Kenneth Wheeler

Larry Bradshaw

by AMSC Kenneth Wheeler

AMSC KENNETH E. WHEELER, USN was assigned to Helicopter Attack (Light) Three, Seawolves, Republic of Vietnam from Dec 1970 to Dec 1971 as a Combat Aircrew Doorgunner/NATOPS Evaluator and Aircrew Trainer. He first served on Det-3 at Ca Mau, RVN as the Det petty officer in charge, doorgunner and crewchief on the Navy two helo fire team, providing close attack air support for the Navy SEALS, Brown Water Navy boats and all other friendly forces. The gunships were armed with rockets, pod mounted and door mounted mini guns, a door mounted 50 cal machine gun, M60 machine guns and various personal and self defense weapons. HA(L)-3 was the most decorated squadron in naval aviation history, and was the first and only squadron of its kind in the Navy, flying combat missions in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Chief Wheeler's fire team was staging out of Ca Mau on 29 April 1971 as the back up Gunships for a planned U.S. and Vietnamese SEAL team operation. They were to go into a known VC stronghold and bust a VC/NVA POW camp, capture any enemy guards and rescue any American or other Allied prisoners. The fire team from Det-6 from Song Ong Doc and two of HAL-3's Sealords (unarmed Slick helos) did the insert. Det-3 scrambled and relieved Det-6 when one of Det-6's gunners was shot in the head and the pilot of the one of the SEALORDS was shot and had to leave under heavy fire and with a low fuel state.

Upon arriving on the scene, both of the Det-3 aircraft came under heavy enemy fire from two tree lines. The SEALS had several prisoners and were under intense ground fire. They were calling for an immediate extraction for they had one SEAL with a stomach wound and Charlie was about to over run their position. Chief Wheeler was the left door gunner on his bird and was placing fire on the enemy to keep them off the SEALS as the remaining SEALORD landed and picked up half of the SEALS and the prisoners. With no other SEALORDS available for the extraction of the rest of the team, Chief Wheeler's gunship landed at the second extraction point to rescue the wounded SEAL and the other team members. Chief Wheeler was continually firing his M-60 machine gun over the heads of the SEALS as they made their way to the bird. Chief wheeler then exited his gunship with his M-60 to allow the SEALS and their wounded man to get aboard. As the chief stood outside the aircraft and returned fire, his ammo belt twisted and jammed his gun. A SEAL in the aircraft covered him while he got his weapon going again. Chief Wheeler then jumped in the aircraft and again placed fire on the VC positions as the bird got airborne to leave the area. On departure, the gunship took several hits in the tailboom, but his helo and the covering gunship made it back to Ca Mau safely. A situation report for this mission was 4 enemy captured, 1 pilot, 1 gunner and 1 SEAL wounded, and 3 aircraft with battle damage. Chief Wheeler aided in saving the lives of the SEAL Team and his other crewmen. The Chiefs' personal comment was "just another mission."

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