|A Doppler Set Run Plus|
|Another Doppler Set Run|
|Ememy Tanks Below|
|Bombs Exploding Below|
|TET Offensive 68|
|My First Mortar Attack|
|The Mountain is a Bloom with Parachutes|
|Bombed by a B-52?|
|Rockets into a Coconut Tree??|
|Who Says the old Gooney is SLOW??|
|Request for Info with a WarStory|
|Antique Airlines, a chapter from Sitting Duck.|
|Blackhawk II, a chapter from Sitting Duck.|
|Caught in the middle of a bombing run.|
|A Close Call with a crazed Sgt|
|A Close Call with a VNAF A1-E|
|And A Close Call with an F-4|
|Four Mission Inflight Experiences|
|Scared Parachute Packer|
|Scary Hard Landing|
A Doppler Set Run Plus
Here is a cute story that is light and humorous. Use it as you please we were flying somewhere over Cambodia and it was not a particularly busy mission. The targets were pretty solid and as an analyst, my predictions were fairly accurate, but we were just doing our thing, as we always did. Always looking for some adventure, I often asked the navigator if I could do the Doppler (dop sets) updates. I really got a kick out of playing 12 o'clock high by steering the airplane over a preset mark via voice commands to the front-end crew. The effect of pushing the button, to update our position, was like dropping the bombs.
Typically the navigators used a highly identifiable structure on the ground to be a dopset. unfortunately, too many of the navigators used and reused the same dopsets day after day, and therefore we became too predictable. but that's another story.
So here we are lumbering alone over the Cambodian skies when the navigator asked me to take us over the junction of two streams that formed a distinctive point. As I prepared to push the button for "bombs away", I made the course corrections to the pilot. ''left two(degrees), steady on 135, right 1, steady, steady, bombs away,'' I said into the mike. Remember, I was actually looking down at the ground through a telescope affixed with crosshairs. Just as I pressed the button, I saw two small boats with several people in or around the boats as they were beached on a small sandbar.
Black pajama clad people were unloading or loading boxes but they never looked up as they heard us fly over. I told the entire crew what I saw, and collectively we agreed to call hillsoro, the command & control(c&c) aircraft requesting a fac (forward air controller). Neither Snoopy or Raven were available (these were the call signs of fac's working the area). I was aghast, here found charlie out in the open, looking like a rabbit ready to run and we couldn't even get a shooter on station. We asked for some fast movers with available ordinance, but the jet jocks won't go low without the eyes of a fac.
Since we were truly alone, unarmed and not necessarily afraid, we did the next best thing a gooney bird crew could do. We made another pass over the boats sitting right on our dop set point, with "steady on course 072 degrees, correct to 1 left, drifting, drifting, left 2, steady, steady, bombs away!" at the command of bombs away, someone kicked out 5 unopened boxes of "chu-hoi" leaflets under our door netting. I tried to watch the impact to report damage at our debriefing, but the pilot said, "we're getting the hell out of dodge", as he dove away for airspeed before the fireworks started.
This warstory provided by: James D. Trozzo[email protected]
Another Doppler Set Run
Boy do I remember the doppler runs, I actually did a lot of the navs work with my crew. I might act as navigator for the better part of a mission. I still have a very faded chart with the targets I worked over Laos. A small portion of that chart can be seen elsewhere on this site. One of my treasures of the time. The entire crew from the A/C through the RO's all signed it in a mock certificate of a qualified navigator.
I also got many an hour at the controls of the aircraft, again some days flying the better part of the mission. I vividly recall one doppler run, I was flying and our Navigator, Capt. Robert M. Harris was on the driftmeter making the heading calls. We made a good pass over the set point. Going a bit past the point our procedure was to make a 90 degree right turn followed by a 270 degree left turn and line up again on the same point to recheck the setting. I made the right turn, turned the wheel hard left and back on the stick in a pretty tight left hand 270 degree turn. After completing the run, Capt. Harris said, "Jim, that was a great doppler run but it sure got my pucker string tight."
I worked with the greatest flight crew anybody could possibly ask for. Each and everyone of us could and did operate at any of the flight crew positions. I tried the console positions several times, didn't know beans about the CW I was hearing on the headset, but believe it or not actually picked up a couple of targets from the tinny, squeaking, transmitters they were using, terrible sounding transmitters.
This story by: James C. Wheeler [email protected]
Enemy Tanks Below
The Baron 52 incident has always been important to me because, in some ways, I feel connected with it; not just because some of those guys were personal friends, but because the whole "Midnight Smoker" operation may have resulted from an incident that happened on one of my earlier missions. You may be familiar with the incident in December '72 or January '73 on the Plain of Jars where a tank tried to cross in broad daylight, was killed after some activity by aircraft, and they found the crew chained inside. It was a diversion, and while this was going on, about 300 tanks made it South down the Ho Chi Minh trail. One evening about dusk, we were patrolling just across from NKP on the Laos side. I had just bought a pair of binoculars at the BX and was trying them out; I still have those binoculars. I noticed a dust cloud coming South on a road near the river, but whatever it was got into cover in the trees before I could make it out. We called it in, and an OV-10 in the area gave it a look. He said he thought it might be a tracked vehicle because of the tracks it left in the road. It may have been a Scout for the tank column. Soon after that we began the night operation looking for tanks that resulted in the loss of Baron 52. Eventually over 250 of the tanks were killed crossing into South Vietnam, so it would seem the effort paid off. For the families of those lost on Baron 52, it was not a wasted, senseless, or illegal mission; they served their country with pride as professionals and made the ultimate sacrifice.
This story provided by: Bruce Obermeyer - - bobermeyer(at)cox.net
Bombs Exploding Below
It was a typical clear and sunny day over the Plain of Jarres (Plannesde Jarre,
as the French called it, if I'm not mistaken). I believe we called it Mission
TET Offence of 68
This story was received from Bill Petrie on June 16, 98
During the TET Offense of '68'.
We were taking a pretty good beating in the camp before we were ordered to leave.
Many 122mm rockets and mortor rounds came in on us. That is the only place I ever
heard Hanoi Hannah. She was bad mouthing us guys with the "Black nosed birds at
Phu Bai and said they would eat in our chow hall before the week was over.
When the runways were being over-run, we were ordered to make a run for the ramp
and head south. We sped through sniper fire in an Army utility vehicle, I believe
there may have been close to 30 of us, I could be wrong. I think the tail number
was 009, "Balls-Nine". When we broke over Phu Bai village and headed out over the
water we had about 300 holes in the bird, No-one was hit. That is when the aircraft
earned the nickname "Patches". I actually painted the patches different colors and
put stitching around them using black and white paint.
Said he thought it was around Christmas Eve and they had blown a jug, (cylinder) over the DMZ and ended up with an engine change. The Marines broght over a tank and they used the muzzle to assist in the engine change. ( I assume they used it as a hoist.) Thanks Bill
Bills E-mail address : retcmsgt(at)cox.net
My first mortar attack
I arrived in beautiful Nha Trang in March of 1967 after ferrying one of the "new" EC-47Ns, #0065, from New Hampshire. The city of Nha Trang and its surroundings really were quite lush and tropical with white sand beaches "to write home about", and except for the smell of decaying garbage and open sewers, it really was a beautiful spot.
For the first several months, we were all lulled into a feeling of complacency regarding our safety from the enemy while on the ground. In fact, it was often stated that Nha Trang was an R&R site for the VC and referred to as the Riviera of Southeast Asia. However, this solitude from war was not to last.
After about August of that year we began to come under mortar barrage from the VC exactly once a month, and always at about fifteen minutes after midnight, as though Charlie was waiting for the Armed Forces Radio and TV station to sign-off the air first. For the most part, Charlies aim was lousy and very little damage was done. Although one night he succeeded in making a direct hit on a "black" C-130 on the ramp, reducing it to smoldering ashes, and several times we found unexploded mortar rounds in the revetments with our EC-47s.
Nha Trang was also the home of the 5th Special Forces (Green Barrettes) and was protected by one or more batteries of 105 mm Howitzers that were integrated with one of the first counter-mortar radar systems in-country. With this system, the Howitzers could return very accurate and deadly fire on a mortar tube within a reported three minutes of the first round hitting the ground. As a result "Charlie" soon learned that all he could get off would be about three rounds per tube before the tube was obliterated with 105 mm counter-fire. So we seldom got more than about 27 to 30 mortar rounds (from a barrage out of 9 or 10 mortar tubes). So within 30 minutes of the initiation of the attack, we would generally receive the �all-clear� and we could return from the bunkers to our barracks for the rest of the night (and the next 30 days).
During the TET invasion of Feb 1968 however the hostilities were getting a lot closer to home and the city of Nha Trang was attacked and partially overrun. The tension on base was thick enough to cut with a knife and many of the military who lived in town were now staying on base.
True to the pattern, but about 2:00 AM (as I recall), the sound of incoming rounds was heard followed by the warning sirens and small arms fire. We all headed for the bunkers between the barracks and listened as the barrage continued and became more intense. Unlike our previous experience, the incoming did not stop after the first several minutes, but continued unabated for nearly 30 minutes. Rumors were rampant that the base must be under threat of bein overrun and we would all be sitting ducks in the bunkers. The sound of the incoming was getting closer and ever more frightening. Then, still in the midst of the sound of incoming shells, a runner arrived at our bunker proclaiming that it was "all clear" and only a false alarm. It seemed that apparently without any coordination, the US Navy had a �friendly� Cruiser in the bay that was shelling enemy positions around the perimeter of the base and that is what we were hearing. Chucks E-mail address :[email protected]
The Mountain is a Bloom of Parachutes
As the end of 1967 drew near, it became widely known by Intelligence that the jungle covered mountain just to the south of Nha Trang was infested with VC and that was where most of the night time mortar attacks originated, as well as from Hon Tre Island along side the final approach in the bay. As hostilities escalated, the friendlies decide it might be prudent to keep the mountainside illuminated at night to help the friendly patrols and to force Charlie to keep his head down.
Trying to sleep under the constant yet random report of the friendly Howitzers and mortars firing magnesium parachute flares all night became quite a challenge, but it was a small price to pay for the extra security from mortar attack.
It was amazing to look up into the mountainside in the morning to see it polka- dotted with parachute canopies from the flares of the previous night. It was equally fascinating to notice that by mid-day the majority of the parachute silk had disappeared.
Obviously, some enterprising Howitzer commander realized that Charlie was enjoying the spoils of hundreds or thousands of yards of nylon parachute material each day and decided to put an end to these donations to the enemy. At first light, this Howitzer unit commander had ordered his men to zero in on selected canopies lying in the tree tops and to monitor them continuously with binoculars. When the canopy was seen to disappear, there was a fire command given and a 105 mm shell followed the canopy out of the tree tops.
After a few days of this counter-offensive action, Charlie lost interest in salvaging parachute flare canopies!
Chucks E-mail address :[email protected]
"Bombed by a B-52"
On one of my 115 RC-47 missions we were tasked to do ARDF (airborne radio direction finding) on enemy targets in eastern Laos. This area was outside of our normal ground radar (GCI) flight following, so we were required to check in with the airborne command and control center (ABCCC) C-130 aircraft, call sign 'Hillsboro', every 30 minutes with a status report.
Upon arrival into the target area we checked in with Hillsboro and asked if there were any artillery or ordinance advisories for our area of operations. They replied in the negative.
As we were flying our random orbit over Laos looking for enemy transmitters to pinpoint, cruising at 9000� above sea level, we were suddenly rocked by a wave of concussions. Looking out of the left side of the aircraft, I saw at about half a mile away a line of ground concussions that created two rows of craters like railroad tracks that continued to erupt at a rate of about two explosions per second for nearly sixty seconds of devastation.
As we banked away to the right we quickly contacted Hillsboro, who rather sheepishly confirmed that a B-52 on an Arc Light sortie over Vietnam had missed his primary target opportunity and was jettisoning his load of 105 five-hundred pound bombs on a 'secondary target of opportunity' in Laos. With his altitude being in excess of 35,000 feet, he was as invisible to us as we were to him, but the continuous concussion of his bombs for nearly sixty long seconds gave us a ride of a lifetime hoping and praying that there were not more B-52s dropping bombs through our altitude from over our head! Once again, our biggest recurring threat seemed to be from friendly ordinance if not mid-air collisions with friendly aircraft.
Chuck Miller Thanks Chuck, J.C.
For more related EC-47 stories, see "The Chuck Miller Collection" in the DC-3 Online Aviation Museum Stories page at http://www.centercomp.com/cgi-bin/dc3/stories?1000 Chucks E-mail address :[email protected]
Rockets into a Coconut Tree??
I knew when I left Nha Trang in August 1967 that old Charlie would feel safe and start feeling his oats, but I couldn't stay there an keep him at bay any longer, it was my time to come home.
All joking asside, I think I was there at the right time, leaving just as it was about to get exciting. Out of 114 missions, I do not know of a single hole in our aircraft, I mean the one we just finished the mission in. I think Charlie started to really realize what those gooney's with the black nose were really up to about the time I was getting ready to come home.
The only excitement we had while living downtown Nha Trang was about 1AM one morning the big double swinging gates came busting open and we were swarmed by the Vietnamiese Army and the Local Police, the White Mice. Seems we were out front in the yard barbecueing and drinking a few beers. A Captain by the name of Bill, was at that time living in the Villa with us at Number 2 Mei Lein. He always carried a 38 over/under derringer in his jumpboot.
Well enough belly wash and he was ready to shoot a coconut out of the tree in the front yard. Several shots had been fired when the gates busted open just as he fired another with a muzzle flash 6 feet long, everyone saw it. Bill was between me and the Swarm of Cops. He dropped the derringer, catching it about waist high with his left hand. He tried to pass the derringer to me. I did not want it but knew he would get caught. I took the derringer, while he was still covering me from full view, dropped it between my feet and without looking down, tried to move my feet enough to cover it up. All the while, Bill, still pointing with his right hand into the tree and repeating the slurred words, "Someone's shooting rockets into our coconut tree".
Did a pretty good job of covering the thing, they looked and looked and could not find the derringer. They knew he had fired, the saw the muzzle flash. They finally left and Bill immediately wanted to know where his derringer was. I told him to forget it until morning, that there was probably someone still watching to see where he went to get it.
Next morning, I went out, scratched around in the sand and found his derringer, all it needed was a cleaning.
Who Says the old Gooney is SLOW?
From: J.C. Wheeler
Date: Monday, August 17, 1998
This little story is not about the EC-47 but a very nice C-47, which by the way is lying on a jungle covered mountainside in Vietnam since 1969.
I recall late one night, I believe it was in 1965, and I can't recall where we were going to someplace or headed back home to Sheppard AFB, but by our location for one of our position reports, I would assume we were between Denver and Sheppard, again, which way we were going, I don't recall. At any rate, we had a good tail wind and were clipping right along for an old Slow Gooney Bird. We called our position as over Garden City Kansas. Right shortly we got a radio call to re-comfirm our aircraft type. They said we were clipping along at 190 knots ground speed was their reason for requesting a re-confirmation.
I also recall a trip going west, again I don't recall if we were going to Arizona or California. But I do remember we were westbound out over the desert someplace tracking pretty much along one of the major east/west highways.
This time the wind was on the wrong end. Trying as hard as she could to keep up, the same old high speed Gooney Bird was being passed and run off and left by every westbound vehicle on the highway below.
My E-mail [email protected]
Request for Information with a War Story.
THE CRASH OF 949
The crash occurred in I Corps near the city of Hue. Four years earlier, I had been to Hue several times as a Marine Corps helicopter pilot. Many of our missions involved transporting troops into an LZ that was reported by intelligence to be occupied by Viet Cong. Hue was a staging area that was used because it was considered safe. But, on one occasion one of our pilots became a casualty right inside the city limits.
We had been waiting for hours to launch. Old Vietnamese ladies would come by with small loves of freshly baked bread that we could purchase if desired. Small boys would mysteriously appear with buckets full of iced down soda pop. Where the ice came from, and how far they traveled was beyond me, but when they were empty they would gleefully run off to refill them. I had never been in a war before, and this did not seem to be the way I had imagined it. You could look over at a nearby road and see people going in both directions like this was the most peaceful place in the world.
I found out that the situation changed very fast. Without warning we heard the word to mount up! We were headed into battle and it took about 15 minutes to get there. It was as quickly over as it began. We charged in at low level running on 10% adrenaline and 90% seven up. A spotter plane had dropped a smoke grenade in the LIZ so we could see where the wind was. There was red smoke also, indicating that that LZ was hot. I did not hear any ground fire, but it was years later that I discovered that ground fire sounded like distant pop corn unless you were hit. The troops were eager to get to it and many would jump out before we had reached a full stop. Almost before you stopped you were empty and slamming on full power to clear the zone.
15 minutes later we were back at Hue with instruction to wait until the troops cleared the village before going back in to pick them up. As soon as I shut down I heard someone yelling for a medic. Sure as hell someone had been hit. I jumped out and ran up the line to where I heard the yelling. One of our pilots was half sitting and half laying in the helicopter. He was holding his lower abdomen and in obvious pain. The medic was there, but he looked perplexed. I leaned over to see better. Everybody was staring, but no one said a word. The pilot was not a member of our squadron. We all knew him from the states, but he was attached to the group and was only filling in. He was wearing a flight suit with a very large zipper. When the word came for us to mount up, the pilot was relieving himself near the tail of the chopper. He yanked up his zipper and zipped his business up at the same time. He was fairly well endowed and he had zipped up about 4 inches of skin. You could see how the skin had folded in and out over zipper. He had tried to unzip it but the pain was to great and he had flown the entire mission half sitting and half standing in the cockpit.
The medic was able to unzip it with a pair of pliers. There was some blood. The last time I saw him years later he was a full colonel. He was not wearing a purple heart.
They later named that strip Hue Citadel. Maybe it was always that name. Hue Phu Bai was the new big strip further to the south. That was where the C-47's landed. All of the C-47's that Air America had in Vietnam were on loan from the US Military. Apparently from the Air Force. I suppose the whole serial number was on the log book, but the tail number only showed the three numbers.
When I finished my tour in Viet Nam I had been reassigned to MA 36 in Santa Ana, CA. There was not much there since the Viet Nam war has began in earnest in the summer of '65. There was only one lonely old UH34D helicopter painted white that you could fly if you wanted. I asked for a transfer to fly jets and was refused. I asked for a transfer to the training command to fly T-28's and was accepted. I wanted to go back to Viet Nam, but was refused. All the squadrons that would soon deploy were filled. I was a captain by then. I had a DFC and 13 Air Medals and I though I knew how to fly. I was 25 and bored and something had to change. I bought a brand new 1965 Pontiac GTO for $3000.00 with 3 carburetors and 360 horse power. It was the closest thing to a jet I would fly until 14 years later. I sold it to my brother for $1500.00 a year later. It was not enough to quench my Desiree to go back to South East Asia where to me everything made sense. The only way I could do it was to resign my commission and hire on with Air America.
In December 1966 I was in Bangkok with all the familiar smells and sounds that I had come to love. After finishing ground school, I had been sent to Saigon . I was to fly as co-pilot for at least 6 months and flight training started immediately. I soon found out that I really did not know how to fly. The C-47 was probably the easiest airplane in the world to fly, but I never flew a tail dragger and I made some horrific landings and takeoffs when I first started. Almost all of the captains were 20 years older than I. Finally a kind gentleman by the name of Lee Howell provided me with some valuable advice. "Steer it like a car Cates. That's all there is to it." Sure enough it worked. The minimum runway length for the C-47 was 1500 feet, which is damn short when approaching, or taking off with a full load. The only navigation aids we had was ADF. So, for the most part our flying had to be conducted VFR, or versions thereof.
After a certain amount of time the aircraft had to be completely overhauled. This operation was conducted in Tainan, located in the south of Taiwan. Regardless of the weather conditions, if was time to go, we went. I only made the trip once, but after taking off of Danang, I only saw the ground when we touched down in Hong Kong for refueling. I am not exactly sure how the hell we got there. There was no way to predict the winds, so time and distance was not even a close approximate. No one could hear us for position reports. It was strictly stick and rudder-needle and ball, and that is how we flew in Vietnam.
There was absolutely no coordination with the military, and sometimes it was a little scary. All too often I found myself in the middle of a bombing pattern surrounded by F-100's who probably wanted to know who the heck I was.
During the monsoon season I Corps was dry, and of course wet during the dry season. If the weather was bad at Hue, I would take off and turn east toward the sea. When I was feet wet I would stay low and follow the coast line to Danang. If it was real bad at Danang I would contact approach control and ask for a GCA. Usually they accommodated if they could see me. We did not have transponder and if there were a lot of traffic we had to get down the best we could. On the day that 949 crashed, the pilots were Captain Howard Kelly and First Officer Milton Matheson.
Both pilots were retired military and had received ample training. Howard had been flying in Vietnam in the C-47 for several years. He probably had several hundred hours in just 949. So how did this accident happen? We may never know for sure. Howard had bailed out over Germany in WW-2 and walked out to Spain a hero. He was very proud of the Air Medal he had received from the experience. Perhaps Howard was shot down and the evidence obscured by the crash damage. The crash was listed as pilot error, but many other times that evaluation had proved to be false.
After taking off from Phu Bai the tower had told Howard that there was reported ground fire near the airport. I would assume that Howard would turn east and run to the coast to get feet wet. I had flown 949 several times. It was as good a airplane as could be found and there was nothing mechanical wrong with it that was reported. The plane never slowed down until it hit the mountain at full force. Howard was ejected from the airplane and was found 1500 feet from the crash. Death was instantaneous. To the best of my knowledge, this was the only Air America C-47 that was destroyed in Vietnam, and each one flew daily for several years and logged thousands of hours.
Mr. Matheson was only going to stay long enough to save money for a ice cream franchise. I hope his family was able to carry on. I did not know Howard well. I liked flying with him because he was always in good humor. I hope both pilots rest in peace.
It took Al about a month in-country to become adjusted to his surroundings. He was understandably reluctant when Lt. Bloom approached him with a Request For Transfer form. The 360th Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron was creating its own nav shop and was in need of volunteers. Located across the flightline next to the main runway, they were tired of constantly having to borrow technicians from the 460th. I applied for transfer immediately. It wasn't that I didn't like the job I had or the men I'd worked with for the past eight months, I needed a change and this was it. For one thing, as a ground crew member working on recon jets, I was unable to acquire any flight time. The EC-47's in the 360th had a lot more room and just might accommodate an extra, bug-eyed, camera laden passenger.
Al carefully examined the pro's and cons of this proposal and after much deliberation he agreed to join me. The lieutenant patiently awaited his decision for the mandatory two seconds. We were about to become the infamous "clipboard confiscators" of Tan Son Nhut. The next morning we reported to our new OIC, Captain Roman. In his late twenties, he was a good natured textbook example of an officer. Though he was a desk jockey, he would have looked perfect in the command seat of an F-4 Phantom.
The captain happened to mentioned one day that he was raised in Healdsburg, California. I told him that I once lived in Sebastopol, only twenty miles away and started to ask if he knew a girl I had once met from Healdsburg. I stopped in mid-sentence when it dawned on me how ridiculous a question that was. "No, go ahead. What was her name?" he prodded, optimistically. "Vicky Tankerson." I replied. Captain Roman's jaw flopped open like a mailbox door.
"Tank! Shucks! I've known her since she was born! She's lived next door to my family all her life." We talked about her for awhile but it was mostly a one-sided conversation, I really hadn't known her very well. I'd met her while tooling around Santa Rosa one Friday night. I pulled into the "Scarf N Barf" with two of my buddies to grab a quick burger and there she was with a girlfriend. They asked us to follow them to her place in Healdsburg for a party. I don't recall a thing about the party but I'll never forget Vicky.
The captain and I were astonished at how small the world really was. Imagine him happening to know the only person from Healdsburg I had ever met. The captain always treated us like friends. He did a lot towards changing my negative opinions of the species of creatures known as officers.
Being a newly-formed maintenance squadron, we needed a building to house our test equipment and workbenches. The equipment arrived immediately, however the benches had to be built plus the only available building was nothing more than a twenty by forty foot storage shed. It featured screened walls similar to my barracks and had a bare concrete floor.
The only people with any carpenter experience to speak of were Al and myself. I was placed in charge of the doppler shop during night shift but by working twelve to eighteen hours a day we managed to fabricate workable benches and erect inner walls. Due to a serious shortage of building materials, things were progressing very slowly.
Eventually Captain Roman became desperate. Calling the two of us aside after roll call, he explained that the reason he was unable to obtain building supplies was because of the recent damage inflicted throughout the base from rocket attacks. The repair of damaged structures had top priority.
A new mailroom was under construction near the heliport. Understandably the brass felt a nifty new mailroom was more urgent than a decent maintenance facility. The exterior walls were up and the building was functional though still far from completion.
Stacked outside like cards, were hundreds of sheets of plywood and a huge pile of 2x4's. These were likely surplus because we had been in the building many times and had seen no apparent need for these particular materials. "Sure is a shame to see all that good material just laying there going to waste," remarked Roman, in reference to the mailroom. We sadly agreed.
"I'm going to ride back to the officers billets with one of the pilots," the captain informed us. There was a glint in his eye as he continued: "By the way, I left the key to my pickup on top of the visor. If you two guys need to go to the mailroom for anything, just make sure that it's parked back here when I arrive for work tomorrow morning." At that, he turned and walked out the door.
We were shocked at this sudden turn of events. It was unbelievable! Two enlisted men with a set of wheels! Hell, it had been so long I didn't know if I could still drive! There was something about that look Roman had given us when he departed that implied he had more in mind than enabling us to tool around Vietnam.
Al once described a supply problem that he'd solved at McChord AFB. His super- visor needed a desk, and it seemed that desks were on back-order. Grabbing a clipboard he drove a truck to an office belonging to another squadron. He informed the airman 3rd inside that he'd come from Major So-and-so's office to pick up a desk for re- deployment.
Carrying the blank clipboard under his arm he scurried around beneath a couple of the newest and largest desks and quickly jotted down one of their serial numbers. He then asked the airman to verify that the number on the clipboard matched the number under the desk. The clerk verified this and cheerfully helped him empty out all the drawers and haul it out and load it on the truck.
We knew what we had to do. Grabbing a clipboard we drove to the mailroom. It was getting dark by the time we arrived and we soon had about twenty sheets of plywood stacked in the back of the truck. We were about to molest a nearby stack of 2X4's when a couple Air Police dudes in a jeep cruised toward us. I held the clipboard in plain view and casually scrutinized the top sheet, which incidentally, had already been filled out with the items we intended to liberate.
The jeep pulled up and a sergeant hopped out and walked toward us. He nodded a greeting and continued past to the door of the mailroom office. He shined his light in a window and jiggled the door knob a couple times, thus completing a thorough inspection of the building. Satisfied that all was secure, he turned and walked past us, nodding once again before climbing back into the idling jeep. As they drove away, our confidence soared. The Air Police were on constant vigil watching over us.
The next morning we were deliberately loitering near the captains office when Roman arrived. He glanced at our stacks of plywood and lumber as though they had been sitting there for months. Later that afternoon he called us aside to ask if the truck had given us any trouble. Truthfully, we told him that we had only driven it to the mailroom and back. He added that he was surprised that someone had delivered all that material without bothering to get a signed receipt. He added that if the mysterious benefactors should ever be apprehended, he would back them all the way. Even if it meant saying they had acted on his direct orders. This took a lot of weight off our shoulders.
The truck remained parked each afternoon with the keys over the visor. Every morning, when the sun came up, Captain Roman would find fresh stacks of build- ing materials out behind the shop. We had been careful not to take too much from any one building site at one time. That helped to ensure that no one would put out the alarm and start a serious investigation.
Soon the 360th nav building started to take on a finished appearance. Someone appropriated a torch and applied a flame to the plywood paneling. That high- lighted the wood grain and with a quick coat of varnish, it had a very modern look. Torched wood was in vogue those days.
Bob White came in one day carrying a thirty pound box of linoleum floor tiles. He brought one in every day strapped to the luggage rack of his Honda 90. Soon the concrete was concealed beneath a shiny new floor. Next, he started hauling in a box of acoustical ceiling tiles every day. We tried to discover his source of supply but he refused to comment.
Mr. White was a civilian tech rep from Litton Industries. He lived in a hotel in downtown Saigon and commuted each day on his motorcycle. He probably made ten times as much money as we did, but he always considered himself as "just one of the guys." We suspected that he bought those materials on the black market with his own money.
One day while walking to the shop I noticed Bob's red and white Honda chained to a banana tree next to the latrine. Though Bob always parked it there, I'd never seen him chain it up. I noticed something else as I walked by. The gas tank had a bullet hole in it.
Bob White, one of the friendliest, most warm hearted guys I've ever known had been shot through the head from a rooftop somewhere in Saigon. It was his second year in Vietnam. He was close to retiring and was saving his money to buy a farm in upstate New York. Tough way to buy it.
We had tragically lost a good friend. We dealt with this by shutting out all memories of the man that might surface from time to time. In fact, we never mentioned Bob's name again. Death was a subject that was rarely discussed. People were being paid to kill you, and understandably, no one cared to talk about it.
Captain Roman proudly informed us one afternoon that the building was completed beyond his expectations. It turned out that on that very morning he had finally received written authorization from command for some of the long overdue build- ing materials. Well, that was SNAFU for the military; Situation Normal, All fouled Up. He added that he desperately needed a dozen chairs for the new de- briefing room, and cast a familiar look towards Al and myself.
On this, our final quest for adventure, we faced a dilemma. All of the items "appropriated" up to this point had been left outside in un-lighted storage areas. No one was fool enough to leave chairs out in the open, un-chaperoned. We concluded that we would have to confiscate the chairs out from under people's noses this time. After scoping out a dozen likely locations, we settled on the snack bar at the Saigon airport terminal.
The parking area was practically deserted so we were able to park the truck right next to the door. We entered the small restaurant and approached the counter. There were only three employees at that late hour. Two were busy mopping and cleaning up so we told the cashier that we had to pick up a few chairs for repair. "Nyap chon wa coo nip hoo louie louie!" she exclaimed. "Yeah, sure. We'll get 'em back tomorrow morning, boo-coo, chop, chop!" I told her. She stood there watching as we strolled off with an even dozen plastic and chrome chairs. They were the cheap form fitting type and bright orange, but we knew the captain would love 'em. For the next two weeks there were a lot of customers "standing around" at the airport snack bar.
We loaded the chairs in the back of the truck and started to leave when we beheld a beautiful sight next to the departure gate. A ten-foot black-and- chrome leather couch was sitting along the wall to the right of the double doors. This was primarily for the comfort of dignitaries to use while waiting for their flight out. Hundreds of VIP's from Nixon to Bob Hope had graced that squeaking leather with their sweating backsides. We were greedy now. Roman would just love it if he found something like this in his office! What a grand finale for our last caper. Al backed the truck up to within a few feet of the thing and we jumped out and started tugging on it.
"This is impossible, Nick." Al grunted. "What's the problem?" I asked. Then I saw that it had been chained to a nearby water pipe. No doubt in anticipation of our arrival. Suddenly, the headlights of an Air Police jeep lit up the side of the dark building as it swung into the parking lot. Highlighted were the shadows of our hunched forms struggling with the sofa. We were really caught in the act this time! I quickly whipped out the old clipboard and approached the vehicle as it rolled to a stop. Caught red handed, I had nothing to lose so I decided to go for broke.
"Evenin' sarge, wonder if you could help us out?" I called to him, in a some- what desperate pleading voice. "What seems to be the problem?" he asked. He seemed friendly enough and I didn't detect any suspicion regarding our activities. I explained that General Westmoreland was flying in at 0700 hours and MACV Headquarters wanted the couch set up in their front office by then. While fabricating this story I kept praying that he didn't need confirmation because the sheet of paper on the clipboard was completely blank. I kept it facing away from him. "Colonel didn't tell me the thing was chained up!" I said.
"Hey man, no sweat!" He swung out of the jeep, reaching behind the seat in one smooth motion, he appeared with a massive bolt cutter in his hand. "Well, this outa take care of the chain", he testified. In a few minutes we were headed for the shop, the rear of the pickup sagged from the weight of our booty.
A week later, after an official ribbon cutting ceremony, the captain called us into his office. He poured us a each a double shot of bourbon and motioned for us to be seated. He then informed us how impressed the 7th Air Force was with the new facilities and how they were astonished at what we had accomplished with no resources whatsoever. He raised his glass and continued: "The 360th is being put in for a Presidential Citation and I want to thank you both and tell you that you are primarily responsible." The three of us, grinning, clinked our glasses together and gulped down the booze. Our captain happily gestured toward the door and said: "Now get off my couch and get back to work!"
Nik's Email Address: [email protected]
I kept dropping not-so-subtle hints to Captain Roman about how much I'd appreciate flying a mission. My career field didn't authorize me to draw flight pay since the equipment could be readily tested on the ground with test equipment simulating flying conditions.
Eventually the captain informed me that "009", (which we so lovingly refferred to as "Balls 9"!) had returned with an intermittent radar tracking problem and "asked" me if I could provide a man from our shop to monitor it when it took off the next morning. I assured him I'd find "someone" who could handle it.
Half an hour before takeoff, I was in the flight office being issued flying gear. My flight vest was made of gray nylon mesh with several pockets for standard emergency equipment: a pen flare (a small cylinder that when twisted a certain way would shoot a flare skyward), a first aid kit, C-rations, a compass, and a sturdy survival knife consisting of a four inch blade with saw teeth on the back.
Great, I surmised, if we crash and a VC attacks with his automatic weapon, I'll just stab him or saw his head off. Maybe I could bribe him with some tasty C-rats. I slung a parachute over my shoulder. We didn't have to wear them but flying regulations insisted that you had to carry one with you while airborne. This one was free. Before, when flying on military planes from base to base when going on leave, I was charged a dollar for a chute. The money was non-refundable but at least the parachute was guaranteed. If it failed to open for any reason - you got your dollar back.
The military mind confused me to no end. They fed you, clothed you, took care of your teeth and health. They housed you and trained you, taught you the fastest way to kill people, all of this was FREE. They even PAID you! But they dinged you a lousy buck for the rental of a parachute!
On my way out the door a sergeant handed me a pistol belt with a loaded and holstered 38 pistol. "Now we're talkin'." I thought. It felt wonderful strapping that little piece of iron around my waist. Although a tiny pop-gun like that can't hope to defend a person from an onslaught of enemy automatic rifles, mortars, or artillery, it still is a comfort to feel its weight on your hip. Writing down its serial number, I signed for it and headed for the plane.
The crew was already aboard when I climbed in with my 35mm camera and two lenses, a super 8 movie camera and a sack full of film. At the last second I remembered to bring my tool bag and a technical manual, just to look good. My eyes took a few seconds to adjust from bright sunlight to the dim interior of the plane. The crew was busy flipping circuit breakers and pressing "press to test" lights. They looked very business-like and competent yet bored. This was merely another "day at the office" for them. I struggled to appear equally bored but failed miserably.
I flopped down into a metal seat, the back of which was bolted to the curved sooty green skin of the aircraft. The walls were completely without paneling or insulation. It seemed as though I was perched in the stomach of a great hollow whale. I counted its ribs. No stewardess hovered over me to ensure I was snugly strapped in, no fluffy pillow for my head. I watched the navigator casually turning the knobs on "my" radar control panel. He removed a large aerial map from a compartment above the chart table and expertly spread it out in one quick motion.
There was a loud "peeeer-shrum-cough-cough" and the port, number one, Pratt- Whitney engine gasped into life. The pilot, going through his checklist, then cranked up number two engine which began a series of coughs and belches, emitting puffs of black smoke as it did so. He worked the throttles until both engines were synchronized and running smoothly. C-47's are noisy, they shake, they shudder, they rock, they roll, and they stink of hot metal and oil - but they fly, boy do they fly.
Each of the thirteen Electronic Countermeasure Gooneybirds of the 360th TEW squadron flew with a crew of five; pilot, copilot, navigator, and two ECM operators that compiled surveillance data. This was just another mission, no one paid any attention to me. I was merely excess baggage as far as they were concerned.
The pilot must have completed his check list because the engines suddenly throttled up and I felt a slight bumping as the wheels began rolling across the rough pierced steel planking of the parking ramp. Looking behind me, over my shoulder, I peered through a tiny square window and watched the maintenance -shop slide into view then swing around and away as we executed a 90 degree turn. Soon we were perched with the nose pointing down the long shimmering ribbon of concrete.
The navigator turned and said something to me but the engines drowned him out. He smiled and handed me a headset. I plugged the dangling cord into the receptacle he indicated and put the thing on my head. There was a small gray microphone jutting out from one of the earphones and I swung it up in front of my mouth. I saw the man's lips move and his voice rasped in my ears. "I'm Lieutenant Bremmer," he said, "Welcome aboard."
I cleared my throat somewhat nervously which emanated loudly from the earphones. "Thank you, sir." I replied. That was the end of my oration. I still felt about as useless as an candle in a hurricane and wanted to just sit tight and maintain a low profile. The Lieutenant then sat in a seat near mine and fasten- ed his safety belt. I followed his lead.
We sat poised at the end of the runway, wheels locked and the engines cranking out the Rpm's for several seconds. The blast of air hurtled aft by the huge three bladed propellers made the aircraft shudder and rock. Again I felt the plane surge forward as the brakes were released and we began to move.
A C-47 rests low in the rear on a small pivoting tail wheel. When at rest on the ground its nose always points upward, as if yearning for the sky. As we picked up speed the tail began to lift until the floor was level. Only the large tires beneath the wings were touching the concrete now. Then the noise and vibration halted abruptly as the wheels broke contact and we lifted smoothly into the air. I peered at the ground below and watched earthbound things dwindle and shrink. Our mission was underway.
We quickly reached our operational altitude of two thousand feet. Any higher and our electronic surveillance capability would suffer, lower and we would present too easy a target for enemy guns.
When Lt. Bremmer unfastened his lap belt and returned to his console I felt it was safe to do a little exploring. Peering over the shoulders of the ECM officers was disappointing. I had no idea what they were doing and besides it fell within the boundaries of top secret and I did not have the "need to know". Technically, with only a "secret" clearance, I shouldn't have been allowed aboard.
The Lieutenant tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I wished to see our course plotted on the chart. I nodded enthusiastically and he proceeded to pinpoint our exact position with a pair of dividers and then, grinning, compared his figures with the digital readout from the doppler radar. I felt goosebumps raising on my arms. The coordinates were identical. I felt honored, very few technicians had the privilege of watching the equipment they repaired actually performing in action.
The floor tilted slightly as the pilot swung the aircraft around to a new heading. The navigator promptly forgot my presence as he furiously twirled dividers and calipers to track our changing coordinates. I took my leave and walked, rather unsteadily, toward the cockpit.
It was strange looking straight ahead through the windshield. The ground slowly rolled beneath the plane, totally unfelt. During a turn, if the pilot is talented enough, he will keep the center of gravity perpendicular to the floor of the aircraft. The people on board will barely feel a thing. Looking out the windshield the horizon itself will appear to tilt, not the plane.
Our pilot was very good. The floor would lift and sway occasionally but this was due to the temperature variations on the ground beneath us and the result- ing turbulence.
The cargo door at the tail had been permanently removed and a canvas webbing was hung across the space to keep things from falling out. Like me! I spent most of the flight taking pictures through this opening. During steep left turns I could look straight down at rivers and rice paddies far below without obstructions of any kind. It was a little breezy with the wind blasting in but it felt great.
We landed without mishap at Phu Bi, a small army base not far from Saigon. The pilot told us we were to take off in one hour and not to wander very far. I jumped down three feet to the runway apron and walked towards some small buildings a couple hundred yards away.
Back on the ground it was hot and Perhaps I 'd find a cold beer or soft drink to cool me off. I soon found a village woman selling watered down cokes out of wicker baskets that dangled from each end of a stick carried across her shoulders. It was reasonably cold but I saw no ice. I never could figure how they managed that. Probably kept the bottles wrapped in wet leaves or something.
Taking a big swig I scanned my surroundings. We had landed in a large flat valley ringed by small mountains, hills really. Across the single runway stood a shelter built from PSP placed across the tops of 55 gallon drums. I noticed some men squatting beneath it and decided to investigate.
As I approached I realized they were U.S. Army artillery men sitting in the middle of their ammo dump. Containers filled with powder bags were stacked off to one side and stacks of huge shells lay here and there. The crew was busy eating something.
Sitting in the sand beneath the sandbagged roof was a five gallon cardboard container of vanilla ice cream, a delicacy these men probably hadn't experienced for months. Perched around this centerpiece were five disheveled men with table- spoons, Melting ice cream decorated their happy chins as they greedily shoveled it into their mouths. They watched me approach and one of them, a corporal with a white frothy grin, held up an extra spoon. I ripped a flap from a cardboard box to use as a plate and dug right in. I felt right at home, nodding and smiling right along with them.
One thing I hadn't seen from my vantage point earlier was the gun. It sat baking in the hot sun directly behind the shelter. A track gun: an eight inch gun mounted on a track like a tank. It sat on the sand like an immense black dead insect. Painted with affection on its long black snout were the words "BLACKHAWK II". The breach was open and when I sighted through the barrel I saw the tip of a green hill in the distance, a few "clicks" away.
I was looking at "Green Hill". One of the soldiers, a corporal, explained that they had just finished bombarding that piece of protruding real estate for two hours and were now taking a smoke break. He went on to say how they were continually getting rocketed from positions on that hill and no matter what they did, the attacks continued unabated. I wondered what happened to "Blackhawk I", but didn't ask.
Three days earlier a C-130 cargo plane took aboard dozens of 55 gallon drums filled with JP-4 (jet fuel), and dumped them out the rear loading door while flying over the hill. The VC were dug in deep and the foliage had to be removed in order to reveal their positions. Attack jets then rolled in and set off the fuel with napalm. The hill was left black and smoking, but the next morning, right on schedule, the VC continued their attacks. Business as usual. Now, Just three days later, that same area was covered with a full rich carpet of dark green tropical foliage.
The corporal said they were scheduled to resume shelling the hill in an hour and invited me to stick around. I was disappointed because I had to leave shortly. This was my first opportunity to watch a "big" gun in action and I'd miss it by only a few minutes, but I got some excellent pictures, and asked plenty of questions. I've always been fascinated in the subject of artillery. Had I joined the Army, artillery would definitely have been my chosen career field.
Far more enemy were killed from artillery than from all other ground weapons combined. In Vietnam, an estimated 340 shells were fired for each enemy casualty, compared to 300 rounds in Korea and 200 at Anzio in World War II. When you take into consideration the cost of each shell and the immense amount of powder required to fire it, the dollar amount is staggering. War is an expensive proposition. It costs a lot to kill people.
Other costs include the maintenance of heavy artillery. Most people don't realize that the tremendous heat generated in launching heavy shells quickly wears out the barrels. For example, A 105mm howitzer barrel has a life expectancy of 20,000 firings, but the 175mm and eight inch gun barrels last for only 400 full charge firings, after which, replacement is necessary.
The gun resting ominously before me could fire its 170 pound shell over twenty miles. The shells were too heavy to be loaded manually. Two crew members placed them on a loading tray from which the shells were shoved into the breach hydraulically. The third member of the team then loaded the required number of powder bags dictated by the range and closed the breach. I never got to witness this because ten minutes later I was strapped into the belly of "009" and rattling down the runway.
We landed at Tan Son Nhut and went directly to the debriefing room. There, the pilot, copilot and navigator began filling out their paperwork. The ECM guys had disappeared the moment we touched down. They evidently had a debriefing room of their own. There was a coffee pot in the corner of the room and Lieutenant Bremmer invited me to have a cup with him. He was interested in my job and had many questions, mostly technical things about the navigational equipment he operated.
He related to me a mission he'd recently flown, where a snipers bullet had struck the plane shortly before it turned on its final landing approach. He had been strapping on his seat belt when he heard a "clack!" He felt a tug at the crotch of his flight suit and his microphone flew off. The bullet had pierced the thin aluminum skin beneath the floor of the plane. It narrowly missed the various control cables and hydraulic lines concealed there, then burst through the floor panel directly between his feet. Grazing the front edge of the metal seat, it passed through the crouch of his flight suit and his boxer shorts, waved hello and continued upward to shatter the tiny microphone attached to his headset. A small hole in the aircraft's roof marked its departure.
He was now wearing that very same flight suit and showed me the bullet hole. It was his "lucky" suit, he said, and he refused to fly without it. He had mailed the shorts to his wife.
Nik's Email address: [email protected]
In the Midst of a Bombing Run
A War Story by: Bob Wilhelm (aka "Kaiser"), Sgt. (E-4)
It was the fall of 1972 and I hadn't been at DaNang (Det. 2, 6994th) too long. I was learning my job as an analyst (202) and was still flying with an instructor. We took off and were headed down the coast and hadn't been airborne too long when the pilot informed us he had a fire warning light on the left engine. He asked us backenders if we could give him a visual check. One of our crew thought he saw a whisp of smoke but wasn't sure. It could be exhaust, he said. The fire warning light kept going on and off and the pilot was pretty sure it was just a faulty light but we all kept an eye on the engine anyway. The pilot didn't want to pull the extinguisher unless we saw a real fire. It would make quite a mess of the engine and the mechanics would be pretty upset if they had to clean out a perfectly good engine. After a while, the pilot decided to be on the safe side and RTB. He advised us to get suited up in our parachute harnesses and to pass out the 'chutes, just in case.
This was the only time in my 102 missions that we ever did this but it was a worthwhile precaution. As we neared DaNang the copilot asked if he could get some GCI time in and the pilot thought that was OK and put in the request to the DaNang approach controller. We weren't too far out when one of the backenders reported seeing a South Vietnamese A-37 attack jet making a bombing run from left to right in front of us. We watched as he released his bombs across our flight path and broke away. The pilot informed DaNang control but by now another A-37 was making his run, apparently oblivious to our approach. He released his load in front of us and we were right overhead when his bombs detonated. Even though there was a lot of noise in the aircraft and we had our headphones on, we could hear the explosion and the concussion rocked the old goon. By the time the controller and the pilot got everything figured out, we were past the danger. The rest of the flight was uneventful until after we landed. That's when the pilot and the controller had a meeting. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be in the shoes of that controller who led us right through that bombing run! As for the fire warning light--it turned out that our fire warning light was just a faulty light. But it was a pretty memorable flight for a new guy!
Bob's Email address is: [email protected]
Close Call with a crazed Sgt
Submittd by Doug Milton
This war story nearly cost me, I don't even think there is any record of this...never-the-less here it is.
About April 14th of 1969, I returned from a mission out of Nha Trang and decided to go down town for a bite to eat and drink. I rounded up my fellow 203 linguist Sgt. Al Martinez and took the duc-duc (the little motor taxi) to Nha Trang city. We found a cafe and went in and ordered a beer and thinking about what should we eat. The mama-san came over to us and asked us to help.
Seems a drunk or crazy GI was in the back room with a gun. We walked into the backroom and there he was holding 3 young girls at gunpoint. He was a tdy Air Force Sgt. saying that he did not like Vietnamese and that he was going to shoot them. Sgt. Martinez and I went over to him and asked him to let the girls go and that it wasn't worth it. While talking to us the girls slowly left the room and we told the Air Force Sgt to put the gun away and go back to the base.
As we all walked out of that room, he suddenly put the gun to my head and said that if I didn't believe him that he would shoot me. Without saying anything he cocked the gun then pulled the trigger....click! He started to talk a little crazy and I forget what he said but he again put the gun to my head and cocked it! I was in deep trouble then. I had remembered in our training that we were told to alway have 5 rounds in with one empty chamber. Not knowing if he had fired the gun or what, I said to him that I had a gun issued to me exactly like that. I asked him what kind of bullets he used and could he open the gun and show me. He, foolishly, lowered the gun, opened it and there were 5 rounds and the next one had my name on it (I felt). Do or die, I then knocked the gun from him and ran like hell out of the room.
Outside the room was Sgt Martinez, who had gone for the MP's. They came and arrested the crazy Sgt. To this day I still feel the barrel of that gun at my head. We did free the girls but I don't know the end result of what they did to that crazy Sgt. I flew about 10 more missions before returning to Conus...happily!
Sgt. Doug Milton USAFSS Doug's E-mail address is: [email protected]
Another Close Call with an A1-E
Submittd by Doug Milton
This took place on/about Dec. 4th, 1968. Flying another mission out of Pleiku took us to Laos. This area was a favorite of mine because occasionaly we made a pit stop in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. A few hours into our mission, sitting in the Z1 position, which is the right forward side, I was looking out the window at the nbr 2 engine when the Pilot said something like "What the Hell was that!" It was a VNAF A1E flying back to Vietnam. However it was at the same altitude as us, and I could clearly see the VNAF pilot's head looking right at us a few yards off our wingtip. Almost a head-on!
Sgt. Doug Milton USAFSS Doug's E-mail address is: [email protected]
And another with an F-4
Submittd by Doug Milton
On/about Nov. 12, 1968 I was sitting in the Z1 position of the EC-47 on a mission out of Pleiku Air Base, when the pilot indicated that we will make a stop at Da Nang. We landed safely on the Marine-side of the airstrip and were told by the tower to taxi and hold at the cross over strip.
While sitting there for a few minutes, the tower came on rather abrubtly and told our pilot to taxi post haste to the other side because a Marine F4 Phantom was coming in hot and we were in his way. Looking out the left window I saw the F4 screaming down, hit the runway and skip into the infield heading right for us. No sooner we taxied, I looked out my window on the right side and he slid rather rapidly right by us, just missing our tail. Another close one.
Sgt. Doug Milton USAFSS Doug's E-mail address is: [email protected]
Four Inflight Mission Experiences
Submittd by Joe Felock
As we criss-crossed our area under a cloudless , calm sky it was difficult not to allow ones mind to to drift to thoughts of home, family, christmas trees and snow. The reverie did not last long as we soon received a call that activity was reported in the "Eagle Beak" area. We immediately turned to that direction and could see a faint glow on the horizon. As we approached it was readily apparent that a fire fight was in progress.
At this time I remember that AFN was playing "Silent Night" on the radio. As we reached the area to get a visual of what was happening for forwarding to the Command Post, we became the target of groud fire. Tracers were coming up missing our starboard engine by not more that 3 feet. I immediately cut all position lights, poured the coal to the engines and executed my first chandelle since UPT! The chandelle took us into a cloud bank that came from I know not where, for there wasn't supposed to be a cloud over Vietnam. While this was occuring I clearly remember a tenor singing "O Holy Night".
After recovering and regaining our bearings we remained on the perimeter to allow the back-enders to do their job. All I can say is that cloud was put there by the Almighty solely TO GIVE US PROTECTIVE COVER. There wasn't another cloud in the sky that evening.
Had the gunner's accuracy been a few feet better, I may not be here at this keyboard. To this day, the carols "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" trigger in my mind a vivid re-enactment. of that event.
Those who participated in our mission will well remember how rapidly storms would develop during the monsoon season, rising vertically faster than could be imagined. One day we were about five hours into our mission when we were advised of severe weather developing and centered in the Saigon area. We had nothing going so the decision to head home was a no-brainer.
Unfortunately the weather developed faster than we could travel and at the same time developed behind us. Phan Thiet to the east was open but expected to close soon. Every possible landing area between our position and the delta was closed. Aproach Control could not accept any more traffic and we were advised to maintain a position VFR. (Where in hell were we to find VFR conditions?) An aircraft called and said that he found a sizable VFR hole and gave his altitude and position. We were close and found it only to become the FIFTH aircraft in the hole playing follow-the-leader.
Maintaining safe spacing was a challenge because the aircraft were operaing at different airspeeds (each aircraft was different), and the hole kept moving and changing size. The storm wasn't moving and fuel was rapidly becomming a problem. We were at minimum fuel and the gauges were almost bouncing off EMPTY.
The only viable but undesireable option under evaluation was to ditch in the South China Sea. At this time Approah Control advised that a small Marine base in the delta was open.. Decision made! The base was on the way to the sea. We made it close to the base with fuel gauges now bouncing off EMPTY. We were number 3 in traffic with #2 an army twin engine and #1 a Marine Hawkeye. All three had declared an emergency. For whatever reason #1 crashed on the runway. #2 was on a long final and we were right on his tail.
The Marines were on the ball. They had heavy plows ready and just plowed the Hawkeye off to the side of the runway. The Army aircraft landed just as the plow cleared the runway. We touched down as the Army aircraft turned onto the taxiway. As we touched down and throttles cut back, the port engine sputtered and quit. As we rolled onto the taxiway, the starboard engine quit. It couldn't have come any closer.
A little humor often prevents insanity. For example: one day Jack Cummings and I (sorry but I don't remember the FM), were scheduled for an FCF on an aircraft after a prop change. I believe the aircraft was #313. Takeoff and climb out were routine. At altitude we shut down engine #2 and feathered the prop as required. On restart something blew and we had a huge oil leak on #2. #2 was shut down without problem and prop feathered. We declared an emergency and were cleared to land on the outside runway. Jack was flying left seat and I was shotgun.
In attempting to bank right we found the aircraft would burble on the verge of a stall. After a few attempts it was determined that a burble would be encountered at about 8 degrees of right bank. We made a wide pattern and proceeded to overshoot the outside runway. Tower cleared us to land on the inside runway and requested "Report Gear Down". I replied I would advise when gear down. Jack was fighting to bank as much as possible without burbling while truning to line up on final. We crossed the extended centerline about a half mile out at about 400 feet AGL still about 45 degrees off the runway heading and heading for the base fuel storage area. The tower again requested "Report Gear Down" then added: "..you're cleared to land on the left runway, the right runway , OR ANYWHERE YOU WANT!".
By this time Jack did a masterfuljob of getting the aircraft pointed toward the runway as we crossed about 100 feet over a C-130 sitting on a taxiway. Jack banked to the left without problem and as he rolled out I dropped the gear and engaged the down lock as we touched down. I believed it was determined that the aircraft was once in a ground incident and had an out-of-line airframe.
One final story if you can stand it !
When the TET Offesive began almost in our back yard. My crew was one of two crews to make it to Tan Son Nhut as scheduled. Heavy fighting was going on off both ends of the runway, making aircraft operations dangerous. We were to make every effort to depart and recon the immediate area.. We taxied out without communications with the tower. Runup was performed on the taxiway while taxiing as fast as posible. We used the middle third of the runway and without stopping proceed to make a max performance take-off as practiced at England AFB a year earlier.
We spiraled up trying to stay within the perimeter of the airfield. Night operations were more tenuous. We operated silent on the ground, and operated black-out with the only illumination coming from the heavy, mortar, artillery and tracer fire going on. Night blackout landings, tucking the runway under the wing, cutting power, dropping gear and flaps and diving for the middle third of the runway were really challenging and made one thankful for the training opportunities at England.
The other crew and my crew alternated missions for about 24-36 hours before relief was provided. When not flying, our crew rest was spent in the Wing Commander's Office trying to rest as best as possible with all the artillery, mortar and other explosions going on.
J.C. You asked for it and I provided. I have a few others but enough is enough. Please free to use any or all as you see fit and they fit your needs.
Best Wishes, Joe Felock.
November, 2000. Joe sent the following to be added.
I finally read completely Chuck Miller's account of his experiences in the "Phyllis Ann" program. I find it amazing in how many ways his experiences were similar to events I encountered in my time enroute and in country while assigned to the 360th TEWS at Tan Sohn Nhut. In reading Chuck's narrative I found myself engrossed in reliving my own experiences and understanding the emotions that he felt as he encountered the events he so well documented. Specifically:
Experienced a rough running engine enroute from McClelland to McCord. We were able to keep it running without any other visible problems and subsequently found the problem to be water in the fuel resulting from water seepage into a fuel storage tank from which a fuel truck was loaded and transferred to our aircraft. We lost our doppler between Midway and Wake. No repair capability existed at Wake so we flew in formation with another aircraft and crew. To our good fortune we were able to maintain VMC all the way.
INVERTER FIRE: On a night mission in the area north of Saigon we ran into some thunderstorms. Fortunately they were not of the monsoon variety, but were making for a bumpy ride. In the course of events the navigator said he smelled something burning. The flight mechanic went to the back end and found the main inverter on fire. It was shut off and a hand extinguisher was employed. The back-up inverter, we quickly found out was also inoperative. Fortunately we were not far from the most recent doppler fix and were able to declare an emergency and turned toward Saigon. We had to penetrate some thunder-bumpers while flying on the old standby needle, ball, airspeed and "whiskey compass".The instruments readily responded to the bouncing aircraft's attitude making control a challenge. We broke out of the line of the storm and were able to be identified by Tan Son Nhut RAPCON and made a successful PAR. While taxiing in I silently said a silent word of appreciation to Mr. Ek, my UPT instructor, for hounding me during my training periods in "needle-ball-airspeed".
BOMBED BY B-52's: On a daylight mission northwest of Saigon, a warning was issued over the radio alerting aircraft of a B-52 bomb drop at a TACAN range and bearing point of reference. I was operating on the referenced TACAN so I glanced at my instruments only to find I was at that exact range and bearing. I banked the aircraft to get a better view of the air above me and saw a trail of bombs falling from a flight of B-52's. I was able to clear the area sufficiently to avoid the bombs. I banked the aircraft around in time to see the bombs detonate on impact.
FRIENDLY ARTILLERY DANGER: My first experience with friendly artillery came one evening. Our mission Intel briefing alerted us to friendly artillery activity in our mission's area. A radio frequency was provided for the fire control site. As we approached the area enemy contact was made by the back end which made it necessary to enter the artillery fire area. Contact was made with the fire control site and we were advised of active firing. We asked for a check fire for a short period so we could enter. The check fire was approved. As we made our ARDF runs we noticed flashes of ground artillery fire. I immediately called the fire control point and questioned why they were firing while we were in the check fire period. I was matter-of-factly advised that the firing was being conducted by the South Vietnamese Army over which they had NO CONTROL! Nobody told me that BEFORE the mission.
TACTICAL VFR: This was usually an operation more dangerous than Russian Roulette. It was frequently necessary to take-off on a mission with barely two runway lights visible. Procedure required contact after take-off with the local GCI site (I believe its call sign was PYRAMID) for radar identification for flight following and traffic information. When I first flew a mission under this condition I had a sense of relief when I was radar identified and tracked. The next time I made a departure under such conditions I contacted the GCI site and was identified . Shortly there- after I broke out into a limited VMC area and found myself headed right for an army chopper about a half mile away with a long cable underneath to which was attached a battle damaged army aircraft. As I banked to avoid the chopper, I saw another aircraft on a crossing course less than two miles away. I called the GCI site and questioned the lack of traffic advisory. I was advised "no traffic on radar" Needless to say that from that day forth there was always a significantly greater "pucker factor" on Tactical VFR missions.
CREW MANNING: In the last 6-8 weeks of my tour, of the 15 crews in the squadron, 13 had Lt.Col.s as AC. the other 2 crews had another Major and myself as IP/ACs.. I have particular memory of three 'old-timers" (I shouldn't talk now). One was a Lt.Col. and the others were Majors. Their names I do not remember. Their particular characteristics remain in mind. The Lt.Col. was a Ph.D. in Metallurgy, the only such person in the Air Force. One Major required three different glasses to fly. One pair for in cockpit activity (e.g. checklist, map reading, aeronautical charts etc), Take-off was O.K., but longer range vision required for landing necessitated another pair of glasses, and airborne activity necessitating visual acuity of ground environment necessitated another pair. Flying with him was an experience. He was a fine person and very diligent. The other Major I remember always flew with a large unlit cigar in his mouth. He always started out with a fresh cigar that was about a foot long and ended the mission with but a stub in his mouth, having chewed away the remainder. He would get quite upset if he turned his head quickly to look out the cockpit widow because he would invariably snap the cigar in two against the window. All had their own idiosyncrasies, but all were fine men and I am proud to have associated with them.
I am sure that there are many TEWS alumni who can come up with parallel experiences. I rather believe that the similar experiences incurred by Chuck and I were not unique, but were experienced more frequently than one would imagine. Chuck's experiences were an encouragement for me to add the above to the stories I sent you earlier. I was truly amazed how his encounters were similar to mine. Col., Joseph W.Felock, Jr. USAF (Ret)(Then Capt/Maj)
The Scared Parachute Packer
From John Pferdehirt
A Tale from John Pferdehirt 6994th Security Squadron at TSN and Pleiky, 1968/69.
A couple of items always come to mind. I was on the aircraft the Maj Felock was flying when we were being bombed by the B-52's. I was in the rear of the aircraft looking out the rear door with just a cargo net when I saw the first 500 pound bomb go past the wingtip. We made a rapid departure from the area.
The second item came from an extended TDY at Pleiku. I was sitting on top of a revetment in our parking area when a rocket attack started. The area toward the main base housed base ops and the parachute shop. The area in front of the parachute shop was PSP (metal strips used for temporary parking and taxiways). The PSP had a number of low areas that were full of water at the time. As the rockets were going off near the runway and taxiway, I saw a young airman come flying out of the parachute shop. He was going so fast that he was still pedaling in mid air. When he hit the ground, he tripped and slid into one of the water holes. I can still hear him yelling at the top of his voice. " They don't want me. They don't want me. I just a god damned parachute packer."
The Scary Hard Landing.
From Charles "Chuck" Miller