Chapter 10

The Final Chapter

This final chapter in the A-1 Skyraider Combat Journal covers not only my last sorties in the Skyraider, but more importantly the final chapter in the storied history of the A-1 Skyraider in the service of the United States military. The US Air Force was moving toward an all-jet air force and there was no stopping "that train." The decision makers at the top felt that the Skyraider had outlived its usefulness and the Air Force would better be served by jet aircraft.

But those "decision makers" must never have ridden the cable of the Jolly Green, even as the thunder and roar of the Skyraiders reverberated throughout the karst lined valleys of Southeast Asia. For if they had, they would know that there could not have been a better close air support aircraft than the Douglas A-1 Skyraider. One need only ask those who did ride that Jolly Green rescue hoist their opinion of the Skyraider, and to a man they will tell you, as they have told me, they owe their lives to the support given by the Sandys and Jolly Greens of the Southeast Asia SAR forces.

My tour was nearly over. By this time in 1972, I knew that I was going to be reassigned to fly the A-7D Corsair II. My DEROS had been established for 13 October 1972. I would fly until the end of the month and then prepare to return home. So that I could earn combat pay for October, my last sortie (finé flight) would be in early October.

The Air Force had recently deployed A-7s to SEA and based them at Korat AB, Thailand. The SLUFs were going to replace the A-1s on the SAR force in the Sandy role. Already, there had been exchange between the guys in the A-7 and the A-1. They came to NKP to observe SAR operations and we also sent some Sandys to Korat to brief their guys on SAR procedures.

My logbook now showed 127 combat sorties and 369 combat hours in the A-1. I established a goal of 400 combat hours and thought that would be enough for one tour.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 13 Sep 128 1.8

370.8 A-1H 139608

My journal entry for 13 September 1972

[Sandy 02 with Jim Harding as Sandy 01.] Mike orbit with Maj Jim Harding. No strike.

This mission was to the "M" orbit area in the Fish's Mouth over North Vietnam. No SAR action and no air strike. And the beat goes on. Ten successive missions now without an airstrike.

I am now one month from my DEROS and the action had certainly slowed. There was not much action for anyone due to the poor weather which also affected the strike packages to North Vietnam.





 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 14 Sep 129 2.0

372.8 A-1H 139608

My journal entry for 14 September 1972

[Sandy 01 with Wally Barden and Tim Brady as Sandy 02.] Orbit south of Mike. No strike.

Could not reach Mike due to weather so orbited just south. Flew lead with a Fat Face on the wing.

Eleventh mission in a row without dropping ordnance. ~:-(






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 17 Sep 130 3.5

376.3 A-1H 135257

My journal entry for 17 September 1972

[Sandy 05 with Mike Cahill as Sandy 06.] SAR for Nail 60. [Nail 60 was an OV-10 who] lost power while crossing the Ho Chi Mihn trail and finally had to eject. Mike Cahill was my wingman and we went more or less direct from NKP to the SAR area at 220/48/69 which took us across the Catcher's Mitt. We crossed on the deck at about 170 knots. Made the pickup then got to strike the crashed OV-10. Fun. I hit it with a long burst of 20mm. RTB to 77.

This mission originated at NKP and since we used the Sandy 05/06 callsign, there must have been no Sandys deployed at Bien Hoa since that was the Bien Hoa Sandy callsign. As it turned out, Sandy 07 and 08 were unable to scramble from DaNang due to maintenance problems. The crew of Nail 60 ejected at 1332 Thailand local time (TLT). We were scrambled at 1352 TLT following the maintenance difficulties of Sandy 07/08 and were airborne at 1410 TLT. Sandy 07/08 finally got airborne at 1430 TLT (1530 DaNang local time).

The Catcher's Mitt was a bad place due to enemy activity. It was a place where several communist resupply routes converged and the scene of a rather intense SAR for Nail 31 back in March. The name "Catcher's Mitt" was given the place because there was a river nearby which curved around in the shape of a catcher's mitt.

The location of 210 degrees for 48 nm from Hue-Phu Bai TACAN was in an area that was potentially a bad one due to its close proximity to the trail. As Mike and I arrived in the SAR area, Sandy 07 was already working the survivor so we assumed the "High Sandy" role and escorted the Jolly Greens.

A further complication to this mission was that the DaNang Jolly Greens, JG 71/72 both had inflight emergencies which meant that the NKP Jolly Greens (JG 65/66) who scrambled with us became the prime rescue choppers.

After Sandy 07 and 08 secured the area, they showed us the location of the survivors and we "executed" for the pickup. Sandy 07 led JG 65 in for the pickup while Mike and I laid a smoke screen to screen the SAR force from any possible threat. The pickup was slightly complicated by the fact that the "Bravo" man (rear seater) had injuries which necessitated a Stokes litter be lowered along with the PJ. Both survivors (and the PJ) were back on board Jolly Green 65 at 1653 TLT after nearly three and a half hours on the ground.

The air strike was one which gave me a strange pleasure. The target was not enemy forces, but the downed OV-10. It was more than likely a Pave Nail OV-10 which had rather sophisticated navigation equipment on board. My bombs must have been lousy as all I reported in my journal was a hit with 20mm.

We recovered to DaNang which was probably not our first choice. My last trip to DaNang was on my ill fated "CTO to Hong Kong" three weeks earlier.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 18 Sep 131 2.3

378.6 A-1H 135257

My journal entry for 18 September 1972

[Sandy 05 with Mike Cahill as Sandy 06.] Return to NKP. No strike enroute.

We flew home to NKP after a short one night stay at DaNang. Did not have the opportunity to get a strike on the way home.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 21 Sep 132 4.3

382.9 A-1H 139608

My journal entry for 21 September 1972

[Hobo 43 with Jim Elliott as Hobo 44.] Doz with Elliott. No strike.

This was a MedEvac mission which meant lots of orbit time and sometimes no action. This was apparently the case on this mission.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 26 Sep 133 2.4

385.3 A-1H 139608

My journal entry for 26 September 1972

[Sandy 01 with Bob Simica as Sandy 02.] Mike orbit with Bon Simica. No strike.

Morning Sandy go with a launch to the Mike orbit point. No strike and RTB back to NKP.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 27 Sep 134 3.3

388.6 A-1G 132528

My journal entry for 27 September 1972

Hobo 46 with Don Caughlin on the wing. No strike. Wx.

As I look back on these missions at the end of my tour I realize now that the rainy season weather affected us greatly and we seldom struck in the month of September. This was a mission where I flew one of our two A-1Gs.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 28 Sep 135 4.7

393.3 A-1H 134526

My journal entry for 28 September 1972

Hobo [24 with Capt terry 'TQ' McCammon as Hobo 25] MedEvac with TQ. Strike. 060/18/119.

This mission was on the PDJ and was in support of some choppers resupplying forces on the PDJ and evacuating wounded. These missions would last a long time. They were always happy to have us around lest something should erupt.

The position given was northeast of Long Tien and LS 20A. More than likely, the train of choppers, each with one blade painted white for visibility from above, was shuttling back and forth to various sites around the PDJ.

TQ was Captain Terry McCammon. He arrived at NKP during the previous winter months. I remember this not because of the weather, but because TQ arrived during the middle of basketball season. The 1st SOS team had struggled during the first half of the season, with insufficient height and bulk underneath the hoop to get many rebounds. TQ was tall, about 6' 5", and well built. He had played varsity basketball in college and was a real ringer.

Most of the teams at NKP had a smattering of officers playing, but the majority of players were younger enlisted men. Not the 1st SOS, our team was mostly officers and Spad drivers, need I say more? Due to our poor start, we did not stand a chance to win the base championship, but we really enjoyed beating the top teams in the latter half of the season.

A sad footnote to this story. TQ returned to the states and left the Air Force. He hooked on with the New Mexico Air National Guard flying A-7D Corsairs. TQ, Terry McCammon, died in the crash of an A-7D in the mid 1970s.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 29 Sep 136 2.5

395.8 A-1H 134526

My journal entry for 29 September 1972

SAR for Crow 01. {Sandy 05 with (name withheld) as wingman Sandy 06]. No objective. Position was 210/45 off of Bullseye (Hanoi). Across the Black River toward Hanoi... Chased out by MiGs who were committed on us. Wingman took off west and I cleared our six in trail by weaving... I felt like turning, but didn't. Rough engine on way home... Jettisoned all my load and landed at PakSane... Dirt runway with cows... Rode home in the Jolly Green.

This mission had the potential for real disaster. We got up to the SAR location only to see that it was in the high ground west of Hanoi and south of SonTay. There turned out to be no survivors (objectives).

The search and rescue command post logs have recently been made available to me for this incident. They indicate that Crow 01 was hit and downed by a SAM at 1335 NVLT (North Vietnam local time). Lt.Col. James W. O'Neil was the pilot and Capt. Michael J. Bosiljevac the EWO (Electronic Warfare Officer) of the Wild Weasel, an F-105G from the 388th Tac Fighter Wing at Korat. Crow 01 was hit by a SAM in the vicinity of 21 07N 105 25E (see map). Although other fighters in the area observed two good parachutes and made initial voice contact, the area they went down in was heavily populated and were in the hands of the enemy quickly after they reached the ground.

There was concern that there was no MiG CAP available so we slow movers were withheld from the area for some time. It is unlikely that this made a difference as far as a rescue was concerned due to the fact that the survivors were not in an area where we could have gotten them. The Skyraiders were being used very judiciously at this period of the war, but it is doubtful that this rescue could have been accomplished at any period of the war.

What happened next stays with me even today. My wingman and I were in a loose daisy chain doing a com search for Crow 01. We were in a starboard (right) orbit, when we started hearing calls on guard about bandits in our vicinity, and the words committed and merged plot. The warning radio call on guard would have been something like, "This is Disco on guard, two blue bandits, Bullseye 205/30 headed west, Disco out." I don't recall the color now (Reds were MiG 17s, Whites were MiG 19s, and Blues were MiG 21s), but that was not important to us then. Our reaction would have been the same for all three. Get out of Dodge!

Just as I started to direct the actions of my wingman, I looked to the west and saw he had rolled out west and was leaving me in trail. I happened to be on the eastern part of the orbit and he left me in about a two mile trail position. So much for mutual support! I tried to get him to give me some angles so I could catch him, but he didn't buy it. I checked 6 harder that at any other time in the Spad and I suddenly got the nearly uncontrollable urge to do a 180 degree turn to see what was behind us. I resisted the urge and got down on the trees and snaked my way west beneath the ridge tops. If a MiG wanted a piece of us, he was going to have to come on down there with us. I weaved my way west for about 15 minutes and finally joined up with my WD wingie. His actions had really torqued me off.

After we finally got joined up we were directed out of the area due to the MiG activity. Soon, I started feeling that the engine was running a little rough. Once I got up to altitude and got the power pulled back it smoothed out a little, but we had an hour flight back to NKP and it still was not right. I decided to clean the wings to increase the glide distance in case the engine decided to quit. So off went all the ordnance (a full Sandy load), followed by the inner stations (fuel tanks and minigun). Flying a clean A-1 was something we seldom (if ever) did, so it was nice, but I was not in the position to enjoy it at this time. As we neared the last chance landing spot before NKP, I decided not to press my luck. It was only another 20 minutes to NKP, but darkness was approaching, so I put it down on the 4900 foot gravel strip at Pak Sane, Laos also known as Lima 35. Pak Sane sat just north of the Mekong River in a relatively secure area. My wingman made a low pass to scare off the cattle on the runway and I put it down and taxied onto the parking area where I shut down. The Jolly landed just after I did and I climbed in and headed home. This was my one and only ride in the HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant. The Skyraider I left behind was now someone else's problem.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 30 Sep 137 2.3

398.1 A-1J 142058

My journal entry for 30 September 1972

[Sandy 04 with Tim Brady leading as Sandy 03]. Mike orbit with Tim, no strike.

Hard to match the action of the previous day and this one was a routine orbit to the north. No strike and RTB to NKP.









 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 1 Oct 138 3.3

401.4 A-1H 139791

My journal entry for 1 October 1972

Finé flight... [Sandy 03, with Capt Buck Buchanan as 04, Lt Tex Brown as Sandy 01, and Capt Willy P Kramer as Sandy 02] 4 ship Sandy mission... I had radio problems which cleared up, but nearly forced me to RTB... "M" orbit, then west for a strike... Buck was 04... Tex 01 and Willy P 02... I led the four ship to 050/28/119. Super mission with a good four ship strike... RNO... Got good pictures both before and after the strike...Fan break back home

A person's last flight in an aircraft was known as a finé flight or final flight. There was a tendency for guys to shine their ass on this final flight and I could see how this could happen. The realization that you had survived the entire year of combat made you feel special. It also made you feel like they owed you, perhaps this was a person's chance to do what he had wanted to all year. What were they going to do, ground you?

With that backdrop, three of us on the Sandy schedule were on our finé flight, Buck, Tex, and I. We had all arrived together, and we would finish our A-1 "careers" together. Tex had a new Captain as his wingman, and I'm sure he enjoyed it too.

For some reason (I suspect it was because I had the camera), I led the entire mission. We flew up north toward the Mike orbit point and burned down some fuel just waiting for something to happen. We soon grew tired of just doing nothing, so I got out the camera and took a few shots of the remaining three aircraft in formation.These pictures turned out to be some of the best photos that I took, and one of them was chosen as the lead photo for my article in the October 98 Flight Journal. I remember looking out at how close Buck was and regretting that I asked him to move in a little. That big 13 and a half foot prop looks even bigger when it is close to your wingtip.

After the photo session, we were released to strike and we headed west toward the PDJ to see where the action was. We worked with a Raven FAC who had a target in the trees. After all ordnance was expended, we were given RNO (results not observed) due to smoke and foliage.

On the way home, I passed the lead to Buck and I moved off to take a few more shots. It was during this time that I took my favorite shot of my entire tour.