ADDITIONAL HISTORICAL DISCUSSION:
THE EVENTS SURROUNDING THE DEATH OF
—CAPTAIN ROBERT W. GARTH, JUNIOR—
by Donald M. Ricks, CATCOM Editor
As we began to gather and publish the numerous pages of history found at our Catkiller History Index, there was little known about many of the casualties listed on our KIA/MIA Memorial page. That is essentially true today, but we continually seek additional information to record as much operational and personal information about these men as we can gather from all sources.
We now know the identity of the brave and quick minded Marine Aerial Observer who was able, with instruction assistance, to land the aircraft and thus save his own life. By his courage and ability to quickly learn the necessary skills to bring his unresponsive pilot’s airplane back to a safe landing area, we also were able to secure, safeguard and honor Captain Garth with a proper burial and ceremony following his death. That highly experience observer was Captain Frank H. Adams, 1st Marine Division, Chu Lai. Captain Adams was killed on 23 March 1970 during his second tour, and his roster line also has the link to his Vietnam Memorial site.
Any personal comments and recollections regarding Captain Garth will also be added at the bottom of this document.
Memorial Page Additions
HISTORICAL NOTE: “I was the Acting Company Commander of the 220th when MAJ Bill Schmale was in Hong Kong on R and R when Bob was KIA. I spent the night with the 1st Platoon at Quang Ngai after the memorial service and we shared a lot of memories and stories about Bob during the short time he was the platoon leader. As I recall, he was KIA near Mo Duc, a hot spot in the southern part of Quang Ngai Province. His Marine AO brought Bob and the aircraft home, and Kurt Lauer, as a wing man, helped guide and talk him down at Quang Ngai Airfield. I can still remember Dave Antonoplos giving me the debrief that he took from the AO.
William (Bill) Grubbs, Air Traffic Controller:
The on-duty control tower operator on 23 September 1966 was William (Bill) Grubbs, who fully recalls the events of that day. Interestingly, the chaplain who conducted the memorial service for Bob Garth was also in civilian life the pastor for Bill Grubbs back in Mississippi:
I was assigned as a squad leader with the 1st Platoon, “A” company, 504th Military Police Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington when I applied for and later accepted to attend Air Traffic Control School at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Upon graduating from ATC school in late July, 1965, I returned to Fort Lewis and was assigned to Gray Army Airfield.
I volunteered for Vietnam and was assigned to the 161st Aviation Company (Airmobile) being formed at Fort Benning, Georgia, along with other aviation units. We left Fort Benning right after Thanksgiving and went aboard a troop ship for Vietnam. We went ashore at Qui Nhon and set up pretty close to the ROK Marines "Tiger" Headquarters".
In February, 1966, MAVC sent out a directive to have all non–divisional Controllers be reassigned to the 125th Air Traffic Company in Saigon. After reporting in to Saigon, I was reassigned to Pleiku for a couple of days then reassigned on to Da Nang for a couple of days, then on to Hue Phu Bai for approximately three weeks. I thought I had found a home, but I was then reassigned to Quang Ngai in April 1966 and stayed until early October. I was reassigned back to Pleiku where I became part of a 3–man team to provide ATC support For “Operation Paul Revere 4” at Plei Djereng. I stayed on “Paul Revere” until late November 1965, returned to the States for leave and then on to Schwaebisch Hall, Germany, where I was assigned to the 14th Aviation Company. I was discharged I think from Fort Drum in New York on February 3rd. 1968.
While at Quang Ngai I had the misfortune of losing a good friend, Captain Robert “Bob” Garth. Bob was killed on Friday, 23 September 1966, while on a mission South–southeast of Quang Ngai. I received a call from Bob’s aerial observer (AO) stating Bob had been hit, but he didn't know how bad and that he was also flying the Birddog and needed some help. I left my small portable tower and contacted Lieutenant Kurt Lauer, who was nearby and informed him of the situation. Within a few minutes Kurt had taken off flying south to contact the AO.
We had a marine artillery battery set up on the north side of our runway, and their operations tent and ammo compound were on the south side of our runway and east of the control tower—and the 220th’s Operations Hut. I didn’t have contact with the marines, so I got into my jeep and went to their location to let them know what was happening and to alert them to keep their eyes open. I informed them a Marine AO was flying the plane and that Lieutenant Lauer had gone up to attempt to talk him down and would be landing from the east. I then went to the east end of the runway and watched and listened as Lieutenant Lauer talked the Marine AO down. I can honestly verify there was a very qualified pilot doing the talking and a very, very attentive student during this process!
When the AO landed, he hit a little hard, bounced and started veering to the left and off the runway. I don’t know if it was the bounce or the possibility of Captain Garth's body interfering with the pedal operation to cause the slight veer. The Birddog went into the Marines ammo compound and flipped over. The Marines and others started removing the AO and then Captain Garth’s body, as he was not responsive, I just remember the dreadful scene and us standing on “Willie Peter” shells. I sure wish you could bottle adrenaline!
I can’t remember all who served there, but I remember Captain Garth, CWO Kiper, Captain David Antonoplos, and First Lieutenant Dave Watson. Here is a little information on the Chaplain, Major Calvin Garner, who conducted Captain Garth's memorial service at Quang Ngai, plus a few pictures taken outside the mess hall at our compound on 7 August 1966. I hope he will be included somewhere on your “Catkiller” web site. He was a good man, and a few of my memories of him was preaching his last sermon in 1957, at Eastlawn Baptist, Pascagoula, Mississippi, in his Army dress blues—just as he went back on active duty. I was still in high school, and he had also baptized me in 1956. He is also the only Major I ever hugged—when I met him again at Quang Ngai. I know a lot happened in a short period of time when Captain Garth got hit.
Chaplain (MAJ) Calvin Hoyle Garner, United States Army:
According to a statement by Bill Grubbs, his former pastor, Major Calvin Garner, “lived at Quang Ngai, for he was always seem to be there. I don’t remember his organization.” Gene Wilson, offered this probability, based upon his knowledge of organizatiomnal history:
It appears that Chaplain Garner actually “lived” at Quang Ngai and may have been assigned to the MACV Advisory Team 2 at the Quang Ngai Kramer Compound. If that is true, the photo of him on 7 August 1966 was taken at Kramer Compound. The photo of him in front if the 282nd “Black Cat” helicopter was probably taken at some unknown location when he was circuit riding out and about his area of Chaplain’s responsibility. The 282nd Aviation Company, based out of Da Nang / Marble Mountain, supported the I Corps ARVN, MACV Advisory Groups and other units throughout the I Corps area of operations.
Catkiller Kurt Lauer, 1st Platoon, Quang Ngai,
Talks the Marine Observer Down Safely:
Bill Grubbs leaned out of the tower and told us Bob Garth had been shot and the observer was trying to bring the Birddog home. I was catching a few rays in cutoffs and boots just outside our operations, and I grabbed my helmet and launched in the closest aircraft. I headed south to where Bill said the aircraft had been last reported and stayed low to get him silhouetted against the sky. I had instant radio communications with the observer on our platoon flight following frequency. As soon as I spotted him, I got him headed in the right direction and did a climbing turn to tuck in by his right side. I couldn’t tell anything about Bob’s condition, other than what the observer said—he was unresponsive and may be blocking the controls.
We flew back to Quang Ngai, and I flew with him down final to land with 60 degrees of flaps. I figured that if I could get him within a few feet of the ground with that much flap, he could walk away from anything. That was the day a USMC 155 unit was in preparation to be lifted out of there and had all their stuff at the edge of the runway. I was really busy doing a go–around with 60 degrees of flaps down, so this next point I am not sure of. I think the observer landed in a slight crab, so he could see down the runway, and caught his gear on a box of 155 rounds that caused his aircraft to flip over on its back.
There was no problem with the observer responding to my directions. He wanted to be in pilot mode so he could get the two of them safely on the ground. He followed my instructions to the letter. I did keep up a steady chatter with him, to keep him calm, and all of his responses indicated he was holding it all together—very much a war seasoned vet. We did all the instruction on the way back to Quang Ngai and went straight into an approach and landing. For any of you who have landed with 60's, you know it takes a lot of forward stick pressure. He not only got it on the ground in a three point ,but did not even bounce—I think his roll out was smooth until he hit something and flipped it over, as stated above. That required cool and using his head.
I called down the old warning about not letting the observer pop his seat belt until he put a hand up, and then I landed. When I got to the bird, the observer was out and uninjured. The scene was difficult to view.
Captain Garth's body was evacuated to Chu Lai, and we got a call the next day that they had ruled his death non–combat related. So, I flew to Chu Lai and helped reexamine the body, where upon the doctors found a previously missed entry wound. The doctors considered all the evidence and ruled he had been killed by a .50 caliber projectile. They said his death was instantaneous and changed their finding to died in combat.
Bob’s airplane was repaired, and we continued to fly it. I don’t remember the observer flying with us after that. I think Dave Antonoplos flew with him a few times before this event.
For further discussion about the 220th Aviation Company at Quang Ngai
see this history page by CPT (LTC Retired) William Everett, Catkiller 16
Also see: A Mechanic’s Story, by SP5 Dennis Currie, Catkiller Crew Chief, Inspector, 1966—67
Articles concerning Captain Adams were abstracted from SEA TIGER Newsletters, which were obtained, essentially, from the archives of Texas Tech University. These files contain many articles of interest to Marines.