Henry Willis, Carpenter of Maryland and Philadelphia (1829-1906) Part 1

Who the heck is Henry Willis who died in Philadelphia in 1906? And, is he part of the “Maryland Group” in the Willis DNA Project? Most of the Maryland Group descend from John Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland who was born about 1650-1670 probably in Berkshire County, England. (See https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/willis/about)

Spoiler alert — I am not sure about Henry, although I have an opinion. This post consists of two parts. Part 1 below sets out the facts, factoids, and gaps in the records that have frustrated the search for Henry. Part 2 will offer a theory identifying his parents based on circumstantial evidence.

Here goes …

Henry is the brick wall in the Willis line of Erin Daniels who descends from Henry’s daughter Lola. Erin has searched for years for Henry’s parents and for a male descendant of Henry’s son Harry. Her story about Henry, much of which is confirmed in the 1900 census for Philadelphia:[1]

    • He was born about 1829 in Maryland. Both his parents were born in Maryland.
    • In about 1880, he married Martha Anne (Annie) Stewart born about 1846. She and her parents were born in Delaware.
    • Family legend says the couple ran off from her home near Glasgow, New Castle County, Delaware to be married in Elkton, Cecil County, Maryland near the Delaware border.
    • Henry and Annie lived in Philadelphia in 1900. She had four children between 1880 and 1885, two of whom died in infancy.[2]
    • Henry was a carpenter.

Beyond the 1900 Census and the records relating to daughters who did not survive, there are only a few pieces of record evidence about this family:  a few entries in the City Directory of Philadelphia; a baptism of their youngest son; a death certificate for Henry; the 1910 census after Henry’s death; and the 1920 censuses after the death of Annie. Here is what we learn from those data …

Philadelphia City Directories                

Henry Willis, carpenter, appears in the 1901 and 1904 city directories of Philadelphia with his home address of 1335 South Hicks . However, he does not appear in 1873, 1881, 1894, 1897, or 1898.[3] It is reasonable to conclude that he did not take up residence in Philadelphia until shortly before the 1900 Census. This obviously raises the question, “Where the heck was he?”

 Harry Willis 1888 Baptism  

Henry and Annie may have almost lost a third child. On 17 October 1888, they arranged for the minister of Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church to come to their home  and baptize their youngest child, Harry. The entry in the church record indicates the child was sick.[4] Often, a couple arranged for a home baptism if they feared their child was about to die. Thankfully, Harry lived to have children of his own.

Henry Willis 1906 Death Certificate

Carpenter Henry Willis died on 18 Sep 1906 and was buried at Hillside Cemetery in Philadelphia. His death certificate states he was born in Maryland and lived at 1335 So. Hicks Street. His death certificate does not name his parents or their place of birth. It states he died of kidney failure,[5]

1910 and 1920 Censuses

The widow Annie appears as Anna Willis in the 1910 census for Philadelphia as head of household with daughter Lola, son Harry, and five-year old granddaughter “Elsa.” [6] That census shows Lola working as a candy maker and Harry as a street car conductor. Both Lola and Harry are listed as single. Elsa apparently is Lola’s child. She appears with Lola Stevenson (neé Willis) in the next census as “Elva” Stevenson, age 14, along with four other children.[7] Harry appears in the 1920 Census with his wife Emma and four children ages eight through five. [8]

Missing Records

Here the frustration begins. There appear to be no other records that might help explain this family. For example, Henry Willis does not appear in certain census records, vital records, or probate records :

Census Records

Annie appears as Martha Anne/Annie Stewart in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses for Pencader Hundred, Glasgow Post Office, New Castle County, Delaware. She is in the household of her father James, a farmer in that community. However, Henry Willis does not appear in the 1850 through 1870 censuses for Maryland or any adjoining state. He should be named somewhere, but is not. Furthermore, Annie and Henry do not appear in the 1880 census. It is not all that uncommon for a person to be missed or a name misspelled in one census. However, it is highly unlikely for that to occur three or four times in a row, unless of course, that person wants to be missed. Erin Daniels also told me that Henry may have been a bit of a rascal or a troublemaker. It makes one guess that Henry might have used an alias.

Vital Records

There is no marriage record for the couple, nor are there birth records for any of their children except Harry’s twin Julia. There are no baptism records for any of their children except Harry, who was sick. There is no death record for Annie or for young Harry’s twin Julia. Again, some of this may be due to incomplete or lost records, or perhaps they are just not available online. However, given Henry’s absence in the census record, one has to ask, “Was the couple actually married? Did they use an alias?”

Probate Records

There are no probate records for Henry or Annie, which is not surprising. The couple apparently did not have significant assets. They did not own real estate; they always rented the place they lived. However, Annie Stewart was not from a poor family. She and her sister Mary were the only children of James Stewart and his wife Eliza. After her mother’s death between 1850 and 1860,  Annie continued living with her father. Her sister Mary married Henry Kendall in 1864,[9] and the couple lived on her father’s farm in 1870. Annie was also there in 1870. James Stewart died in 1874[10] owning real estate worth about $2,000 and $400 of personal property.[11]

There is no online probate information for New Castle County, Delaware beyond 1800. Therefore, we do not know whether Annie inherited anything. James Stewart’s probate file may not reveal anything about Henry Willis, but you never know. I will just have to make a trip to Wilmington or Dover when Covid abates, and check the original paper records.

This ends Part 1 and the litany of missing information. In Part 2 we will see if we can find Henry hiding in plain sight.

[1] 1900 Census Philadelphia, Ward 26, District 0628

https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DTG3-6M1?i=18&cc=1325221&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AM3W8-DKX

1335 Kick [sic South Hicks] Street

Henry Willis head May 1829 71 M20  MD MD MD Carpenter Rent House

Annie Willis wife Jun 1846     53 M20  4/2 DE DE DE

Lola Willis son [sic Dau] Apr 1882 18  S  PA MD DE

Harry Willis son  Oct 1885 14  S  PA MD DE

[2] A Philadelphia Death Certificate proves a daughter born in 1884 who died that same year: Elinar Jessie Willis, born 1884, died 22 Sep 1884 in Philadelphia, PA, age one month, female, father Henry Willis, mother Annie Willis, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/2233393:2535?tid=&pid=&queryId=c55646857b4faa216b36bf1856d9b842&_phsrc=DgH3&_phstart=successSource

And, a Philadelphia Birth Record proves a daughter born in 1885 who did not survive. She was a twin of Harry: Julia E. Willis, female, born 16 Oct 1885 in Philadelphia, father Harry Willis, mother Anna Willis

“Pennsylvania Births and Christenings, 1709-1950”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V2NV-K9B : 15 February 2020), Julia E. Willis, 1885.

[3] Philadelphia City Directories by various publishers as found on Fold 3.

[4] Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church Records, Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church,https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2451/images/40355_267328-00065?usePUB=true&_phsrc=tQw4&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&pId=7976645

[5] Philadelphia Death Certificate:

Henry Willis, male, white, married, date of birth unknown, date of death 18 Sep 1906, age 75 years, resided at 1335 So. Hicks Street, was ill for 10 days, chief cause of death Uraemia [kidney failure], contributing causes Nephritis [kidney disease] and myocarditis [inflammation of the heart], Dr. J. Moon Campbell/Camphill?, Philadelphia Hospital, date of burial 21 Sep 1906, place Hillside Cemetery, Undertaker Robert P. Martin, 1444 So. Broad St

“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JK37-W2X : 18 February 2021), Henry Willis, 18 Sep 1906; citing cn 23553, Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 1,319,466.

[6] 1910 Census Philadelphia Ward 40, District 1033, “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MGHQ-XJ2 : accessed 5 January 2022), Anna Willis, Philadelphia Ward 40, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 1033, sheet 7B, family 143, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1410; FHL microfilm 1,375,423.

1826 South Allison Street

Anna Willis F 63 Wid 4/2 DE DE DE Rents Home

Lola dau F27 Sing PA MD DE  Candy Maker in Candy Store

Harry son M 24 Sing PA MD DE Street Car Conductor

Elsa granddau F Sing PA PA PA

[7] 1920 Census, Philadelphia Ward 40, District 1453, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/77217633:6061?tid=&pid=&queryId=19c95d4c019145aa9bda5fa51a2c83eb&_phsrc=Vvv1&_phstart=successSource

5532 Paschall Avenue

James Stevenson M 37 PA PA PA Auto Mechanic Rents Home

Lola wife F 37                 PA DE MD

Elva Dau F 14  School  PA PA PA

James Son M 8 School  PA PA PA

Harry Son M 7 School  PA PA PA

Reba Dau F 5                   PA PA PA

Mildred Dau F 2 10/12 PA PA PA

[8] 1920 Census, Philadelphia, Ward 40, District 1461, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/77226506:6061?tid=&pid=&queryId=ccccee670eed5c7a101f6852bb057775&_phsrc=Vvv4&_phstart=successSource

6332 Theoadore Ave.

Harry Willis 34 M Phil MD DE Driver in Coal Yard Rents Home

Emma wife 28 F Phil PA PA

Harry son 8 M Phil Phil Phil in School

Ethel dau 7 F Phil Phil Phil in School

Helen dau 6 F Phil Phil Phil

Effie dau 5 F Phil Phil Phil

[9] Marriage date 28 Apr 1864 per Delaware Marriage Records, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1508&h=78789&tid=&pid=&queryId=dabeb42f303b1ebacf9892713f541bf5&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Vvv14&_phstart=successSource

[10] James Stewart (of Seth) death date 7 Dec 1874 per Presbyterian Church Records, 1701- 1970, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=61048&h=1500507877&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=7163

[11] 1850 Census Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/18428343:8054

James Stewart 44 M DE Farmer

Eliza                    44 F  MD

Mary E                     7 F DE

Martha A                5 F DE

John Stewart    46 M DE Farmer

David Willey    14 M DE

1860 Census Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, Glasgow Post Office, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/10383554:7667

James Stewart    53 M DE Farmer $2,800 real prop, $750 personal prop

Mary                         17 F DE

Martha                     14 F DE attends school

1870 Census Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, Glasgow Post Office, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1897649:7163

James Stewart    64 M DE Farmer $2,000 real prop, $400 personal prop

Martha                     24 F DE Keeps House

Henry Kendall      35 M DE Farm Hand [second family in same dwelling]

Mary E                     27 F DE Keeps House

Mary E                     5   F DE at Home

Ella May                  3  F DE at Home

Harry                        1 M DE at Home

Vietnam War Story – Medevac Meadow

As I mentioned before, I have been neglecting genealogy in favor of working on a follow up to the book Red Markers, Close Air Support for the Vietnamese Airborne, 1962 – 1975. The book recounts the history of the forward air controller unit — the Red Markers — I served with in Vietnam. This unit worked exclusively to support the Vietnamese Airborne and the American advisors — known as Red Hats — who served with the Airborne on the ground. The following article describes one of the more exciting engagements that occurred in 1970 during the incursion into the Fishhook region of Cambodia to destroy enemy base camps and supplies.

Medevac Meadow[1]

The Vietnamese 6th Airborne Infantry Battalion moved with the rest of the 1st Brigade from Song Be during early May, reinforcing the three battalions already engaged in the Fishhook. The battalion headquartered at Fire Support Base (FSB) Oklahoma while its troopers maneuvered in the region. FSB Oklahoma was about ten miles inside Cambodia off Highway 7 on the eastern edge of the Memot Rubber Plantation.[2] The fire base was the operational home of the 1st Brigade’s Artillery Battalion of 105 mm howitzers and the long range 8-inch howitzers of A Battery of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, the “Proud Americans.”

On 23 May, a task force of the 61st and 63rd Companies of the 6th Battalion encountered NVA troops during a ground sweep about eight miles southeast of FSB Oklahoma. After a brief fight, the NVA withdrew to the west side of a clearing oriented southeast to northwest, and the Airborne retired to the east. The battalion senior advisor, Red Hat Captain Jesse Myers overhead in a command-and-control helicopter called for artillery fire from FSB Oklahoma and asked Red Marker Control to divert some airstrikes to the enemy’s possible routes of withdrawal.

The artillery fire mission required extra caution. Only eighty meters separated the NVA on the west side of the clearing from the Airborne troopers on the east side. The standard safe distance from an 8-inch round with its 200 pounds of explosive was 100 meters for unsheltered personnel. A miscalculation could prove fatal. The howitzers’ alignment, elevation, and propellant charge had to be just right. The fire control center made its calculations and then double checked them. Then A Battery Commander, Captain Lee Hayden, double checked the “double check” by hand.[3] Myers watched the first shots land on target and gave the okay to fire for effect.

A Red Marker FAC arrived on scene and orbited to the east awaiting a set of fighters scrambled from Bien Hoa. Myers briefed the FAC and shut down the artillery when the fighters arrived. They bombed and napalmed the western tree line as darkness fell. The Airborne dug in for the night. Overnight, FSB Oklahoma stood ready if needed, but only sporadic small arms fire came from the opposite side of the clearing.

At dawn on the 24th, the NVA attacked in strength. The Airborne drove them back while suffering several killed and eight seriously wounded. Myers again called on the artillery at FSB Oklahoma and requested Red Markers direct some airstrikes on the NVA positions. Red Marker 16, Lieutenant David G. Blair, already in the air, diverted to the site to control immediate airstrikes aimed at possible routes of retreat. After the two Airborne companies secured the area, the Red Hats on the ground, Staff Sergeants Louis Clason and Michael Philhower, requested Medevac. Myers relayed the request to Brigade HQ and asked for gunship cover. The request went out to the 1st Air Cavalry’s Medevac and Blue Max gunship units at about 1100 hours.[4]

A Medevac helicopter piloted by “The Wild Deuce” (official call sign Medevac 2), First Lieutenant Stephen F. Modica, and a pair of Cobra gunships, Precise Swords 12 and 12A, received the requests for the evacuation mission.  Modica was en route from Phuoc Vinh to Katum when he got the call. Red Hat Sergeant First Class Louis Richard Rocco, happened to be on board hitching a ride to Katum. Rocco, a qualified medic and advisor to the Airborne’s Medical Battalion, sometimes volunteered to fly on Medevac missions. When Rocco heard Medevac 2 was going to pick up wounded paratroopers, he asked to stay on board and help. Modica landed at Katum, offloaded some supplies, and picked up a ceramic chest protector for Rocco. The Wild Deuce departed Katum toward the task force location.

Blue Max aircraft commanders First Lieutenant George Alexander Jr., Precise Sword 12, and Chief Warrant Officer–2 (CW2) Paul Garrity, Precise Sword 12A, were on Hot Alert at Quan Loi. They scrambled within the requisite two minutes from the time the alert horn sounded. Quan Loi Tower clear the flight of two to take off to the south. As Alexander and Garrity smoothly nosed over and headed down the runway, CW2 James “Bugs” Moran in the front seat of the lead ship radioed Blue Max operations on VHF for mission information.

“Blue Max ops, this is Precise Sword One Two airborne on scramble. Mission brief. Over.”

“Roger, Precise Sword Twelve. Mission is Medevac escort for pickup at XU5101 in a hot LZ. Depart Quan Loi heading 290 degrees, about seventeen klicks. Rendezvous with Medevac Two coming out of Katum.”

 “Roger, Blue Max. Copy all. Heading 290.”

Precise Sword flight tuned in Medevac’s standard frequency 33.00 FM and met The Wild Deuce on the way to the LZ. Meanwhile, Blair returned to Quan Loi for fuel and rockets while another FAC, most likely Lieutenant Byron Mayberry, Red Marker 19, arrived on scene with a flight of diverted fighter aircraft. Myers again shut down the artillery while the Red Marker directed more bombs into the western tree line. A few minutes after the airstrike finished, the trio of helicopters was several miles from the clearing. The Red Hats monitored the Medevac frequency awaiting contact. When Medevac 2 called in, Myers briefed them on the situation and suggested a run in from the south. Precise Sword 12  and the Wild Deuce descended to the deck two miles out. Precise Sword 12 A remained high to cover them both and give directions to the LZ.

“Medevac 2, hold this heading. I’ve got the clearing in sight about one klick. I’ve got green smoke on the eastern tree line.”

“Roger, Twelve Alpha. Got it.”

All Hell Broke Loose

The Wild Deuce and Precise Sword 12 came in low and fast just above the treetops. Modica wanted to give any North Vietnamese gunners only the briefest glimpse of the helicopter before setting down, loading wounded, and speeding away.

Red Hat Clason, advisor to the Vietnamese 63rd Airborne Infantry Company Lieutenant Hwang, stood in the clearing and watched green colored smoke spew from the smoke grenade he had popped. Behind the tree line, Philhower, advisor to 61stCompany commander Captain Nguyen Van Nghiem, manned the FM radio. They all heard the distinctive whup-whup-whup of the Huey’s blades well before it entered the clearing.

Lieutenant Hwang had stretcher bearers waiting outside the tree line with the seriously wounded troopers. Hwang and Clason waited tensely, hoping they could load the men without any trouble. Modica brought the ship into the clearing, lined up on Clason, and expertly flared for touchdown.

Just then, all hell broke loose. AK-47 and .51 caliber machine gun fire ripped into the cabin from the western tree line. The Cobra gunships responded immediately. They returned fire with 2.75-inch high explosive and flechette rockets, miniguns, and 40 mm grenade launchers, hoping to suppress the enemy fire long enough for Medevac 2 to complete its mission. The low bird turned hard to the left in front of The Wild Deuce to get lined up on the source of the fire. The high bird dove straight at the NVA positions unleashing a salvo of rockets. The Medevac’s door gunners opened up with their M-60 machine guns. Rocco fired his M-16 out the left door into the trees. Modica felt two enemy slugs glance off his “chicken plate” chest protector. At the same time, a third round shattered his left knee. The Medevac pancaked into the clearing. Copilot Lieutenant Leroy (Lee) G. Caubarreaux swiveled his head to give Modica some shit for such a bad landing before realizing Steve was hit. Lee immediately grabbed the controls. “I’ve got the ship!” he shouted over the intercom. As he pulled pitch and poured on full power, Caubarreaux jabbed the FM key, shouting now to the two Cobra gunships, “Precise Swords One Two and One Two Alpha, we are outta here! Cover us!”

Sergeant Clason hot-footed it out of the clearing as Medevac 2 spooled up and climbed toward safety. But safety was a long way off. Coming in hot and low to the clearing made the bird harder to hit. Liftoff was a different matter. The UH-1H helicopter took time to get back up to speed and out of the clearing. The NVA gunners got a clear view of the slow-moving Huey and unleashed everything they had. The entire western tree line lit up. From the left seat, Modica saw the RPM sliding past normal minimum and knew they were in trouble. He switched to VHF Guard channel and broadcast, “The Wild Deuce is going down! XU5101! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! XU5101!”[5]

At about 50 feet in the air, gunfire and aerodynamic stress ripped the tail boom from the ship.[6] The Huey spun out of control, crashing to the ground on its right side. Smoke billowed from the chopper as the fuel tanks burst into flame. In his C&C chopper, Myers watched in horror as the Medevac seemed to land, then shot almost straight up and fell to the ground on its side thrashing briefly like a wounded insect. He thought at first it had fallen on Clason.

In fact, Clason was not hurt — unlike the Medevac crew. Sergeant Gary L. Taylor, right side door gunner, died on impact, crushed by the aircraft. Medic SP5 Terry T. Burdette was badly burned and suffered multiple fractures. Crew chief and left door gunner, Sergeant Patrick Martin, was thrown clear and knocked unconscious. Rocco was also thrown clear, breaking a wrist and hip. Modica’s leg was shattered, and Caubarreaux suffered a crushed right shoulder, broken arm, and back injuries. He was trapped beneath Modica as the ship caught fire.

Precise Sword 12 lined up at low level to attack the tree line point blank with flechette rockets. Even before Alexander got lined up, Bugs Moran in the front seat swiveled the minigun under the Cobra’s chin, spraying the tree line. Meanwhile, Garrity with his copilot Warrant Officer (WO) James Nabours rolled in from above and plastered the tree line with rockets, minigun fire, and 40 mm grenades.[7] Both ships took numerous hits, but the Cobras pressed the attack. At one point, Moran asked George on the intercom, “Are we gonna die here?” Ignoring the tracers flying past, they made repeated head on passes into the NVA positions.[8]

When Medevac 2 hit the ground, Sergeant Philhower dropped the radio handset and sprinted toward the clearing, leaving Captain Myers overhead in the dark. Even without radio communication, Myers knew the paratroopers and Red Hats would try to get any survivors out of the downed bird. Lieutenant Hwang immediately sent a skirmish line of 63rd Company troopers forward to provide covering fire while Clason and Philhower approached the wreck and the Vietnamese got their injured away from the landing area and back in the tree line. The Blue Max gunships kept attacking the NVA positions as the Red Hats pulled survivors from the burning wreckage and helped them to the friendly tree line. Lieutenant Alexander noticed that one person getting people out of the burning Medevac “was not wearing Nomex – very odd for an aircrew.”[9] Myers informed FSB Oklahoma about the crisis in the clearing and asked for more artillery fire. The 8-inchers stepped up their fire on the western tree line, keeping the NVA’s head down. At one point each weapon had several rounds in the air at the same time. The enemy did not venture into the clearing in force.

Failed Rescue Attempts[10]

Modica’s Mayday call attracted numerous helicopters wanting to immediately pick up the injured crew and the wounded troopers. Precise Sword 12 escorted the first ship, call sign Killer Spade, as it approached the field. Intense ground fire erupted, repeatedly hitting the Huey, and Killer Spade aborted the attempt.[11] Meanwhile, back at Quan Loi, Captain Henry (“Hank”) O. Tuell, III, aircraft commander of Medevac 1, learned that the Wild Deuce was down. He shouted to his pilot Lieutenant Howard Elliott, who was in the shower at the time, “Get your butt in gear! We gotta go get Modica and his crew!” Elliott scrambled into his Nomex flight suit and boots. Tuell had the Huey cranked when Elliott arrived at the revetment still dripping soapy water.  Medevac 1 approached the clearing from the south, again escorted by Precise Sword 12, and took ground fire that wounded Tuell. Elliott took control and flew back to Quan Loi where Hank got medical attention. Meanwhile, Garrity notified Quan Loi they needed to launch the Cobra section sitting Blue Alert because this situation was not going to be resolved any time soon.

Lieutenant Thomas Read, Medevac 12, and his copilot Lieutenant Monty Halcomb were in the air 40 miles away northwest of Song Be when they heard the Mayday call. They sped toward the Fishhook and soon spotted the smoke rising from Medevac Meadow. They arrived just as Medevac 1 was taking hits and struggling to get out of the clearing.[12] At this point, Precise Swords 12 and 12A were low on fuel and completely out of ammo. The relief section of gunships led by CW2 Maurice A. “Mac” Cookson came on station to support subsequent rescue attempts. Cookson asked Alexander to mark the enemy position for him. Alexander replied, “No can do. I’m Winchester.[13] Just lower your nose toward that western tree line. The enemy will mark his position for you.” [14] Mac did as suggested, and a stream of tracers erupted toward his ship, precisely identifying the NVA locations. Mac responded with flechette rockets trailing their telltale red smoke. The Precise Sword flight limped their dinged Cobras to Quan Loi where maintenance grounded Alexander’s bird until they could install a new set of blades. Alexander pulled a slug from Garrity’s seat and presented it to him some years later preserved in an epoxy pyramid.

Cookson  and his wingman continued the attack on the NVA while Medevac 12 assessed their options. Read and Halcomb decided to approach over the friendlies in the eastern tree line instead of coming in from the south.[15] They came in just over the trees, made a right hand U-turn, and started down fast with their tail pointed at the NVA tree line. The NVA opened fire from the west and the north as Medevac 12 reached about 100 feet. The crew heard and felt the ship taking hits. The Huey began a severe vertical vibration at about fifty feet from the ground. Read aborted the descent, slowly climbed above the trees, and called, Mayday.” He set the wounded bird down in a clearing to the east and shut down the engine as CWO Raymond Zepp, Medevac 21, arrived on scene. Monty Halcomb jumped out of the Huey to assess the damage to their plane as Zepp landed close by to pick up the crew, if needed. Although there were numerous bullet holes in their ship and major damage to one rotor blade, Read and Halcomb decided to try to get it back to Quan Loi. They were successful, just barely. The ship went to the scrap heap a few days later, slung out under a Chinook.[16]

Medevac 21 took off from the clearing and flew back to the Meadow to make a fourth rescue attempt. However, Lieutenant Caubarreaux ordered him not to try. He said the LZ was too hot and there was no sense possibly losing another ship and another crew.[17] As the day ended, Medevac had lost three ships, one still smoldering in the Meadow and two heavily damaged – one that had to be scrapped. The crews of the two damaged birds had made it back to safety. But the injured crew of Medevac 2 and the wounded paratroopers would spend the night on the ground with no medical care except first aid.

Clason and Philhower were awarded the Silver Star for their actions. Vice President Agnew presented the awards at a ceremony shortly afterwards. Sergeant First Class Rocco was recognized several years later for rescuing survivors from the chopper and administering first aid before he became immobilized from his injuries.[18] He was awarded the Medal of Honor presented by President Gerald Ford in February 1974. The Medevac pilot and crew also received awards for bravery. Modica received a Silver Star and Caubarreaux, Taylor (posthumously), Burdette, and Martin each a Distinguished Flying Cross. Those were not the only awards conferred, for this engagement was far from over, but unbelievably, despite braving intense enemy fire in repeated head-on attacks, the gunship crews received no such awards.[19]

Jesse Myers knew what needed to happen next. The two Airborne companies had run into a buzz saw. But they had given better than they had gotten in return. They had a good defensive position and overwhelming artillery and air support. The only thing they did not have was mobility. Ideally, they would pull back and bring in a B-52 Arc Light mission to pound the enemy. But with the number of injured on hand, the paratroopers could not easily withdraw. They would not abandon their wounded, and they could not easily move them. They needed to hold their position until after a successful evacuation of casualties. Some of the enemy fire now came from the north and south sides of the clearing. The NVA may have been attempting to flank the two companies or at least be in position to score more hits on helicopters they knew would be coming. Myers adjusted the artillery to compensate.

Airstrikes

That afternoon, the Red Markers diverted more strike aircraft to Medevac Meadow, where Myers informed them of the expanded targets. For several hours, fighter aircraft bombed and strafed the enemy-held tree lines on the north, south, and west sides of the clearing. Red Marker 26, Lieutenant Lloyd L. Prevett, piloting an O-2A from Phuoc Vinh, flew 4.8 hours, his longest mission of the war. The twin engine O-2A had a rocket pod of seven rockets under each wing. During his mission, Prevett expended all fourteen smoke rockets, one at a time, marking different strike locations around the perimeter of Medevac Meadow. After running out of Willie Pete, he marked targets with smoke grenades tossed out of the pilot-side window. Prevett remembers controlling mostly F-100’s, with at least one flight of  A-37’s, and a few Vietnamese A-1E’s.  Prevett recalled:

“One interesting note is I requested a flight with wall-to-wall nape and 20 mm, figuring it would be a standard load of snake and nape.[20] I was shocked when a flight of two F -100’s showed up with just nape and 20mm. When I put them in, the nape uncovered a fortified bunker and of course, no snake to employ. Took care of that on the next flight. My hat is off to all the fighter pilots that showed up that day. They put their asses on the line to ensure each and every drop was right where it was needed. Gives me shivers today thinking about what everyone did to try and protect the guys on the ground.”[21]

Lloyd did not record the number of strikes he directed, but remembers being amazed on his way back to Phouc Vinh at the amount of grease pencil writing on the side window. He had scribbled on the plexiglass the standard info for each flight — mission number, call sign, number of fighters in the flight, ordnance load, expected time of arrival on scene, and bomb damage assessment. Given the number of strikes Prevett controlled, it is a wonder he saw anything through that window.

The O-2A could fly for more than six hours if conserving fuel with a lean mixture at cruise power setting. But directing airstrikes with the mixture rich and power often “balls to the wall” for almost five hours, Prevett’s O-2 was near minimum fuel when he landed at Phuoc Vinh. The crew chief refueled and rearmed the Skymaster, cleaned the inside of the window, and the detailed record of those strike missions was lost to history.

Radio operator Sergeant Jim Yeonopolus manned Red Marker Control outside the Airborne Tactical Operations Center at Quan Loi. He remembers the firefight became more hectic about 1500, when the FACs called for additional airstrikes. As daylight faded, the fighting became more intense. Earlier, Red Hat Sergeants John A. Brubaker and James H. Collier asked Yeonopolus if he would accompany them to the Meadow and stay on the ground overnight to call in air support if needed. Jim told them he would be more effective with his full set of radios at Quan Loi. Brubaker and Collier did not make it into Medevac Meadow.

Until nightfall, Red Markers continued to direct airstrikes into the enemy positions. Lieutenant Gary Willis, Red Marker 18, in his Bird Dog controlled two more F-100 flights just before dark. According to Captain Myers, the Red Markers directed 36 tactical air sorties during two days at Medevac Meadow.[22]  Myers saw one FAC make low passes to drop canisters of water to the Red Beret troopers who had not been resupplied for two days. Most of the containers missed the mark or burst upon landing, but some made it into the perimeter intact.[23] Early the next morning, the Medevac crew chief and copilot retrieved from the destroyed Huey a few glass bottles of saline solution that survived the wreck and fire.[24]

Overnight, artillery support from Oklahoma became even more important. The NVA attacked the Airborne position three times during the night and were repulsed each time. The Proud Americans at Oklahoma responded with precise artillery fire, sometimes extremely close to the eastern tree line. Many of those gunners had not slept much during the last 48 hours. The Red Hats also called on flare ships and Air Force gunships to help defend the Airborne position.

A Rescue Plan

Myers returned to the 6th Battalion’s command post at FSB Oklahoma, monitoring the situation on the ground via the radio net. At the firebase, he received a surprise visit from Lieutenant General Michael S. Davison, II Field Force Commander, who asked simply, “What do you need, Captain?” Myers replied, “Sir, I need a B-52 strike.” Davison said, “You’ve got it.” The general left and ordered an Arc Light mission for 1500 hours the next day.

Brigadier General Robert M. Shoemaker flew in later to be briefed on the situation. Shoemaker was a principal architect of airmobile warfare concepts and an experienced helicopter pilot. He flew his own command and control chopper throughout his tour.[25] Shoemaker listened to all the information about the condition of the wounded (there were now about 40 casualties), the resupply situation, and the ability of the troopers to hold on. He vowed to round up additional resources and return in the morning with a plan.

Overnight at Quan Loi, the 15th Med and Blue Max created a plan that met Shoemaker’s approval. The 15th lost so many aircraft damaged or destroyed the first day, it borrowed several Dust Off Hueys for non-combat missions.[26] That freed up enough Medevac birds to send four on the rescue – three as primary and one as backup. Blue Max committed six gunships to the mission, half the entire C Battery fleet.

Early the next day, Shoemaker flew into FSB Oklahoma to brief the Airborne and the artillery commanders on the plan. Also attending the briefing were the commander of the Medevac birds and a major representing Blue Max command, each in his own helicopter. After a fifteen minute briefing, the three left to rendezvous at Medevac Meadow with the Hueys and Cobras coming from Quan Loi. An additional command and control helicopter carried Lieutenant Colonel Truong Vinh Phuoc, Vietnamese 6th Battalion commander; Battalion Senior Advisor Captain Myers; Captain Hayden, commander of A Battery, 2nd of the 32nd Field Artillery at FSB Oklahoma; and the Vietnamese artillery commander. General Shoemaker flew his own Huey in overall control.[27]

Beginning at 0930, Red Markers directed a series of strikes into the perimeter of Medevac Meadow controlled by the well-bunkered NVA. As the airstrikes ended at 1100, the fleet of fourteen helicopters arrived on station. According to Myers’s description:[28]

“The plan was for the LZ to be ringed by Arty fire, friendly troops, and gunship suppressive fire. After we were airborne, we first adjusted the Arty. There were two ARVN 105mm How batteries, an ARVN 155 mm How battery, and the American 8-inch battery.[29] The prep was fired and the wood line was smoked[30] and then the extraction was started. Arty fires were not shut down, but shifted to form a corridor through which the Medevac ships were to fly. The gunships formed a continuous “daisy chain” whereby suppressive fire was kept on the area of greatest enemy concentration.”

After the artillery adjustment, Shoemaker flew his chopper at low level the length of the field to check the safety of the corridor before clearing the gunships and Medevac birds to proceed.[31] The plan worked almost to perfection. CW2 Mac Cookson led the flight of six Blue Max Cobras spaced out to keep continuous fire on the NVA. The three primary Medevacs came in, loaded up and took off in sequence. The first two made it out of the clearing without any damage. CW2 Richard Tanner, Medevac 24, came in first and picked up the surviving crew of Medevac 2 at about 1115. Captain Jack Roden, Medevac 7, landed second and took off with most of the wounded paratroopers. The third ship, Medevac 25 commanded by CW2 William Salinger picked up the last few wounded paratroopers but was hit heavily taking off. His ship sank back to the ground and caught fire. Before the backup bird flown by CW2 Denny Schmidt, Medevac 23, and his copilot Monty Halcomb could react,  another Huey dropped into Medevac Meadow beside the burning ship. Salinger and his crew shuttled the wounded Vietnamese aboard the rescue bird, and they safely exited the hot LZ. No one knows for sure who flew that unidentified Huey.[32]

Several days later, General Shoemaker presented “impact” awards to some of the rescue participants in a ceremony at Bien Hoa Air Base.[33] One recipient was Cobra aircraft commander CW2 Mac Cookson. Mac received a Silver Star for his contribution to the fight. Nineteen days later, General Shoemaker received the same award. At FSB Oklahoma, commander of the Vietnamese Airborne Division General Dong presented a Cross of Gallantry to Captain Hayden and to Lieutenant Granberg for the excellent work by their 8-inch battery. Red Marker Radio Operator Jim Yeonopolus was also awarded a Cross of Gallantry recognizing his work during the engagement.

Back in the Fight

Relieved of their serious casualties, the Airborne companies withdrew a couple of klicks to the southeast. Resupply choppers soon arrived with food, water, ammo, and medical supplies. At 1500 hours, the promised Arc Light mission hit the west side of Medevac Meadow. A light helicopter flew over later to assess the damage. Surviving NVA drove it off with ground fire but not before the pilot saw numerous dead and a lot of destroyed concrete bunkers. While there is no official estimate of enemy casualties, the NVA must have suffered tremendous losses given the facts. They made four frontal assaults across the open meadow into the dug-in Airborne position. The artillery units at FSB Oklahoma poured extremely accurate fire into the NVA tree line. Air Force fighters bombed and strafed the NVA bunkers with 36 sorties during the two days. Blue Max Cobras flew at least 30 sorties expending rockets, minigun, and 40 mm grenades into the NVA position. The B-52 Arc Light mission dropped 81 tons of explosives.

The 61st and 63rd Airborne Companies swept the area the next day capturing weapons, signal equipment, and some wounded combatants. Some of those were in a hospital complex. The two companies continued to battle in the Fishhook until withdrawn with the rest of 6th Battalion on 25 June. At that point, each company had about 40 effectives remaining of their original 100 troopers. The engagement at Medevac Meadow impressed Myers in a number of ways, as he wrote in his letter to U.S. Army Aviation Digest:

“I saw time and again the courage and concern of one pilot on behalf of another. I saw outstanding teamwork between ARVN and American forces, between air and ground forces, and between combat and combat support forces. I saw magnificent employment of air/ground coordination to provide massed fires. I saw commanders all the way up to the three-star level who were vitally interested and concerned for the welfare of their men and who were willing to get personally involved to remedy a bad situation. And finally, I saw raw courage and heroism displayed time and time again by U.S. and ARVN soldiers alike.”[34]


[1] The description of the following event is based on numerous sources, some of which contain conflicting detail: Dust Off: Army Aeromedical Evacuation in Vietnam by Peter Dorland and James Nanney; magazine article by then Captain Stephen F. Modica, U.S. Army Aviation Digest, June 1975; letter written by former Red Hat Major Jesse W. Myers in response to that article; emails among various surviving participants including Jerry Granberg and Ralph Jones (artillerymen), Patrick Martin (Medevac crew chief), Major (R) Jesse Myers, Monty Halcomb (Medevac pilot), Major (R) George Alexander, former CW2 Paul Garrity, and CW3 (R) Mac Cookson (Cobra pilots); Oral History and other statements by Warrant Officer Rocco; mission statements by Alexander and Garrity, by Henry Tuell (Medevac pilot); various reports of awards and citations/orders related to same; and other sources as individually footnoted.

[2] Grid Coordinates XU425098, per the History of the “Proud Americans” at ­­­­ https://proudamericans.homestead.com/VIETNAM_1963-1971-1.pdf

[3] Emails July 2021, former Lieutenant Jerry Granberg, second in command, A Battery, 2nd of the 32nd Field Artillery.

[4] Medevac Platoon, 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Division, and C Battery, 2nd Battalion Aerial Rocket Artillery, 20th Artillery Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division.

[5] The grid coordinates Modica screamed into the mike designated a one-kilometer square of territory about five miles inside the Fishhook north of Tay Ninh Province, South Vietnam. In an article Modica wrote for the magazine U.S. Army Aviation Digest, he incorrectly stated the coordinates as XU5606, which is right on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam rather than five miles inside. Chalk that up to the “Fog of War” and frailty of human memory. Interestingly, “5606” is the designation of the hydraulic fluid used in the Huey, which might explain why the number came to Modica’s mind while writing from memory about five years later. According to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots’ Association, XU507010 is the six digit grid coordinate for the downed Medevac, tail number 69-15121.

[6] Precise Sword 12, Lt Alexander did not see the tail boom break away, but did notice that the tail rotor was not operating as te Wild Deuce tried to climb.

[7] Another Cobra pilot, WO Brian Russ, claims to have been flying Precise Sword 12 with Alexander in the front seat. Aircraft commander Alexander disputes that claim. Cobra commanders Garrity and Cookson also believe that Russ was not involved in the mission.

[8] Rocco’s oral history recorded in 1987 testifies to the volume of fire. The crew does not believe they would have gotten safely to the tree line without the protection of the Blue Max Cobras. The damage inflicted on the helicopters speaks for itself.

[9] Statement by George Alexander, in possession of the author. That person could have been Red Hat Rocco, Clason, or Philhower, who all wore camouflage fatigues. Modica and Caubbareaux wrote that Rocco pulled then from the wreckage.

[10] Details of the failed rescue attempts are primarily from several sources:

[11] Killer Spade was the unit call sign used by B Company, 229th Aviation Battalion (Assault Helicopter), part of the 1st Cavalry Division

[12] Emails and telecon, Jan 2022, with Cecil M. (Monty) Halcomb, former Captain, USA pilot on Medevac 12, later aircraft commander of Medevac 8.

[13] Winchester – flyers slang for “out of ammo.”

[14] A basic rule of modern warfare – “Tracers work both ways.” Tracers help a gunner see how close the gunfire is to the target, but they reveal the gunner’s exact position.

[15] Jesse Myers recalls advising Medevac 12 to make such an approach. Monty Halcomb does not remember that communication.

[16] Halcomb telecom. Also, Joe Baugher’s Serial Number website lists UH-1H tail number 69-15139 as written off on 26 May 1970. That may have been Medevac 12. http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1969.html

[17] From Halcomb. Lee used Modica’s survival radio to communicate with Zepp.

[18] From the Citation to accompany the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Warrant Officer (then Sergeant First Class) Louis Richard Rocco.

[19] The Blue Max aircraft commanders, Lt. Alexander and CW2 Garrity were recommended for the Silver Star, but that paperwork was lost. To date, each has been awarded an Air Medal with V device for Valor. Attempts to upgrade the awards to Silver Stars have been denied.

[20] Snake and Nape – Air Force slang for High-drag bombs (“Snake”) and Napalm (Nape”), a standard ordinance load for situations with troops in contact.

[21] Emails with Colonel Lloyd Prevett, USAF (Ret), Dec 2020.

[22] Most of those strikes were controlled by Red Markers Dave Blair and Byron Mayberry (both now deceased) and Lloyd Prevett.

[23] The FAC who made these drops is unknown. None of the surviving Red Markers or crew chiefs remember such a mission. Medevac pilot Monty Halcomb recalls a sector FAC, call sign Rod 15, who flew from Quan Loi as being the one involved. The Rod FACs supported the 5th Vietnamese Infantry Division, a unit not involved in the Fishhook operation. However, if Rod 15 were in the air, he would have heard the Mayday call and could have learned of the plight of the men on the ground. The author continues the search for Rod 15.

[24] Emails, Jan-Jul 2021, former Sergeant Patrick Martin, crew chief on Medevac 2, Medevac Platoon, 15th Medical Battalion.

[25] Lieutenant General (R ) H.G. “Pete” Taylor, telephone interviews, January 2021.

[26] The borrowed helicopters were from the 45th Medical Company, Air Ambulance, out of Long Binh.

[27] Shoemaker logged 14.3 hours flying time on 25 May 1970 per Individual Flight Record, DA Form 759-1, Archives Texas A & M University – Central Texas

[28] From Myers’s letter to U.S. Army Aviation Digest, undated but shortly after June 1975.

[29] Myers does not know the location of the Vietnamese batteries engaged in this effort. The Vietnamese had their own forward observers and controlled their own batteries.

[30] With white phosphorous shells to screen the evacuation flight path

[31] Per General Order Number 2605, Award of the Silver Star Medal (First Oak Leaf Cluster) to Brigadier General Robert M. Shoemaker, 13 June 1970. The first award of the Silver Star and of a Distinguished Flying Cross to then Colonel Shoemaker came in 1965 as a Battalion Commander with the 12th Cavalry Regiment.

[32] No one to date has been able to identify the Huey that picked up the people from Medevac 25. Participants agree it was not the Medevac commander’s Huey. They also agree it was not C Battery commander Major Donald Eugene “Gene” Wilson, because C Battery has no aircraft except Cobras. It might have been the Huey that carried the Bule Max command representative – someone from battalion headquarters at Phuoc Vinh. It might have been one of the ships from the 1st Cavalry Division’s Assault Helicopter Company, call sign Killer Spade. It is a mystery.

[33] A so-called impact award did not go through the normal steps requiring recommendation, review and approval. An appropriate authority could grant such an award to give immediate recognition for actions that had a significant impact on a battle or mission.

[34] Myers letter.