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According to information from the now-defunct "Swift Boat" site , Lieutenant (junior grade) was a surface warfare officer assigned to Coastal Squadron Fifteen (COSDIV 15 based at Qui Nhon) as a "swift boat" Officer-in-Charge. The boats of COSDIV 15 worked with 1st Cavalry Division's units, and it was not uncommon for COSDIV 15 personnel to take familiarization flights with the 1st Cav's helo units.
On 16 Apr 1967, LTJG Murphy flew as a door gunner with A Troop, 1/9th Cavalry, on a two-aircraft mission into the A Shau Valley. His UH-1C was crewed by
CW3 Curtis Woodrow Hutto, pilot, A/1/9 Cav
WO1 Michael Joseph Utter, copilot, A/1/9 Cav
LTJG William Henry Murphy III, observer, COSDIV 15
SP4 Jeffrey Allen Hawk, crew chief, A/1/9 Cav
The two Hueys came across a body of troops in the open and began firing on them. During these attacks, Hutto's UH-1 simply disappeared in the jungle-covered slopes. After the wingman spotted smoke he called in the A/1/9 Cav's "Blue" team of infantrymen, who were landed on the steep hillside. The infantrymen located the down helicopter and were able to extract the crewmen. Two - Hutto and Utter - were alive, but nightfall prevented them from being medevaced out until later in the evening. Warrant Officer Hutto died before an Army CH-46 made the pick-up; Chief Warrant Officer Utter died of his wounds two days later.
The Swift Boat site tied the death of Warrant Officer Terry R. Clark into this mission, but WO Clark was killed in a separate operational accident. He was flying UH-1C tail number 65-09535 on a post-maintenance flight when his engine failed immediately after take-off.
There is more to the Bill Murphy story.
The incident took place in the A Shau (not An Lao) valley near the Cambodian border, far from the swift boats' coastal AO. The reason we were with our 1st Cav comrades at all was Bill's eagerness to understand the 1st Cav ops. Our Coastal Division routinely provided illumination fire at night from our boats when 1st Cav units were operating within range of our 81mm mortars near the mouth of the Bon Son. (Yes. An 81mm mortar on a tiny boat in the ocean! Needless to say, the Army rarely asked for HE or WP. It could have landed anywhere. The 81mm version we had not only drop-fired for about 5 clicks, it could also be depressed and trained 360 degrees for firing in trigger mode.) I hope our support reduced the illumination missions the Cav had to fly when they were operating in the Bon Son area. We also helped round up suspects when they were fleeing by water from areas the Cav was sweeping.
The familiarization flights were to make sure we understood the Cav's operations and needs, plus to establish the personal relationships necessary to ensure confidence in our support. The 1/9 were our favorite guys. They occasionally rode our boats to get a break, to get a good meal (including some of the venison they occasionally delivered), and to understand our capabilities.
Bill and I had flown door gunner with several missions over a couple of days with the 1/9 out of LZ English, and were about to return to our base in Qui Nhon when Bill asked me if we could accompany the late-in-the-day mission to the A Shau Valley, up toward the Cambodian border. We were scheduled for patrol the next day. I was the senior guy, with 7 months in country, and it was important we get back in time. Bill was a green bean, in country for less than a month. Bill said the gunships would drop us on the way back from the mission. I somewhat reluctantly agreed, mostly not to dampen his enthusiasm.
After cresting a ridge above the A Shau in triple canopy country, we surprised a significant group in a small elephant grass clearing on the steep reverse slope. They immediately broke for cover. We were making alternate runs on them when our wingman went silent. It took a few minutes to spot smoke coming up through the trees. By then the NVA were either down or escaped into the jungle. There were no other available operational gunships, so we stayed on station until the Blues arrived. Then we covered their difficult insertion (the steep slope) and trek into the trees to discover the aircraft. Bill was evidently killed on impact, as was SP4 Hawk. WOs Utter and Hutto were alive. They could not get SP4 Hawk out of the helicopter, but retrieved the pilots and Bill. Meanwhile, we returned overhead repeatedly to provide cover after refueling until Hutto, Utter, and Murphy were brought out. This was a painfully slow process; a race against time. I heard the anguished report that Hutto died as they carried him up the net ladder into the CH-46 that had to hover because it was too steep to land. Utter had suffered many fractures and internal injuries from impact. By then it was nightfall and SP4 Hawk could not be retrieved until the next day.
I identified my shipmate Bill's body (I think at Pleiku) after it was recovered by the Blue team. He looked like he was asleep except for where his face was blistered, probably from brushing the side of the helicopter on impact. Bill was the only son of his widowed mother. I eventually (way too late) sent her word that I was with him and that he clearly did not suffer when he died doing what he thought was important. WO Hutto was on his third tour, and had five children at home.