Overview of Operation "Double Eagle"


Operation Double Eagle was a joint operation of US Marine Corps and the US Army. Actually, Operation Double Eagle consisted of Phase I and Phase II. Elements of the 118th Aviation Company (AML) participated, primarily, in Operation Double Eagle I

In mid January 1966, the alert came through channels for the 118th to provide a 5 aircraft, 10 pilot and 10 crew member contingent of armed UH-1B helicopters. The 118th 3rd Platoon Bandits was commanded by CPT John C."Doc" Bahnsen at the time. He and the crews for 5 UH-1B gun ships departed Bien Hoa and flew up the coast of Vietnam to near Chu Lai in I Corps. There they joined elements of the Marine Air Group 36 and in particular HMM-261, HMM-363, and HMM-364 plus 12 UH-34D's from HMM-362. The Marine units flew primarily UH-34D's for troop lift and support and Sea Knights. The armed support of the 118th Bandits was very much needed......and provide it they did!


Listed on Letter Orders Number 3-50 issued by HQ, 145th Aviation Battalion and dated 25 March 1966 (Note the orders were dated AFTER the operation was over) were the following pilots and enlisted crew members, armorers, and maintenance personnel. The preparation for and the move to Chu Lai by the Bandits was accomplished strictly VOCO which stands for "Vocal Order of the Commanding Officer"!

CPT John C. Bahnsen
CPT Glenn R. Weber
1LT John L. Bearrie, Jr.
2LT Harold F. Miller
CW2 Howard H. Bennett
CW2 Wyburn H. Burroughs
CW2 Paul A Tidrick
WO1 Raymond J. Champagne
WO1 Warren D. George
WO1 William E. Haynes
WO1 Larry L. Mobley
PSGT Robert G. Pinkston
SP5 Clinton D. Roberson
SP5 Donald F. Roof
SP5 Darwin K. Russell
SP5 Jessie L. Clinton
SP4 Louis L. Arbuckle
CPL Edd W. Gifford
SP4 Robert R. Goldsmith
SP4 Tobe Jackson
SP4 Joseph P. Lomonaco
SP4 Dennis W. Ness
PFC Larry G. Campbell
PFC Wallace H. Hagin
PFC Denny W. Holsted
PFC Allan M. Westermeyer
PVT William J. Kohnen

The orders were for TDY to Chu Lai RVN, with a proceed date of 29 Jan 66 for a period of 20 days. The purpose was listed as: "In support of MAG 36, Operation "Double Eagle"'

Following pauses at Subic Bay and Chu Lai, the USS Valley Forge (LPH8) (Landing Platform Helicopter) arrived off the Vietnamese coast on the 27th of January. Two days later, the aviation elements launched a landing force of troops from the carrier to launch operation "Double Eagle." For the Bandits, this was a new and exciting experience. Landing and departing from the deck of the USS Valley Forge LPH8 was an experience the Bandit crews had never done previously and one they would never forget. Operation Double Eagle I continued for approximately 2 weeks until 15 February 1966.

What follows is a narrative provided by BG John C. "Doc" Bahnsen, Ret. the Platoon Commander of the 118th Bandits at the time.

The Warning Order

In late January 1966 the 118th Company Commander, MAJ Orlie Underwood, told me that the Bandits were to be attached to the Marine Corps for support of their lift operations. He made it sound like we were selected based on our superb reputation as a solid Gun platoon in the 145th Avn Bn.

I reported to the battalion S-3, Major Larry Baughman, for my briefing. Larry and I were old friends from our days in the 3rd Inf Div. Larry told me I was to load everything onto my helicopters for a TDY of at least 30 days with MAG (Marine Air Group) 36, 1st Marine Air Wing at Ky Ha, Vietnam. This outfit was in First Corps Tactical Control zone just south of DaNang.

We were not given very long to prepare for the trip. We were told that all of the Marine Gun ships had been shot down, or were otherwise disabled and that their lift ships needed our support until they could get on their feet. I was told to take all my crews with as much as we could load on our helicopters. I believe we took 6 helicopters, but possibly only 5 made the trip. We took 2 pilots per helicopter plus a crew chief and a door gunner. Our maintenance support was to be provided by the Marines. My records show that 11 officers and 15 EM made the trip. SSG Bob Pinkston, my Platoon Sergeant. Also, our head armaments NCO went along, as did some other weapons Armorers. Interestingly, we were given TDY orders 30 days AFTER the trip ended. Our mission read, ""Support of MAG 36 during "Operation Double Eagle". I was told to report to COL William G. Johnson, USMC, the Commander of MAG 36.

11 Bandit pilots who participated in Operation Double Eagle (66)
(Photo courtesy Warren George)

The Flight North

With verbal orders only (VOCO) we moved our unit with great efficiency. We launched from Bien Hoa in a couple days after getting the mission and made the long flight up the coast to Ky Ha by way of Chu Lai. Chu Lai, being the nearest Army unit to the Marines, was our support base. We had an uneventful 6.6 hour trip to Ky Ha with 2 fuel stops en route. I reported to COL Johnson on arrival and got a warm welcome. He confirmed that their gun ships had all been shot down or grounded for battle damage. He quickly briefed me on the general situation and turned me over to MAJ Bob Purcell the Operations officer of VMO-6.

Once we were billeted, we were told that they needed our services ASAP. We flew 4.3 hours on the 30th of January and 9.6 hours on the 31st. Missions included lift ship support into landing zones and support of Marine ground units. We were on the ground on Feb 1, but back up on the 2d for 6.8 hours.


Carrier Landing Qualification

USS Valley Forge (LPH8) off the coast of RVN
(Photo courtesy Warren George)

One of the first problems we had to square away was where we were to refuel. Our UH-1s used JP-4 and the CH-34's used av-gas. The Marines were flying off the coast to the USS Valley Forge LPH8 (aka The Happy Valley) which steamed up and down the coast about 3 miles or so off shore. (See photos below on the USS Valley Forge LPH8 ) COL Johnson told me he would get Instructor Pilots to fly with us for our required carrier qualification. Initially, we refueled on shore or at Chu Lai, but this quickly got old and too time consuming.

Short, Short Final to deck of USS Valley Forge (LPH8) !
(Photo courtesy Warren George)

Within the first couple of days with MAG 36, I took a flight of two helicopters out to "Happy Valley'" to the watch and learn the landing procedures. I had the frequency and was told that casualties needed to be taken to the carrier should we have any. We circled the carrier watching the Marine helicopters landing and taking off. I was not impressed with the difficulty of it all, especially in the calm seas at the time. I called the carrier and told them I had a flight of 2 for landing and they cleared me to "Spots 7 and 8, big numbered circles on the deck. We got our spacing and started our approach. As we touched down we bottomed our collectives and got out for the fueling process. We shut the helicopters down, but quickly learned that they would hot refuel. After some quick refreshment we mounted up for our first carrier take off. Again we got off without incident. From that time on we refueled from the Happy Valley during the operations. It was quick and easy. We soon found out that the Marines generally stopped long enough to go down to the mess for a hot meal. As soon as I got back to the platoon we related our experience to the other pilots and I told them to start using the carrier. We all quickly got very proficient with carrier operations.


Bandits land on deck of USS Valley Forge LPH8 sitting several miles off the
RVN coast in S. China Sea during Operation Double Eagle.(Jan 66)
(Photo courtesy Warren George)

Several days later, COL Johnson asked how it was going, and remembered that he was going to get us carrier qualified. I told him we had already made over a dozen landings on the Happy Valley. I asked him what we needed to certify. He told me that night landings were the only thing missing. We did our night landings on 3 Feb according to my records, but without any Marine Instructor Pilots with us.

Immediately after landing on the deck of
USS Valley Forge LPH8 , crews ran out and spray painted "USN and anchor"
on the Thunderbird emblem of each Bandit UH-1B aircraft!!(66)
(Photo courtesy Warren George)


Supporting the "Grunts"

Support of the Marine lift ships was generally uneventful, but not so the support of the "grunts".
On one particular mission on 2 Feb, I was flying as lead of a 2-ship flight with WO Larry Mobley as my co-pilot. We were told to support a Marine company moving into NVA country. I had a frequency, a call sign, and a set of coordinates, about all you needed for working with Marine ground units. They were accustomed to having air support and were always easy to work with in combat. I flew to the area and made contact with the company commander. He asked me to land on a road along which his company was moving. They were deployed in tactical formation and on the march. They halted as we sat our helicopter down. I got out with map in hand to talk to the Captain and get a quick briefing.

We had barely gotten over our hello and started our briefing when he got a call that his point unit was taking fire. Our rotor blades were still turning at ground idle and he pointed in the direction of the fight that was just up the road from us, maybe 100 meters. I could hear the small arms fire and immediately got back into the helicopter and we lifted off. I believe Mr. Mobley was flying and I was in the left seat gunning. We flew right down the road towards the ambush. The Marines marked their front with smoke. I could see fire coming out of the trees as we passed directly their over the Marines heads. We sprayed the area with machine gun fire, as did the door gunners. We then circled the area putting fire in all the suspected enemy areas. The Marines had put out smoke to mark their positions so we could safely hit all the spots we could see fire coming from. I got a lot of encouragement from the Captain as both our ships and my wingman tore up the enemy at very low level. When we had emptied our ammo, I called the commander to ask what else we could do before we re-armed and he asked us to pick some casualties. We circled the area and sat down in the same area where he had briefed me earlier and picked up his casualties, all WIAs. We flew them to the nearest aid station and quickly refueled and loaded ammo.

Back out to the area again we provided fire support for over 6.8 hours of flying time-----a long day. We also took out more casualties as they happened. We took some rounds, but no one got hit. Little did I know, but the ground commanders were truly impressed with our fire support and low level flying. They later wrote us up for decorations. On 3 Feb we flew over 7 hours in support of more ground units. Same drill, but not as exciting.


 John C. "Doc" Bahnsen, Bandit Plt. Commander, remembers, "The Bandit platoon was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation Medal for our participation in Operation Double Eagle. LT John Berrie was WIA and flown to the USS Valley Forge LPH8 for medical treatment. The entire platoon became carrier qualified because we had to refuel most of the time on the USS Valley Forge (LPH8). We never had an IP fly with us or check us out. So we met all the criteria and had the qualification put on our flight records!"



 SP5 Donald F. Roof, CE on Bandit 36's aircraft remembers the Feb 2 mission, "When the Marines first put the call out, they requested immediate fire support as they were under attack. CPT Bahnsen was the AC(aircraft commander) and Larry Mobley was the co-pilot. When CPT Bahnsen answered the radio call, the Marine on the radio said,'Who the hell is Bandit 36'. After CPT Bahnsen straightened him out, off we went. After the in air briefing, we arrived at the site where the platoon was under attack. The Marines marked with smoke and we made several firing passes with rockets, machine gun and the 40MM grenade launcher from our ship(Hog). Things quieted down and then they asked if we could take out their casualties. At the time we still had ordnance left, so we got rid of everything on our next pass. We let go all the rockets and 40 MM because we were too heavy to take the casualties."

"We then went in and CPT Bahnsen gave the controls to WO Mobley, much to my surprise. WO Mobley did a great job of getting in and out with the heavy load. We received fire as we went in and had to turn around in the small pickup zone(PZ) to get out. As we went in, the other Bandit aircraft informed us they were out of ordnance except for their doorguns, which really added to the excitement!"

"When we landed the Marines loaded their wounded casualties. Westermeyer our Gunner continued to place fore on the VC positions(across a small stream), but I couldn't because I was on the wrong side. I left the aircraft and went to the other side to help provide covering fire for the Marines who were loading the wounded. All went OK coming out, but as we were clear of the PZ, someone opened up on us again with an automatic weapon, but did not hit us. "

"On the way back to base that night, CPT Bahnsen chewed my ass out royally for leaving the ship to provide covering fire on the other side of the aircraft. But I always felt that he understood what I was doing and why. He just wanted to be Bandit 36."



Bandit "Hog" getting checked and crew getting sack
time on the sandy beach of Chu Lai area during
Operation Double Eagle. Note UH-34's and
Sea Knight helicopters of the US Marines in
(Photo courtesy Warren George)