Sperb, William Lyle, HM2

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Last Rank
Petty Officer Second Class
Last Primary NEC
HM-8404-Medical Field Service Technician/FMF Combat Corpsman
Last Rating/NEC Group
Hospital Corpsman
Primary Unit
1969-1969, HM-8404, HM-16
Service Years
1967 - 1969
HM-Hospital Corpsman

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Richard Hopka, HM1 to remember Sperb, William Lyle, HM2.

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Not Specified
Last Address

Casualty Date
Apr 14, 1969
Hostile, Died of Wounds
Gun, Small Arms Fire
Vietnam, South (Vietnam)
Vietnam War
Location of Interment
Willamette National Cemetery - Portland, Oregon
Wall/Plot Coordinates
27W 083

 Official Badges 

 Unofficial Badges 

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 Ribbon Bar
Combat Air Crew Wings with 3 Stars

 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW)MARFORPAC/FMFPACHMM-364 Purple FoxesHM-16
  1968-1969, HM-8404, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW)
  1968-1969, HM-8404, MARFORPAC/FMFPAC
  1968-1969, HM-8404, HMM-364 Purple Foxes
  1969-1969, HM-8404, HM-16
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1969-1973 Vietnam War
 Other News, Events and Photographs
  Oct 07, 2015, General Photos1
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Bound by War and a Friend
Vietnam vets haven't forgotten Gresham's
William L. Sperb, 36 years after his death
Friday, November 11, 2005
Eric Mortenson

It's midafternoon on April 14, 1969, and a Marine rifle company in South Vietnam has taken casualties. A CH-46 helicopter lifts off to pick up the wounded, heading to a jungle-shrouded hill south of Da Nang called Charlie Ridge, because it's so favored by the Viet Cong.
Onboard are a couple of tough, seasoned pilots; an ingenious, decorated crew chief nicknamed Gooie; a pair of door gunners manning .50-caliber machine guns; a combat photographer who talked his way aboard; and Navy Corpsman William L. Sperb.

Sperb is 20 years old, 6 feet tall and skinny, a blond kid from Gresham with a guileless face. Take a cross-section of young Oregon guys from the late 1960s and he'd be right there: Polite and earnest. Student body vice president at Gresham High. Played baseball and football for the Gophers.

Veterans Day brings the ripples, pushing out from the impact of one life. Nearly 40 years later, the old members of the Marines' Purple Foxes squadron still think about Bill Sperb, still count him as a friend. He's the guy binding a group of aging veterans across the country who, pressed together long ago in the heat and fear of battle, hold tight even as the decades turn. The events are distant, but the memories fresh, raw.

The Marines flying with Sperb on that day 36 years ago consider him to be one of the best corpsmen - the medics assigned to Marine units. See Doc Sperb's name on a crew list, one of the pilots would say decades later, and you check it off as one less thing to worry about.

He's flown on more than 800 combat missions, thought to be a record, and announced that he wants to fly 1,000. He's served a 13-month tour in Vietnam and volunteered for a six-month extension. In his off hours, he travels to a nearby village to bandage kids and dispense medicine. He wants to be a doctor someday.

But on this day in April, he's going to die.

Bill Sperb wasn't a hero that day. That's not why they remember him. "Unfortunately, all he did was die," says Rich Bianchino, co-pilot of the doomed helicopter.
You're a million miles from home, one of the Marines explains, and here's a guy who's easy to talk to. He's a nice guy and absolutely dedicated to what he's doing. "He's a person you would naturally gravitate to," the former machine gunner says.

The 8.2 million who served during Vietnam are pushing 60 or have passed it. They're rapidly replacing the World War II and Korean vets as the nation's old warriors.

With that mantle comes a responsibility to look after other veterans on this day. It's not about politics or patriotism, veterans say, it's about that bond.

"You don't fight a war for your country or the flag," one of the retired helicopter pilots put it. "You fight it for the guy on your left and the guy on your right."

Members of Bill Sperb's old squadron say they feel that toward the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

"I can't change the way other people treated Vietnam veterans, but I can change the way I look at the new veterans," says James King, who was involved in trying to rescue Bill Sperb. "That's part of the process of healing for me."

Last year, the Vietnam vets invited members of the current Purple Foxes helicopter squadron to their reunion in Reno, Nev. The young guys, fresh back from Iraq, were fit and tough like "blue, twisted steel," Bianchino recalls.

"You saw these guys - pilots in their mid-20s, crewmen who were 19 - that's who we were," King says. "It was like seeing your spirit and image being reborn and repeated.

"It was very healing to sit there quietly and let some young pilot tell you about flying in the sand and dirt in Iraq," King says. "What a relief it must be to have someone to tell your story to, and to have them understand."

Explosions and small-arms fire suddenly rock the front and rear of the CH-46 helicopter as it hovers above the pickup zone. So much debris floats through the cabin that for a surrealistic moment, it reminds crew chief Ernesto "Gooie" Gomez of confetti. "These guys are throwing a party for us," he thinks.
Pilot Capt. Mike Nickerson calls out, "We've been hit, we've been hit." The chopper lurches and bucks. "God help us, God help us," Nickerson says, then adds his last words, "God help me."

The helicopter plows into trees and catches fire. Viet Cong clamber toward the wreckage. Unable to use his left hand, Bianchino crouches in the brush and braces his .38 Special revolver in the fork of a sapling. "As these guys approached, I dispatched them," he says.

A rescue helicopter arrives, and King is lowered to the smoking mess below. Gomez stares up in amazement. "This guy's coming down, and it's James King," he says. "Write it backwards - King James - like the Bible, like he was sent from God. This guy's coming down, and he's got this big smile."

Sperb is wounded but can walk. He and Gomez ride up on the rescue seat together. "You got to hold onto me, buddy," Sperb says.

He collapses against the cabin wall. By the time the chopper reaches Da Nang, he's gone.

Bud Sperb, Bill's brother, is back in the U.S. when he hears the news. He's finished his tour in Vietnam but darkly considers going back as a gunner, to wreak havoc on his brother's killers. Instead, he leaves the Marines.

Bill Sperb is buried in Willamette National Cemetery, one of 791 Oregonians killed in Vietnam.

April 14, 1969, was Quijano's 21st birthday, and he exercised his right not to fly that day. He joked to Sperb that he didn't want his gravestone to list the same birth and death date. The gunner who took his place was killed. Quijano spent his birthday crying.
He flew with Sperb a dozen times. He recalls seeing Sperb try to resuscitate a fatally wounded Marine, blood seeping from the chest wounds with every compression. Quijano had to pull Sperb away. He saw the hurt and frustration in Sperb's eyes at being unable to save the Marine.

"I can tell you," Quijano says, "the way I treat people is a direct result of knowing him."

In the Virgin Islands, tanning salon owner and former Corpsman Mike Pepper checks the pocket of his old flight jacket. The last chatty letter from Sperb has been in there for 36 years. He still counts Sperb as one of his best friends.

Being a corpsman was rewarding to Bill, Pepper says. "One of his goals was to have the highest number of med-evacs, to save the most people. He got a real good feeling of helping people he pulled out."

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., retired college administrator Bob Spear approaches the Wall and places a photograph and a poem at the name of William L. Sperb. "To Bill Sperb, corpsman," the notation reads. "You saved so many, but we couldn't save you."

In Vietnam they had long talks about life, about plans. Spear's father was an Army doctor in World War II, and Sperb's goal of becoming a doctor struck a chord.

Invited to speak to Rutgers University students about Vietnam, he tells them what Sperb had accomplished at their age. "What have you done?" he asks them.

In Southern California, co-pilot Bianchino awakes to see the names of Bill Sperb and three others who died that day.

Bianchino took rubbings of their names at the Wall and framed them as a reminder. "They're right on the wall next to my bed, so I see them every day," he says. "Every day I say a prayer for the repose of their souls."

Today, on Veterans Day, smiling Jim King will retreat to a quiet spot. "I reflect on the quiet time," he says. "I sit and talk with all my old friends - their ghosts, if you will. A lot of good guys served this country," King says. "A lot of them didn't come home, and Bill Sperb was one of the best."

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