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War Stories

Dawn Patrol Mission

Also spoken of as "First Light Mission" and "Perimeter Patrol". see Reunion Roundtable

Also see "Copters In Vietnam Dawn Patrol" and "Violating LOH Rules"

Whitmoyer, Allen, Odom, Altenhofen, Patterson, Jones, Owen, Fleming

This is not the Errol Flynn Dawn Patrol of the 1938 movie. This Dawn Patrol mission began in 1966 when the Centaurs were tasked to use their OH-23 Scout helicopters to go out early in the morning and check the Main Supply Route, then take a swing around the base camp looking for enemy activity or other bad things. Below are stories and comments by the men who flew this mission.

Bill Whitmoyer:   If I recall, Dawn Patrol was also referred to as Perimeter Patrol - the name Perimeter Patrol probably took more reference since we flew one in the morning and then again before it became dark.  It was a flight around and for a distance outside of the perimeter of the base camp to provide assurance that no enemy activities took place during the early morning hours or before we settled down as it began to get dark.    

Stan Allen: The Dawn Patrol mission was still going strong in 1969 and 70. I flew on it several times. As we were already in the air coming back from Night Hawk missions, we were called on to fly it. That way more birds were not needed to do this mission and could be used otherwise as needed.

As I remember, it was a mission to check possible convoy routes, that possibly were to be used that day. We looked from the air, for possible ambush sites and any evidence of the possibility of explosives being planted, during the night along and in the roads. We were given specific roads to check out, on our way back to Cu chi, just after first light in the mornings. I do not remember, just flying the perimeter of Cu chi.

Bill Whitmoyer: I distinctly remember two patrols each day, one in the morning at sunrise and one in the evening at sunset.  In my world these patrols were performed with two OH-23s given that was the only aircraft I flew in.  Originally the patrols were flown from a relatively higher altitude given we were armed only with our personal weapons and were mandated a ceiling that we were not allowed to go under, although we often did.  As we took on a different element with the OH-23 being armed with a skid gun, a M-60 in one doorway and a M-79 in the other, our flights were performed at much lower altitudes.

Is it possible that the patrols were performed with several layers with the OH used for a preliminary depth and other aircraft for further depths?

Gerald Odom: In my tenure (8/68-7/69) the Scout platoon was responsible for "Dawn" and "Dusk" patrol. We would fly LOH on LOH generally. One bird was low level and the other flew cover at about 1000 ft. We flew several clicks out all the way around the perimeter of Cu Chi base camp. We would be looking for anything suspicious. Needless to say we became very familiar with the terrain and generally could spot any activity. We paid particular attention to roads for barricades and booby traps. Also the village of Cu Chi and surrounding structures were very important. 
Several times we would spot a rocket aimed at the base and call in the troops to check it out. Also I can remember barricades of logs and brush along the main road to Tay Ninh which normally indicated an ambush. 
Most days we wouldn't see anything and would become bored. But you had to watch out for those clever little bastards. That was exactly when they would get you.  

Bill Altenhofen: I do remember one dawn patrol that the rifles got involved in.  Forgot the month and can't remember the pilots names.  It was one of those situations where the dawn patrol had called in that they had spotted some VC and ask for permission to fire.  When they received it they called in two possible  VC and wanted the rifles to come out and check out the area.  We flew out and landed in a swamp, there had been some people there fishing and the ship had shot up their boat.  We swept through the area, did not find any bodies but did find the boat and a bucket of what I called minnows.  I grabbed the bucket and we got back aboard the ship and returned to base camp.  On the way back the pilot ask to see what was in the bucket.  I passed it up, and saw him talking on his radio.  He waited a minute and burst out laughing.  I heard later that he had reported that we had captured 21 suspects male and female mixed age undetermined.  Someone ask how they could possibly get 21 people on the ship along with the infantry, and he explained that he was talking about fish.  I did not hear anything about how the conversation ended.  Maybe one of the pilots remembers the incident.

Larry Patterson: I remember that for a while we were tasked with taking an Engineer Officer on the Dawn Patrol with us because being an Engineer Officer he was more qualified to determine if 1 or 2 dump trucks would be needed to fill a hole blown in the road during the night

When i was flying Dawn/Dusk patrols they always included a sweep of the base camp to look for enemy activity. This was after flying along the MSR from Cu Chi to Tay Nin to look for damage to the MSR

One morning on Dawn Patrol, a young Engineer Officer showed up.  This was to be his first helicopter flight. We took off and he held his M-16 between his legs, with VERY white knuckles, all the way up and back on our inspection of the MSR.

As we were doing a tree-top level inspection around the Base Camp I made a turn into the sun  and momentarily closed my eyes to block out the glare.  When I opened them, there in front of us was a lone, tall, dead tree!!!! Thank goodness it was dead because when we smashed into the tree it just shattered.......the tree shattered and the helicopter bubble shattered too!!  Plexiglas and cold air came rushing into the cockpit.
I heard the Engineer Officer SCREAM over the sound of the rushing wind and the roar of the engine!

As we hovered into the revetment the Engineer could not get out of the helicopter soon enough.  The last time I saw him he was running away as fast as he could.  I assume that might have been his First and Last helicopter flight. HA!

Gary Jones: My War Story, "Violating LOH Rules", is about getting shot down on a Last Light mission south of Cu Chi. We had both first and last light missions.

Joe Owen: has an article about Dawn Patrol from his hometown newspaper "Copters in Vietnam Dawn Patrol" shown in the War Stories Essay section.

Tom Fleming: Researching the Daily Staff Journals of ¾ Cav; entry on 30 March at 10:17 hours: " Lt Powell (Centaur 12) explained that he just returned from Dawn Patrol.  Never proceeded north of Go Dau Ha.  Forced him down and ceiling varies from 300-800 feet.  LTC Webb (10:20 hrs) directs a more critical analysis of mission vs. flight safety.  Capt McCarthy to discuss with D Troop"