Zippo lost in Vietnam crash returned
2000-2004 Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson
City Press, 204 W. Main St., Johnson
City, Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
By Vincent Z. Whaley
City Press Staff Writer
(Published Sunday, Feb. 6, 2000)
JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. On May 5, 1968,
Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Brank, Jonesborough,
was the crew chief aboard a CH-46 helicopter
assigned to rescue another Marine unit heavily
engaged in combat northeast of Dong Ha in
the Quang Tri province of Vietnam.
After rescuing nine Marines, Brank's "Sea
Knight" was shot down in a rice paddy
by the North Vietnamese Army. His pilot
was killed and his copilot lost his feet.
That day was dubbed "Silver Star Sunday"
for Brank, who received the distinguished
award for carrying his copilot to safety
and ensuring his passengers had escaped
the burning helicopter.
"There were two groups of Marines who
had been in crossfire for about a day,"
he said. "They were out of water and
out of ammo. We flew in and got the first
three, lifted up maybe 50 feet and went
100 yards and got six more on the second
stop, lifted up about 150 feet and they
just blew us out of the sky.
"The helicopter rolled over to the
left three times and crashed. We were on
fire before we hit the ground. There was
a crew of four a pilot, copilot,
I was the crew chief, and a gunner
and we picked up a total of nine infantrymen,
so there were 13 people on the helicopter
when it crashed. We called it 'Silver Star
Sunday' because that's what God does to
you for playing war on Sunday."
Brank, who was serving in the 165th Marine
Medium Helicopter Squadron, 36th Marine
Aircraft Group, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing,
lost several personal belongings in the
crash, the most noteworthy being a silver
"For Christmas of 1967, my commanding
officer gave each of us a Zippo lighter
that had our unit's name and crest engraved
on it," he said. "I took it to
a local vendor and had my name, 'Scotty,'
engraved on it. But I didn't smoke. I just
used it to light the heat tabs on C-rations.
But I lost the lighter, a 35mm camera, some
film and other items in the crash."
On Thursday, Randy Gibson, a Zippo collector
who lives in Garland, Texas, returned Brank's
lighter after almost 32 years. While it's
a mystery how the lighter came to be in
his possession, Gibson had contacted the
165th squadron historian, Jimmy Wismar,
Canton, Ohio, in mid-January to begin the
search for Brank.
"They put a company of infantry around
the crashed aircraft to salvage what they
could, then they used about 30 pounds of
C-4 explosive to destroy what was left.
I'd say somebody on that recovery crew picked
up my lighter," Brank said.
"(Gibson) called me, I described the
lighter to him and he rushed it to me via
UPS. He can't remember if he bought it at
a flea market or garage sale, but he said
it had to be one of the two.
"It's unbelievable. I put a flint and
some lighter fluid in it and it fired right
up. I realized I had lost it a day or two
after the crash, but I forgot about it and
hadn't thought of it since. It was irrelevant
compared to the injuries and the lives that
were lost that day."
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