Week of December 6

Week of December 6

Week of December 6

On December 8, 1965, a flight of three Marine Corps helicopters took off on what should have been a short logistics mission. As they returned to Chu Lai with their cargo, flying over the water along the coast through rough weather, the engine of one helicopter suddenly quit. It plunged into the South China Sea and began to sink. All four men aboard managed to escape the aircraft. During a harrowing rescue mission, three men were recovered but the gunner, Corporal John Corle, was never found. It was an event that affected each of the survivors for the rest of their lives.

John Thomas Corle was born in late December 1941. Corle was from western Pennsylvania and attended Gateway Senior High School, in Monroeville, just east of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1959. Corle enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1963 and was deployed to Vietnam in August 1965, at the age of 23 and just six days after his wedding. In Vietnam, Corle was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM–364), Marine Aircraft Group 36. Less than four months into his tour, he was tagged to be a gunner on a UH-34 Seahorse helicopter on what should have been an uneventful mission.

Three UH-34s from HMM-364 took off from their base near Chu Lai on December 8, headed north for Da Nang. As they loaded up a cargo of provisions, helicopter parts, and other equipment, the weather—which had already been poor—took a turn for the worse. Rain, fog, and 35-knot winds blowing from seaward made flying treacherous, as did the low 500-foot ceiling. Suddenly, out over the water along the coast, the crew of one of the helicopters felt its engine sputter and die. The crew of four men—pilot Captain James Givan, co-pilot 2nd Lieutenant William Holmes, Jr., crew chief Sergeant Gerald Glenn, and John Corle in the gunner’s position—at almost the same instant noticed they were being fired on from a tree line on the beach. The UH-34, which was just 200 feet above the waves, plunged into the water and began sinking in a matter of seconds with all four men still aboard and strapped in.

The UH-34 inverted and sank toward the bottom. Amazingly, thanks to good training and a will to live, all four men were able to escape from the aircraft and swim to the surface. The Viet Cong fighters continued to fire on them from the beach as they bobbed in eight-foot swells, blasted by wind and torrential rain. Meanwhile, the other two helicopters had immediately moved to assist. While one laid down covering fire on the beach, the crew of the other threw out their cargo to save weight and fuel and began to hoist the men aboard.

The first two to be rescued were the pilots, Givan and Holmes. However, as they attempted to pull aboard the third man, Sergeant Glenn, the hoist winch broke. Unable to hoist him aboard, and still under fire, Corporal R. E. Cone wrapped his legs around a landing gear strut, hung upside down, and manage to grab Glenn as the helicopter hovered just over the wave crests.

By this time, no one could see Corle, the last man still in the water. The third helicopter attempted a search, but it had to be abandoned shortly thereafter, as both remaining UH-34s were nearly out of fuel. A second search for Corporal Corle a short while later was also unsuccessful, and eventually was called off because searchers continued to receive small arms fire from the Viet Cong fighters hidden just off the beach. Corle’s body was never recovered.

John Corle, just a few weeks shy of his 24th birthday, was officially listed as Missing in Action. This designation was later changed to Unaccounted-For, Killed, Body Not Recovered. He left behind his parents, a sister, and his new wife. He is memorialized in the Courts of the Missing, within the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., on Panel 4E, Line 11

1“Wall of Faces,” Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (accessed 12/6/18); Douglas E. Campbell, ed., U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft Damaged or Destroyed During the Vietnam War (Syneca Research Group, 2015); U.S. Unaccounted-For from the Vietnam War: United States Marine Corps (accessed 12/6/18); “UH-34 Down in the South China Sea,” HMM-364.org (accessed 12/6/18); “John Thomas Corle, Vietnam War,” American Battle Monuments Commission (accessed 12/6/18).

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July 2
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June 25
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June 18
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June 11
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Week of June 4 Week of
June 4
On June 1, 1967, Task Force 117, the Mobile Riverine Force, became operational. It was a joint U.S. Army-Navy task force whose goal was to search out and eliminate Viet Cong elements in the waterways of the Mekong Delta. During operations, Navy gunboats and landing crafts offloaded Army infantry units for amphibious assaults against enemy...
Week of May 28 Week of
May 28
On May 26, 1967, Operation UNION II began in the Que Son Basin in southern I Corps. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 5th Marine Regiments were initially supported by South Vietnamese Rangers. They drove off the entrenched 3rd North Vietnamese Army Regiment who left behind 118 dead. With the operation completed, the South Vietnamese...
Week of May 21 Week of
May 21
On May 22, 1964, the CIA-run airline known as Air America officially began to support search-and-rescue missions for downed American aviators in Laos and North Vietnam. Air America pilots flew piston-engine aircraft and helicopters for these and other covert operations throughout the Vietnam War. Their first rescue attempt occurred on...
Week of May 14 Week of
May 14
On May 10, 1969, U.S. and allied forces launched Operation APACHE SNOW, an effort to dislodge the North Vietnamese army from the A Sau Valley. The valley, adjacent to Laos, was a crucial staging point for Communist troops and supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam. It was the setting for some of the most intense combat of...
Week of April 30 Week of
April 30
In April 1975, South Vietnam was on the verge of collapse as the North Vietnamese army closed in around Saigon. With almost all U.S. troops having left Vietnam in 1973, the few remaining American military and civilian personnel executed Operation FREQUENT WIND, the final evacuation of Americans, foreign nationals, and thousands of Vietnamese...
Week of April 23 Week of
April 23
On April 24, 1950, President Harry S. Truman approved the contents of National Security Council Report (NSC) 64. The memorandum was drafted by the State Department and the National Security Council. NSC 64 cited Ho Chi Minh's Communist connections, regional instability, the presence of Chinese troops along the border of Indochina, and an assumed...
Week of April_16 Week of
April 16
On April 17, 1956, three U.S. Army women nurses arrived in Saigon as part of a medical training team assigned to the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group, Vietnam. They were the first U.S. servicewomen to deploy to Vietnam.
Week of April 9 Week of
April 9
At the end of 1964, with direct U.S. participation in combat operations poised to begin, there were about 23,000 U.S. forces in Vietnam. In less than five years, by the first weeks of April 1969, America's commitment in Southeast Asia reached its highest level, with 543,000 U.S. men and women serving in-theater. Two months later, President...
Week of April 2 Week of
April 2
By the end of March 1972, there were fewer than 70,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam (after peaking in 1969 at over 540,000). Following President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan, which called for gradually withdrawing American forces and handing responsibility for the war over to the South Vietnamese, the defense of South Vietnam was largely in...
Week of March 26 Week of
March 26
On March 26, 1964, Air Force Captain Richard L. Whitesides and Army Special Forces Captain Floyd J. Thompson were conducting a reconnaissance mission aboard a small observation airplane near the Demilitarized Zone. While making a low pass over a forested area, their aircraft was hit by Viet Cong small arms fire and crashed. Whitesides, the...
Week of March 19 Week of
March 19
In late February 1965, a U.S. helicopter pilot spotted a 130-foot North Vietnamese vessel anchored in South Vietnam's Vung Ro Bay. Investigators discovered the ship was carrying arms, ammunition, and other war materiel intended for the Viet Cong. By March 1965, the Vũng Rô Bay incident led to the start of Operation MARKET TIME and the establishment...
Week of March 12 Week of
March 12
As the United States commenced a bombing campaign against North Vietnam, American leaders grew concerned about the possibility of Communist retaliation against U.S. installations, especially the vital air base at Da Nang. To secure the base, General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, ordered two...
Week of March 5 Week of
March 5
On March 2, 1965, U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft commenced the bombing of military, industrial, and infrastructure targets in North Vietnam. Called Operation ROLLING THUNDER, it evolved into one of the longest air campaigns in the history of warfare. It lasted—with some brief pauses—until October 1968, though...
Week of February 12 Week of
February 12
On February 12, 1973, a group of American prisoners of war (POWs) lifted off from Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport, in North Vietnam, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter. These men were the first POWs to be released by North Vietnam and other Communist governments as part of Operation HOMECOMING.