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Dyre
 
   Commentary by Arnold Dyre

   I did not know Harry V. Phillips Jr.
   Harry was born in 1930 and graduated from Gore Springs High School in 1947. He died in Vietnam on Aug. 13, 1966.
   The Gore Springs School reunion is just around the corner, coming up on Saturday, May 4. Some of Harry’s Gore Springs School classmates will be there. Some of his relatives will be there. I am writing this piece for those who knew Harry, as well as for those who did not. Men like Harry V. Phillips Jr. should not be forgotten.
   My first knowledge of Gore Spring’s Harry Phillips came about five or six years ago when I was attempting to identify those in an old photograph standing in front of one of the buildings at Gore Springs School. There was one young man standing very erect as if “at attention,” and who appeared to be wearing a military uniform, complete with a necktie with the end tucked into the front of the shirt as was the custom in years back.
   This was a photo of school youngsters, and I wondered if Gore Springs had the equivalent of a Junior ROTC program back in the 1940s. I later learned from my friend Eugene Phillips, nephew of Harry, that his uncle had a fascination with the military from early youth. Gene related how his father, Maurice Phillips, told how his brother Harry would scavenge anything related to the military from returning World War II veterans and from Army surplus stores. Outfitted in one of his surplus uniforms, Harry had posed at attention in the Gore Springs School photograph that I had examined.

Harry Stories
   Gene Phillips told me some stories about his Uncle Harry, including one about a lark in a homemade “school bus” constructed out of yellow-painted plywood attached to the back of a pickup truck. Harry and some others were racing down old Highway 8, which is now covered over by the waters of Grenada Lake, in the school bus when the backend came off! Fortunately, no one was hurt and a new paint job, a hammer and a few nails put the makeshift school bus back into shape. However, Gene did not tell me about his Uncle Harry’s military career, except that he was killed in Vietnam.
   Sometime later, I stopped for a few moments in front of War Veterans Memorial in front of the new Madison County Courthouse in Canton. I noticed the name “Harry V. Phillips Jr.” inscribed there. I wondered if that could be Gore Springs’ Harry Phillips.
   I went to the internet and looked up Harry V. Phillips Jr., and found an article that appeared in Newsweek on Aug. 1, 1966, describing the heroic exploits of a somewhat aged Army Medical Corps helicopter “dust off” pilot in Vietnam. The article had come out just one day short of two weeks before Harry Phillips died in the Vietnam War.
   The Newsweek writer began his story telling of how Maj. Phillips reached into his helicopter and hooked a holster containing a .45 pistol onto his seat  just prior to embarking on a mission to retrieve a wounded soldier from a battle zone. Phillips had laughed and remarked, “That’s for psychological comfort, I guess. It’s not worth much.”
   The major was well aware that, if his helicopter (known as a “Dust Off” chopper due to the dust it kicks up with its rotors) went down when he dropped to evacuate wounded from a hot area, he would have little chance to use his pistol.
   The writer, along for the ride, described how the serious, balding Southerner handled the big Huey chopper, named “Miss Lana” because the major’s 23-year old crew chief had a crush on actress Lana Wood. Aside from the Newsweek reporter and Maj. Phillips, the chopper carried the co-pilot, the crew chief and a medic. They were departing the headquarters base near Bien Hoa to take up a position for three days in the field with the 173rd Airborne near the town of Xuan Loc.
   The major took the Huey up to a safe 3,000 altitude as a precaution against small-arms fire, and the writer marveled at the view as they flew over neat rectangles of French rubber plantations with magnificent villas. The reporter noted that from above one of the more spectacular pillared estates, a wealthy family could be seen frolicking in a turquoise swimming pool while not far off American GIs were slopping around in the rich red mud scouring the countryside for Charlie.
   Reaching the 173rd Medical Company’s encampment at Xuan Loc and setting the Miss Lana down near the first-aid tent, the Huey’s rotors were still turning when the radio crackled and the major and his crew were off and skimming just above the trees to the identified coordinates.

Holding full-power
   Dropping down into a clearing, Maj. Phillips held full take-off power just off the ground as the medic and crew chief leapt out as two paratroopers came running from beneath a mass of banana palms. The soldiers were so covered with red gumbo mud that they were barely distinguishable from the surrounding earth.
   Only one of them needed medical attention and, as he was being loaded up, the other one handed him his weapon and admonished him to hang onto it before he disappeared back into the jungle.
   Before banana palms covered the remaining paratrooper, the major had pulled back on the blade pitch control stick, and Miss Lana had jumped into the air and was highballing back to the medic tent at tree-top level. The soldier was receiving treatment eight minutes after the radio call for help was put in!
   The particular “dust off” ride that the Newsweek reporter took with Maj. Phillips and his crew was routine and went without a hitch. Yet, there was nothing boring about it.

Boredom, then terror
   Back at the encampment, Maj. Phillips, speaking to the reporter about how much time is spent just sitting around waiting for something to happen explained, “This is just like all flying, hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.”
   The Newsweek reporter went on to tell how earlier, in March 1966, Phillips perhaps experienced his moments of starkest terror.
   A unit of the 173rd came into contact with a heavy concentration of Viet Cong 25 miles North of Saigon. Engaged in a vicious battle, a dust off was called for in the midst of the fight. Our Harry Phillips from Gore Springs piloted one of the three Hueys that responded. A yellow smoke grenade marked a landing area that was no more than a hole about the size of a football field encircled by dense jungle with trees as tall as a 12-story building.
   Viet Cong were in the dense underbrush beneath the trees, and the smoking wreckage of a helicopter that had attempted to bring the Americans more ammunition gave witness to the accuracy of the enemy fire.
   One by one, the dust off Hueys dropped through that deep hole in the jungle while our troops sprayed the surrounding jungle with gunfire in an effort to keep the enemy low. Phillips’ chopper was at the bottom of the hole less than a minute while his crew chief and medic pushed aboard litters of wounded men.
   Normally, a dust off pilot jumps his chopper off the ground and then shoots away across the tree tops as fast as possible. This time, Phillips had to climb his Huey straight up for 150 feet. Loaded down with wounded, the Huey’s turbine engine was straining by the end of the climb, and the worst moment came as the Huey reached the top of the trees and held motionless, presenting a perfect target, as the rotors shifted to gain forward speed. Finally, it skipped away just above the trees with the foliage slapping against the fuselage!
   In less than 10 minutes Maj. Phillips’ load of wounded were being treated at the medical aid station, and Phillips was on his way back to get another load. That day, our Harry from Gore Springs made four more trips back to that hole in the jungle. In two hours, 75 wounded GIs and one wounded VC were pulled out of that fight and taken to a hospital. There is no telling how many rounds of enemy fire were directed at Harry’s Huey on that day, but it was not hit!
   Another time, Harry and other dust off pilots evacuated 84 wounded GIs out of a hole in the jungle so tight that the chopper rotors only had one meter of clearance, and the Hueys had to be set down in the midst of five Buddhist grave stones. Our Harry was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross for that one. An oak leaf cluster was added to Harry’s Distinguished Flying Cross for the subsequent award earned by reason of the heroism that the Newsweek reporter wrote about.
   At the time of his death, Maj. Phillip’s official home address was in Ridgeland, and, indeed, the name inscribed in stone that I had observed at the Madison County Courthouse turned out to be our own Harry Phillips from Gore Springs.
   Maj. Phillips was a good deal older than most of the men he served with in Vietnam. The younger men often sought him out for counsel. Harry frequently told them about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Harry Phillips was a man of compassion. He was about saving lives in the midst of war.

Final Mission
   I do not know very much about Harry’s last mission, the one that took his life. His death is recorded as occurring on Aug. 13, 1966;  however, some accounts have it as being on Aug. 12, 1966. I figure the discrepancy might have something to do with the International Date Line.
   From what my research has revealed, it is my understanding that Maj. Phillips was actually off duty the night he died and had volunteered to go as a crew member on a dust off call on a chopper piloted by an officer friend who was short-handed and without a co-pilot.
   In the dark, trying to make a landing using flashlight signals from the ground, the approach was too low and the dust off Huey crashed. Maj. Phillips and his pilot friend were killed; the remaining two crew members survived. The casualties were classified as “non-combat” since they did not get shot down.
   Ironically, the place that the chopper was trying to reach when it went down and took Harry’s life was a spot on the map in Vietnam called Point Grenada.
   Maybe our Harry was trying to get home to Gore Springs.

adyre@comcast.net


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