Seawolf Detachment Three

Larry Bradshaw

by Seawolf Door Gunner Bill Rutledge

Battle at Ha Tien 23 March 1969, Da Dung Mountain Area
Other articles with limited information have been written about these two difficult days in the lives of these brave pilots and gunners from Detachment Three. As other articles I have written, I write this to add to our history and to pay tribute to those that fought these horrific battles, those killed in action and the survivors. In other articles, details and participants were left out that need to be recognized for their heroism and participation in these missions. I have collected much of this missing history and using official documents, written first hand accounts, citations and phone conversations with individuals on scene, have for the most part been able to reconstruct part, if not most of what occurred on these missions. I have not been able to contact everyone involved and apologize if some details are missing and personnel not noted but I have done the best I could with limited information. Maybe the whole story will never be known.

Until May 1970 when President Nixon legalized incursions into Cambodia, there were to be no crossing of the border. Although there had been several large operations along and over the border, one being operation SEALORDS, many other covert missions had been executed in which the Seawolves were involved with no after action report or one reflecting the action being flown this side of the border. It was hard at times to distinguish which side of the border you were on. The Cambodians would let enemy units openly operate and stage from the Cambodian side. They would make raids into Vietnam and escape back across the border, knowing we would not follow and attack. On many occasions they were in for a SURPRISE!

Ha Tien 23 March 1969, Approximately 10 AM. I don’t have all the details on this mission, but it went as follows. The Navy light fire team of two heavily armed Gunships from HA(L)3, Detachment Three, staging from Ha Tien on the Northwest coast of Vietnam near the Cambodian border. They went on a scouting/strike mission to locate a local Warlord in the Da Dung Mountains area. The Warlord had been coming off the mountains, pillaging, plundering and killing residents of the local villages, and having his troops attack military outposts. He would then retreat back into the mountains, and using his 4 inch mortar, rain down havoc on the villages and any pursuing troops. With this intel the Det 3 gunships went out.

The situation on Det 3 with three FTLs (Fire Team Leader) at the time was 48 hrs on 24 off and alternating the FTL after each strike. On the first mission the lead bird was manned by:

LTJG Randy Miller, Fire team Leader (FTL).
LCDR Keyes (Copilot),
Petty Officer Mike Schafernocker (Gunner/Crew Chief)
Petty Officer Dan Riordon (Gunner)

The trail gunship was manned by:
LTJG Dick Barr, Attack Helicopter Aircraft Commander (AHAC),
LTJG Pawlowski (Copilot),
Petty Officer Rick Abbott (50 Cal.Gunner/ Crew Chief)
Petty Officer Howard Meute (Gunner)
Navy SEAL, Petty Officer Second Class Robert Thomas (Recon/Observer).

The area where the strike was to be put in was very near Ha Tien and consisted of rice paddies leading up to two mountains, the Nui Sa Ti and Nui Di Yung. Nui Dai Yung was the target the Warlord operated from. As LTJG Miller rolled his fire team in, he started taking heavy fire from both mountains and the surrounding area. LCDR Keyes and both gunners commenced firing on the enemy positions. Miller’s gunship was armed with 14 rockets with proximity fuses. The enemy fire was so heavy that when the fourth rocket was launched it was exploded by the intense enemy fire just in front of his aircraft. Not being able to fire any more rockets for fear of one being exploded immediately after launching, he broke off the attack to save the bird and his crew and returned the fire team to Ha Tien. There they fixed a problem with a rocket pod, rearmed with PD rockets, refueled and went out again.

On this strike LTJG Barr became FTL with his crew and LTJG Miller the cover bird. Arriving back on target and rolling in again under the heaviest fire every seen by the fire team, LTJG Barr launched several rockets with all other weapons firing. His gunship took a disabling enemy hit and Barr called to Miller he was hit and going down. Miller followed the lead bird around and again Barr radioed he was hit, meaning he personally had taken a hit in the foot. Autorotating to the ground from around 500 feet, his bird hit hard within firing range of both mountains. The trail bird saw Petty Officer Thomas, the Navy SEAL, thrown a distance from the crashed lead bird. Smoke was seen coming from the wreck and no one was seen moving. Miller made a decision to land and let Petty Officer Riordan out of the gunship to help the crew of the downed bird. Then, Miller went airborne again, positioning his bird between the mountains and the downed crew to take the fire off of them. Now, with Schafernocker as his lone Gunner and LCDR Keyes using the four M-60 external flex guns, he made pass after pass, radioing May Day for assistance.

Immediately after exiting the aircraft, Petty Officer Riordan was wounded in the leg, but continued on and pulled Petty Officer Rick Abbott and LTJG Barr from the wreck. Navy SEAL Thomas worked his way back to Barr who was lying on the ground. To protect the injured Barr from the enemy fire, Thomas layed across Barr’s body and grabbed the only weapon available, Barr’s 45 pistol. He then took under fire the enemy, who were coming across a dike. LTJG Barr relates that Petty Officer Thomas was hitting an enemy with virtually every round.

During this ground action, LTJG Miller made contact with two Army helos from the 175th Assault Helicopter Company who were inbound. Miller saw the advancing enemy and made a pass from behind the wreck, shooting rockets over the downed bird into them, as Shafernocker and Keyes continue firing. Miller continued making more rocket runs.

The first Army helo on scene was immediately shot up trying to make the rescue. The pilot was hit, and left the area trailing fuel. The SEAL Team from Ha Tien had made their way on the ground to the battle zone, and along with LTJG Miller and his only gunner Schafernocker, they placed fire on the advancing enemy. This allowed the second Army helo with Copilot Kent Graham aboard to make an attempt at the rescue. This rescue slick was also hit numerous times, with the pilot being hit in the face and hand. With the wounded pilot, the Army bird went in again, landed and made the evacuation of the surviving downed Seawolves and Navy SEAL.

As they were loaded up, Petty Officer Thomas’s injured back gave out. He saw an enemy soldier as he fell to the ground, turned over and in one motion, blew him away with one shot at 15 yards. During the rescue LTJG Miller kept his gunship positioned between the rescue bird and the enemy, taking the fire off of them. Dustoff arrived and took the wounded to Third Surg Hospital in Binh Thuy.

The SEALS remained on the ground to recover the Seawolf KIAs. LTJG Miller returned to Ha Tien with his shot up bird. The enemy fire around the downed Seawolf was described as the same as a hard rain hitting a dusty field leaving thousands of marks in the dust. A short time later, fast movers (Jets) arrived and unloaded rockets and napalm on the area. The downed Seawolf gunship was destroyed in place.

Army rescue Copilot Kent Graham commented, “The most striking part of the rescue was the way the Seawolf cover bird (LTJG Miller and his crew) stayed with his downed comrades. What we did was SOP, anyone would have done the same thing. The Seawolf Wingman (LTJG Miller) was the real hero. I have no doubt that he would have continued making attacks until he ran out of fuel. This is one of the most important lessons of my life, no matter what happens, NEVER let your comrades down. Thanks, Seawolves”.

Results of this battle:
One Seawolf gunship shot down/destroyed
One Seawolf gunship shot up, destroyed in place
Two Army Slicks from the 175th AHC shot up
LTJG Pawlowski KIA
PO Meute KIA
Navy SEAL Roberts WIA
PO Riordan WIA
PO Abbott WIA
2 Army Pilots WIA

Battle Out of Moc Hoa 28 April 1969 at the Cambodian Border
Det three had continued flying combat missions at Ha Tien and then went back to the YRBM 20 where they had been based before moving to Ha Tien. They again moved to stage from Moc Hoa to combat the infiltration of enemy troops and supplies coming in from Cambodia.

On the morning of 28 April, the two Seawolf gunships from Detachment Three were manned as follows:
Lead Aircraft, Seawolf 305
Fire team Leader (FTL) LTJG Joseph Hart (call sign 38)
Copilot- LCDR James Keyes
Crew Chief/ Gunner- ADJ 1 Lloyd Williams
Gunner- Airman Charles Larson
Gunner Trainee- Airman Dennis Miley

Trail Aircraft, Seawolf 320
Aircraft Commander- LTJG Reardon (call sign 37)
Copilot- LTJG Hal Castle
Crew Chief / Gunner AO3 Mike Schafernocker
Gunner – Airman George Page

At 0700, the Det 3 Fire team left Moc Hoa and flew to a support base at Tuyen Nhon for a briefing and then flew a recon mission with a Navy Intel Officer aboard. After returning him to Tuyen Nhon at 0900, the fire team, led by LTJG Hart (Seawolf 38), returned to Moc Hoa to refuel. Enroute, the Tac Ops Center was contacted and asked for targets. An Army spotter plane, “Swamp Fox”, responded that he had a target at X Ray Sierra 1495 consisting of numerous abandoned sampans at a major infiltration route on the border.

The fire team landed at Moc Hoa, refueled and proceeded to the target area, arriving at 1000 hrs. The target area was eight to ten miles northwest of Moc Hoa, and was spread over a large area consisting of several large tree lines, and a canal with the sampans right along side of the border. On the Cambodian side were two Cambodian National Police outposts (supposed to be neutral).

LTJG Hart (Seawolf 38), in aircraft 305, rolled in to attack. LTJG Reardon (Seawolf 37), in aircraft 320 flying trail, covered the lead gunship as they put in strike after strike on the many sampans. Blazing away, the copilots of both birds zeroed in on the waterborne targets with their 4 external mounted M-60 flex guns and the door gunners with their hand held free M-60s.

On pullout after the fourth rocket attack, the lead bird started taking heavy fire from the tree lines with several rounds hitting the cabin and cockpit. Breaking hard right, Seawolf 38 relayed the enemy firing positions to the trail bird and it also came under heavy fire. It was hit, and Seawolf 37 called, "I’M HIT! GOING DOWN!" The trail bird door gunners were seen dumping rocket pods and door boxes of ammo to lighten the load for impact.

The main rotor was seen slowing and fire was seen coming from the bird just before or on impact. The tail hit first as the trail bird became engulfed in flames, crashing just across the border in Cambodia. A May Day was called as the lead bird came around, firing to protect the downed aircraft.

At this time the lead bird, still under heavy fire, also took a disabling hit and with a second May Day to broadcast their coordinates. The lead gunship made a forced landing in a field 40 to 50 meters from the burning wreckage of aircraft 320. The crew exited and set up a defensive perimeter around 305 with AN Miley to the rear with an M60, AN Larsen on the right with an M16, LCDR Keyes with an M16 at the nose, LTJG Hart at the 10 o’clock position with an M79 grenade launcher, and ADJ1 Williams to the left at the 8 o’clock position with a M60. The enemy fire coming from 5 crew served and automatic weapons positions in two treelines was intense and hitting the downed 305. When one of the crew tried to shift positions, the fire increased.

The downed crew was returning fire when LCDR Keyes and PO Williams spotted Airman Page moving around the burning crash of 320, engulfed in flames from the waist down. Petty Officer Williams called for cover fire as he ran with his M60 and ammo to 320. Under heavy fire, he grabbed AN Page and pulled him away from the aircraft, and cut all of his burning clothing from him including his gun belt. Still receiving heavy fire on both aircraft and not realizing how bad his hands were burned during this action, PO Williams grabbed his M-60 and tried to make his way around the blazing aircraft. Rockets and ammo were exploding as he tried to locate and rescue any of the others in 320.

Williams was driven back by the intense flames and exploding munitions and could not locate any others. Leaving his M-60, he grabbed AN Page and carried him back about half the distance to 305 until he had to put Page down due to the incoming fire. Williams ran back to 305 to get morphine and others to help bring Page the rest of the way back. During the time PO Williams was at 320, his crew was keeping the enemy down as best they could with cover fire. At One point, LTJG Hart killed two charging enemy with one round of M79, and many other enemy were paying the price from rounds from the weapons of LCDR Keyes, Miley and Larsen. AN Larson had been wounded and helped, by AN Miley, back to the bird for more ammo and both continued firing.

LCDR Keyes had been on the radio calling for help, and Outlaw 29, an Army slick from the 175th Assault Helicopter Company, was inbound. Petty Officer Williams wanted to go out again to get AN Page but was ordered to stay in place because Outlaw 29 was inbound, and at that time appeared on scene, coming in low and fast under the same fire as the Seawolves encountered. Outlaw 29's crew consisted of Copilot WO1 Mike Boden, Gunners SP4 Jack Gilmore, SP4 Donald Van Dyke and Pilot WO1 Dennis Iannazzo, who stated that as he came in to pick up AN Page, he flew into a solid wall of enemy rounds taking hits.

Landing near Page, the Crew Chief SP4 Gilmore, left the bird to retrieve Page, and was wounded in the wrist and abdomen. The Gunner, SP4 Van Dyke, was firing from the bird and was hit in the upper right leg. Getting Page aboard, the Army Gunners, although wounded, placed fire on the enemy which was now shooting from the rear of 305 as Outlaw 29 turned and made his way to the surviving Seawolves.

Loading first was the wounded AN Larsen, followed by AN Miley and PO Williams. LTJG Hart stepped back and let LCDR Keyes in, and then got aboard last. Sitting on the troop seat, Petty Officers Williams and Miley were trying to work on the wounded Larsen, who refused help saying the others needed it more than him. They helped the gunner with his wound, and LTJG Hart worked on the wounded Crew Chief, who was still firing. On lift off, LTJG Hart was hit by an enemy round which killed him instantly, hitting under his right arm passing through his body.

Clearing the kill zone under heavy fire, WO1 Iannazzo made it back across the border into Vietnam and to Moc Hoa, and delivered the wounded to the awaiting ambulances. When checked, no one could believe Outlaw 29 was still flying with damage to airframe, engine, transmission, flight controls and a huge hole in the lower left fuel cell pouring out fuel.

The following is situation report of the action that day:
Seawolf 320 shot down
Seawolf 305 shot down burned
Outlaw 29 Shot to pieces, total loss
Seawolf 320
LTJG R. Reardon KIA/ MIA, remains not recovered
LTJG Castle KIA, remains recovered
AO2 Schafernocker KIA, remains recovered
AN Page WIA, died of wounds in Oak Knoll Hospital, Oakland, CA six weeks later
Seawolf 305
LTJG Hart KIA boarding Outlaw 29 on rescue
LCDR J. Keyes
ADJ1 L.T. Williams WIA
AN C. Larson WIA
AN D. Miley
Outlaw 29 (Army)
WO1 D. Iannazzo
WO1 M. Boden
SP4 J. Gilmore WIA
SP4 D. Van Dyke WIA

Documents from the Cambodian Prince Sihanouk via Cambodian United Nations Minister Huot Sambath state the Seawolves were shot down by Royal Cambodian Forces one mile inside Cambodia in the region of Kong Mao, Commune of Chantrea, Province of Svay Riena when the Seawolf fire team over flew the border.

The Royal Cambodian forces were awarded 20,000 Reals for their action by Cambodian Prince Sihanouk. One Seawolf survivor disputes that they were shot down by the Cambodians, relating they were shot up and going down from the fire at the border not from the Cambodian Outpost.

The efforts of the Castle Family, through Mrs. Jackie Kennedy Onassis and the State Department, found that the remains of the 3 Seawolves KIA were interred at the site by members of the Cambodian National Forces. At a later date, Seawolves from Det 4 and 7, with help from a Cambodian Officer that commanded the Cambodian Antiaircraft battery that supposedly shot both gunships down, located the burial site. The identified remains of LTJG Hal Castle and Petty Officer Schafernocker were returned to the Seawolves, and approximately ten months later to the family members in the US for proper interment. LTJG Reardon’s remains have not been located at this time, although dedicated on going efforts to do so by US agencies have proven futile.

In 2001/2002 another attempt was to be made by retrieval personnel, who had blood and DNA samples of family members, to locate the remains of many missing KIA/MIA in Cambodia and Vietnam. Included was to be a further search for LTJG Reardon’s remains. The aircraft carrying the body identification/retrieval team crashed, killing all 35 aboard.

Petty Officer Williams was decorated for extraordinary heroism with the Navy Cross for his action under heavy ground fire that day

In Nov 2002, Petty Officer Schafernocker was inducted into the Navy Enlisted Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor, and in 2003 the Aviation Ordnance Hall of Fame.

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