High School Wall of Honor
Thomas Edgar Mortice, III
Class of January, 1962
|Research done by Rick Nehrling, Class of 1963. Photos contributed by Tom's family.|
|Thomas Edgar Mortice, III|
|Tom was a member of North High's class of January, 1962. While in high school, Tom became an Eagle Scout. Following graduation from North High, Tom graduated from Grandview College with a drafting degree. He was then employed at United Electronics Institute in West Des Moines. At the time of his employment, he was drafted into the US Army.|
October, 1967, the 9th Infantry Headquarters were located at Camp Bearcat,
South Vietnam. Bearcat was located in Bien Hoa Province which was in
the southern part of South Vietnam in III Corps. The 9th Infantry Division
also had its 2nd Brigade assigned to the Mobile Riverine Force operations
with the US Navy. Its headquarters were at Dong Tam which was approximately
9 kilometers from My Tho, South Vietnam. Dong Tam was a man-made 600
acre island created among the rice fields by dredging the Mekong River.
This was the first time since the Civil War that an Army unit had become
amphibious and conducted its operations completely afloat. This Brigade
was in the IV Corps. At the time of his death, Tom was assigned to the
2nd Brigade out of Dong Tam.
On August 12, 1968, Tom began his journey to go on his one-week Rest and Relaxation Leave (R&R). This is an out-of-country 7-day leave which is given to each soldier during his/her one-year Vietnam tour. Transportation to and from the R&R destination was free, but lodging, food, etc. were at the soldier's expense. Authorized R&R sites were Bangkok, Thailand; Tokyo, Japan; Taipei, Formosa, Sydney, Australia; Hong Kong, and Hawaii. However, only married soldiers were allowed to take their R&R in Hawaii, since the military was concerned that unmarried soldiers on R&R in Hawaii and on US soil might lead to higher desertion and AWOL rates. Normally, you need to be in-country and on your tour for six months before you are eligible to apply for an R&R.
By August 12, 1968, Tom Mortice has been in-country for ten of his twelve-month tour of duty. The helicopter that would pick him up at 4:50PM had started the day departing from its base, Camp Bearcat at 7:30AM. The helicopter was assigned to the 191st Assault Helicopter Company, was piloted by Captain Arnold Wayne Luke, and its tail number was 66-00820.
Captain Luke's helicopter was one of five helicopters in the "White Flight" that spent the morning of August 12 supporting the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division moving soldiers around the area of SX 620759. Another flight of five helicopters, "Yellow Flight", also worked with White Flight in supporting the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division. Around 1:00PM, White Flight left the area of operations and proceeded to Tan An to refuel. Approximately four miles out of Tan An, Captain Luke reported that he had a transmission chip detector light on and proceeded the other aircraft to Tan An. Once he arrived at Tan An and after refueling, he shut down the helicopter to determine what caused the chip detector light to come on.
Once all of the other aircraft had refueled, they remained on the ground for another twenty minutes, and then all of the flight, including Captain Luke's helicopter, proceeded to take off for Dong Tam. Crew members from the other aircraft did not know what malfunction caused the chip light to come on in Captain Luke's helicopter or if any corrective action was taken. Once both flights arrived at Dong Tam, they performed a combat assault operation in the 2nd Brigade area of operation.
When both flights returned to Dong Tam for a second sortie, only six of the ten helicopters were needed, so the remaining four helicopters were released to return to Bearcat. All four helicopters picked up passengers at Dong Tam for the flight back to Bearcat. Captain Luke loaded six passengers, including Tom Mortice, and they departed Dong Tam at 4:50PM.
The four helicopters flew together in a diamond formation with Captain Luke's aircraft in the slot formation. They were flying at 1500 feet. Approximately ten minutes out of Dong Tam, Captain Luke radioed "white 5 going down, tail rotor failure." The aircraft was observed to descend in a relative level attitude with the main rotor turning very slowly.
One of the other aircraft in formation, flown by CW2 Wiegman, broke from the formation and followed the aircraft down. It was reported that the "aircraft struck the ground in a slightly nose low attitude into a rice paddy with apparently very little forward motion." The aircraft commander and the pilot were pinned in the wreckage by the instrument panel. The passenger compartment was on fire. An attempt was made to extract the crew and soldiers from the burning wreckage. One passenger was removed from the burning wreckage, but he had apparently been killed upon impact. All ten of the soldiers on board were killed. Among the ten soldiers killed was Tom Mortice. The bodies were recovered on August 13th.
Tom's service number was 54927338. His name is listed on Panel 48W, Line 2 on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
|Died: August 12, 1968 in Long An Province, South Vietnam. Cause: Helicopter; noncrew. Photos supplied by Tom's sister, Diana Mortice Coulthard, NHS, Class of August, 1960.|
|Music: "Battle Hymn of the Republic"|
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