Chapter 7

Sandy Lead

Operation Linebacker continued as targets throughout North Vietnam were hit again and again by Air Force fighters from the west and Naval assets flying off carriers on Yankee Station from the east. If Linebacker missions flew, the Sandys from the 1st SOS and the Jolly Green Giants of the 40th ARRS at NKP and the 37th ARRS at DaNang were airborne on orbits that would get the SAR force closer to the action. If the Linebacker packages were canceled due to weather, there were always other areas where A-1s were needed.

During the month of May, I had flown on two successful SARs into Route Package VI and accumulated 44.7 hours on 15 sorties. My next combat mission would be my 85th and I was over 300 hours total time in the Skyraider. I had flown as wingman on some important SAR missions in May, and had led some Sandy missions as part of my upgrade to Sandy lead. To become a Sandy lead was the ultimate goal of an A-1 pilot in the 1st Special Operations Squadron and the most important measure of one's experience and capability. I was ready for that challenge.

During the months of April and May, the Air Force alone lost 48 aircraft in SEA according to Air War - Vietnam. This included 21 F-4s, six O-2s, five OV-10s, and five C-130s. To say that the SAR forces were busy would be an understatement. At one point someone with time on his hands figured out that for a period of ninety consecutive days, there was at least one survivor on the ground awaiting rescue. Since March, we had lost six Skyraiders in combat.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 9 Jun 85 1.7

250.1 A-1J 142028

My first journal entry for 9 June 1972

Sandy 07 deployment flight to Da Nang with [Capt] Gene Bardal [as Sandy 08]. Weather DS in early morning, so we dragged our feet and launched in DS weather after sunrise.

This was my first opportunity to go on a deployment as Sandy lead. I went to Da Nang as Sandy 07 with Capt. Gene Bardal as Sandy 08. Gene was also a Minnesota boy and we got along well. I also flew A-1H 142028 the previous week at Bien Hoa with Ron Smith. This was strictly a deployment mission with no strike en route. Had to get the aircraft turned around and on alert for late morning Linebacker TOTs.

A-1 tactics had changed within the previous month following the Easter invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnamese forces. Along with this 10,000 man invasion force came a new threat to the A-1 and other slow movers, the SA-7 Strella shoulder fired surface-to-air missile. Its arrival and impact (pun intended) on the A-1 was immediate. On 5 May 72, both A-1s in a Hobo strike flight were downed within minutes of each other south of the DMZ. Lead went down first, followed by the wingman who remained in the area to organize a SAR effort while orbiting overhead.

Both A-1 pilots were picked up by friendly ground forces and lived to fly another day. But A-1 tactics had to change. Intelligence told us that the maximum altitude capability of the SA-7 was above that achievable by the heavily laden Skyraider. What we did was come up with a quick fix flare decoy system. A SUU-25 flare dispenser was added in lieu of the SUU-11 mini-gun pod on the left stub (weapons pylon). The flares were rigged to ignite instantaneously upon ejection from the dispenser. To my knowledge, the flare decoy was never used to decoy a missile fired at an A-1. But neither did we lose any more A-1s to the SA-7.

In addition to the flare decoy capability, we decided that the high Sandy (Sandy 08, Gene Bardal in this case) would remain at altitude to watch for missile launches against the low Sandy. The down side of this tactic was that the ground gunners would have an easier time keeping track of one Skyraider vice two.

 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 9 Jun 86 3.0

253.1 A-1J 142028

My second journal entry for 9 June 1972

Launched as Sandy 07 with Gene Bardal as Sandy 08. Same day launch on a "feet wet" India SAR orbit to cover Linebacker strikes up north. Orbited 50 miles off the coast of North Vietnam between Vihn and Dong Hoi. Had planned to fly by a carrier. RTB (Item 11) no strike.

Photos from Da Nang

The Linebacker orbits over water were never my idea of a good time. About the only reason why I wasn't scared spitless the whole time was because we orbited with the Jollys Greens from the 37th ARRS out of Da Nang. We were orbiting far enough off the coast to avoid any threat from MiGs, but theoretically close enough to be able to go in and help someone in trouble.

The idea was to dash (actually, the A-1 didn't dash, it lumbered!) in to the coast and pick up downed crews who happened to make it that far before having to eject. We had lots of anticipation about doing one of these, but never made a pick up from this orbit. I think Item 11 was code for "Go Home, we don't need you today."

Since we had an early getup and had flown twice today, we headed back to Da Nang to allow the maintenance troops plenty of time to get the birds ready for the next day.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 11 Jun 87 4.7

257.8 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 11 June 1972

Sandy 07... Feet wet orbit again... No strike... During RTB we dropped M-47s and shot WP rockets in the water to determine effect and found that the M-47 would be useful as a marking device in water.

Another Linebacker "India" orbit over the Gulf of Tonkin. During the recovery back into DaNang, Gene and I shot some Willy Pete rockets and bombs in the water to see whether they would be effective as marking devices on the water. They were.

Nearly five hours strapped into the Yankee seat with no strike to show for it. We used an inflatable donut to sit on since there was very little padding in the seat. Such a device would have been foolish in an ejection seat since the ejection forces would undoubtedly cause severe back injury if a cushion were used. But, the A-1 did not have an ejection seat. The Yankee Escape System by Stanley Aviation was unique to the A-1 Skyraider and was an extraction system rather than an ejection system. Instead of a rocket in the seat that pushed you out of the aircraft, seat and all, the Yankee Seat had a rocket attached to nylon lanyards that pulled the pilot out of the aircraft. Best of all, it worked.

Ask Randy Jayne who had an opportunity to use it to get out of an A-1H at Hurlburt Field, Florida during A-1 training. He extracted at less than 100 feet altitude from a torque rolling Skyraider and safely escaped after the requisite one swing in the chute. Even though he extracted in a rolling high angle of bank, the Yankee system got the chute out fast enough to slow him down prior to his landing on one of the cross taxiways at Hurlburt.

The crash rescue folks picked him up next to his chute near the runway and loaded him into the base ambulance for the relatively short trip to the Eglin hospital. Seems the ambulance had a wreck on the way to the hospital and gave Randy additional injuries. Wait, it gets better. Of course the Skyraider rolled up in a big ball of fire, out of which came the R-3350 careening across the aircraft parking ramp (damaging two A-37s along the way) and finishing its journey only when it collided with Lloyd Welken's car in a base parking lot. The ultimate irony was that Lloyd Welken was another A-1 pilot in training at Hurlburt! True story.

One of the good deals about Da Nang was the eating arrangement. We Sandys were about the only non-Navy personnel allowed in the Navy Mess. As far as we were concerned, the food was absolutely great compared to the alternatives. Fresh seafood was often the fare. We did not lose weight at Da Nang. The bad deal about Da Nang was that this was much closer to the war than NKP. Rocket attacks were frequent. This tended to cut into a good night's sleep as the bomb shelters were the best place to be during a rocket attack. The results of one such rocket attack tell the story.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 12 Jun 88 2.4

260.2 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 12 June 1972

Sandy 07 [with Gene Bardahl as Sandy 08] SAR for Blueghost 10, an Army OH-6 down west of Hue Phu Bai... first pickup as [Sandy] lead... the lone survivor did not have a radio, but used his mirror to signal... I decided the mirror flashes were friendly and committed the Jolly Green. We brought the JG in from the east along a river. The survivor was along side the river. Took light automatic weapons fire from the ridge to the south. DFC.

Blueghost 10 SAR Map

This sortie is one of those I feel really good about regarding my performance as Sandy lead. It was as I wrote in my journal my first successful SAR as a Sandy lead. Gene and I were using the revised Sandy tactics brought upon by the potential SA-7 threat. Two other choppers had gone down the previous day within 5 klicks of this survivor, so we knew there had been, and would be opposition. Add to this the fact that we had no radio contact with the survivor and it made for a risky operation. The possibility of a trap was foremost in my mind. I was aware of countless times in the past when the bad guys on the ground would not fire on the Sandys, but would open up on the Jolly Green HH-53 as he was in the vulnerable hover.

I talked it over with both Sandy 08 and the Jolly Green. No one else wanted the responsibility which I knew was mine. I got the same answer I always got from the Jollys, "Sandy, I'll follow you anywhere." I took ground fire from the other side (south side) of the ridge line to the south of the survivor. It was small arms and light automatic weapons, but they had to get to the top of the ridge before they would be a threat to the pickup. I put down CBU-25 on that position to be sure.

As a diversion during he pickup attempt, I requested that the FAC, Covey 28, put an airstrike on one of his targets about 5 klicks to the north. The entire area was hilly with mostly east/west ridge lines. I decided to bring the Jolly in low and fast from the east along a small river that led directly to the survivor's position. Gene and I smoked the flanks during the Jolly's run in with CBU-22 which proved to be very effective. No observed opposition to the pick up. I directed the JG to egress the area to the east along the same river valley that was used for ingress. After a short run along the valley, the Jolly Green popped up to a higher altitude and we escorted them to DaNang. The survivor was dropped off at the DaNang hospital on Marble Mountain.

In 1992 I had the occasion to visit the Air Force Historical Center at Maxwell AFB. They had recently declassified military documents, copies of which, I have. The following document is the actual mission report (formerly classified SECRET) which Gene and I filed following this SAR.

Excerpts from SAR Logs for Blueghost 10 Formerly SECRET, now UNCLASSIFIED


1) All times local time

2) TACAN channel 69 was Hue Phu Bai

I recently was provided the command post SAR log for this incident. It revealed many details that were unknown by me until now.


Sandy 07/08 Mission Report dated 13 Jun 1972

Additional info on Blue Ghost 10 received on 21 Jul 1997.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 14 Jun 89 2.4

262.6 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 14 June 1972

Sandy 07 [with Gene Bardahl as Sandy 08] RTB to NKP with Gene... Strike at 360/40/82... 5 probable KBA... Champagne on RTB

After a six day stay at Da Nang, Gene and I redeployed back to Thailand and the relatively safe confines of NKP. The trip had been a good one, despite losing two flying days due to bad weather. The SAR for Blueghost 10 more than made up for it, however. We tried to visit the survivor in the Marble Mountain hospital, but discovered that he had been airlifted to a hospital with a burn treatment center. We were not able to find out the full extent of his injuries.

The flight home included a stop for an airstrike near a place called Kong Sedone, 40 kilometers north of the Lao river town of Pakse. This was the first time I had struck in this area, but it would not be the last.

After Gene and I landed at NKP, we were greeted with a bottle of champagne, a belated reception for the Blueghost 10 pickup that Gene and I orchestrated on the 12th of June. A nice touch, to be sure.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 16 Jun 90 2.5

265.1 A-1H 139608

My journal entry for 16 June 1972

Steel Tiger mission as Hobo 42 with [Lt] Tim [Brady] north of Khong Sedone... Tim warned to stay west of river because of possible 23 mm AAA... Strike at 360/45/82... BDA 2 KBA, 4 probable KBA. Tim came in from wrong run in and had wild rocket which [appeared to] nearly hit the FAC... Tim got a water buffalo with an empty CBU canister.

Southern Laos Map

This mission was my first non-Sandy mission in a while and I was back home flying out of NKP. This Steel Tiger mission went to the Bolevens Plateau in southern Laos. Like the PDJ, the Bolevens plateau was either boring as hell or full of action, depending on the season. But this season was different, the invasion force had time to disperse somewhat, and this area was hotter than usual.

The mission itself does not stand out particularly well in my mind. This was my second mission in a row to the same target area. The enemy had moved men and equipment all across Laos and were pushing toward Pakse, a key Laotian city on the River Mekong and the location from which Air America conducted much of its air effort in Steel Tiger.

Khong Sedone was a bad place, but when one saw the FAC orbiting lazily near the target area the tendency was to think, "How bad can this be is the FAC is orbiting right above the target?" Usually our BDA (bomb damage assessment) report consisted of "RNO for smoke and foliage", meaning results not observed due to smoke and foliage. Also, in an area that has a possible 23mm, it means "You're crazy if you think I'm going down there to see what you hit!" This day, however, we did get some BDA. Probably relayed from someone on the ground to the airborne FAC. I really don't recall now the incident with Tim's rocket. As to the buffalo, wrong place at the wrong time. It was standard practice to dump (jettison) the CBU-25 (and CBU-22) canisters after they were empty, usually during the pull off of the same pass.

Weapons management in the A-1 was somewhat of a challenge. With 13 weapons stations (12 wing and one stub station with SUU-11 minigun) and 20mm cannons, you had to be on your toes with the switches. A typical CBU-25 pass might be, roll in, fire some 20mm (using the trigger on the stick) to keep their heads down, line up the target for the CBU-25 release. Press the pickle button (upper button on stick) once for each tube of CBU (up to 6), reach down to change the outer station function switch from rockets to bombs on the armament panel and hit the pickle button again to dump the cans on the pull off.

Whew, that was confusing. If you think an A-1 pilot never bombed off fully loaded CBU cans or rocket pods by mistake, you're wrong. Of course I never... well not more than once or twice anyway. As I recall, one of the other guys who was getting his A-1 theater checkout about the same time as me took three missions to fire rockets from the LAU-3s. The full rocket pods containing 19 rockets each were bombed off unscoreable (unbelievable) at 6 on the first two missions. And they don't even explode when you drop them that way! Well, wait 'til you hear the rest of the story. This "rocket bomber" is a general officer today, 26 years later. So now you know the rest of the story.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 17 Jun 91 5.4

270.5 A-1E-5 135215

My journal entry for 17 June 1972

Hobo 43 wingie [with Maj Zeke Encinas leading as Hobo 42]. Doz for a downed CH-53 north of Knong Sedone with Zeke as lead... [this was not a SAR situation as the crew had previously been recovered] We replaced other Hobos who were working the area prior to our arrival... We orbited over the [CH-53] crash site while a team landed to check the feasibility of lifting it out... We worked the Doz about 2 hours. Our plan was to get a quick strike, recover at Ubon to refuel and RTB. Weather in the target area was about 6500 broken. We worked a target east of the river near Khong Sedone. We did not observe any ground fire and were working from about a 6,000 ft. roll in altitude. On Zeke's second rocket pass, he got hit as he was firing his rockets. I saw the heavy smoke trailing from his aircraft. He said nothing. The FAC said, "Are you all right?" The only thing I could say was, "Are you all right, pull out." He went in with the plane. There was a large fireball. I went back to the Doz frequency and told the other Hobos what had happened. Jim Harding was leading that flight and he came down about 15 klicks to the south to run any possible SAR. I had to RTB because of fuel and started heading for Ubon, but saw that I had enough [gas] to make it home [to NKP]. I met the Sandys on my way home and told them there was no survivor. I was met in the dearm area and was taken to the TUOC. I concluded that Zeke must have been hit in the cockpit and incapacitated. Airbursts would have been hidden above the clouds.

Southern Laos Map

Obviously, this mission stands out in my mind today as much as any of those I flew 26 years ago. Sometimes I can't remember where I put my glasses 5 minutes ago, but this mission is as clear as if it happened yesterday. The first part of the mission was simply orbiting overhead the downed CH-53 and waiting, and waiting, and waiting... After what seemed like hours (that's because it was!), we were released to contact a Covey FAC as the next Hobos checked in on freq. We were about three and one half hours into the mission at this time. The FAC said he had a target near Khong Sedone. If that sounds familiar, it's because it was the same area I had worked on the two previous missions. Zeke contacted the FAC and he gave us the standard target brief to include the possibility of up to 23mm AAA in the area. But this was a more-or-less standard threat brief, so we went about our business with no special amount of concern.

We had each made about five passes and had just switched to rockets. No ground fire had been observed by any of the three of us. We were in a left hand wheel and were generally rolling in from the northeast through northwest. As Zeke was on his rocket pass, all looked normal. The smoke started coming out of the rear of the pod at about the altitude I expected, indicating he was firing his rockets. The next thing I saw was much darker smoke, heavier in volume coming from what appeared to be the same location as the rocket smoke. From the time I saw this until Zeke's Skyraider impacted the ground was probably less than 5 seconds. We were firing our rockets at around 3,500' to 4,000' and bottoming out at about 2,000'. Since I watched his plane the entire way down to the ground, I knew there was no extraction. This is not to say there was no attempt, but there was definitely no extraction. I immediately thought a hundred things at once, none of them particularly logical. I wanted the FAC to tell me where the gun was so I could roll in on it and kill it. The FAC saw no gun, only the result of its work. After about two minutes, I realized fully what had just occurred and began to act more rationally. I called the other Hobos and waited till they arrived on scene. I briefed them on the situation and turned for Ubon. I passed on my black assessment of the possibility of Zeke surviving the crash. I was that sure. We didn't need any more A-1s downed making low passes over a crash site that was not survivable.

I do not recall whether or not the FAC had reported any active AAA positions now, 25 years later, but I don't believe he did. The reason I believe this, is the broken cloud cover at around 6500 feet. As my journal entry indicates, we saw no airbursts since we were below the cloud deck.

I had never felt such a sheer and utter sense of despair either prior to or after this moment in my life. Mostly I felt a great deal of helplessness. It was not easy to concentrate on flying the plane during these moments. I realized there was no need to land at Ubon as I had enough fuel to make it back to NKP. The 45 minutes it took to get back took an eternity. I met the Sandys enroute to the possible SAR and again gave them my negative assessment. Was I wrong in doing so? To this day I believe that was the correct decision on my part. There was no hope of survival. I had heard the term Golden BB about the round that has your name on it. This fits that to a T. The round had to hit the plane for this to have happened. Had it missed, the airburst would have been well above it and exploded harmlessly.

Much later, a ground team located the crash site and recovered Zeke's remains. Shrapnel damage to items in the cockpit indicated that Zeke had been incapacitated when a round of high explosive AAA had detonated very near the cockpit. Major Encinas was the final American A-1 pilot to die in SEA. The name of Major Esequiel M. Encinas on the Vietnam Memorial Wall is on Panel 01W, Line 043, Reference Number 148. God bless you, Zeke.

Major Zeke Encinas was the 144th and last American to die in an A-1 Skyraider during the Vietnam conflict. A complete list is available from the Table of Contents page

Zeke plaque
This plaque hung in the Hobo Hooch until the
1st SOS left NKP in December of 1972.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 20 Jun 92 4.5

275.0 A-1H 139803

My journal entry for 20 June 1972

Scrambled [1420 VLT] as Sandy 04 with Joe Seitz as lead (Sandy 03). The survivor was Nickel 102, a Navy F-8 pilot who went down north of Ashau Valley [1045 VLT]. Joe and I decided to head straight for the action. We headed straight for Saravane and then planned to head east. North of Saravane, we had to cross the Catcher's Mitt so we dropped down on the trees and crossed there. Near Saravane we began monitoring the SAR proceedings. Shortly thereafter, we heard Larry Highfill (Sandy 07) get shot down in Ashau Valley [1522 VLT]. Tim [Brady] was on his wing as Sandy 08 and I could hear him and the on scene Nail [FAC] trying to find him [1525 VLT]. Joe seemed rather indecisive as to what we should do, but I thought we ought to get there ASAP so we turned northeast and headed for the action at my insistence. We arrived on scene and talked to Tim [Sandy 08] who said he saw Larry [Sandy 07] get hit and catch on fire, Larry said it was getting hot and he was getting out. Tim saw him extract and float down into the clouds and disappear. It took him a while to come up on the radio, and by the time he did, Tim had to RTB to Da Nang to refuel. About this time guard channel got very busy because there were a couple of Navy pilots in the area calling for Nickel 102 and we were calling for Sandy 07.

About this time, Joe [Sandy 03] started having engine problems [1653 VLT]. We had separated earlier to increase the amount of area we could search as we had not yet located Sandy 07 [and had only intermittent, weak radio contact]. the weather in the area was isolated buildups, some of them [down] on the ridge lines. We could talk to Sandy 07 sometimes, but not at other times. About this time, Joe decided he had better RTB because of his engine problems. A flight of Navy A-7s came into the area and I pleaded with them to keep guard [channel] clear so we could run the SAR. As I was crossing the north end of the valley, I saw tracers and airbursts in front of me. I jinked left, armed up my two LAU-3s and emptied them on the source of the tracers (23mm or 57mm). This kind of gave me a rude awakening as to the seriousness of the situation and sharpened my senses. Up to this time, I had been concentrating my search on the northwest side of Ashau Valley. A fast mover who was helping in the search said he saw a parachute on the east side of the valley near the rim. I started searching on the east side of the valley. I saw the chute that the fast mover driver told me about, but it was just a flare chute. I was now able to talk to Sandy 07 much better and I knew I was getting warm. Then I heard Sandy 07 say I had flown right over him [1639 VLT]. I quickly noted my position on the TACAN (272/32/69) and visually checked my surroundings. He was located right near the top of the valley just north of a road that went east out of the valley. On my next pass over the area I spotted his parachute on a wash on the side of the valley. He could not see me until I was directly over him and tall trees prevented me from seeing him.

I checked on the availability of Jolly Greens. I found out that they were holding feet wet but had no Sandy escort. I had only about 45 minutes of daylight left so decided to further check out the area for bad guys. I set up a left hand pattern and started looking for any ground fire. Each time I crossed an area above Larry to the east, he said he could hear shooting. I saw some muzzle flashes from near a log which lay across a bomb crater. I kept my eye on the bomb crater, armed the minigun, and pounded the crater with a long burst from the minigun. I also put some CBU-25 on the crater. I spread my ordnance around the area and did not see much more ground fire. At this time a flight of F-4s arrived on freq and asked if I needed some ordnance. I put them in with 20mm on the ridge top east of Sandy 07. I also used their BLU-52 [anti-personnel CS gas] in the same area. I was nearly out of ordnance and daylight so I decided to tell Larry I would soon be leaving. I wanted to know exactly where he was so I told him to keep his head down while I strafed the bare wash area near his position on the hillside with 20 mm. I did so and he said he was south of where the 20 mm impacted. I then expended the rest of my ordnance and went to Da Nang [1823 VLT]. During RTB, I could see a hole in my left wing, but landed uneventfully [1850 VLT].

Most of the evening was spent planning a first light effort for the next morning. Most of the planning centered around Red [Clevenger], Tex [Brown], Tim [Brady], and myself. We also talked a lot with the Covey FACs. Pete Brennan [Nail 43] happened to be working the area so he also had lots of info to offer. I was surprised when I looked at maps of the area that Sandy 07 was not as close to the route structure in Ashau Valley as I thought. In planning the next day's mission, we knew we had to get to the survivors early. We actually had two SARs still going. Since we had only four A-1s at Da Nang, we decided to launch them together with the Jollys. The plan was to let Nail 43 [Pete Brennan] launch pre-dawn and check out the area. Since we (I) felt confident that Larry [Sandy 07] would be the easier of the two to get out, we decided to go for him first, then go get Nickel 102. Since I was the only Sandy that had seen Sandy 07's location, I was to lead the first phase of the mission as Sandy 11 with Tim [Brady] on my wing as Sandy 12. We would then hand the lead of the mission to Red [Clevenger, Sandy 03] and Tex [Brown, Sandy 04] and let them run the show for the Nickel 102 pick up attempt. The plan was to have Sandy 03 and 04 preserve ordnance for their pickup attempt. Sandy 11 and 12 would also try to save ordnance for the second phase of the mission.

NOTE: times in brackets are from the SAR command Post logs and refer to Vietnam Local Time.

Nickel 102/Sandy 07 Map
Down There Amongst Them
Flight Journal Article, November 1998

After a three day layoff following the tragic loss of my flight lead and personal friend, Major Zeke Encinas, I was back in the cockpit on what was to be another one of my more memorable missions. Looking back on it now, I believe my resolve became much stronger after the tragedy. It was a grim reminder as to the seriousness of the missions we were flying.

1Lt. Joe Seitz and I launched out of NKP and arrived in the SAR area, 1 hour and 25 minutes after takeoff. Joe was a Sandy lead who had preceded me to the 1st SOS by a few months. He was a competent flight lead, but I was always ready to offer my opinion as to how to proceed. This was my nature and probably wasn't my favorite trait among flight leads I flew with. I was confident of my capabilities however, and when Joe hesitated to sense the gravity of the situation with the shootdown of Sandy 07, I offered my two cents worth and suggested that we take a more direct heading to the area. The action we were hearing on the radio was enough reason in my mind to proceed directly, and at only three miles a minute, every second counted. At this time we were about 25 miles ssw (<10 minutes) from the location.

I knew 1Lt. Tim Brady was Sandy 07's wingman and I could hear him trying to make the best of a bad situation . Tim and I first met at Luke AFB during our time at the F-100 RTU. He and 1Lt. Mike Cahill also got A-1 assignments out of the Hun program after the F-100s withdrew from SEA. Tim and I were (are) good friends and competed together on the 1st SOS athletic teams.

There were several build ups in the area which as it turns out, probably kept us from getting shot at a lot sooner. I specifically remember the mass confusion of the radios as everyone wanted to talk on guard channel. The Navy was still, of course, most interested in Nickel 102 and were calling for him. Joe and I meanwhile were exclusively interested in Sandy 07 for the time being.

One of the cardinal rules in combat search and rescue is to go after the guy who has been on the ground the least amount of time. In this case it was Sandy 07. The reason for this is that the less time the man is on the ground, the less time the enemy has to organize their resistance and scarf him up. We would have done the exact same thing if is had been an A-1 pilot on the ground first and one of the other supporting aircraft got shot down. That was just the way we did it. The only time we would not do this is if we had executed the pickup run on a survivor and had all assets committed to the pickup. In that case, we would proceed with the pickup of the first man, then assess the situation for the second man down after the first pickup had been made.

I honestly remember thinking about the significance of the location of this SAR when I was in the middle of AShau Valley looking for Larry (Sandy 07). This was the stage on which Major Bernie Fisher had flown the mission which won him the Congressional Medal of Honor back on March 10, 1966. For the record, I never saw the airstrip in AShau, as it was much further to the south. There were too many cloud build ups in the area and I was a bit busy at the time!

Getting hosed by the 23mm AAA awakened me from any lethargy I may have felt. Nothing like an attempt on your life to get the juices flowing. After I dumped the empty LAU-3s from the encounter with the 23mm, I headed behind a cloud buildup which screened me from the gun location. I proceeded to the south along the east rim of the valley to search for the parachute that had been reported by the "fast mover" driver. The chute turned out to be one of the thousands of flare parachutes which littered Southeast Asia. These were smaller in size that personnel parachutes, but were often mistaken for survivor's chutes. I proceeded south along the ridge.

I now had much better com with Larry. Soon, he reported that he could hear me. This transmission was much louder than those previous to this so I assumed I was getting closer. Less than a minute later, Larry said, "Sandy you just flew over me." The survival radio was a low powered, line-of-sight radio and its range in hilly terrain was greatly reduced. After noting my position, I began to look for Sandy 07 on the ground. Joe was off to the east at this time and was preoccupied (obviously) with his engine problems. He later had to head home and I finished the mission alone.

All this time I was flying between tree top height and up to a maximum of 1000 feet above ground level (AGL). Since I still had most of my ordnance left, I was maybe flying at around 160-180 kias while maneuvering around looking for ground fire. When I hit the bomb crater with the gunner in it, I remember this as the one and only time that I actually saw the human form of a person shooting at me. I don't remember whether I saw him again as I poured about 600 rounds of 7.62 into the bomb crater. I don't think so.

I found it very difficult to tell Larry that we wouldn't be able to get him out that first afternoon. All I could do was tell him we'd be back to get him first thing the next morning. I headed back to Da Nang as I reached Bingo. I logged 4.5 hours and was being carried by adrenalin as I landed at Da Nang.

The planning session at Da Nang went until about midnight as I recall. It made the most sense that I lead the effort the next morning since I alone had seen Sandy 07's location. I don't remember how well I slept that night, but probably not well. But then again, probably better that Larry.

In 1992, I visited Maxwell AFB where Air Force archives are kept. Since 20 years had expired since this mission occurred, the mission reports we completed following the mission on 20 Jun 72 were now declassified. Read the mission report for Sandy 03 and 04 here. Read the mission report for Sandy 01 and 02 here.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 21 Jun 93 3.7

278.7 A-1H 139803

My journal entry for 21 June 1972

The lineup was Hukee Sandy 11, Brady Sandy 12, Clevenger Sandy 03, and Brown Sandy 04 . Prior to taxi out, we received word from King that we were to launch as two two ships [0725 VLT].. Rather than change our plan, we respectfully refused and proceeded with our plan to launch the four Sandys together and lifted off about an hour past sunrise [0857 VLT]. We flew [north] up the coast [from Da Nang] for about 15 minutes then turned inland. Four Jolly Greens [72/64/57/62] launched with us. We took the pickup Jolly to [hold at] Hue and left the others feet wet. I contacted Pete Brennan [Nail 43] right away and Tim [Brady] and I proceeded into the area [0951 VLT]. Pete had not talked to Sandy 07 much and was putting in fast mover strikes south and west of Larry [Highfill] down in the valley. I raised Larry on the radio right away and spent most of the early moments in the SAR area showing Tim [Sandy 12] where he was. We then put down some ordnance to see if we could draw some ground fire. Larry said he thought he heard some shooting down in the valley so I fired a pod of HE rockets from the LAU-3 in the general direction. Finally, we warned Sandy 03 and 04 that we would soon be ready. We had Nail 43 get a flight ready for a diversionary strike. We warned Sandy 07 to keep his head down and all was ready. Tim and I went back out to get the Jolly and the other Sandys. Sandy 12 brought Sandy 03 and 04 in to see the survivors location and we were then ready to go for the pickup [1015 VLT]. While Sandy 12 was out of the area, my centerline tank ran dry as I was in the middle of a low pass over Sandy 07. I looked ahead and saw a windscreen full of trees. I reached down to switch the fuel selector lever to main and waited for the engine to catch. As it did, the engine over sped, and the extra power got me over the ridge line. I was a little shook when that happened. The plan was for Tim to smoke the area to the southeast to isolate Larry [Sandy 07] from the nearby road. We executed and ran the chopper in on the trees. We made a 30 degree course correction about one half mile out, and Jolly 72 [Kip Korper] spotted Sandy 07's smoke immediately there after. Larry got tangled in his radio cord, but soon cut himself free and was on his way up the hoist. Jolly 72 with Sandy 07 on board egressed back to the north east on the deck [1025 VLT].

Red [Sandy 03] now took control of the flight in order to attempt the pickup of Nickel 102 while we regrouped before starting phase II of the SAR. Jolly 57 was the designated HH-53 for the pick up of Nickel 102. Red and Tex proceeded into the last known position for Nickel 102 [1116 VLT]. He was up on the radio almost immediately. Sandy 03 and 04 dropped ordnance around Nickel 102's location to assess the threat. Soon we were called to execute [1123 VLT] and I checked my remaining ordnance and hoped this would be a quick pick up. This part of the SAR went much faster as far as I was concerned. We soon were ready to attempt the pick up. I was out of all ordnance just as the Jolly entered the hover over the survivor's position. I kept making passes for lack of anything better to do. It wasn't long before the Jolly had Nickel 102 on board [1129 VLT]. The SAR force egressed to the east at low altitude, then climbed up over Hue. We were all happy that the SAR had gone so well and were feeling quite frisky when all of a sudden Sandy 12 reported that his flight controls were getting stiff. He had apparently had taken a hit that was not detected on the battle damage check, and as a result had lost hydraulic pressure. He jettisoned his remaining ordnance and his empty centerline tank and was chased by Sandy 03 to a successful approach end arrestment. All SAR forces landed at DaNang [1210 VLT]

NOTE: times in brackets are from the SAR command Post logs and refer to Vietnam Local Time.

Nickel 102/Sandy 07 Map

News clippings related to the Nickel 102 / Sandy 07 SAR.

The pickup plan we had briefed the night before was in jeopardy before we even launched. The King crew had not participated in the mission planning yet they wanted to mandate tactics just prior to launch...ridiculous. We stood fast and executed our plan and launched as a four-ship. We took off later than planned to allow Nail 43 to put in some Fast Mover strikes on the valley floor west of Sandy 07's position.

Fuel management in the A-1 was not a scientific endeavor. For takeoff the fuel selector was positioned to "Main" so as to feed fuel from the 378 gallon (2,000 lb.) internal fuel cell. Once at cruise altitude, the selector would be moved to feed out of the 150 gallon tank on the right stub. When it ran dry, the centerline (300 gallons) was selected. When conducting tactical operations, the selector was placed back to "Main" to feed out of the internal cell, or at least it was supposed to be!

You see, there was no reliable fuel gauge for the external tanks. You knew when it was time to switch when the engine began to sputter when it sucked air from the now empty tank. The procedure was to reduce the throttle, turn on the boost pump, switch to a full tank, and reapply power when the engine caught to maintain airspeed and altitude. What I had done, was forget to switch back to Main prior to the SAR pickup phase of the mission. The relatively short cruise from Da Nang to the SAR area had caused me to forget. The engine quit rather abruptly since I was at a high power setting. I knew I could not afford to pull back the power or I might not clear the ridge. By leaving the throttle forward, the engine caught after I selected Main, but the engine over sped the red line rpm. I checked it over quite well at the time and proceeded with the mission. It certainly got my heart pumping.

The pickup of Sandy 07 went off without a hitch. The smoke screens from the CBU-22 proved to be very effective. The Jolly Green sent down a PJ to assist Sandy 07. He got Larry on board and egressed the same way he came in, only a lot faster! The exchange of mission lead between Sandy 11 and Sandy 03 gave everyone a chance to regroup, inventory their remaining ordnance, and to get the second Jolly ready for a pickup of Nickel 102.

The pickup of Nickel 102 also proceeded smoothly and "the Redman" was soon ready to execute for the pickup. I remember being concerned about remaining ordnance, and this concern was warranted since 20mm cannons were all I had left for the pickup. When these ran out (or jammed) in the midst of the pickup, I realized the best thing to do was nothing. I kept making dry passes and soon the Jolly was on his way out with Nickel 102 on board.

Not until a few years ago when I saw the mission report (misrep) written by Sandy 01 and 02 from the first day's action did I remember the fact that a tremendous amount of large caliber AAA had come up against the rescue force after I had left the area. I'm sure I must have known about it at the time, but it wasn't something I remembered until I read it in 1992.

This double pickup was something we all were extremely proud of. So much had gone wrong the day prior, but today was nothing but bright sunshine all around. Read the mission report for Sandy 11 and 12 here. The mission was especially rewarding to me since I had played a significant role in the rescue of one of our own, Capt Larry Highfill.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 22 Jun 94 3.4

282.1 A-1J 142058

My journal entry for 22 June 1972

[Sandy 07 with Tim Brady as Sandy 08 on a] North [India} orbit (between Vinh and Dong Hoi), no strike.

As our reward for performing so well on the Nickel 102 / Sandy 07 SAR, Tim and I got to stay at DaNang to cover Sandy alert while the schedule got reshuffled back at NKP. Since Larry Highfill and Tim were in the midst of their DaNang deployment when Larry was shot down, they needed a replacement flight lead and I was it.

We cruised up the coast to the India orbit point with the Jolly Greens and waited for something to happen. It didn't, so we headed back to DaNang. No airstrike on the way home, which was fine by both of us.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 26 Jun 95 2.3

284.4 A-1J 142058

My journal entry for 26 June 1972

[Sandy 07 with Tim Brady as Sandy 08 ] RTB to NKP... Strike at 070/65/93... 13 probable KBA

After three days of bad weather and no flying, Tim and I headed back to Nahkon Phanom. Since I had left NKP on a SAR scramble back on the 21st of June, and not on a planned deployment to DaNang, I must have made a trip to the BX for necessities such as clothing items and toiletries. It was bad enough to go to DaNang prepared, but to go for a six day stay without preparation was above and beyond.

Tim and I struck northeast of Kong Sedone along the main road to Saravane. This area was now firmly under enemy control so we did not screw around, but put in the strike and got out of there. This was a bad place and I had seen enough of it.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 27 Jun 96 4.8

289.2 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 27 June 1972

Afternoon Sandy flight lead [Sandy 03] with [Captain Leslie "Lee"] Mazarella as Sandy 04. North [Linebacker] orbit out of NKP. Listened on strike freq as two F-4s went down. Got permission from King to proceed directly to the area. Survivors Valent 03A&B and 04A&B were located just inside North Vietnam east of Sam Neua. I talked with other flight members on the way in and coordinated with the Jollys. I started making radio contact with at least some of the survivors pretty quickly. I also spotted what looked like two separate crash sites. I believe that I talked to each of the [four] survivors at one time or another. Primarily I worked with Valent 03 A&B. Valent 04A came in weak most of the time although Maz told me right before we left that he heard 04A loudly. I visually located both 03A and 03B and was alarmed to find B sitting beneath a tree which had his parachute in it. I tried to divide my time too much between the four survivors and almost lost them because of it.

While making low passes I started to take fire from some huts to the west. I did not want to arbitrarily put ordnance on houses, but I should have. Valent 03A (Major Miller) was calm and quite helpful. I had him pinpointed from his mirror [flash]. He was 2/3 the way up a grassy hillside north of his back seater [B]. I would work 03A&B and then go back to search for 04A&B. This almost cost me the SAR. When I could only raise 03A after "returning" from a com search of 04A&B, I decided to pick up 03A ASAP. The Jollys had moved quite close to the area so they were soon ready. I decided to go.

On the run in, the Jolly overshot the survivor, so I had to talk him into the 03A's position. He finally saw the survivor and had him inside soon. He was on board and we started to leave when Maz said he talked to 04A. We messed around a while trying to get him up on the radio to no avail. I was now short on gas and got turned around coming out of the area. Maz took charge and got us all going in the right direction. Briefed Scotty [Randy Scott] who was Sandy 03 headed into the area. He located Valent 04A and set up his recovery. I was low on gas when I got home.

Valent SAR Map

The survivors in the Hobo Hooch Bar

Media mention of the Valent SAR

The Valent SAR from the perspective of one of the survivors


The 1st SOS had eight A-1s Skyraiders on SAR alert across SEA during this period. Sandy 01-04 were on alert at NKP, Sandy 05-06 were on alert at Bien Hoa, and Sandy 07-08 pulled alert at Da Nang. Sandy 01-04 all briefed together in the morning and 01-02 usually launched around 1000 to cover alert in the air. If all was quiet, Sandy 01 and 02 would be released to strike prior to RTB. If there were no SAR going, Sandy 03-04 would assume the alert once Sandy 01-02 had been released to strike. If a SAR occurred while Sandy 01-02 were airborne, Sandy 03-04 would scramble and two more A-1s would be readied for possible launch.

It was just such a scenario that occurred on this day. It was standard procedure for orbiting Sandys to monitor the Linebacker strike freqs to get an idea of what was happening. When I heard the mass commotion surrounding the simultaneous downing of two F-4s, I turned my flight north and immediately headed toward the action as we sought "permission" to do so from the King mission controller. Since our orbit was over the Fish's Mouth, it was but a short distance to the crash sites. I didn't know at the time however, whether MiGs had downed the Phantoms or if perhaps they had run together. If it was MiGs, we were heading into the harm's way since we were in the survivor's area in less than 15 minutes. There was no MiG cap that we knew of, but you've got to do what seems right at the time.

The signal mirror was, in my estimation, the most important piece of survival equipment just below the radio. But if you were to ask Blue Ghost 10, who was rescued earlier in the month of June he might rank it above the radio. The mirror flash leaves no doubt as to the survivor's location and it does not give away his position like smoke would.

Since we were in the area so quickly, I believe I got greedy and actually thought we could get all four downed Phantom crew members out. This became a non starter as we continually had difficulty raising Valent 04A&B. As soon as Valent 03B dropped off the radio, I knew it was imperative that we act quickly so as to not come away empty handed. I immediately sensed that time was running out and ordered the pick up of 03A.

The decision of whether or not to strike huts (houses) was one which had to be evaluated in each specific instance. As soon as we received fire, the houses became fighting positions and all bets were off. In order not to jeopardize the safety of the survivor, they had to be neutralized.

Maz was a big help on the way out. My focus for the last 45 minutes had been within perhaps a three kilometer radius of 03A's position. My transition to big picture was shaky at best and I started heading southeast further into North Vietnam. For once the slow speed of the Skyraider was in my favor and after less than a minute, Maz got us herded in the right direction.

As we were departing the area, the replacement Sandys and Jolly Greens were just coming into the area so I was able to brief them on the situation while we headed south. After suppressing a large amount of enemy ground fire, they were able to rescue one additional crew member from the flight.

Recently I have had the opportunity to communicate with one of the crewmembers who was taken prisoner from this set of survivors. Then Captain Tom Hanton was Valent 04B and was taken captive and served the remainder of the war as a POW while his front seater, Major Lynn Aikman was rescued. The same fate befell the "Bravo" man of Valent 03. Capt Rick McDow was released from captivity along with the rest of the American Vietnam POWs during Operation Homecoming in 1974.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 1 Jul 97 1.0

290.2 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 1 July 1972

[Sandy 05 with Captain Buck Buchanan as Sandy 06] Supposed to be [a deployment flight] to Bien Hoa, but turned around enroute due to weather... With Buck... No strike.

After a few days off, Buck and I were "on the road" again for a six day tour of Sandy alert at Bien Hoa. The deployment didn't get off to such a smooth start as we turned around about 50 miles south of NKP due to weather conditions enroute. Although Southeast Asia thunderstorms were relatively mild compared to those found in the midwest part of the US, in a loaded A-1, you either went around them or beneath them. In a combat zone, both alternatives in this case were unacceptable due to the threat situation. We selected a third alternative, that of returning to Nahkon Phanom to try again the next day.

During this part of my tour, Buck and I were roommates in the Hobo Hooch. During the first two months of my tour, I was rooming with another lieutenant that made it known in no uncertain terms that he was sharing his room only because I was I was assigned the same room as he. In other words, I was not made to feel welcome. This individual spent the rest of his tour alone in a two-man room, which was fine, since no one else got along with him either.

Buck and I had developed a bond that lasts to this day. We had been together now since the beginning of pilot training in December of 1969 at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. Buck was on his second SEA tour. He was been a nav in both the KC-135 and C-130 and had plenty of experience in theater. Buck was a natural born leader and as the student commander of his pilot training class, he earned the respect of others through his hard work and dedication. We both also flew the F-100 at Luke AFB in the Phoenix area before being in the same A-1 class at Hurlburt Field, Florida.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 2 Jul 98 2.6

292.8 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 2 July 1972

[Sandy 05 with Captain Buck Buchanan as Sandy 06] To Bien Hoa with Buck, no strike.

This time we made it to Bien Hoa and settled in for a six day tour pulling Sandy alert. We got the Skyraiders on the ground quickly so we could turn them over to the maintenance crews. Since we expended no ordnance,they were quickly refueled and "re-oiled." We went back out to the aircraft and "hot cocked" them and then went back into operations to get current operations and intelligence briefings before getting set up in our accommodations.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 4 Jul 99 2.3

295.1 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 4 July 1972

[Sandy 05 with Captain Buck Buchanan as Sandy 06] Bien Hoa local [sortie], no strike.

No Fourth of July fireworks for us, at least none that we created. We launched in the mid-afternoon, after pulling ground alert since daybreak. No strike so we brought them back at sundown, parked them, and went off duty at sunset.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 5 Jul 100 3.0

298.1 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 5 July 1972

[Sandy 05 with Captain Buck Buchanan as Sandy 06] Bien Hoa local [sortie]. Scrambled for VNAF A-1 driver. No survivor {therefore, no SAR]. Carried 4 x CBU-25, 2 x CBU-22, 2 x LAU-10 Zuni, 2 x LAU-68 w/ 17lb. HE Rx, 2 x LAU-68 w/ WP. Got the ordnance from the USMC A-4 drivers from Iwakuni (Hellborn) and the Army chopper pilots from across the base. Struck SW of Saigon near a river and canal. The ZUNI rockets were super!

It is with no small amount of trepidation that I write about this mission here on the internet. Buck and I were feeling "frisky" the night before, and had arranged some weapons swaps with the Marines and Army. The Marine Skyhawk pilots and Army Cobra drivers were both interested in our M-47 100 lb White Phosphorus bombs. Let's just say that these transfers were coordinated and consummated at the operator level and leave it at that.

To say that this mission was normal would be a gross understatement! We were flying ordnance unique to Air Force Skyraiders, the Zuni rocket and the 2.75" FFAR with 17 lb. high explosive warheads. Each of these munitions was compatible with the A-1 but not used by Air Force Skyraiders prior to this mission to the best of my knowledge. An older version of 5" rockets that were single mounted on the wing pylons had been used as far back as the Korean war, but the 5" Zuni rocket in the LAU-10 pod was used exclusively by only Navy and Marine Corps attack and fighter aircraft in Vietnam up to this time.

The logistics of getting the ordnance loaded is a story in and of itself. The 2.75" FFARs with 17 lb. warheads were loaded into the official Air Force rocket transport vehicle and stored prior to loading in the official Air Force rocket storage facility.

Both A-1s were loaded and ready to go the next morning and were cocked for alert. This photo gives a good close view of the loaded rockets. Note the metal band across the opening of one of the tubes on the LAU-68 dispenser. Occasionally the firing mechanism in a pod would go bad, and the metal tube prevented its use until it could be repaired. A-J 142028 and A-1H 139803 thus became the only Air Force Skyraiders to carry and employ both these unique ordnance types on the same mission. To commemorate this mission, a special Zuni patch was commissioned and produced by Charming Tailors at NKP. It was authorized for wear by the two of us who flew the mission.

The mission began with a scramble launch for a possible SAR. Apparently a VNAF A-1 was downed near An Loc. Once we arrived on scene, we were told to assume an orbit since there was no SAR. We later found out that the pilot did not leave the aircraft before it crashed.

During the orbit, I pulled out the camera and snapped this picture of Captain Buck Buchanan in A-1H 139803 with the Zuni rocket load. We orbited until approximately one hour before sunset and then were released to strike. We struck an area near Saigon with enemy troops near a canal. We were unsure of the mil setting to use for the Zunis but correctly assumed that they would fly a "flatter" trajectory to the target. They came out like freight trains and impacted with one hell of an explosion. We started with about 15 mils in the sight and reduced this to about 8 mils. The impact explosion was slightly minimized due to the fact that the warheads were fused with "VT" fuses which functioned milliseconds prior to impact to enhance dispersion of fragmentation.

The 17 lb. 2.75" FFARs were similarly spectacular. In this case, the increased explosive effect was clearly visible over the standard 7 lb. warhead used by the Air Force. The heavier warhead required approximately double the sight depression (mil setting) that for normal rockets. Once the strike was over, we joined on up and headed back to Bien Hoa. The mission was one of the more interesting that I flew during my entire tour.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 6 Jul 101 3.8

301.9 A-1J 142028

My journal entry for 6 July 1972

[Sandy 06 with Captain Buck Buchanan as Sandy 05] Return flight to NKP from Bien Hoa. Troops in contact at 245/50/102 (50 nm sw of Bien Hoa). Struck on a target near a river. A-37s showed up so we held while they worked the target. One of the A-37 pilots dudded several bombs. Carried unfinned napalm and broke the TIC. Climbed to 22,000 ft on way home in high blower.

Back to a normal "Air Force" ordnance load and time to depart Bien Hoa for NKP. We each had two BLU-32 (unfinned napalm) on board, as opposed to a more normal Sandy load.

Buck led this mission and we launched for a short period of Sandy alert orbit in mid-afternoon. Prior to takeoff, we coordinated with a flight of 8th SOS A-37 pilots, call sign 'Rap', that if the situation allowed, we would rejoin for some photos. As we were leaving the Rap alert facility, the Rap flight got scrambled for a close air support mission. Buck and I were entering the arming area as the Rap flight was breaking ground. About 10 minutes later, we were airborne and headed west toward Cambodia.

After about 20 minutes we got a call on our Fox Mike from the Rap flight that we had coordinated with prior to takeoff. They had struck and were already on their way back to Bien Hoa barely 30 minutes after they took off! No wonder they could fly four or five times a day off the alert pad. We gave them our position and they rejoined on our right wing as we were headed west. Buck had previously given me the lead of our flight since I was the one wit the camera.

The A-37s looked even smaller that they actually were next to the A-1. The Rap flight lead was Capt Nick Nicolai and his wingman was Capt Jules Shockley. I snapped several pictures, some of which appear in the center photo layout of this book.

The A-37s soon departed for Bien Hoa as Buck reassumed the lead of our flight. We found a FAC that needed help and we were more than willing to help out. During the strike, a flight of A-37s showed up and as usual we were willing to move away from the area so fighters with less "play time" could work first.

Buck and I recognized the voice of the A-37 flight lead as Lt Anderson "Greg" Hunter. He had been a classmate of ours in F-100 training. Just as Buck and I got different assignments after F-100 training, so too did Greg. He had been in the A-37 since the previous fall, and was a flight lead. I recall watching the strike and not seeing any explosions when Greg pulled off target. Whether it was due to malfunction, I never heard, but the wingman's bombs functioned normally.

Another interesting part of this mission was the cruise climb I did during the long trip back to Nahkon Phanom. I decided to see how high I could get in a fairly light (not clean since I still had empty fuel tanks and rocket pods on board) Skyraider.

The R-3350WD engine had a two speed supercharger designated 'Low Blower' and 'High Blower'. About the only time that High Blower was used was on functional check flights (FCFs) by pilots specifically checked out on test profiles. Although we were not prohibited from using High Blower, it was seldom if ever needed due to the fact that we rarely got much above 10,000 feet altitude on most missions.

But if my quest for high altitudes was to be successful, I would need to use High Blower. That was due to the fact that above a certain altitude, you could no longer get sufficient power in Low Blower. On this occasion, this occurred at about 16,000 feet. I got out the check list to confirm the procedure, and shifted into High Blower to continue the climb. I topped out at about 22,500 feet!

Just as I was pushing over to begin the descent back down to a more comfortable altitude, I felt a strange burning sensation in my upper chest. It felt as though I suddenly had a bad sunburn there. I had already been on oxygen so I assumed it wasn't hypoxia as I had never encountered that symptom before. I continued down and told Buck about what was happening. He had climbed up a ways also and I found him at about 16,000 feet as I rejoined with him and got back into Low Blower.

The burning sensation on my chest had not abated. I unzipped my flight suit to investigate and detected some fluid had soaked through my flight suit pocket and into my tee shirt. I unzipped the left breast pocket on my flight suit and discovered my lighter that I had completely forgotten about. I had never been a cigarette smoker, but carried the lighter to light the occasional post-mission cigar. The fluid in the lighter had expanded in the reduced pressure above 20,000 feet and leaked into my clothing. It took about a week for the skin burn to disappear from my chest.

The remainder of the mission back to NKP was without incident. It had been an educational week.