Jan. 17, 1964 - Five United States helicopter crewmen were killed today and three were wounded in action supporting a large-scale Vietnamese attack on Communist bases in the Mekong Delta. U.S. officials withheld identification of the casualties pending notification of next of kin. Hard fighting raged into the night. Urgent appeals for blood were broadcast by the U.S. Armed Forces radio. Casualties poured into the Saigon airport from the opening engagements of a campaign expected to last several days. Communist ground fire killed one American 10 miles west of Can Tho, a river town 80 miles southwest of Saigon. He was a U.S. Army private first class, door gunner on an H-21 troop-carrying helicopter. Downriver, a rocket-firing UH-1A escort helicopter disintegrated in an explosion as it led an aerial strike against guerrilla foxholes. All four American crewmen were killed.
It was one of the worst days of the war for the helicopters. Many were so damaged as to be temporarily grounded. The toll of American combat deaths since the U.S. stepped up its military support of South Vietnam two years ago rose to 99. U.S. service deaths from all causes now total 173. Near the battle scene were General Paul Harkins, commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, and Maj. Gen. Le Van Kim, Vietnamese Chief of Staff. The latter said that without the excellent American equipment “we could never get into an area like this.” U.S. officers, who have at times been critical of the way Vietnamese troops operate in the field, had high praise for their tactics throughout the day.