Flying over the jungles of Vietnam… Ward piled on the missions from the belly of a CH-46 helicopter

Published 6:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2019



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When the Creator makes man, each is created to accomplish things specific to their life.

Undoubtedly, when William D. “Dale” Ward was born, his mission in life was to fly and that mission carried him all the way to the Vietnam War where he served as a Sea Knight helicopter crew chief with the HMM-262 Flying Tigers.

Even more remarkable was the fact that Ward arrived in his home base Quang Tri, Vietnam at the start of the TED offensive in 1968 and flew 1000 combat missions in less than six months.

His missions varied from resupply, troop lifts, medical evacuation, and reconnaissance insert and extract missions. In other words, Ward saw it all and more.

Whether it was lying on the floor of the 50-foot-long CH-46 he was flying on and watching as the pilot maneuvered to pick up or drop off a net full of supplies to picking up and dropping off Marines and whisking them close to hot zones or back to base, everything Ward did was ingrained into his spirit from birth.

He was in charge when he was on the chopper because there were other lives at risk besides his as four other lives depended on him according to what Ward shared with the Rotovue — a publication of the Marine Corps Air Facility in New River, N.C., that published a piece on Ward while he was flying missions in Vietnam.

The job was tough, but so was Ward. Would he do it again — absolutely because of the guys he was with.

“We had 28 helicopters and in 40 days we lost 14 helicopters and 21 men as they shot the whiz out of us,” said Ward. “I spent 13 months and two days in the country.

“I lived in a helicopter and I loved what I did. Every 20 missions, you earned an air medal so if you do the math, then you will see how many of those I received.

“I was responsible for everything on that helicopter.”

Ward was downed three times in helicopters by enemy fire but only had to destroy one spare helicopter to keep the Vietnamese from using anything from the chopper for weapons.

The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) was close by in the tree lines coming to capture the aircraft and crew. Ward and crew had to call in an airstrike to destroy the helicopter.

Ward stated that one of the most rewarding parts of his job was the Medevac missions.

“I can’t tell you how many men I pulled out of the jungle, but I do know the biggest percentage of them made it,” said Ward. “We would go in and get them and get them back to the hospital and a lot of them made it.

“I was on Medevac missions and at the end of the day the wind would blow through my flight suit and it would be bloody. As a crew chief, you learn really quick to do battle dressings. I was only 20 years old.”

Ward admitted the toughest missions that he and his crew embarked on was to pick up the KIA’s (killed in action).

“I have picked them up and they didn’t have body bags to put them in,” Ward said. “They would just be wrapped in a poncho. One time, we went into a sit-down zone and they said there was a KIA we needed to take.

“What was left was wrapped in a poncho and tied and when I reached to get the body, an arm bone or leg bone punched through the side. At that time, you are doing the best you can but in later years you start to think back that the body was somebody’s son — he belonged to someone.”

Ward went on to share how someone very special to him also was killed as Ward watched as a wingman.

“One of my best friends was from Marion, Indiana and his name was Bill Berry,” Ward began. “He used to come home with me on weekends on a three-day pass. I watched him get blown out of the sky.

“We were doing what we call an insert putting Marines in a zone. What the enemy would do was they would let the first helicopter land and let its troops off and the second one would come in and drop the troops off and then blow them out of the sky.

“We always turned where we could watch our wingman,” continued Ward. “When they picked up, they hit them with an RPG. A total of five were killed and the CO wouldn’t let me go back to recover the bodies because of being close to Bill.”

Ward said that around 50 to 60 in his unit were killed in his time in Vietnam.

As everyone knows the statement that applies to any war is that “War is Hell.” However, Ward said that everything was not always serious as pilots often had fun with some of the locals.

“You get these pilots who were hotshots that could do anything,” said Ward. “I had this one Captain, whose name was B.B. Cole. He could fly a 46 upside down if it were possible to do it. I would fly anywhere with him.

“This is awful because we were mean, but we would be flying along and they had a one-lane highway, Highway One, and it was just a packed dirt road. We would be flying and finishing up our day heading back to base.

“The Vietnamese had these little buses and they would hang on the bumpers and on top of it everywhere and Captain Cole would say I always wanted to be a bomber pilot,” continued Ward.

“He would climb to about 3000 feet and cut the power and when we got close, he pulled the power in and we blew them off those vehicles in every direction.

“You could see them flying everywhere.”

Ward had other stories — both funny and tear-jerking, but the bottom line was he was proud to serve his country doing precisely what he loved to do — fly.