The 45th Medical Company Air Ambulance "Dustoff" is the epitome
of Helicopter Aeromedical Evacuation.
"Dustoff" - Acronym Definition - Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces. The terms "medevac" and "medivac" were used synonymously for Army "Aeromedical evacuation" or "Dustoff" (Dust Off).
There was no more welcome sound to a wounded soldier in Viet Nam than the
whop-whop-whop of the "Dustoff Huey" coming to get them out of hell.
Anyone that has ever flown in a "Dustoff Huey" will never forget that heavenly sound.
Dustoff in Vietnam was a crew of four dedicated (and most people would likely say, "certifiably insane")
men that flew unarmed helicopters to the front line and beyond
to rescue wounded soldiers. The mission for Dustoff was to get the wounded soldiers
out of harm's way, save their life by providing basic medical care, and get them to the
nearest or best hospital to treat their wounds.
Life as we know it could have been a lot different for the casualties of the Vietnam War had it not been for the outstanding bravery and dedication of Dustoff crews.
One of my favorite standbys was with the Aussies at Nui Dat. Nui Dat was the Australian
base in the middle of Viet Cong territory in Phuoc Tuy province. The nearby villages of
Long Tan and Long Phuoc were both considered Viet Cong strongholds.
I was a Dustoff Medic. Without a doubt the Dustoff Medic witnessed more of the brutality of war than anyone.
It took a man with incredible intestinal fortitude to face the type and quantity of wounds
and injuries he faced many times every day. Anything and everything imaginable to
mutilate the human body were the types of challenges he faced each and every day.
As I stated above, Dustoff in Vietnam was a crew of four dedicated men. Each Dustoff Crew
consisted of two Pilots, a Flight Medic, and a Crewchief. The Pilots were responsible for flying
our unarmed helicopter, the Medic cared for the wounded, and the Crewchief maintained
the helicopter. We all depended on each other, and we trusted each other with our lives.
This trust was never more apparent than when we flew a night "Hoist Mission" to rescue a
wounded "American GI" or a wounded "Australian Baggy". Everyone on the crew had their
own job to do PLUS watch and make sure we did not hit anything with the main rotor or
especially the tail rotor. It was quite common for the Crewchief and Medic to stand out on
the skids and lean out so we could see the tail rotor and watch the jungle penetrator or the
"Stokes Litter" spinning from the downdraft from the rotating helicopter blades as we
hoisted the wounded up through the trees as the bullets whizzed by our heads and made
Swiss Cheese out of our helicopter.
"Si" Simmons summed it all up from a Pilots point of view with what I think is the
most beautiful heartfelt tribute to the Dustoff Medic and Crewchief ever written.
With special permission from "Si" here is that tribute:
It's been said that when Dustoff pilots are flying, they talk about women ---
and when they're with women, they talk about flying ---
But when they tell war stories of the "You Had To Be There" calibre, the subject usually locks in on the feats of their grungy MEDIC and CREWCHIEF.
As Dustoff pilots in Vietnam, our task was to insure that timely medical care
was delivered to the wounded; a job that was probably helped along by having a bent for foxy flying and being a button short ---
The "medical care" we "delivered" was a different story -- ---
Our "Medic and Crewchief team" aboard was the precious cargo for whom the
wounded watched and prayed --
Through the plexiglass we've watched them ---- and we've watched the wounded
watch them --- with litter and weapon in hand, trudge through waist-deep rice
paddies, through tangled jungle growth, up rocky mountainsides, hang from skids
with outstretched hand, jump to watery depths, tear into burning cockpits, hug a
jungle penetrator as it takes them through triple canopy -- all too often under
withering enemy fire.
We've watched both as they've emptied clips into treelines, bunkers and jungled
hideouts -- buying altitude -- before turning to continue tending the wounded,
halt hemorrhage, close a sucking chest, start fluids, calm hysteria, breath life,
cuddle babies maimed.
As their wounded were off-loaded to definitive care-- we've watched the
"thumbs up" as their tired eyes and muddy faces grin at a life given --
and too often we've watched a sudden stiffness -- a desperation -- as they
carefully -- almost reverently -- slide a lifeless litter from the hold ---
then resignation -- then --"clear on the right"! -- and back to the job --
Leaving the flightline at mission's end, we've turned and watched both - in
searing heat or monsoon storms and dead of night -- tie the blade, check the
damage, hose the red from their rotten smelling station -- refit gear and ammo,
and begin the tedious and demanding postflight or the too-often twenty five
hour inspection. -- And we get the "high sign" as we yell, "We'll save chow!"
Then as we trot back to the flight line as quickly as we'd left, we watched
their fatigue unveil as we yelled, "Wind'er up! - got C's on board?" --
and we watched them suck-it-up -- again -- and scurry to lift off -- again --
to save a poor soul --
again -- again -- and again ----
As a Dustoff pilot, it has been my greatest honor to serve with this awe-inspiring team and be a part of it. SiSimmons
The DUSTOFF call sign was acquired by the 57th Medical Detachment
(Helicopter Ambulance)in January, 1964, ironically and quite appropriately/proudly,
by way of medical necessity.
The occasion was a bloody two-day operation, West of Saigon, near the Cambodian
border in early Jan 1964 that churned out many casualties throughout a day and
night of battle.
I was a newly arrived peter pilot flying with a seasoned pilot, (NAME - wish I knew),
as he handled the call sign problem with all concerned in the emergency with great
skill as I sat in the co-pilot seat attempting to determine who in the hell was who
on the ground, in the air and back at DUSTOFF Operations.
At the time, all combat units utilized randomly selected call signs controlled by the
Navy Support Activity, Vietnam and were changed periodically in accordance with
Signal Operating Instructions (SOI)in the interest of security. The call sign of 57th
Med Det (HA) on that day and at that time, per the SOI, happened to be "DUSTOFF".
Fighting was heavy, casualties were mounting, evacs were continuous and communication
between the evac helicopters and ground commanders was ever-running. At the time that
the code changeover was ordered to occur in accordance the SOI, the major ground
commander as well as the medevac aircrews became concerned that due to the battlefield
chaos that included some loss of communications between units, switching to a new call
sign may jeopardize evacuation. At the request of the ground commander, the 57th Med Det
commander, MAJ Lloyd Spencer, agreed immediately to delay the call sign changeover while
also requesting a temporary exception to the SOI from the approving headquarters. The
exception was approved for a specified period (probably for 24 hours or possibly until
the time of the next call sign change, per the SOI).
After the operation, MAJ Lloyd Spencer and MAJ Charles Kelly discussed the call sign
dilemma and determined that a permanent aeromedical evacuation call sign would help
avoid possible future mission impairment and more closely conform to the spirit of
the Geneva Convention. (At the time, MAJ Spencer was outgoing commander -
MAJ Kelly, incoming commander, assuming command on 11 Jan 64)
Within a few days, in concert with ground unit commanders, MAJ Spencer requested
and received official approval for the permanent call sign change to "DUSTOFF".
The permanent, dedicated DUSTOFF call sign was placed into the SOI on a permanent
basis and published within a few weeks. Soon afterward, DUSTOFFers discontined carrying
personal SOI's on board.
(The above is based on my recollection of the circumstances which necessitated the first
use of "DUSTOFF" as a call sign in nonconformance with an SOI -- which precipitated it's
adoption on a permanent basis. At the time, I was the detachment 2nd Lieutenant who was
"detailed" to manage the aircrew "SOIs".)
More than 900,000 soldiers survived their injuries and owe their lives
to the outstanding bravery and dedication of Dustoff crews.
The average time from when the soldier was wounded to the time he
was on the surgical table was under an hour and 97% of all soldiers who reached the hospital alive survived.
All of the Brave Medics, Crew Chiefs, and Pilots that flew "Dustoff"
in the Vietnam War were volunteers and many served more than one tour.
Most people that served in Vietnam will tell you that "Dustoff" was one of the most
dangerous jobs of the war. It has been said that the life expectancy of a Dustoff crew in a
hot LZ was 30 seconds, BUT if you hear a mortar round explode that time drops to about
eight seconds. I can't begin to tell you how any of us ever lived to talk about it. We went
rain or shine in the light of day and the dead of night. We never turned down a mission
and quite often we didn't have gunship support.
I served with the 45th Medical Company Air Ambulance from October 1968 - October 1969.
Major General Patrick Henry Brady served two tours in Viet Nam and is the only living
Army Veteran of the Vietnam War to hold both the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished
Service Cross. General Brady is the most decorated living veteran. As a Dustoff Pilot he flew over 2500 combat missions and rescued over 5000 wounded
in Viet Nam. General Brady has stated that Dustoff flew the most dangerous
missions of the Viet Nam War and that because of the nature of the missions a DustoffCrew Member could just quit and walk away without any consequences.
Other Dustoff units included the 54th Medical Detachment, the 57th Medical
Detachment, the 159th Medical Detachment, the 236th Medical Company, the 247th
Medical Detachment, the 498th Medical Company, and the 571st Medical Detachment.
In the ten year war, those who actively flew Dustoff missions on a 24/7 basis numbered less than 3000. Our casualty rate was 33%.
All Dustoff crews flew with the same spirit and dedication as the legendary MEDEVAC
pilot Major Charles "Combat" Kelly, who died while flying a Dustoff mission in Vietnam
in 1964. Major Charles Kelly coined what is now the motto for all MEDEVAC crews: "No compromise. No rationalization. No hesitation. Fly the mission. Now!"
Unsung Hero Main Entry: unsung hero Part of Speech: noun Definition: a person who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution; a person whose bravery is unknown or unacknowledged.
On a daily basis these dedicated Dustoff crews performed their mission with conspicuous gallantry and with great risk to their lives as a part of the call of duty while engaging in selfless actions supporting the United States of America.
I'd like to offer up the following poignant poem to the dedicated 33% who gave their all in support of this great nation. On behalf of my late dad, the author, I'd be pleased to have the poem appear on your site. Randy Vaincourt www.vaincourt.homestead.com
He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast, And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past. Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done, In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke, All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke. But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away, And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife, For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life. Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way, And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state, While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great. Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young, But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man? Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife, Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives. While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all, Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago, That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys, Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand, Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand? Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin, But his presence should remind us we may need his like again. For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
Major Charles L. Kelly was the Commanding Officer of the 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) from 11 January 1964 until he was killed in action on 1 July of the same year while trying to evacuate a wounded American advisor along with several ARVN wounded. He is considered the founder of Dustoff. His famous last words were, "When I have your wounded." Major Charles L. Kelly was the 49th American to be killed in the Viet Nam War.
Did Dustoff save your life? If you served with the 45th Medical Company Air Ambulance, or if you were rescued by Dustoff please drop me a line.