Tactical Airlift at Cheo Reo

by Harry Heist

This story is from a firsthand account. It is not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using this for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.
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The Vietnamese Airborne units involved at Cheo Reo were the 1st and 5th Battalions. They had been convoying toward Pleiku when they ran into a VC regiment and engaged in a fierce daylong fight before the enemy withdrew. A USAF Forward Air Controller detachment, call sign Red Marker, supported the Airborne wherever it deployed in-country. During this battle, a Red Marker FAC, Captain Paul R. “Windy” Windell, was shot down and killed. Shortly before Windy was shot down, a radio operator on the ground, A1C James C. “Jim” Henneberry, TDY to the Red Markers was killed in the fighting. These were the first two losses to the detachment.

A July engagement at Duc Co west of Pleiku involved the 3rd and 8th Vietnamese Airborne Battalions, later joined by the 5th. A replacement Red Marker FAC, Captain Joseph S. “Duke” Granducci, II, directed close air support for that operation. During a week that Duc Co was isolated and resupplied only by air, a C-123 landed at the dirt strip outside the Duc Co Special Forces Camp. It off loaded supplies and ammo and took on wounded troopers. The aircraft was damaged by mortar fire while on the ground but managed to get in the air. It limped back to Tan Son Nhut. According to an eyewitness report from an Army advisor to the Airborne, tower cleared the C-123 with its nose gear inoperative and loading ramp jammed to land on a taxiway, thus not tying up an active runway. The pilot brought it in safely. The aircraft may have been serial number 54-631 (tail number 40631).

I have been trying to confirm the C-123 incident in official Air Force records, but have not been successful to date.

Source: Contemporary report from the US Army advisors to the Airborne (MACV Advisory Team 162), and eyewitness account related in 2016.