Dustoff 86 (More VC Lake)

Tribute to Joe and Mr. Pete
by Jim Plona aka “Frog” 12 Sept 2013

Subject: 15 Sept 70; Dustoff 86

On Saturday, August 20, Mike Mitchell, crew chief of Dustoff 86 came by my home in Vermilion, Ohio to visit and meet for the first time. Eyes welled, we laughed, we hugged! The memory of VC Lake is still crystal clear with him. Mike arrived in country in August, and extend once for a 18 month tour. To him, the VC Lake battle action was by far the most intense he experienced. Mike has sent me a copy of his Silver Star Citation, and the message from SECNAV (ND8DM), CHNAVPERS (PERS G-251), CMC Code DL.

The intent of this post is to pay tribute two of the finest, most patriotic men I will ever know, Joe and Mr. Pete who left us 15 Sept 70; and to share the message from SECNAV.

“On the afternoon of 15 September 1970, Specialist MITCHELL was crewchief of a medevac helicopter, Dustoff 86, attached to the 56th Battalion, 82nd Detachment, based at Bihn Thuy, Republic of Vietnam ,which was called for a medical evacuation of six seriously wounded men just north of VC Lake (VQ 9395) in AN Xuyan Province.

On the first attempt his aircraft encountered heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire and was forced to depart the area. However, Navy Attack helicopters attached to Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron THREE were nearby and Specialist Mitchell’s aircraft commander enlisted their aid for another attempt at the medevac. With four Navy Attack Helicopters providing cover, they returned to the area.

As the aircraft reached the area with two gunships providing high cover and two providing low cover, Specialist Mitchell’s began a decent to the landing zone. At this time all aircraft began taking intense small arms, automatic weapons and .51 caliber fire from all directions. The lead gunship was immediately hit, and subsequently crashed. A second gunship was severely damaged and forced to depart the area. In close succession a third gunship was shot down and autorotated into VC Lake, while the fourth aircraft took several hits, including one through the fuel cell causing a serious fuel leak. Specialist MITCHELL’s aircraft commander was able to brake away sharply to clear the kill zone and went to rescue the crew that had autorotated into the lake.

As Specialist MITCHELL’s aircraft followed them down, it once more recieved intense small arms, automatic weapons and .51 caliber fire from all directions. Specialist MITCHELL now attempted to return the enemy fire with his M-16 rifle. As he stood in the doorway of his helicopter he continued to fire clip after clip into the face of the enemy muzzle flashes and tracers.

The first approach to the downed crew was low and at high speed. As his aircraft neared the downed aircraft, it encountered difficulties, which forced a second approach. During the second attempt, though receiving heavy fire from a determined enemy, his aircraft commander hovered over to the downed crew and extracted them safely from the partially submerged aircraft. As his aircraft climbed to altitude he again commenced firing at enemy positions with his M-16. His pilot was advised by Seawolf 32, the one remaining Navy gunship, that he would provide cover for an attempt to recover the wounded or dead personnel from the other crashed aircraft. As Seawolf 32 made this pass he recieved intense small arms and automatic weapons fire from the immediate area. As a result his aircraft sustained several hits.

Specialist MITCHELL’s aircraft under cover of Seawolf 32 descended to the crash site, both aircraft encountering voluminous fire. Specialist MITCHELL, in an attempt to cover his ship exposed himself repeatedly to the enemy while firing his M-16 from the open doorway. As the aircraft landed, Specialist MITCHELL, at great personal risk, leaped from the aircraft into the flooded rice paddy and waded to the wreckage. He found one of the gunners and the pilot to be dead and trapped in the twisted metal. He then made his way to the second gunner, and although bullets were literally whistling around him, Specialist MITCHELL aided by one of the pilots, he had previously rescued, carried the gunner to the waiting helicopter. He then returned to the wreckage and attempted to extract the co-pilot. However, the co-pilots foot was badly wedged in the control pedals. With the aid of two more men he was able to extract him from the wreckage.

Meanwhile a series of motor rounds began falling in the immediate area, and were progressing towards his aircraft. Having freed the man he recrossed the open rice paddy through a hail of enemy bullets. Specialist MITCHELL boarded the evacuation aircraft, where he remanned his M-16 with disregard for the enemy. Both ships, running a gauntlet of enemy fire made it to altitude safely. Specialist MITCHELL’s instant reactions and disregard for his personal safety assuredly saved these men from possible capture or death in the wreckage of their aircraft. Specialist MITCHELL’s courage under fire, devotion to duty, and exemplary professionalism were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Military Service.”