Ken’s Take on the World

Memorial Day 2012

This Monday, American’s will celebrate Memorial Day with parades and barbecues and picnics with family and friends.  At 3:00 in the afternoon, the nation will pause for a moment to remember the men and women who have given their lives in the service of our country.  Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 to honor the fallen Union soldiers of the US Civil War.  Over the years, Memorial Day has been a time to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice paid by servicemen and women of all conflicts that our nation has become involved.

This Memorial Day, as I have for every Memorial Day since 1987, I will reflect on the lives of nine particular US Marines.  All were members of the Second Marine Division attached with Marine Amphibious Unit aboard the USS Saipan (LHA-2) during Operation Northern Wedding during August 1986.  To this day, I cannot recall their names.  They were young men called to volunteer and become one of the few, the brave ones we call United States Marines.  Two of them were pilots of a CH-46 helicopter.  The rest were just young guys around my age who had, perhaps, visions of bravery and valor and glory.  They had their entire lives to look forward to.  Or so, as we all did, they thought.

Tragedy often strikes without warning.  It cuts down the strongest and the smartest.  It takes the weakest and the bravest.  Over the course of a single week in late August, 1986, tragedy took the lives of nine brave young men.  Their lives intersected with my own as I was a young Navy Hospitalcorpsman stationed aboard the Saipan at that moment in history.  The first tragedy involved a helicopter crash.  It happened early one evening while I was in a class in a room several decks below the flight deck.  During the lecture klaxons sounded alerting us to a fire on the flight deck.  We thought this might be simply a drill, one of many in which all of us routinely train for in order to work as a team.  More alarms sounded announcing there was a man overboard.  We could each feel the ship heel as the giant engines began to backdown and turn.  Without a word, class was dismissed and we began to hurry to our duty stations.  As I ran up five decks through Main Medical, I asked another HM who was the SAR (search and rescue) corpsman.   When he told me, I knew that he was a junior guy and would need support.  I told the HM to pass on that I was taking the lifeboat and to hold the SAR duty corpsman at his duty station.

We dropped the SAR boat into the North Atlantic area of the Arctic Circle off the coast of Norway.  Five of us, uncertain but speculating as to what we might find.  We had been informed that it was a two-person spotter plane and then it was a chopper returning to our ship after ferrying Marines to one of the other ships.  The bridge directed us to a search point and there we saw two men standing on the wreckage of a shattered aircraft.  We thought it was, in fact, a spotter plane.  As we drew near, we saw an inflatable life raft with several men in it.  As we rounded the wreckage, we could see this was the bottom of a helicopter that the two men were standing on.  We could also see that a few of the men in the life raft were struggling to hold a third Marine up but they were unable to get him into the raft.

The sailor who was acting as our bow hook and safety swimmer, Troy Durbin, and I along with the engineer lay down on the bow of our boat and heaved the waterlogged Marine onto our deck.  I immediately began to assess him and discovered he was not breathing.  I opened his airway and inserted an oropharyngeal airway, preparing to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while the bow hook and engineer were bringing the second man aboard.  My Marine started to gag and cough and I pulled the airway out so he could vomit and clear his lungs out.  I briefly turned my attention to the second Marine, also unconscious and not breathing.  I opened his airway, retrieved the OP tube and inserted it again prepared to perform artificial respirations.  Like the first Marine, he again began to cough and gag and I pulled the tube out and rolled him onto his side.  I glanced over at the first man and he had again stopped breathing, so I repeated the process I had first used with him with the same result.  After turning him to his side, I noticed the second Marine had, too, stopped breathing.  I again opened his airway and he gasped for air and began to weakly cough.  Meanwhile, the first man had stopped breathing.  The bow hook was helping the remaining men in the life raft onto the boat and the engineer had to go help the Boat Officer bring a couple of people floating of the stern of the boat.

I turned my attention to the first Marine who also had a facial laceration but no other significant, obvious, injuries.  When I was able to return to the second Marine, I was not able to revive him and returned my focus to the first Marine who remained unstable.  I had Troy stay with the first Marine and went to assess the remaining Marines as we headed back to the ship.  After assessing the Marines, I had the Boat Officer call in a triage report to let our medical team know what to expect.  Transfer of the injured from our 36’ boat to the Saipan was challenging as we were bobbing around in six to ten foot swells that wanted to smash us into the ship.  The Boatswain’s Mate who was our pilot and the engineer kept us as steady as possible.  We received information that the chopper carried 21 men and six Marines were still unaccounted for.  After off-loading, we conducted a full Search and Rescue for several more hours before securing the wreckage of the helicopter and towing it back to the ship.  In a single moment, the lives of eight US Marines were lost.  Six of them were never recovered, claimed by the ocean depths.

About a week later, a call came in that they were flying in by helicopter a critically injured Marine, injured after being struck and run over by one of the Marine vehicles while conducting mock beach assault operations.  Another corpsman and I set up the trauma room while the ship’s Doctor and surgeon along with a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) went to the flight deck to meet the arriving casualty.  They set him on the deck for a very brief assessment before rushing him into the trauma room.  We hoisted him onto the operating table and began to cut him out of his clothes.  The anesthesiologist was attempting to establish an airway and as I attempted to suction out his mouth the anesthesiologist discovered what may have been the fatal injury, a massive scalp laceration and skull fracture.  We pronounced the young man, cleaned and dressed his wounds and prepared his body, as we had already prepared two others, for transfer back to the waiting families who had received that dreaded visit from uniformed officers coming to express the thanks of a grateful nation and their condolences.

Over the next several weeks there would be a few more servicemembers whose lives were lost, including two Navy pilots when their aircraft suffered a catastrophic failure in our area of operations.  These young men I mentioned earlier, are the last servicemen who died aboard the Saipan before I was discharged in 1987.  Perhaps it was my relative youth, I was only 19 at the time, but the deaths of these fine young men had an important impact on me and in the person that I have attempted to be.  To make sure that my technical skills are always sharp, so that when called on, I can serve others as well as our team tried to serve those nine Marines in 1986.

This year, however, marks a special significance to me.  This Memorial Day will be the first time in the history of our country that we may openly, and proudly, pay our respects to gay and lesbian service members who have served with honor and distinction in each of our nation’s wars and in peacetime and who, also, paid the ultimate sacrifice for a people who, for far too long, would treat us as second class citizens.  Because my discharge was based on the fact that I am gay, this is especially important to me as I, along with many others advocated for repeal of the ban on gay servicemen and women and spoke out against the enactment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  We pushed for the repeal of this nonsensical legislation from the moment it was signed into law and we applauded the support for repeal from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullin, and President of the United States, Barack Obama.

I am thankful for all of the brave men and women who have donned a uniform and stood watch over our freedoms and ideals and responded ferociously to any attack on these principles which make our nation so great!  Your dedication and service will never be forgotten.


33 Comments so far
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I just now found this blog. I was a HM3 embarked with the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines on board Saipan on the day of the crash. Those killed were with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines I took 4 photos of the motor whale boats searching the port side for survivors if you are interested. Chow was usually loud and rowdy. That evening you could hear a pin drop. The event haunts me still. I also have about 100 photos taken from that float (from the green side perspective) btw my brother is gay and served aboard the Peleliu LHA-5. Straight but not narrow.

Comment by Brian Angus

I was one of the Marines aboard the CH-46 that crashed off of the Saipan. I would like to see if there is anyway possible to get a copy of your pictures from that deployment since everything I owned at the time ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Thanks

I am also still in contact with several of the other survivors from the crash.


Comment by Patrick Melton

My cousin was Capt. William Dale Ellzey, his body was never recovered…If you have pictures of him or any info to share, please email me at
Jason Ellzey

Comment by Jason Ellzey

Do you know what caused the crash? Mechanical failure, pilot error, etc?. Thank you for your service, sir.

Comment by George Chandler

Definitely! I have some pics of the wreckage that we recovered that night. It was a high-adrenalin night, that’s for certain.

Comment by Ken

My name is Allen Ellzey and I am the younger brother of the pilot of that 46, Capt Dale Ellzey…….Besides being my brother, he was my best friend……Please send me any photos of that crash as I still have so many questions 28 years later…..thanks so much!

Comment by Allen

Allen if you can email me so I have a place to send them I will share the photos I have.

Comment by Brian Angus

Brian I was ship’s company HM2 OR tech I would like (need?) those pics to heal pls. groovy

Comment by groovygas


Or as we would have called you “Doc”, thanks for helping to take care of us on that day. We appreciate your help and service.


Comment by Patrick Melton

I sent Patrick and Jason scans of 2 of the photos I described above. I will dig for the originals now that interest has been established. I have at least 2 more some place. Anyone else interested can email me at

Comment by brian angus

I am the younger brother of the pilot of that 46 that crashed in August, 1986…..please send me any photos you may have as I still have many questions!

Comment by Allen

I have a number of photos from the cruise that I will get scanned and share with you folks. I have always wondered where the folks who were on the chopper that night may have gone to after that fateful night.

Comment by Ken

I would like any pics you have sir..I was aboard the chopper also and would gladly appreciate it.

Comment by Jody Waterer

Hey Joe, i’m sending you a picture of the aft of the aircraft that was chained to the flight deck. It’s the only pic I have of the wreckage.

Comment by Jeff Hennesy

Ken, thank you for this post. My husband and father of my four children, Capt. William Dale Ellzey, USMC, was the pilot and commander of the CH-46 that went down on 29 August 1986. I wanted you and others to know somethings about him as a US Marine and a man.

He wanted to be a pilot all his life and did everything he could to make that happen. At the time of the accident he had over 3400 flight hours and many safety awards. The question was asked why did the accident happen…it was deemed mechanical failure. The co-pilot lived and was able to describe to me how hard both of them fought to fly the helicopter that fateful day.

The first thing I want to correct is that although the crew cab did in fact sink with the helicopter, HOWEVER due to the efforts of whom I recall was the Maintenance Officer for HMM-162, a British salvage ship in the area was able to recover the remainder of the helicopter. My husband’s body now lies at rest near his beloved grandmother.

@Patrick, I am so glad that you survived. I knew that you had been sent to Germany as medivac. There were three, I believe, that had to be sent there for further medical care. Do you know how they fared?

@Ken, thank you so much for all you did for the survivors of this crash as well as your assistance to the two young Marines that were lost. Your description of the seas that day, the men that were afloat on a piece of the helicopter and how the boat was in waters with six to ten foot swells, I remember the Navy hymn… Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea! I believe that He was with many that night and I know that my husband was with the Eternal Father at that time.

Comment by canerivercooksKelley

I was with Weapons Co. 1/6. I remember something’s that happen, but I feel I was young and pushed it aside. 1/6 had several years from 1986-1991 of rough times. From Operation Just Cause, training accidents and then the Typhoon that hit us in Okinawa all before the end of ’88. I pray for those lost and for everyone today. We lost some great men and friends.

Comment by RHouser

Ken, I remember that day well too. I was the Boatswains Mate of the watch on the bridge when the accident happened, BM3 Mike Hurst. I remember the copter fragments hitting the bridge wing and my lookout passing out from shock. We watched the CH-46 take off, pitch forward and hit the CH-53 that was tied down on the deck , flip over and break in half as it collided with the edge of the ship. I remember Troy Durbin going into the water and pulling bodies out and hypothermia set in and he had to be relieved by another SAR swimmer….SN Sly. That day stays forever in my mind too. You may remember me better from a car accident we were in together in Norfolk that landed me in the hospital and you visited me there. Thank you for everything you did that night and on that fateful day with the helo.

Comment by Mike Hurst

Ken, I was a young Marine aboard the USS El Paso at the time of this tragic accident. Having just left mess, I walked up on deck and just happened to be watching the Saipan off our starboard side when the accident unfolded. I have never felt more helpless as I did that day. My heartfelt thanks to you and your fellow shipmates for all you did that day. Semper Fidelis.

Comment by M. Kah Cpl USMC

Ken, I was aboard the USS Saipan during that fateful deployment. I was attached to HMM-162 just prior to embarkation. Being recently attached and assigned to AIMD (I level maintenance) I didn’t know most of the Marines of 162. Your description of what happened that day brought a flood of memories back to this Marine. There are so many details that I remember now, that can not fit in this post……but I remember, as do you.

A bowed head and a solemn hand salute to those we lost that day.

May we never forget.

Comment by Paul

Hi my husband pfc joesph a smith was on the helicopter that day he was injured he was one of the lucky ones and just hurt his knee .he has pictures of the wreakage he was very lucky .

Comment by Leeann smith


I was on the helo with your husband and he and I were awarded our Medals in the same formation. There are a few of us that survived the crash that have reconnected on Facebook. If your husband would like to drop me an email it would be great to reconnect with him. My email is


Comment by Patrick Melton

My name is Arthur Massey , i was on the flight deck the day of the accident . I was a white shirt ( Combat Cargo ) with Weapons Co 1/6 Heavy Guns , i helped load the Marines aboard the helo .

Comment by Arthur Massey

Hello Sr. Ken- I need to contact you or others that might have information about the days the USS Saipan, USS Yarnell and USS Bainbridge docked in Palma de Mallorca. My friend, is looking for her father. He was on one of these ships- her mother met him at a party on Nov. 26 where there were many service men, she is from Mallorca, they had a night and she ended up having his child. He was tall, African American and his name started with a J, Jeffrey/Jerry but she doesn’t quite recall. He was from possibly one of the Carolinas and was a pilot.
Please can you help us in any way- she has contacted the consulates and offices for years. Maria Antonia, is now 28 years old and both her and her mother, Margalida want nothing but for this man, her father to know she exists.

Comment by Jeny A.

My name is Ken Davis, I was a Chief ICmen, some of the men from E Div were on the boats. I looked into the cruise book the names of those lost are listed: Capt Ellzey, LCPL Rosry Fowler M.,LCPL Eric Bradford, LCPL Trent Stover, CPL Athur Bergquist, CPL Carl Jones, CPL Thomas Scwichteanburg and Pvt Daniel Rumpf.
We pray that God is watching over every soul you took If so, we know then that they’re in good hands that somehow, you’ll tell them they’re loved and they’re missed and in many minds and hearts their memory will foreever stand!!

Comment by Ken Davis

OMG I just saw this. I was there. I was the senior ship’s company OR tech along with Ken. I was in the OR with Cat Mayo suturing the co pilot’s wounds. I honor all the men lost that day and know that they are really not lost at all but are with me every day… HM2 Daniel F. Griffin USS Saipan Main Operating Room. Now Dan Griffin CRNA and a better one because of you men!

Comment by groovygas

I am putting together a 30th reunion to remember those who we lost as well as those still with us. If anyone from the units are interested please send me an email at the event will be on the anniversary of the crash Aug 29th.


Comment by Patrick Melton

Fellow Marines, Navy Corpsmen, Family of friends lost. I was one of the four man flight crew that day we lost part of our family. My name is Phillip “Tony” Welsh, CH46 Maintenance Mechanic working to be a Crew Chief one day. This was my very first cruise having arrived to MCAS New River the previous April as a “boot”, young and dumb. I was sitting on a cruise box on the forward left side of the helo at take-off. My Friend, Rory Fowler, was the Crew Chief standing in the door way as we attempted to land back aboard the ship. Little did I know the guy standing there would forever be lost in the North Atlantic Ocean, he was never recovered leaving behind a young wife and brand new baby girl (If I remember correctly). I, to this day, get shaky and almost sick when the memories come flooding back in. I suffered only a broken ankle to later be reassembled with three 3in. wood screws. I honestly do not remember how I got out of the helo, probably falling out or flooded out like the rest of us. I do remember coming to very deep in the water and struggling to resurface. Very lucky not to have drown.
My sincerest thanks to all the men involved in the recovery of the scared, injured, very cold, wet Marines. If anyone has contact with the Navy nurse “Bobo”, I think was his name, I would appreciate his contact info or please supply him mine. He kept me calm when I was in severe pain. I could not have pain meds until after a drug test, this seemed like hours.
My heartfelt apologies to Mrs. Ellzey, the wife of Captain William Dale Ellzey, Pilot CH46. I knew him as a Marine Aviation Officer but if you knew how things worked in the “Wing”, friends are easily made between Pilot and crew.
I could go on for hours but this isn’t the correct forum.
I have had no contact with anyone from those days, partially because I didn’t want to, the pain was just too strong. I have pushed so much to the back of my mind to help heal, but when I saw this, actual guys on the ship or on the helo made me want to reach out. We all changed that day in some way, and I have never been the same since.
I have a VHS, low quality, video of the crash packed away back home in the states. I received it before I got out as a parting gift I suppose. I am on assignment with BMW manufacturing in S. Africa for 3 years however I plan to convert the tape to disc upon my return if anyone is interested in a copy. Again low quality but if you were there you know whats happening.
Take care, Gods Speed, and Thank you providing a space for us to connect.

Semper Fi

Comment by Phillip Welsh

Hey Tony. You probably don’t remember me, but I worked in S-1 and checked you into the squadron just before deploying. I remembered you surviving and walking around on crutches afterwards, but didn’t remember your name. Glad you posted. I recognized your name as soon as I saw it. Please put me on the list for a copy of your video. Please feel free to contact me anytime. Regards, Jeff Hennesy

Comment by Jeff Hennesy

I would like a copy if. The offer is still there..I was on the help and was one of the marines who got medicated to Germany..

Comment by Jody Waterer

My name is William Harder and I was with 1/6 weapons company, 81mm mortar, when this accident occurred. I want to thank everyone here for their support and for the well wishes. The Marines we lost that horrible day still lives fresh in my mind these 31 years later. They were not only my brothers in the Corps, they were my friends. Sadly, time has erased their names from my memory, but I remember the faces of 3 of them. These were young Marines like myself. I served with these young men at Camp Lejeune. They lived in the barracks right next to me. We drank, ate, laughed, bled, sweared, and sweat bullets together. These young men were the cream of the crop. They were some of the very best our country could offer. I have recounted this tale many times over the years to many people. It was one of the worst days I had while in the Corps.
I will attempt to contact some of the people, Ken and Patrick and a few others, by email. I know that sometimes people change email addresses. Should anyone wish to contact me please feel free to do so. My email is

I wish to thank everyone who had a hand in helping saving as many of my fellow Marines as was possible. It was a tragedy that should never have happened. Several issues about that day have not been exposed. The weather played a huge factor, along with the fact that the helo was overloaded. The Pilots made a valiant effort to save the bird. It just wasn’t meant to be that day. Sadly, Wikipedia has taken out the reference to the accident from its description of the USS Saipan. What some of you may not know is that Wikipedia had a small section about the accident with incorrect numbers of the fallen. I wrote to them pointing out their error. They claimed we only lost 5. I would not let the memories of the 8 be lessened.

God bless you all. Take care!
Bill Harder

Comment by bilyd333

I was also a member of HMM-162 and friend of Dale Elzey’s and Rory Fowler’s. From what I can remember, one new crew chief survived and was on crutches and Lt. Mauney (sp?) survived with a good sized hole in his leg. My memory is a bit sketchy but I believe I remember the maintenance Marines talking about it being a SAS system failure in the cold weather. SAS is an electronic system that helps keep the bird from being affected by every little gust of wind and every change in air pressure. It’s kind of like electronic cruise control. I remember them saying that the bird started malfunctioning as it lifted from the deck, then they attempted to put it back on the deck before they had bigger problems by leaving the side of the ship, then fighting it. The bird did collide with another bird on the deck, then the 46 rolled over onto Dale’s side then started tearing open. The rear of the bird started to separate from the front at about the stubwing which caused some of the passengers to fall to the deck, the catwalks, and some into the sea. I think the rear started to fall from the ship and was still attached just enough to the nose to pull it off the deck into the sea with it. I do remember the rear of the aircraft being on the deck of the ship after it was pulled from the water and I do have a picture of it. I remember the ship staying at the site all evening and the remainder of the night but I don’t remember the nose of the aircraft being recovered at that time. I believe it was recovered later by a civilian salvage team. At least that’s what I remember hearing.

This information is what I have gathered either from first hand account or from the officers of the squadron, some of whom were in Air Boss’ room watching it happen. I only saw the aftermath and was a part of the conversations with the other pilots after the crash investigation began. I still have trouble talking about the story and normally lose it when I remember returning to New River Air Station and seeing the other Marines of the squadron going to group hug Rory’s wife with her holding their very small baby.

Mrs. Ellzey, I’m sorry I didn’t know you but I knew your husband well. He was a Marine’s Marine and was one of my Texas buddies. I’m from Houston. There were several of us from Texas and we always stuck together. He was always more squared away then the rest of us with his horse shoe haircut and all. I also knew Rory well and remember that Rory would walk me around and ontop of the birds, showing me how things worked. He’s the only one that took the time to do that for me. It was a hellish experience but I’m glad to hear that this group is getting the information together to share and answer questions of the tragedy that happened so long ago. Please feel free to contact me at the email address I’ve created for your responses: I would be glad to share any information or photos I have. Unfortunately I didn’t get my cruise book from that float but I did run across it online. Someone scanned every page and posted it.

Warmest regards,

Jeff Hennesy

Comment by Jeff Hennesy

Thank you and everyone on that ship that day..I was aboard tthat chopper that day and was more than likely one of the marines you wrote about..You helped save my life and i was never given a chance to tell you thank you..Thank you for saving my life and allowing me to have a family of my own.

Comment by Jody Waterer

I have often wondered how those scared, yet brave, young men on the CH46 have done following that experience. It was one of the proudest things that I had ever done and I would do it again in a heartbeat!! Every Memorial Day I think of the ones we were not able to save and even though I had never met them, I will never, ever forget them. I wish you the very best in life.

Comment by Ken

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