On 29 April 1968, the 2/4 Marine Battalion Landing Team of the 3rd Marine Division, locked horns with an NVA
Division (304th) in the 'ville" of Dai Do on the Cua Viet River 'horseshoe' just south of the DMZ (I Corp
RVN). Intelligence had tipped our Forces that an entire NVA Division was in the first stage of a major
march to seize and destroy the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters at Dong Ha. The Army’s grunt rifle
battalion 3/21st Infantry, 196th LIB (out of the Americal) was attached to the 3rd Marine Division on
May 1st to help quell the NVA’s intentions.
The stubbornness of the NVA was stunning
(as was always the case), though they out-numbered the US troops three to one. And though the
loss of American lives was staggering (one is too many), the courage and the stamina of the Marines
and Army was valorous. The campaign was marked by constant bombing and shelling (aerial, land
based and Naval Cruiser USS Boston). At several points the US Military powers used experimental
2000 lb bombs, when the village areas (Dai Do, Dinh To, Dong Huan, An Lac, Thuong Do and Nhi Ha)
turned into a NVA hornet nest. The 3rd Marines officially list the series of actions as ended on May
15 1968 and labeled it (during Operation Night Owl) as the Battle of Dai Do. The Americal classifed it
as a continuance of Operation Napoleon.
List of Casualties:
3d Marines Division- 233
KIA 821 WIA 1 MIA
3/21 Infantry 196th LIB- 29 KIA 130 WIA 1 MIA
Navy TF Clearwater- 15 KIA 22 WIA
ARVN- 42 KIA 124 MIA
NVA- 2945 KIA 47 POW
From the start of the battle, the CO of the Marines 2/24 BLT, LT COL William Weise had
great concern about
airmobility. He requested that the Army provide helicopter support for resupply, extraction, insertion
and medevac. The 174th AHC provided that airmobility for the entire battle. There were three Dolphin
Slicks and Crews that accomplished this.
* Assistant Webmaster note: This Battle has
been more than historically captured in our friend Keith William Nolan’s fine book, The Magnificent
Bastards. Dell Publishing: 1994. I highly recommend this reading. This is as good as it
gets folks! Nolan’s writing is chronological to the hour!
One of the 174th AHC aircraft (UH-1D 65-00910) was crewed by A/C WO1 Ken Johnson, Pilot WO1 Marty
Wifholm, Crew Chief SP4 Frank Dailey and Door Gunner SP4 Wally Nunn. Out of the chaos of
this Battle, Wally Nunn provided us here with his own personal collection of photos, and he and Ken Johnson tell us
some "colorful" stories (factual). Dolphin #910 (the only camoflaged helicopter ever in the unit) is pictured below.
That is Door Gunner SP4 Wally Nunn's "office" on the right side of the aircraft.
The above six photos show the experimental 2000 lb bombing (Nhi Ha). They actually penetrated
deep into the ground before igniting. We didn’t know we had those. The bottom right photo shows
the craters they left.
The top left
photo shows about nine NVA shells hitting our Marine/Army positions in Nhi Ha. The NVA artillery
was on tracks and it rolled out of the shelter of the hillsides. When they fired, the USS Boston
(Cruiser) would track it by radar and alert our aircraft to get away.The top right and bottom left photos
Naval shelling from the USS Boston and the results. The bottom right photo is a good view of the
"Big Bertha crater vs. Ville" ratio. The craters were an eighth of the size of the Hamlet!
All three above photo are demolished hamlet structures, which either the Marines or
the Army used as command posts (CPs), after we had taken the Hamlet of Dai Do (bottom photos
courtesy of Sam Davis).
Stories from the Battlefield:
During a rare lull in their support missions, the 174th AHC Dolphin crew of #910
(WO1 Johnson, WO1 Wifholm, SP4 Dailey and SP4 Nunn) landed aside a clearing by the Cua Viet
River to conserve fuel. They shut down the aircraft and two of the bored crew members (Nunn and Dailey) conspired
to throw Pilot WO1 Henry “Marty” Wifholm in the River. "He kept bitchin' about how hot it was, and
that he'd jump in that River for two cents. With my back to Marty, I gave them the nod for
the go ahead."- Ken Johnson
Upon coming out of the water, Wifholm took
his clothes off to dry. As the hysterical bunch (with a half- naked- wet Wifholm), neared the aircraft,
a call came over the radio for needed helicopter support for the Marines. Johnson says, "It seemed
that they had a Unit which had taken a short burst from an Air Force fighter. They had some
badly wounded, so we did what we were there to do and went after it." They all boarded the aircraft immediately and were airborne, with Wifholm
'sans' his clothing except for his shorts, boots and helmet. After they had dropped off the
wounded, they got a priority call that The Commander for the 3rd
Milton A. Hull, needed a lift.
Ken Johnson tells us, "We had to
refuel first. We landed nose to nose with a Marine CH-46 at the POL point. We got to laughing at the
look on their Pilots faces. Wifholm said he wanted to get dressed, but we were in a hurry. I tried to
make 'delay' excuses, but you don't keep the 'O-6' waiting."
Upon picking up Hull (in fresh fully
starched fatigues), the COL spied
Wifholm's lack of clothing and stated (with his trademark cigar between his teeth), "I always
knew you Army Aviators were a bunch of queers." Upon reaching their destination, Hull told them
to land 'angled' away from “his soldiers” and remain in the aircraft and get the hell out ASAP, to avoid his
fellow Marines and counterparts from seeing them. Johnson also adds, "We laughed so hard,
because we knew if we 'went down" and the NVA came upon us, they would see Marty and run!"
On Friday, 3 May 1968, a Marine Crusader that was making a bombing run on the Village of Nhi Ha
was hit by enemy fire and did not 'pull up'. No one saw a parachute either. However, US Personnel
with a nearby ARVN unit spotted (with binoculars) a lone figure walking around east of the battlefield.
A FAC, in the air above, then confirmed the sighting.
Ken Johnson and his crew chimed in on the
radio saying, “We’re coming in low and hot, so direct us up.” The FAC Birddog guided the 174th
AHC slick from their fifteen-foot altitude and then a hop over some trees. They immediately spotted
an olive drab figure wandering aimlessly in a rice paddy. He appeared unarmed. When the Aircraft
approached, the man just stopped and looked up. Johnson reported on the radio “We got the Pilot insight.
We’re going in to pick him up.” Approaching very fast, Johnson saw the man’s black hair and the
misfit fatigues. He yelled, “It’s a dink, that’s a goddamned dink!” As he pulled up and out, he yelled,
“It’s not the Pilot! It’s a hard- core NVA, and we are going to engage him!” The Marines (monitoring the
Army net) said, “Don’t shoot him. We’re want to take him prisoner.” Johnson replied, “What the hell
do you guys expect us to do out here? We’ve got our butts hanging out! We’re going to kill him.” The
Marines then responded with a direct order not to shoot and to take him prisoner.
“We just circled around. I thought for sure it was a trap. I called over the intercom to Johnson, telling
him that the Marines were crazy. I can have an 'accident' here you know. Ken told me again to hold
fire. An ARVN unit was about 20 minutes away. We thought about letting them come get him, but
that would give the enemy time to surround us. Johnson told me to look the NVA over real good,
because we were 'going in'. I said this is f…..g nuts! No sh..t!
We landed, and I jumped out with an
M16 and screamed, Get the F…k On! I assumed I was probably going to have to shoot him anyway,
but he was real scared and jumped right in. I held my .38 to his head the whole way back to the
3/21st CP, but he was noticeably trembling from the helicopter ride and hanging on for dear life.
When we got to the CP, he was still 'gripped', so I jerked him hard and threw him out. A Marine Captain
pulled some identification off of him out of one of his pockets. In another pouch pocket was a
Chicom Grenade! Johnson just lifted his helmet visor and dropped his jaw. I, in the mean time, had
almost had my 'accident' I spoke about earlier.
Earlier in the same day (in same area- Nhi Ha), we were called to extract wounded Alpha Company
3/21 GIs. Practically the whole Company had been either killed or wounded. They were annihilated!
However, ‘fast- movers’ were dropping ‘drag bombs’ just over the casualties to destroy the NVA
that had them flanked. As we approached, Johnson and Wifholm were on the fire control net. They
were getting trajectory reports from the arty, tac air and Naval counter battery from the USS Boston.
Johnson (who deserved a Medal of Honor) flew in under the onslaught of ‘incoming’! The
only thing is, that Ken orders me out on the skids to look up to see how low we were below the
bombing!" Ken Johnson adds, "Actually, we advised the FAC and the Pilots that we were coming in
under them and it was not a mistake. We didn't want them to pull up if they saw us passing under
them. I think they thought I was crazy, but it was a tactic that worked, because the 'bad-guys' were
either ducking for cover or shooting at the jets instead of us!"
Nunn continues, "Then about seventy-five meters out
from the flank, I spied a bunker and through the hole
of it, I could see the faces of NVA. I yelled at the pilots; There they are! I’m going to take them under
fire! Johnson called back; Don’t shoot. For some reason they ain’t shooting at us. Let’s do our job
and go get the wounded."
*Assistant Webmaster note: We’ve already mentioned the helicopter and
crew of UH-1D 65-00910. The other two 174th AHC helicopters and crew members were: UH-1D 66-00864- A/C
WO1 Hank Tews, Pilot Unknown, Crew Chief SP4 Sam Davis and Door Gunner PFC Allen Weamer.
UH-1D 67-17281- A/C Unknown, Pilot Unknown, Crew Chief SP5 Carl McCoy and Door Gunner
Unknown. It should also be noted that these brave men all volunteered for these support missions!
"Both #864 and #281 were shot all to hell- no injuries."-Nunn.
Sam Davis gives us photos and the account of his aircraft (#864) in his
1968 Photos Pages
some of the 174th AHC Particpants THEN. Top left to right: WO1 Ken Johnson and
SP4 Wallace Nunn. Middle left: SP4 Frank Dailey (center) and SP4 Sam Davis (right).
Middle right: SP5 Carl McCoy. Bottom left to right: WO1 Hank Tews. PFC Allen Weamer.
Just some of the
174th AHC Particpants NOW (at various 174th AHC Annual Reunions): Top left-right: Ken Johnson. Henry “Marty” Wifholm. Middle: Wally
Nunn. Bottom left to right: Frank Dailey. Sam Davis. * Assistant Webmaster note: Carl
McCoy, Hank Tews and Allen Weamer were all Killed in Action on later dates (McCoy- 29 May 1968.
Tews- 29 Dec 1968. Weamer- 13 June 1968). LEST WE NEVER FORGET
You can visit two other Wally Nunn Photo Contributions at:
SP4 Wally Nunn 1967 - 1968 and Crew Chiefs and Gunners of The 174th- 1968
*Late addition: Right after composing this, Wally, Ken and Marty wrote me emails with
some statements that I feel are important here -
Wally wrote (7-12-06): "Warren, as you know, I am involved with the surviving Medal of Honor Recepients.
The decisions and actions that Ken and Marty made, rank 'right up there' with the MOH Recepients. They
had no-one watching, as they were 'detached' and not part of these Marine and Army Units that you
write about. Everybody, at that time in the RVN, knew about this Battle. I mentioned this to Ken and he
just says his reward was saving the lives that we saved. Now that is Honor."
(7-12-06): "Warren, in thinking back (and I think I speak for all the pilots and crews), and remember
the situations and calls for medevac support, I just don't remember any fear. Refusing a mission was not an option for us.
You just tried to recognize the risk for what it was, and approach the situation the best that you could.
And I know I speak for all of us, when I say that we did it well and we did get alot of kids home. That
was our job and we did our mission. Thank God we were there for all those that we did get out."
Marty wrote (7-15-06): "The heroes of the battle were actually the Infantry, considering the
pounding they took. We carried some of the most severe cases of battle fatigue, that I was
to witness in Vietnam, from those trenches.The sadness of the situation was over-powering. So many dead. So many wounded. Yet so much Bravery and Honor. They took care of their own. They were heroes and we just the transportation from hell or elsewhere."