Lieutenant colonel David Altoff USMC (ret)

Lieutenant Colonel Althoff was a Marine aviator from 1952 to 1972. In his career he flew 26 different kinds of airplanes and helicopters. He describes his two tours in Vietnam, the Siege of Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, and the details behind each of three Silver Star Medals he earned.

His first tour in Vietnam was as the adjunct for Provisional Marine Air Group 39 flying out of Da Nang, 1963-1964. He advised ARVN pilots on flying helicopters in combat. His second tour was spent flying CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (HMM-262) from “the carrier,” Marble Mountain, and then Quang Tri, 1967-1968.

In all, Althoff flew 1,084 combat missions, “a good majority of them were evac; medevacs and inserts and [extractions] of recon teams into known enemy territory.” Althoff, and HMM-262, routinely flew 10, 12, and 14-hour days, including flights into Khe Sanh during each of the 77 days it was under siege in early 1968.

He candidly describes supporting Marine reconnaissance teams, recovering Marines killed in action, and conducting medevacs, but his best days were when they would “go in to pick up the troops … and they were all at least able to walk aboard the chopper.” He says one day in May his squadron lost 16 of its 24 aircraft to enemy fire.

He says, “The CH-46 was a chopper that could take a lot of battle damage. You’d come back with 100 holes in that thing and still flying.” Nevertheless, he was shot down four times – each time due to hydraulic failure.

During his second tour in Vietnam, Althoff earned three Silver Star Medals and three Distinguished Flying Cross medals, a Bronze Star Medal with a V device for Valor, and numerous Air Medals. He describes the actions for which he earned each of his three Silver Star Medals.

He also describes being refused service in a restaurant upon his homecoming in 1968, and discusses life after Vietnam, including his retirement in 1972. Althoff speaks affectionately about the Marines he served with in Vietnam, the reunions they still attend, and visiting the Vietnam War Memorial. “… I lost 49 guys in my squadron; 21 of them in one day. … I looked up, and there were the names of the 21 guys that we lost on February 28th, 1967. … All together. … Just all together, you know.”

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