Elwood “Woody” Eugene Rumbaugh, SSgt., USAF (KIA)
September 10, 1943 – May 15, 1975

Final Mission of U.S. Air Force helicopter CH-53C tail number 68-10926

What follows is an edited version of the SYNOPSIS record for RUMBAUGH, ELWOOD EUGENE and RICHARD VAN DE GEER, US Air Force, Unit (probably) 21st Special Operations Squadron – Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The full narrative included a lengthy recount of the entire MAYAGUEZ Incident. SYNOPSIS: 2LT Richard Van de Geer, assigned to the 21st Special Ops Squadron at NKP, had participated in the evacuation of Saigon, where helicopter pilots were required to fly from the decks of the 7th Fleet carriers stationed some 500 miles offshore, fly over armed enemy-held territory, collect American and allied personnel and return to the carriers via the same hazardous route, heavily loaded with passengers. Van de Geer wrote to a friend, ‘We pulled out close to 2,000 people. We couldn’t pull out any more because it was beyond human endurance to go any more…’ On May 15, the first wave of 179 Marines headed for the island aboard eight Air Force ‘Jolly Green Giant’ helicopters. Marines of the 29 made landings on two areas on Koh Tang Island. The eastern landing zone was on the cove side where the Cambodian compound was located. The western landing zone was a narrow spit of beach about 500 feet behind the compound on the other side of the island. The Marines hoped to surround the compound. At the eastern landing zone, the first two helicopters landing were met by enemy fire. Ground commander, (now) Col. Randall W. Austin had been told to expect between 20 and 40 Khmer Rouge soldiers on the island. Instead, between 150 and 200 were encountered. 1LT John Shramm’s helicopter tore apart and crashed into the surf after the rotor system was hit. All aboard made a dash for the tree line on the beach. One CH53A helicopter was flown by U.S. Air Force Major Howard Corson and 2LT Richard Van de Geer and carrying 23 U.S. Marines and 2 U.S. Navy corpsmen, all from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. As the helicopter approached the island, it was caught in a cross fire and hit by a rocket. The severely damaged helicopter crashed into the sea just off the coast of the island and exploded. To avoid enemy fire, survivors were forced to swim out to sea for rescue. Twelve aboard, including Maj. Corson, were rescued. Those missing from the helicopter were 2LT Richard Van de Geer, PFC Daniel A. Benedett, PFC Lynn Blessing, PFC Walter Boyd, Lcpl. Gregory S. Copenhaver, Lcpl. Andres Garcia, PFC James J. Jacques, PFC James R. Maxwell, PFC Richard W. Rivenburgh, PFC, Antonio R. Sandoval, PFC Kelton R. Turner, all U.S. Marines. Also missing were HM1 Bernard Gause, Jr. and HM Ronald J. Manning, the two corpsmen. Other helicopters were more successful in landing their passengers. One CH53A, however was not. SSGT Elwood E. Rumbaugh’s aircraft was near the coastline when it was shot down. Rumbaugh is the only missing man from the aircraft. The passengers were safely extracted. [Taken from vhpa.org]

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