© Copyright Michael Dan Kellum 2010
American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs" by Michael Dan Kellum, USMCR
USMC Combat Correspondent / Photographer
With MAG-16, 1st MAW, 1969-70
One Photo by George Curtis
USMC Combat Helicopter Association
A Nine Photo Series by Corporal Doug Woods
The following photos show how 1st Recon Battalion Marines were extracted by Sea Knight helicopter on June
5, 1970 in a place the aircraft could only get to by a 12-story long "ladder." The extraction device is a flexible 120-
foot long wire and aluminum ladder rolled up inside the helicopter at the back ramp and bolted in three places at
the roughly 3x3-foot hell hole midway of the length of the CH-46. The rolled up ladder attached underneath the
helicopter at the hell hole is thrown out the back ramp once the crew chief has found the pilot an opening in the
dense canopy or terrain to a waiting Recon team in the bush for them to quickly sit down on the rungs and snap
link the harness they are wearing onto it for extraction.
Reference to the ladder extraction shows up in one story in author Michael Dan Kellum's Chapter 1 of Book I,
American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs" and two stories in Chapters 4 and 8 in Book II, American Heroes:
Grunts, Pilots & "Docs" with excerpts shown below. The black and white sequence photos were taken by Cpl.
Doug Woods, USMC combat correspondent/photographer assigned to cover Marine Air Group-16, 1st Marine Air
Wing, 1969-1970. His photo assignment was to accompany a Sea Knight flying out of the Marble Mountain Air
Facility in Da Nang on June 5, 1970 and snap photos of a 1st Recon team extraction from the bush.
Woods was flying with 1stLt. Fred McCorkle, a pilot with HMM-262 Chatterbox, who would go on to become a
3-star general before retiring from the Marine Corps; his copilot, 1stLt. M.G. "Mike" Harr; crew chief, M.T. McGee;
and doorgunners, MSgt. O.W. Starr and F.D. Rocha during the photo assignment.
McCorkle flew two 1st Recon extracts and two insert missions this day for a total of 5 flight hours going from
0655 to 1230. His wing man was 1stLt. R.W. Forbes and his copilot 1stLt. B. Fears; crew chief, Cpl. Leo Albert
Beach (KIA, September 22, 1970); and doorgunners M.H. Parrish and J.R. Rodriquez. Two Cobra gunships from
the HML-367 Scarface squadron escorted the two Sea Knights this day. Names of the two pilots in the Cobras
was unavailable. No 1st Recon Patrol Debrief or records are available for June 1970 so the team being
transported could not be identified. The extract took place southwest of Da Nang, South Vietnam in the Que Son
Mountains, where most the 1st Recon teams were patrolling by 1970.
The color photo of Recon Marines on the ladder at An Hoa Combat Base is courtesy of George Curtis and the
USMC Combat Helicopter Association.
Book I, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs," Chapter 1
"After that first pass (that night), we got good orientation and (1stLt.) Dave (Cross) came around very quickly
and shot a perfect approach to a high hover. (Crew chief Cpl.) Joe (Dobosz) talked him down so the rotors were
just above the local trees. The fuselage was down below the tops of the trees and the ladder was rolled off the
ramp and down to the team just like it was supposed to work. It was very black now and the only reference we
had was silhouettes of the trees formed by the rocket and tracer fire," said 1stLt. Doug Orahood. The helicopter
was so far into the top of the trees Orahood said he had to shut his side window as limbs were sticking into his
side of the cockpit.
Dobosz rolled the 120-foot flexible aluminum ladder out the back ramp for (Cpl. Garza's 7-man Team Take Out
from 1st Recon's Bravo Co.) to snap link onto from the harnesses they were wearing over their camouflage jungle
utilities. The ladder was attached underneath the Sea Knight at the 3x3-foot hell hole and the idea was for the
team to ride back in the night to a safe LZ (at the 5th Special Forces Camp at Thuong Duc across from The
Tennis Courts) to retrieve the ladder and put them aboard the helicopter.
The doorgunners were restrained from firing at the muzzle flashes in all directions on the ground initially so as
not to give away the location of the Sea Knight to the enemy in the night sky by following the location of the red
tracer rounds from the .50 caliber machine guns back to the aircraft. As the Sea Knight descended, the
doorgunners were turned loose on the enemy below...
Book II, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs," Chapter 4
Extract Requested by Team Thin Man
At 1654 (March 2, 1970) Team Thin Man of 1st Recon's Charlie Company managed to reach Bronco OV-
10A pilot Hostage 6, Lt.Col. James M. Moriarty, Marine Observation Squadron (VMO)-2 CO, who was in the air
nearby, to request an extract. Four minutes later the team called for a ladder extract (3 to 4 flexible wire
ladders sewn together, had lightweight aluminum as rungs, 120-feet long, about 6-feet wide, rolled up inside
the Sea Knight and attached underneath the aircraft at the 3x3-foot hell hole in the center of the aircraft). Soon
thereafter (Sgt. Larry) Gifford was upgraded to an emergency extract requiring the use of a hoist cable and a
jungle penetrator. The hoist was installed on the low helo (extract Sea Knight) at the Marble Mountain Air
Facility. 1st Recon's Command Operations Center (COC) at Camp Reasoner logged in another call at 1708 for
two emergency extracts. (2ndLt. David) Skibbe was also down by then....
Book II, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs," Chapter 8
At 1915 (September 1, 1970 as darkness enveloped 1st Recon's Team Chili Pepper from Bravo Co.) the
helicopter flight returned. The designated extract Sea Knight dropped the long 120-foot flexible ladder out its
back ramp to the team below and hovered overhead waiting for the team to hook on. LCpl Tim Luhrs, HM3
McKinley, LCpl. Dale Allen Pennington and LCpl. Dave Delozier climbed up higher on the ladder while Sgt.
Rowley and LCpl. Airaghi and LCpl. Jimmy Holkem held it steady for them from the rocky ledge of the side of the
Luhrs climbed up the ladder 15-20 feet and snap linked onto it as McKinley, Delozier and Pennington, who
was lugging the PRC-25 radio, were still climbing up when the Sea Knight moved away from the cliff causing the
three men at the bottom holding the ladder to let go else they would've been dragged over the side of the cliff to
the rocks below.
The problem with the ladder was compounded by the downward thrust of tornadic wind from the helicopter's
rotorblades causing an unstable tree to topple over hitting the ladder. The impact made the ladder jerk
dislodging the three Marines still climbing upwards. It not only knocked McKinley, Delozier and Pennington off
the ladder but also slammed into Holkem on the ground hitting him in the head and killing him instantly. Sgt.
Rowley was knocked off his feet and rendered unconscious. Bouncing on the rocks the three men were standing
on, the tree knocked Airaghi off his feet onto his back. He looked up to see only Luhrs dangling from the ladder
...1st Recon's extract officer aboard the helicopter (September 2, 1970), 1stLt. A.J. Pack, CO of Charlie Co.,
climbed down the ladder to help the team and passed Sgt. Rowley (in a Stokes litter) on the way up. (Cpl.
Feldman noted that the ladder was attached underneath the Sea Knight and rolled up in the back of the
helicopter before it was thrown out. For Pack to reach the ladder underneath the helicopter he would have had
to exit by the hell hole and grab hold of the ladder which would have been one dicey move. The way the Patrol
Debrief reads this is apparently what he did…down and back up the ladder---MDK). As the lieutenant got to the
ground, Sgt. Rowley's basket (attached to a cable hoist's cable) got hung up on the ladder. Pack climbed back
up the ladder and managed to get the sergeant untangled and into the aircraft with the crew chief's help...
Six 1st Recon Marines carried the heavy rolled up aluminum ladder from its shelter where it is stored
beside the Camp Reasoner LZ 401 to the waiting CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopter. The ladder is
bolted down in three places inside the Sea Knight at the back of the 3x3-foot hell hole which is located in
the middle of the aircraft, according to Recon Marine Cpl. Larry Feldman, who recalled helping to attach
the ladder to Sea Knights many times in 1970. They then wrap the remainder of the roll on the outside of
the aircraft to the back ramp then roll what's left up into the aircraft in preparation for a Recon ladder
extraction in the bush. The ladder will easily accommodate seven Recon Marines including their Navy
Corpsman (Doc) at a weight in the neighborhood of 250-300 lbs. each or better put, 2,100 lbs. plus or
minus. To deploy the ladder all that has to be done is roll or kick the rolled up ladder out the back ramp.
(Photo by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/photographer with Marine Air Group-16, 1st
Marine Air Wing, 1969-70)
The Sea Knight's crew chief, M.T. McGee, looks out the 3x3-foot hell hole in the center of the Sea Knight
at the Marines below. He's in constant contact with the pilot by radio giving him instructions as to where to
descend to after the ladder has been rolled off the back of the helicopter to the waiting Recon Marines in
the bush. In a steady hover the helicopter gently puts the ladder on the ground for the team to climb onto
and hook up. The ladder is attached to the back of the hell hole, as shown above, and the Marines will
ride the ladder facing forward. (Photo by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/photographer
with MAG-16, 1st MAW, 1969-70)
This angle of the extraction was taken by Cpl. Woods on the Sea Knight's starboard side from either the
gunner's .50 caliber window or the crew chief's window looking back towards the rear of the aircraft. (Photo
by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/ photographer with MAG-16, 1st MAW, 1969-70)
The Recon team has either found an open area where the ladder can be safely dropped or they've done the
expedient thing and blown an opening in a forested area with explosive C-4 plastique. When all the Marines are
safely on the ladder, either the team's radioman or patrol leader indicates to the crew chief McGee or pilot 1stLt.
McCorkle they are good to go by giving a thumbs up or notifying them by radio. The hover and slow ascent to
clear the trees is the hairiest part of the whole extract mission as enemy soldiers may be waiting in ambush to
engage a helicopter at its most vulnerable moment. The Sea Knight will lift the ladder with its precious cargo of
Marines straight up to clear the canopy then it's the most breathtaking adrenaline rush Six Flags ride you could
ever imagine as the aircraft can get up to speeds well over 100 mph. And if the enemy's green tracers are stitching
the sky trying to hit the Sea Knight to bring it down or hit a Marine dangling helplessly from the ladder, it can be a
heart stopper of a ride as well. To orient you, the team's legs protrude from the ladder in the direction the Sea
Knight will be flying. (Photo by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/photographer with MAG-16, 1st
Recon Marines on the ladder under a hovering Sea Knight at An Hoa Combat Base.
(Photo courtesy of George Curtis and the USMC Combat Helicopter Association)
The Recon team on the ladder sits on the aluminum rungs with their legs dangling out the side facing the camera
and the direction they are going. Note the dizzying height at which they are above the Vietnamese hooches and
fields they're passing below. McGee, at left, checks on the team through the hell hole as the helicopter passes
bomb or artillery craters in the upper left of the photo. The Recon Marine closest to the camera has both arms
wrapped around the rungs. (Photo by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/photographer with MAG-
16, 1st MAW, 1969-70)
Safe and sound back at Camp Reasoner off LZ 401 the Recon team disconnects its harness' snap link "D" right from
the ladder as the Sea Knight hovers above them. The Marines in t-shirt and no shirt moves in to help the last men
unhooking and stepping out of the ladder. (Photo by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/photographer
with MAG-16, 1st MAW, 1969-70)
The Recon ground crew clears the ladder and awaits the Sea Knight to land so they can disengage the ladder
connection from the three bolted points at the hell hole. All's well as another Recon team has returned from a
patrol. Feldman notes that the Marine on the ground at left with the binoculars case on his back is most likely the
team leader and seems to be having trouble getting up...perhaps wounded. Woods noted no one was wounded as
far as he recalled on the Recon extractions this day. In the area the team leader was approximately on the ladder
at eight rungs up also appears to have broken rungs as they face vertical rather than perpendicular like the rest of
the ladder's rungs as pointed out by Feldman. (Photo by Cpl. Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent /
Photographer with MAG-16, 1st MAW, 1969-70)
After the Recon team unhooks from the ladder on the grass in the distance, 1stLt. McCorkle's Sea Knight gently pulls
the ladder onto the tarmac where the enlisted ground crew and an officer carefully inspects it for damage. 1st Recon
Marines are responsible for the 120-foot flexible aluminum ladder and are careful to check the rungs and attached
wiring for any kinks or breaks before rolling it up and putting it back into the shed beside the LZ to await the next ladder
extract mission. (Photo by Corporal Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent/photographer with MAG-16, 1st
Corporal Doug Woods - Biography
USMC Combat Correspondent / Photographer
With MAG-16, 1st MAW, Vietnam, 1969-70
Doug Woods enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968. He went through Boot Camp at MCRD San Diego after graduating in
June from Renton High School in Renton, Washington.
The night before graduation at MCRD in mid-September 1968, he, together with the rest of his recruit platoon, learned
the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) he was being assigned. To his shocked disbelief he was selected to be a
"military journalist." At the end of an afternoon of scheduled aptitude tests early in the training cycle, he took an optional
military journalist test. Apparently working on his high school newspaper, together with doing well on organizing and typing
up a car accident story before a quickie exit interview with a corporal from MCRD's CHEVRON base newspaper, impressed
someone in the military journalism area.
To Doug the journalist test was simply a way to avoid standing in formation in the hot sun while others took that, and
other, optional tests. Those few minutes staying out of the sun eventually landed him in Vietnam as a chronicler of USMC
helicopter activities in 1969-1970. Like all U.S. military journalists of the era, he attended the Department of Defense
Information School at Ft. Benjamin Harrison just outside Indianapolis, Indiana. Upon completing the course in February
1969, he was assigned to Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia, where he served as a reporter for the QUANTICO
SENTRY newspaper. In July then-PFC Doug Woods put in a transfer request for WestPac duty. His request was granted
and in early September 1969 he received orders to report to the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade-159 on Okinawa.
After a short leave at home in Washington, he reported to Camp Pendleton, California for more training. First he
completed an intensive 2-week USMC "Combat Correspondent's Orientation Course" for Marine military journalists and
photographers going to WestPac. That was immediately followed by several weeks of "staging," where Doug went through
advanced combat training with a company of other non-infantry Marines headed overseas, primarily to Vietnam. In October
his staging company boarded a chartered Boeing 707 airliner at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, for the long
flight to Okinawa via Honolulu. They arrived in the middle of the night and were bused to Camp Hague, a Quonset hut filled
relic from the early 1950's used as a transit facility, for processing. When Doug presented his 9th MAB orders to the
receiving clerk, the Marine lance corporal clerk glanced at them and reached for a large hand stamp. The clerk dabbed the
hand stamp on a red ink pad and quickly stamped "CANCELLED" on Doug's original orders. The clerk grabbed a different
stamp and banged it on Doug's orders before handing the papers up to Doug. His new destination read "1st MAW" (Marine
Aircraft Wing) in Vietnam.
Three days later Doug landed at Da Nang, AFB, South Vietnam. Da Nang, located in northern South Vietnam, was the
country's second largest city and the location of the headquarters of the 1st Marine Air Wing and 1st Marine Division.
Because of open job slots at several air wing bases, at 1st MAW HQ Doug was given a choice of where he could serve as
a Combat Correspondent (CC). The options were to stay at Wing HQ by the air base, go south and cover Marine Corps jet
fighter squadrons at Chu Lai or go southeast 5 miles to East Da Nang to cover a USMC helicopter air group located at
Marble Mountain Air Facility (MMAF). He opted for Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16) at MMAF. It was a choice he never
regretted. Doug arrived at the tiny Informational Services Office (which in 1970 the Marine Corps renamed Public Affairs
Offices) at MMAF the next morning. The "office" was actually a tiny house trailer imported from the states that had been
remodeled into a cramped press center with desks for the writers and a photography studio, complete with its own tiny dark
room, for the USMC photographers assigned that task.
Operating out of the ISO center, he quickly learned his way around the huge base and wrote feature stories on Marines
doing avionics work on helicopters, the crash crew, the Marines assigned to base perimeter security with Zulu Company
and the Marines of Marine Air Traffic Control Unit (MATCU)-68 that handled base air traffic. He covered squadron
promotion ceremonies and wrote up Hometown News Releases on the promoted Marines. He also became the writer,
editor and publisher of the mimeographed MAG-16 base news sheet, the SAND & SURF. He became adroit at applying
mimeograph correction fluid. Along with the other CC's at MAG-16, he would regularly visit squadron offices and talk to
pilots and air crews about recent missions. If the pilots and air crew had eventful missions involving enemy action, major
troop lifts, life saving medevac missions, reconnaissance team inserts or extracts, or gunship chopper actions, he would
interview the participants and compose after-action stories. The typed-up stories and accompanying photos (if "art" was
submitted with the article) were then sent to Wing ISO HQ for review and editing. Stories and photos deemed worthy would
then find their way into the USMC's I-Corps newspaper, the SEA TIGER. Better ones would be
picked-up and published by PACIFIC STARS & STRIPES.
The best duty for a MAG-16 combat correspondent was to receive flight orders. These orders gave authority to a CC to fly
with any squadron at MAG-16 for a specific month. Flight orders for CC's were limited, so there was intense competition for
them. And it wasn't just MAG-16 CC's applying for flight orders; CC's and photographers from Wing ISO HQ also
requested them. Doug believes he got his fair share of flight orders. Getting flight orders, however, was not carte blanche
for a CC to demand to fly missions with the transport squadrons. His own procedure was to visit the mission desk at each
transport squadron's office in the evening or very early the next morning to ascertain the missions the various aircraft in
each squadron would be flying. Finding one of interest, usually medevac duty at MMAF or LZ Baldy, located south of Da
Nang or Marine Recon insert/extract flights, he would then approach the chopper's pilot and crew chief and request to be
allowed to fly with them on their missions that day. Very rarely was he refused.
At MAG-16 in November 1969 there were seven squadrons, composed of two medium lift CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters
squadrons, HMM-263 Peachbush and HMM-364 The Purple Fox; a heavy lift CH-53 squadron, HMH-463 Dimmer; a UH-
1E Huey lift/gunship squadron, HML-167 Comprise; an OV-10 Bronco gunship/observation aircraft squadron, VMO-2's
Hostage; and two base support squadrons, H&HS-16 and MABS-16. Three additional squadrons soon joined MAG-16 at
MMAF. Located at Phu Bai, north of Da Nang near Hue, and called MAG-16 Forward, those squadrons were medium
transport HMM-161 Cattle Call and HMM-262 Chatterbox, flying CH-46's, and HML-367 Scarface flying the AH-1G Cobra
Like all air crew, Doug wore a flight suit and helmet and could listen to, but not speak into, a chopper's com system. His
M-16 rifle and ammunition were always stowed carefully nearby him on the chopper. On each mission he flew he jotted
notes in case there was a follow-up story to be done, recording the type of mission, each mission's date, times of important
activity and the actions involved. Just as importantly, he photographed many of the actions he witnessed. He flew each
mission with two Pentax 35mm cameras, one containing standard-issue black and white film, the other Kodak color slide
film. Doug gives full credit to the men he flew with for making his work easy.
"It was the kindness, generous support and respect from the pilots and air crews at MAG-16 that made my job," Doug
says. "They were the ones directly involved in the 'action…'. I was just along for the ride. They allowed me to be part of
and see and record their experiences and actions even though I wasn't a member of their squadron. That meant a lot.
"We were all Marines to be sure," he continued, "with each just doing his job. Being Marines was, and is, a damned
strong bond. Yet then, as now, I've never lost sight of the debt I owe all those men for letting me experience-and record-so
many events with them long-ago in Vietnam."
Doug's Vietnam tour was cut short when he was pulled-out of Vietnam in late August 1970 in one of President Nixon's
Phased Withdrawals of U.S. troops. He went by ship from Da Nang to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, a Marine Corps jet fighter
base and home to 1st MAW (Rear). There he was a writer for the base newspaper, the TORII TELLER. His writing highlight
at Iwakuni was going undercover in the base's Military Police and USN Shore Patrol contingent in order to provide an inside
look at MP/SP attitudes, morale and methods, both on-base and in Iwakuni City, in the aftermath of a recent brig riot on
base that left one Marine dead. In his report, Doug says he was impressed with the leadership, training methods and
overall professionalism of the men in the MP/SP. What amazed him was the restraint and patience exhibited by MP's and
SP's in the face of daily disrespect and confrontations, mostly verbal but sometimes physical, from the Marines and
civilians on base. He experienced it firsthand. And almost invariably, alcohol was involved.
After Iwakuni, Doug completed his 3-year stint in the Marines with the 12th Marine Corps District Public Affairs Office in
San Francisco, California. He was offered promotion to staff sergeant E-6 and a reenlistment bonus if he re-upped (he'd
been promoted to lance corporal and corporal while in Vietnam and made sergeant in Japan). He chose not to take the
He got out of the Marine Corps and attended the University of Oregon where he earned a journalism degree. He spent
over 30 years in the residential mortgage business. Today Doug is retired and lives in Oregon.
Different craters and scarred landscape appears where apparent detonations of bombs or artillery strikes occurred off
to the left through the hell hole. Look closely and you can see the Recon team's weapons below...one of the M-16s
has a silencer attached to it, according to the discerning eye of 1st Recon's Corporal Larry Feldman. (Photo by Cpl.
Doug Woods, USMC Combat Correspondent / Photographer with MAG-16, 1st MAW, 1969-70)
Ladder Extraction in Vietnam