The Stupidest Things I Ever Did As A FAC (Forward Air Controller)
By Dave Pinsky, Cobra 04, 1966-1967
It was early 1966 and I was Cobra 4, flying an O-1 Bird Dog, based at a tiny dirt strip called Duc Hoa, west of Saigon and not too far south of the Cambodian "Parrot's Beak." I was part of MACV Advisory Team 99 assigned to support the ARVN 25th Division. Another of my jobs was to support the Special Forces A Teams, and Delta Force units that sometimes inserted and operated in the nearby Cambodian border area and in the Plain of Reeds.
One bright day we got an HF call that a Special Forces A Team I was supporting on a short insertion needed me to fly over and do a Visual Reconnaissance (VR). So off I went. I soon found them in a bombed out pagoda, near a road to a small village, next to an open field. They wanted to know if I would land in the nearby field, which they assured me was level and has very short grass, and talk to them, as they suspected the Viet Cong were listening on their frequency.
Stupid thing #1 - - I said yes, I would land.
Stupid thing #2 - - I actually put my O-1 down in the grassy field next to the bombed out pagoda. What I didn't know till I touched down and came to an almost screeching stop, is the grass that looked short, and they told me was short, was actually weeds about 2-3 feet high. "Oh shit," was all I could think to say as I settled down in the weeds.
The A Team guys came out to get me and take me back to their pagoda. They told me that the bad guys had broken into the pagoda and had stolen some of their uniforms. They also said that, that they suspected they were in the village down the road, and that they were expecting an attack that night. They asked if I could fly low over the village and try to determine if indeed the bad guys were there.
Stupid thing #3 - - I said yes - again.
Back out to the tall weeds I went. The SF guys actually made an effort to stomp down the weeds for a way in front of me, and off I went. I swear I thought the weeds were holding on to me on purpose, as the acceleration and take-off roll were undoubtedly the slowest and longest in the history of the O-1.
Stupid thing #4 - - I decided to fly up the road and down the main street of the village. Thinking my safest route was to be as low and fast as I could possibly fly, I was right on the deck, balls out. Of course it was so flat that the bad guys saw me coming up the road and the main street into their little village for a good mile. As I reached the village the world exploded in gunfire, all directed right at me. I could see them, level with me, shooting at me from the roofs and windows of buildings. I saw their faces, and more muzzle-flashes than I'd ever seen in my life.
My poor O-1 was riddled with bullets from tip to tail. The only thing that wasn't hit was my body, and that was a miracle I still don't understand. If I’d had someone in the back seat, he would have been Swiss Cheese.
The engine started sputtering and losing power immediately.
Stupid thing #5 - - With all the speed I had built up and the engine failing, I thought the best course of action would be to trade airspeed for altitude. More shooting at me, more holes in my poor little airplane.
By now the Special Forces guys had heard and seen what was happening, and were lobbing mortars into the village.
As I got to about 200 feet, the engine sputtered and died. "Oh shit," again, and this time it was for real.
Smart thing #1 - - and only smart thing of this entire episode! - - I decided to try to crank the airplane around and put it back down in the, you guessed it, tall weeds from which I'd taken off about three minutes earlier.
It worked, thank God, or you wouldn't be reading this comedy of errors.
The Special Forces guys saw me coming and raced from the pagoda to the field. As I rolled to a stop, they pulled the left side-door open and asked if I was OK. They were amazed to see me in one piece and pulled me out of the airplane as incoming rounds started falling near us. I was even more amazed as one of the Special Forces guys reached into his backpack and puled out a red & white can of Bud, and said, "Here, you need this!" It was warm, but he was right - - I needed it!
We beat feet back to the pagoda, and I called in airstrikes in the only ground-based FAC mission I controlled out of 614 combat missions in my entire tour. I had the unique experience of watching a flight of F-100s level the nearby village with napalm and 20mm while we all had another beer.
A Huey came in and extracted all of us. A Flying Crane came in, plucked my O-1 out of the field, and took it to Bien Hoa. I still have the magneto and oil line; both with bullet holes clean through them.
The author in 1966. Courtesy of Dave Pinsky.