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The 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) arrived in Vietnam in April 1962 to serve the 8th Field Hospital at Nha Trang. The 57th flew UH-1A Iroquois - the first of the 'Hueys' which would become such a familiar sight in the skies over Vietnam. Tasked with providing medical evacuation throughout the whole of South Vietnam, the 57th found itself thinly spread, with aircraft based at Pleiku, Qui Nhon and at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon. The unit's radio callsign was 'Dust-Off', a term which became synonymous with all helicopter medical evacuation units in Vietnam. The primary purpose of the helicopter ambulance was to transport the casualty from the scene of action to the operating table in the shortest possible time. A system was formalized whereby Dust-Off acquired its own radio frequency over which US advisors could relay their requests directly.
Throughout the war, to the troops on the ground the Dust-Off system would be an important psychological factor. They knew that if they were wounded a Dust-Off pilot would do his utmost to fly them to a medical facility for immediate treatment. The 57th were only the first of many such units deployed to Vietnam, and were the last to leave in February 1973, having flown the first and last Dust-Off missions in the war. The total number of lives saved by these Dust-Off crews is incalculable; however, of the US Army's 120,000 personnel wounded in action between May 1962 and March 1973, approximately 90 per cent were evacuated by helicopter ambulance.
At this stage of the war Aviation personnel were wearing the Army's K2-B Lightweight Flying Coveralls, which could be rendered fire-retardant by treating with a Borax solution. Worn with black leather boots, this was the Army pilot's flight apparel until the introduction of the tropical uniform. The flightsuit featured an assortment of pockets for maps, pens, etc., as well as a pocket on the inside left leg containing an emergency air marker panel. Insignia were in full colour and included US Army distinguishing and personal name tapes, Army Aviator wings, and the individual's rank and branch of service symbols worn on the right and left collar points respectively.
The Utility Cap shown here is the issue version, though locally-produced copies were available. Dubbed the 'baseball cap', the utility cap was introduced to replace the field cap and was adopted for wear with all field and work uniforms in 1962. It was common practice for pilots to affix their wings - either the embroidered version or the cast metal, as here - to the front of the cap above their rank, here the silver bar of a First Lieutenant.
The helmet is the APH5 Crash-Type Flying Helmet, which was the Army's standard aviation headgear at the outset of the war. The helmet featured integral headphones, boom-type microphone and a retractable tinted anti-glare visor. These early helmets were factory finished in white and were initially worn thus in Vietnam, until it became common practice to overpaint the shell with an olive drab or dark green, as here. When the next generation of flight helmets were introduced they were manufactured in olive drab.