LCpl. Howard Thomas Lenhard

Sgt. John D. "Crash" Crider, crew chief of YK-1 recalls:

On October 5, 1969 my aircraft, YK-1, was scheduled to fly resupply missions to various LZs southeast of DaNang supporting the 7th Marines out of LZ Baldy.  The crew consisted of 1stLt. Jim Stewart, pilot, Maj. John L. "Jack" Pipa, copilot and LCpl. Lenhard, left aerial gunner. I was the crew chief and since it was considered a routine logistical support mission I also manned the right .50 caliber machine gun and we did not have a corpsman aboard.

The morning resupply missions were completed uneventfully. During this time the radio's are routinely monitored and we overheard a request for a medical evacuation (Medevac) from a mountain top fire base in our general operating area.  It was either assigned to us by DaNang Direct Air Support Center Lt. Stewart volunteered to accept the Medevac since we were already in the immediate area. On our way to the LZ we were briefed on the radio by the fire base that they had been receiving sporadic sniper fire from the southwest, winds were light and the LZ was enveloped by dense fog and visibility was marginal.  With this information it was decided it would be best to approach the LZ very slowly and cautiously from the northeast due to visibility and the mountain ridge which was on our left.  On the flight to the LZ we checked the .50 caliber machine guns by firing a few rounds each making ready for possible action and joked that maybe we would get some unexpected "gun time" that day.  As we began our approach to the mountain LZ we requested they pop a smoke, but due to low visibility and fog it was decided we could not identify the smoke and waved off the approach.

 Since the medevac was classified as something less than an emergency (probably a routine), the decision was made to refuel, complete some additional logistic missions and allow time for the visibility to improve in that LZ.  After completing several of these tasks, it was decided enough time had elapsed that the medevac LZ visibility should have improved.  Again we approached from the northeast on our second attempt to extract the Medevac and we were informed that the LZ was still under dense cloud/fog conditions.  But instead of popping smoke on request as we neared, they would ignite a thermite grenade in their LZ which would be more visible since they burned brilliant as well as extremely hot and could be seen at a great distance.  As we made a slow, cautious approach everyone was concerned about the close proximity of the mountain rapidly rising on our left.  LCpl. Lenhard was standing up, hands on his .50 cal. looking out the left side, he turned a 1/4 turn to the right so he could direct suppressive return fire if necessary to the left and forward as we neared the LZ.  I had turned to the right side of the CH-46, and was bending over looking out the crew chief door, looking forward trying to locate the LZ in the fog.  As I was speaking to the pilots I heard one loud pop, then silence for a few seconds, but no return fire from LCpl. Lenhard's machine gun.  Then there was a sudden burst of automatic fire from left and the unmistakable snap of bullets striking the CH-46.  Lt. Stewart immediately made an evasive hard right turn in order to distance us from the ground fire and the side of the mountain.  Before I could turn away from the door, I felt LCpl. Lenhard grab my leg, turning around I found him lying on his back with his right leg twisted under him and he was slapping his right thigh with his right hand.  I notified the pilots immediately initially thinking that LCpl. Lenhard was hit and his right leg had been broken by gunfire.  By this time the pilot was already "red lining" the rotors and the airspeed to get to the nearest aid station at LZ Baldy.  John had in fact been hit under the left arm, the single bullet entered between the front and back halves of his bullet bouncer ricocheting and exiting his lower body.  My bird received numerous bullet strikes, but we were able to return Marble Mountain Air Facility.  We never made it back to our intended LZ nor heard of the status of our original medical evacuee.  I am sure that another bird completed the mission.

I have flown this particular mission in my mind many times since that day. I recall LCpl. Lenhard flying as my aerial gunner  numerous times and that he was a very competent member of the aircrew.  He was also my friend.

LtCol. John L. "Jack" Pipa, USMC (Ret) recalls:

I was the copilot of the aircraft in which LCpl. Lenhard was killed.  The site was on the top of a ridge line and the clouds were moving in and out of the zone.  We couldn't shoot a normal approach, we had to go to a clear area and try to hover over to the zone.  When LCpl. Lenhard was hit we took several other hits in the airframe, including several up through the bubble under my feet.  I still have the bullet bouncer I wore that day with two holes in it for a souvenir.

Lenhard was hit hard so we went to the nearest available medical facility at LZ Baldy.  He was rushed to the operating room and we shut down to check for other damage.  I remember standing at the door of the operating room and watching the medical people working frantically over him while I prayed.  When they finally shook their heads and gave up I was crushed.  I remember it vividly.

Out of 1,332 missions there are very few that I remember in detail, but that one will stay with me forever.

After Action Report

Information provided by:
    HMM-364 Command Chronology
    HMM-364 After Action Reports
    John L. Lane, former Cpl. USMC
    Dave, McSorley, Colonel USMC(Ret)
    Denver Cavins, former Cpl. USMC
    John D. "Crash" Crider, former Sgt. USMC
    John L. "Jack" Pipa, LtCol. USMC (Ret)

Last Revision: January  27, 2006

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