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Letters from Readers - June/July 2009 Military History

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: April 29, 2009 
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'We were very proud we were cavalry pilots, on the front line, and that as cavalry Medevac pilots, we were picking up our own boys, no matter what.'

Other Medevac Units in Vietnam
I enjoyed Maj. Gen. David T. Zabecki's fine article ["The Father of Dustoff," Valor, Apr/May] about the 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) and Major Charles L. Kelly. Dustoff was not the only medical evacuation unit in Vietnam. The 1st Air Cavalry Division's 15th Medical Battalion had a Medevac platoon. Our call sign was Medevac. All Dustoff units—the 57th, the 283rd, the 498th, etc.—were spread all over Vietnam and were all part of the 44th Medical Brigade. Medevac belonged to the 1st Cavalry. Despite the bravery of Dustoff crews, there were two limitations on their units that were no fault of theirs: 1) Because of the great distances between Dustoff units, sometimes they were far from the wounded; and 2) due to the relatively small number of Dustoff aircraft and the need to conserve their numbers, some missions required gunship coverage if the LZ was still hot.

The 1st Cavalry decided it wanted its own organic air rescue aircraft so as to: 1) have its own pilots, more familiar with air cavalry tactics; 2) to not have to call the 44th Medical Brigade and wait to get aircraft, when they might be available; and 3) to have air rescue aircraft at forward LZs close to the fighting. There were 12 aircraft in the platoon. Medevac aircraft carried a crew of five; Dustoff had four. We had only a small red cross with no white background on our ships and carried two M-60 machine guns for defense. Two Medevac birds each would be assigned to A, B and C Companies of the 15th Medical Battalion and directly supported each of the three combat brigades in the 1st Cavalry.

We were very proud we were cavalry pilots, on the front line, and that as cavalry Medevac pilots, we were picking up our own boys, no matter what. I was a Medevac pilot in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, breaking the siege at Khe Sanh and going into the A Shau Valley. My two Purple Hearts and the six men we lost during that period attest to what Medevac meant to each of us and to the men on the ground in the 1st Cavalry.

Art Jacobs
Franklin, Tenn.

Gone in 60 Seconds
The Phalanx close-in weapons system, or CIWS as it is known in the Navy, [Power Tool, by Jon Guttman, Apr/May] is yet another example of over-engineered and complex weapon systems employed aboard today's ships. The concepts of simplicity and redundancy are being overlooked in the rush to emplace highly complex, and yet unproved, weapon systems.

As a former Navy gunner's mate, I have had discussions with gunnery officers onboard various ships in Philadelphia that have the Phalanx system. The main problem, other than the fact that the system has only been tested under combat conditions once, is that there is no combat reload capability. You state that the entire ammunition load can be fired in less than 20 seconds. Others who work with this system say 60 seconds is the maximum sustained rate of fire. Once that is gone, there is no opportunity to reload under combat conditions due to the complexity of the gun. Perhaps this is why the gun is considered a close-in, last- ditch weapon system?

One only has to read accounts of the Royal Navy's efforts to defend its ships from attacking Argentine aircraft during the Falklands War to see how feeble shipboard gunnery has become. The U.S. Navy has become enamored of high-tech missile and sensor systems at the expense of putting large amounts of steel on the incoming target. There is also the assumption that attacking aircraft or missiles will conveniently close their target one at a time. Tell that to the next ship that has multiple targets closing from as many different bearings and see how far the 60 seconds of fire from the Phalanx counts!

Harold N. Boyer
Folsom, Pa.

Jon Guttman's article on the MK 15 Phalanx says, "The British destroyer Gloucester downed a Silkworm with a Sea Dart, marking the first successful missile interception by another guided missile at sea." That was Feb. 25, 1991.

Go back to April 19, 1972, aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Sterett (DLG-31), off the island of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. Late afternoon three MiG-17s attack a cruiser, the destroyer Higbee, another destroyer and Sterett. One of the MiGs bombs Higbee, then Sterett shoots down the MiG with her forward Terrier missile launcher. Burning, Higbee flees, with Sterett following for protection. The warships are followed by North Vietnamese patrol boats, some known to be Komar missile boats. Sterett engages the closest boats with her 5-inch 54-caliber gun mount; two disappear from radar. Sterett tracks a third patrol boat, which reportedly fires a surface-to-surface missile. Sterett fires a salvo of Terrier missiles; incoming missile destroyed.

Thought you might like to hear this story. North Vietnamese Komar missile boats usually had Russian advisers aboard, so probably this engagement is not going to show up. Sterett did receive the Navy Unit Citation for this action.

Garrett Wyatt
Bend, Oregon

The Stuart Line
[Re. "Culloden, Scotland," Hallowed Ground, Apr/May, by David T. Zabecki:] James II Stuart was the younger brother of Charles II, not the son as Zabecki wrote. James was the one who captured New Netherland, naming two cities on the North (Hudson) River—New York, after his English title, and Albany, after his Scottish title.

But James II was not the last Stuart on the throne. His older daughter Mary II ruled jointly with Willem of Orange (William and Mary.) The last Stuart was Anne, younger daughter of James II.

W. Aardsma
Kansas City, Mo.

Army, Not Marines
In the article "Belleau Wood, France" [Hallowed Ground, Feb/Mar], Colonel Joseph H. Alexander states, "Belleau Wood lay in the path of the 4th Marine Brigade, which did much of the fighting, supported by soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division, 3rd Marine Brigade.…"

The 2nd Division, 3rd Brigade consisted of the 9th and 23rd infantry regiments and was an Army, not a Marine, brigade. The 4th Brigade (5th and 6th Marine regiments) was the only Marine brigade to see combat in World War I. The other Marine brigade in France, the 5th (11th and 13th Marine regiments) was used as military police and provost guards due to the refusal of General John J. Pershing to allow a Marine division in the American Expeditionary Force.

Walter G. Hilsabeck
Springfield, Va.

Correction
In "The 'Go for Broke' 442nd" (Valor, Feb/Mar, by David T. Zabecki), we placed Camp Darby, Livorno, on the Adriatic coast of Italy. It is situated along the Etruscan coast on the Ligurian Sea.



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