A Dustoff Huey was the most welcome site for American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Soldiers listened for the “whop-whop-whop” sound of the chopper that was coming to take them out of the battlezone.
It’s not a matter for debate that the Dustoff Medics saw more wartime brutality than anyone else. These medics were men with outsized courage facing the most horrific wounds and injuries continually throughout their day.
They were constantly shot at, placed under mortar and heavy arms fire and sent into mine fields all to retrieve and heal the injured and wounded soldiers. They truly were among the most heroic men in the war.
Military leaders found that Vietnam presented unique logistical challenges. The troops were fighting in the jungle terrain with the frequent bad weather, constant attacks from the guerilla fighters, and a front line that was changing on a daily basis. Roads were laced with landmines, ambushes were constant, and road conditions were poor if there were even roads to be found.
This created a serious problem for the military: how do you transport the wounded in a safe and timely manner in order to get them to the hospitals and aid stations that they desperately needed? The medical branch of the Army returned to an idea that began in the Korean War – the helicopter ambulance corps.
The idea worked so well in Vietnam that, in the majority of instances, a wounded soldier was in a hospital and receiving medical treatment within 35 minutes of receiving his injury.
The 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) arrived in Vietnam in April 1962 with five UH-1 “Huey” helicopters. Their call sign was “Dustoff.” The number of medevac choppers in Vietnam grew over time until there were enough to cover the entire country. “Dustoff” became the call sign for all medevac missions.
There were four people on a medevac mission. Two pilots went on each mission, with one pilot typically piloting the helicopter and the other acting as a commander. The commander would navigate, monitor radio transmissions, talk to the unit requesting medevac and take over flying the Huey if the pilot became incapacitated.
A medic made sure the helicopter was always stocked with the necessary medical supplies. A crew chief kept the helicopter in top condition. The medic and crew chief would load patients onto the helicopter. The medic would tend to their injuries while they flew to the hospital.
The crew chief would assist the medic when necessary. Medics and crew chief stayed with the aircraft. Pilots would move between aircraft from mission to mission. These crews are responsible for saving the lives of untold American soldiers. They are universally respected by every Vietnam soldier.
Here is a selection of images of the Dustoff men: