498th Dust Off

I was drafted into military service in June of 1969. For me—and lots of other guys—there’d be no Summer of Love that year. In fact, the only music I danced to that summer was the manic cadence of my Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant Castleberry, as he marched his worthless troops up and down two nasty bits of Fort Knox hill country known (un-affectionately) as Misery and Agony.

By December of 1969 I’d graduated from Boot Camp and Radio School (as a bona fide 05B, Radio & Telephone Operator), and before I knew it I found myself headed for Vietnam.

After spending 20 hours on an airplane, I’ll never forget my first breath of “fresh” air as I stepped out the door and into the terrifying, sun-drenched brilliance of Vietnam. Laden with syrupy humidity, and reeking of urine and rotting vegetation, the stifling air clung to you like a damp shroud.

However, it didn’t take long for fear and adrenalin to override my sense of smell, and I quickly acclimated to the horrid odor and the oppressive humidity; I was already getting used to life in Vietnam.

As we filed off the airplane a sergeant barked us into a makeshift formation and began marching us off the tarmac, and to our initial round of in-country processing. Moving away from the aircraft we heard the sounds of laughter, shouting, and a rising tide of applause. With neophyte eyes we watched in stunned silence as a ragged, but cheerful, phalanx of soldiers paraded past us heading in the opposite direction.

They greeted us with raucous laughter and profane comments, and reached into our ranks to shake our hands and pat us on the back

“Good luck,” one said to me as he grasped my hand. “You’ll need it,” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared down the tarmac.

It finally dawned on us that these guys were going home. They were getting on our plane and heading back to the good old U. S. of A. They were going back to the “World.”

It was like getting gut punched. I don’t think any of us expected to see guys actually going home. It was hard to take. We were looking at another 364 days before we’d be heading back home, if we managed to survive our full tour of duty. And, watching those guys as they headed for their 'freedom bird,' it now seemed like our year in Vietnam was never going to end.

Sadly, for many young Americans, that blessed homecoming never came.

After three days lounging around the pool at the Long Binh processing center, I was told to report to the 498th Medical Company, at Lane Army Heliport, in Qui Nhon. When I asked the sergeant what the 498th Medical Company was he said it was a medical evacuation outfit. “They’re Dust Off, they fly helicopters,” he added.

Having had a fear of heights since before I was born, I was tempted to ask if it wasn’t too late to sign up for the infantry; they, at least, got to keep their feet on the ground.

But, it was too late. By order of the great mysterious force that controlled all things military, I was headed for the coastal city of Qui Nhon, and the 498th Dust Off.

As the fates would have it, I couldn’t have asked for a better unit to serve in. I spent just over a year with the 498th and it was an experience and a time I’ll never forget.

The bravery, courage, and dedication to duty I saw exhibited everyday by the men who flew dangerous, life-saving missions—missions of mercy and hope—was simply incredible.

It was a privilege and an honor to have served with the men of the 498th Dust Off. I will forever hold them in awe and respect for the courage they displayed (in the most unassuming manner), the missions they accomplished, and the lives they saved.
Dust Off has it’s own acronym: Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces. That pretty well describes Dust Off, and I was privileged to have witnessed that dedication and service first hand. As an RTO (or, radio dispatcher) I took the radio calls from the field and relayed the pertinent pick-up information to the flight crews.

The heroes in the Dust Off saga were the pilots, crew chiefs, and medics who flew those rescue missions. If the skillful pilots in charge of the aircraft were the brains of the operation, then the crew chiefs were the backbone, and the medics the heart and soul.

“Courage,” Winston Churchill said, “is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

The courage displayed by Dust Off crews, from Vietnam to the present day, underscores the character and the qualities of the selfless men—and now, women—who dare fly into harms way to give aid and comfort to their fellow soldiers in time of need.

For a soldier there can be no finer calling.

This website is my Dust Off yearbook from 1970. And it’s dedicated to the all the men and women who have served, or are now serving, in Dust Off units. But, in particular, it’s dedicated to the soldiers I had the honor, and the good fortune, to have served with in the 498th Dust Off.

These pages are also dedicated to Gary Krause, “Crash,” to those of us who knew him way back then. Gary was from Reece, Michigan, a small town just east of Saginaw, and not too far from Flint, Michigan, my hometown.

Gary and I became good friends in Vietnam and I visited with him (after he came home) a number of times. Regretfully, our lives went in different directions, with Gary ending up in Medford, Oregon and me in Southern California. Contact between us was reduced to the occasional phone call.

Sadly, Gary died of a heart attack in 2003.

I always thought we’d get together one day and talk about old times, but time, and Gary’s weak heart, would not allow it.

You’ll find a number of excellent websites that can give you the history of Dust Off and lots of other good information—and I have links to those websites, if you’d like to check them out. However, my website is somewhat unique, in that it’s simply a slice of time, basically, all of 1970—the time I spent in Vietnam with the 498th Dust Off. The pictures here are of the men I served with, and the surroundings we lived in.

There are two exceptions to my photographic galleries of and at the 498th. One relates to the week of In-Country R&R (rest & relaxation)—Army jargon for a short vacation—I spent in Saigon, with my friend, Dick Hughey. We had a great time visiting together and seeing the sights of Saigon. More treasured memories. The other one relates to the time I spent at our field stations in Pleiku and Tan Cahn—with a brief excursion into Cambodia.

I was drafted into the military for two years and spent just over 18 months in uniform, having received a 6-month “early out” as part of President Nixon’s troop reduction program. In my short military career I achieved the rank of Specialist 4th Class (a couple steps above private) and so my perspective (and the perspective of my photographs) is that of a proud, but lowly enlisted man.

I wish I could share with you the all the acts of compassion and heroism that occurred while I was with the 498th Dust Off, but those are not my stories to tell. What I can tell you is that time and again I witnessed the pilots and crews of Dust Off flying off into the dangerous unknown on lifesaving missions. They braved monsoon storms, enemy fire, and mechanical uncertainty in order to save lives; and it made no difference whether the person was a wounded American, a pregnant mama-san, or an enemy soldier.

Today, the word ‘hero’ has been devalued to the point of meaninglessness; today you’re a hero for helping your kid do his homework. But for me, when I think of what it takes to be a true hero, I picture four brave souls in a Huey helicopter flying off to some unknown jungle destination to rescue a wounded soldier.

The stories I do tell here are simply recollections of what happened to me while I was with the 498th Dust Off.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at the email address provided. There is also a blog where you can write comments about any of the pictures, or the individuals in those pictures, so long as you keep it nice. Please feel free to supply any information you have about any of the individuals or locals pictured here.

Thank you for visiting my webpage. I hope you enjoy it.
Dennis E. Bishop
Ontario, California
July 4, 2008.

NOTE: In March of 2009 I added over 100 new pictures to my website. These pictures, as with some earlier pictures, have been annotated with name of the individual who made the pictures available to me. It was my intent to keep my website focused on the time I was with the 498th, December 1969 to January 1971, but some of the new pictures fall outside that time frame.
Please check back periodically, as I hope to add more pictures as time goes by.

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