Charles Hall of Sarasota flew ‘Sea Horse’ helicopters for Marines in Vietnam in ’67

Charles Hall of Sarasota was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot in 1967 during the war in Vietnam. He flew for Marine Helicopter Squadron 163 out of Phu Bai.

They flew Sikorsky H-34 “Sea Horse” helicopters. The were medium-sized choppers, the forerunners of the fabled Bell UH-1 dubbed “Hueys”.

“I flew recon one day, resupply the next, and the following day I would fly medevac,” the 77-year-old former aviator explained. “We were always subject to being diverted if a Marine unit needed more ammo, recon, or a medevac flight to get the wounded out.

“On one flight in an area near Hue, the old capital of Vietnam, I flew in with my helicopter to pick wounded up. When I took off and turned the ship around the tail rotor broke and the helicopter started spinning In circles 100-feet off the ground.

“What I did: I held the helicopter level and cut the power,” Hall explained. “The chopper settled to the ground and bounced. At the time there were no procedures for landing a helicopter without a rotor 100-feet off the ground.

“If I had been at altitude I could have probably gone into an auto-rotation and brought it down. But this close to the ground with maximum power on you couldn’t do that.”

He received a “Certificate of Achievement“ award from the Marine Corps for getting his helicopter back on the ground without injuries to anyone abroad.

Another incident that comes to mind during his year in Vietnam: “I was the flight leader of a medevac operation very close to the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Vietnams.

“The fog was coming in to the LZ (Landing Zone) and all I could see on the ground was a little red flashlight. The Marines left it on for me to designate the L.Z.,” Hall recalled. “From the air I could only see light areas and dark areas. The light areas were the open spaces and the dark areas were the trees.

“I made it into the LZ To help them load the wounded quicker I turned on the lights in the cabin. It was a dangerous thing to do in a hot zone, but it made their job easier and quicker.”

For his efforts, piloting the rescue chopper Capt. Hall was awarded the “Distinguished Flying Cross.”

“I remember when you went out on one of these flights and got in trouble but you made it back you’d make fun of what happened to you with dark humor.

“I’ll give you an example of what happened to a dear friend of mine and how luck played a part. He was flying into a hot landing zone looking out the side of his helicopter to keep from hitting a tree.

“While he was leaning over looking out a round came roaring through the windshield of his helicopter just missing his forehead. As he straightened up in his seat another round hit the side of the chopper right were his head had been,” Hall said. “By the time he got back to base 17 rounds had struck his helicopter.

“I remember the dedication of those Marine pilots to the guys on the ground. They called and we went. I remember how appreciative the guys on the ground were to us. They’d stop by Phu Bai, where we were based, and thank us.

In Sept. of ’67 Hall’s year-long tour of duty in Vietnam was over. Going home he flew into California by himself and took a second flight from the West Coast to Raleigh, N.C. some 30 miles from his home in Selma, N.C.

“I went to work for Southern Bell. I spent the next 21 years working for them,” he said. “Then I spent another seven years working for a cable network company before I went fishing.

Hall and his wife, Wilma, moved to Sarasota in 1999. The couple has six children between them from two marriages: Andrew, Chip, Chris, Jeff, Jennifer, and Robin.

Name: Charles Linwood Hall
D.O.B: 20 Dec. 1940
Hometown: Selma, N.C.
Currently: Sarasota, Fla.
Entered Service: 30 Sept. 1963
Discharged: 25 Jan. 1969
Rank: Captain USMC
Unit: Marine Helicopter Squadron 163
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Certificate of Achievement, Pistol Expert Badge, Rifle Expert Badge,
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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