In Memory

Hugo Gaytan

Age at Death: 20
Cause of Death: Killed in a helicopter crash on duty in Vietnam

Survived By: Parents Mr. & Mrs. Carlos Gaytan, brothers Saul & Ruben, sister Joanne

Obit in the Sacramento Bee 10-19-71

Rank:  Army Spec. 4 His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial in Downtown Sacramento

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12/08/09 05:54 PM #1    

Judith A. Phillips (Lemke)

Hugo was a true American hero. God Bless him, and his family.

02/27/10 02:05 PM #2    

John L. Culy

a toast to my brother in arms

07/09/13 05:49 PM #3    

Rafael Rodriguez

Rest in peace Hugo.  may God bless you for all eternity.

11/12/13 05:04 PM #4    

Philip R. Goode

While browsing the list of our deceased classmates, I noticed Hugo's name.  Although I did not know Hugo well while in high school we were friendly acquaintances and we had a couple of classes together.  Looking at his date of death, I thought he was awfully young and decided to look into it further.  I discovered he was killed while serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam.  Since I served in Vietnam with the Army's 101st Airborne division as a combat infantryman at the same time (in fact I had finished my tour and had left Vietnam just 3 weeks before Hugo lost his life) I decided to investigate some more.  I found this detailed report of the crash that took Hugo's life and thought it would be of interest to many of you.  Hugo was clearly a hero.  He may not have been decorated.  Many who sacrifice seldom are.  If you listen to the stories of the celebrated heros you'll note that they invaribly state that they were just doing their duty as they were trained to do.  Hugo's sacrifice for our country certainly qualifies as such and he should be remembered as the hero he was.... Voluntarily risking his life to try and rescue another wounded soldier.  God Bless you Hugo.


Loss of Dustoff 71 and Crew - October 13th, 1971

By David Freeman

When the crew of Dustoff 71 reported in to the 57th Medical Detachment's Operations office for First Up duty on the evening of October 13, 1971, they checked the Mission Board and found one mission still pending from the afternoon shift.

CW2 Ron Schulz was the Aircraft Commander and WO1 John Chrin was the First Pilot. Schulz, with less than a month left in-country was preparing Chrin to take over as an Aircraft Commander. The crew that night also included crew chief Michael Darrah, and medic Hugo Gaytan. A third crewmember, Ricky Pate was along that evening because Michael Darrah was training him to become a crew chief.

The fact that a mission was still pending from earlier in the day bothered the Dustoff crew. Dustoff crews didn't like to leave anyone in the field who was hurting. It was their job to get the injured out of the field and to a hospital as soon as possible. This guy had been out there too long. He had not been picked up earlier because of the weather. It was monsoon season, with rain and low clouds blanketing the area throughout the day, and the crew on duty during the day afternoon had not been able to make it in.

Schulz and his crew knew the weather could change, so they decided to go take a look. It was a unanimous decision. They all wanted to go. What none of them knew was that the intended patient had already died. This information was never transmitted back to Dustoff Operations because the patient was in a minefield and none of the South Vietnamese soldiers in the area was willing to go in to try to recover him. The fact that it was a Vietnamese patient did not deter the crew. Their mission included the medical evacuation of both Americans and Vietnamese, even North Vietnamese or VC if the occasion warranted it.

The location of this particular mission was in far western An Giang Province, not too far from the village of Chau Duc on the Cambodian Border and in an area known as the “Seven Sisters” mountains.  These mountains are the only high areas in the part of South Vietnam, known as “the Delta”, or in military terms “IV Corps.”  The four northernmost peaks that make up the Seven Sisters are in Cambodia. The three southernmost peaks are in South Vietnam. The highest of these is 2,330 feet high.

Departing Navy Binh Thuy, Schulz was encouraged by the weather. For the most part, the crew was able to remain clear of clouds. What clouds they did encounter were patchy and they soon flew through them, flying on instruments. Dustoff 71 contacted the Air Force radar controllers at nearby Air Force Binh Thuy (Paddy Control) and asked for radar vectors to the area of the intended pickup. The fact that it was growing dark was not really a concern, since the Dustoff crews routinely located ground troops at night and had worked out procedures to enable them to get into and out of their pickup sites in safely, even on very dark nights. (See the story Dustoffs at Night, if you are interested in the details of how this was done.)

As they reached the area south of the village of Chau Duc, Paddy advised the crew that radar contact had been lost. By this time, Schulz and his crew had established radio contact with troops on the ground who were attempting to provide some type of visual guidance to help the crew locate the pickup site. They were flying at 2,000 feet and were in and out of clouds, but hoped to soon establish visual contact because the ground troops were shooting up flares. When Paddy Control advised Dustoff 71 that he was no longer in radar contact, he advised him that the helicopter was at that time approximately seven miles from mountains. They were on a northwesterly heading, which Schulz apparently believed would keep them clear of the mountains, if they even went that far before establishing contact with the ground troops.

For reasons, we will never know, Schulz and his First Pilot, John Chrin, were apparently unaware that they had drifted south and were dangerously close to the 2,330 high peak known as Dop Chompa. While in radar contact with the ground troops, but prior to making visual contact, the helicopter impacted the side of the mountain at an approximate elevation of 2,000. It immediately burst into flames. The entire aircraft, except for the engine and tailboom, was consumed by the fire within a matter of minutes. The evidence examined during investigation indicated that all aboard died upon impact.

Jack Grass, “Dustoff 88” was on a standby status that night. Sometime between 10 or 11 PM Captain Aubrey Lange, the C.O. sent one of the operations enlisted men to wake Grass up. He told Grass that Dustoff 71 was missing and believed to have crashed in the mountains near Tri Tan.  Lange wanted to fly to Tri Tan.

Lange and Grass departed Binh Thuy and headed west.  They were to contact a ground unit at a field location east of Tri Tan.  They immediately went IMC (instrument conditions) and picked up vectors from Paddy Control.  It was turbulent, raining extremely hard, and scary. When they arrived in the approximate area, it was still raining very hard and still turbulent.  The advisors on the ground told them they were approximately overhead and that it “sounded” like we were clear of the mountains by a couple miles.  This was not a comforting factor for Grass and Lange. Grass asked the advisor if he had any vehicles/APCs available so he could circle the wagons to light up an area for them to land.  As the helicopter circled overhead the ground forces got jeeps and APCs set up in a large circle with headlights shining into the center.  Grass was still talking with Paddy Control who had them on the screen intermittently.  He was pretty sure they were east of the mountains but was still nervous.

Grass started a slow circling descent with position lights on bright and the stowed landing light turned on.  After what seemed an eternity the ground troops saw their light.  They were probably at 6 or 7 hundred feet before they were spotted and, as luck would have it, they were directly above them.   It wasn't until the helicopter had descended below 3 hundred feet or so that they could make out the glow of lights below them.  They landed in the center of the circle and shut down for the night.

Early the next morning at first light, Grass and Langer prepared to search the mountain just south of where Dustoff 71 was believed to have crashed.  That is where ARVN ground troops reported seeing what they thought was a fire.  They flew directly to the coordinates given and began their search.  Jack Grass had a very strong feeling that they were nowhere near the crash sight and told that to Lange.  He said just search the area grid by grid until they found the crash.  Grass had very strong feelings that they would find the crash north their position.  He told Lange that he was going to make one pass over the top of the mountain to their north, then he would go back to where they were previously searching.  Jack believes he was “guided” to the site, as he found it almost immediately.

October 13 was my first day with the 57th Medical Detachment. I arrived late in the afternoon and never met any of the members of the crew that was lost that night. Consequently, the next morning, I was assigned to the Aircraft Accident Investigation team that would recover the bodies and try to determine what had happened.

The accident investigation team, along with members of Graves Registration (those charged with identifying and recovering remains) departed Navy Binh Thuy in two helicopters early the next morning enroute to Tri Tan, which was at the base of the mountain where the helicopter had crashed. The top of the mountain was obscured by clouds, so we had to wait until almost mid-morning before we could get to the crash site.

When we were able to fly up the side of the mountain, the advisor on board pointed out the wreckage to us. The jungle was very dense and all that could really be seen was a pile of ashes.

We approached and landed in a clearing on top of the mountain, where we were met by ARVN (Army of Vietnam) forces who led us down the side of the mountain to the scene of the crash.

When we arrived at the location where the aircraft had crashed, the Graves Registration team set to work immediately to recover the bodies. It was the consensus of opinion that the men had not lived long enough to know they had been burned, but had died upon impact. They were all in the approximate position that they would have occupied in the aircraft, except that the entire front part of the aircraft was totally gone. Only ashes remained. The front of the cockpit had smashed into a huge rock, a further indication that these men had died instantly.




11/13/13 10:38 AM #5    

Judith A. Phillips (Lemke)

Hi Phil - 

Thank you so much for researching and posting this article about what happened to Hugo and the other heroic crew members.  My heart ached more and more as I  read it.  

Those of us at home could not come close to knowing what our soldiers went through over there.   This type of documentation tells the stroy clearly and vividly.

I do remember Hugo - he was quiet, a gentleman, and now, a NATIONAL HERO.

All veterans are my heroes, and I pray for all of them every day.  So proud of you.


God's love and Grace,


Judy (Phillips) Lemke

10/28/14 04:39 PM #6    

Darlene M. Carlson


I remember Hugo from Sam Brannon Junior High as he often sat across from me due to alphabetical seating in classes.  In Study Hall we would laugh together and be amazed at the stories that John Efan told about his "riding the rails" on the weekend and sometimes not being able to jump trains back to Sacramento before school started on Mondays.  Hugo had a great laugh and a wonderful smile and even though he maintained a somewhat quiet demeanor in classes all the way through high school, he was always listening and aware of what was going on around him.  After high school, I was reading the paper one day, turned the page and there on both pages, staring at me were photos of local soldiers that had been killed in Vietnam.  As I was looking at the photos I realized that I was suddenly staring at a photo of Hugo.  I was shocked and had to keep looking back at the photo and name trying to tell myself that what I was seeing just couldn't be true.  Sadly it was true.  After the Vietnam Memorial was placed in Capitol Park it was many years before I could venture to see it as I knew it would be very sad and difficult to see Hugo's name on the memorial after that shocking realization years before.  

When my youngest daughter was in elementary school a couple friends came home with her to work on a school project.  When I was introduced to one of the girls it turned out her last name was Gayton.  I mentioned that I grew up with a Hugo Gayton and she said that Hugo was her Uncle although she had never met him.  I told her what a special person he was and that I knew him in school.  Years later I ran into her at a wedding shower, she remembered me, and we spoke of Hugo again.  Then I saw her two more times at my nephew's wedding and baby shower.  There I was approached by a sister-in-law of Hugo's and, once again, I was able to share special thoughts about Hugo.  It is interesting that various connections that we make in life keep circling back on us through the years.  Hugo has been one of those people, a special person, a gentleman, so warm and friendly, quiet and thoughtful, who keeps circling back into my life for years.  What a blessing to be reminded of Hugo! 




10/29/14 08:20 AM #7    

Alan L. Edelstein

I want to thank the classmates who have taken the time to remember Hugo and to publish the detailed account of his death as a hero.  I remember him although we were not close.  If I knew that he had died in Vietnam, I had forgotten about it. 

My wife and I are in the final days of planning a month-long trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.  We leave this upcoming Saturday, Nov. 1st.  As I have been doing the research for the trip, the Vietnam Era with its horrors and controversy, things that I have not thought about in detail for years,  have been coming back up.  It was a matter of "luck" that a new comment was just posted and that it caught my attention. 

I have to admit that, as a young person, I was fairly clueless as to what our service personnel were going through, the sacrifices they made and the horrible things many experienced.  Now, having a nephew who is a career officer in the U.S. Navy, and living a good part of the year in Israel, where, unfortunately, war is never that far away and our young people are constantly encountering the challenges of military service, I have a much better and more mature appreciation of what Hugo and all of our Vietnam veterans experienced. 

Our upcoming trip was looking to be a lot of fun, interesting, informative, and meaningful.  Reading the account of Hugo's last mission, as well as the remembrances of him by some classmates, have really added to the meaning of the trip and to the experience I will have.  I want to thank those classmates who took the time to post comments and I want to say that I will think of Hugo and his sacrifice on this trip.  When remembering a deceased person, we Jews say out of respect "May his memory be for a blessing."  May Hugo Gayton's memory, and the memory of all our deceased veterans, be for a blessing.   



06/12/17 01:22 AM #8    

Tim Miller

Hugo and I ran track and cross-country together through high school, quite the runner and very good in the martial arts. The best memory, is when a few of us runners would go to the Bay area and run "fun runs" , very uncommon in the late 60's, the group usually consisted of Hugo, Rick Delgado, Cornel West, and me (I was the only one that had a car and drivers license). On one of these runs, we were running along the ocean , got to the end of the run and waited and waited for Hugo, several minutes he showed up a little wet. Turns out he had never seen the ocean before and decided to take a quick dip!

Thank you everyone for the memories

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