“Tigerhound Tales: Random Memories of the Tour”
-- Darrel DeLong, Covey 558, O-2A’s, Pleiku Sept 70 – Sept 71.
I arrived in Vietnam still a Second Lieutenant.
I was commissioned, did the year in pilot training, O-2 checkout at
Hurlburt (or near by anyway), a couple of survival schools and then “Good
Morning Vietnam”. Obviously I
wasn’t the only 2LT around, but I guess pilot types of the rank were a little
unusual. One day another 2LT and
myself were hitching rides to somewhere at DaNang (BX?) and were picked up by a
Colonel who seemed surprised at our rank. He asked what we were doing there and I told him we’d heard
they needed some help so here we were!
“Got Boots?” (not “Das Boots”)
was probably my second day in-country. Myself
and some other “FNGs” had just arrived at Cam Rahn Bay and were out for a
little walk about when a gray pickup pulled up along side.
The truck’s occupants were Navy Sea-Bees interested in doing a little
bartering. Seems these industrious
fellows had acquired a few air-conditioners which they’d happily trade for
jungle boots! They told us if we
could be there the following weekend we could deal.
Besides the fact that none of us had any boots other than what we were
wearing at the time, the next weekend we’d find ourselves scattered at various
operating locations around the country. Fortunately
for me, I ended up in that “cool” country club living of Pleiku in the
central highlands and wouldn’t really need an air-conditioner.
“Are They Listening?…Bet Your Sweet A__”
all been briefed on the fact that the NVA had our radio frequencies and no doubt
listened to the chatter. Although
this fact might have slipped to a less used compartment of my brain, one night
it was “vividly” brought back to mind.
My right-seater (FAN) and I were flying a night mission in Southern Laos
(VR 14 - I think that’s what it was numbered at that time).
We were doing a routine run along the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”.
The river in the area wound around in such a way as to form what looked
like Snoopy’s head – we called
the area the “Dog’s Head”. The
trail crossed a river ford at the Dog’s Head and was an area of frequent truck
activity. On this night we found
“movers” heading south and were lucky ones to get the benefit of the evening
carrier launch (and bad weather further North).
Four flights and a singleton of Navy birds were being sent our way.
The first to check in was Saddleback Flight, a four ship of A-7s.
After the usual in bound target briefing and marking the area with
“logs”, the first element started working the target.
I would report our position as holding “East of the target” and get
the reassuring “FAC is insight” between runs.
In the middle of Saddleback’s work, a two ship of Navy F-4s checked in
“low on fuel…”, surprise, surprise. The
F-4’s requested a single pass (the standard “one pass and haul ass”). They were clear to hit the target using fires from
Saddleback’s strike as their mark. With
the F-4’s gone, Saddleback’s resumed their attack.
It was again interrupted by a second set of F-4’s and a single Phantom.
Since we couldn’t work a singleton, he joined up with the other F-4’s
and while Saddleback held “high and dry”, the F-4’s made their runs
depositing their loads around the ford area.
With the F-4’s out of the way, Saddleback continued working the target
area. The fighters had been taking
fire throughout the evening, so there was no doubt there were some unhappy folks
down there. On occasion, the Navy jocks would come down the shoot
with #2 in trail and blacked out. When
the guns would come up, #2 would roll in on one of them while lead was going for
the target (or target area in the night environment). On this particular night, Saddleback was using this tactic
and as things progressed, the AAA activity seemed to decrease somewhat.
When the strike was completed, I called “Covey is in for BDA”.
Immediately, a wall of tracers lit the sky along the eastern edge of the
target area (as I said, I’d been reporting my position as East of the target
area all night). Fortunately for
us, and as a result of dumb luck rather than clever planning, by the time I
maneuvered back over the target area, we were coming in from the South rather
than East. We broke off and
Saddleback offered to make a few more passes since they had “Pistols” left. After that night, if I provided my position to the fighters
for clearance during the attack, I didn’t come from that direction if I was in
prior to my arrival at Pleiku, the “Riders” (Army Special Forces) had given
the Det a 5thSFG jeep that had been a “battle loss” write-off.
Although Pleiku wasn’t an overly large place, it was nice to have an
extra set of wheels to get folks from the hooches to the ops building.
We got some strange looks going over to the MACV compound at times, but
generally one of the Covey Riders was with us and there wasn’t any problem.
At the time, no one seemed to worry about what vehicle you were putting
fuel into. Then some “REMF”, concerned with budgets, decided that no
fuel would be pumped into vehicles that didn’t have the proper fuel card
matching the vehicle serial number. Demonstrating
the proper level of ingenuity, one night the 5thSFG jeep entered one end of the
maintenance hanger and never exited. However,
the next morning there was a “Covey Ops Officer” jeep in front of the
hooches and one in front of the Ops building.
We never had problems getting gas…just didn’t show up at the pump at
the same time.
that every unit has someone who seems to be able to come up with things when
needed (and sometimes not needed). We
had a radio operator on a second tour who had learned his way around.
He’d reportedly won an APC and some paychecks off some Army types just
back in from the field. Although it
seemed like such a thing would make a heck of a crew van, the SP’s didn’t
think the unit should have such a vehicle (besides it would have taken more than
a little paint to make it blend in).
a “Boss’s Night” at the NCO club, the sergeant and some of the other
troops gathered with the crew dogs in the Covey Hooch bar.
As the evening wore on and libations were consumed, one of the pilots
told the sergeant that, “If I had an O-1 I’d teach you to fly!”
Nothing was really thought of the comment until the next morning when it
was discovered there was a Vietnamese O-1 parked near the Ops building.
The Vietnamese commander was very upset that one of his aircraft had been
moved (not to mention the rudder damage that was noticed when it was
located…dragging it with a tug and a rope around the tail wheel apparently
wasn’t according to the tech order).
sergeant was moved to DaNang. The
next time I saw him was when I took a bird up for phase maintenance.
I was outside the DaNang Ops building when a black “four-by” came
wheeling into the parking lot (when did FAC units start getting issued
four-bys?). The sergeant climbed
down from the cab, asked how I was doing and finding I need a ride over to the
BX area told me to wait there, he’d be right back.
A few minutes later we were on our way to the other side in the Covey
Commander’s jeep. The
reassignment to DaNang may have been intended for punishment, however, our Sgt
Bilko was now a special assistant to the Commander.
“Man’s Best Friend(s)”
Pleiku Covey’s had a mascot, “FIGMO”.
She was a German Sheppard (or at least part).
During my tour, Figmo had a couple of puppies.
These two became know as “Willie Pete” (yes, he was white) and
“Short Round” (a black, tan, and gray mix).
Short Round actually got his name after being hit by a truck and
surviving…although he wasn’t quite the same.
We had some trouble getting dog food for these mutts, so we started
asking for dog kibble to be included in any “care packages” coming from
home. The Covey Riders donated some
“long-range patrol” food packets…with water added, the dogs seemed to
enjoy the chicken and rice. Finally,
I called the Security Police to see if there was any way to get some dog food
(they had security dogs after all). I got put in touch with an office in Cam Rahn and after a
short discussion, was told they’d see about sending some our way.
A couple of days later I got a call from the ALCE ramp saying they had
cargo for me. I wasn’t sure what
was up, but got a crew van and headed over there.
Waiting for me was a pallet of ten 50 lb. cans of high power dog kibble
developed for “working” dogs. From
then on, our two were probably the best fed non-working dogs in S.E.A.
“Fuel Trucks & Rocket Shells”
just landed after a night mission and taxied to the refueling pit.
At Pleiku, that was a 5000 gal tank truck parked in a revetment.
I’d shut down adjacent to the fuel truck and was standing behind my O-2
marshalling in Duke Hancock, who’d just landed behind me.
As Duke was shutting down, there was a loud bang.
The first though was he’d had a backfire on the rear engine.
At the second loud bang, there was no doubt we were under attack.
I yelled at Duke and the crew chief and headed off for the closest
bunker. Duke was a tall lad from
South Carolina (or that general area) with a slow southern drawl to his speech
but when Duke realized what was happening, he moved a lot faster than he talked.
The crew chief was also large, but wide rather than tall.
We all ran for the sandbag protection.
I reached it just ahead of Duke and jumped in.
Duke followed shortly there after, and finally the crew chief joined us
piled on top of us. This sandbag
“fox hole” was probably best suited to one maybe two folks, but not three.
That night we made do and I was happy to have the company. When the all clear
finally sounded, we were a bit stiff and sore, but happy the bad guys hadn’t
hit the fuel truck.