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THE NIGHT BEFORE TET
It was almost 2100hrs on 30 January 1968, the night before the “Tet Offensive” when Wendell Skinner’s helicopter crashed in Vietnam attempting to extract a Special Forces Long Range Patrol Team that had come in contact with a large force of Viet Cong and NVA.
From Wendell’s Facebook page, he noted “this is my chopper day after shot down near Bear Cat. Team from Co. F. 51st Inf Airborne LRRP’s was who we were picking up, night extraction.”
The Landing Zone was a burned out area in the jungle that was covered with ashes. As the helicopter made its approach the ashes flew up around the aircraft blinding the pilot and he made a hard landing resulting in the pilot being thrown through the windshield still strapped in his seat almost tearing his arm off. The co-pilot and door gunner were thrown against the dash and suffered broken bones. Skinner was thrown under the Huey as it rolled over and started to burn.
Thinking Skinner was dead another Huey picked up the wounded crew and the SF Team and left the area leaving Skinner. Major Earl Carlson, CO of the 195th Assault Helicopter Company was awakened shortly after midnight and told of the crash and the loss of Skinner. Carlson was outraged. ”You don’t leave a soldier, dead or alive, behind.” He had never lost a man under his command. He gathered a crew together and went to find Skinner. “I was just doing what a commanding officer is supposed to do.”