First Mission

By Hall Elliott, Covey, 1970.

I arrived at DaNang by the Sea in early January, 1970, assigned to the Covey detachment of 20th TASS as a FAN. Very few people except Coveys and Nails knew what a FAN was and I wasn’t too sure, myself. The short “indoctrination period” at Hurlburt did more to confuse me than anything else, but the Coveys made me welcome. As a very senior captain (major selectee), I was about the third or fourth ranking FAN, but outranked all the pilots except two, as I remember. I hadn’t seen so many second lieutenants since Lackland. The Covey CO, at the time, was Lt. Col Melendrez, and I was lucky enough to draw a backseat ride with him for my first mission. It was my first time in the back seat of an OV-10, although I had a couple of thousand hours in the back  seat of various interceptors, mostly the F-101B. Come to think on it, I don’t think I’d ever even seen an OV-10 until I got to DaNang and had never been inside an O-2. I did have a few hours in a  Cessna Skymaster that belonged to a friend of mine, and I wasn’t really looking forward to flying one with somebody shooting at me, but that was what they were paying me for. Before I start the  mission story, I need to set out one caveat: One of the things that amazed me at the big FAC Reunion was the details that many people remembered. Well, I ain’t one of them. I did keep some  rudimentary logs, but they’ve long gone the way of my other mementoes. Not only does a rolling stone gather no moss, it also throws off what little it started with. I do have pretty vivid  memories of the, to me, critical part of my first mission, but the details escape me. I ran across folks at Ft. Walton who could have told you the crew chief’s name. I’m lucky I remembered Melendrez. Now, finally, on to the mission. As I’m sure you all know, it was meant to be an area familiarization mission and was briefed as such. We spent the better part of two hours, after  getting across the fence, with Melendrez pointing out various terrain features to me, which would, of course, look entirely different at night, but you wouldn’t catch any of those OV-10 guys out there at night. After a couple of hours, Melendrez decided to show me an old, abandoned gun pit so I’d know what one looked like. As we flew over it, I was looking through the glasses and I  asked him, “Do they leave a lot of stuff like old shell casings when they abandon a gun pit?” His answer was, “Oh shit!’ as he rolled into a hard turn. I asked, “What’s the matter?” “You see those  grey puffs all  around us? Well, they’re shooting at us!” I thought about that for a second, picked up my map bag and puked my guts out. By that time, we were clear and Melendrez asked, “Are  you OK?” I took out my canteen, soaked my handkerchief, wiped my face, and replied, “I am if you are.” We then proceeded with business as usual.