Part 2 of 3

Sgt. Don Wilmot of Sterling Township served with the Marine Corps Aviation detachment from January 1963 to January 1967.

He landed in Vietnam on October 13, 1965.

Sgt. Don Wilmot of Sterling Township served with the Marine Corps Aviation detachment from January 1963 to January 1967.

He landed in Vietnam on October 13, 1965.

 Four best friends
“When I got in to Vietnam, having no combat experience, you’re green,” he said. Nobody wanted to be near a new guy, because he made mistakes. “You just didn’t get near him for about a month, until he got experience,” he said.

He’ll never forget fellow crew chief, Sgt. Benjamin Brooks of Hollister, CA, He was like a big brother. “At night, him and I would have conversations. He’d tell me how to string a carburetor, how to do all this. He was very good to me,” he says about a mentor who kind of took him under his wing. “ Thirty days later, he got shot in the head and killed,” Don says. The first of four good friends lost to war.

“My next friend that got killed was (SSgt.) Thomas Walsh. He was from Wisconsin. He was an E6 in the Marines,” he says. He was 30 years-old when he died. “He got killed on my helicopter. He was a window gunner. And he got shot through the chest and got killed. It was one of those freaky things. It was so hot over there. Even at night, it would go down to 80 degrees. You’re just so hot. Well, in the helicopter, you had to wear a flak vest. Well, at night time, a lot of times, we’d open up our flak vests to get that cool air in. Well, this was during Operation Colorado. And we went in for medivacs, and he had forgotten to close his vest. 

“That same night, (Pvt.) Richard Skinner was killed on the ground,” Wilmot says. They’d gone to boot camp together. “Twenty-one years-old. He was from Greenbelt, Maryland. My fourth friend on the (Vietnam) Wall was (Cpl.) Homer Hollister. Homer Hollister was from Hollisterville ...He was four years younger than me. His tour of duty started in March. He died February 2nd. He was less than a month from coming home,” he says.

If no one wanted to be near the new guy, the same was true for the guy whose tour was nearly over. Labeled short-timers, “when you only had 30 days left in country, nobody wanted to be near you. Because all of sudden your thoughts are back home, the girlfriend, the wife, I’m coming home. I’m going home. You just kind of let your guard down,” he says.

The rescue mission
One of the hardest rescue missions involved the loss of nine Marines.

 Two amtracs, amphibious tractors, were trying to cross the Ca De River near Da Nang when they sank. A yellowed newspaper clipping tells the story. Written at the time of the tragedy by Joe Schneider, S&S Vietnam Bureau Chief, the article reads, “The amtracs, carrying 15 marines were making their way back from a troop-ferrying mission with one tractor towing another which had lost power. The tow cable broke, and one amtrac sank after it was swept into Da Nang bay by the onrushing tide. The second vehicle sank during the rescue operation.”

“It was a monsoon,” Don remembers. “It was raining so hard, you couldn’t see. Well we attempted to rescue these guys. They were corks, bobbing in the ocean. We managed to rescue six. There were 15 marines on the amtrac.”

Visibility that day was nonexistent. “We would consider it 0-0, which means your ability to see up was zero, to see in front of you was zero. Six were rescued by helicopters and the coast guard. I managed to be in on the rescue of three. We practiced sea rescue before we went to Vietnam. A nice sunny day, we went down to the ocean, you hovered over, you dropped your cable, you practiced. Well, here all of a sudden you’ve got swells 15 feet high. You’ve got the rain hitting the rotor blades. Once you got down near the water, the rotor wash was bringing more rain up into your face. You couldn’t really see. You couldn’t hover over somebody, because they were going up and down. You had to drop your cable and you flew around in a circle. And you swung by, hoping they would grab the cable ...The last one, we were coming around, and I could see him. We come right close to him. We were like four feet from him. He went under. That was it. He just never came up,” he says. “To this day, I can’t go swimming in a swimming pool. If I flush the toilet, with that (movement) going around, I’m in Vietnam. Anything to do with water — it’s a trigger,” he says. “It’s called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”