Medevac From Luzon
A small band of helicopter pilots risked their lives to rescue wounded soldiers during World War II.
- By Roger Connor
- Air & Space magazine, July 2010
38TH DIVISION PHOTOGRAPHER
(Page 4 of 4)
Carle was officially credited with a dozen evacuations (though he may have flown more), and Cowgill with 14.
On June 25, the Sixth Aircraft Repair Unit arrived in Manila Bay, and began rescue operations with their own R-4B and R-6A. In the span of only four days, pilots First Lieutenant James Brown, Second Lieutenant John Noll, and Flight Officer Edward Ciccolella rescued around 40 wounded. In the process, they introduced a significant innovation to the battlefield. Though Sikorsky engineers had designed slots running through the R-6’s frame to mount two encased litter pods, none of the R-6s deployed with the equipment. The helicopter mechanics assigned to the Sixth Aircraft Repair Unit improvised external litters using Stokes baskets (steel-tube and wire-mesh baskets used to transport the injured) welded to steel frames. In this way, prone casualties could be carried without risk to the helicopter.
A small number of additional evacuations took place in July. Of the helicopter evacuations of wounded soldiers and airmen in the Pacific and Far East during the war, more than 60 percent were rescued during the operation on Luzon. Helicopter rescue was in no way decisive to World War II—125 to 150 wounded were evacuated, compared with approximately 40,000 in Korea and well over a million in Vietnam—but it was a huge step in convincing the military that rotary wing flight was a useful battlefield technology.
Roger Connor is the curator of the National Air and Space Museum's vertical-flight collection.