|Name:||Jesus Armando Gonzalez|
|Rank/Branch:||Staff Sergeant/US Army|
228th Aviation Battalion (Assault Support Helicopter),
11th Aviation Group, 1st Cavalry Division
|Date of Birth:||20 September 1947 (Mexico)|
|Home of Record:||El Paso, TX|
|Date of Loss:||19 April 1968|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
162247N 1070658E (YD290105)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||William R. Dennis and Douglas R.Blodgett(missing)|
REMARKS:CHOPPER CAUGHT FIRE; CRASHED
SYNOPSIS:The Boeing Vertol CH47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter arrived in Southeast Asia in September 1965 and could carry almost anything. Airlifting troops, supplies, artillery pieces and field equipment were routine tasks for “The Hook.” More important, with its two Lycoming T-55-L-7 turboshaft engines offering 4,400shp, it could salvage downed aircraft and return them for repair. Few helicopters were as powerful or as versatile as the Chinook.
The A Shau Valley was one of two vital communist strategic areas in South Vietnam. Surrounded by exceptionally rugged mountains many with sheer cliff faces, the valley was located in western Thua Thien Province approximately 5 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border. The long, narrow 25-mile triangular shaped valley, which was covered in jungle, 15 to 20-foot high elephant grass and bamboo groves was an extension of the Ho Chi Minh Trail funneling troops and supplies into the acknowledged war zone.
Route 548 was a well traveled road that ran nearly dead center through the valley. It was cleverly concealed and had established bridges over the streams as well as Binh Trams - roadside rest stops with overhead cover that were used for vehicle maintenance, supply depots, etc. The NVA had also constructed a gasoline pipeline running adjacent to the road. At the northern end of the valley was the major NVA staging area known as “Base Area 611.” Because of the valley’s importance to the communists plan for victory, the A Shau was ringed by one of the most sophisticated interlocking anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) battery systems devised to date. Further, at any given time the enemy garrisoned 5,000 to 6,000 troops within their valley stronghold.
Operation Delaware/Lam Son 216 was a joint mission launched to reestablish an American and South Vietnamese presence in the A Shau Valley. To that end on 10 April 1968, a 9-day air campaign to “soften up” the valley in advance of the planned assault began with 21 B-52 air strikes and 209 Air Force and Marine fighter sorties along with artillery barrages that pummeled enemy positions.
At 0930 hours on 19 April 1968, the main assault to establish a series of fire bases in the A Shau Valley lifted off from a marshalling point located just southwest of Camp Evans. All aircraft were forced to climb to 6,000 feet in order to fly over the clouds and descend one at a time into the valley through holes in the overcast. In spite of the heavy bombardment leading up to the assault, each aircraft approaching any of the planned landing zones (LZs) ran a gauntlet of withering ground fire ranging from small arms and automatic weapons to .50 caliber machine guns and radar controlled 37mm AAA fire. Interestingly, the exact location of each of the landing zones/base camps was determined by the placement of bomb craters. Those LZs included Signal Hill, Tiger Upper, Tiger Lower, Vicky, Pepper, A Luoi, Stallion, Goodman and Cecil.
CWO2 Don Winskey, aircraft commander; unidentified pilot; SP5 Gonzalez, crew chief; SP4 William Dennis, flight engineer; and then SP4 Blodgett, crewman; comprised the crew of a CH47A (serial #64-13124) that was delivering a load of ammunition to LZ Vicky.
At 1600 hours, CWO2 Winskey found an opening in the clouds and descended below the overcast. The crew of the Command and Control Huey helicopter happened to be watching the Chinook as it began the two mile final approach to the landing zone at an altitude of 2,000 feet when it was struck by intense and accurate AAA fire.
The Huey’s crew reported that there was an explosion in the aft section of the Chinook and it caught fire while in the air. They continued to watch as Don Winskey fought to land the crippled helicopter, but it rolled inverted just before crashing into the dense jungle and exploding a second time upon impact. At that time the entire fuselage was seen to be on fire. Within minutes a third explosion erupted as the load of ammunition blew up leaving twisted and scattered burning wreckage strewn across on the rugged mountainside less then 2 miles northeast of LZ Vicky.
Because of the catastrophic nature of this loss and the location being in dense forest on an extremely rugged mountain slope known to be infested by a large number of enemy troops, no ground search was attempted for the missing aircrew. Dan Winskey, Douglas Blodgett, William Dennis, Jesus Gonzalez and the pilot were immediately declared Missing in Action.
During the brief time between the second and third explosions, the aircraft commander and pilot were able to unbuckle their harnesses and exit the Chinook through the right pilot’s door and escape into the forest. The two men could hear enemy troops moving through the jungle as they made their way to LZ Vicky by following the sound of the chainsaws employed soldiers clearing fields of fire to secure the area around the new facility. They arrived at 0100 hours on 20 April.
CWO2 Winskey and the pilot had been burned by the fire that swept from rear to front through their aircraft and were immediately medically evacuated to the US military hospital at Phu Bai.
During their debriefings, Don Winskey and the pilot stated that at no time after they exited the aircraft did they see SP5 Gonzalez, SP4 Dennis or SP4 Blodgett. They added that they believed the three crewmen probably were not able to get out of the burning hulk.
Beginning in 1993, several joint US/Vietnamese teams under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to the A Shau Valley, A Luoi District, Thua Thien Province to investigate several losses, including that of the Chinook. They interviewed several witnesses who possessed firsthand and hearsay information about case. They also traveled to the site of the official loss coordinates in Hong Van Village, but found no evidence of a crash site, remains or personal effect of the aircrew.
If Jesus Gonzalez, William Dennis and Douglas Blodgett died in the loss of their helicopter, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all humanly possible. However, if they were able to escape as did the aircraft commander and pilot, the could have been captured by NVA troops openly operating throughout the region and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they proudly served.
During Operation Delaware/Lam Son 216 enemy gunners damaged 25 helicopters including 10 that were shot down. Of those 10 losses, 4 were lost within 5 kilometers of each other and had aircrews or a passenger declared POW/MIA.