This is the story of being shot down on 19 Jan 69 over the Ho Chi Minh (HCM) Trail. I was flying left seat in an O2-A Forward Air Control Aircraft (FAC). William E. Townsley, Col., USAF (Ret.)
Following Undergraduate Pilot Training and still a 2nd Lieutenant, I was assigned the O-2B aircraft. This was a Psychological Warfare plane. There was a mistake. When I found out more about the O-2B, I decided I wanted the O-2A, which was a FAC plane. Same plane, and NOT a newer FAC model, but a totally different mission. I tried to change, but MPC (Military Personnel Center) said I could not unless I could find someone to trade with me. Well, I asked my Air Ground Operations School (AGOS) class members, and the only thing I could muster was a 3-way trade. I would get an O-2A, I would give my O-2B to someone who had an O-1 Bird Dog, which was an even slower, 1-engine FAC plane. MPC bought my 3-way trading arrangement, and we were telephonically authorized to go off and train in our newly assigned aircraft. Orders were to follow.
Following AGOS, learning to fly the O-2A in the FAC role and then a quick TDY from Florida out to northwest Washington and the prisoner survival school, I kissed my pregnant first wife and my 3-year-old daughter, Tammy, good-bye at Travis Air Force Base, California on December 11, 1968. I was bound for Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and "my" baptism by fire. We were to spend about 10 days in the Pacific Air Force's Jungle Survival School. One of the survival instructors was, I think, named Samuels, but we called him "Sam". He was my main instructor, and plays a major role in the crux of this story.
I still didn't have the correct orders I needed to get to DaNang and my O-2A, so I called first to the place my original orders said I was to report to in Vietnam. Someone there said "Sure, we'll take care of it." I decided I'd better call the FAC outfit I was supposed to go to, the 20th TASS (Tactical Air Support Squadron). The Operations Officer there, a Major Carmen Anillo, said, "Don't go there, go to 'Happy Valley' and get your in-country FAC orientation flying training there. I'll call them right now and tell them to expect you and train you, even though you don't have the right orders yet." Major Anillo's positive approach convinced me that I had to follow that man's directions if I was going to be a FAC. I left Clark a very well-trained survivor.
The arrival in Saigon was uneventful, but I remember a very silent group of airmen and soldiers on the plane. We were looking everywhere for the enemy that would start taking pot shots at 200 plus unarmed passengers. That night I experienced my first mortar attack. I was initiated.
Then came a quick, one-day personnel in-processing and briefing at some huge auditorium where they told us to look at the person to your right and to your left. "Statistically, one of you will receive a bullet hit in your aircraft." The one to my left was one of the guys that was involved in the 3-way aircraft switch back in the states, and he now had my original O-2B.
I boarded a C-130 and headed for Happy Valley. There I flew a few missions, experienced 2 or 3 more mortar attacks, and saw our retaliatory effort via a "Puff the Magic Dragon," a C-130 with a cannon and high-powered Gattlin machine gun. After 3 days of flying over safe areas (that's why they called it Happy Valley) to prove we could fly aircraft and handle the mission, we were off to our final destination. I wa still without proper orders, but said I was headed for DaNang per Major Anillo's instructions. Nobody ever looked at my orders, or if they did, it was just to insure I had some.
I arrived in DaNang Jan 1, 1969. Shortly after I arrived, I received a Red Cross notification that my cousin, Russell Townsley, had just died of Cystic Fibrosis at age 21 - the full life expectancy at that time. Russell was almost a brother to me, as we were raised together awhile during some of my high school years. The Red Cross asked if I wanted to go, as he was a near brother, all the way back to Massachusetts. I was deeply saddened, but elected not to go back, as we had all known the end was near.
Now, those in charge said I had to wait for my real orders to come before they would actually send me into combat. I had arrived on the 1st and finally flew my first mission on the 11th. In the FAC business, we needed about 50 hours or more of real combat flying with a seasoned CTIP (Combat Training Instructor Pilot) in the right seat before they would allow us over the HCM Trail on our own. Each mission in the O-2A could last up to 4.5 hours.
I flew with different CTIP's, but on the 18th, my 7th flight day, I was scheduled with Major George Blair. After the standard briefings, I went to get my gear and parachute and head for the plane. The parachute specialist in the Life Support Shop wished me "Good Luck" on my way out. For some reason I retorted, "I don't need good luck if you're good, just a little luck."
We crossed over into Laos about 20 minutes after takeoff, at about noon or a little thereafter. I picked up an in-flight briefing from the ABCCC (Airborne Command and Control Center) and the Covey FAC coming off station. Covey was our call sign, and I was Covey 264. The FAC coming off mentioned some trucks stuck in the mud around "the old man's head." This referenced a small river bent in such a fashion that it looked a lot like a profile of Ziggy, the current cartoon character, only with one long strand of hair coming out of the top of his head. It was southeast of Delta 45, one of many major HCM Trail reference points we used on our maps.
I found the two trucks, and one appeared stuck in the fiver ford. I called ABCCC for a strike flight. While we waited, we looked for other targets of opportunity in the area, but found none. The fighters, a set of F-4s showed up very shortly and low on gas. I went to work having them put their bombs on the two lone trucks to smithereens. We had a tendency to fly in left turns during the strike control portion, because, in the O-2A, the FAC sat on the left side of the cockpit. When there was someone in the right seat, it was even more likely we'd be in left turns because of vision restriction problems. I out-briefed the fighters as I turned to the right, away from the target.
My CTIP, Major Blair, said "Let's go back and take another look." As I turned back to the left, we were hit. I felt like the plane hit a large air pocket, or a very concentrated puff of air pushed up on the back end of the plane. We immediately went into a slow flat left spin. I switched to Guard frequency and called "Mayday, mayday, mayday." Then I went into that slow motion phase of survival; the Air Force later gave it the name temporal distortion (TD). I had been in TD once before while spinning out in my '68 Mustang on a new rain-slicked road, and 3 times since in other a/c incidences.
I looked over at Maj. Blair and saw that we both were desperately trying to recover the aircraft. It was not responding, and the spinning was becoming faster and faster and pointing straight downward at the ground. I looked forward and could see exactly where it would crash. Still about 3,500 to 4,000 up and going straight down. The next emergency procedure was to remove the right hand door of the aircraft and jump out. My part in that procedure, when there were two people on board, was to reach behind the right seat passenger and unlock the door with my right hand. The right seat passenger was briefed to pull a foot-long red lever by his right knee rearward about 6" (this removed the door's hinge pins). Then they were supposed to hit the door with their shoulder to send it flying. I unbuckled my seat belt while George (that's what I call him now) pulled on the lever and pushed the door out. I remember reaching to start to undo his seat belt, but his own had beat me to it. I can remember the whining or screaming of the plane as it gained airspeed. I can remember George going out and hearing a "thunk" sound. I dove out and down to avoid the wing strut. I was outside and free-falling. I reached immediately for my ripcord and pulled on it. I pulled and, in my temporally distorted mind at least, nothing happened. I pulled some more, and then using both hands, I remember the rip cord coming out about two feet. (The Life Support parachute people said it couldn't be done, but I definitely remember about 2 feet of cable in my hand.)
I felt the "whuump" of my chute opening. My TD ended with the opening of the chute. I looked up quickly to check the chute, and I remember hearing the plane crash while I was looking up. I looked down and watched George's chute fully open and then start to close just that fast. I watched him land l5' to the left of the crashed and burning O-2A. I then realized there were rifles shooting, and it was probably at me. I tried to swing in my chute because I still had about 1000 feet to go. I swing for all I was worth. I don't know it it really worked, but I wasn't hit, so I guess it did.
I later decided that George had briefly knocked himself out as his head hit the wing strut while diving out of the a/c. He thought it hard to believe, but afterward, when I told him about his chute opening and immediately closing from my vantage point, he had to concur.
I crashed through a tree and scraped my right knee and leg a little. I finally landed 15' or so the the right of the a/c. I was still hearing the gunfire. I released my snaps. My chute was stuck in the tree, so my trained instinct to bury it was abandoned in a second. I started running away from the rifle fire. I was taking the path of least resistance, a path "Sam", who I say affectionately was now perched on my shoulder, told me to get off the well-worn path. am" represents all the survival training I received which occurred only 3 weeks previous, so everything was new and fresh in my mind. I landed in an area of not jungle, but lightly wooded. I came to a spot where the path went up away from a stream, so I stopped and jumped across the stream. I remember leaving a footprint in the muddy water of the far side, but it would fill in with water and lose its shape. I worried about it for hours anyway. I went about 10 or 15 feet up a little hillside and found a small bush. It might have been big, but it felt like a small bush. It wasn't more than 3' high. But, it was time to stop moving, or so "Sam" whispered in my ear. Live of die, this was my spot. I can remember my main thoughts were about my Grandmother. She was well into her 80's, and she and I were very close as I would stay with her often for summer vacation for moths at a time. She had lost her oldest son, Harold Townsley, a B-24 Liberator navigator in WWII some- where in the Mediterranean or Atlantic.
My new helmet was white in color and I had on a gray flight suit, not the green one later adopted. I could only be thankful it wasn't orange, except my hair was a shade of orange. I pulled out my survival knife and dug a quick hole to bury my helmet upside down. The loose dirt I grabbed, spit on it to make mud, and stared rubbing it on my face and in my hair. I had a nice, new, shiny gold Cross ball point pen in my left sleeve shoulder pocket. I threw that in the hole. I had (T.E.) Lawrence of Arabia's book, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" in my right leg pocket. I had enjoyed the movie and wanted to read hi book. I threw that in the hole with my helmet. I had a blank check or two with my, and my ex-wife's, name and address on them. I at them. this all seemed to have happened within 20 to 30 seconds.
I could hear the enemy gathering around the a/c wreckage and lots of talking. I had only gotten about 50 yards from the a/c. Then the gun fire stared again. They were shooting randomly around the woods. Bullets were ticking the leaves and branched all around me. This lasted about 5 minutes. Then nothing, except their occasional talking. I could hear them talking in a normal voice, so I knew they could hear me make any sound. I was on my stomach with my face turned to the side, and I froze in place.
That's when the first ant made his presence know to me. Then hundreds, maybe thousands. They were crawling all over my body. Everywhere. They got in my ears and nose and eyes. Repeat everywhere. I could keep my mouth closed, but I had to breathe carefully through my slightly opened mouth so I could exhale forcefully through my nose to keep them out of there. The ears and eyes didn't bother me to much, as I had to concentrate on my nose. This went on for about 2 or 3 hours, in my sense of time, anyway. Again, Sam jumped up on my shoulder and reminded me that ants were a good source of protein. I ended up eating several by rushing them with my lips of teeth. There was no taste, and I have no regrets.
I then heard a/c overhead. They had to be ours. We had total air superiority, except for the occasional loss due to ground fire, like me. The closer they got, and the louder they got, I began to feel I could get on my survival radio. Every once and while I could see an aircraft off to the west. They were the A-1 Skyraiders. The noise would be close and then drift away, and then come back again. I pulled out my survival radio, the PRC-46, if I recall correctly. When I turned it on, I could not keep the volume down low enough to suit me. Sam reminded me of the rubberized speaker cover and how we had been trained to use it. This cover had a listening tube, so that when you wanted to listen you would just place the end of the tube in your ear4, and when you wanted to talk, you would hold down on the mic button, lift the speaker cover and speak into the mic, which was also the speaker.
When I first turned on the radio, I could hear conversation going on between George and the lead Skyraider, "Sandy l! the call sign of all SAR A-1s, (Search and Rescue), and later any fixed-wing SAR a/c. I was listening to their conversation, but I was still afraid to speak, when I heard George tell the Sandy that Covey 264 was dead. George thought, since I had to follow him out the right side door of the O-2A, and he had only minimal time in the chute, my chute never had time to open. I overheard the Sandy ask George one of his survivor verification questions, "What was your favorite drink?" George replied, "Bourbon and water," but I distinctly remembered him ordering a bourbon and ginger the night before. I was worried for us. I thought he was wrong and I was still thought dead. I tried to butt into the conversation with my call sign, but I was being ignored, or I wasn't being heard because of my whispering. I continually tried to butt in, but now they thought they were being "spoofed" by the enemy. Without yelling, and barely whispering, I had to use a few choice, very American words to let that Sandy know that Covey 264 was still alive and kicking. He began to believe me, and when I heard him ask Hillsboro to get the verification data on me, I felt like I was making progress.
My verification question came in from Sandy, "What's your favorite pie?" I answered "Aunt Martha's Apple Pie." I heard Sandy tell the ABCCC, "Hillsboro, we have two." After that, all the radio conversation started sounding like it was working in our favor. But, I had trouble holding the tube to my ear to listen, then lifting the rubber cover containing the tube to talk. I could still hear the enemy talking, so I knew they could hear me talking. I then tried talking into the tube by talking into my closed fist holding the tube. It was a much quieter way to talk. Sam hadn't taught me that, but it worked. Not well, but it was readable to the Sandy and that's all I cared about. Sam told me they started teaching that method at survival school thereafter.
As the afternoon wore on, I had gotten across to the Sandy that I wasn't very far from the downed aircraft. The enemy would occasionally fire randomly into the woods around me. But then there was silence. Sam told me they were setting up to shoot at the Jolly Greens (SAR helicopters) when they came in for the final phase and when they were most vulnerable. I passed the word to Sandy that the "bad guys" are only about 50 yards from me set up someplace around my a/c. Apparently Sandy had located George by one method or another. Around 5 p.m. I could hear a helicopter. Sandy briefed me to listen up on the radios, and on his command I was to direct the Jolly Green to my location. Jolly was 200 yards to my west when I first saw him and immediately the gunfire erupted. I saw the Jolly pull up and away with somebody hanging from the cable. I was commanded to silence, so I couldn't ask anything, just listen. I later learned they didn't get George with the first chopper, but had sent one of those very brave PJs (Para-rescue Jumper) airmen down to help George since he indicated his leg was hurt in a conversation I never heard. The PJ was who I saw hanging from the Jolly's cable. I also learned later that that chopper received about 50 small caliber bullet hits.
More time passes, and in comes another Jolly. I never looked up to see this one. This time they do not send down an airman, and George was able to hook himself to the Jungle Penetrator at the end of the cable. Sandy then says, "Covey 264, start talking." I sat up from my cover behind the bush and took the cover off my radio speaker. The wind began rushing my way as I successfully direct that Jolly to my position. When he got about 20 yards away, the gunfire opened up again and that Jolly pulls up and way. I later learned he received about 50 hits, too. George was inside that Jolly and later told he his side of the story, and it made me shiver just to imagine being there.
Shortly, there was silence. I had placed the cover back over the speaker and was just listening to the radios. Daylight was beginning to fade. I heard Sandy say, "Sandy flight, go channel 2." Right then, I knew they were going to have to leave me behind. They didn't have any more choppers available and it was getting dark. Sandy Lead came back up Guard and said "Covey, we're going to have to go. You need to dig in and be quiet. Do you have your survival equipment?" I said, "I'm OK, I've got the works."
He said, "Understand, you've got the works. OK, we'll see you in the morning. Stay off your radio and your signal to come back up will be a Misty (F-100) going afterburner over your head."
I replied, "Roger, I'll see you then." I immediately thought to myself, probably because I came from a military family and had been a Marine enlisted before transferring to the Air Force, "I'm a soldier, some of us make it and some of us don't, but I'm going to try till I die."
The area became deathly silent as I waited to see what was going to happen next. It was getting darker, but I could still see 100 yards if I needed to. I put my head down as I hard the enemy, either Pathet Laos or NVA, begin talking and walking along the path I had first taken. I think three to five, I wasn't looking, passed within 15 yards of me, and to this day I felt like one of them was arguing that there was still one guy out there, and the others were saying, "No, no, there was only two chutes and they brought in two choppers, so that means they got both of them out." The first guy then would argue again and they would put him down again. I remember being glad he wasn't persuasive. Nobody looked for me from that point on.
I had a good place to hide. I was not going to move from it. I now had to pee. I sat up and unzipped my flight suit but found it very difficult to pee because after a moment a puddle would form, and that mean noise. I'd have to stop, let the water become absorbed in the ground and begin again. You might laugh at my paranoia about making noise, but I didn't want to make a sound, and every little sound I made was magnified by the jeopardy I was in. This became more apparent as I began unwrapping all the survival equipment in my survival vest. Most of it was wrapped in a kind of waxed paper. As I tried to unwrap it, I definitely was making too much noise. I had to proceed so very slowly as I got out my signaling mirror, my smoke flares, my spare radio battery, my orange signaling panel, my luminous compass, and my signaling bullets. I t was night, so I decided to load my 38 caliber revolver with the signaling bullets. I set everything around me so I knew where it was a darkness settled over the woods. It became pitch black and I could not see my hand in front of my face. I could see some stars straight above.
As the night wore on I realized I could hear on a continuous basis, the encampment of the soldiers who had just walked by my position. Then I could har some trucks driving closer and parking. Then I heard this sound of what I later described as a lasso or rope in a clothes dryer going ka-lump, ka-lump, steady and continuous. Sam had taught me about the luminous compass. But, only two things were luminous, a dot on the compass' floating pointer and a dot on a turnable dial cover. Each click of the dial represented either 2 or 3 degrees of the compass. I knew the answer then. If I aligned the dots to begin, I would be pointing north or 0 degreed. As I counted the clicks of the dial's cover dot around to the east, I determined the lasso noise was coming from 100 degrees at about 200 meters, probably somewhere along the stream that I crossed earlier. It was later pegged to be an ammunitions factory. I kept clicking to the south and southwest and determined the encampment was bout 190 degrees from my position at about 75 to 100 meters. Finally, I clicked off the trucks' parking area, which I determined to be about 300 meters at 300 degrees.
Later that evening, I herd a far-off rifle shot. Then one closer and then another closer still. Then a plane flew way overhead. It took me a couple of times to realize that this was their way of signaling ahead that a plane was coming into the area. The third plane that flew over lingered awhile and I watched a 37mm triple A (anti-aircraft artillery) open up on it. I heard the airplanes (they always flew with all external lights out so as to not make it easy for the enemy gunners) engines change pitch back and forth, so I knew it was dodging those bullets. I had something else to click off with my handy compass. Especially since this is the 37mm that probably shot me down, or so I imagined. It was about 100 meters southwest of where I figured the encampment to be. I went over the numbers and burned them into my memory. Then I didn't have anything to do.
I got the orange panel, rolled it up and put it under my head and rested. I actually fell asleep just listening to the noises around me. Suddenly I was awakened by two voices getting closer and closer. I was on my back, so I turned my white, partially muddied face away from them and held my breath. These two soldiers or villagers casually passed 3 feet from my head and didn't see me. It was so dark I wondered how they could walk so without flashlights, but the did, and I was thankful once again. I lad back again and rested some more. I knew I was on a path, but I couldn't bring myself to move. I didn't know where I'd be going, and I'd survived two close calls so far.
Sometime later in the night, as I was laying there, something started pulling at my hair. It startled me awake. Whatever it was, I presume a rat or other rodent, scurried away making so much noise that it scared me again. I laid back down and I could hear the rodent approaching again, and again it started pulling at my hair. I decided to let it pull away as long as he would remain quiet. This lasted about 20 minutes. The rest of the night was generally uneventful, except for the occasional noise of the 37mm AAA, the continual noise of the factory, and conversation over at the encampment.
Morning came slowly, and my confidence began to wane as I could again see and be seen. I laid there and heard an )-2A overhead. I figured it was looking for me, but I needed to conserve my radio batteries. I figured there wasn't anything they could do for me without the Sandy and the Jolly contingent on station. So I waited. Well, little did I know that Russ Howard, Covey 256, was supposed to locate me for my squadron that morning. But, that wasn't what I was told, and I needed now to believe that Sandy Lead would do what he said he would. Also, by regulation, I had to be officially listed as MIA (Missing in Action). I still have the MIA notification telegraph they sent my mother.
Finally, an hour after sunrise, the F-100 Misty goes afterburner overhead. I pop up on my radio and Sandy Lead says, "Where have you been, sleeping?" I replied, "Actually yes, and I've got several targets here."
"What's your situation, covey?"
"I'm fine. From my position, I've got a factory at 100 degrees, 200 meters. An encampment at..." and I kept ticking off the targets.
"Slow down, slow down, Covey. Did you say a factory, like manufacturing plant?"
"OK, start over to make sure we have these."
So I listed the targets again, now speaking through the tube all the time. I would just speak louder when the planes were overhead.
"Covey, it looks like we'll have to work out here awhile before we pull you out."
"Roger, let me know when you're ready."
"OK," said Sandy, "now what I want you to do is turn your radio off for ten minutes and come back up and listen. Check in briefly then go back down for another 10 minutes. We'll do that until we're ready to pick you up. Are you injured?"
"OK, shut down 10."
After a couple of check-ins, Sandy started working over the area with several sets of F-4s and A-1s. I just laid back down and listened gratefully as the bombs hit the ground around me.
Then, suddenly, (seems like everything was "then suddenly") a Willy Pete (White Phosphorous) rocket hit very close tome, and the fire ball was coming right at me in the air, but dissipated just 10 feet over my head. I jumped on the radio and hollered "Knock it off, knock it off. That last Willy Pete was too close to me."
"Covey, are you all right?"
"Yes, it's just that that last Willy Pete was about 10 feet from me."
"OK, OK, we need to reconstruct exactly where you are."
I pulled out my signaling mirror. I didn't want to sit up and expose myself, so rather than using the mirror as intended, I had to use the nearby leaf concept. The only direction I could see the Sandys was to the west. I raised one hand with the mirror upwards. The sunlight was coming from the east. I found a leaf to my west and concentrated on getting the Sun's reflection on that leaf. When a Sandy flew near the leaf, I would move the flash back and forth onto the Sandy and back to the leaf. After about 5 minutes of this, the Sandy asked, "Are you hearing gunfire, or is that you with a mirror."
"That's me with a mirror."
"OK, Covey, you can stop now, we have you pinpointed."
They worked over the area for about 3 hours, and I would faithfully pop up on the radio every 10 minutes. No one was looking for me, so I would shut back down for another to minutes.
Finally came the moment of truth.
"Covey, we've been working over the area for 3 hours. Do you hear anything?"
"I need you to move away for a couple of minutes so I can listen.'
"OK, we'll fly away for two minutes and then come back."
After two minutes I came up and told them I didn't hear anything but the CBU still growing off to the east."
"OK, Covey, we're coming in with "salad". This was the code word for CS type tear gas. "Do you know what I'm saying and will you be able to handle it?"
"I'll know, and I'll be fine." While in the Marine Corps, during advanced training we had to stand in a closed shed full of tear gas without masks and sing the Marine Corps Hymn and then be called alhphabetically. Out of 50 Marines, my name, Townsley got me out with about 3 guys left inside. When I got outside I was fine, sve for the tears and a very cleaned out sinus system.
So the gas came down, and soon I could hear the Jolly approaching. I was using my radio to vector him to my position, I watched the penetrator begin to comedown nearly overhead. But, then he started heading east, and the penetrator with him. I got up with my pistol in one hand and the radio in the other and I started running after that penetrator. I ran back by my crashed aircraft and finally caught up with it, pulled down the seat and gave the thumbs up. I started going up, but the cable had been so twisted in the previous maneuvering that I was spinning very fast all the way up into the Jolly. I was just looking for some enemy to pop out of the woods, but wasn't sure I'd be able to hit him spinning the way I was. When I got inside the Jolly, everybody was teared up, and a combat photographer was trying to take pictures of me, but he was crying, too.
They laid me on a cot and covered with a blanket. They knew I'd start shivering from all the adrenaline shortly. They weren't kidding. I started shaking and could not bring it unto check for about 15 minutes. I've got a picture of me relaxed, but shaking with cigarette in hand.
When I got into NKP, Thailand to debrief with the Intelligence folks, I found out I had been declared MIA, and that my wife and parents had been notified. Also, that I couldn't have a beer until after I'd seen the doctor, and they they never laid CBU down on the target to the east of my position, or anywhere for that matter. Those were secondary explosions I had heard, they told me. When I arrived back at the 20th TASS four days later, George greeted me and we sat down and exchanged what happened to us, trying to make the story match up and make more sense.
I was asked by my commander if I wanted a Command Post job. I said, "No, I've got to get back on that horse." My nickname thereafter was "Cowboy," until I assumed the "Blister" nickname when Army Sgt John Grant died a mercenary in south Africa in the later 70's. Grant was someone I flew many Special Operations missions with over Laos once I started flying the Prairie Fire mission in Vietnam..
I was asked if I wanted to fly over "my spot" because a B-52 ARC LIGHT raid was scheduled to destroy my spot and everything around it. This was the day I made lst Lt and I certainly wanted to, and did. Later my Squadron Commander put me in for a Bronze Star for ground action, but somewhere upstairs they bumped it up to a Silver Star. I was awarded the Silver Star by the future Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General George S. Brown, the day before I left Vietnam, about 11 months after I was shot down. However, that's another, shorter story.
The Air Force Times used to have a section called "Stake Your Claim." The guys in the squadron submitted my name as "The only Air Force Second Lieutenant to be shot down and rescued in Southeast Asia." I never heard of a counter claim, and I don't know if it really is true or not. Some sergeant from Clark AFB's PACAF Jungle Survival School came to DaNang especially to debrief me, (Sam wasn't with them, but they promised to pass the word that I felt him perched on my shoulder, and took one of my hats with the 2nd Lt. bar on it and nailed it to the Successful Recovery Board with my name attached. For years thereafter I would have guys tell me "my story" (as they remembered it) and that my 2nd Lt. hat was the only 2nd Lt. had on the board.
"Oh, you're the guy who left the footprint in the riverbank."
"Well, yeah, but they started using cloth instead of waxed paper to wrap your survival gear because of me, and also you learned something new about the PRC-46. Why do they teach you about that footprint thing?"
"Because it was a mistake."
"Hell, getting shot down was a mistake!"