A stake driven in the ground at Phan Rang established the first home for Blue Stars and Jokers. Those believing home base to be a permanent duty station soon discovered the 48th AHC wandering through the Central Highlands in support of friendly forces operating inland from sandy beaches along the South China Sea to mountainous jungles bordering Cambodia and Laos. For a unit heavily involved in combat, danger became a relative thing. Blue Stars and Jokers faced dangers more real and deadly than one in a peacetime setting can imagine. Combat assaults under enemy fire were commonplace. Gun strikes against heavily defended positions became a matter of routine. Emergency extractions of surrounded patrols were a fact of life. Yet, only a handful of these events were ever recorded.
Major Jones’s odyssey with the 48th's begins in Operation Jefferson. Free World Military Forces then comprising the 47th ARVN Regiment and the 2nd Republic of Korea (ROK) Marine Brigade conducted the operation from December 31, 1965 until January 17, 1966 to secure the rice harvest in the Tuy Hoa valley. Supported by the 117th and 129th aviation companies as well as an attachment of Marine Corp H-34's from HMM 363, this multinational force engaged elements of the 95th NVA Regiment. The force opened nearby Highway 1 and blocked sea infiltration routes in the area of Vung Ro Bay, the natural harbor immediately south of the valley.
On December 29, 1965 two Joker gunships departed Phan Rang for Tuy Hoa to add to and train with 117th through January 6, 1966. Accompanying Captain Carl R. Jones were Captains Morris Steenson, Donald Kelsey, and CWO Dominik Guccione. During this period the 48th received its first aircraft hit from hostile fire on January 2. The UH-1B helicopter with tail number 64-14084, flown by Captain Jones received a hit from small arms fire just below the horizontal stabilizer while escorting a medevac helicopter. This occasion, incidentally, happened on Captain Jones’s birthday.
Operation Van Buren brought the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division to Tuy Hoa on January 18. They joined with the other ground forces already massed there to engage the 95th NVA, the 3rd Viet Cong Regiment and local Viet Cong companies operating in the valley. As the "Screaming Eagles" arrived from Phan Rang they moved into areas from whence they operated until February 20. Joker 1 and the 48th provided aviation support to the 1/101st, the 2nd ROK Marine Brigade, and the 47th ARVN Regiment.
The 48th mastered night operations during Operation Van Buren. It was March 12 when two battalions of the 1/101st assaulted enemy positions at the close of a B-52 bombing raid. Commencing at 0100 hours, Joker 1 was out in front of 36 troop carrying UH-1D’s and 11 other UH-1B gunships mustered from the 10th Combat Aviation Battalion. For two hours helicopters flew through volleys of automatic gunfire onward to landing zones lighted by pathfinders. Although visibility was poor and the landing zones practically impossible to see, the mission was a success and considered the largest sized nighttime assault on record in the Republic of Vietnam. Captain Jones returned to Phan Rang with the 48th on March 15 and remained there until mid April.
On April 11, the 48th left Phan Rang and joined the 1/101st near Phan Thiet. Intelligence reports about widespread acts of terrorism north and west of the coastal town concluded that a large Viet Cong stronghold existed somewhere along the II and III Corps boundary. Austin II included a two-phase sweep around Phan Thiet. Phase I patrolled westward and ended on April 19. With the exception of two large combat assaults, airlifts of up to five helicopters normally supported small unit search and destroy missions. The night of April 20 marked the onset of Phase II when Joker 1 and the 48th took the 1/327 into multiple landing zones north of Phan Thiet. For the second time, the 48th was recognized for flying the largest combat assault on record. But for all the searching near Phan Thiet, the original intelligence reports were wrong. The Viet Cong did not have a massive stronghold at all.
Many of the aircrews flew
back to Phan Rang for a 4-day rest following Austin IV.
Those remaining in the field proceeded to Cheo Reo only to be rejoined by
the 48th's main body on May 24. The
stay at Cheo Reo lasted six days without significant action. Thus, orders
canceling Operation Trooper sent the 48th and Captain Jones northwest in support
of Operation Hawthorne.
By now Joker 1 and the 48th
were 250 nautical miles away from Phan Rang participating in a mission to
relieve the Tou Moroung outpost from harassing mortar fire lobbed in by the 24th
NVA Regiment. The siege of this
Special Forces camp atop a mountain near Dak To kicked off continuous enemy
contact throughout 16 days and nights of bitter fighting.
Warrant Officer Towler recalled extracting troops from Pick Zone Suzanne
midway up the mountain.
On the second lift, automatic weapons fire opened up from a ridgeline to
the right of the pickup point. Jokers
led by Captain Jones laid down suppressive fire.
After hitting the line with rockets and machine guns the slicks once
again attempted a landing. This
time no fire was received and the troops were safely lifted out.
Towler would later report that, “either Charlie had been eliminated or
he was too busy keeping his head down.”
It was here too, that Captain Jones received his promotion to major. Then on June 18, Major Jones won his first Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for “flying a UH-1B armed helicopter in support of a combat assault near Dak To.” When the assault ships came under heavy fire Major Jones established a fix on the enemy and fearlessly attacked their positions allowing the assault to continue.
Although the 48th expected to stay at Dak To for 5 or 6 months it finished Operation Beauregard and returned with Major Jones to the beaches of Tuy Hoa on July 17, 1966.
John Freiberger III, Macedon, NY, March 5, 2000
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