Larry Busbee's (Pilot of AC/465) story of Kham Duc
as told to Earl Evans, June 20, 1993
The White House was trying to tone down the Vietnam war a
little, because the news media was having a field day firing
on the President. Khe Sanh had given the VC several victories
over our government. Lots of money spent on equipment with large
U.S. troop losses. The last thing they needed would be another
Khe Sanh type battle break out. So, with reports of the VC starting
a big troop movement into the Kham Duc area, the White House
was putting out orders to evacuate Kham Duc Air Base under a
very low key.
Story has it that had we started resupply of Kham Duc about
a month before, verses one week before, that the place may not
have been over run by some 5,000 VC.
Resupply of Kham Duc was on a daily basis, usually like the
last load or two of the day. Always scary because it was about
40 miles out past all friendly's. Being last loads, we were always
low on fuel and in position to run into trouble, with night fall
coming on. All knew that the potential of trouble was very great.
Normally their sorties were approx. 20 minute flights and most
always internal loads. Meaning you would have to stop on the
runway and shut down to unload. Always a little sign of relief
when you'd power up with everything coming on line for a smooth
lift off for home.
Sunday, May 12, 1968, started early, but not at day break
as some had stated in the past. But all sorties were scheduled
to be take out loads only. Starting out as a routine operation
extraction,------but changing to an all out------ "at all
cost" evacuation of troops.
Six aircraft were sent to the extraction. I remember 4 aircraft,
(In order - 1st-475, 2nd-459, 3rd-465, and 4th being 460) all
entering from the north east and banking around to land on the
south west. My aircraft, being Boxcar 465, coming in third, could
see Boxcar 475 getting blasted by enemy fire. Plus see aircraft
#2, Boxcar 459, taking small arms fire as well. Boxcar 475 hit
badly and burning hit the runway hard. Didn't look as though
anyone could have survived the hits plus the impact at which
it hit the ground. The #2 aircraft was also hit and was cutting
back out of final approach. After such a warm welcome to Kham
Duc on that 8 AM extraction, most of the remaining aircraft broke
out of formation. Some going to LZ Ross, and Baldy. Some went
back to Chu Lai to get more fire support, which in most cases,
ended up being more ammo and the addition of a ramp - tail gunner.
The aircraft that returned to Kham Duc were 459, 469, 460, 465,
and 466 of the 178 Assault Support Helicopter company.
There was a command aircraft flying around from battalion,
call sign "Arab 3". This huey along with Boxcar 459,
took turns trying to coordinate all of the sortie extractions
and conduct the evacuation in some kind on orderly fashion. With
the Air Force, Marines, and the Army trying to evacuate Kham
Duc at an "at all cost" operation. It looked at times
like a Chinese fire drill. Every man for himself.
During one of our extractions back to LZ Ross. We heard over
the radio, "Boxcar 469, hit bad and going down," time
was around 4 PM with still lots of people on the ground to extract.
Cleared for lift-off, we headed back to Kham Duc. On final approach,
we could see the destroyed Boxcar 475 and the burning wreck of
Boxcar 469. While talking with Smiley, who was pilot of Boxcar
464, he told us that they had picked up 469's gunner, Dan Shoplock,
and that the rest of the crew were safe. Couldn't believe my
ears when I heard that Kemp, the co-pilot of 469 had fired up
a downed Huey and flew the thing out to safety. Guess, nobody
was going to keep that boy down on Kham Duc for too very long.
We were in and out that day recording a total of eleven sorties.
Sometimes we really packed the aircraft, largest being around
70 people. Some of the lesser runs carrying around 40 to 45 packs.
We had only received one hit from enemy fire during that whole
day of extractions. Finally at end of the day there was a call
from command "crown." Calling out for a list of all
aircraft still on a 3 mile flight of Kham Duc, to respond please.
We were the only aircraft to respond to that call. Command
stated "Boxcar out---everybody out." We told command
that we were the last aircraft lifting off the runway. So, we
must have been the last aircraft out of Kham Duc period. We called
out over the airways for all other Boxcars to join up and get
the hell out of the area. We were the only Boxcar aircraft to
return to Chu Lai at that time.
Thank God, no one of our unit were killed or injured during
the Kham Duc evacuation of May 12, 1968. There were 259 civilian
killed (plus 100 more that were on the C-130 crash) 25 - U.S.
Army troops, 2 - CH-47 Chinooks, (AC's 475 and 469) 2 - Marine
CH-46's, 2 - Air Force C-130's, 1 - UH-IB Army Huey helicopter,
and 1 - 0-2 Air Force Light Air Control aircraft destroyed that