Recon Team Striker

Alpha Company 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion

United States Marine Corps

 

30 June 1967

&

Search and Recovery Report

 

Today Jeff Savelkoul and Mariano “Junior" Guy, who are the only surviving members of this patrol, march on as proud Marines. Team Striker is still carrying out it's mission by bringing together the families of their Fallen Brothers. 

 

30 Jun 1967

Cpl.

Allen

Merlin

R.

Bayfield

WI

22E

86

30 Jun 1967

HM.

Judd

Michael

B.

Cleveland

OH

22E

88

30 Jun 1967

LCpl.

Killen, III

John

D.

Des Moines

IA

22E

88

30 Jun 1967

Cpl.

Runnels Jr.

Glyn

L.

Birmingham

AL

22E

88

30 Jun 1967

Capt.

House

John

A.

Pelham

NY

22E

87

02 Jul 1967

LCpl.

Perry

Dennis

M.

Perry

GA

22E

112

12 Aug 1967

Sgt.

Castaneda

Eugene

 

Honokaa

HI

24E

102

 

Team members Allen, Judd, Killen, Runnels, and the pilot House were Killed In Action/Bodies not recovered on 30 June. Perry died of wounds on 02 July. Castaneda was later Killed In Action 12 August 1967. 

 

 

The following is taken from the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion Command Chronologies on file at the Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, DC. Note: This is the entire Official Record of this event that remains from the war.

 

During a search of the records at the Historical Center the following statement was found, misfiled and buried in the records.

 

301630H June

Map: YC997963

During attempted insertion of patrol in the vicinity helo started taking SA, AW, AA fire from the general area. Helo took a hit in the fuel tank causing the helo to crash and burn. Results of this were 4 friendly WIA and 4 friendly KIA's from the recon team. The survivors moved to high ground directed at the gunships and fixed wings as they made strafing runs in the area. The survivors fired pen flares to mark their location and were extracted by sling. Prior to extraction team leader checked area of destroyed helo for weapons and their equipment. All weapons were believed destroyed with the helo. Patrol did observe assorted SA ammo scattered throughout the area. From the amount of flack in the air at the time patrol leader feels there was at least (3) AA weapons in the area.

Castaneda Sgt. Co A

 

 

 

From “Never Without Heroes”:
Narrative from “Never Without Heroes” by Lawrence C. Vetter, Jr. 1996 Ivy Books

“On June 30, the team was again in the air, heading back in the same direction, but this time it was preceded by fixed wing aircraft that bombed and strafed the landing zone area. Members of the team didn\'t understand why jets would strafe the LZ and announce their coining, but theirs was "not to reason why."

As soon as the jets were finished with their runs, the lumbering 46 flew down toward the landing zone. Junior [Mariano Guy] was positioning himself to be the first out and saw the tall elephant grass in the valley floor fast approaching. [Jeff] Savelkoul was back farther in the patrol, adjusting the extra weight of the radio on his pack.

When the chopper was within a few feet of the ground and Junior was about to leap and run, he was knocked off his feet by a, sudden rocking and shaking of the aircraft. Still inside the chopper, the Marines sensed their first nervous fear; they knew that their helicopter had dropped into an ambush and was being battered by heavy weapons. Enemy fire penetrated the metal skin and ripped past the Marines inside.

As the helicopter lurched and shuddered, the pilot fought for control and tried to pull the aircraft out of the kill zone.

Savelkoul said:

“I was toward the rear end, and I felt the chopper try to rise and turn around. As we went up higher, we were knocking out the portholes and firing our weapons or dropping grenades through them, trying to aim where we thought the VC were. The chopper was taking a lot of hits. Then I saw the round that took us down. I saw it fire from the ground and like a tracer streak toward us. It exploded a ten inch hole through the side of the aircraft right next to me, and it caused a loud cracking noise. It exited through the roof and shattered a fuel line. But it was like the fuel pump was still surging and spraying its fuel through the broken line out onto us. The fuel ignited, and we were in the middle of this firestorm, and there wasn't anywhere to hide from it.”

Junior stated that he and "Cass," [Cpl Eugene Castaneda] the patrol leader, had run to the front and were firing out of the window next to the gunner. He said,"I heard guys in the chopper screaming. The fire was burning up the place, and Marines were on fire."

Even though 46s had survived severe damage in other battles, this old sky tank had been hit by an antitank round and it was starting to break up. The chopper was fatally wounded but straggled upward about two hundred feet. Stuck in the rear, Jeff Savelkoul was being enveloped by fire and smoke and was gasping for air. Savelkoul stated:

“I needed to get air and stuck my head out of one of the broken windows. I got the air, but a piece of burning plexiglas stabbed into my face. Then I heard somebody yelling, "Get up to the front; we're going down!"

I had to run through that wall of fire. I remember throwing off my pack because it was on fire. All my clothes were burned off except for one boot and my cartridge belt. In the confusion, I didn't realize that my hat was on fire, but when I finally knocked it off, my head was badly burned. My backside was particularly burned from my heels to my head. It was chaos. We were taking enemy fire through the chopper as well, and there was just nowhere to hide. I remember seeing a pile of bodies on the floor and Cass and Junior to one side.”

The pilot, Capt. John A. House II, was struggling with the craft, trying to reach the top of a hogback ridge very close by, and away from the VC. But it couldn't be. The surviving Marines saw daylight through the roof of the chopper, and then the back section of the helicopter cracked completely off and fell away from the front. The front section of the aircraft crashed into the top level of ninety-foot-tall trees. Captain House had made it about three fourths of the way to the top of the ridge and had given the team's survivors some breathing room. But he was dead and his copilot wounded.

Junior said, "We hit those ninety-foot trees and really went into an uncontrolled crash, falling through the trees. We were frantic to get out of there and started pushing out through the windows on the right side."

Savelkoul, Junior Guy, Castaneda, and [Dennis] Perry leaped into the air out of the falling, burning wreck, but they were still high up in the trees. Each plummeted, being battered, spun around, and flipped by branches. They hit the ground hard. Savelkoul said he remembered seeing Junior stumbling around dazed for a moment, trying to get his bearings. "The helicopter smashed into the ground nearby and looked like a watermelon that you had dropped on the sidewalk. It just splattered on the jungle floor."

The wounded Marines found themselves on a jungle hillside. Junior and Castaneda were in the best shape, and they tried to help Savelkoul and Perry up the hill. Savelkoul and Perry were burned badly, raw and charred flesh hanging off them. Finally the two healthy Reconners struggled to the hilltop with Savelkoul and Perry, then started back down the hill to see if they could find more survivors. Of course, the VC were coming up, firing at the rescue helicopters that hovered and buzzed over the tall jungle canopy, trying to catch sight of any survivors.

Savelkoul explained:

Junior and Cass pulled Perry and me away and started us up the hill, and then they ran back down. Perry was in really critical condition. I was trying to pull him and hand-over-hand pull us up the steep slope. It hurt! The skin on my hands was pretty much burned off, my ears and hair were also burned off, and all down my back and legs my body just screamed.

You could hear the VC down below us shooting, and you could hear our choppers over the tops of the trees. I guess the desire to live keeps you going.

Junior Guy continued:

Cass got to the cockpit and crawled through the burning wreck to rescue the pilot. But he was slumped over, strapped in and covered by the fire. It was no use, but we managed to help the copilot, who was wounded and banged up, away from the burning wreck. Everything else was just obliterated. Everybody was dead.

We got back up to Jeff and Perry with the copilot, but wanted to go back down and try to find some weapons. Our rifles had melted, but maybe there was something to fight with. The VC were making their way uphill through the jungle toward us, and we were having to rush. We had one .38 pistol from the copilot and one grenade. Cass took the .38.

Before he and Castaneda went back down the hill to the wreckage, Junior took the one grenade, put it into Savelkoul's hand, and pulled the pin. He told Savelkoul not to dare let it go, but to use it in a final fight against the VC if they got up to them.

Savelkoul explained his feelings at that moment: "My hand was burned raw. The nerve endings must've been exposed. When Junior wrapped my fingers around that grenade and pulled the pin, the pain was fierce. Perry was lying in my lap. I watched Junior and Cass running from tree to tree, trying to get back to the wreck without running into any VC."

They made it down, but there were no more weapons to be found, and time was running out. They climbed back up, but had no radio on which to call for help. Then Cass found pen flares on the copilot and started firing them through the canopy overhead trying to signal the rescue birds above. By a stroke of fortune be was able to hit one of the
ships on the' windshield. It was a Huey slick, which did a dip nose¬ down signal to let the Marines 'on the ground' know that he had received their message. The crew immediately lowered a sling toward the Marines. The enemy could still be heard and they were closer.

The race for survival was not going to be easy; there was just no way that the ropes could descend through trees, without getting hung up. Junior Guy still had his machete, so the young native of El Paso climbed the problem tree, hacking away at branches faster than the VC could climb the hill. He cleared a path for the slings; then slid back down. With the enemy closing and firing at the helicopters, trying to beat them to the team, the Reconners started their ascent. The copilot, Perry, and Savelkoul, were each tied in tightly and went up, one at a time. They, were followed by Junior Guy and Cass two in one loop. The last two stayed together, each not wanting the other to be the last on the ground.

“The sling was just a loop in a rope; and you had to tighten it so you wouldn't slip out,” said Savelkoul. "That line dug, deep into me. At the time, I couldn't see my back, but that rope made me feel how badly burned it. was. It really hurt, but I held on as tight as I could”

By the time the VC clambered up to the crash site; the Marines were all safely aboard the Huey, and the birds swiftly turned and sped back to Phu Bai with the injured.

Back at the camp, during the time of the battle, Acosta, Junior's brother, was being kept away from emergency radio transmissions by well meaning friends who knew that Junior was in deep trouble: But once the team had been pulled our and Junior was known to be among the survivors, Acosta was told, and he got over to the medical company as quickly as he could. Doc Zink was also there to receive his friends. He learned that his replacement, Doc Judd, had been killed, and it was an emotional experience for him. Perry, badly hurt, was carried in on a stretcher. He died two days later in a hospital in Japan. Jeff Savelkoul had burns over two thirds of his body, mostly third degree. He hurt so much that he couldn't lie on a stretcher, so, naked, he walked away from the bird.

Savelkoul said, "The last thing I remember in Vietnam was talking to Doc Zink and asking him to take care of me. He gave me a glass, of water and promised that he would. After that there was only a couple of vague moments that I remember before, two weeks later, I woke up in the burn unit of Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas."

Neither Eugene Castaneda nor Mariano "Junior" Guy was so severely inured that he had to be hospitalized. And although Junior was at first scheduled to go back to the bush in three days, the battalion decided to transfer him to Okinawa for the rest of his overseas tour. Corporal Castaneda was also transferred, but to another in-country unit working with the Vietnamese. On August 12, 1967, he was killed while on duty.”

 

 

Search and Recovery, a CH-46A Crash Site Associated with REFNO 0746

Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province, Socialist Republic of Vietnam

 

 

*    Search and Recovery Report  12-30 January 2002

 

*    Search and Recovery Report 6-22 June 2002

 

*   Excavation Photo’s

 

 

This Web Site is maintained by the Alpha Recon Association, a combat Viet-Nam Veterans group that served in Alpha Company 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, USMC 1965-69. Any comments should be directed to the webmaster.