GERVAIS, DONALD PETER

Name:  Donald Peter Gervais
Rank/Branch: Master Sergeant/US Army 
Unit:  Troop B, 1st Squadron, 
9th Cavalry 1st Cavalry Division 
Camp Evans, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 20 July 1943 
Home of Record: Clarksville, TN
Date of Loss: 01 May 1968 
Country of Loss:  South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates:  162105N 1070535E (YD233082)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  OH6A "Cayuse"
Other Personnel in Incident: Warren T. Whitmire, Jr. and Richard D. Martin (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:   The Hughes OH6A Cayuse was known by the troops by its nickname "Loach" - a derivative of "light observation helicopter." The armed OH6A was the primary scout helicopter used in Vietnam and usually carried a crew of two. The pilot controlled a mini-gun and a gunner/crew chief handled a "free 60" machine gun, among other weapons, which was attached to the aircraft by a strap. The Loach crews flew the most dangerous missions assigned to Army aviators because they flew low and usually slow enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy targets for the enemy.

On 1 May 1968, WO1 Warren T. Whitmire, pilot; then Sgt. Donald P. Gervais, door gunner; and Cpl. Richard D. Martin, crewchief; comprised the crew of an OH6A helicopter in a flight of two aircraft conducting a screening operation for the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry to LZ Tiger in the western section of the infamous A Shau Valley, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam.

The scout ship had a secondary visual reconnaissance mission to determine if three of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry's Missing in Action were anywhere to be found in this sector. They were also to determine, if possible, whether or not the NVA force that had been operating in the area was still there. The second aircraft in the flight was a UHIB gunship.

At 1800 hours, the aircraft commander of the Huey, 1st Lt. Allan Baker, was in a holding pattern in an area to the west of LZ Tiger which marked the approximate center of his left hand orbit about 1000 to 1500 feet above the terrain. Warren Whitmire flew west along the road paralleling it at a distance of 50 to 100 meters south of the road. Sgt. Gervais and Cpl. Martin scanned the terrain on each side of the aircraft as WO1 Whitmire flew low over the countryside.

As he continued his left hand turn, Lt. Baker heard WO1 Whitmire yell something over the FM radio, then Lt. Baker looked down in time to see the Loach appear to clip a dead tree while dodging enemy ground fire. Both the lieutenant and his crewchief, whose duty positions were on the right side of the Huey, saw something come off of the OH6A, but could not identify what it was. Both men also saw the scout ship spin to the right for three complete revolutions before crashing into an extremely rugged and densely forested ravine located approximately 1 miles north of the Vietnamese/Lao boarder, 30 miles west-southwest of Hue and 75 miles northwest of DaNang.

At the same time Lt. Baker reported the scout ship's loss, he saw the lift ship (troop carrier) launch from LZ Tiger with a squad of infantry aboard. He told the pilot of the lift ship to hold out away from the area of contact while he initiated a visual search. Before the Huey could get close enough to locate the wreckage and inspect it for signs of life, the gunship commander saw muzzle flashes from the same location the scout ship had taken ground fire from. Lt. Baker made two rocket passes attacking the area in which he thought the enemy guns were hidden in. Afterward, the Huey broke off contact and continued to try to locate the site of the downed aircraft. The gunship's crew knew the general area of the crash, but could not locate the exact position due to the extremely dense vegetation below.

B Troop's Executive Officer, Major Charles Gilmer, arrived on station in another Huey gunship allowing Lt. Baker and the lift ship, which had continued to stay in a holding pattern, to return to LZ Stallion to refuel. Major Gilmer made several low level passes over the target area searching for the missing scout ship. As he did so, he also drew enemy ground fire. When the aerial search was terminated later in the day, both gun ships returned to Camp Evans.

Meanwhile, at 0800 hours 2nd Lt. Allan Lagacky's infantry platoon, Company B, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, observed the flight of two aircraft as they performed their mission, then watched as the scout ship came under enemy fire and disappeared from sight as it settled to the thick jungle. Company B's vantage point was from its outpost #3 (OP3) located approximately 1 ½ kilometers southeast of the crash site.

Because no one actually saw the aircraft touch down, it was necessary to send in a ground element to physically search the area; and since Company B was already aware of the loss, it was given the mission of securing the downed Loach and rescuing/recovering the crew. It was mid-morning before Company B was prepared to conduct its ground reconnaissance/rescue mission. Then the rugged terrain and dense jungle infested with NVA troops made it impossible for the platoon to reach the area of loss until 1530 hours.

According to Lt. Lagacky's after action report, once the platoon approached the area of the downed OH6A, they were in the process of setting up local security when the pointman spotted the aircraft through the foliage. Through his field glasses, and from a distance of no greater than 300 meters, the platoon leader observed three NVA soldiers on and near the helicopter. He also noted that the Loach did not burn upon landing. And in fact, it appeared to be in good shape other than the rotor blades being missing. The aircraft landed on its skids, then slid downhill with its nose pointing uphill. Further, he did not see signs of any US personnel anywhere in the area.

Lt. Lagacky began moving his platoon toward the aircraft. When they were between 200 to 300 meters away from it, his platoon came under enemy machine gun fire. The Americans suffered 3 Killed in Action and 6 Wounded in Action during the ensuing fire fight. When it became clear the platoon could not reach the downed helicopter, they were ordered to withdraw, get their wounded and dead out, and mark the area for Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA).

During the next two days, there were plans by the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry to try to reach the downed scout ship. However, because of the strength of the NVA forces controlling the area, none were able to be implemented. It was the opinion of those who saw the downed aircraft that the shootdown was definitely survivable. The fact that NVA troops were in total control of the area also confirmed the fact that the crew members' fate was absolutely known to the enemy. Because there was no confirmation of capture, Warren T. Whitmire, Jr., Donald P. Gervais and Richard D. Martin were listed Missing in Action.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were call upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.