Huey 63-08808 Found after nearly 44 Years

Discussion in 'VMBB General Discussion' started by Snakedriver, Apr 16, 2009.

  1. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Mar 4, 2009
    SW. Florida
    Subject: Lost Huey 63-08808
    Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 00:07:34 +0000

    By Joseph L. Galloway
    McClatchy Newspapers

    As with so much in life and in death, there was news this week that was joyous and sad and bittersweet all at once for the small community of the Vietnam War's band of brothers of the Ia Drang Valley.

    Early in the morning of December 28, 1965, a U.S. Army Huey helicopter, tail number 63-08808, lifted off from the huge grassy airfield at the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) base at An Khe in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.

    Two experienced pilots, CWO Jesse Phelps of Boise, Idaho, and CWO Kenneth Stancel of Chattanooga, Tenn., were at the controls. Behind them in the doors were crew chief Don Grella of Laurel, Neb., and door gunner Jim Rice of Spartanburg, S.C. All four were already veterans of the fiercest air assault battle of the war, fought the previous month in the Ia Drang.

    Huey 808 was one of 10 birds in a platoon of A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, led by Capt. Ed (Too Tall to Fly) Freeman. It was bound on a short, routine flight down Route 19 to an infantry field position just over the high pass between An Khe and the port city of Qui Nhon.
    It was what Army aviators called an "ash and trash mission," hauling cases of C-rations, ammunition and other essential supplies to a company of grunts preparing for an air assault mission.

    Normally, all missions were flown by at least two helicopters, but this one was so brief and so routine and along a route so well known and marked by the center white line of a familiar highway that Capt. Freeman and his boss, Maj. Bruce (Ol' Snake) Crandall, already at the Landing Zone with the rest of A Company's 20 helicopters, agreed to waive that requirement and let 808 fly alone.

    With that, 808 flew off the face of the earth. It disappeared without a word on the radio of distress or trouble. The helicopter was gone, and a massive search effort began almost immediately and continued for months, both as an organized and methodical search and by individual Huey pilots who flew anywhere near that route.

    For weeks, they combed the rugged jungle hills on both sides of the road and on both sides of the mountain pass. Choppers hovered over every break in the tree cover peering down if they could see or sending crewmen rappelling down ropes to look around clearings that were not easily checked from the air.

    They found nothing. The Huey and its four crewmen had vanished.
    The families of the crewmen joined the ranks of those who wait for news, for hope, for some closure of an open wound. More than 1,600 American servicemen are still listed as missing in action in Vietnam.

    This week, the Department of Defense liaison officers who work with MIA families called Ol' Snake Crandall and surviving family members of the four missing crewmen to confirm that after 43 years, search teams following one of thousands of leads had found and positively identified the wreckage of Huey 808.

    In what amounts to almost an archaeological dig the Joint Task Force _ Missing in Action (JTF-MIA) team assigned to this lead also recovered dog tags, other personal artifacts and some human remains. After so long a time in the acid soil of Vietnam, that usually means bone fragments and maybe a tooth or two. Often that adds up to no more than will fill a small handkerchief.

    The remains will now be flown to the Central Identification Library in Hawaii and every effort will be made through DNA testing to identify them and attach a name to them.

    "They told us it could take several months to complete that process," said Shirley Haase of Omaha, Neb., the sister of crew chief Don Grella. "I only wish my mother was here for this news. She waited for so long."

    The men of Huey 808 will be coming home at last. Grieving mothers and fathers have died waiting for news that never came. Siblings have grown old. Their buddies have never forgotten and never rested in pressing for a resolution to this case.

    Too Tall Ed Freeman and Ol' Snake Crandall, his wingman and boss, never missed an opportunity to ask questions or get a little pushy with a government official, even a president of the United States or a North Vietnamese Army general, in seeking an answer to the mystery.

    Too Tall Ed died last summer in a Boise, Idaho, hospital. In their final farewell visit, he and Crandall, both Medal of Honor recipients, talked about Huey 808, and Bruce promised Ed that he'd keep pushing the search as long as he lived.
  2. armedandsafe

    armedandsafe Guest

    I wonder if they will ever find the L-19 which disappeared in the Alps just as two MIGs flew past them


  3. SixTGunr

    SixTGunr New Member

    Jan 18, 2002
    Southwest Missouri
    Welcome Home Brothers ...

    Rest In Peace & Stand Easy

  4. Amen to that, my friend.

    YOFAST New Member

    Nov 17, 2007
    United States
    Thank you for this post - David Apperson
  6. Tom Militano

    Tom Militano New Member

    Feb 26, 2007
    Jacksonville, AL
    Glad to hear that. Welcome home.
  7. JBozeman

    JBozeman New Member

    Jun 30, 2010
    Just today learned of the Story, and just today learned of their Discovery.

    Rest Well our Brothers, your work on earth, although complete, is very much appreciated! Salute!
  8. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Jan 31, 2001
    Glendale Arizona
    Though this article was posted more than a year ago, I never responded to it or about it...I've thought of it numerous times and about the families of the missing warriors and what they must feel...loss, abandonment, failure...I don't know, but as I read this post again, I've made up my mind what I wanted to comment....Long before my own loss of a son, and when weeping become so easy for me, I used to wonder about grown men crying...and doing it so easily in the presense of other grown men...What did I feel then for those weeping warriors...discomfort, unfamilarity, saddness.....maybe even disgust...Forgive me, for I don't remember what I felt. Then it become so easy on the death of my son...just seems to be not right for the parent to survive the child.
    The mans nickname was SANDY...that only being part of his surname....SANDY and I worked together at the NAVAL MISSILE TEST FACILITY, POINT MUGU, CALIFORNIA... the early 70's, shortly after I'd retired from the navy...SANDY had been an Army medic during the Korean War and his duties was called GRAVES REGISTRATION. Though SANDY would weep and sob and just pitufilly carry on about his morbid duties, us other guys would listen spelbound, experiencing the emotions I mentioned above...SANDY was a good and faithful employee, always willing to do more than his share, but I'm sure he often felt like destroying himself...I wonder when others tired of hearing about the stories, or perhaps SANDY got too conflicted to tell them any longer...I left Civil Service and went into business for myself....Chief
  9. jim brady

    jim brady Well-Known Member

    Sep 22, 2009
    Simla, Colorado
    I've read this before, and also did not respond. Was involved in s similar situation, and ended up doing some very minor help in researching a lost ship. We lost one in 1971 with 5 crew and another new pilot who was along observing. One of my closest friends in the service was one of the crew. I had met his parents and his girl friend at the induction center on my first day.

    Anyway, the ship went down in 'mysterious' circumstances. Supposedly, nobody knew just what happened or exactly where they crashed. They were listed as MIA for years, because their remains were never recovered or found.

    In our Company, we were told that they flew thru an ARVIN artillery barrage that wasn't called in, and the aircraft disentigrated. That was upsetting to us, but what really happened was worse.

    They were inbound with an external sling load into a firebase. An Air Force FAC was on the ground, and the firebase came under attack just as the inbound Hook was on short-short final. They had an external load of fuel for the firebase and were hit by intense ground fire. The load and the aircraft exploded and went down. Nodody afterwards went to the crash site to look for survivors or recover them. Even after the fight was over, nobody bothered to go over and check it out.

    Somehow the Air Force FAC's report was never reported to the Army, and the families were left to wonder what happened to the guys who never came home. Years later - maybe 6 years ago - I became involved. A crash site was found, but there was little DNA and no serial equipment numbers or dog tags, just a few scraps of leather boots and Nomex. When they found a pair of Jungle Boots, they were confused. Turned out to have been those of the missing young new pilot who was (unauthorized) along. Just wonder how many other guys listed as MIA - somebody knows something and reports were not sent along. Damn shame for the families all these years.
  10. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Mar 4, 2009
    SW. Florida
    Yeah, we still have a couple of pilots from my unit in Vietnam in 1972 that are listed as KIA-BNR and it just kills me to think of them laying there rotting in that jungle hell. Their kids have all grown up now and their spouses have moved on, but they deserve a resting place here where the people that love them can visit and honor them. :(

    Jungle boots were worn by more aviation crews than most think. I didn't wear them, but I know a lot who did for comfort purposes. I guess it wasn't a problem unless you crashed and got in a fire.
  11. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Jan 31, 2001
    Glendale Arizona
    I wonder if that pilots remains were ever recovered...It was a terrible fire and a terrible time during the TET OFFENSIVE 1968....cHIEF


    The old prop driven aircraft circled lazily in the early morning sky. To
    the onlookers and there were many, it appeared like a bird of prey--like a
    hawk or eagle that possesses keen eyesight, trying to spot a meal to dive
    on. The cloudless sky offered excellent viewing and occasionally those
    viewers on the ground would catch the flash of reflected sunlight off the
    crafts windscreen.
    About two miles away at the Dong Ha Foward Combat Base, three uniformed men
    were sharing a single pair of field glasses. The Marine Captain and
    Gunnery Sergeant had stopped by to visit with the Seabee Battalion’s S-2
    Senior Chief--actually to get some coffee and breakfast, whatever was left
    over to be had. The three men had become comrads-in-arms in their line of
    work--EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) and target anaylsis plus sharing
    intelligence information.
    During the night, a combination of rocket and artillery rounds had impacted
    onto the Marine base as well as the Seabee encampment. It was determined to
    have come from inside the DMZ (demilitarized zone)and counterbattery fire
    as well as air strikes were planned. The target analysis (TA) could
    determine from the impact crater in the soil, very accurately from whence
    the artillery round had originated. From calculations, counterbattery fire
    could be directed against the offensive weaponry The same could not be
    determined for the 122 mm rockets however, for they were so uncontrolled
    and inaccurate in their flight--in fact they could be heard wobbling
    overhad as they flew toward a target.
    The Captain told the S-2 Chief that the aircraft circling overhead was
    attempting to draw groundfire--that there was a suspected arms cache just
    on the other side of the CuaViet River--it needed to be taken out with a
    special type ordinance--a deep penetrating device because the cache was
    thought to be buried deep underground. The prop driven, A-6 Skyraider was
    ordered up for the mission. Gunny commented to the Chief “that slow moving
    old junky airplane can put a round right in their gawd-damned hip pocket”!
    The Captain added a bit more tactfully that they needed target control so
    as to cut down on the potential collateral damage as there were a lot of
    native hootches nearby.
    Almost as if a command had been given to the aircraft, there was a snarling
    roar of the single, four bladed propeller powering up, as it lay over on a
    sharp angle and dived straight down toward the green earth--the target.
    The hunter had spotted it’s prey and it was going in for the kill--nothing
    personal--just a war.
    Like watching the dive bombers in old World War II movies, the pilot dumped
    his weapon--it’s configuration could clearly be seen dropping
    away--wait--was there be a second bomb to deliver--the blunt-winged old
    plane did not pull up and out of the dive--what was going on? My God!!
    It was determined later by the force-recon team that went into the area on
    Huey choppers, that the A-6 Skyraider had taken groundfire through the
    windscreen--that the pilot had dumped his weapon on target probably the
    same instant that he had been mortally wounded.
    The sound of the A-6 impacting was an insignificant noise compared to the
    detonating weapon--that was to be followed by numerous secondary explosions
    indicating that the weapons cache was indeed where suspected. Off to the
    side approximately 1.5 K. meters, the black smoke of burning aircraft fuel
    mixed with licking flames so hot that the green foilage was started ablaze.
    Of course there were no firetrucks rushing to the scene--but in due
    course, one of the several Huey’s that had been airborne, landed nearby the
    pilots funeral pyre--any attempt other than a damage/casualty survey, would
    have been futile.
    The Marine Captain and Gunny had to leave for the scene--coffee but no chow
    this time. They invited the S-2 Chief to accompany them to the crash site.
    Permission was granted by the S-2 officer, so the three men hastily
    departed Camp Barnes, in the duece and a half truck Gunny was driving.
    When they arrived at the CuaViet River, they had to wait to be ferried
    across--normal operations had been replaced by the air show and finally the
    shock of seeing the crash--nothing personal--no one knew the pilot--just
    the fact of war. The oily looking black smoke column was still rising
    into the cloudless morning sky--the smell of it was heavy in the air.
    A security perimeter had been set up around the crash site--the sound of 20
    millimeter rounds ‘cooking-off’ set the stage for the potential
    danger--almost on the threesome’s arrival, a 300 gallon fuel drop tank that
    had broken loose on impact, exploded with a fury, scattering burning fuel
    over a wide area. The Captain, Gunny, and Senior Chief wandered over to a
    grounded Huey--the craft’s rotor was ‘spooling’ ever so slowly. It seemed
    that the force recon team had spotted suspects in the area where the ground
    fire had come from and now had three male Vietnamese in custody. As the
    three men approached the scene, it was clearly evident what was going
    on--they could sense the danger--sense that it was a terrible moment--smell
    the treat of harm being done to humans---nothing personal--it was war.
    The ‘talk-talk’ NCO (the interpreter)was screaming right into one of the
    suspects ears. Over the sound of the idling Huey--the cords and viens
    bulged in his neck--his blue and bloodshot eyes were wild with rage and
    anger. A dribble of blood come out of the suspects ear--his nose looked
    broken--like it had been mashed with something--. The other two
    suspects(shooters they called them) stood off to one side--a long wooden
    stick held their arms tied behind them. Their faces were not damaged as
    was the one being questioned, but their eyes had the look of terrified
    ‘Talk-talk’ continued to scream at the prisoner--the man being questioned
    seemed to have resigned to his fate--his one eye seemed not to be
    seeing--the other eye could not be seen--a blackened bloody feature on his
    bruised face exhibited that the eye may be totally missing.
    “Okay Major, show time--this little dink-head isn’t going to say a damn
    thing--he thinks we’re picking on him--I told him it was nuthin’
    personal--just war time”. With that statement, and the nearby Major’s
    affirmitive nod, two of the big sweating team members grabbed the small
    Vietmanese with the missing eye and litterly hurled him into the Huey’s
    cargo compartment. He lay there, unmoving, like a sack of garbage. The
    Major turned toward the other two prisoners and pointed to the older
    looking of the two and uttered a single word “YOU”. The retainer stick was
    yanked out from behind the prisoners arms and he too was tossed into the
    cargo compartment--his screams were not to be drowned out until the idling
    Huey began to ‘spool-up’--the heat and the rush of ground debris caused the
    onlookers to turn away as the moth-like craft lifted off and into the still
    smoke filled sky.
    The Captain, Gunny, and Senior Chief had remained standing off by
    themselves--the field glasses was still hanging from around the Captains
    neck. Now that the air was clear of the rotor wash, eyes followed the Huey
    into it’s flight pattern. Off to a slight angle from the onlookers on the
    ground, the Huey hovered--about 500 meters off the grounds surface--hovered
    and suddenly the door on the cargo hatch was slid open--the‘talk-’talk’
    suddenly grabbed the ears of the remaining suspect and screaming in his
    ears something in Vietnamese, twisted his ears so he had to look up toward
    the hovering chopper. From out of the craft a dark body size shape come
    hurtling--no announcement--no foreplay--nothing but the sheer realization
    that one of the prisoners was being thrown from the helicopter. All the
    while‘talk-talk’was screaming at the suspect being forced to watch the
    unbeilivable site. The prisoners screams of terror matched those screams
    of anger that ‘talk-talk’ was emitting. The Captain who had directed his
    field glasses upward let them fall away in obvious disbelief or disgust-his
    face was greyish-pale--his jaw sagged. A comparable description would have
    included Gunny and the Senior Chief--ashen faces like shock had already set
    in. The impacting body was like a period at the end of a
    sentence--compressing time to remember events--first the sounds of the
    breaking vegetation in the micro-second before the human body struck Mother
    Earth. The thud of the body seemed to cause a vibration in the feet of the
    shocked onlookers--so very alarmed that breathing was cought in the
    throat--a throat that was constricted with terror.
    ‘Talk-talk’ continuted screaming--yanking ears--forcing the prisoner’s head
    upward again--the prisoner had vomited--the drool laced with smears of
    blood dribbing off the pathetic looking chin--the small oriental had
    obviously bitten off his tounge for now blood was flowing liberally.
    Something was now hanging suspended out of the Huey’s door--dangling and
    twisting in the rotors turbulence--a body sized figure--the other
    prisoner--the one who had been pointed out by the Major--. My Dear God,
    are those screams that can be heard from the chopper--it can’t be--but it
    is. The bloodcurdling screams over the thumping sounds of the hovering
    craft, filtered downward and caused such terror in the remaining suspected
    shooter, that he collapsed in a heap on the ground. ‘Talk-talk’ walked off,
    seemingly unconcerned, and took a deep swallow of water from his plastic
    canteen. Nothing personal--just war.
    The three onlookers--the Captain, his Gunny, and their invited guest, the
    Senior Chief-- were ready to flee this ungodly scene--they knew at this
    period of time that war and rumors of war were swirling all about them.
    The VietCong and their sympathizers had entered peaceful hamlets and
    villages and decapitated or disemboweled innocent civilians. They had even
    conducted a style of terrorist activities unparalleled in the history of
    civilized man’s encounters--by all indications it would continue. The
    fighting at Khe Sanh, Con Thien, Hue, and throughout the tiny divided
    nation did not appear to have an end. The Huey settled in where it had been
    parked previously--eyes again turned away from the flung-up derbis. The
    prisoner who had been dangling out of the chopper was now the heap on the
    floor--motionless. ‘Talk-talk’ come back over to the man who had bitten
    his tounge so severly in a most reverent voice, quired the prisoner in his
    language--the prisoner lisped very badly with his swollen tounge and mouth
    but obviously saying something that could be understood by ‘talk-talk’.
    ‘Talk-talk’ thrust up his fingers in the ‘V’ for victory signal--the Major
    turned to the group of onlookers and actually smiled as he announced--
    “works every damn time”! The Captain made the sign of the cross on his
    chest over where the hanging binoculars were still strung and uttered “Holy
    Mother of God,forgive us,forgive us”. The Gunny and the Chief, though
    they did not speak, felt these words and hoped they would come to
    have some meaning for someone--NOTHING PERSONAL--IT’S JUST WAR.
  12. jim brady

    jim brady Well-Known Member

    Sep 22, 2009
    Simla, Colorado
    Snakedriver - I learned just before shipping out not to wear jungle fatigues or those nylon jungle boots flying. Guy reported into my Company stateside right from his stint in a Army burn ward. He was shot down in flames wearing Jungle Fatigues and boots. He fell asleep on his bunk one afternoon without his shirt on. The barracks was mighty quiet that night. Nuff said. I only wore Nomex - even filthy Nomex - after that.

    And Rooter, some things die awfully hard. I just hope good info from that prisoner. Sounds to me like no more crews died at his hands. Good riddance. Dong Ha is very familiar to me. Lost two friends there at the POL point via a Claymore.