The Rescue of Lt. John T. "Tim" Conry & Polei Kleng
The Rescue of Lt. John T. "Tim" Conry -
On May 9, 1972 after just completing our first recon mission Northwest of Kontum and refueling our LOH-6 at Kontum, I noticed a Cobra gunship from the 361st AWC "The Pink Panthers", landing, but they were having problems. I thought that the front seat was new, someone was wounded or they had mechanical problems from maintenance or gunfire.
After refueling we departed for our second mission.
Once we got to altitude I listened to the operation where the Cobra from the 361st AWC had been shot up and they were trying to rescue pilots from a downed Cobra. I called and offered our services and was told to keep off the air.
Just before dusk we were released to return to Camp Holloway. Taking off from Kontum I received a radio transmission from command and control running the rescue operation, asking if we would try rescuing a pilot on the ground out of Ben Het. They mentioned they were still receiving mirror flashes but not sure if it was the pilot or the enemy. By now the enemy had moved closer to the downed Cobra gunship. I called my wing man asking him to stay on station and wait to see if I would need him to rescue us, myself and the observer.
We received our briefing in the air; Ben Het was about 45 kilometers from Kontum, they had tried unsuccessfully with a Huey, each time getting shot out of the area. I agreed; LOH drivers never wanted to leave anyone behind.
I believe I asked for my guns "The Undertakers" to fly lead with the Pink Panthers in a daisy chain. By this time it was dark and we were going in for the rescue blacked out except for a light on top, so the guns could keep track of us. I called Undertaker 13 telling him I was descending from altitude and would be reaching the ground about a half mile out, flying Lima Lima (low leveled) in to the area of the downed Cobra. I asked Undertaker 13 if he still had me insight and that was the only time he was allowed to talk on an operational channel. He confirmed sighting me.
Once we arrived in the area we located the Cobra but we were unable to locate the pilot. We must have hovered around for a few minutes taking some small arm fire. I radioed gun lead and told them we were going to turn the landing lights on to help locate the pilot and asked them to give us close air support. We knew that the area would erupt with gunfire when the enemy could finally see the LOH. Lights went on and the tracers started to zip by. I imagine the guns were returning fire only to the flashes; we still hadn't located the pilot. My observer sighted Tim Conry on his knees. I moved the LOH over and landed right next to him and told the guns my aircraft was the safe area and blow everything else up and put the rockets as close as they could. I know some of the holes were from the guns close air support. God, you had to love those gun pilots.
I told the observer to get out and to help Tim into the aircraft. The observer got back in and I radioed 13 we had the Pilot and were taking off in the same direction we came in. 13, just said, "We have you". About 30 seconds into the flight my observer noticed Tim was partly hanging out of the ship, we were still low level so I landed the LOH and asked the observer to get back and stay with Tim and to hook up to the rear plugs so we could communicate. I asked him to find out how bad Tim's injuries were and if he thought Tim could make it to the 67 Evac an American Medical Hospital at Pleiku or did we need to go to Kontum. The observer answered Pleiku.
While climbing up to 1500 feet and heading towards Pleiku, it was real quiet and I thought to my self, under those conditions, we didn't have a chance of completing that extraction and chills ran down my back. I started making radio calls but had no response. I looked at the aircraft radios and discovered why it was so quiet; somehow they were all turned off. I finally made communication, letting everyone know our plans and thanking the guns for their excellent coverage.
My twenty-minute fuel warning light came on about 15 minutes from Pleiku. I radioed the 67 Evac and they were ready when we landed. I got out of the aircraft and followed the group inside, I wanted to find out Tim's condition so I could inform members of the 361st. The doctor looked at me and said "I'm sorry Captain but this man is dead", I stated "he can't be dead". The doctor said "he's very cold and has been dead for hours". I answered "We just spoke with him twenty minutes ago". A chill ran up my back and as I walked out the door I took my fist and left a hole in their wall. I was pissed.
I got in the LOH, flying on fumes about 1 click to POL, refueled and started searching for my feelings. We just rescued a dead man in an area I didn't think we would make it out of and he was on his knees and spoke to us when we picked him up. After refueling and parking the aircraft in the revetment I walked to my unit. I was stopped by some of the members of 361st. They thanked me; I remember I had tears forming in my eyes when I told them he didn't make it. I mentioned when they write let his family know, Tim new he had been rescued.
I didn't know until three years ago, the pilot, Bill Reader was still in the area that night. Bill was captured and thankfully released towards the end of the war. I met Bill at the VHPA annual reunion in Las Vegas in 2002. I also met a lot of the gun pilots that gave us cover and got us out.
Polei Kleng -
In 1973 while in the states, I ran into Tony Frugia a pilot who flew with us in the 7/17th Cav and a friend or classmate of Tim Conry. He told me about a mission that I flew on May 6, 1972, extracting two American Advisors from Polei Kleng. The base camp was being overrun by NVA. Jack Heslin discusses this in his "Phase II Battle for Border Camps" May 6th. These might have been the same two advisors Larry Brassell inserted in his memories "Three 51's Opened Up" on May 7th.
As the story goes; On May 6th we were released to return to camp Holloway when we were asked to extract two American Advisors from Polei Kleng. The base camp was involved in heavy fighting and it was looking like it would be overrun. John Paul Vann wanted his advisors extracted. The 361st Guns "Pink Panthers" would be providing gun coverage and guns from the 7/17th Cav "The Undertakers" would join them. Panther lead was running the operation and gave me a briefing of the situation. I told him we would descend to the ground and fly low level into the base camp approaching from the West. We would fly blacked-out except for one light on top. Gun lead confirmed and when we descended to the ground he confirmed his front seat had us sighted. As we approached Polei Kleng we could see flashes and explosion all over the camp. I noticed one of the gun ships was clearing a path in front of the aircraft using, I assumed, his 40mm. As we entered the camp I could see silhouettes of soldiers, NVA or ARVN's running around from the explosions. I spotted a built up bunker covered with sand bags, figuring it was the command bunker, I headed for it. I believe we took a few of their communication antennas down as we flew to the bunker and landed on top. We could hear and feel bullets hitting the LOH. I told my observer to aim his M-60 at anyone coming our way and if the figure wasn't large, shoot it. I can't remember if I was in direct contact with the advisors, I believe I would have been, but can not confirm that. My observer spotted two larger figures moving our way and we decided they were the advisors. They jumped into the LOH and started firing their weapons. I have no idea how many ARVN's were wounded or killed by friendly fire. I checked my gages and made my call to Panther lead; we had the advisors and were coming out the same way we entered. Lead just said "We got you". As we started to enter the perimeter of the camp low level, I again noticed explosions far enough out in front of our aircraft to clear a path. I asked the Advisors if they were in need of any medical care or could we go to Mr. Vann's headquarters. We landed at Mr. Vann's headquarters dropping off the advisors; flew over to Camp Holloway, took a shower, ate and again lost in Poker. Lucky in flying and a loser in Poker.
The information that Tony relayed to me when I met him in 1973 amazed me and sent chills down my back. I have to believe what he told was true, that the front seat in the Panther gun ship that night giving us that clearing path of fire going into Polie Kleng was Tim Conry.
Jim Stein <JimS@palecek.com>
USA - Friday, August 01, 2003 at 13:12:35 (PDT)