NEWSRELEASE: 23 MAY 2001
After more than 33 years the remains of an Army helicopter crew missing since the Vietnam War will finally come home. The crewmembers, part of the 243rd Assault Support Helicopter Company, will be buried in a joint grave at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2001 at 11:00 a.m.
The five crewmembers were last seen near the Ninh Hoa Valley in the Central Highlands in South Vietnam on October 20, 1968.
The Chinook Helicopter crew departed Dong Ba Tin Airfield, South Vietnam, on an emergency re-supply mission to Ban Me Thout in the Central Highlands. They were the lead aircraft of a three-helicopter mission. The helicopter and crew, call sign Freight Train 053, left their location before the other two aircraft, but typhoon type weather conditions, forced the other two aircraft to return to the airfield.
Chief Warrant Officer Deitsch, the aircraft commander, radioed that they were in the Ninh Hoa valley and would proceed on to Ban Me Thout. The helicopter never made it to Ban Me Thout. The unit conducted an intensive search for the next eight days, but no wreckage or the aircraft was ever found
In 1994, two Vietnamese farmers discovered the wreckage of a helicopter that was ultimately identified as the missing Chinook from the 243rd. Several more years would pass before the remains of the five American crewmembers were excavated and removed to the lab in Hawaii operated by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting unit.
Only recently were the crew positively identified using modern DNA technology.
The Aviation unit returned to the United States from Vietnam in 1972, but the men from the 243rd never forgot about their comrades and this Friday, the unit's final mission will be completed when the remains of their crew members are buried at Arlington Cemetery. Sixty-five former members of the 243rd “Freight Trains” as well as family members and friends of the deceased crewmembers will be in attendance to pay their honors. Aircraft from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve will perform a flyby and missing man maneuver.
The five crew members, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles “Pappy” Deitsch, Aircraft Commander; Warrant Officer 1 Hank Knight, pilot; Specialist 5 Charles Meldahl, crew chief; Specialist 5 Jerry Bridges, flight engineer; and Specialist 4 Ronald Stanton, door gunner, will receive full military honors.
Services for the Crew of 66-19053
May 24-25, 2001
Funeral services for the crew of Freight Train 053 will take place at Arlington National Cemetery on May 24th and 25th, 2001. Visitation will be on May 24th from 1800 hours to 2100 hours. The funeral service will be at the Fort Meyer Chapel at 1100 hours on May 25th. Immediately following the group service, a service will be held for Henry Knight.
Graveside services will include a “missing man” formation fly-over by five CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Three of the aircraft will be from Ft. Eustis, Virginia and two will be from the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Personnel In Incident: Charles E. Deitsch; Henry C. Knight; Charles H. Meldahl; Ronald V. Stanton, Ronald Bridges (all missing)
SYNOPSIS: On October 20, 1968, CW3 Deitsch, aircraft commander; WO1 Knight, pilot; SP5 Meldahl, crewchief; SP4 ridges, flight engineer; and SP4 Stanton, door gunner, departed Dong Ba Thien Airfield, South Vietnam, in a CH47A helicopter (serial #66-19053) on a resupply mission to Ban Me Thuot, South Vietnam.
The CH47 “Chinook” helicopter was one of the workhorses of the Army's air fleet. As a cargo lift, the Chinook could carry up to 28,000 pounds on its external cargo hook, and is credited with the recovery of 11,500 disabled aircraft worth more than $3 billion. As troop carrier, the aircraft could be fitted with 24 litters for medical evacuation, or carry 33-44 troops in addition to the crew. On one occasion, a Chinook evacuated 147 refugees and their possessions on a single flight. The Chinook could be outfitted for bombing missions, dropping tear gas or napalm in locations fixed wing aircraft could not reach. The big bird could carry a large cargo of supplies.
Deitsch radioed at 0700 hours on October 20 that his aircraft was over the Ninh Hoa Valley. That was the last anyone heard of the CH47. At about 0800 hours, it was determined that the helicopter was overdue.
An intensive search effort was made, but no wreckage was ever found of the CH47, and search efforts were concluded on October 28. Villagers were later canvassed throughout the Ninh Ho Valley, and literature was distributed asking about the crash of the Chinook, but no new information was ever discovered.
The five men aboard the Chinook lost on October 20, 1968 were classified Missing In Action. They are among nearly 2400 mericans who are unaccounted for from American involvement in Vietnam.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard