Lenexa, Kansas, US
United States Marine Corps
LCPL, C CO, 1ST BN, 4TH MARINES, 3RD MARDIV
Quang Tri, South Vietnam, 06/06/1968
There is considerable confusion with respect to the 06 June 1968 downing of a Marine CH-46A aircraft which resulted in the deaths of 13 Marine infantrymen.
What is not in dispute is that Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, were in a jam on 06 June 1968, engaged by a considerably superior North Vietnamese Army force in the vicinity of Khe Sanh. The ground commander requested an emergency extraction and an airborne CH-46 from HMM-165 responded. As the CH-46 lifted off it came under enemy fire and crashed on a hillside, then rolled down the hill and came to rest in a gulley. The area around the crash had been sprayed with defoliants, so that the wreckage could be seen without difficulty – but the crash site still was surrounded by leafless trees.
A Marine Forward Air Controller, “Fingerprint 22”, spotted four survivors outside the wreckage and requested immediate helo support. An Army UH-1, “Chicken Man 22”, responded and proceeded toward the crash site. On arrival, the FAC advised that A-1 ground attack aircraft were inbound for tactical support, and the Huey crew could see several hundred NVA troops approaching the crash site from several directions – and could see the injured CH-46 crewmen, clearly unable to move. It was impossible for the Huey to land next to the wreckage, but there was an opening in the trees some distance away. The Huey crew agreed that the Huey would touch down, its crew chief and gunner would dismount and go to the crash site to assist the survivors … and that’s what they did.
Within an hour and a half, a search and recovery (SAR) team was inserted into the crash site. They were able to recover the bodies of eight men, but lacked the equipment needed to extract the other five men from the wreckage. Another effort later in June led to the recovery of another body, but four men had to be left entombed in the CH-46. The four men left entombed are:
LCpl Ralph L. Harper, C/1/4
LCpl Kurt E. La Plant, C/1/4
LCpl Luis F. Palacios, C/1/4
PFC Jose R. Sanchez, H&S/1/4
After completing his first tour of duty in Vietnam, 19-year-old Kurt Laplant of Lenexa chose to continue working with his fellow Marines. But in June 1968, during a rescue mission, his helicopter was shot down. The helicopter was trying to rescue a group of Marines who were out numbered and rapidly running low on ammunition. It landed under heavy fire. Rapidly the Marines scrambled on board, and the helicopter lifted off. As it gained altitude, it was hit by intense enemy ground fire.
The helicopter crashed on a jungle-covered mountain ridge line. It rolled down to the bottom of the hill, and burst into flames. All 12 people on board died but only eight bodies were recovered. Last year a search turned up the missing remains.
This spring, Laplant and the three others will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.