Charger Dustoff

Was reading a piece in the latest issue of The VVA Veteran magazine on a documentary called When I Have Your Wounded, the legacy of Army Major Charles L. Kelly, the founder of Dustoff medevacs in Vietnam. Which you can watch free here and you should because it’s worth the hour or so it takes.

Got me to thinking about Charger Dustoff, the call sign of a frequency I used to call medevacs while at Moc Bai, when I was an Army lieutenant advising Vietnamese light-infantry militia, about a klick southeast of LZ Baldy. It was then occupied at first by the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and subsequently by the 7th Marine Regiment. All I ever knew was the call sign Charger Dustoff, which came and took our Vietnamese wounded about 25 kilometers southeast to the 91st Evacuation Hospital at Chu Lai.

The Vietnamese preferred Charger to the Vietnamese dustoffs, first because Charger would come in a hurry while the Vietnamese pilots took their time about it, and second, as their lieutenants told me, the American doctors would work to save a limb whereas the Vietnamese surgeons simply whacked off a damaged arm or leg, making the survivor a beggar for life.

Thanks to Google, I learned that Charger was part of the 236th Medical Detachment out of Da Nang. They initially were assigned to the 196th at Baldy. But when the 196th left Baldy to the 7th Marine Regiment, Charger stayed around, operating out of Hawk Hill, about 16 klicks southeast of Baldy.

And so we used them through December of 1969 when I left Moc Bai to take a desk job at province headquarters in Hoi An. Two stories, one about their pique at having their time wasted and a second one about their fearlessness:

One morning we had a Vietnamese troop who was losing a lot of blood from multiple gunshot wounds while we waited for Charger to come get him. But the medics couldn’t stop the bleeding and he died just as the bird was settling into our little LZ. The pilots were pissed off, partly at our wasting their time and partly because they didn’t much like ferrying wounded Vietnamese anyway. But before they could lay into me about it, they got a call from an American unit and flew off to take care of them.

The other story is about one time after midnight on radio watch when I heard a Marine lieutenant come up on the 7th Regiment’s artillery net seeking a medevac for a dying troop on a distant hilltop under fire. He was told to forget it because the big, twin-rotor CH-46 they used couldn’t be risked for one guy.

At that news the lieutenant broke down and started begging. I got his freq and connected him with Charger who were only too happy to fly into a hot LZ in the dark to get his man. This was at a time when few aircraft of any kind flew at night in Vietnam, let alone helicopters. They got him out safely and I heard later that the wounded young Marine survived. I also heard that the regimental XO was mighty pissed at me for interfering in Marine business.

3 responses to “Charger Dustoff

  1. We, our unit in Nam, also experienced the attitude that an expensive chopper would not be risked for one WIA. Army Hueys would drop in where 46s would, or could, not.
    Really disappointing for us grunts. We would almost be irritated by it, sometimes.

  2. Richard Mosher

    I was a medic with Charger Dustoff out of LZ Baldy until July 1968. We flew many times to evac one person! Most adrenaline pumping job I ever had!

  3. I guess so, Richard. Thanks for the comment. Yes, JD, I imagine it would be disappointing, to say the least.