Last Known Activity|
On July 8, 1966 two CH46's inserted a recon team SW of Cam Lo. The team made heavy contact and were successfully extracted. The same team was inserted 2 hours later. On this insertion a CH46 piloted by 1LT Bert L. Nale and 1LT David W. McCleery (HMM-164) was shot down. The helo burst into flames and all on board were able to exit the bird with exception of Recon LCPL Ronald L. Longanecker who is believed to have perished in the blaze. This incident was the first of many choppers to be shot down in Quang Tri Province and Longanecker was the first Marine KIA in Quang Tri. He was also the first to be listed as KIA-BNR. Narrative from 'Never Without Heroes' by Lawrence C. Vetter Jr.: 'The first patrol zone was to be about 4.5 miles southwest of Cam Lo in a pocket with ridgelines on all sides. The only openings were made by the Rao Vinh River where it flowed into and then out of the bowl. The method of operation was the same. Al Gordon was on the first chopper to land and remembers: 'The back hatch dropped, and I ran down the ramp into the grass followed by Ray. The whole squad was out and heading for the tree line when we suddenly realized that the second chopper had come under heavy fire and couldn't get in. There seemed to be a couple of automatic weapons, and I don't know how many other small arms firing away at the birds from a nearby hill not more than two to three hundred meters away. We took cover in the trees and watched our helicopters in the air trying to stay out of range, and we wondered what the hell was going to happen next. Then we got the word that jets were coming in to rip the area, and we should mark our positions. So I took a colored panel out in front of us and then just sat back and was fascinated by the air show that came in. Our squad hadn't yet come under fire, and now it was an air-to-ground battle with us as spectators.' 'The Huey gunships came in first,' Ray Strohl added. 'We always had two of them nearby during these DMZ patrols. They were the first to hit that hillside. When the jets came in, I swear they were so close I believe I saw the pilot of one of those jets wink at me.' Sitting in the trees and wondering about its fate, the first squad didn't have long to wait before the CH46 returned under fire to extract the Reconners. The platoon was flown back the nine miles to Dong Ha. The men were starting to unpack when the word came that they were going back immediately. Within the hour, the platoon was back in the air. Ray Strohl stated that they had just about made up their minds that there was no need to take any chow, just stock up on ammo. In fact, at that point they started taking an M60 machine gun with them. This time the patrol insertion point was going farther south, about two miles southeast of the last attempt and at a higher elevation, a three-hill complex about 300 meters tall. They were to land in the middle and just to the side of the center knoll. The first chopper, with Gordon, Strohl, and Lieutenant Terrebonne, dropped down to the planned LZ and immediately was hit by enemy fire. Before the team was able to jump out, the chopper pulled away, under fire all the while, and miraculously made it out. The second chopper wasn't so lucky. The first tried to warn the second away but, hit by ground fire, the second helicopter lost power, tried to jettison fuel, but instead came in for a crash landing. The pilot did manage to fly a short distance to the west before bouncing down and rolling over. A fire burst out within the chopper as the Marines on board fought to get out of the bird in both directions. The lead chopper had turned and followed its crashing wingman. It quickly set down not far from the first, and the first squad scrambled out the back hatch to set a security perimeter for the Reconners trying to get out of the crashed chopper. Al Gordon and Lieutenant Terrebonne, however, both ran for the helicopter, which was lying in heavy brush on its side. Al Gordon said: 'We landed below the other CH46 before those guys had been able to get out. I ran for them, and Terrebonne was right behind me. It was lying on its side, and I climbed up on the topside and looked in the window. And to this day I can still see Longanecker sitting there, on his back now as the chopper was on its side. He was dead, but his eyes were staring straight ahead. Then a little voice told me to get the hell out of there. The fire was starting to burn more, and everybody had gotten out. Some had to stumble and run through the fire. I ran, and when I was about fifty meters away, the chopper blew sky high behind me.' Strohl couldn't tell what exactly was happening at the helicopter because he was a part of a defensive position in the bush farther out. But one Marine had been killed and seven wounded in the crash.'