Vietnam War Story – Medevac Meadow

As I mentioned before, I have been neglecting genealogy in favor of working on the second edition of 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 them on the ground. The following article (copyrighted in October 2021) 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 gunships 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 steel chest protector for Rocco. The Wild Deuce departed Katum toward the task force location, rendezvousing along the way with the Blue Max gunships, Precise Swords 12 and 12A. Meanwhile, another Red Marker relieved Blair, who returned to Quan Loi for fuel. Myers again shut down the artillery while the Red Marker FAC directed more bombs into the western tree line. In the early afternoon as the airstrike finished, the trio of helicopters neared the clearing. Myers briefed them on the situation and suggested a run in from the south. Precise Sword 12 deployed low to protect the Medevac, and Precise Sword 12 A remained as high bird to cover them both.

All Hell Broke Loose

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

Red Hat Clason, advisor to the Vietnamese 63rd Airborne Infantry Company,  stepped out in the clearing and watched the green colored smoke spew from the smoke grenade he had popped to guide The Wild Deuce. Behind the tree line, Philhower, advisor to 61st Company commander Captain Nguyen Van Nghiem, manned the FM radio. Everyone heard the distinctive whup-whup-whup of the Huey’s blades well before it entered the clearing.

Lieutenant Hwang, commander of the 63rd had stretcher bearers waiting in 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 southwestern 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 get the wounded on board and get to safety. 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” steel chest protector. At the same time, a third round shattered his left knee. The Medevac pancaked into the clearing. Copilot Lieutenant Leroy (Lee) G. Caurbarreaux 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, Caurbarreaux jabbed the UHF 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 going way past normal maximum and knew they were in trouble. He switched to 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. 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 Caurbarreaux had multiple cuts and bruises.

Precise Sword 12 immediately came to a hover in front of the burning wreck. First Lieutenant George Alexander swiveled the minigun under the Cobra’s chin, spraying the tree line. Warrant Officer Brian Russ, piloting from the back seat, rotated the gunship left and right, releasing salvo after salvo of high explosive rockets into the enemy position. Their ship sustained 29 hits including several that destroyed the cockpit canopy. One round blew the mic off Russ’s helmet, but the airmen held their position. Precise Sword 12A rolled in from above and strafed the tree line with rockets, minigun, and 40 mm grenade launcher. Chief Warrant Officer-2 Paul Garrity and his copilot Warrant Officer James Moran took several hits, although the enemy focused most of its attention on the lower gunship.

When the Medevac hit the ground, Philhower dropped the radio handset and sprinted toward the clearing, leaving Myers overhead in the dark. Even without radio communication, Myers knew the paratroopers 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. 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. The enemy did not venture into the clearing. The Blue Max gunships kept up covering fire as the two Red Hat Staff Sergeants pulled survivors from the wreckage and helped them to the friendly tree line.

Failed Rescue Attempts[6]

Modica’s Mayday call attracted numerous helicopters wanting to immediately pick up the injured crew. Precise Sword 12 escorted the first ship, call sign Killer Spade, as it approached the field. Intense ground fire erupted, and Killer Spade aborted the attempt. Meanwhile, back at Quan Loi, Captain Henry 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, to get his butt in gear. They had to go get Modica and his crew. Elliott scrambled into his clothes. Tuell had the Huey cranked when Elliott arrived at the flight line 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 Tuell got medical attention. Lieutenant John Read, Medevac 12, made the third attempt. At this point, Precise Swords 12 and 12A were low on fuel and completely out of ammo. Alexander briefed a new section of gunships that arrived on station to coordinate subsequent rescue attempts. Again, intense ground fire foiled the attempt and crippled the Medevac bird. A fourth attempt by Chief Warrant Officer Raymond Zepp, Medevac 21, had the same result.

Captain Myers advised the last two helicopters attempting a pickup to approach from the east directly over the Airborne position and land as close to the tree line as possible. However, those pilots flew the same pattern that failed all day. They came in from the south parallel to the Airborne position, exposing themselves to enemy fire the length of the field. Although the NVA crippled Medevac 12 and 21, both successfully landed several hundred meters from the firefight. Other helicopters in the area picked up those crews and took them to safety. But the wounded paratroopers and the injured crew of Medevac 2 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.[7] 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 Caurbarreaux, 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, the gunship crews received no awards.[8]

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 ArcLight mission to pound the enemy. But with the number of wounded and injured, 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 apparently were 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.


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 most of the fighters he controlled were F-100’s. He recalls at least one flight of  A-37’s and a few Vietnamese A-1E’s.  Prevett recalls:

“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.[9] 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.”[10]

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 asked him to call up 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. They may have been on the third helicopter turned away by ground fire trying to get into the clearing.

Until nightfall, Red Markers continued to direct airstrikes into the enemy positions. Red Marker 18, Lieutenant Gary Willis, 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.  One Red Marker dropped 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.[11] Early the next morning, the Medevac crew chief and copilot retrieved a few glass bottles of saline solution that survived the wreck and fire.[12]

Overnight, the artillery support from Oklahoma became even more important. The NVA assaulted the Airborne position three times during the night. The Proud Americans at Oklahoma responded each time 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 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 1700 hours the next day.

Brigadier General Robert M. Shoemaker flew in later that night 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.[13] 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 return in the morning with additional resources and a plan.

He arrived the next day at FSB Oklahoma with the promised reinforcements. Three Medevac crews flew Dustoff Hueys borrowed from the 45th Medical Company, Air Ambulance, out of Long Binh since all the Medevac birds were either committed elsewhere or out of commission. The 15th Medical Battalion commander flew in with his Huey to direct the Medevac birds. Six Blue Max gunships arrived along with their commander who flew a Huey B-Model gunship. A command and control helicopter carried the leader of the ground forces, his advisor, and the artillery command: Lieutenant Colonel Truong Vinh Phuoc, Vietnamese 6th Battalion commander; Red Hat Captain Myers, battalion senior advisor; Captain Hayden, commander of A Battery, 2nd of the 32nd Field Artillery; and the Vietnamese artillery commander. General Shoemaker flew his own Huey in overall control.[14]

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, according to Myers’s description:[15]

“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.[16] The prep was fired and the wood line was smoked[17] 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.[18] The plan worked almost to perfection. The Medevacs came in, loaded up and took off in short order. The first two in line made it out of the clearing without any damage, but the third ship was hit heavily, sank back to the ground, and began to burn. The Cobra commander immediately dropped into Medevac Meadow with his Huey gunship, picked up the men who had been on the third rescue bird, and safely exited the hot LZ. The next day Silver Stars were awarded to nine rescue participants. Nineteen days later, General Shoemaker received the same award. General Dong, commander of the Vietnamese Airborne Division, presented a Cross of Gallantry in a ceremony at FSB Oklahoma to Captain Hayden and Lieutenant Granberg for the excellent work by their 8-inch battery. Red Marker Radio Operator Jim Yeonopolus also received 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 1700 hours, the promised Arc Light mission hit the west side of Medevac Meadow. A light helicopter sent later to assess the damage was driven off by ground fire but not before seeing the NVA lining up their dead in rows. While there is no official estimate of the NVA casualties, they must have suffered tremendous losses based on the following: they made four frontal assaults across the open meadow into the dug-in Airborne position at the eastern tree line; FSB Oklahoma poured extremely accurate fire into the NVA western tree line; Air Force fighters bombed and strafed with 36 sorties during the two days; Blue Max Cobras flew numerous sorties expending rockets, minigun, and 40 mm grenades into the NVA position; and the B-52 Arc Light mission dropped 81 tons of explosives.The 61st and 63rd 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.”[19]


[1] The description of the following event is based on a number of sources, which contained sometimes conflicting detail: magazine article by then Captain Stephen F. Modica, U.S. Army Aviation Digest, June 1975; letter written by 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), and Major (R) Jesse Myers; a mission statement by Cobra pilots George Alexander and Paul Garrity, and other sources as individually footnoted.

[2] Grid Coordinates XU425098, per the History of the “Proud Americans” at ­­­­

[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 Aerial Rocket Artillery, 2nd Battalion, 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.

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

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

[8] The Blue Max aircraft commanders, Lt. Alexander and WO2 Garrity were recommended for the Silver Star, but that paperwork was lost. To date, neither received recognition for their skill and courage.

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

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

[11] The Red Marker is unknown. It could have been Lieutenant Blair, Lieutenant Byron L Mayberry, or Lieutenant Lawrence H. Shaevitz, all of whom are now deceased. The author suspects it was an O-2A FAC because Myers states the plane made several passes dropping containers from its armament shackles. The O-1 could only drop from all of its pylons at once using an emergency “jettison” button. The O-2 could select a single shackle and drop one at a time.

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

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

[14] 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

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

[16] 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.

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

[18] 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.

[19] Myers letter.

2 thoughts on “Vietnam War Story – Medevac Meadow”

  1. Gary,
    Great article and the men on the ground had no idea how complex it was to get fire support. We just saw the results. I can’t imagine being on the ground any place in Viet Name without this support. Your work saved thousands of American and Vietnamese allies lives. Sir I thank you.
    My best regards,
    Ron Rankin
    USMC 67-68

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