Chapter 9

'Dog Days' of Summer

The months of July and August were not exactly filled with exciting missions as were May and June. The summer monsoons continued in the northern part of Laos and missions to the Barrel Roll were mostly a waste of gas. There was no shortage of enemy activity, it was just that we could do little to help out. Occasionally we went in under the weather if we could find a hole, but of course there was no guarantee that the "sucker hole" would be there when we needed to get back out. And if we were to take battle damage in that kind of situation, well forget it. It was just not a sane thing to do.

History does not record a great deal about the air war over North Vietnam nor the air effort over the rest of the theater during this time frame. Many of the gains won by the North Vietnamese during the Easter Invasion were either reversed or severely blunted by the ARVN and allied air power. But make no mistake, the communists were simply consolidating their positions and were continuing to make their presence felt throughout the theater.

While at NKP, I remember being briefed by intelligence that interrogations of enemy prisoners several times had revealed that there were plans to take NKP. "When the rice is tall, NKP will fall," was the popular saying relating to this. Whether this was true or not, is anybody's guess, but it did tend to keep us on our toes. Since the rice harvest was within a few weeks, you can believe that we took these threats seriously.

At this point in my tour, I had flown 112 combat missions and 330 hours of combat. My 400 hours in the A-1 made me feel as if it was the only aircraft I had ever flown. I was completely comfortable in the cockpit. This was very dangerous.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 15 Aug 113 2.0

332.8 A-1H 139791

My journal entry for 15 August 1972

[Sandy 02] with Maj Jim Harding as Sandy 01]... Fish's Mouth orbit, no strike.

Operation Linebacker was still being scheduled, but as was the case today, many times the missions were aborted when the target area weather proved unworkable. In fact, the strike aircraft probably did not even launch.

Normally a weather recce sortie was flown by an RF-4 who would relay the target area weather information back to the strike force waiting on the ground. If the mission was a no go, the fighter guys would simply shutdown and head back to ops to try again later.

This procedure did not work for the A-1s. It took us so long to get on station, that we had to launch before we knew what the weather was like over the target. Often times (like this sortie) this meant that we would find out that the strike was canceled as we were enroute to our orbit point. This made for some short missions... and lots of frustration!

Maj Jim Harding was one of the few fighter squadron commanders of with the rank of major. He was later to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, but had been selected as commander prior to his promotion. Maj Harding had previous combat experience as an O-1 FAC.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 17 Aug 114 3.6

336.4 A-1H 135257

My journal entry for 17 August 1972

Hobo 24 ... led T.Q. and Buck [as Hobo 25] north to [the Barrel Roll] an area where we normally didn't strike... Worked with a Nail OV-10 FAC... Had problems getting released.

My mission log tells me that this was a MedEvac escort to the PDJ. These missions were somewhat unpredictable in that you never really knew what to expect. We were normally given the call sign and a contact frequency for the folks we were to support at a specific place and time. Their mission was normally the resupply of forward sites (Lima Sites) and/or evacuation of wounded personnel. The A-1s were to provide air cover in case all hell broke loose.

Normally, after the MedEvac portion of the mission was completed, we would lobby for a release to go and find a strike prior to RTB. Apparently, this release was not as prompt as we would have liked on this mission. People got used to the A-1's "long legs" (long endurance) and they knew that a half hour here or there wouldn't matter one way or the other.

The Nail FACs were some of our best friends back at NKP. They usually knew where the action was, and it paid to stay on their best side. If this was a Pave Nail, he was probably up plinking trucks or field artillery pieces up on the PDJ. During the long periods of bad weather, the guns could be moved with impunity to within range of the the friendly outposts in northern Laos. If the weather suddenly opened up, they could be caught in the open with no place to hide. The Pave Nails highlighted targets for fast movers carrying LGBs (laser guided bombs).

T.Q. was Terry McCammon, and he had Buck Buchanan in his right seat. I was fortunate to be flying an A-1H on a Hobo mission, another sign that there was a lull in SAR activity during this period. During May and June, all the A-1H/Js were on the Sandy schedule, and occasionally an E (Fat Face) had to be plugged in when we ran low on single seaters. Although similar in performance, the Fat Faces had more drag due to the wider canopy and fuselage, and visibility out the right side was difficult from across the cockpit. This tended to force the E into a left hand pattern, which reduced their unpredictability and increased their vulnerability. For these reasons, we did not like the E as well as the H/J.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 19 Aug 115 2.1

338.5 A-1J 142021

My journal entry for 19 August 1972

Sandy 01 with Lance [Sandy 02]. Struck a rice storage area at 070/40/99.

A target is a target, and puffed rice isn't nearly as versatile as regular rice, so we gave it a shot (literally). Actually, a rice storage area was not what I'd have called a high value target, but if you begged long enough, there usually were targets to hit. Another good one was suspected truck park, or possible ammo storage area. We called the suspected truck park a suspected tree park since all we ever saw from above was trees, trees, and more trees. And you guessed it, the best possible BDA you could hope for from a target like this was RNO (results not observed) for smoke and foliage.

The target area was on the 070 degree radial for 40 nautical miles from TACAN channel 99 which was at Mukdahan, Thailand just across the Mekong River from Savannakhet, Laos. This put us just north of Dong Hene on Route 9 between Savannakhet and Tchepone. Route 9 was the main infiltration route from the Ho Chi Minh trail into this part of Laos.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 20 Aug 116 3.8

342.3 A-1H 139608

My journal entry for 20 August 1972

[Sandy 04 with Tex Brown as Sandy 03]. SAR on Tex's wing. Nokaten 402 , a Lao FAC [flying a T-28] down on the Bolovens Plateau... Weather was 2500 feet overcast... Finally went under and started to work the survivor... Ran the Jollys in and just when they reached the survivor, their tail rotor struck a tree and they came out screaming, "Mayday"...We escorted them to the edge of the Bolovens and then Tex got an Air America chopper to pick up the survivor, Chappakao Shit Hot.

This SAR was interesting because it was one on which everything fell into place. Even though the Jollys had to leave early, the Air America chopper materialized at just the right time. The Jolly Green HH-53 made it back to PakSe, Laos safely.

The Lao T-28 had been marking targets for a strike flight on the Bolovens Plateau. The pilot was known to us Americans as Chappakao Shit Hot. He had a reputation for being, well shit hot. Apparently, he made one too many low passes on this sortie and was bagged by AAA.

There was not a lot to do for me on this SAR. Normally, the high Sandy coordinates with outside agencies for whatever support is needed. In addition, he was responsible for monitoring the radios while the low Sandy worked the survivor. On this SAR, everything fell into place and we did not get any significant enemy reaction to our low passes. Consequently, we brought the Jolly Green in for what we thought would be an easy pickup. I have to say that we were all concerned when the pick-up Jolly came out screaming that he had an emergency. I guess I'm surprised this didn't happen more often. The tail rotor is not exactly shielded so I guess the crew misjudged the amount of clearance they had.

The Air America guys seemed to always know where the action was. I'm sure they were hanging back watching the proceedings from afar and were more than willing to help out their fellow aviator, regardless of nationality, when things turned sour.


 Lt Tex Brown and Chappakao Shit Hot
discuss the Nokaten 402 SAR in the Hobo Hooch







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 22 Aug 117 2.0

344.3 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 22 August 1972

[Sandy 01 with Lance Smith as Sandy 02]. "J" orbit, no strike with Lance [Smith].

More than likely bad weather was the reason for no strike. This was up around the Fish's Mouth again. As was normally the case, the morning Sandys were not released to strike so as to get the assets back on ground for the afternoon go.








 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 28 Aug 118 4.7

349.0 A-1H 134472

My journal entry for 28 August 1972

Sandy 01 with Buck [Buchanan] as Sandy 02..."M" orbit, Fish's Mouth... Conducted a 'com' search for a possible survivor... Got lost and ended up over Luang Prabang... Then flew down to LS20A, then north past the Jungle's Mouth, then back east onto the PDJ. Struck a truck parked in the trees. Got one truck damaged. Felt stupid afterwards for risking our necks. The next day, someone got hosed on the PDJ.

This sounds like it was quite a joy ride! Covered lots of ground and had a longer than average mission. And all to show for it was one truck damaged. Two A-1s with full Sandy loads should have made this truck toast after two passes. Interesting to see that my thoughts about "hanging it out" for inconsequential targets were expressed in my journal writeup.

During the first part of this mission, we were tasked to conduct a communications search for a possible survivor that had gone down west of the Fish's Mouth several days earlier. Apparently some strike flights had reported hearing a 'beeper' and possible voice transmissions from the area. We conducted the search with no success. Suddenly we came upon a large airfield that neither Buck nor I had seen before. We both agreed that it would make a great staging base for our long missions to the northern Barrel Roll and North Vietnam. We circled the airfield once, then moved off to the west. It turned out we were over Luang Prabang and flew right through the no fly zone that surrounded it. I thought we might be in hot water when we returned to base, but nothing really came of it. I suspect we were not the first Skyraiders to overfly the city.

I can't remember exactly where the Jungle's Mouth was but am guessing somewhere west of Long Tien (LS20A). Nearly every prominent landmark visible from the air was given a name by the pilots who flew the area. Now there's a project for some enterprising soul with time on his/her hands. How about coming up with a consolidated list of such place names in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia? Volunteers, anyone?

CTO to Hong Kong

This mission followed a six day break with no flying, but not without adventure! Following flying on the 22nd of August, Tim Brady and I got the bright idea to go to Hong Kong for a little R&R. We packed our bags and grabbed a flight to DaNang having been told there was a flight that would take us the rest of the way to Hong Kong. Well.... they lied. Whether the flight was canceled, or never WAS, I don't recall, but what I do recall was we were stuck at DaNang. No flights going no where on that day. So we tried to make the best of a bad situation and headed to the beach off DaNang on the South China Sea, China Beach. Pete Brennan, Nail 43 from the Sandy 07/Nickel 102 SAR, was our guide. Pete and I had been in the same F-100 RTU class at Luke AFB about a year earlier. He had gone on to OV-10s at NKP and I to the A-1. Every time I watched the TV show China Beach, I thought of Pete, Tim, and me on the beach body surfing watching the fighters and choppers flying overhead into DaNang AB.

The scenery on that beach was magnificent. White sand, towering cliffs along the beach to the north, and all manner of vessels (junks) on the water off shore. I remember Pete, Tim and I wondering whether every one had VC on board, or perhaps just a few.

That night at DaNang, the rockets came, but I think we were immunized from fear by the booze we had consumed. When morning broke however, Tim and I both knew we were not where we wanted to be. We headed straight for the aerial port, bags in hand, and checked on our chances to get out of Dodge (DaNang). As I recall, there was a VC-140 flight check bird that was headed to Thailand that seemed like a possibility for a while. But we ended up on a C-130 headed across to Ubon. Now that was more like it. Not Hong Kong, but definitely better than DaNang.

At Ubon, Tim and I both had a common acquaintance, BV Johnson. BV was the Ops Officer of the 497 TFS Night Owl F-4 squadron. BV was my IP at Luke in the F-100. To this day, I have nothing but respect for BV. He taught me what it meant to be a fighter pilot, and more importantly, what it did not mean. BV told us he held the record as having the most F-100 time without having jumped out of one. Tim took care of that. On one of his first rides in the Hun with BV in the pit, Tim had an engine come apart on Gila Bend range and they had to eject.

Tim and I relaxed at Ubon for a couple days, thankful we had escaped DaNang. We hit the pool where Tim showed off his butterfly form which had earned him a berth on Ohio State's varsity swim team while I dog paddled obediantly along side (in trail). You see, Augsburg didn't have a swim team, or pool for that matter.

We went for pizza at Tippi's and sipped Sing Ha and Amarit far into the night. We returned to NKP confident in the knowledge that we had cheated death once again on our Hong Kong CTO. The guys at NKP never let us live that one down.





 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 31 Aug 119 .6

349.6 A-1E(-5) 135206

My journal entry for 31 August 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck in the right seat] To Bien Hoa. Took an E and the guys we replace at Bien Hoa will fly it back to NKP. Got over the fence and when I turned on the minigun to charge the battery, a flare kicked out of the SUU-25. RTB to NKP after emptying the dispenser.

A false start to be sure. These deployment flights in a "Fat Face" were no fun, especially when they were in a "no-sticker." The dash 5 E models has no flight controls in the right seat; no stick, no throttle, no rudders. For a pilot this was unnerving because there was no place to put your hands or rest your feet comfortably. There was a steel footrest on the floor that had a button on it which you could push to talk on the intercom, or make radio calls if the switches were set up in a certain way. Kind of like the head light dimmer switch on cars before they put the dimmer on the steering column.

It was bad enough to be in a two seater in the first place, but this was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty. The good news... Buck was in the right seat!

Crossing the "fence" was the term used to denote crossing into bad guy country. When flying out of NKP this meant the Mekong River, the border between Thailand and Laos. Once across, we typically got our Skyraider set up to deliver ordnance. That included setting up armament switches. The 20mm guns were charged by moving the GUNS switch to the SAFE position. The SUU-11 mini-gun was charged by placing the GUN PODS CHARGE switch momentarily in the CHARGE position. Since the flare pod was loaded on the opposite inboard station, there must have been stray voltage in the system somewhere.

We got rid of the rest of the flares and brought it back to NKP where they could look at the problem and maybe even fix it. Of course if they couldn't fix it, we would probably have to take another A-1.


 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 31 Aug 120 .9

350.5 A-1E(-5) 135206

My second journal entry for 31 August 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck in the right seat, again.] To Bien Hoa. Again no luck. Had to RTB [to NKP] with Buck.

I do not recall the reason for the second air abort, but this was not 206's day. But hey, that's ok, we switched to two A-1Hs and tried again later in the day.


 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 31 Aug 121 2.8

353.3 A-1H 137597

My third journal entry for 31 August 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck in another H as Sandy 05] To Bien Hoa. This time in an H. No strike.

After two false starts, we made it to Bien Hoa. No strike on the way to Bien Hoa since we were late in arriving. The other Sandys were undoubtedly ready to get back home after their tour at Bien Hoa.

Ended up with 15 sorties and 39.2 hours of flying time for the month of August as compared to 12/40.8 for June and 14/27.9 for July. I flew lots of short missions with no strikes during bad July and August weather.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 2 Sep 122 3.7

357.0 A-1H 137597

My journal entry for 2 September 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck leading as Sandy 05.] At Bien Hoa... SAR for Volunteer 538, [a Pilatus] Porter... Got to the area [near Dalat and Ban Me Thout] but [the Jolly Green] could not pick them up...Talked to them but could not get beneath the weather... Location 300/43/95 (Phan Rang TACAN... Had to RTB due to darkness... RTB in the weather... Glad to be back.

Volunteer 538 was down in the highlands near Dalat in South Vietnam. Was somewhat familiar with the area since Buck in his former life as a tanker nav had visited the area on his first tour to SEA. He had included the Dalat/ Ban Me Thout area on an airborne tour of the area we took on a prior deployment to Bien Hoa. Buck said this was a produce growing area.

The weather was down on the ridge tops so there was no hope of us getting beneath the weather in to the survivors' area. There were several survivors, seven as I recall, but no enemy opposition as I recall. We were an administrative SAR force on this one. I suspect the pilot of the Porter had gotten in over his head regarding the weather and gone down.

We orbited for a couple of hours and then headed home as it grew dark. The return to Bien Hoa was in the dark and in the weather and we both were no doubt happy to get it back on the ground.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 3 Sep 123 2.4

359.4 A-1H 137597

My journal entry for 3 September 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck leading as Sandy 05.] Buck leads out the next morning for a "first light" attempt The weather is still down on the ridge line so we can't see them from above. We fly toward the coast and can get beneath the undercast, but I advise Buck that we shouldn't go under it because the terrain rises as you go inland. We saw the King bird [HC-130], Rescue 01 down low on the undercast so we moved him up. Our Jollys were also trying to get beneath the undercast, but couldn't, so they went off to refuel from King. Buck and I decide to RTB to Phan Rang, refuel and return when the choppers got back. We landed, gassed our own aircraft, and took off again.

The situation was largely unchanged from the previous day. There was no way the survivors could be picked up with the weather that currently existed. The sense of urgency was not there, since the survivors had reported little to no enemy activity in their area.

The stop into Phan Rang was a real experience. The former US F-100 base had been turned over to the VNAF. We were greeted on the ramp by some ragtag looking ground crew who spoke little to no English. Using hand signs and pointing to the fuel receptacle on the A-1 communicated the fact that we needed fuel. Soon a fuel truck arrived with the proper aviation fuel, or at least had a label that said 115/145. Buck and I supervised the refueling and the crew demonstrated their familiarity with the A-1 by conducting the refueling.


 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 3 Sep 124 2.8

362.2 A-1H 137597

My second journal entry for 3 September 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck leading as Sandy 05.] We launch out again only to find the situation unchanged. We recompute a coordination time and hope it will work later.

So it was back to Phan Rang for more servicing. This time the ground crew efficiently serviced us with no false steps.

Since it was mid-day and we were getting hungry, one of the ground troops offered us a ride to the officers club where we got a bite to eat. We finished up and headed back out to the aircraft for our third sortie of the day.


 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 3 Sep 125 3.8

366.0 A-1H 137597

My third journal entry for 3 September 1972

[Sandy 06 with Buck leading as Sandy 05.] While waiting to start up, we hear the Sandys from DaNang who are enroute to the scene... We decide to have them proceed to Bien Hoa... This time when we launch, we hear the Jolly near the scene... By orbiting above the survivors, we can hear all their radio calls, but the Jolly cannot... I act as a radio relay between Volunteer 538 and the Jolly Green... I asked the survivor if he can hear the HH-53 and he gave me vectors for him which I passed on... Finally the Jolly Green locates the survivors and picks them up... I felt good... During the SAR I would gun my engine when I was over them so they could distinguish between Buck and me.

Once again, a night RTB with all ordnance on board, but this time a happy one... Also for the 11 survivors.

This SAR was kind of like kissing your sister, you really wanted to feel good about it, but it was so different from our normal SAR. But I'm sure the survivors were thankful we assisted, just the same. Nine hours of flying on this day. We are tired but happy campers as we arrive back at Bien Hoa.

This completed a string of seven missions in a row with no air strike. But wait, it gets worse.







 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 6 Sep 126 2.5

368.5 A-1H 137597

My journal entry for 6 September 1972

[Sandy 05 with Buck as Sandy 06.] RTB to NKP... Delayed our takeoff until late afternoon due to thunderstorms, so got no strike on the way home.

Thus ended my last deployment to Bien Hoa. There was still bad weather in the area. It was unusual not to fly while deployed, so the weather on the fourth and fifth of September must also have been bad in the southern part of Vietnam around Saigon.






 Date  Mission # Sortie Length  Total A-1 Time  Total Combat Time  Aircraft
 11 Sep 127 .5

369.0 A-1H 139665

My journal entry for 11 September 1972

[Sandy 05 with Gary Koldyke as Sandy 06.] Air abort with Captain Gary Koldyke... Gary could not raise the gear after takeoff in A-1H 139738... Heavyweight landing.

Well, can't blame the weather this time, but the result was the same, no air strike for the ninth mission in a row. Last dropped ordnance (intentionally) on 28 Aug.

The Spad was relatively easy to land heavy. All you had to do was keep the power on until the mains touched and smoothly fly the tail down as the airspeed bled off. Even at normal landing weights, the A-1 was landed mains first followed by the tail. Every once in a while, we would try for a three point landing, but more often than not, it was mains first, or what we called a "wheels" landing. Normal landing procedures are listed in TO Tidbits.