Wayne Aurich of Houston served in Vietnam with the 54th Medical Detachment as a helicopter crew chief and flight operations specialist. The 54th Medical Detachment was an air ambulance unit that flew unarmed Huey helicopters marked with a red cross under Geneva Convention rules to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield. These units, flying under the call sign “Dustoff,” also provided medical aid to civilians and at times enemy soldiers. Several Dustoff units served in the Vietnam War, providing on-board medical care as they carried the sick and injured quickly to Army field hospitals and surgical centers. By war’s end, Dustoff had evacuated well more than 900,000 patients.
Because they landed on the battlefield without weapons, Dustoff crew members put themselves in great danger in their life-saving mission. The 54th Medical Detachment arrived in Vietnam with six brand-new Huey helicopters. Within a week, Aurich says, all were damaged by enemy fire and the unit had to borrow aircraft.
The 54th was commanded by Major Robert D. McWilliam, who was better known as Major Mac. Aurich’s Executive Officer was Major Patrick Brady, who now lives in Texas. Brady was then on his second combat tour, having served his first in the original Dustoff unit. During Aurich’s time in service, Brady earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in a series of simultaneous heroic medical evacuation missions that saved 51 wounded in extraordinarily dangerous conditions.
As a flight operations specialist, part of Aurich’s job was to take the incoming Dustoff calls from the infantry and to ensure that crews were rapidly deployed to the area to provide rescue assistance. He recalls, “Probably the most hair-raising call would be from a someone—and I spent some late nights in operations. It’s that guy out there in the field that calls at 1-2 in the morning and he’s whispering. He’s calling, ‘Dustoff, control. Dustoff, control.’ And then he gives his call sign. And that would just make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”