Iím putting the final touches on my story on Sept 12th Ė the day after the terrorist attack on the twin towers and the pentagon. Itís hard to imagine why such an unimaginable act could happen, and why, in the devastation and destruction that happened, how some survived and why others perished. My prayers are with them all and their families.
I arrived in Pleiku sometime in Mar 1970 with a DEROS of 18 Feb, and almost a 1st Lt. I was Covey 587.
A lot of those days are fuzzy, but I do recall a couple of stories worth telling.
As an O-2A Covey pilot at Pleiku, I, like almost all new guys and especially the Lt’s, was slated to fly the night mission over the Trail. I don’t recall how many missions it took to complete my night trail checkout, but what I do remember is the last flight with an IP before “qualifying.” We were flying at night around the Dog’s Head with close to bingo fuel, when out of the dark there came flashes of light everywhere. WE WERE BEING SHOT AT! For every flash we saw, there were 4 rounds we didn’t see. We got out of there pronto, and I thanked God we made it. We debriefed the mission, but as I remember, this was right before the highland’s rainy season. The speculation was that they were probably shooting off ordnance they didn’t want to take into the rainy season. I also recall that during my early days in Vietnam, almost all ordnance we were told to deliver was already fragged, and it was almost impossible to redirect that ordnance to where we thought it would do some good. Such is war.
It was also during one of these early days, with things being pretty slow, that I decided to hop in the back seat of an OV-10 to see some country during the day. On this particular mission, I was dropped off somewhere in Laos at a CIA FOL, where the pilot picked up a rider. I spent most of the day at what seemed to be a nice secure FOL. Later, I found out that the camp was overrun that very night after I left. I thanked God I was back in Pleiku.
During the first six months I was in Vietnam, action was pretty minimal. I would fly my rotation of night missions, starting with the dusk flight and ending with the dawn flight. On occasion, I would recover to Ubon, spend a day shopping, etc., and then fly the normal mission that night taking off from Ubon.
On one particular night mission while flying into Pleiku, I decided to get a non-precision approach to maintain instrument currency. It was extremely dark outside, with no lights anywhere to help visual references. I put the gear down and was just leveling off for approach minimums when I felt a roughness. My first thought was engine problems. I advanced power and started a shallow climb doing an evaluation of engine instruments. There was no sign of engine problems, but I still declared an emergency with tower, and requested a straight-in landing. The rest of the landing was uneventful. Post flight inspection showed grass in my wheels!!! To this day, I can’t say if I did really mis-read the altimeter, but I don’t believe so. I had correctly nailed the minimum descent altitude. I thanked God for such a nice “touch and go” landing somewhere about 5 miles out on the TACAN approach. The next day a couple of us flew out on a Dustoff helicopter to try to find where that “touch and go” was accomplished, with no luck. Much of the vast area around Pleiku was very heavily treed. Indeed, God was looking out for the Nav and me that night.
About September, I started flying the Prairie Fire mission, sometimes 8 or 9 hours a day. I had gotten a movie camera and took many pictures of insertions and extractions. Unfortunately, the details in those movie pictures weren’t very good because my close-up was still pretty far away. One of the better pictures I have is where I recovered to a refueling doc (area) just in Vietnam after a bitter firefight and extraction. My picture shows the Army chopper carrying two men out on ropes. They were transferred to Medevac choppers at the refueling doc. I never did find out how they came out, just hoped for the best.
The happiest part of my year came with a two-month cut in my DEROS. I arrived back home on Christmas Eve. During my 10 months in Vietnam I received the DFC and Air Medal with 9 Oak Leaf Clusters. I flew about 680 hours, with most of it over the Trail.
Back in the States, I instructed in the T-38, and flew the Unit Training H1F helicopter. I also served two tours in Cheyenne Mountain in Space Systems. I retired in 1988 with over 3300 flying hours.