Flying In The “Fish Hook”

 

By: Colonel Larry Mayes, USAF (Retired)

In the spring of 1970, I sat down beside an Army aviator returning to his unit from R & R,  Warrant Officer Bill Shaffer, at the Tan Son Nhut AB Officer’s Club. While sharing a drink and our life stories, I discovered he was older brother to two young ladies with whom I had attended Yankton College.  He invited me to come fly with him when I could get time off my duties with the 8th Aerial Port. Shortly thereafter, I took a week’s leave and flew the “Wondering Wallaby” Australian C-7a Caribou from TSN to Ham Tam, Nui Dat, Vung Tau, Cam Ranh Bay, Dalat and finally Gia Nghia.  Over the next five days, I flew 5 missions in the 0-1E Bird Dog, mostly over the Fish Hook, three of the missions with WO Schaffer and one each with USAF Captains Phillips and Leonard. We flew over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, marked targets for artillery, shadowed units on the ground, flew recon for a Rome Plow Company keeping roads clear and other visual recon missions.  On a couple occasions, we attacked bunker complexes with our 2.75” rockets…the USAF 0-1 carried 8 rockets, versus the army 0-1’s 4 rockets, so we could carry both WP and HE warheads—while not Mark 82s, the 2.75” HE rocket could still ruin your day if on the receiving end!!

My visit was cut short on the fifth day when Bill flew the morning mission solo (I decided to have breakfast with the other USAF folks) and crashed his Bird Dog into a village when it suffered engine failure from fuel contamination.  Bill escaped with a broken finger and I may well have cheated the grim reaper by sleeping in!!!  He was taken from the crash site to Ban Me Thuot to complete the ton of paperwork required and pick up another plane, so I caught the next C-7 back to TSN. 

The compound where we lived at Gia Nghia was on a hilltop about three miles across a valley from the airfield which was on another hilltop to the west.  The airfield was protected by Montanyard conscripts who lived on the field in huts, along with their families.  The “Yards” were very dark skinned mountain people who were diminutive, even by Vietnamese standards, but exceptionally friendly and brave.  They were armed with shotguns and M-16 rifles and their job was to detect and slow down any insurgents while summoning help.  Their bravery is almost beyond comprehension when one considers, they were only 5 or 6 fighters who could not count on any immediate help in the event of an attack. On several occasions, they drove off NVA/VC forces who were attempting to destroy our little air force of 4 planes.  I was very touched by the senior Montanyard when he gave me three wooden bracelets which he had made…these were considered special gifts and we Americans wore them with pride.

While my time in this particular environment was short, the friendships I made with these tough allies were particularly memorable.


©Vietnamese & American Veterans of the Vietnam War, 2005 All Rights Reserved

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