Chapter 5

The Easter Invasion

I returned to Nahkon Phanom following my mid-tour leave in the middle of April following my trip back to the states. The trip home was a little shaky as I was trying to save money by going Space A. I went down to U Tapao to grab a Young Tiger KC-135 tanker flight which was to have taken me all the way to March AFB. The plane landed in Guam where I was bumped by SAC crews who had a higher priority for travel. I was forced to buy a one-way ticket to Minneapolis from Guam which needless to say was not inexpensive. After two-weeks of rest and relaxation, I grabbed a hop back to March where I was able to get on a westbound tanker which took me all the way back to Thailand.

The tactical situation in Southeast Asia had changed greatly since I had left. Just before Easter, in the last days of March of 1972, the North Vietnamese attacked across the DMZ with a 10,000 man invasion force. Coincident to this action, they attacked the western flank of South Vietnam through Laos where they had prepositioned their forces following infiltration along the Ho Chi Minh trail.

During this action, the Strella SA-7 shoulder fired surface to air missile (SAM) was introduced to the theater and was used to good effect against slow-moving aircraft including the A-1. So much for the theory that infrared homing missiles would only work against a hot, jet engine tailpipe!

One of the more renowned actions of this period was the SAR for Bat 21B. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton (call sign Bat-21 Bravo) was the navigator of the EB-66 that was shot down just south of the DMZ. The story surrounding this rescue is recounted on the History Net.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 17 Apr 62 3.2

183.7 A-1G 133865

My journal entry for 17 Apr 1972

[Hobo 20 flight lead] Strike at 20A... Bunkers, RNO


My first mission following return from leave was a Hobo sortie up north to the Barrel Roll. The target was simply recorded as the "20 alternate" area. Results of the strike were not reported.









 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 20 Apr 63 3.7

187.4 A-1J 142043

My journal entry for 20 Apr 1972

Sandy 02... T-orbit... Strike 20A... DK-82 position destroyed


My first Sandy mission since my return from mid-tour leave. No SAR so we burned out our gas on the Tango orbit point southeast of the PDJ. Once we competed our assigned SAR alert orbit period, we were released to work with a FAC over in the L 20A area. General Vang Pao's headquarters were being pressured by the enemy and we were always willing to help out the best we could.

On this particular sortie we hammered a mortar position that was lobbing rounds into the friendly's position. The pressure would build even more in the coming days.









 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 21 Apr 64 2.6

190.0 A-1J 142043

My journal entry for 21 Apr 1972

Hobo 42 as flight lead with [Capt Lance] Shotwell... Strike at LuLu's position on Skyline Ridge... 3 secondary explosions... 4 sustained fires... SH!... Scared myself on the way home by doing a slow roll after a pull up from the [Mekong] river.


This was another mission to the hottest area around for the time being, the L 20A (L 98) area and Skyline Ridge. Lance Shotwell was one of the newer pilots in the squadron and he was on my wing. Lance was an experienced fighter pilot having flown a F-4 Phantoms prior to the Skyraider.

The strike on top of Skyline Rider was very productive. We were credited with secondary explosions indicating that we more than likely hit an ammo cache which continued to burn as we were leaving the area. The photo on the right (taken by Mike Cahill) shows the L 98 area and Skyline ridge beneath the low hanging clouds in he background.

This mission became memorable for another reason. It was common practice on the way home to conduct "river recce" along the Mekong River. It was just a more enjoyable way to get home rather than simply cruise along at medium altitude. Besides, the mission was going well and it was a beautiful day to boot.

Lance and I dropped down to the river to about 100 feet and flew along the river for some distance working our way toward NKP. There was usually lots of small boat traffic and it was always interesting to have a closer look. Soon, we neared the point where we needed to climb up to establish radio contact with radar facility at NKP.

With Lance off my left wing and slightly high, I began a fairly sharp pull up to perhaps 500 to 600 feet. I then began a fairly slow roll to the right in what was to be a nice smooth slow roll. I completed the first half of the roll in good shape, but became alarmed when I realized that I had insufficient altitude to complete the roll at rate I was using. I was staring at the muddy Mekong completely inverted from altitude of about 400 feet!

I immediately stomped on the right rudder to increase the roll rate to get back to wings level with as little additional altitude lost as possible. I bottomed out at less than 100 feet and climbed back up as if nothing had happened. Finally, I regained my composure and began the normal "return to base" routine as if nothing had happened. I was still shaking like a leaf.

Later on the ground I admitted to Lance that I felt that I had nearly hit the water. Since Lance was higher than I, it was difficult for him to judge the altitude I bottomed out at, but he did say that my shadow was flying close formation with me for a few seconds. I do recall looking out the side and seeing trees along the river higher that me.

So this was the second time I had nearly "bought the farm." Unlike the first incident, this time it was something completely stupid and uncalled for that nearly cost me my life. I vowed to get my act together then and there. If I was to die over here, it wouldn't be because of such a thoughtless breach of discipline. We discussed the incident at length and I remember telling Lance that what I had done was stupid and not conducive to longevity. I believe we both got the message.





 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 22 Apr 65 2.7

192.7 A-1E 132643

My journal entry for 22 Apr 1972

Hobo 44 [as flight lead] with [Capt Lance] Shotwell... Strike at Thunder's old position on Skyline Ridge... 3 medium secondary explosions and four large secondary explosions... M-47s did the trick.


It was back to the 20 alternate area yet again. The pressure on the headquarters at Long Tieng continued despite our best efforts. What we didn't realize at the time was that this was a coordinated effort in conjunction with the Easter Offensive in Vietnam.

The M-47 white phosphorus bomb was a very useful all-around piece of ordnance. It was lightweight and useful against many different kinds of targets. The white phosphorus burned hotter than napalm and would set fire to most anything. If the target happened to be ammo storage, it would quickly immolate the area resulting in the detonation of the shells and ammo.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 25 Apr 66 2.7

195.4 A-1E 133878

My journal entry for 25 Apr 1972

Carboy to Bien Hoa with Don Morse... I was in the right seat and helped Don land at Bien Hoa.

This was strictly an admin flight to Bien Hoa to relieve the Sandys at Bien Hoa. Tango Mike and I were to replace the two A-1 pilots who were already at Bien Hoa. The two H models at Bien Hoa were apparently holding up quite well so rather that take two different aircraft down there, we simply rotated the pilots using the 'Fat Face' as transport.

What I recall of the landing at Bien Hoa was a large bounce on landing followed by a ballooning up to perhaps 15 feet above the runway to be followed by what was sure to be another bounce. I simply froze the stick to let the aircraft land. Don agreed it was a DS landing.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 27 Apr 67 2.0

197.4 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 27 Apr 1972

[Sandy 06 with Don Morse as Sandy 05] First strike out of Bien Hoa... Target was south of Tay Ninh City.

Until recently, the two Sandy FOLs had been at DaNang and Ubon. But with the recent communist push, the action around Saigon was heating up and the powers that be decided we needed to be closer to the action which was fine by us. So Ubon was closed and those support facilities were shifted to Bien Hoa AB, Republic of South Vietnam. Bien Hoa Air Base was just north of Saigon and more than 200 nm from NKP and this was my first look at a base in Vietnam other than DaNang. But it was where the action was at the time.

The shorter the 'drive' to the SAR, the more time we'd get to actually work the SAR. But there's such a thing as being too close also. We typically cruised a minimum of 45 minutes to most of our targets which allowed us time to burn down some gas (reduce our gross weight) and to get things all set up. Now, we'd be easily within 10 to 20 minutes from the action. This would require some adjustments.

The setup at Bien Hoa was very comfortable. We were more of less taken in and hosted by the 8th SOS Raps, the American A-37 squadron at Bien Hoa. Two of the pilots in the squadron had been at F-100 training with me at Luke AFB the previous year, so I felt a little more comfortable with this connection. They had an alert facility right next to the runway at Bien Hoa and our aircraft were just across the taxiway from the facility. The revetments were too narrow to allow an A-1 with wings extended inside, so they were backed in with more of the aircraft outside than in. Wingfold was not allowed with ordnance on the wing stations. This photo shows the Sandy alert birds parked in such a fashion.

The mission we flew on this day took us up north of Bien Hoa near Tay Ninh City which was just north of the Parrot's Beak. That was the area of the Cambodian- South Vietnamese border that looked on the map somewhat like the beak of a parrot. A major route ran through this area into An Loc to the southeast. My journal did not record the results of the strike.





 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 28 Apr 68 3.0

200.4 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 28 Apr 1972

[Sandy 06 with Don Morse as Sandy 05] Sandy orbit, then strike at An Loc... Took 12.7 fire north of town... Struck downtown...Exciting!

The reason we were working out of Bien Hoa was so that we (the SAR force) would be close to the action. During this time frame the action was at An Loc. This town was north of Bien Hoa by perhaps 50 nm so it was close... a little too close as far as I was concerned.

On this day we had a chance to burn down some gas and reduce our weight with an orbit of about an hour and a half. We checked with intelligence to find out where the action was so we could be nearby if anyone went down. Really, all we had to do was talk to the A-37 pilots who were working out of the same alert facility. Most sorties that day were headed to An Loc and along the road out to the Parrot's Beak.

An Loc was not a huge city, but rather a town by my standards. It appeared to me to be a town not unlike those midwestern towns around which I grew up in Minnesota. Except, we didn't have rubber plantations south of Cambridge.

An Loc had one main intersection in the middle of town and there was an Esso gas station on the NE corner of the intersection. The FAC actually referred to it as a point of reference.

"Do you see the Esso station in the middle of town?"


"The target is three blocks south of the Esso station and one block west, Do you have the target?"


"Cleared Hot"

Having your target in the middle of town definitely simplified matters. But any sense one had that this was some game in a surreal setting was removed when the FAC reported that we were taking ground fire from 12.7mm AAA north of the town. The 12.7 was commonly referred to as 51 cal and was similar to the US Browning 50 caliber. There was a reason why the communist weapon used 51 caliber ammo. The slightly smaller 50 caliber round could be used in the communist gun, but the 51 caliber round would not fit into the American weapon. Clever fellows, those communists.


 A 12.7mm AAA piece







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 29 Apr 69 3.3

203.7 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 29 Apr 1972

[Sandy 05 with Don Morse as Sandy 06] Sandy orbit and another An Loc strike with friendlies on three sides of the target... took some ground fire... FAC impressed.

Tango Mike (TM) threw me a bone and let me lead the mission. Some guys were secure enough in their own abilities as a flight lead and pilot that they did not feel they had anything to prove day in and day out to the younger guys - Don Morse was one of those guys. We had grown to like and trust each other, and that made for a great relationship. Since TM and I both flew the F-100, we also shared that common bond.

Earlier in the month, TM had participated in the SAR for Bat 21. That SAR had occurred during the height of the Easter invasion by the communists across the DMZ. Bat 21 was an Air Force EB-66 that had been shot down just south of the DMZ. One survivor had evaded capture in the midst of the huge invasion force. During one of the early rescue attempts, TM's Skyraider took a devastating hit from a 57mm AAA weapon, forcing him out of the area. He nursed it back to Da Nang where he made a gear up landing. During the next day of that SAR, Jolly Green 67 was shot down, killing all six crewmembers. TM's damaged A-1H 134-780 is pictured below. It never flew again. The Bat 21 SAR was the subject of both a book and a movie by the same name - Bat 21.

The friendlies were hanging on in An Loc despite heavy communist pressure. It felt great to be able to go in and do some good, and especially to receive an atta boy from the FAC. Every little bit helped, and these kinds of comments went a long way toward making a guy feel OK about himself.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 1 May 70 3.0

206.7 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 1 May 1972

Sandy 06 [with Don Morse as Sandy 05] RTB to NKP... Strike at AnLoc first. Worked south of town in the rubber plantation... M-47s were pretty going off beneath the trees... SUU-11 impressive at night... Got hypoxic on the way home at night.

The week at Bien Hoa had come to an end and we redeployed to NKP. After a day of sitting ground alert, we launched in the mid afternoon for an additional period of Sandy alert in the air, followed by an air strike near An Loc. There were huge rubber plantations south of the town of An Loc supposedly run by Michelin. These dense stands of rubber trees were apparently used by the Viet Cong as staging areas for their continued assault on An Loc.

We were put on the enemy concentrations right in the middle of the plantation. As I indicated in my journal, the reduced lighting because of the late afternoon hour, gave a whole new perspective to the attack. The orange red explosions of he AN-Mk-47 smoke bombs were brilliant. The tracer stream coming out of the SUU-11 minigun pod was also very prominent.

During the flight home, I experienced a mild case of hypoxia. It was common for us to climb to slightly higher altitudes to cruise long diatances. This was especially true at lighter gross weights and at night. There was no point in cruising low as we wanted to stay well above the threat as much as possible. I began to notice that Tango Mike's lights were beginning to get dimmer and dimmer even though I was maintaining the same relative position. I had my oxygen mask hanging unattached off one side of my helmet which was fairly common practice in the A-1. What I had failed to take into consideration was the slightly hogher altitudes we were cruising at. We were at perhaps 14,000 as opposed to our more "normal" cruise altitude of 10 to 11,000. As soon as I put the mask on and went to 100% oxygen, my vision returned to normal and the remainder of the flight home was without incident.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 5 May 71 2.5

209.2 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 5 May 1972

Hobo 22 with [Capt Lance] Shotwell ... LS-72 strike... Five KBA, 15 probable KBA, two medium secondary explosions, two small sustained fires.

After a short break from the flying schedule, I was back in the air, this time on a Hobo mission to the Barrel. I was with Lance Shotwell again and we each had H models. I was back in A-1H 134-472, making it five sorties in a row in this aircraft. It was nice to fly the same aircraft repeatedly as you got to know its idiosyncrasies and how it handled.

We had a pretty good strike from the looks of it. But then again, every mission up in the Barrel Roll was lucrative these days. Let's just say it was a 'target rich environment.' The communist pressure on key installations continued, and today's target was near a small lima site north east of Long Tieng and Skyline Ridge.

As usual, we cruised home along the Mekong and I 'posed' for some pictures since Shot had his camera along. Probably the best "shot" of the bunch was the one shown here. I still have my blue scarf and it still smells of A-1. My wife used to try and wash it, but she gave up several years ago. It is 8' 6" long and 8" wide. No, we didn't tie it around our necks. It was secured around the shoulder harness.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 8 May 72 3.5

212.7 A-1H 139738

My journal entry for 8 May 1972

Sandy 02 ... T Orbit, no strike.

The Tango orbit point was in northern Laos, southeast of the PDJ. There was little action on this day. We did not get an air strike so returned with all ordnance on board.

I was flying A-1H 139738, "The Proud American" on this mission. This was the Skyraider that Lieutenant Colonel William Jones III was flying when he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his mission on 1 September 1968. Though not marked in exactly the same manner as it was on his historic mission, The Proud American was a special Skyraider.


 A-1H 139738 on takeoff roll at NKP