest protector and and one passed through his left knee and lodged against the femur. As soon as the aircraft bumped down, the copilot turned to kid MODICA that he ought to practice his landings. When he saw MODICA's wounds, he took the controls and pulled the ship out of the landing zone. The aircraft rose fifty feet into the air before the engine stalled and the aircraft crashed back to the ground. Major MYERS later described what he saw from above in his command-and-control ship: 'The [MEDEVAC] ship seemed to land, then shot up in the air, and then fell to the ground rolling over on its side, thrashing around like a wounded insect.... Smoke was pouring out of the ship by this time....' The two gunships made low firing passes to give the MEDEVAC crew a chance to get out, if any still lived. One Cobra gunship came to a high hover over the burning MEDEVAC, spinning and firing at the North Vietnamese. The gunship took twenty-nine hits before its ammunition ran out, forcing it to depart. The pilot transmitted a Mayday for the downed MEDEVAC, giving its location and identification, and then called MEDEVAC Operations to repeat the information.

"All the Medevac crew were stunned at first and unable to move. Finally ROCCO dragged himself out and crawled away. He had a fractured wrist and hip and a severely bruised back. As soon as he realized that the crew was still inside, he went back. He pulled MODICA through the shattered windshield and carried him across twenty meters of exposed terrain to the ARVN perimeter. One by one he brought the unconscious crew out. All were in bad shape. MODICA had a serious leg wound. The copilot, 1st Lt. Leroy G. CAUBERREAUX, had a broken collar bone and fractured ribs.

"Sp5c. Terry BURDETTE, the medical corpsman, had a broken shoulder and a broken leg. The gunner, Sp4c. Gary TAYLOR, who sat in the right door, was crushed and burned when the ship crashed and rolled, and ROCCO severely burned his hands trying to find him. The nearby ARVN soldiers could not help because the enemy was shooting at anyone who moved. The two bullets that hit CAUBERREAUX in the chest protector as ROCCO carried him toward the ARVN perimeter did no further damage. ROCCO had saved his three comrades from certain death.

"At Quan Loi, the Air Ambulance Platoon's base, Capt. Henry O. TUELL III, aircraft commander of MEDEVAC 1, yelled to his pilot, 1st Lt. Howard ELLIOT, that MODICA had been shot down. ELLIOT was in the shower; he grabbed a towel and ran to get his clothes, scattering soapy lather as he went. By the time he had thrown his clothes on, TUELL had already cranked the aircraft; off they flew, ELLIOT lacing boots and fastening zippers. Although several other aircraft were in the area, MEDEVAC 1 was the first evacuation ship on the scene. MEDEVAC 2 was still burning, throwing off blankets of black smoke, MEDEVAC 1 made its approach straight in and the enemy tried for another score. On each side of MEDEVAC 1 two Cobras fired flechettes, machine guns, grenades, and rockets; but enemy rounds still hit the ship. One came through the left door and hit the armored seat just below TUELL's hand. Shrapnel and shattered porcelain from the seat peppered his hand and wrist. ELLIOT took the controls and nursed the ship back to Quan Loi where a doctor cleaned, stitched, and dressed TUELL's injuries. "Two hours later, after several air and artillery strikes around the perimeter, the pilot of MEDEVAC 12, Lt. John READ, had his gunship escort lay down a heavy rocket preparation as he tried a high-speed, low-level approach to MEDEVAC 2. The North Vietnamese, still safely bunkered behind 1 1/2 feet of concrete, blasted MEDEVAC 12 out of the area before it could land. Bullets punctured the fuel cells and disabled the engine. With his tachometer falling, Lt. READ managed to land his ship safely in a nearby clearing, where the crew was immediately picked up.

"Back at the crash site MODICA remained conscious despite loss of much blood, and talked to the aircraft orbiting helplessly overhead. The American adviser with the ARVN forces, S. Sgt. Louis CLASON, told him that the ARVN soldiers had not been resupplied in two days and were running out of everything, including water. MODICA told him, 'Hey, listen. We have one case of beer in the tail boom of the aircraft. You run out there-at least that's something to drink.'

"Clason told him, 'Lieutenant, you don't even know what your aircraft looks like. It is burned completely to the ground.'

"About 1800, Modica radioed the nearby aircraft that the ARVN defenders might not be able to hold on through the night. After an hour of continuous friendly shelling around the allied perimeter, MEDEVAC 21, piloted by CWO Raymond ZEPP and covered by gunships, made the third attempt to reach the downed aircraft. The Cobra fired a 360 degree pattern with rockets and mini-guns, but enemy fire still riddled the MEDEVAC, knocking out its radios and starting an electrical fire. Like MEDEVAC 12, MEDEVAC 21 landed in a field 500 meters to the west; its crew was quickly pulled out. Nightfall prevented any further rescue attempts.

"During the long hours of darkness, the enemy launched three assaults on the small perimeter. Flares overhead illuminated the area and allowed the Americans to call in artillery and gunships to break up the ground attacks. By nightfall ROCCO's injuries had immobilized him. After pulling his crew from the burning ship, he had treated their injuries and the ARVN casualties he could get to. Soon his injured hip and hand stiffened, making any effort to move excruciatingly painful. Finally he passed out. MODICA's leg swelled to twice its normal size and the pain immobilized him too. CAUBERREAUX moved about and lit cigarettes for the men, but with his crushed right side he could do little else. Since they had no morphine or other painkiller, they had to suffer.

"At Quan Loi, planning for an all-out rescue attempt continued well into the night. The plan called for two MEDEVACs to go in and evacuate MODICA's crew and any South Vietnamese possible. A third would hover nearby to extricate the crews if trouble developed and to evacuate any remaining ARVN casualties. Since all their MEDEVACs were shot up, destroyed, or committed elsewhere, the 1st Cavalry had to borrow three non-divisional DUSTOFF helicopters. At 0930 next morning ARVN and American howitzer batteries started laying a barrage of smoke rounds in the area to create a screen for the upcoming rescue. Just before the operation began, four Cobras fired more smoke rounds. At 1145 the flight of three MEDEVACs with three cobras on each side started into the area. The first ship in loaded MODICA and his crew and flew out. The second extracted several ARVN wounded and also safely left the area. An enemy rocket hit the third ship as it took off with two remaining ARVN casualties, but the crew brought the ship down without further injuries and was quickly rescued. The next day nine pilots and crewmen involved in this rescue received Silver Stars. Sergeant ROCCO won a Medal of Honor for his part in saving MODICA and most of his crew."

Recent network news coverage of the evacuation of medical emergencies from Antarctica posed the question, "Is the life of one person to be evacuated from a hazardous location worth the lives of so many others to evacuate them?"

For those that do risk their lives to evacuate individuals like that in emergency situations then in their minds it must be in the spirit of: SO THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE.

Always remembering our 1st Cav troops on duty around the world; over and out.

Mike Bodnar C 2\7 '69
MEDEVAC 1-7\70

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