West Middlesex, PA
U.S. Army – Vietnam
For a helicopter pilot, excellence doesn’t guarantee survival. Thaddeus M. Yonika, Jr., of West Middlesex, enlisted under the U.S. Army’s warrant officer flight program in July, 1968. In February, 1969, he demonstrated his superior ability to fly helicopters by graduating sixth out of a class of 120 from primary helicopter school in February, 1969. He went on to the Rotary Wing Aviator course.
Two months later WO1 Yonika was flying attack helicopters in Vietnam with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Division, headquartered in Tay Ninh, northwest of Saigon, near the Cambodian border. His skill and potential were recognized by his platoon leader:
“Thad Yonika was a Cobra Pilot in my Red Platoon. He said he wanted to get closer to the fight and requested a transfer to the Scout Platoon. I approved the move reluctantly because of his great potential to become a Red Platoon Aircraft Commander but his enthusiasm to fly Scouts was really genuine and we knew that he showed some of the unique qualities that would make him a great Scout.”
WO Yonika was assigned to fly a Cayuse Light Observation Helicopter. His job was to fly over suspected enemy locations to get shot at. His crew would mark the location of the source of the fire; attack helicopters such as Cobras would swoop in to destroy the enemy.
The Cayuse had the reputation of being able to take a lot of hits and still keep flying. But it wasn’t invulnerable.
On 21 December 1969 while flying OH-6A tail number 67-16142, WO Yonika and his crew encountered a force of NVA at a location we called Pearson’s Field, near the Cambodian border. His LOH was hit by enemy fire and as he evaded away from the NVA and tried to land outside the enemy’s fire the aircraft crashed. Unfortunately, the aircraft exploded and Thad along with Chris “Kippy” Gray (gunner/ Torque) and Barry Kaletta (observer) were killed.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. Thaddeus M. Yonika, Sr., of West Middlesex, Thad was a Rotary International Exchange Student to South Africa in 1966. After graduation from West Middlesex High School in 1966, he attended Shenango Campus of Penn State University and worked as an orderly at Sharon General Hospital.
He is buried in Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery.
On the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel W15 Line 81