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1st CAVALRY DIVISION MEDEVAC: VIETNAM
The main purpose of the helicopter ambulance during the Vietnam War was to remove the combat casualty from the battlefield and deliver him to a medical station or hospital in the shortest time possible. Medevac and Dustoff flew almost 500,000 missions and airlifted over 900,000 patients, nearly one half of them were American soldiers.
Helicopter ambulances did not carry armament as outlined in the Geneva Convention but the enemy showed no hesitation in firing on them even though they were clearly marked with red crosses on a white background. Gunships were hard to obtain for escort and crewmembers began to carry personal weapons for self-protection. Some helicopter ambulance units started to carry a fifth crewmember as a gunner with an M-16 rifle but only the Air Ambulance Platoon of the 1st Cavalry Division mounted M-60 machine guns on the sides of their helos.
Medevac missions presented some of the most dangerous flying for helicopter crews in Vietnam. With the increasing demand for hoist missions, the helicopter ambulances were even more vulnerable to enemy fire. The rate of crew casualties and aircraft losses grew alarmingly. A hovering helo presented itself as an easy and vulnerable target to the enemy below. The rate of loss to hostile fire was 3.3 times that of all other types of helicopter missions. Only the aero scout units suffered losses that were comparable to helicopter ambulance units.