Gaylord Lee Westbay
September 8, 1967
Warrant Officer Gaylord Westbay had just turned 29 years old when he landed in Vietnam in August, 1967. Considered to be an “old man” by other soldiers over there, he had trained to be a helicopter pilot and got along with everyone. However, fate would be quick and swift for him.
Attached to the 4th Infantry Division, WO Westbay was assigned as the 2nd Brigade pilot. As battles ensued, he would fly over the area with senior officers to command and control the infantry troops, air strikes, and direct artillery into point of contact. His ‘bird’ was an OH-23G helicopter, a small but quick craft.
On September 7, the Brigade had been informed of an enemy attack. WO Westbay was to get the Sergeant Major of the Unit (Jack Honeycutt) out to a remote base to lead some troops into action. Along with them that day was a young MP, Russell Garrison. They lifted off and started to proceed to Plei Mrong in the Pleiku Province in the central highlands of Vietnam. Westbay had been in Vietnam for 3 weeks.
Plei Mrong was a fairly large base camp that housed the elite Special Forces group of the Army. Located at the tri-borders of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, these soldiers were responsible of crossing over the borders to locate and kill enemy forces that swarming into South Vietnam. It was also the location of the tribal Montagnards. Pronounced ‘Mountain-Yard’ they were known to all as just ‘yards. It is a French name meaning mountain people, and they were trained to fight with the Special Force groups. All were known to be quiet, deadly, and extremely loyal to the US efforts.
While enroute to the base camp, the helicopter suddenly lost power and went down and crashed in a stream bed about 9 miles west of Pleiku. (It was later determined that some of the gauges were faulty, and it ran out of gas!). Westbay and the MP were pinned inside and couldn’t get out. Sergeant Major Honeycutt, although wounded, managed to get out and proceeded to go find some help. He encountered 3 Yard villagers north of the craft and persuaded them to return with him. As the small group neared the helicopter, they sighted several VC in the vicinity of the aircraft. Several attempts to sneak around them proved unsuccessful. With darkness setting in, the SGM spent the night holed up beneath the thick underbrush of a hillside.
After eluding several enemy patrols, he finally made it back with the help of the Yards. Leading a rescue team back to the crash-site, their worst expectations became true. Both of the men had been shot, and the helicopter had been ransacked and pilfered. No one will ever know just what happened to these brave soldiers as they awaited help. The Army later published a picture of SGM Honeycutt receiving a Montagnard friendship bracelet from two of the Yards that had assisted him in his rescue.
WO Gaylord Westbay’s name is on the Vietnam Wall at Panel 26E, line 38.