Part One
Part Two

updated Apr 2014

Comments: At that time, Jul 68 , I was a month from rotating from Nam back to the states after 18 months as a Centaur. Through my personal notes and letters, here is what I think is correct about that time frame:

Major Fred Michaelson was Centaur 6; the XO was who ever Moose Marcinkowski replaced later in that month; CPT Mills was Operations Officer,John Whitehead was the Gun platoon leader over all the sections of Light Scouts (OH-6A), Heavy Scouts (UH-1C), and Hogs (which were now AH-1G Cobras); Charlie Rice was Light Scout section leader; Rick Williams was Heavy Scout section leader. (Any input or corrections?)

Please review the audio and see if you might have some answers to some of the questions below or additional information.

1. Dale Dow found records that confirm that Centaur 14 was CW2 Steve Patterson. We may find his award of the Silver Star.

2. Who was Cobra Pilot Centaur 41? Do you recognize the voice on the tape or remember the call sign? I'm guessing 1LT Bill Cirincione since he was ranking man after me in the Cobra section. The next ranking fellows would be CW2's Dallas St John and Chuck Weseman. Tom Meeks, Clay Maxwell, and Ted Pitcher were the other Cobra pilots that I remember. There is a good chance that all of these men were in on this operation.

3. Who were Centaurs 20, 21, and 25? My guess is that Rick Williams moved up to call sign 20 when I went to Cobras and probably Pat Eastes became Centaur 21. Who were the other pilots and crewmen? Did we still have C model Hogs then or were they all Heavy Scouts?

4. It might be nice if we got the names of the supporting elements of Diamond Head 30 and 32. Actually it was their mission initially. We took over after their efforts to extract the team with a Medevac hoist ship from Viking failed. On the tape I mention a WO Anderson flying the Diamond Head Smoke ship. I may have confused that pilot with our Anderson (Centaur 14). Maybe we can locate Viking 6 and Viking 3. Where was Viking pad at the Tay Ninh base camp? Tay Ninh West maybe? What was the Viking unit?

5. Can we get, or estimate, the grid coordinates of the LRRP team. 1200 feet up on the mountain as I say on the tape? Could be. The extinct volcano rises to over 3200 feet. What about the secure area call the Rock Pile or the rock crusher area? Some called the top of the mountain the Rock Pile. I have no names on the H model hoist ship crew that came up from Long Binh to help on the last run at night. Here is a real strong example of why teams of men that train together can do a better job. They can do it safer, quicker (briefing time), with a higher success rate. When I requested a Hoist aircraft for myself to fly, it was not a hot dog thing. It would have to be a Centaur piloting it, for it to work in this impossible situation. I knew that their was no way that an outside crew could help us, within the close battle drill of the Centaur organization, at night, with low visibility, and enemy fire. Not too many units trained with and trusted their gunships to rock their aircraft with close in cover. No wonder they had difficulties with the damn hoist, with army of Centaur gunships seemingly trying to blow them out of the air. We didn't really have time to switch crews anyway, so credit to that crew for giving it a go. Besides, I lied about being qualified in an H model hoist bird. I still believe that we almost lost that crew and could have failed in our mission because of the above factor.

6. What are the names of the LRRP Team members, Cobra 23? Dale Dow believes them to be: "Ethridge, Bobby team leader ( He passed away last summer.); Hitchens, Joseph; Henry, Merilan; Hosey, Ralph; and VanRensselarr, Roger" were the team members.

Boy would I like to meet and talk with them! We should be able to find out who Cobra 6 was at that time. He had a bit of a battle going on at the base of the mountain trying to get to his men. 6. Finding out who Issue 11 was at that time might be possible. He and his birds were magnificent. Often the Issue guys are much like the Gunship guys; they do it every day, they do it well, and all the battles seem to just run together in their minds. - Bruce


Pilot Risks Life To Rescue a LRP - Tropic Lightning News article by 1LT Jim Leman - CU CHI


The Photo - Private First Class Merilan Henry re-enacts the half-in half-out position in which he left a rocky mountainside 1,200 feet in the air.  Holding him on is Sergeant Willard R. Ethridge.  Warrant Officer Stephen R. Patterson (insert) piloted his light observation helicopter three times to a perilous ledge above a Viet Cong base camp to rescue the patrol.

The Story - The toe of the light observation helicopter's right skid perched precariously on a boulder.  The rotor blade chomped furiously at nearby trees.  The chopper's body hung menacingly to the cliff's edge.

At the base of the cliff nestled a Viet Cong base camp.  The six man long range patrol (LRP) realized their fate hung on the cliff with the chopper.  They were out of food and water, and the VC knew they were there.

The series of events bringing the courageous pilot to this perilous mountainside began four days earlier, when a 25th Inf. Div. patrol left the U.S. base on the 3,200-foot summit of Nui Ba Den in Tay Ninh Province.

Their mission was to gather intelligence as they moved down the 45-degree, enemy-infested slopes.  They were to call for extraction two days later in the rice paddies at the base of the mountain.

On the second day, the men neared the bottom only to find their planned exit blocked by a VC base camp.  "We couldn't get through "Charlie so we tried to go back up and around and come down again," explained Sgt. Willard R. Ethridge, 19, of Atlanta, leader of the F Co., 50th Inf., patrol.

They tried . . . once, twice, three times.  Each time they ran into "Charlie."

Finally, on the third day, they stopped in a rocky gulch one third up the mountain and radioed for help.   One man's leg had been injured by a falling rock.  Another man had suffered heat exhaustion.

"We were out of food and water.  When it rained we would catch the water running off the rocks in our canteens - a little dirty, but it was good." said Sped. 4 Joseph Hitchens, 20, of New Orleans.

Two other LRP's at the foot of the mountain started moving toward the trapped patrol.  They both ran into enemy .50-cal. machine-gun and rocket-grenade fire and had to be extracted.

A 25-man reaction force from F Co. got 200 meters up the mountain before nightfall.  The next day they tried to reach their beleaguered buddies but got pinned down in a fire fight with the VC.

Shortly before noon, two Huey Cobra gunships from D Troop, 3rd Sq., 4th Cav., arrived and began spewing hot lead and rockets on the enemy in an attempt to clear the area for a helicopter extraction.

A medevac chopper arrived to get the injured man out first.  There was no clearing near the six men large enough for the "slick's" big rotor blade, and the plan was to drop a hoist for the man.  The pilot hovered over twice, but both times enemy fire drove him off.

Maj. Fred R. Michelson, 35 commanding officer of D Troop from Clayton, Mo., was flying "command and control" in the OH-6A Cayuse light observation helicopter (LOH).  He called for more fire power.

Two Cobras from B. Co. of the 25th Aviation Bn., two Huey gunships form the 4th Cavalry Sq., and two Air Force tactical jets soon joined the other Cobras in pounding the enemy.

A second dust-off ship with a hoist arrived.  As the pilot tried to get in close enough to drop his lift, enemy sniper fire knocked out the communications between the pilot and the hoist operator.

To add to the problems, the clouds opened up, and a tropical downpour forced the helicopters to return to the 25th Div.'s base camp at Tay Ninh.

By the time the storm cleared it was nearing dusk.  "Michelson decided that the only choice was to try to resupply the patrol and hope they could make it through the night.

The gunships again lit up the foot of the mountain with their rockets and mini-guns as W.O. Stephen R. Patterson piloted the LOH in over the men.

Michelson leaned out on the skid and swung a bag of food, water and radio batteries toward a granite ledge.  It bounced, fell over the cliff and rolled into the Viet Cong base camp below.

Then Patterson, 22, of Riverside, Calif. spotted a boulder in a clearing it was just wide enough to get one skid in.

"I hovered down and put the toe of my right skid on the rock to steady the aircraft because of the bad updrafts.

The LRP's handed out the injured man to Michelson," said Patterson.

Having made it once, Patterson decided to take his four-seat chopper back for the other men.

Alone this time, he again perched his bird on the rock.  Two more men leaped from the rock to the skid and into the chopper.

"Every time they jumped on the aircraft, it would lurch, and I'd cut down a few small trees with my rotor," recalled the pilot.

Three men were left, and it was getting dark.  They had one more smoke grenade.  Patterson radioed them to save it in case he didn't make the third try.  He began hunting the mountainside for the spot.  At one point he flew right over the VC base camp but did not draw any fire.

Finally, he found the ledge and hovered in again.  The men threw on their radio and packs.  Two men jumped on first.  To the last man, Pfc. Merilan Henry, 20, the tiny helicopter looked full.  And Patterson was fighting to recover the ship from a lurch caused by the weight.

"I couldn't wait.  I just dove in," Henry said.  "All I could do was throw my feet on- the rest of my body was hanging over the side.  I had my right hand up on the pilot's chair, and the team leader was holding on to my left hand."

With Henry hanging out the side, the LOH lifted away from the steep slope 1,200 feet up.  What had looked impossible had been accomplished not once but three times.  Modestly Patterson admitted: "It did get a little hairy there for a while.

(WO1 Stephen R Patterson died after his tour in Vietnam on 10/28/2002)

Thanks to:
Clifford Lawrence, F Company, 50th Inf., for sharing this issue,
Kirk Ramsey, 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. for creating this page.
This page last modified 07-14-2009 25th Inf Div


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War Stories

Cobra 23 LRRP Team Rescue 2 Jul 68

Bruce Powell - (also click here to read news article from 25th Div)

Below is a restored audio tape made in July of 1968 by CPT Bruce Powell, Centaur 40, Gun Platoon leader.

His voice and that of Centaur 41 (yet to be determined), are on the tape. It is a detailed account of the hot extraction of a six man

LRRP team (Cobra 23) trapped on the East side of Nui Ba Den mountain by LOH pilot Centaur 14 (WO1 Steve Patterson).

There are two parts to the audio: