The United States began fighting a major battle in the Vietnam War on Jan. 12, 1962. The operation was aptly named Operation Chopper.
The mission consisted of 82 U.S. Army H-21 helicopters flying into Vietnam one thousand paratroopers. They were being flown into a possible Viet Cong complex with about 50 hostile Viet Cong inside.
After a small battle, the Viet Cong retreated. The quick defeat made the U.S. realize how powerful helicopters are in attacks. So they made twelve helicopter battalions and increased the airborne military presence in Vietnam.
Overall, the operation changed the landscape for both North and South Vietnam. One of the most prevalent birds in the war was the UH-1. It first took to the air in 1956, and over 7,000 were used in the Vietnam War, with 2,500 lost.
The Vietnam War went on for a long time with a huge cost to human life. Over the course of the war, the U.S. lost 58,220 troops, and 40,934 died. In addition, 304,000 soldiers were wounded.
The massive number of wounded soldiers shed light on the importance of getting the wounded to safety. As a result, many were airlifted and sent to staging facilities. More soldiers would have been lost if it weren’t for this step.
Overall, 4.5 percent of the soldiers died mid-transport in WWII. In Vietnam, that number was greatly reduced, with only one percent dying in flight.
One of the improvements that dramatically lowered the number of in-flight deaths was the Army using Huey helicopters with medical crews to evacuate the injured soldiers. However, between 1962 and 1973, 2105 helicopter pilots died, and 76 were missing in action.