Vernon H. Parker, Jr.
Corporal, United States Marine Corps
My brother Vernon H Parker, Jr. was in the
Marine Corps and killed by friendly fire in Vietnam. He is presently
buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
On 25 September 1966, Captain Phillip A. Ducat, pilot; First Lieuenant Dean W. Reiter, co-pilot; Corporal Vernon H. Parker, Jr., crewchief; Lance Corporal Arthur W. Green, door gunner; and HM3 Peter R. Bossman, corpsman; comprised the crew of a UH34D Sikorsky Seahorse helicopter on a night "dust-off" medical evacuation mission. The helicopter was to pick up Marines who had been wounded while engaged in heavy combat with enemy forces along Highway 9 in the jungle covered mountains during Operation Prairie. Weather conditions during this mission included a very bright full moon.
Highway 9 was a primary east-west road that ran from the South Vietnamese/Lao border nearly to the coastline where it intersected Highway 1, the primary north-south road that paralleled the coastline nearly the entire length of Vietnam. Highway 9 became a major part of the North Vietnamese infiltration route once they crossed into South Vietnam from the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.
When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.
Captain Ducat was heard over the radio talking with the Artillery Command Center at Camp Carroll requesting a "SAVE-A-PLANE" vector away from the artillery fire support mission in which the Camp's artillery batteries were currently engaged. The command center gave him a specific sector for the medevac flight to safely operate in.
According to Ron Osborne, pilot; and Bennie C. Phillips, crewchief of one of the gunships; between 1900 and 2000 hours, the crew of the second Seahorse descended to the landing zone (LZ) to pick up some of the wounded Marines. After the wounded were secured aboard the medevac, the aircraft climbed for altitude to rejoin the rest of the flight that was waiting for it near the Rockpile at 4,000 feet.
According to two gunship crewmen, the flight was flying from the south toward the north and the demilitarized zone (DMZ) when Captain Ducat radioed for a change in the order of aircraft in the flight in preparation to pick up other wounded Marines. Phil Ducat was in the process moving his aircraft into the lead when it was struck in the pilot's compartment by an artillery shell from Camp Carroll's artillery battery.
The two escort gunships were approximately 75 yards in trail behind the two medevac aircraft when it exploded. The crews reported they watched in horror as the medevac helicopter instantaneously turned into a fireball with the main "rotor head going one way and the aircraft itself going straight down on fire like a flare."
At the time of loss it was believed none of the crew was able to escape the fireball, and that the intense fire of the crash consumed all remains. Phillip Ducat, Dean Reiter, Arthur Green, Vernon Parker and Peter Bossman were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
The Seahorse crashed and burned just to the south of Highway 9 approximately 11 miles west-southwest of Dong Ha, 13 miles northeast of Khe Sanh, 16 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and 17 miles west of Quang Tri City, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
Larry D. Robinson, another Marine helicopter aircraft commander, friend and roommate of Phil Ducat, was on temporary duty as a ground Forward Air Controller (FAC) with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines who were participating in Operation Prairie. This battalion was protecting a bridge in the same area where the medevac helicopter crashed and burned. This unit was also tasked with the ground search of the medevac's crash site. They found many pieces of the aircraft including a large number of engine parts.
According to Larry Robinson, they found one of Phil Ducat's boots. He said he immediately recognized it because of the way his friend kept them spit shined and the way he laced them with parachute cord. The search team also recovered two badly charred bodies. All the recovered remains were transported to a military mortuary where they were later identified as being Arthur Green and Vernon Parker. Shortly thereafter the remains were returned to the men's families for burial. The mortuary staff was not able to make any identification of Phil Ducat based only on one recovered boot. The recovery team believed the rest of the crew's remains were incinerated in the fire that consumed their aircraft.
As tragic as this loss is, it is also the only
documented instance wherein a Marine helicopter in flight was knocked out
of the sky by American artillery at any time during the Vietnam War.