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Vietnam War Fighting Forces: 326th Medical Battalion's Air Ambulance Platoon

Originally published by Vietnam magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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On the afternoon of July 21, 1970, a standby dustoff crew was notified of an urgent mission to evacuate 101st Airborne Division wounded from a small hilltop landing zone near Fire Support Base Ripcord. Captain Laurence Rosen was the pilot in command of a five-man dustoff crew on continuous standby at outpost Camp Evans for missions in the area of operations around FSBs Ripcord and O'Reilly.

Rosen had joined the U.S. Army in 1969 after graduating from college and immediately entered flight training. He completed rotary wing and instrument training at Fort Rucker, Ala. On February 20, 1970, he deployed to Vietnam as a pilot in the all-volunteer Air Ambulance Platoon of the 326th Medical Battalion at the 101st Airborne Division's Camp Eagle near Hue.

Rosen, along with his co-pilot Warrant Officer Douglas J. Rupert, flight medic Spc. 4 Brent R. Law, crew chief Spc. 5 Donito C. Deocales and the new medic, Spc. 4 James L. Wieler, lifted off and headed for the firefight. Rosen approached from below the altitude of the LZ, barely above the trees, and at the last moment climbed up to the touchdown point at the north edge of the LZ. The 101st Airborne troops were firing at NVA troops in the treeline to Rosen's right, and the smell of gunpowder was thick in the air. The ground medic, soldiers, dustoff medic and crew chief loaded six or seven wounded onto the floor of the aircraft. Rosen departed the LZ with a backward takeoff, a pedal turn to the right and a dive for the treetops in order to stay out of the direct line of enemy fire.

Off-loading the wounded at the aid station at Camp Evans, but without refueling, Rosen immediately headed back to the LZ to pick up another load of wounded. The pilot critically evaluated the situation on the LZ — the direction of the NVA attack and the exposure of the aircraft to enemy fire. Then he made the decision to violate 'Rookie Rule No. 1' — Don't fly over the same patch of jungle twice. He elected to sneak in from the north, the same way he had the first time.

As he touched down lightly, the crew and ground troops helped another group of wounded get aboard. With men of the 101st firing M-16s, M-60 machine guns and grenade launchers from behind trees and hastily constructed defensive positions, Rosen's helicopter departed backward to the left from the LZ as enemy mortar rounds landed among the ground troops. Rosen knew they would have to go in again, but he was particularly distressed by the continuous flow of casualties, the restricted approach and departure routes, the confined LZ and the close proximity of the enemy.

As Rosen headed back to Camp Evans for the second time, he radioed for another dustoff from Camp Eagle to assist in the evacuation. Again, after off-loading the wounded at the aid station, Rosen immediately took off on his third trip to the LZ. The ground situation had continued to deteriorate, with the 101st soldiers in danger of being overrun. The radio telephone operator (RTO) on the LZ did not answer calls. There were more wounded than the helicopter could carry, and only one ground soldier was available to assist in loading. Enemy mortar rounds hit behind and in front of the helicopter as it left the LZ, flying low and fast to the aid station.

Rosen touched down at Camp Evans as the relief dustoff from Camp Eagle radioed him for a situation report (sitrep). After unloading the wounded, and with the cabin floor of the helicopter covered in blood and fragments of flesh and fabric, Rosen, again without pause, headed back for the fourth rescue. As they flew, Rosen asked his crew if they were willing to go back into the LZ. They unanimously agreed to continue as long as there were wounded.

Lieutenant Allen Schwartz, at the controls of the relief dustoff flying from Camp Eagle, received a sitrep from Rosen by radio and a recommended approach and egress route for the LZ. Schwartz landed and loaded two litter cases and six walking wounded, but just as he lifted up only a few feet, his Plexiglas windshield suddenly shattered from a hail of automatic weapon fire. The aircraft lost lift, crashed straight back down and began to shake violently on the ground. A rocket-propelled grenade had blown off the tail boom.

As Schwartz tried to hold the helicopter steady and get it shut down, those wounded passengers not strapped down went bouncing out the open doors. The Huey vibrated backward toward the slope on the east side of the LZ. Before he was able to shut off the engine, Schwartz and his co-pilot were physically hurled out of the vibrating aircraft.

Rosen came in for his fourth landing on the little LZ. This time the RTO on the LZ responded, but Rosen could hardly hear what he said due to gunfire, mortar explosions and yelling. As he came in low and fast, Rosen saw the wounded huddled near the LZ and the wreckage of the relief dustoff lying on the far side. He was dismayed to see that the main rotor on the wrecked dustoff helicopter was still pumping away and the engine revving up to an explosive level.

As soon as they touched down, Rosen's flight medic, Brent Law, hauled Lieutenant Schwartz aboard, and then raced across the LZ, climbed aboard the still shaking wrecked Huey and shut off the engine. Law then dashed back, and worked frantically with the crew chief to get all the wounded aboard Rosen's aircraft.

The wounded, including those from the crashed dustoff, were literally stacked up on the floor one on top of the other with their bloody dressings, broken bones and sucking chest wounds. Their screams of pain were mixed with the explosions of nearby enemy mortar rounds. Rosen could see the NVA only about 40 meters away, and with pieces of trees and chunks of dirt from the mortar explosions striking the helicopter, the unflinching crew chief and flight medic loaded another five or six wounded aboard. Lifting off, Rosen pedal-turned and dived down on the north side of the LZ, treetops slapping the bottom of his aircraft.

After unloading the casualties, and still without refueling, Rosen immediately flew his helicopter back to the about-to-beoverrun LZ for his fifth rescue mission. The interior of his medevac was splattered with blood, and the mood of his crew was somber. 'We all knew that the repeated use of the same approach and departure routes to the same landing site was practically suicidal,' recalled Rosen, who had felt obliged to ask his crewmen if they were willing to go in again. Everyone on board — Rupert, Law, Deocales and Wieler — agreed that 'we would keep going in until there were either no more wounded or we were shot down.' As Rosen later wrote, 'We were all of one mind.'

Fearing the NVA had by now captured the RTO's radio, Rosen approached the LZ without communication with the ground troops. He saw casualties squatting behind tree trunks, hiding over the edge of the north slope of the LZ and lying in ditches or craters made by mortars. On short final approach, Rosen suddenly heard the RTO on the LZ shouting to him, 'Dustoff, dustoff, break it off!' but Rosen was too deeply focused on the mission to stop.

Dodging, zig-zagging and flying at tree height, he set down on the LZ as mortar rounds hit around his aircraft. As the less severely injured soldiers helped load those unable to climb aboard, one yelled in Rosen's ear, 'We're being overrun, get the hell outta here!'

The flight medic looked at Rosen as if to say, 'What now, sir?' The captain nodded toward the remaining wounded on the ground and the flight medic and crew chief unhesitatingly continued loading. With wounded both sitting and piled on the floor — their arms and legs hanging out the doors and heads bobbing over the edges of the cargo compartment — the crew chief standing on the right skid and the flight medic squatting on the edge of the cabin floor, straddling a soldier's arm and neck, the nearly overloaded dustoff finally cleared for takeoff.

Just as Rosen started to lift off, mortar shells exploded around the aircraft, and a squad of NVA soldiers charged toward it. The heavily loaded helicopter struggled in the thin, moist mountain air as an NVA soldier popped up in front within 6 meters of it. He fired his AK-47 on full automatic, stitching bullets across the windscreen and the Red Cross-adorned nose of the helicopter just as Rosen lifted the ship from the ground. The fusillade severely wounded the co-pilot and killed flight medic Law, whose body would have fallen from the aircraft, Rosen reported, except that 'Wieler caught him and pulled him back inside the Huey.'

As more rounds came through the right side of the ship, Rosen did an abrupt left pedal turn and dived for the treetops, literally dragging the skids through the trees in an attempt to evade the enemy gunfire. With the rotor clipping the treetops, Rosen headed for Camp Evans at top speed.

As Keith W. Nolan later wrote of the incident in Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege: '…Doug Rupert [was] in agony beside him, his smoldering left arm blown almost completely off above the elbow. Deocales and Wieler, meanwhile, were urgently attending to Brent Law, [and] the bullet that had blasted through Rupert's arm had shattered against the copilot's armored seat, a fragment of it catching Law just below the edge of his armor 'chicken plate.' There was little that Deocales and Wieler could do, for the bullet fragment had ruptured Law's liver, and he bled to death almost immediately on the floor of the Huey.'

In the chaos, according Nolan's account, no one on the medevac was aware that just as it was lifting off a 101st soldier darted forward, '…and, reaching up with both hands, managed to grab the right skid just as the medevac wheeled around. [The soldier] had both arms and legs wrapped around the skid, [but] as the helicopter went into a dive down the side of the ridge, the wind blasted [him] so strongly that his legs came loose, and he was just hanging on with his hands.'The helicopter started pulling up at that point, going full throttle, [the soldier] was blown off the skid. The helicopter must have been several hundred feet up going in excess of 100 miles an hour when he lost his grip. He just went straight down into the jungle…there was no way he could have survived….'

After landing his helicopter, which was no longer airworthy, and unloading the mass of wounded, including his co-pilot and the body of his dead flight medic, Rosen checked himself for wounds. He found that his now-shattered ceramic body armor had stopped an NVA bullet.

Those five missions had lasted 2 1/2 hours, and during that time Rosen and his crew had evacuated 26 soldiers from the LZ just east of FSB Ripcord. As they landed again and again in the midst of the battle, they had asked no more of the ground troops than to 'Give us your wounded.'

For his heroic action, Captain Lawrence Rosen was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which subsequently was downgraded to a Silver Star.



The article was written by Colonel John Aure Buesseler, M.D., U.S. Army (Ret.) and originally published in the February 2005 issue of Vietnam Magazine.

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22 Responses to “Vietnam War Fighting Forces: 326th Medical Battalion's Air Ambulance Platoon”


  1. 1
    kay says:

    this site is a good site to find info on civil war things

  2. 2
    James A Glorioso says:

    great article .i was at camp evans from july 20 ,1970 thru july 17, 1971 at hhc 158th avn. the hole helicopter crew deserved medal of honors for their bravery under fire.

    • 2.1
      Sgt. Terry Handley says:

      James I couldn't agree with you more. I was on the ground directing them into the LZ and the calm they displayed over the radio was very encouraging. Those pilot had brass 'ones'!

  3. 3
    SMSgt Larry Brooks says:

    I served with A Battery 2/320th artillery in 1968-69, looking for our medic (Doc) that served with A Battery at the same time……was assigned out of the 326th….thanks for any help……lb

  4. 4
    Len Griffin says:

    Need to talk with anyone, 326th, who was at Evans around July 1969. Question….was 498th ever at Evans about this time as a fill in with hueys or crews due to shortage in the 326th?

    • 4.1
      Daphne Gilbertson says:

      Hi, I have been trying to find info on Seriously injured soldiers, Vietnam War.
      Paralyzed from neck down, waist. Did some commit suicide? I know the men with no feeling from neck down could not. Did these men live very long with these injuries? Are they living at Walter Reed Hospital? How are they doing today. Did many die young? Can you help me with any books, information, on this subject? Thanks

  5. 5
    Daphne Gilbertson says:

    I am trying to find out information on serverly injured soldiers that were sent to Walter Reed Hospital (Vietnam War). Did some commit suicide because of their injuries. Are some Vets still living there>
    What happened to the one that went on to Institutions, Nursing Homes?
    I can't find any info ont his in Libraries, etc. Can anyone give me some information or a link. Thank you for your time.

  6. 6
    Tim Flaim says:

    Hi, I server w/Bravo Co. 3rd 187th 101st 69-70 as a grunt and have been looking for our Medic, Chuck Murphy. Doc if you're still out there and read this please contact me as we're planning a reunion.

  7. 7
    Dr. Maria Rosen says:

    The brave Captain Rosen, now Laurence Rosen, MD is my husband. He definately deserves the Medal of Honor for his courage. I am fortunate to be his wife and my children will follow on his great examples. He returned from Vietnam to become a successful anesthesiologist! His story is what makes us all proud to have served our country!

    Dr. Maria Rosen

    • 7.1
      Sgt. Terry Handley says:

      I was that soldier that brought the wounded to the medivac time after time.
      I also went out with the crew to shut down the chopper without the boom.
      I witnessed the pilot have his arm shot, by what we determined was a 51 caliber.
      The soldier that fell off the skid was a medic who had only a short time left in country. I was beside him when he grabbed ahold of the skid. I had just helped my machine gunner Rosas (from Texas) on board when the medivac had to depart due to enemy fire. (so much for the Geneva Convention).
      Dr. Rosen you may contact me.

  8. 8
    gordon e sylvester (guts) says:

    Proud to have served with the members of the Charlie Company 326 Med. BN. at Camp Evans. Would like to hear from you.

    • 8.1
      Sgt. Terry Handley says:

      This was my last day in country.
      John Fraser and I arrived in the Army about the same date, late December 1968.
      We met up in NCO school at Ft. Benning, GA. We became Sgt's together along with Richard Hamilton, (who I entered basic training with).
      The three us trained troops at Ft Jackson and then on to sunny SE Asia.
      John and I went to the same Division 101st, the same Battalion 1st of the 506th, the same company the Delta Death Dealers. John went to the 3rd platoon and I the second. We were wounded on the same day and left country the same day. We ended up in the hospital in Japan together before we went home, John to Maine and I to Michigan.

  9. 9
    Jim Shivers Jr. says:

    I was a radio operator with HHC 326th Medical Bn (forward) Camp Eagle Vietnam 1967-68. I was aware of many situations in which those medevac pilots and crew put it all on the line to complete their mission and get the wounded off the ground and saved many lives doing it ! I will always remember those brave bunch of Screaming Eagles ! Airborne !

  10. 10
    teddy lamont (buzzard) says:

    worked in the aid station from nov 69 to nov 70. If you came in wounded I tagged you. I also bagged and arranged shipment of the dead. tough job for 19 year olds.

  11. 11
    Laurence Rosen says:

    Terry, don't know why but I just came upon the conversations following Dr. Buesseler's article about 21 July 70. Read your note and it brought back so many vivid recollections of each sortie that we flew that day. I was sitting in the right seat that day as the copilot was transitioning to the left seat to become an aircraft commander (WO Doug Rupert, he had already been an AC in guns and only had to learn that we were supposed to rescue the troops not shoot up the enemy…). We had an OJT medic with us that day, James Wieler and the medic Brent Law (shot and killed by the same bulett that wounded Rupert). The crewchief, Dino Deocoles (now a very successful realestate investor in California) and the medics, on about the third trip in commented to me on the intercom that they couldn't believe that it was always the same soldier bringing the wounded out in the open to load on our ship. Thanks so much for that!. We never knew about the soldier on the skids, until the next day when I got called into the CO's office at Eagle for a de-briefing by division. That's when I learned that I had dragged him through the treetops causing him to fall from the skids. For better or for worse, the treetops were one of our favorite \hiding places\. We had made all of our departures from the LZ downhill with the skids actually in the trees. Thanks to you and to all of the amazingly brave guys, both living and dead, whom we had the opportunity to help a little bit. Laurence Rosen and still proud to be \Eagle Dust Off 91\

    • 11.1
      Sgt. Terry Handley Delta 1st/506th says:

      Dr. Rosen
      You deserved the M o H. If the people (who made the decision) had been in my shoes and witnessed what you were flying through, they would come to the same conclusion as I have.

  12. 12
    Sgt. Terry Handley Delta 1st/506th says:

    The downed chopper pilot (Lieutenant Allen Schwartz) and his co-pilot were with me after the chopper was down on the LZ. I was guiding the choppers in and had the wounded (including me) near my location. Ranger, Delta Company Commander had Schwartz, his co-pilot and me go back to the running chopper and shut it down.
    The solider who fell from the skids was a medic who told Ranger, he didn't feel well and wanted to go out on a medivac. Ranger said, No way. We need you here. The medic brushed by me and grabbed the skids. The Army came to me after I was home for a full report.

  13. 13
    Sgt. Terry Handley Delta 1st/506th says:

    What hill # was the LZ closest to?
    I was next to you Dr. Rosen when your co-pilot was wounded.

  14. 14
    Laurence Rosen, Dust Off 91 says:

    Thanks for the very kind words, James, and thanks for your service and one last thing… Welcome Home!! I still feel that it was a great opportunity to fly medevacs for the best unit ever assembled, Screaming Eagles. Larry Rosen

  15. 15
    Henry Gutierrez says:

    g'day guys.my name is henry gutierrez and i serve in nam from 71-to mid 72.i was with the australian medical hospital as a theatre orderly then i got transfer to the usa hospital in january 72i went to 85 evacuation hospital(semi mobile unit) at qui nhon under the control of 43 mediacl group then to 67 evacuation hospital till mid 72 in pleiku and long binh then to 95 evacuation hospital in da nang.if any one remember me please contact me,wen i was on the last medical unit 95 evac.hospital i lost my dog tag and my long book and many photo i collect during my time in long binh and all my personal items,yours sincerely ex-army medic,corporal Henry Abraham Gutierrez



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