THREE RIVERS AREA For much of the American public, the Vietnam War was, at best, controversial. But a number of heroes were made in that distant land. One of them was Chuck Dean, a helicopter pilot from Searcy who lost his life on Aug. 15, 1972, while trying to rescue another pilot.
Chuck was born in Peoria, Ill., in 1940 and spent most of his early years in Brinkley. His parents, Lawrence and Margeret Dean, moved their family to Searcy in the fall of 1954. Lawrence worked for the Harding Press, while Margeret worked in the mail room at Harding College. Chuck and his brothers, Chris and Dick, attended Harding Academy. Chuck, the oldest, was a freshman in 1954. He played tackle on the Harding Academy Wildcats football team for three years.
Chuck loved flying even more than sports, and he spent a lot of time at the Searcy Airport. He was 16 when he received his pilot’s license. He skipped football as a senior to work to pay for flying lessons.
After his freshman year at Harding College, he transferred to Spartan Aeronautical School in Tulsa. There he learned to work on airplanes as a certified mechanic.
He attended the University of Oklahoma after marrying Virginia Dennis of Tulsa in 1961. Their only child, Laurie Elizabeth Dean, was born in 1963. The couple divorced two years later.
When Chuck applied for a job with Pan American Airlines, he had to submit his draft status, which turned out to be 1A. He joined the Army to fly helicopters and received training at Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas. He became a warrant officer after attending a warrant officers school at Fort Rucker, Ala.
He went to Vietnam in the fall of 1967 to fly Huey helicopters. He was there for the Tet Offensive in 1968. He flew utility command-and-control helicopters that were called Slicks for five months and extended his time in Vietnam to fly gunships. In August 1968, he was hit in the thigh by a .51-caliber bullet. He and his co-pilot had completed a mission, and the co-pilot was getting some flying practice flying them back to the base when the bullet hit Chuck.
Chuck was placed in a full body cast in a Japanese hospital. He was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for more treatment. Doctors had to remove an inch of bone from the wounded thigh.
According to Chuck’s brothers, Dick and Chris Dean, his first tour of duty in Vietnam wasn’t too hard on their parents. But when he considered returning for a second tour, their father tried to talk him out of going back.
“Mother accepted his going back,” his brothers said.
Chuck’s willingness to return to the Vietnam quagmire
and his skill and courage as a
gunship pilot were much ap
preciated by fellow pilots. Years
after Chuck died - when the
Internet made contact easy in
the 1990s - the Dean family
would learn of the esteem other
pilots held for Chuck.
In a 1998 letter, Art Lind
say of Hughes told about be
ing transferred into Chuck’s
unit - D Troop, 17th AirCav,
1st Aviation Brigade - where
they worked together from
April 1972 until Chuck’s death
on Aug. 15. Their days started
about 3 a.m. with breakfast,
preliminary mission briefing
and assignment to an area of
operation. That was followed
by preflighting their aircraft,
briefing their crews and flying
at about 5:30 a.m. to the area
of operation for the day. They
flew almost every day, and
their mission usually included
locating enemy concentrations.
Their heavy helicopter team in
cluded two light observations
helicopters (LOHs), two Cobra
gunships and a Slick.
“Chuck always flew the lead
gunship, and the LOH crews
were much more comfortable
when he was (there),” Lindsay
He added that Chuck need
ed only two or three seconds
to put fire on the enemy target
after an LOH reported that it
was taking enemy fire.
On the day that Chuck was
killed, the team had almost
completed a mission when it
was asked to check to make
sure that some communist
Viet Cong bunkers had been
Soon, Lindsay heard Chuck
call, “59er’s going down.” Lindsay said they were flying
only 20 or 30 feet above ground,
and on turning his helicopter,
he saw “a large plume of black
smoke where Chuck’s aircraft
had impacted.” It took awhile to spot Chuck’s
co-pilot, Richard Cunnare, on
the ground. The gunner on one
of the LOHs jumped out and
pulled Cunnare into his craft.
Cunnare was badly injured
and barely conscious, Lindsay
wrote, but he was able to tell
the gunner that he didn’t think
Chuck had made it out of his
Several jets came to the
area and destroyed the enemygun position.
“We went back into the area and recovered Chuck’s remains in the wreckage,” Lindsay said.
The next day, Lindsay and others visited Cunnare in the evacuation hospital at Da Nang. They learned that Chuck’s aircraft was probably hit in its transmission by a .51-caliber round that caused the helicopter to crash and explode.
“The aircraft rolled to the right on impact, which allowed the co-pilot (Cunnare) to open his canopy and crawl out of the wreckage,” LIndsay said. “His co-pilot (Cunnare) was convinced that Chuck had deliberately caused the aircraft to roll to the right so that his co-pilot could get out.” In an e-mail to Dick Dean in August 2004, Cunnare, who lives in Enterprise, Ala., expressed his admiration for Chuck.
“Your brother Chuck Dean personally attacked most, if not all, of the units arrayed against the South Vietnamese. He attacked them from above, behind and through them. It was like being in a popcorn popper with the sound of ground fire that loud.
“The only way to survive was to counterattack through them at an altitude of 20 feet and a speed of around 165 mph.
He did this in the face of certain death despite our country’s unwillingness to stay engaged. He never let the fact that we weretaking our orders directly from the South Vietnamese sway his dedication. Chuck did this through the absolute chaos (of that part of the war).” Mike Williams, who lives in Lancaster, Calif., was a colonel in the Marines when he wrote to Chris Dean in October 2000 about serving with Chuck in Vietnam.
“Chuck was, and still is, my hero. He taught me most of what I know as a gunship pilot.
Not only did he keep me alive and effective in Vietnam; it served as the foundation of my subsequent career. … “He was like a father and a big brother. He kept us on our toes but didn’t get so serious that we lost our sense of humor.
He would SHOW us how to do something, not just tell us. His was a very quiet, subtle leadership by example that, only if one were to ‘step back’ and analyze it, could be recognized for what it really was - leadership.
“Chuck played the part of the typical warrant officer. Slightly contemptuous of commissioned officers, not to their faces or todemean or diminish their authority, he just felt things could get done better by warrant officers, the warrant officer way. In doing that, he would persuade and joke. ‘You didn’t really mean it that way,’ or ‘You didn’t really intend to do that, did you?’ “We had quite a mixture of experienced and inexperienced aviators, and quite a mixture of personalities that went along with them. He found common ground amongst them all. We were good because of him. We were effective because of him.
And most of us came homebecause of him.”
Chuck earned a number of medals, including two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Distinguished Flying Cross. His Army friends said he wasn’t impressed by his medals. He just wanted to get the job done and go home.
A week before his passing, he had written to his daughter, Laurie, who was 9. He ended his letter with, “I must close for now and go fly. I love youvery much, and you are the world to me. Must go - see you Christmas. Your loving father, Chuck.”
“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
By rolling his gunship to one side to let his co-pilot escape, Chuck Dean lived up to the highest ideals of his Christian faith - he gave his life for another.
Three Rivers, Pages 121 on 06/20/2010
Print Headline: Vietnam War hero remembered 38 years after his death