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My first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, was an F4B Phantom jet pilot, whose aircraft was shot down on August 29, 1969, approximately 20 miles South of Da Nang, Vietnam, after six months in country. Neither Jerry nor his navigator, 1st Lt. Al Graf, was able to eject, before the aircraft crashed into the Que Son Mountains. Initially Jerry and Al were classified as Killed in Action/No Body Recovered (KIA/NBR). Years later, both Marines were listed as MIA, along with other service members whose bodies were never recovered.

Jerry has been gone nearly a half century, and hope for recovering his remains had run out a long time ago.  However, in recent years our family became involved with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), now merged with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and learned that Jerry’s and Al’s remains might, in fact, be recoverable, so we are doing everything possible to support their efforts to make this happen and bring our guys home where they belong.

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VIETNAM RECOVERIES: The One-Eyed Ugly Angel – A True Marine Corps Legend

Friday, April 1, 2011 @ 03:04 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

Christmas 1967, Khe Sanh, celebrated Ugly Angels style! Capt Ben Cascio, standing, with fellow Ugly Angels in the foreground.

An upside to searching for the remains of my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, an F4 Phantom pilot shot down in the Que Son Mountains of Vietnam and MIA since August 29, 1969, is my renewed respect for Marines whose countless acts of bravery during the Vietnam War saved the lives of many fellow Marines. One of those heroic acts was recorded on April 30, 1968–the first day of the hard-fought, four-day Battle of Dai Do.

NOTE: I first wrote a story about Ben and the Ugly Angels over a decade ago, and much of what you will read in this blog has been gathered over time—not just from Ben, but also from other Marines.  (For a downloadable PDF, highlight the following) :   The One-Eyed Ugly Angel – A True Marine Corps Legend

Stationed aboard the Iwo Jima—a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) ship, floating about five miles off shore, from the mouth of the Cua Viet River in South Vietnam, Capt Ben Cascio and his crew of Ugly Angels (HMH-362) were on medevac stand-by when the call came from a unit with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4), requesting a medevac for five seriously wounded Marines. Within minutes, Ben and his wingman, 1st Lt Robbie Robertson, were at the controls of their H-34 helicopters, en route to Dai Do, a stone’s throw from Dong Ha and approximately eight miles south of the DMZ. Flying in the dead of night with 850 missions to his credit, Ben was unaware that the mission they were about to undertake would become a true Marine Corps legend.

As I prepare to write this blog, Ben has one request: “Please don’t call me a hero — this mission was a team effort.” But even with the passage of time, many of his Marine Corps brethren still credit Ben with an enormous heroic feat that earned him the name, “The One-Eyed Ugly Angel” — a moniker that Ben wears with pride. I think you’ll agree that his story makes us all proud, no matter what we call him.

To put the story in perspective, medevac missions were always dangerous — even when a chopper was called in to pick up a victim with a combat medical emergency during the daylight hours, in what appeared to be a secure area. Nowhere was absolutely secure in Vietnam during that era. But the ante was raised when a call for medevac came at night — these missions were true emergencies, and pilots knew that they likely would be landing in a hot zone during a fire fight to evacuate recently wounded Marines. And although a moonless night could camouflage the big green workhorse, it did little to silence the H-34s huge Wright 1820 radial engine that emitted a loud guttural sound, announcing its arrival to our troops, as well as to the enemy. I asked Ben if he had a gut feeling that everything was going to blow up in his face — literally – on this particular mission. His response: “Doesn’t make any difference — you go, no matter what. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Before Ben and his crew of Ugly Angels — co-pilot 1st Lt. Larry Houck, crew chief Bob Bush and a gunner — dropped into the zone, he radioed ahead to the troops on the ground when he was a couple of miles out, telling them to put a strobe light where they wanted him to place his right wheel. They were flying into the zone without lights, and this would become the pick-up point for the medevacs. Ben was told that there had been heavy fighting earlier, but it was quiet at the moment. “When I broke the coast, I told Robbie to stay high and cover,” said Ben.

At 0300, Ben dropped into the zone, and Bush immediately began loading the wounded. When he had three to five guys aboard, all hell broke loose. “The enemy opened up, and we started catching fire from all over the zone.”

Between the time when the VC opened fire and the wounded were loaded, a minute or two seemed like forever, said Ben, who was wounded also during the barrage. Although unable to see, Ben didn’t realize that he’d been hit. “I never felt any pain,” he said, describing the sensation as ‘being hit with a cold steak.’ “Meanwhile, Bob tells me we’re okay, let’s go. I still couldn’t see. I called Larry, my co-pilot, but the noise was deafening from the automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Larry didn’t answer, so I reached over and still couldn’t get a response from him. I called Bob, my crew chief, and told him that I thought Larry was hit, so I needed him to talk us out of the zone. Meanwhile, Bob is continuing to return fire, getting hit twice in the process.”

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR CONTINUATION OF THE ONE-EYED UGLY ANGEL STORY.

10 Responses to “VIETNAM RECOVERIES: The One-Eyed Ugly Angel – A True Marine Corps Legend”

  1. Krista says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. My husband is currently a pilot with the Ugly Angels stationed in K-bay Hawaii. I haven’t heard this story before and I always love to learn more about the squadron’s history. In March the Uglies returned from another successful deployment to Afghanistan.

  2. Thanks Krista — You sound like a great Marine Corps wife! And thanks to your husband for his service — we are so proud of the Ugly Angels at K-bay.

  3. Capt. A. Lewis Dominy USMCR says:
    April 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm
    What a great story. He earned the nicknames the hard way, and no matter what he says, he is a hero and will become a legend. Bless you Elaine for writing this. I will share it with my TBS mates when we reunite after 45 years at Quantico next month. I will also proudly share it with my current golfing veteran buddies. Semper Fi.

  4. Thanks, Lew, for the kind remarks. You’re a great architect and a wonderful Marine. Enjoy your reunion and give us some feedback when you return. Elaine

  5. Walt Ford says:

    Tremendous article Elaine. I was fortunate to meet Ben at a Battle of Dai Do PME at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in the spring of 2009. And, then Leatherneck published our two-part article on the battle, where the heroism and unbelieveable flying of the “One-Eyed Ugly Angel” is described, along with the actions of other magnificent Marines and corpsmen of 2/4. Keep pressing the attack Elaine. We need you.
    Semper Fidelis
    Walt Ford
    Colonel USMC (Ret)
    Editor, Leatherneck

  6. Walt — Thank you for the kind comments — they mean a lot coming from one of the best editors out there. It was a pleausre to cover Ben’s story, as you can imagine. I appreciate all that you do for Marines–active duty, retired and our MIAs.
    Warmest regards,
    Elaine

  7. Melanie says:

    So proud to call Ben Cascio my Uncle! just a great guy! if you get the chance to sit and talk with him…do it! you will learn so much!

    ~Melanie

  8. Elaine says:

    Thanks, Melanie — I agree!

  9. Robert says:

    My daughter serves in the Marine Corps in San Diego as a helicopter mechanic. On 11/ 19/15, I had the honor to meet Ben Cascio at a Social gathering. I’d never heard the story about the One-Eyed Ugly Angel until that night. We sat down and talked for hours. Ben was interested in my daughter’s story and listened with so much emotion. He did not say much about himself until the end of the night and said, “Let me tell you about my story.” He went on with so much emotion, like he was reliving that event. I held back my tears as he told his story. Thank you my friend, Ben Cascio ….

  10. Robert — Ben is a very humble, caring guy. I have been a writer for nearly 30 years, and that story still gives me goose bumps. I am certain that Ben was very proud to know that your daughter is a Marine helicopter mechanic — that’s pretty impressive!


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