"HOLIDAY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA"

Category: "Viet Nam"
Les Gar Frazier on Jan. 14, 2021


In 1966, my primary duty at Luke AFB, Arizona was to train experienced F-100 pilots to become Fighter-Gunnery Instructor Pilots. Many of the pilots whom we were training were arriving at Luke from duty tours in SEA (Southeast Asia). I had been at Luke since 1963; assigned from Misawa AB, Japan where I had flown the F-100. The last six months of my Misawa tour had been spent TDY (temporary duty) in Viet Nam flying the L-19 and working with Army Rangers and Special Forces out of the Phouc Bien Than Special Military District, headquartered at Song Be, Phouc Long Province, 60 miles north of Saigon.


 

The pilots returning from SEA had many interesting stories to tell and it was easy to see that the nature of the war was changing. Where I had been stationed at a small jungle outpost, the returning pilots told of entire fighter wings stationed In-Country and flying demanding missions against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Regulars.


 

With the exception of my six-month tour in Viet Nam, my entire life from age 21 had been flying fighters, dropping bombs, firing guns and shooting rockets at range targets. There was an overpowering need to use my skills in actual combat, so I visited the Personnel Section and volunteered for another tour in Viet Nam. Because of my work with the Rangers and Special Forces, my records had been stamped "COUNTER INSURGENCY EXPERIENCED" so rather than volunteer for F-100s, I volunteered for A-1 Skyraiders, a single engine propeller driven airplane developed by the U.S. Navy at the end of WW II and used in Korea. The Air Force was using it for Special Operations in Viet Nam.


 

My assignment came down in late 1966 to report to Hurlbert Field for Skyraider training in the spring of 1967. As spring was approaching and I was preparing to depart Luke, a Sergeant from the Military Personnel Center phoned me and told me that they had a pilot who had absolutely no place to go and if I would give him my Skyraider assignment, I could have my pick of any F-100 base in Viet Nam with whatever reporting date I desired. I told the Sergeant to give me a couple of days to think about it and I would call him back. My boss, Major Elmer Guenther, who was listening to my end of the conversation, started to signal me frantically.

"Hold on Sergeant, my boss wants to talk to me."

Covering the receiver, I asked Elmer what he wanted.

"See if you can get me an assignment too," said Elmer.


 

Elmer had been stationed at Luke for the same length of time I had and by coincidence, when I told the Sergeant that Major Elmer Guenther was looking for an assignment to SEA, the Sergeant told me that Elmer's name was the next one on his list and that when I called him back, he should have something for him.


 

I questioned the pilots who had just returned from Viet Nam and almost all of them said to pick Phan Rang. The base was located almost in the center of Viet Nam, which meant that the type of missions flown would be more varied than at bases on the extremes. Additionally, it was only 26 miles from Cam Rahn Bay, a major port of embarkation/debarkation that would make it easier to find transportation throughout the Far East. Finally, due to Phan Rang's location on the South China Sea, it was difficult for the Viet Cong and the NVA to establish a base of operations near the facility.


 

Besides Phan Rang, by 1967, F-100 bases had been established at Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat. Only Bien Hoa existed during my previous tour and it had had a PSP (pierced steel planking) runway and unable to support jet fighters.


 

When I called the Sergeant back, I told him that Phan Rang was my choice with an immediate reporting date. I then asked him if he had anything for Major Guenther who was standing next to me. The Sergeant said that Elmer would also be going to Phan Rang and gave a reporting date about the same as mine. Somehow word got out that I was able to obtain SEA assignments for Luke Gunnery Instructors and I was besieged with special requests for assignments. When I would explain that Elmer's assignment was just a coincident that I had passed along to him, few believed me and there were hard feeling from some of the instructors who thought I was parceling out assignments only to my friends.


 

Again I prepared for departure, but a herniated disk in my lower back was causing a good deal of pain. Bed rest seemed to benefit me and I was pain free until a day or so before departing. Playing with my Weinmariner caused the disk to herniate again, and when I boarded the airplane at the Phoenix airport, hand carrying all my luggage, the pain was intense.


 

The Air Force was now requiring SEA participants to attend a Jungle Survival School that had been set up at Clark AB, Philippines. When I arrived at the school, the words of an Orthipod came back to me: "Back pain is only exceeded by the pain of child birth." Although I was able to sit through a few days of classroom instruction, when we were trucked into the Filipino jungle for actual survival training, the pain became so intense, the Officer in Charge allowed me to truck back to Clark for treatment. That night, in the jungle, three of my classmates were killed in a mudslide,


 

A milogram showed the location of the herniated disk and it was removed. I was kept on strict bed rest for exactly thirty days, allowed to wander around for a week and then shipped to Phan Rang in a DNIF (duty not involving flying) status.


 

Since I was DNIF, the DO (Director of Operations) put me on duty in the Command Post (CP) as an Officer Controller. No one liked CP duty because, except for the chief and the enlisted personnel, it was usually reserved for misfits.


 

Within one week, my squadron Flight Surgeon certified me fit for flying. This was exactly six weeks from the day the disk was removed. I immediately started lobbying to get out of the CP and after six weeks, the DO, apparently sick of listening to me bitch, terminated my tour and returned me to squadron duty. This is not to say that I did not fly during my CP tour. The schedule was flexible enough to allow a few combat missions per week.


 

As expected, the combat missions were varied. Preplanned missions were usually flown against "suspected enemy locations." We almost always had a FAC (Forward Air Controller) flying a small, slow and unarmed airplane to mark our targets with white phosphorus smoke rockets. The FACs mostly flew L-19s and I wondered if any of their birds were the ones I flew back in 1962-63. The ones I flew had Vietnamese Air Force markings and had no smoke rockets. If we wanted to mark a target, we threw a smoke grenade out of the window.


 

When we would finish bombing a target, fuel permitting, we would orbit the FAC while he observed the damage through binoculars. If we hit anything, he would give a description of the damage. Sometimes we would uncover major troop encampments below the three-tiered jungle canopy and the BDA (battle damage assessment) could be extensive. We would swoop down to look at the damage for ourselves; never seeing anything due to our speed and the nature of the canopy cover. But, more often than not, the results of our air strikes were unknown. Once or twice, during that tour, I left the target area thinking a mission was wasted only to have the U.S. Army, penetrating the target area, report at a later date that we did inflict damage.


 

Far more interesting were the missions from the Alert Pad. In 1967, we had six F-100s uploaded with a variety of ordnance on the alert pad. There were three F-100 squadrons and each squadron supplied two aircraft and two pilots 24 hours a day on five minute alert. Each squadron's alert birds were uploaded with a different ordnance load. One squadron might have iron bombs, another napalm and the other wall to wall rockets. In that way, if higher headquarters needed a flight to decimate a troop concentration for instance, they might call on the rocket-laden flight to scramble off to the target area.


 

During a scramble, we ran to our airplanes in nearby revetments and as we were strapping in, with the help of the assistant crew chief, we were also starting the airplane. Once, on a hot scramble, I finished strapping in just as the airplane settled at idle power. I reached up to the windscreen to get my helmet, where I always stowed it, and it wasn't there. I had left it in the squadron! The crew chief saw me reach for the missing helmet and immediately dashed to the squadron a couple of hundred yards away. The assistant crew chief, realizing I couldn't call my wingman to tell him of the problem, ran to his airplane, put up the ladder and told him of my missing helmet. From where I was parked, I could see my wingman and I watched him laugh and beat his fist on the canopy rail over my predicament. Soon, the crew chief came tearing back with a personal equipment specialist in tow, carrying my helmet and a spare, since he had no idea why I didn't have my helmet. I threw on the helmet and judge the omission caused about a five minute delay.


 

"Troops in Contact" was a conjuration used by higher headquarters to launch birds from the alert pad. It usually meant that Americans were engaged with the enemy and we would launch at any time and in any weather to provide support. Flare ships, usually an AC-47 (Gooney Bird) gun ship, called "Puff the Magic Dragon," would provide illumination for night operations.


 

Puff carried flares but that was not his main function. Puff's main armament were three 7.62mm gatling guns firing out of the left side of the bird's fuselage. It was truly an awesome spectacle to watch Puff, in a left bank, fire his cannons at night; a steady stream of fire arcing down to the ground like water from a hose (only one in five rounds were tracers and each gun churned out 6,000 rounds per minute, so Puff could lay down an extraordinary base of fire). Puff crews maintained that if a single person was trying to hide in an area the size of a football field, they would kill him.


 

There was at least one Puff airborne, orbiting north of Saigon every night, all night long, trading off assignments as fuel dictated. There are many soldiers alive today, stationed at Fire Support bases, who owe their lives to Puff arriving on scene and hosing down the enemy as they attacked their base. Sometimes the engine drone alone was enough to cause the Viet Cong to break off their attacks.


 

The Phan Rang Officers Club sat on a hill overlooking the runway with a view to the South China Sea about seven miles away. There was a terrace on the south side where we sat on many evenings, 15 cent Tangeray martinis in hand, watching Puff spray down the country side wondering what other roles the esteemed old trouper might be called on to perform.


 

Later, the name Puff was dropped in favor of "Spookie" and AC-119 gunships replaced the Goon. Still later, AC-130 "Spectre" gunships were deployed. If any reader doubts the war-making technological abilities of Americans, read up on the Spectre for a lesson in brutality, innovation and accuracy.


 

All of our missions were within South Viet Nam and the ordnance was fairly well restricted to guns, bombs, rockets and napalm.


 

The bombs were all finned; 750, 500 and 250 pounders. We called the 250 pounders "lady fingers" after tiny firecrackers most of us fooled with as children. The 750 pounders were left over from Korea and did not have the killing radius of the more streamlined 500 pounders, which, incidentally weighed 535 pounds. None of our bombs during that tour had the retardation device known as the "snake-eye high drag." Nor did we use triple ejection racks (TERs). On a subsequent tour, we had TERs on the inboard stations that carried three 500 pounders under each wing. Two 335 gallon drop tanks were mounted on the center wing station and two 750 pounders on the outboard stations.


 

The napalm was all unfinned and would tumble when released. This did not cause a targeting problem because we had ballistic tables for the tumbling and tumbling allowed us to get in closer to the target with a greater chance of hitting something. Two white phosphorous fuses, one in the nose and the other in the aft part of the napalm tank, provided ignition on striking the ground. The napalm tanks were poorly made (or maybe it just didn't matter) because the jellied gasoline would leak from the tanks and form a dark gray crust on the outside bottom of the tank. When we were able to get steaks or hamburger and have a cookout, on occasion, I have kicked napalm loose from a tank to use as charcoal starter.


 

Most people, when they think of napalm, think of the terrible burns caused by the sticky fluid but we also used it on underground bunkers where it would suck the oxygen out of the tunnels and suffocate those hiding there.


 

No one liked to carry rockets. We used 2.75 inch FFARs (folding fin aerial rocket). Although they did not weigh a great deal, we carried them in pods containing 16 individual rockets that had to be fired simultaneously. The pods had a sizable frontal area that created a staggering drag factor that in turn caused the airplane to burn more fuel (in a jet fighter, one always was concerned about having enough fuel).


 

When the rockets were fired, the fins deployed as the individual rocket left its tube. In a group of 16, there always seemed to be one rocket looping and corkscrewing its way to the ground because one or more of the fins did not deploy. The danger of the errant rocket striking another and sending shrapnel back towards the delivering aircraft was a thought we lived with. Although I have seen many corkscrewing rockets, never has one hit another to my knowledge, probably because the corkscrewing caused it to fall behind the pack.


 

One other dilemma occurred when firing rockets: when attacking a target in a 30 degree dive and firing the rockets at the proper slant range, the rockets sped away from the airplane so rapidly, the pilot could become convinced that he had time to watch the rockets impact the target before initiating a dive recovery. This was a false assumption that cost some pilots their lives, or if they were lucky, a torn up airplane with the associated transfer to an undesirable staff position.


 

The F-100 mounted four 20mm M-39 cannons in the lower fuselage just ahead and below the pilot's feet. The guns were loaded with a mix of armor piercing incendiary (API) and high explosive incendiary (HEI) projectiles. Some of the ammunition was so old that it would explode against raindrops making unsuspecting pilots believe that they were taking ground fire. Old barrels were sometimes welded onto the front of bombs and the bomb fuse located on the tip of the barrel. This would cause the bomb to explode above ground level and was used to clear jungle areas for helicopter landing zones (LZs).


 

When firing the guns, the trigger on the control stick was pulled. As the trigger was depressed and before the guns actually fired, a detent was passed through that started the strike camera rolling and opened the gun purge door. The gun purge door, located within the engine intake, blew residual explosive gases out of the gun bays. If the gases were not purged, accumulated gas would sometimes blow off a gun door. The guns were extremely noisy and the airplane seemed to stop in mid-air as the guns rocked and rolled. Actually, the airplane slowed down about five knots and should not have been noticeable at our firing speed of around 400 or more knots.


 

Each bullet had a lethal radius of 35 feet. Once my flight leader and I caught about 30 Viet Cong walking down a road in the delta. We crept up on them, my leader curving down and out of the clouds, rolling out and hammering them with his guns. Whenever the 20mms struck the ground, they would send up a great cloud of dust (I'm convinced if you shot water, a big cloud of dust would blossom). Several Viet Cong survived the strafing and ran out of the dust cloud and there I was directly in front of them. If they had really keen eyes, they could have seen that my gun purge door was already open. They all saw me at the same time and stopped in mid-stride before being enveloped in another cloud of dust. Some may have survived our attack by diving into the rice paddies on either side of the road; I don't know.


 

Initially, our three squadrons all operated out of a single large building, partitioned off head high, to give the units some sense of privacy and cohesiveness. We all thought we were the baddest, meanest and most famous fighter pilots in history. Once General Westmoreland visited our building and our squadron commander of the 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Lucky Devils," Lt. Col. Ken Miles, introduced us to the most senior officer in SEA. The General was very gracious as he shook each of our hands, but when he finished, he asked, "what do you boys do?" So much for being famous, but we still thought we were bad and mean.


 

We were quartered in trailer houses on the hill below the officers club. Our trailers were hooked to generators that were powered by several diesel engines to provide electricity. The diesels were extremely noisy and ran 24 hours a day.


 

On my following tour, I came into the living area of our quarters one evening and two young army aviators were at the bar having a drink. I asked someone why they were there and was told that they were trying to trade a Huey helicopter for one of our diesels. A couple of our lieutenants were working out the details when our squadron commander, Lt. Col. Don Johnson, nixed the idea with "who'll do the maintenance?".


 

One day, in late autumn, heavy earth moving equipment appeared and began a frenzied construction project on another hill just below where we lived. Having little to do if not on duty, we would watch the construction crews, known as RED HORSEMEN, enthusiastically attacking the red clay that made up the hillside. One of our people, spotting a RED HORSE officer, asked him what they were constructing. The officer replied that they were clearing the area in order to build quarters for the fighter pilots! According to the officer, the quarters were to be ready for us to move into by Christmas. With that news, we all took an avid interest in the construction progress. It was impossible to approach a RED HORSEMAN and suggest that they hurry it up a bit as it seemed like they all worked like there was no tomorrow. At some point one of our people asked a RED HORSEMAN why they worked so diligently and was told, "it's our thing."


 

Colonel Miles, attending daily meetings with the Wing Commander and his staff, found out that Bob Hope and his troupe would headquarter at Phan Rang for the 1967 Christmas season. Bob and his team would venture out each day to various American facilities to put on their show, but would return each evening to Phan Rang. Colonel Miles, in an apparent gesture of good will, offered the troupe the use of our brand new quarters. This caused grousing among some of the pilots until Colonel Miles told them that it was part of his plan to get Bob and his troupe to come to a Lucky Devil Christmas party on Christmas eve.


 

We had also moved into our own squadron building and were no longer sharing our space with two other squadrons. The colonel had decided to build a bar in the squadron building and had most of the pilots involved in the construction. We were so busy appropriating material and putting things together, that no one questioned the necessity of the bar (we never drank on duty, had use of the officers club bar and knew we would have a bar in our new quarters [called hootches; I have no idea of the genesis of the word]). It took some time for me to figure out that the colonel was just keeping us occupied.


 

The colonel also decided that he wanted an oil-on-velvet reclining nude female painting behind the bar. A couple of pilots were put to "work" looking through Playboy magazines for a suitable pose. When one was found, Colonel Miles directed that the painting would not have the view-obscuring pillow located in front of her pelvis. He also directed that horns be painted on her head and a forked tail would curve over her thigh (we were, after all, the Lucky Devils).


 

Two young pilots, headed for two days of R&R in Hong Kong, were told to bring back the painting without fail. The night before they left, I heard them complaining that they would be spending all their time looking for an artist.


 

Some years before, I had taken a trip from Misawa AB, Japan to Hong Kong. While seated in the hotel bar, a little Chinese man tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card that read, "I AM A DEAF MUTE. I AM AN ARTIST, WOULD YOU LIKE TO LOOK AT MY WORK?" I nodded, and he showed me several small oils on velvet. I selected two night boat scenes and they are hanging on the wall in my home. They are over 30 years old at this writing in the mid 1990s.


 

When the two young pilots returned they had the painting. While they were unrolling it in the in-work squadron bar, someone asked how they got the painting.


 

One said, "We arrived at our hotel and went to our rooms and cleaned up. We went back down to the bar and as we were having a drink, a little Chinese guy tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card that read, "I AM A DEAF MUTE. I AM AN ARTIST, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY WORK?" We grabbed him and wouldn't let go. He got kinda scared until we finally made him understand we wanted a large painting made. Hell, we even went back to his apartment and brought him his meals while he painted."


 

The painting was exactly what the colonel wanted and was framed and placed behind the bar. When I arrived back at Phan Rang for my next tour two years later, the painting was still there with a slight tear in one corner. A Viet Cong mortar round had came through the roof and exploded in the bar, causing major room damage but only tearing the painting slightly. No one was injured.


 

When the Hope troupe arrived, they were quartered in our hootch. Somehow Colonel Miles got word to them that their quarters were compliments of the Lucky Devils. He also told them we would be dedicating our squadron bar on Christmas Eve and the troupe was invited to the opening, which they accepted. Actually, the bar had been operational for a month, but what Hope didn't know would be more apt to gain his attendance.


 

Christmas Eve, we were all in the squadron. There was a shaky truce with the Viet Cong so we had no missions to fly although two not-so-lucky Lucky Devils were on the Alert Pad. Before the troupe arrived, several of us were in the crew briefing room watching porn flicks, probably picked up in Hong Kong. Colonel Miles came in, saw what we were doing and said, "no guys, not in my squadron; not on Christmas Eve." We shut down the projector, somehow feeling we had really disappointed our commander.


 

I wandered into the bar where a food service sergeant was setting up a huge tray of cold cuts, cheeses and bread. He had appropriated the food in return for an invitation to the party. Other squadron members were making sure the room was squared away when suddenly the room went totally quiet. I looked around and there was a person dressed in black pajamas and a conical hat pulled low over his face, the typical dress of the Viet Cong (and the typical Vietnamese peasant). It was past sundown and we all knew that every Vietnamese had to be off base by sunset--no exceptions.


 

Vietnamese who worked on base were body searched before they could come on base and before they could depart the base. American Security Policemen searched the men and trusted Vietnamese women searched the women. From the Officers Club terrace, there was an excellent view of the sheds where the base workers were queued up in long lines waiting their turns to be searched. The women who searched other women were not at all popular and were escorted by our military policemen while on base and by Vietnamese policemen off base. I've often wondered how many black market triangles existed between the female searchers, the searchees and the Vietnamese police.


 

Because of the Sundown policy, we were all shocked to see an apparent Vietnamese, especially when he displayed a broom and started to sweep his way into the room. Vietnamese brooms were short; resembling wheat sheaves and for that reason, he was hunkered over, further obscuring his face. Stunned, we all just watched. When he was in the center of the room, he whipped off his hat and for Christ's sake, it was Matt Wallace, one of our pilots, dicking around. Most of us made like we knew it was Matt all along, but now I can admit that the thought of a suicidal Viet Cong had mesmerized me.


 

Word of the party had leaked out and by the time Hope and his crew arrived, the party was swinging.


 

A cheer went up and I expected to see Hope, but it was Raquel Welch who was absolutely magnificent in hot pants. Someone shoved a large bowl of unidentified liquor into her hands and demanded that she have a drink.

"But I don't drink," she pleaded.

"Gotta have a drink!" roared the crowd, so she took a tiny sip.


 

Bob had entered the room without fanfare and was surrounded by people listening to him crack jokes. I heard him say that he liked Phan Rang so much, he was thinking about buying some property.


 

I spotted Hope's bandleader, Les Brown and went over to him and stuck out my hand. "Les Frazier," I said.

"Les Brown," he said as we shook hands "Is it Leslie or Lester," I asked.

"It's Leslie," he replied, "why do you ask?"

"Oh, I've always preferred Leslie to Lester and was just wondering."

"Did you know Bob's real first name is Leslie?" He asked.

"You're kidding. Why does he go by Bob?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it's more in line with being a comedian."


 

We chatted for a while and I found that Les Brown was an easy person to know. He was interested in our mission and asked several questions about what we did for a living.


 

In 1967, small battery operated recorders were becoming popular and several pilots had them and were trying to get the celebrities to speak into them. Phil Crosby was trying to sing into one but was so drunk he wasn't making much sense. He had disgusted the recorder's owner who jerked it away, leaving Phil standing there. Phil said something like, "I'd sure like to speak to dad" to no one in particular. Dad, of course, was Bing Crosby.

"Where is he?" I asked, "Maybe we can call him."

"He's on the ranch in (Elko) Nevada," slurred Phil as he fumbled in his wallet.


 

He produced a phone number and I took it to a phone and called the local MARS (Military Amateur Radio Services) station.


 

"Can you get through to Bing Crosby?" I asked, knowing my request would get priority attention. I gave the operator the phone number and while I waited the operator bounced a radio signal off the ionosphere onto a civilian ham radio operator's antenna somewhere in the states. The ham operator called Bing at his own expense. I knew we had the right number because Bing answered the phone and I recognized his voice having seen about one thousand of his movies. I identified myself, wished him a Merry Christmas and told him there was someone who wanted to talk to him. He thanked me, returned the greeting and I handed the phone to Phil.


 

The bar had become quite crowded. Not only did we have well known personalities, but the stage hands, hair dressers, band members and other members of the troupe were all there. Barbara McNair, a popular singer of the day, was singing and recording messages into the mini-recorders. I heard her tell one recorder that the owner "looked like he's in good shape; I don't see no bullet wounds or nothing."


 

Miss World of 1967, a tiny and delicate knockout from Peru was dancing with half of the squadron. She told us she really liked pilots and that her brother was attending language school at Lackland AFB, Texas in preparation for flying school.


 

When she returned home to Lima, Peru and was part of a parade, her countrymen threw eggs at her for entertaining American servicemen.


 

My flight commander told one guy in the troupe that he was going to sneak into Raquel's bedroom, steal her sheets, cut them into one inch squares and sell the squares for $5.00 a piece. The guy didn't share my flight commander's humor. Turned out he was Raquel's husband and pretty much an asshole.


 

In the meanwhile, Phil Crosby, was getting so drunk Colonel Miles asked Jim Kelm, one of my best friends and a squadron pilot, and me to take Phil to the hootch. We drove him up in the commander's pickup. The hootch area was crawling with Security Police, mostly volunteers. We got Phil into his room and stripped him down to his underwear and put him in his bed and left. We stopped to have a cigarette with the guards, turned around and found that Phil had followed us out in his underwear. We put him to bed again, only to have him follow us outside again. The third time we put him to bed he stayed put and we told the guards to look in on him to make sure he didn't throw up and drown in his own vomit. We returned to the party, which was still in full swing.


 

The troupe stayed around for several days and although I didn't see any personalities other than Miss World and Barbara McNair in our bar, several of the band members came around in the evenings for a drink.

Another truce was declared over New Year's and Chuck Shaheen and I drew night alert duty on 1 January, 1968.


 

Chuck had a olive complexion with a shock of black hair, piercing black eyes and a dapper mustache. Sometimes squadron members would call him the "Squadron Arab," and when I asked him why, he told me he was of Lebanese descent. I had thought Shaheen was an Irish name.


 

On night alert, we usually slept in our flying suits to cut down the scramble time, but since we had a truce, Chuck and I took off our clothes when we went to bed. At 0115, 2 January 1968, we were shouted awake and told to scramble. We dressed, threw on our survival vests, G-suits, life preservers, boots and side arm; dashed to our planes and fired them up. Once in idle, I checked Chuck on CP frequency and asked what was going on. The CP told us that the Viet Cong had broken the truce and were attacking a fire support base in War Zone "C." War zone C was northwest of Saigon in heavy jungle. Nothing we hadn't done before, but the assholes had ruined a good night's sleep and the appropriate lesson could be taught with the wall to wall napalm we both carried.


 

"Channel two, lets taxi," I radioed to Chuck.


 

After checking Chuck in on frequency, I called ground control. "Phan Rang ground, Blade Zero One, scramble two."


 

"Ah, roger Blade, you're cleared to scramble to runway two two." He gave the winds and the altimeter setting and as I fed in power, I looked up at the tower, as we were parked directly below it, and waved. The tower personnel were gathered at the glass facing our revetments, and as they always did during a scramble, they waved back and jumped up and down, whirling around, doing a sort of Indian war dance.


 

Even though it was the middle of the night, the flight line was always busy. The ground crews would leave their work and run up close to our airplane as we taxied by and wave, give the "OK" signal or a thumbs up. No one gave the "V" sign as it was only used by war protestors in the late 60's.


 

As we taxied rapidly to the takeoff end of the runway and left the lighted area, it became apparent that the night was as black as the inside of a cow (Balladeers sing of the brightness of tropical moons without realizing that the reason tropical moons are so bright is because tropical nights are so dark). During the taxi we rechecked all pretakeoff items as many times as we could. Having been scrambled from dreamless sleep to maximum activity in less than five minutes, an important step could easily be left out.


 

We swung onto the runway and as I braked to a stop on my half of the runway, I pushed the throttle to full military thrust. Chuck pulled up almost line abeam as I checked my instruments. I turned down the rear view mirror so I wouldn't be detracted by the afterburner (AB) just as Chuck called, "Two's ready."


 

Without further words, I released the brakes and selected afterburner at same time. The afterburner eyelids opened and the AB lit off with a surge. I steered towards the middle of the runway checking my line speed as I accelerated past one thousand feet. Chuck gave me a courtesy call, "Two's rolling," when I was 15 seconds into my roll. What he was really saying was, "if you have a problem and have to abort, don't forget I'm also using the runway now and would appreciate knowing about your problem." I clicked the mike button twice to let him know I heard him. He had to deal with the bright flame of my AB and I didn't envy him on such a dark night.


 

I lifted off at about 185 knots, brought up the gear and held 220 knots until 2,000 feet above the ground (to get out of the small arms envelope) and raised the flaps. Then I lowered the nose and accelerated to 300 knots and shut down the AB and pulled the throttle back so Chuck could catch me. From lift off, I was on total instruments.


 

Since the take off direction was in about the same direction as our target area, it wasn't necessary to make any turns. A night straight ahead join-up is the most difficult to make and I kept a close eye on Chuck as he came aboard. When he called, "dim-steady," I knew he was comfortable with the join up as he was telling me to dim my position lights. Not that the position lights illuminated the airplane because they didn't. One had to use the size of the small red, green and white lights and their relation to one another on dark nights to join and fly close formation. In close, the number two man could sometimes use his own position lights, positioned on bright-flash, to illuminate the leader. Had any of my lights been out, we would have changed lead.


 

Ordinarily, number two remained in close formation until each airplane could be checked for anomalies, then leader would yaw his airplane indicating for the wingman to move it out, get comfortable and look around. Chuck joined in close, then moved it out without my signal, silently informing me that it was too dark to see any problems I might have. I could only see his position lights and the dull red glow of his cockpit lights, cockpit lights that we would gradually turn down as our vision became more night adapted (I never liked red cockpit lighting. It made me think I was in a submarine being depth charged).


 

Passing 5,000 feet I transmitted the word "lanyard" and received two clicks from Chuck indicating that he had disconnected the snap hook from his parachute D-ring. The snap hook on the D-ring was routed to the seat belt and would deploy the parachute immediately on pilot/seat separation in case of ejection. Failure to secure the snap could cause catastrophic failure of parachute panels and human bones at the airspeeds used above 5,000 feet.


 

We leveled off at 14,500 feet with a solid overcast well above us. Knowing better, I dug out my metal band-aid can, which I used as an ash tray, shielded my lighter, squeezed my eyes closed and lit up a cigarette. I kept the power up as we were only going 150 nautical miles and high engine power coupled with our low altitude would insure our drop tanks feeding out about the time we arrived over target. We did not like to expend ordnance with drop tank fuel sloshing around and adding gravity to the airfame during dive recoveries and we wanted to go to work immediately.


 

While still some distance from the target area, I could see major activity taking place with white flares igniting and further north, deep red artillery and mortar fire arcing back and forth, spitting sparks and exploding in quick orange flashes that winked out abruptly. Yellow tracer fire drew horizontal lines so suddenly, it was impossible to tell the muzzle from the target. In fact, as we drew closer, there was no way for us to determine who was where or break out enemy fire from friendly fire. I wondered why the flares, which were being dropped from an airplane, was some distance to the south of the action.


 

Chuck called, "drops empty" and I responded with "go trail" (get behind me) and called him over to the FAC frequency.


 

I checked in with the FAC, gave him our ordnance and told him we were there to "float like a butterfly; sting like a bee--if you have a target for me." He told us to stand by, making me feel like a bloody fool for screwing around on the radio. He obviously was trying to get things sorted out on the ground and we could help him by remaining silent. But after a few minutes, other fighter flights started checking in and calling the FAC. After perhaps five minutes, at least six flights had checked in and by their call signs, we could tell every In-Country F-100 unit was involved. Finally, the FAC came back and said he had targets and would take flights in order of low fuel state. Oh Christ, I thought, it'll be a matter of who is the biggest liar and the first one he asks won't have a chance. And we were the first ones he asked.


 

Rather than answer, I told him since we were first on scene, we should be the first to expend and that if anyone had a fuel problem, let them land at Bien Hoa, just a few miles away. The FAC didn't have a problem with my suggestion and evidently neither did any of the other fighters, silent in their agreement.


 

The FAC apologized for the delay; that his flare ship had not shown up and that the battle zone was so confusing, trying to find a ground reference point common to him and to the friendlies on the ground was proving very difficult indeed.


 

Since he said he had it sorted out and Chuck and I would be the first to expend, he gave us the current altimeter, the target elevation and the safest place to bail out (Bien Hoa) and that he wanted our napalm delivered singly from north to south. FACs always tell the fighters where the closest friendlies are and that information turned out to be, "close, really fucking close." We could see the glow of the lights of Saigon, so he told us to call the glow due south, and any changes in ordnance delivery points would be locked in by the glow reference.


 

The FAC then transmitted that he was rolling in to mark the target and I called Chuck to "set 'em up hot" and received his double mike click. After a few seconds, I transmitted, "recheck depression, Bomb Single and Arm Nose/Tail." Again, the mike clicks.

"OK Blade, I want your nape 100 meters southwest of my smoke."

"Smoke, what smoke?" I asked, searching desperately for the billowing white cloud that would mark our target. "Two, do you have his smoke?" If Chuck could see it, he would attack and I would follow.

"Negative."

"Ah, Delco Zero One, we don't see your smoke."

"Well, oh shit, everything looks different tonight and the flare ship is about five klicks south of where he should be. I've been trying to get him up here, but I haven't had any luck. Let me call him again."


 

While the FAC was talking to the flare ship, I estimated a five kilometer line from where the flares were swinging in their chutes. The line intersected the battle area and then I could dimly see the FAC's smoke. I had been expecting the smoke to be under the flares.


 

"OK, Delco, Blade has your smoke but there isn't much illumination. Two, do you have the smoke, low at my 10 o'clock?"


 

Again, Chuck transmitted a negative.


 

"If you can see to drop," transmitted the FAC, "you are cleared in. For Christ's sake, don't drop north of my smoke." Obviously where the nearest friendlies were located.


 

Turning off my position lights, I rolled in, swinging around from north to south. It felt like the trees were reaching up, trying to snag me as I descended into black oblivion and accelerated to my drop speed of 400 knots, trying to maintain a 15 degree dive angle and watch for my release altitude to come up as I kept one eye on the smoke. When everything came together, I pickled off a can, felt the satisfying "thump" as it was ejected from by left outboard station by a 10 gage shotgun shell, yawing the airplane slightly. I immediately hauled back on the stick, putting six "G's" on the airfame and grunting to keep from graying out as it was important to look for helicopters. Helicopters were to an air strike as buzzards are to a dead possum. It seemed like every chopper In-Country had a requirement to figure out where a jet was going to make his pull out, then whack over there and get in the way. Seeing no choppers, I made a climbing turn back to the north as Chuck Called, "Two's in." Since we had our position lights out, I couldn't see him, so I looked down to where my nape had entered the jungle. Some residual fire could be seen and it appeared my nape was further south than the FAC wanted it.


 

"Blade two, bring your nape about 100 meters north of Lead's hit," confirming my analyses.


 

When Chuck's napalm exploded, it looked to be well south of where the FAC wanted it and being courteous, he suggested the nape had hung up during release.


 

"Delco Zero One, if that flare ship doesn't come up here where we can see what we're doing, we're not going to be able to do you much good." My observation was as much as an excuse for the fighter flights silently circling above us as it was for our poor aim. "I'm trying," responded the FAC, "I don't know who the guy is. He just won't come up where the fighting is. It isn't Puff, but Puff's on the way out of Saigon."


 

We tightened up the pattern, mindful of the fighters waiting their turn, burning their fuel. My last three cans of napalm exploded where the FAC wanted them but Chuck was throwing his nape all over South Viet Nam. I had flown with Chuck on several occasions and he was an excellent pilot and I wondered why he was so erratic on this night. His eyesight was excellent and didn't need glasses as I did. Some of the pilots did wear glasses but were sensitive about it and would duck their heads in the cockpit, put them on and pull down the smoked visor before raising their heads. Those of us who did wear glasses kept an extra set in our G-suit pocket (contacts were not worn as "G" forces would drag them down from the eye's cornea).


 

The FAC told us he didn't have any BDA (battle damage assessment) for us and said good night just as Puff checked in on his frequency. Bad timing for us. Puff would put the flares where they were needed for the other flights.


 

Turning for home, I turned my position lights back on and asked Chuck if he had me in sight. He said no, so I stroked the burner and he picked me up.


 

Usually at night, we would climb to 19,500 feet and make a jet penetration to a GCA (ground controlled approach). As we leveled off at 19,500 feet, we changed to our CP frequency and I was surprised to hear Colonel Miles checking in; he wasn't even on alert duty. Evidently, the War Zone C attack was requiring all of our assets. I called the CP with our airplane status and they immediately asked if we were able to go again. When I told them that we could, Chuck asked me if he could lead the next mission. An odd request, but he was a flight leader and we had thoroughly discussed procedures prior to assuming alert, so I told him he could lead.


 

Since we were needed again, we descended and landed VFR (visual flight rules: looking out the window, using the lighted base as a visual reference).


 

We dearmed our guns and taxied rapidly to the refueling pits. After shutting down, the Line Chief took me to my next airplane, also loaded with napalm, and I made a hurried preflight, climbed in and fired it up. At no time did I see Chuck and my next contact with him was when he checked me in on the CP frequency.


 

The second mission was as dark as the first and the flight to the target area was a repeat. When we arrived over the target area, several flares swung in their 'chutes and there was a smoky haze throughout the area with various fires burning on the ground, but no artillery nor mortar duels. A different FAC was on station and took our lineup after a flight of F-4s had cleared his frequency.


 

"OK Blade, we've broken the back of the attack and the slopes are moving out of the area. I'm going to put you in where I think they might be. Hang on a minute." He evidently wanted to confer with the ground commander and reposition Puff, who commenced to drop flares in the general neighborhood of the ground fires.


 

During this tour, F-100s did not have the capability to carry flares (when I returned in 1970, we did have the capability). As previously mentioned, Puff usually dropped flares for us. When Puff wasn't available, other airplanes would drop them as occurred on the first sortie we flew on 2 January 1968. I never found out who was dropping the flares so far from the target area; probably because it was fait accompli and just didn't matter after the fact.


 

The flares were ejected from about 5,000 feet above the ground and would descend under a 16 foot parachute canopy. The flare light, while blue/white bright, had a surreal aspect as they swung back and forth during decent. The swinging motion gave absolutely everything: clouds, trees, hills, etc., a shadow that also swung back and forth. Multiple flares caused multiple shadows and the effect was that the entire world was moving back and forth. The flares only lighted the area in their immediate vicinity, so an attack might start in pure blackness, blast into the moving world of light and immediately return to an even blacker black during an attack recovery that was primarily on instruments.


 

Sometimes a flare wouldn't ignite. Because the unlighted flare did not heat the parachute and make it more buoyant, the "ghosts" as we called them, descended faster and were impossible to see. On a few occasions, a ghost has whipped by out of the corner of my eye. The cannisters were about two feet long and six inches in diameter.


 

We had exchanged all the necessary information with the FAC and were ready to attack on his smoke mark.

"Fac's in to mark," he transmitted and I watched him fire the smoke rocket and pull off to the east. "Hit my smoke."

"Blade Lead doesn't have the smoke," Chuck transmitted. Jesus Christ Chuck, it's right off your left wingtip! Are you blind? I thought. But I radioed, "Two has the smoke."

"Two, you're cleared to drop. Lead, remain high and dry 'till you have the target."


 

I called, "Two's in hot from the north." My pattern was what we called a "parabolic curve," constantly descending, turning and accelerating, rolling wings level just prior to release, pickling off the napalm and jinking one way and then the other coming off the target (parabolic was later changed to "curvelinear approach" because NASA was using the word "parabolic curve" as a C-135 zero "G" maneuver to acquaint Astronauts with weightlessness. Not that it mattered; both terms generally mean "curve").


 

The FAC was pleased with my hit and told Chuck, who saw my napalm splash, to put his in the same place. Again, Chuck's napalm was out of the park.


 

If there had been any danger of Chuck hitting friendlies, I (or the FAC) would have had him safe up his switches and orbit high and dry, but his napalm had been going long all night-not short where the friendlies were located. This seemed to be a dichotomy as when I could see him make an attack, his patterns looked high and flat-both contributing to ordnance falling short. But since night flares provide such poor illumination, my perception of his patterns could have been entirely wrong. Since the FAC really didn't know the exact location of the enemy, a long splash might just as well find them as an on-smoke hit.


 

After we expended our napalm, the FAC marked another area and asked for gun attacks in the thick three-tiered jungle, with the tallest trees reaching about 300 feet. Gun attacks had to be steep in order to penetrate to ground level. We flogged around, tearing up the general area, but only the VC will ever know if we hit anything.


 

As expected, the FAC had no BDA for us, so we safed up our switches, rejoined and headed back to Phan Rang. The sun was beginning to rise over the South China Sea as we approached the base and Chuck decided to make another VFR decent and landing. This was fine with me as the missions had been extremely tiring.


 

Chuck taxied into the dearming area and I followed him, pulling up line abeam on his right. As we sat there, the CP called and told us that on our first mission we had dropped the first ordnance in all of SEA for 1968.


 

The dearming crew, as they had done after the first mission, removed the gun bay doors and electrically disconnected the guns and inserted ground safety pins into the wing pylons.


 

It was fully light and I idly glanced over at Chuck who had his oxygen mask off, hinged to his helmet on the left. Although I knew it was Chuck sitting in that airplane, I didn't recognize his profile. Something was seriously wrong with his face.

"Turn this way and face me, Chuck," I transmitted.


 

When he turned, I did not see a face, but huge knots with one eye peering out from under a large lump (I cannot watch the movie, "Elephant Man" without thinking of the instant when Chuck turned and faced me).

"Holy shit!!" I exclaimed, "What's wrong with your face?"

"Got hives," he replied.

"Good Lord buddy, is your left eye closed?" He nodded and gave me a double click on the radio.

"When did it close?"

"On the first mission."

"Before the first nape drop?" I asked. Another nod and double click.

"Well," I said, "you'd better not taxi back to the (refueling) pits. Shut it down and I'll call for wheels."

"Naw, if I got this far, I can make it to the pits."

"OK, Chuck, but you better go straight to the Flight Surgeon." A double click.


 

A double click really doesn't mean anything more than "I hear and understand you." As far as I know, Chuck never visited the doctor. Hives were not that uncommon. The stress of combat seemed to bring them on. Of the two or three cases I knew about, each pilot had had hives of the feet. With swollen feet and unable to pull on flight boots, the pilot was declared DNIF and would be assigned ground duties wearing shower clogs. But facial hives? I had never heard of them. Any pilot will confirm both eyes are needed to fly an airplane. There is little to no depth perception with one eye and although one-eyed pilots can gain some small degree of depth perception by focusing on an object and moving their heads from side to side, to attack defended hostile emplacements with dive maneuvers in the middle of the blackest night with only one operational eye might, in some quarters, be termed foolish.


 

But such is the nature of the Warrior class. When the CP told us that a Fire Base in War Zone C was under attack, Chuck committed himself; there was, in his mind, no turning back. He knew Americans were getting killed and he simply could not allow that to happen even though he developed a physiological condition that could have easily killed him. This does not imply that Chuck was noble or without fear. It was his duty to fly and every warrior feels failure to act will bring censure from fellow warriors; a situation that must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to develop. Chuck Shaheen was a Warrior of the First Order.


 

And the Tet Offensive of 1968 was still 28 days away.

In 1966, my primary duty at Luke AFB, Arizona was to train experienced F-100 pilots to become Fighter-Gunnery Instructor Pilots. Many of the pilots whom we were training were arriving at Luke from duty tours in SEA (Southeast Asia). I had been at Luke since 1963; assigned from Misawa AB, Japan where I had flown the F-100. The last six months of my Misawa tour had been spent TDY (temporary duty) in Viet Nam flying the L-19 and working with Army Rangers and Special Forces out of the Phouc Bien Than Special Military District, headquartered at Song Be, Phouc Long Province, 60 miles north of Saigon.


 

The pilots returning from SEA had many interesting stories to tell and it was easy to see that the nature of the war was changing. Where I had been stationed at a small jungle outpost, the returning pilots told of entire fighter wings stationed In-Country and flying demanding missions against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Regulars.


 

With the exception of my six-month tour in Viet Nam, my entire life from age 21 had been flying fighters, dropping bombs, firing guns and shooting rockets at range targets. There was an overpowering need to use my skills in actual combat, so I visited the Personnel Section and volunteered for another tour in Viet Nam. Because of my work with the Rangers and Special Forces, my records had been stamped "COUNTER INSURGENCY EXPERIENCED" so rather than volunteer for F-100s, I volunteered for A-1 Skyraiders, a single engine propeller driven airplane developed by the U.S. Navy at the end of WW II and used in Korea. The Air Force was using it for Special Operations in Viet Nam.


 

My assignment came down in late 1966 to report to Hurlbert Field for Skyraider training in the spring of 1967. As spring was approaching and I was preparing to depart Luke, a Sergeant from the Military Personnel Center phoned me and told me that they had a pilot who had absolutely no place to go and if I would give him my Skyraider assignment, I could have my pick of any F-100 base in Viet Nam with whatever reporting date I desired. I told the Sergeant to give me a couple of days to think about it and I would call him back. My boss, Major Elmer Guenther, who was listening to my end of the conversation, started to signal me frantically.

"Hold on Sergeant, my boss wants to talk to me."

Covering the receiver, I asked Elmer what he wanted.

"See if you can get me an assignment too," said Elmer.


 

Elmer had been stationed at Luke for the same length of time I had and by coincidence, when I told the Sergeant that Major Elmer Guenther was looking for an assignment to SEA, the Sergeant told me that Elmer's name was the next one on his list and that when I called him back, he should have something for him.


 

I questioned the pilots who had just returned from Viet Nam and almost all of them said to pick Phan Rang. The base was located almost in the center of Viet Nam, which meant that the type of missions flown would be more varied than at bases on the extremes. Additionally, it was only 26 miles from Cam Rahn Bay, a major port of embarkation/debarkation that would make it easier to find transportation throughout the Far East. Finally, due to Phan Rang's location on the South China Sea, it was difficult for the Viet Cong and the NVA to establish a base of operations near the facility.


 

Besides Phan Rang, by 1967, F-100 bases had been established at Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat. Only Bien Hoa existed during my previous tour and it had had a PSP (pierced steel planking) runway and unable to support jet fighters.


 

When I called the Sergeant back, I told him that Phan Rang was my choice with an immediate reporting date. I then asked him if he had anything for Major Guenther who was standing next to me. The Sergeant said that Elmer would also be going to Phan Rang and gave a reporting date about the same as mine. Somehow word got out that I was able to obtain SEA assignments for Luke Gunnery Instructors and I was besieged with special requests for assignments. When I would explain that Elmer's assignment was just a coincident that I had passed along to him, few believed me and there were hard feeling from some of the instructors who thought I was parceling out assignments only to my friends.


 

Again I prepared for departure, but a herniated disk in my lower back was causing a good deal of pain. Bed rest seemed to benefit me and I was pain free until a day or so before departing. Playing with my Weinmariner caused the disk to herniate again, and when I boarded the airplane at the Phoenix airport, hand carrying all my luggage, the pain was intense.


 

The Air Force was now requiring SEA participants to attend a Jungle Survival School that had been set up at Clark AB, Philippines. When I arrived at the school, the words of an Orthipod came back to me: "Back pain is only exceeded by the pain of child birth." Although I was able to sit through a few days of classroom instruction, when we were trucked into the Filipino jungle for actual survival training, the pain became so intense, the Officer in Charge allowed me to truck back to Clark for treatment. That night, in the jungle, three of my classmates were killed in a mudslide,


 

A milogram showed the location of the herniated disk and it was removed. I was kept on strict bed rest for exactly thirty days, allowed to wander around for a week and then shipped to Phan Rang in a DNIF (duty not involving flying) status.


 

Since I was DNIF, the DO (Director of Operations) put me on duty in the Command Post (CP) as an Officer Controller. No one liked CP duty because, except for the chief and the enlisted personnel, it was usually reserved for misfits.


 

Within one week, my squadron Flight Surgeon certified me fit for flying. This was exactly six weeks from the day the disk was removed. I immediately started lobbying to get out of the CP and after six weeks, the DO, apparently sick of listening to me bitch, terminated my tour and returned me to squadron duty. This is not to say that I did not fly during my CP tour. The schedule was flexible enough to allow a few combat missions per week.


 

As expected, the combat missions were varied. Preplanned missions were usually flown against "suspected enemy locations." We almost always had a FAC (Forward Air Controller) flying a small, slow and unarmed airplane to mark our targets with white phosphorus smoke rockets. The FACs mostly flew L-19s and I wondered if any of their birds were the ones I flew back in 1962-63. The ones I flew had Vietnamese Air Force markings and had no smoke rockets. If we wanted to mark a target, we threw a smoke grenade out of the window.


 

When we would finish bombing a target, fuel permitting, we would orbit the FAC while he observed the damage through binoculars. If we hit anything, he would give a description of the damage. Sometimes we would uncover major troop encampments below the three-tiered jungle canopy and the BDA (battle damage assessment) could be extensive. We would swoop down to look at the damage for ourselves; never seeing anything due to our speed and the nature of the canopy cover. But, more often than not, the results of our air strikes were unknown. Once or twice, during that tour, I left the target area thinking a mission was wasted only to have the U.S. Army, penetrating the target area, report at a later date that we did inflict damage.


 

Far more interesting were the missions from the Alert Pad. In 1967, we had six F-100s uploaded with a variety of ordnance on the alert pad. There were three F-100 squadrons and each squadron supplied two aircraft and two pilots 24 hours a day on five minute alert. Each squadron's alert birds were uploaded with a different ordnance load. One squadron might have iron bombs, another napalm and the other wall to wall rockets. In that way, if higher headquarters needed a flight to decimate a troop concentration for instance, they might call on the rocket-laden flight to scramble off to the target area.


 

During a scramble, we ran to our airplanes in nearby revetments and as we were strapping in, with the help of the assistant crew chief, we were also starting the airplane. Once, on a hot scramble, I finished strapping in just as the airplane settled at idle power. I reached up to the windscreen to get my helmet, where I always stowed it, and it wasn't there. I had left it in the squadron! The crew chief saw me reach for the missing helmet and immediately dashed to the squadron a couple of hundred yards away. The assistant crew chief, realizing I couldn't call my wingman to tell him of the problem, ran to his airplane, put up the ladder and told him of my missing helmet. From where I was parked, I could see my wingman and I watched him laugh and beat his fist on the canopy rail over my predicament. Soon, the crew chief came tearing back with a personal equipment specialist in tow, carrying my helmet and a spare, since he had no idea why I didn't have my helmet. I threw on the helmet and judge the omission caused about a five minute delay.


 

"Troops in Contact" was a conjuration used by higher headquarters to launch birds from the alert pad. It usually meant that Americans were engaged with the enemy and we would launch at any time and in any weather to provide support. Flare ships, usually an AC-47 (Gooney Bird) gun ship, called "Puff the Magic Dragon," would provide illumination for night operations.


 

Puff carried flares but that was not his main function. Puff's main armament were three 7.62mm gatling guns firing out of the left side of the bird's fuselage. It was truly an awesome spectacle to watch Puff, in a left bank, fire his cannons at night; a steady stream of fire arcing down to the ground like water from a hose (only one in five rounds were tracers and each gun churned out 6,000 rounds per minute, so Puff could lay down an extraordinary base of fire). Puff crews maintained that if a single person was trying to hide in an area the size of a football field, they would kill him.


 

There was at least one Puff airborne, orbiting north of Saigon every night, all night long, trading off assignments as fuel dictated. There are many soldiers alive today, stationed at Fire Support bases, who owe their lives to Puff arriving on scene and hosing down the enemy as they attacked their base. Sometimes the engine drone alone was enough to cause the Viet Cong to break off their attacks.


 

The Phan Rang Officers Club sat on a hill overlooking the runway with a view to the South China Sea about seven miles away. There was a terrace on the south side where we sat on many evenings, 15 cent Tangeray martinis in hand, watching Puff spray down the country side wondering what other roles the esteemed old trouper might be called on to perform.


 

Later, the name Puff was dropped in favor of "Spookie" and AC-119 gunships replaced the Goon. Still later, AC-130 "Spectre" gunships were deployed. If any reader doubts the war-making technological abilities of Americans, read up on the Spectre for a lesson in brutality, innovation and accuracy.


 

All of our missions were within South Viet Nam and the ordnance was fairly well restricted to guns, bombs, rockets and napalm.


 

The bombs were all finned; 750, 500 and 250 pounders. We called the 250 pounders "lady fingers" after tiny firecrackers most of us fooled with as children. The 750 pounders were left over from Korea and did not have the killing radius of the more streamlined 500 pounders, which, incidentally weighed 535 pounds. None of our bombs during that tour had the retardation device known as the "snake-eye high drag." Nor did we use triple ejection racks (TERs). On a subsequent tour, we had TERs on the inboard stations that carried three 500 pounders under each wing. Two 335 gallon drop tanks were mounted on the center wing station and two 750 pounders on the outboard stations.


 

The napalm was all unfinned and would tumble when released. This did not cause a targeting problem because we had ballistic tables for the tumbling and tumbling allowed us to get in closer to the target with a greater chance of hitting something. Two white phosphorous fuses, one in the nose and the other in the aft part of the napalm tank, provided ignition on striking the ground. The napalm tanks were poorly made (or maybe it just didn't matter) because the jellied gasoline would leak from the tanks and form a dark gray crust on the outside bottom of the tank. When we were able to get steaks or hamburger and have a cookout, on occasion, I have kicked napalm loose from a tank to use as charcoal starter.


 

Most people, when they think of napalm, think of the terrible burns caused by the sticky fluid but we also used it on underground bunkers where it would suck the oxygen out of the tunnels and suffocate those hiding there.


 

No one liked to carry rockets. We used 2.75 inch FFARs (folding fin aerial rocket). Although they did not weigh a great deal, we carried them in pods containing 16 individual rockets that had to be fired simultaneously. The pods had a sizable frontal area that created a staggering drag factor that in turn caused the airplane to burn more fuel (in a jet fighter, one always was concerned about having enough fuel).


 

When the rockets were fired, the fins deployed as the individual rocket left its tube. In a group of 16, there always seemed to be one rocket looping and corkscrewing its way to the ground because one or more of the fins did not deploy. The danger of the errant rocket striking another and sending shrapnel back towards the delivering aircraft was a thought we lived with. Although I have seen many corkscrewing rockets, never has one hit another to my knowledge, probably because the corkscrewing caused it to fall behind the pack.


 

One other dilemma occurred when firing rockets: when attacking a target in a 30 degree dive and firing the rockets at the proper slant range, the rockets sped away from the airplane so rapidly, the pilot could become convinced that he had time to watch the rockets impact the target before initiating a dive recovery. This was a false assumption that cost some pilots their lives, or if they were lucky, a torn up airplane with the associated transfer to an undesirable staff position.


 

The F-100 mounted four 20mm M-39 cannons in the lower fuselage just ahead and below the pilot's feet. The guns were loaded with a mix of armor piercing incendiary (API) and high explosive incendiary (HEI) projectiles. Some of the ammunition was so old that it would explode against raindrops making unsuspecting pilots believe that they were taking ground fire. Old barrels were sometimes welded onto the front of bombs and the bomb fuse located on the tip of the barrel. This would cause the bomb to explode above ground level and was used to clear jungle areas for helicopter landing zones (LZs).


 

When firing the guns, the trigger on the control stick was pulled. As the trigger was depressed and before the guns actually fired, a detent was passed through that started the strike camera rolling and opened the gun purge door. The gun purge door, located within the engine intake, blew residual explosive gases out of the gun bays. If the gases were not purged, accumulated gas would sometimes blow off a gun door. The guns were extremely noisy and the airplane seemed to stop in mid-air as the guns rocked and rolled. Actually, the airplane slowed down about five knots and should not have been noticeable at our firing speed of around 400 or more knots.


 

Each bullet had a lethal radius of 35 feet. Once my flight leader and I caught about 30 Viet Cong walking down a road in the delta. We crept up on them, my leader curving down and out of the clouds, rolling out and hammering them with his guns. Whenever the 20mms struck the ground, they would send up a great cloud of dust (I'm convinced if you shot water, a big cloud of dust would blossom). Several Viet Cong survived the strafing and ran out of the dust cloud and there I was directly in front of them. If they had really keen eyes, they could have seen that my gun purge door was already open. They all saw me at the same time and stopped in mid-stride before being enveloped in another cloud of dust. Some may have survived our attack by diving into the rice paddies on either side of the road; I don't know.


 

Initially, our three squadrons all operated out of a single large building, partitioned off head high, to give the units some sense of privacy and cohesiveness. We all thought we were the baddest, meanest and most famous fighter pilots in history. Once General Westmoreland visited our building and our squadron commander of the 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Lucky Devils," Lt. Col. Ken Miles, introduced us to the most senior officer in SEA. The General was very gracious as he shook each of our hands, but when he finished, he asked, "what do you boys do?" So much for being famous, but we still thought we were bad and mean.


 

We were quartered in trailer houses on the hill below the officers club. Our trailers were hooked to generators that were powered by several diesel engines to provide electricity. The diesels were extremely noisy and ran 24 hours a day.


 

On my following tour, I came into the living area of our quarters one evening and two young army aviators were at the bar having a drink. I asked someone why they were there and was told that they were trying to trade a Huey helicopter for one of our diesels. A couple of our lieutenants were working out the details when our squadron commander, Lt. Col. Don Johnson, nixed the idea with "who'll do the maintenance?".


 

One day, in late autumn, heavy earth moving equipment appeared and began a frenzied construction project on another hill just below where we lived. Having little to do if not on duty, we would watch the construction crews, known as RED HORSEMEN, enthusiastically attacking the red clay that made up the hillside. One of our people, spotting a RED HORSE officer, asked him what they were constructing. The officer replied that they were clearing the area in order to build quarters for the fighter pilots! According to the officer, the quarters were to be ready for us to move into by Christmas. With that news, we all took an avid interest in the construction progress. It was impossible to approach a RED HORSEMAN and suggest that they hurry it up a bit as it seemed like they all worked like there was no tomorrow. At some point one of our people asked a RED HORSEMAN why they worked so diligently and was told, "it's our thing."


 

Colonel Miles, attending daily meetings with the Wing Commander and his staff, found out that Bob Hope and his troupe would headquarter at Phan Rang for the 1967 Christmas season. Bob and his team would venture out each day to various American facilities to put on their show, but would return each evening to Phan Rang. Colonel Miles, in an apparent gesture of good will, offered the troupe the use of our brand new quarters. This caused grousing among some of the pilots until Colonel Miles told them that it was part of his plan to get Bob and his troupe to come to a Lucky Devil Christmas party on Christmas eve.


 

We had also moved into our own squadron building and were no longer sharing our space with two other squadrons. The colonel had decided to build a bar in the squadron building and had most of the pilots involved in the construction. We were so busy appropriating material and putting things together, that no one questioned the necessity of the bar (we never drank on duty, had use of the officers club bar and knew we would have a bar in our new quarters [called hootches; I have no idea of the genesis of the word]). It took some time for me to figure out that the colonel was just keeping us occupied.


 

The colonel also decided that he wanted an oil-on-velvet reclining nude female painting behind the bar. A couple of pilots were put to "work" looking through Playboy magazines for a suitable pose. When one was found, Colonel Miles directed that the painting would not have the view-obscuring pillow located in front of her pelvis. He also directed that horns be painted on her head and a forked tail would curve over her thigh (we were, after all, the Lucky Devils).


 

Two young pilots, headed for two days of R&R in Hong Kong, were told to bring back the painting without fail. The night before they left, I heard them complaining that they would be spending all their time looking for an artist.


 

Some years before, I had taken a trip from Misawa AB, Japan to Hong Kong. While seated in the hotel bar, a little Chinese man tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card that read, "I AM A DEAF MUTE. I AM AN ARTIST, WOULD YOU LIKE TO LOOK AT MY WORK?" I nodded, and he showed me several small oils on velvet. I selected two night boat scenes and they are hanging on the wall in my home. They are over 30 years old at this writing in the mid 1990s.


 

When the two young pilots returned they had the painting. While they were unrolling it in the in-work squadron bar, someone asked how they got the painting.


 

One said, "We arrived at our hotel and went to our rooms and cleaned up. We went back down to the bar and as we were having a drink, a little Chinese guy tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card that read, "I AM A DEAF MUTE. I AM AN ARTIST, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY WORK?" We grabbed him and wouldn't let go. He got kinda scared until we finally made him understand we wanted a large painting made. Hell, we even went back to his apartment and brought him his meals while he painted."


 

The painting was exactly what the colonel wanted and was framed and placed behind the bar. When I arrived back at Phan Rang for my next tour two years later, the painting was still there with a slight tear in one corner. A Viet Cong mortar round had came through the roof and exploded in the bar, causing major room damage but only tearing the painting slightly. No one was injured.


 

When the Hope troupe arrived, they were quartered in our hootch. Somehow Colonel Miles got word to them that their quarters were compliments of the Lucky Devils. He also told them we would be dedicating our squadron bar on Christmas Eve and the troupe was invited to the opening, which they accepted. Actually, the bar had been operational for a month, but what Hope didn't know would be more apt to gain his attendance.


 

Christmas Eve, we were all in the squadron. There was a shaky truce with the Viet Cong so we had no missions to fly although two not-so-lucky Lucky Devils were on the Alert Pad. Before the troupe arrived, several of us were in the crew briefing room watching porn flicks, probably picked up in Hong Kong. Colonel Miles came in, saw what we were doing and said, "no guys, not in my squadron; not on Christmas Eve." We shut down the projector, somehow feeling we had really disappointed our commander.


 

I wandered into the bar where a food service sergeant was setting up a huge tray of cold cuts, cheeses and bread. He had appropriated the food in return for an invitation to the party. Other squadron members were making sure the room was squared away when suddenly the room went totally quiet. I looked around and there was a person dressed in black pajamas and a conical hat pulled low over his face, the typical dress of the Viet Cong (and the typical Vietnamese peasant). It was past sundown and we all knew that every Vietnamese had to be off base by sunset--no exceptions.


 

Vietnamese who worked on base were body searched before they could come on base and before they could depart the base. American Security Policemen searched the men and trusted Vietnamese women searched the women. From the Officers Club terrace, there was an excellent view of the sheds where the base workers were queued up in long lines waiting their turns to be searched. The women who searched other women were not at all popular and were escorted by our military policemen while on base and by Vietnamese policemen off base. I've often wondered how many black market triangles existed between the female searchers, the searchees and the Vietnamese police.


 

Because of the Sundown policy, we were all shocked to see an apparent Vietnamese, especially when he displayed a broom and started to sweep his way into the room. Vietnamese brooms were short; resembling wheat sheaves and for that reason, he was hunkered over, further obscuring his face. Stunned, we all just watched. When he was in the center of the room, he whipped off his hat and for Christ's sake, it was Matt Wallace, one of our pilots, dicking around. Most of us made like we knew it was Matt all along, but now I can admit that the thought of a suicidal Viet Cong had mesmerized me.


 

Word of the party had leaked out and by the time Hope and his crew arrived, the party was swinging.


 

A cheer went up and I expected to see Hope, but it was Raquel Welch who was absolutely magnificent in hot pants. Someone shoved a large bowl of unidentified liquor into her hands and demanded that she have a drink.

"But I don't drink," she pleaded.

"Gotta have a drink!" roared the crowd, so she took a tiny sip.


 

Bob had entered the room without fanfare and was surrounded by people listening to him crack jokes. I heard him say that he liked Phan Rang so much, he was thinking about buying some property.


 

I spotted Hope's bandleader, Les Brown and went over to him and stuck out my hand. "Les Frazier," I said.

"Les Brown," he said as we shook hands "Is it Leslie or Lester," I asked.

"It's Leslie," he replied, "why do you ask?"

"Oh, I've always preferred Leslie to Lester and was just wondering."

"Did you know Bob's real first name is Leslie?" He asked.

"You're kidding. Why does he go by Bob?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it's more in line with being a comedian."


 

We chatted for a while and I found that Les Brown was an easy person to know. He was interested in our mission and asked several questions about what we did for a living.


 

In 1967, small battery operated recorders were becoming popular and several pilots had them and were trying to get the celebrities to speak into them. Phil Crosby was trying to sing into one but was so drunk he wasn't making much sense. He had disgusted the recorder's owner who jerked it away, leaving Phil standing there. Phil said something like, "I'd sure like to speak to dad" to no one in particular. Dad, of course, was Bing Crosby.

"Where is he?" I asked, "Maybe we can call him."

"He's on the ranch in (Elko) Nevada," slurred Phil as he fumbled in his wallet.


 

He produced a phone number and I took it to a phone and called the local MARS (Military Amateur Radio Services) station.


 

"Can you get through to Bing Crosby?" I asked, knowing my request would get priority attention. I gave the operator the phone number and while I waited the operator bounced a radio signal off the ionosphere onto a civilian ham radio operator's antenna somewhere in the states. The ham operator called Bing at his own expense. I knew we had the right number because Bing answered the phone and I recognized his voice having seen about one thousand of his movies. I identified myself, wished him a Merry Christmas and told him there was someone who wanted to talk to him. He thanked me, returned the greeting and I handed the phone to Phil.


 

The bar had become quite crowded. Not only did we have well known personalities, but the stage hands, hair dressers, band members and other members of the troupe were all there. Barbara McNair, a popular singer of the day, was singing and recording messages into the mini-recorders. I heard her tell one recorder that the owner "looked like he's in good shape; I don't see no bullet wounds or nothing."


 

Miss World of 1967, a tiny and delicate knockout from Peru was dancing with half of the squadron. She told us she really liked pilots and that her brother was attending language school at Lackland AFB, Texas in preparation for flying school.


 

When she returned home to Lima, Peru and was part of a parade, her countrymen threw eggs at her for entertaining American servicemen.


 

My flight commander told one guy in the troupe that he was going to sneak into Raquel's bedroom, steal her sheets, cut them into one inch squares and sell the squares for $5.00 a piece. The guy didn't share my flight commander's humor. Turned out he was Raquel's husband and pretty much an asshole.


 

In the meanwhile, Phil Crosby, was getting so drunk Colonel Miles asked Jim Kelm, one of my best friends and a squadron pilot, and me to take Phil to the hootch. We drove him up in the commander's pickup. The hootch area was crawling with Security Police, mostly volunteers. We got Phil into his room and stripped him down to his underwear and put him in his bed and left. We stopped to have a cigarette with the guards, turned around and found that Phil had followed us out in his underwear. We put him to bed again, only to have him follow us outside again. The third time we put him to bed he stayed put and we told the guards to look in on him to make sure he didn't throw up and drown in his own vomit. We returned to the party, which was still in full swing.


 

The troupe stayed around for several days and although I didn't see any personalities other than Miss World and Barbara McNair in our bar, several of the band members came around in the evenings for a drink.

Another truce was declared over New Year's and Chuck Shaheen and I drew night alert duty on 1 January, 1968.


 

Chuck had a olive complexion with a shock of black hair, piercing black eyes and a dapper mustache. Sometimes squadron members would call him the "Squadron Arab," and when I asked him why, he told me he was of Lebanese descent. I had thought Shaheen was an Irish name.


 

On night alert, we usually slept in our flying suits to cut down the scramble time, but since we had a truce, Chuck and I took off our clothes when we went to bed. At 0115, 2 January 1968, we were shouted awake and told to scramble. We dressed, threw on our survival vests, G-suits, life preservers, boots and side arm; dashed to our planes and fired them up. Once in idle, I checked Chuck on CP frequency and asked what was going on. The CP told us that the Viet Cong had broken the truce and were attacking a fire support base in War Zone "C." War zone C was northwest of Saigon in heavy jungle. Nothing we hadn't done before, but the assholes had ruined a good night's sleep and the appropriate lesson could be taught with the wall to wall napalm we both carried.


 

"Channel two, lets taxi," I radioed to Chuck.


 

After checking Chuck in on frequency, I called ground control. "Phan Rang ground, Blade Zero One, scramble two."


 

"Ah, roger Blade, you're cleared to scramble to runway two two." He gave the winds and the altimeter setting and as I fed in power, I looked up at the tower, as we were parked directly below it, and waved. The tower personnel were gathered at the glass facing our revetments, and as they always did during a scramble, they waved back and jumped up and down, whirling around, doing a sort of Indian war dance.


 

Even though it was the middle of the night, the flight line was always busy. The ground crews would leave their work and run up close to our airplane as we taxied by and wave, give the "OK" signal or a thumbs up. No one gave the "V" sign as it was only used by war protestors in the late 60's.


 

As we taxied rapidly to the takeoff end of the runway and left the lighted area, it became apparent that the night was as black as the inside of a cow (Balladeers sing of the brightness of tropical moons without realizing that the reason tropical moons are so bright is because tropical nights are so dark). During the taxi we rechecked all pretakeoff items as many times as we could. Having been scrambled from dreamless sleep to maximum activity in less than five minutes, an important step could easily be left out.


 

We swung onto the runway and as I braked to a stop on my half of the runway, I pushed the throttle to full military thrust. Chuck pulled up almost line abeam as I checked my instruments. I turned down the rear view mirror so I wouldn't be detracted by the afterburner (AB) just as Chuck called, "Two's ready."


 

Without further words, I released the brakes and selected afterburner at same time. The afterburner eyelids opened and the AB lit off with a surge. I steered towards the middle of the runway checking my line speed as I accelerated past one thousand feet. Chuck gave me a courtesy call, "Two's rolling," when I was 15 seconds into my roll. What he was really saying was, "if you have a problem and have to abort, don't forget I'm also using the runway now and would appreciate knowing about your problem." I clicked the mike button twice to let him know I heard him. He had to deal with the bright flame of my AB and I didn't envy him on such a dark night.


 

I lifted off at about 185 knots, brought up the gear and held 220 knots until 2,000 feet above the ground (to get out of the small arms envelope) and raised the flaps. Then I lowered the nose and accelerated to 300 knots and shut down the AB and pulled the throttle back so Chuck could catch me. From lift off, I was on total instruments.


 

Since the take off direction was in about the same direction as our target area, it wasn't necessary to make any turns. A night straight ahead join-up is the most difficult to make and I kept a close eye on Chuck as he came aboard. When he called, "dim-steady," I knew he was comfortable with the join up as he was telling me to dim my position lights. Not that the position lights illuminated the airplane because they didn't. One had to use the size of the small red, green and white lights and their relation to one another on dark nights to join and fly close formation. In close, the number two man could sometimes use his own position lights, positioned on bright-flash, to illuminate the leader. Had any of my lights been out, we would have changed lead.


 

Ordinarily, number two remained in close formation until each airplane could be checked for anomalies, then leader would yaw his airplane indicating for the wingman to move it out, get comfortable and look around. Chuck joined in close, then moved it out without my signal, silently informing me that it was too dark to see any problems I might have. I could only see his position lights and the dull red glow of his cockpit lights, cockpit lights that we would gradually turn down as our vision became more night adapted (I never liked red cockpit lighting. It made me think I was in a submarine being depth charged).


 

Passing 5,000 feet I transmitted the word "lanyard" and received two clicks from Chuck indicating that he had disconnected the snap hook from his parachute D-ring. The snap hook on the D-ring was routed to the seat belt and would deploy the parachute immediately on pilot/seat separation in case of ejection. Failure to secure the snap could cause catastrophic failure of parachute panels and human bones at the airspeeds used above 5,000 feet.


 

We leveled off at 14,500 feet with a solid overcast well above us. Knowing better, I dug out my metal band-aid can, which I used as an ash tray, shielded my lighter, squeezed my eyes closed and lit up a cigarette. I kept the power up as we were only going 150 nautical miles and high engine power coupled with our low altitude would insure our drop tanks feeding out about the time we arrived over target. We did not like to expend ordnance with drop tank fuel sloshing around and adding gravity to the airfame during dive recoveries and we wanted to go to work immediately.


 

While still some distance from the target area, I could see major activity taking place with white flares igniting and further north, deep red artillery and mortar fire arcing back and forth, spitting sparks and exploding in quick orange flashes that winked out abruptly. Yellow tracer fire drew horizontal lines so suddenly, it was impossible to tell the muzzle from the target. In fact, as we drew closer, there was no way for us to determine who was where or break out enemy fire from friendly fire. I wondered why the flares, which were being dropped from an airplane, was some distance to the south of the action.


 

Chuck called, "drops empty" and I responded with "go trail" (get behind me) and called him over to the FAC frequency.


 

I checked in with the FAC, gave him our ordnance and told him we were there to "float like a butterfly; sting like a bee--if you have a target for me." He told us to stand by, making me feel like a bloody fool for screwing around on the radio. He obviously was trying to get things sorted out on the ground and we could help him by remaining silent. But after a few minutes, other fighter flights started checking in and calling the FAC. After perhaps five minutes, at least six flights had checked in and by their call signs, we could tell every In-Country F-100 unit was involved. Finally, the FAC came back and said he had targets and would take flights in order of low fuel state. Oh Christ, I thought, it'll be a matter of who is the biggest liar and the first one he asks won't have a chance. And we were the first ones he asked.


 

Rather than answer, I told him since we were first on scene, we should be the first to expend and that if anyone had a fuel problem, let them land at Bien Hoa, just a few miles away. The FAC didn't have a problem with my suggestion and evidently neither did any of the other fighters, silent in their agreement.


 

The FAC apologized for the delay; that his flare ship had not shown up and that the battle zone was so confusing, trying to find a ground reference point common to him and to the friendlies on the ground was proving very difficult indeed.


 

Since he said he had it sorted out and Chuck and I would be the first to expend, he gave us the current altimeter, the target elevation and the safest place to bail out (Bien Hoa) and that he wanted our napalm delivered singly from north to south. FACs always tell the fighters where the closest friendlies are and that information turned out to be, "close, really fucking close." We could see the glow of the lights of Saigon, so he told us to call the glow due south, and any changes in ordnance delivery points would be locked in by the glow reference.


 

The FAC then transmitted that he was rolling in to mark the target and I called Chuck to "set 'em up hot" and received his double mike click. After a few seconds, I transmitted, "recheck depression, Bomb Single and Arm Nose/Tail." Again, the mike clicks.

"OK Blade, I want your nape 100 meters southwest of my smoke."

"Smoke, what smoke?" I asked, searching desperately for the billowing white cloud that would mark our target. "Two, do you have his smoke?" If Chuck could see it, he would attack and I would follow.

"Negative."

"Ah, Delco Zero One, we don't see your smoke."

"Well, oh shit, everything looks different tonight and the flare ship is about five klicks south of where he should be. I've been trying to get him up here, but I haven't had any luck. Let me call him again."


 

While the FAC was talking to the flare ship, I estimated a five kilometer line from where the flares were swinging in their chutes. The line intersected the battle area and then I could dimly see the FAC's smoke. I had been expecting the smoke to be under the flares.


 

"OK, Delco, Blade has your smoke but there isn't much illumination. Two, do you have the smoke, low at my 10 o'clock?"


 

Again, Chuck transmitted a negative.


 

"If you can see to drop," transmitted the FAC, "you are cleared in. For Christ's sake, don't drop north of my smoke." Obviously where the nearest friendlies were located.


 

Turning off my position lights, I rolled in, swinging around from north to south. It felt like the trees were reaching up, trying to snag me as I descended into black oblivion and accelerated to my drop speed of 400 knots, trying to maintain a 15 degree dive angle and watch for my release altitude to come up as I kept one eye on the smoke. When everything came together, I pickled off a can, felt the satisfying "thump" as it was ejected from by left outboard station by a 10 gage shotgun shell, yawing the airplane slightly. I immediately hauled back on the stick, putting six "G's" on the airfame and grunting to keep from graying out as it was important to look for helicopters. Helicopters were to an air strike as buzzards are to a dead possum. It seemed like every chopper In-Country had a requirement to figure out where a jet was going to make his pull out, then whack over there and get in the way. Seeing no choppers, I made a climbing turn back to the north as Chuck Called, "Two's in." Since we had our position lights out, I couldn't see him, so I looked down to where my nape had entered the jungle. Some residual fire could be seen and it appeared my nape was further south than the FAC wanted it.


 

"Blade two, bring your nape about 100 meters north of Lead's hit," confirming my analyses.


 

When Chuck's napalm exploded, it looked to be well south of where the FAC wanted it and being courteous, he suggested the nape had hung up during release.


 

"Delco Zero One, if that flare ship doesn't come up here where we can see what we're doing, we're not going to be able to do you much good." My observation was as much as an excuse for the fighter flights silently circling above us as it was for our poor aim. "I'm trying," responded the FAC, "I don't know who the guy is. He just won't come up where the fighting is. It isn't Puff, but Puff's on the way out of Saigon."


 

We tightened up the pattern, mindful of the fighters waiting their turn, burning their fuel. My last three cans of napalm exploded where the FAC wanted them but Chuck was throwing his nape all over South Viet Nam. I had flown with Chuck on several occasions and he was an excellent pilot and I wondered why he was so erratic on this night. His eyesight was excellent and didn't need glasses as I did. Some of the pilots did wear glasses but were sensitive about it and would duck their heads in the cockpit, put them on and pull down the smoked visor before raising their heads. Those of us who did wear glasses kept an extra set in our G-suit pocket (contacts were not worn as "G" forces would drag them down from the eye's cornea).


 

The FAC told us he didn't have any BDA (battle damage assessment) for us and said good night just as Puff checked in on his frequency. Bad timing for us. Puff would put the flares where they were needed for the other flights.


 

Turning for home, I turned my position lights back on and asked Chuck if he had me in sight. He said no, so I stroked the burner and he picked me up.


 

Usually at night, we would climb to 19,500 feet and make a jet penetration to a GCA (ground controlled approach). As we leveled off at 19,500 feet, we changed to our CP frequency and I was surprised to hear Colonel Miles checking in; he wasn't even on alert duty. Evidently, the War Zone C attack was requiring all of our assets. I called the CP with our airplane status and they immediately asked if we were able to go again. When I told them that we could, Chuck asked me if he could lead the next mission. An odd request, but he was a flight leader and we had thoroughly discussed procedures prior to assuming alert, so I told him he could lead.


 

Since we were needed again, we descended and landed VFR (visual flight rules: looking out the window, using the lighted base as a visual reference).


 

We dearmed our guns and taxied rapidly to the refueling pits. After shutting down, the Line Chief took me to my next airplane, also loaded with napalm, and I made a hurried preflight, climbed in and fired it up. At no time did I see Chuck and my next contact with him was when he checked me in on the CP frequency.


 

The second mission was as dark as the first and the flight to the target area was a repeat. When we arrived over the target area, several flares swung in their 'chutes and there was a smoky haze throughout the area with various fires burning on the ground, but no artillery nor mortar duels. A different FAC was on station and took our lineup after a flight of F-4s had cleared his frequency.


 

"OK Blade, we've broken the back of the attack and the slopes are moving out of the area. I'm going to put you in where I think they might be. Hang on a minute." He evidently wanted to confer with the ground commander and reposition Puff, who commenced to drop flares in the general neighborhood of the ground fires.


 

During this tour, F-100s did not have the capability to carry flares (when I returned in 1970, we did have the capability). As previously mentioned, Puff usually dropped flares for us. When Puff wasn't available, other airplanes would drop them as occurred on the first sortie we flew on 2 January 1968. I never found out who was dropping the flares so far from the target area; probably because it was fait accompli and just didn't matter after the fact.


 

The flares were ejected from about 5,000 feet above the ground and would descend under a 16 foot parachute canopy. The flare light, while blue/white bright, had a surreal aspect as they swung back and forth during decent. The swinging motion gave absolutely everything: clouds, trees, hills, etc., a shadow that also swung back and forth. Multiple flares caused multiple shadows and the effect was that the entire world was moving back and forth. The flares only lighted the area in their immediate vicinity, so an attack might start in pure blackness, blast into the moving world of light and immediately return to an even blacker black during an attack recovery that was primarily on instruments.


 

Sometimes a flare wouldn't ignite. Because the unlighted flare did not heat the parachute and make it more buoyant, the "ghosts" as we called them, descended faster and were impossible to see. On a few occasions, a ghost has whipped by out of the corner of my eye. The cannisters were about two feet long and six inches in diameter.


 

We had exchanged all the necessary information with the FAC and were ready to attack on his smoke mark.

"Fac's in to mark," he transmitted and I watched him fire the smoke rocket and pull off to the east. "Hit my smoke."

"Blade Lead doesn't have the smoke," Chuck transmitted. Jesus Christ Chuck, it's right off your left wingtip! Are you blind? I thought. But I radioed, "Two has the smoke."

"Two, you're cleared to drop. Lead, remain high and dry 'till you have the target."


 

I called, "Two's in hot from the north." My pattern was what we called a "parabolic curve," constantly descending, turning and accelerating, rolling wings level just prior to release, pickling off the napalm and jinking one way and then the other coming off the target (parabolic was later changed to "curvelinear approach" because NASA was using the word "parabolic curve" as a C-135 zero "G" maneuver to acquaint Astronauts with weightlessness. Not that it mattered; both terms generally mean "curve").


 

The FAC was pleased with my hit and told Chuck, who saw my napalm splash, to put his in the same place. Again, Chuck's napalm was out of the park.


 

If there had been any danger of Chuck hitting friendlies, I (or the FAC) would have had him safe up his switches and orbit high and dry, but his napalm had been going long all night-not short where the friendlies were located. This seemed to be a dichotomy as when I could see him make an attack, his patterns looked high and flat-both contributing to ordnance falling short. But since night flares provide such poor illumination, my perception of his patterns could have been entirely wrong. Since the FAC really didn't know the exact location of the enemy, a long splash might just as well find them as an on-smoke hit.


 

After we expended our napalm, the FAC marked another area and asked for gun attacks in the thick three-tiered jungle, with the tallest trees reaching about 300 feet. Gun attacks had to be steep in order to penetrate to ground level. We flogged around, tearing up the general area, but only the VC will ever know if we hit anything.


 

As expected, the FAC had no BDA for us, so we safed up our switches, rejoined and headed back to Phan Rang. The sun was beginning to rise over the South China Sea as we approached the base and Chuck decided to make another VFR decent and landing. This was fine with me as the missions had been extremely tiring.


 

Chuck taxied into the dearming area and I followed him, pulling up line abeam on his right. As we sat there, the CP called and told us that on our first mission we had dropped the first ordnance in all of SEA for 1968.


 

The dearming crew, as they had done after the first mission, removed the gun bay doors and electrically disconnected the guns and inserted ground safety pins into the wing pylons.


 

It was fully light and I idly glanced over at Chuck who had his oxygen mask off, hinged to his helmet on the left. Although I knew it was Chuck sitting in that airplane, I didn't recognize his profile. Something was seriously wrong with his face.

"Turn this way and face me, Chuck," I transmitted.


 

When he turned, I did not see a face, but huge knots with one eye peering out from under a large lump (I cannot watch the movie, "Elephant Man" without thinking of the instant when Chuck turned and faced me).

"Holy shit!!" I exclaimed, "What's wrong with your face?"

"Got hives," he replied.

"Good Lord buddy, is your left eye closed?" He nodded and gave me a double click on the radio.

"When did it close?"

"On the first mission."

"Before the first nape drop?" I asked. Another nod and double click.

"Well," I said, "you'd better not taxi back to the (refueling) pits. Shut it down and I'll call for wheels."

"Naw, if I got this far, I can make it to the pits."

"OK, Chuck, but you better go straight to the Flight Surgeon." A double click.


 

A double click really doesn't mean anything more than "I hear and understand you." As far as I know, Chuck never visited the doctor. Hives were not that uncommon. The stress of combat seemed to bring them on. Of the two or three cases I knew about, each pilot had had hives of the feet. With swollen feet and unable to pull on flight boots, the pilot was declared DNIF and would be assigned ground duties wearing shower clogs. But facial hives? I had never heard of them. Any pilot will confirm both eyes are needed to fly an airplane. There is little to no depth perception with one eye and although one-eyed pilots can gain some small degree of depth perception by focusing on an object and moving their heads from side to side, to attack defended hostile emplacements with dive maneuvers in the middle of the blackest night with only one operational eye might, in some quarters, be termed foolish.


 

But such is the nature of the Warrior class. When the CP told us that a Fire Base in War Zone C was under attack, Chuck committed himself; there was, in his mind, no turning back. He knew Americans were getting killed and he simply could not allow that to happen even though he developed a physiological condition that could have easily killed him. This does not imply that Chuck was noble or without fear. It was his duty to fly and every warrior feels failure to act will bring censure from fellow warriors; a situation that must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to develop. Chuck Shaheen was a Warrior of the First Order.


 

And the Tet Offensive of 1968 was still 28 days away.

In 1966, my primary duty at Luke AFB, Arizona was to train experienced F-100 pilots to become Fighter-Gunnery Instructor Pilots. Many of the pilots whom we were training were arriving at Luke from duty tours in SEA (Southeast Asia). I had been at Luke since 1963; assigned from Misawa AB, Japan where I had flown the F-100. The last six months of my Misawa tour had been spent TDY (temporary duty) in Viet Nam flying the L-19 and working with Army Rangers and Special Forces out of the Phouc Bien Than Special Military District, headquartered at Song Be, Phouc Long Province, 60 miles north of Saigon.


 

The pilots returning from SEA had many interesting stories to tell and it was easy to see that the nature of the war was changing. Where I had been stationed at a small jungle outpost, the returning pilots told of entire fighter wings stationed In-Country and flying demanding missions against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Regulars.


 

With the exception of my six-month tour in Viet Nam, my entire life from age 21 had been flying fighters, dropping bombs, firing guns and shooting rockets at range targets. There was an overpowering need to use my skills in actual combat, so I visited the Personnel Section and volunteered for another tour in Viet Nam. Because of my work with the Rangers and Special Forces, my records had been stamped "COUNTER INSURGENCY EXPERIENCED" so rather than volunteer for F-100s, I volunteered for A-1 Skyraiders, a single engine propeller driven airplane developed by the U.S. Navy at the end of WW II and used in Korea. The Air Force was using it for Special Operations in Viet Nam.


 

My assignment came down in late 1966 to report to Hurlbert Field for Skyraider training in the spring of 1967. As spring was approaching and I was preparing to depart Luke, a Sergeant from the Military Personnel Center phoned me and told me that they had a pilot who had absolutely no place to go and if I would give him my Skyraider assignment, I could have my pick of any F-100 base in Viet Nam with whatever reporting date I desired. I told the Sergeant to give me a couple of days to think about it and I would call him back. My boss, Major Elmer Guenther, who was listening to my end of the conversation, started to signal me frantically.

"Hold on Sergeant, my boss wants to talk to me."

Covering the receiver, I asked Elmer what he wanted.

"See if you can get me an assignment too," said Elmer.


 

Elmer had been stationed at Luke for the same length of time I had and by coincidence, when I told the Sergeant that Major Elmer Guenther was looking for an assignment to SEA, the Sergeant told me that Elmer's name was the next one on his list and that when I called him back, he should have something for him.


 

I questioned the pilots who had just returned from Viet Nam and almost all of them said to pick Phan Rang. The base was located almost in the center of Viet Nam, which meant that the type of missions flown would be more varied than at bases on the extremes. Additionally, it was only 26 miles from Cam Rahn Bay, a major port of embarkation/debarkation that would make it easier to find transportation throughout the Far East. Finally, due to Phan Rang's location on the South China Sea, it was difficult for the Viet Cong and the NVA to establish a base of operations near the facility.


 

Besides Phan Rang, by 1967, F-100 bases had been established at Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat. Only Bien Hoa existed during my previous tour and it had had a PSP (pierced steel planking) runway and unable to support jet fighters.


 

When I called the Sergeant back, I told him that Phan Rang was my choice with an immediate reporting date. I then asked him if he had anything for Major Guenther who was standing next to me. The Sergeant said that Elmer would also be going to Phan Rang and gave a reporting date about the same as mine. Somehow word got out that I was able to obtain SEA assignments for Luke Gunnery Instructors and I was besieged with special requests for assignments. When I would explain that Elmer's assignment was just a coincident that I had passed along to him, few believed me and there were hard feeling from some of the instructors who thought I was parceling out assignments only to my friends.


 

Again I prepared for departure, but a herniated disk in my lower back was causing a good deal of pain. Bed rest seemed to benefit me and I was pain free until a day or so before departing. Playing with my Weinmariner caused the disk to herniate again, and when I boarded the airplane at the Phoenix airport, hand carrying all my luggage, the pain was intense.


 

The Air Force was now requiring SEA participants to attend a Jungle Survival School that had been set up at Clark AB, Philippines. When I arrived at the school, the words of an Orthipod came back to me: "Back pain is only exceeded by the pain of child birth." Although I was able to sit through a few days of classroom instruction, when we were trucked into the Filipino jungle for actual survival training, the pain became so intense, the Officer in Charge allowed me to truck back to Clark for treatment. That night, in the jungle, three of my classmates were killed in a mudslide,


 

A milogram showed the location of the herniated disk and it was removed. I was kept on strict bed rest for exactly thirty days, allowed to wander around for a week and then shipped to Phan Rang in a DNIF (duty not involving flying) status.


 

Since I was DNIF, the DO (Director of Operations) put me on duty in the Command Post (CP) as an Officer Controller. No one liked CP duty because, except for the chief and the enlisted personnel, it was usually reserved for misfits.


 

Within one week, my squadron Flight Surgeon certified me fit for flying. This was exactly six weeks from the day the disk was removed. I immediately started lobbying to get out of the CP and after six weeks, the DO, apparently sick of listening to me bitch, terminated my tour and returned me to squadron duty. This is not to say that I did not fly during my CP tour. The schedule was flexible enough to allow a few combat missions per week.


 

As expected, the combat missions were varied. Preplanned missions were usually flown against "suspected enemy locations." We almost always had a FAC (Forward Air Controller) flying a small, slow and unarmed airplane to mark our targets with white phosphorus smoke rockets. The FACs mostly flew L-19s and I wondered if any of their birds were the ones I flew back in 1962-63. The ones I flew had Vietnamese Air Force markings and had no smoke rockets. If we wanted to mark a target, we threw a smoke grenade out of the window.


 

When we would finish bombing a target, fuel permitting, we would orbit the FAC while he observed the damage through binoculars. If we hit anything, he would give a description of the damage. Sometimes we would uncover major troop encampments below the three-tiered jungle canopy and the BDA (battle damage assessment) could be extensive. We would swoop down to look at the damage for ourselves; never seeing anything due to our speed and the nature of the canopy cover. But, more often than not, the results of our air strikes were unknown. Once or twice, during that tour, I left the target area thinking a mission was wasted only to have the U.S. Army, penetrating the target area, report at a later date that we did inflict damage.


 

Far more interesting were the missions from the Alert Pad. In 1967, we had six F-100s uploaded with a variety of ordnance on the alert pad. There were three F-100 squadrons and each squadron supplied two aircraft and two pilots 24 hours a day on five minute alert. Each squadron's alert birds were uploaded with a different ordnance load. One squadron might have iron bombs, another napalm and the other wall to wall rockets. In that way, if higher headquarters needed a flight to decimate a troop concentration for instance, they might call on the rocket-laden flight to scramble off to the target area.


 

During a scramble, we ran to our airplanes in nearby revetments and as we were strapping in, with the help of the assistant crew chief, we were also starting the airplane. Once, on a hot scramble, I finished strapping in just as the airplane settled at idle power. I reached up to the windscreen to get my helmet, where I always stowed it, and it wasn't there. I had left it in the squadron! The crew chief saw me reach for the missing helmet and immediately dashed to the squadron a couple of hundred yards away. The assistant crew chief, realizing I couldn't call my wingman to tell him of the problem, ran to his airplane, put up the ladder and told him of my missing helmet. From where I was parked, I could see my wingman and I watched him laugh and beat his fist on the canopy rail over my predicament. Soon, the crew chief came tearing back with a personal equipment specialist in tow, carrying my helmet and a spare, since he had no idea why I didn't have my helmet. I threw on the helmet and judge the omission caused about a five minute delay.


 

"Troops in Contact" was a conjuration used by higher headquarters to launch birds from the alert pad. It usually meant that Americans were engaged with the enemy and we would launch at any time and in any weather to provide support. Flare ships, usually an AC-47 (Gooney Bird) gun ship, called "Puff the Magic Dragon," would provide illumination for night operations.


 

Puff carried flares but that was not his main function. Puff's main armament were three 7.62mm gatling guns firing out of the left side of the bird's fuselage. It was truly an awesome spectacle to watch Puff, in a left bank, fire his cannons at night; a steady stream of fire arcing down to the ground like water from a hose (only one in five rounds were tracers and each gun churned out 6,000 rounds per minute, so Puff could lay down an extraordinary base of fire). Puff crews maintained that if a single person was trying to hide in an area the size of a football field, they would kill him.


 

There was at least one Puff airborne, orbiting north of Saigon every night, all night long, trading off assignments as fuel dictated. There are many soldiers alive today, stationed at Fire Support bases, who owe their lives to Puff arriving on scene and hosing down the enemy as they attacked their base. Sometimes the engine drone alone was enough to cause the Viet Cong to break off their attacks.


 

The Phan Rang Officers Club sat on a hill overlooking the runway with a view to the South China Sea about seven miles away. There was a terrace on the south side where we sat on many evenings, 15 cent Tangeray martinis in hand, watching Puff spray down the country side wondering what other roles the esteemed old trouper might be called on to perform.


 

Later, the name Puff was dropped in favor of "Spookie" and AC-119 gunships replaced the Goon. Still later, AC-130 "Spectre" gunships were deployed. If any reader doubts the war-making technological abilities of Americans, read up on the Spectre for a lesson in brutality, innovation and accuracy.


 

All of our missions were within South Viet Nam and the ordnance was fairly well restricted to guns, bombs, rockets and napalm.


 

The bombs were all finned; 750, 500 and 250 pounders. We called the 250 pounders "lady fingers" after tiny firecrackers most of us fooled with as children. The 750 pounders were left over from Korea and did not have the killing radius of the more streamlined 500 pounders, which, incidentally weighed 535 pounds. None of our bombs during that tour had the retardation device known as the "snake-eye high drag." Nor did we use triple ejection racks (TERs). On a subsequent tour, we had TERs on the inboard stations that carried three 500 pounders under each wing. Two 335 gallon drop tanks were mounted on the center wing station and two 750 pounders on the outboard stations.


 

The napalm was all unfinned and would tumble when released. This did not cause a targeting problem because we had ballistic tables for the tumbling and tumbling allowed us to get in closer to the target with a greater chance of hitting something. Two white phosphorous fuses, one in the nose and the other in the aft part of the napalm tank, provided ignition on striking the ground. The napalm tanks were poorly made (or maybe it just didn't matter) because the jellied gasoline would leak from the tanks and form a dark gray crust on the outside bottom of the tank. When we were able to get steaks or hamburger and have a cookout, on occasion, I have kicked napalm loose from a tank to use as charcoal starter.


 

Most people, when they think of napalm, think of the terrible burns caused by the sticky fluid but we also used it on underground bunkers where it would suck the oxygen out of the tunnels and suffocate those hiding there.


 

No one liked to carry rockets. We used 2.75 inch FFARs (folding fin aerial rocket). Although they did not weigh a great deal, we carried them in pods containing 16 individual rockets that had to be fired simultaneously. The pods had a sizable frontal area that created a staggering drag factor that in turn caused the airplane to burn more fuel (in a jet fighter, one always was concerned about having enough fuel).


 

When the rockets were fired, the fins deployed as the individual rocket left its tube. In a group of 16, there always seemed to be one rocket looping and corkscrewing its way to the ground because one or more of the fins did not deploy. The danger of the errant rocket striking another and sending shrapnel back towards the delivering aircraft was a thought we lived with. Although I have seen many corkscrewing rockets, never has one hit another to my knowledge, probably because the corkscrewing caused it to fall behind the pack.


 

One other dilemma occurred when firing rockets: when attacking a target in a 30 degree dive and firing the rockets at the proper slant range, the rockets sped away from the airplane so rapidly, the pilot could become convinced that he had time to watch the rockets impact the target before initiating a dive recovery. This was a false assumption that cost some pilots their lives, or if they were lucky, a torn up airplane with the associated transfer to an undesirable staff position.


 

The F-100 mounted four 20mm M-39 cannons in the lower fuselage just ahead and below the pilot's feet. The guns were loaded with a mix of armor piercing incendiary (API) and high explosive incendiary (HEI) projectiles. Some of the ammunition was so old that it would explode against raindrops making unsuspecting pilots believe that they were taking ground fire. Old barrels were sometimes welded onto the front of bombs and the bomb fuse located on the tip of the barrel. This would cause the bomb to explode above ground level and was used to clear jungle areas for helicopter landing zones (LZs).


 

When firing the guns, the trigger on the control stick was pulled. As the trigger was depressed and before the guns actually fired, a detent was passed through that started the strike camera rolling and opened the gun purge door. The gun purge door, located within the engine intake, blew residual explosive gases out of the gun bays. If the gases were not purged, accumulated gas would sometimes blow off a gun door. The guns were extremely noisy and the airplane seemed to stop in mid-air as the guns rocked and rolled. Actually, the airplane slowed down about five knots and should not have been noticeable at our firing speed of around 400 or more knots.


 

Each bullet had a lethal radius of 35 feet. Once my flight leader and I caught about 30 Viet Cong walking down a road in the delta. We crept up on them, my leader curving down and out of the clouds, rolling out and hammering them with his guns. Whenever the 20mms struck the ground, they would send up a great cloud of dust (I'm convinced if you shot water, a big cloud of dust would blossom). Several Viet Cong survived the strafing and ran out of the dust cloud and there I was directly in front of them. If they had really keen eyes, they could have seen that my gun purge door was already open. They all saw me at the same time and stopped in mid-stride before being enveloped in another cloud of dust. Some may have survived our attack by diving into the rice paddies on either side of the road; I don't know.


 

Initially, our three squadrons all operated out of a single large building, partitioned off head high, to give the units some sense of privacy and cohesiveness. We all thought we were the baddest, meanest and most famous fighter pilots in history. Once General Westmoreland visited our building and our squadron commander of the 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Lucky Devils," Lt. Col. Ken Miles, introduced us to the most senior officer in SEA. The General was very gracious as he shook each of our hands, but when he finished, he asked, "what do you boys do?" So much for being famous, but we still thought we were bad and mean.


 

We were quartered in trailer houses on the hill below the officers club. Our trailers were hooked to generators that were powered by several diesel engines to provide electricity. The diesels were extremely noisy and ran 24 hours a day.


 

On my following tour, I came into the living area of our quarters one evening and two young army aviators were at the bar having a drink. I asked someone why they were there and was told that they were trying to trade a Huey helicopter for one of our diesels. A couple of our lieutenants were working out the details when our squadron commander, Lt. Col. Don Johnson, nixed the idea with "who'll do the maintenance?".


 

One day, in late autumn, heavy earth moving equipment appeared and began a frenzied construction project on another hill just below where we lived. Having little to do if not on duty, we would watch the construction crews, known as RED HORSEMEN, enthusiastically attacking the red clay that made up the hillside. One of our people, spotting a RED HORSE officer, asked him what they were constructing. The officer replied that they were clearing the area in order to build quarters for the fighter pilots! According to the officer, the quarters were to be ready for us to move into by Christmas. With that news, we all took an avid interest in the construction progress. It was impossible to approach a RED HORSEMAN and suggest that they hurry it up a bit as it seemed like they all worked like there was no tomorrow. At some point one of our people asked a RED HORSEMAN why they worked so diligently and was told, "it's our thing."


 

Colonel Miles, attending daily meetings with the Wing Commander and his staff, found out that Bob Hope and his troupe would headquarter at Phan Rang for the 1967 Christmas season. Bob and his team would venture out each day to various American facilities to put on their show, but would return each evening to Phan Rang. Colonel Miles, in an apparent gesture of good will, offered the troupe the use of our brand new quarters. This caused grousing among some of the pilots until Colonel Miles told them that it was part of his plan to get Bob and his troupe to come to a Lucky Devil Christmas party on Christmas eve.


 

We had also moved into our own squadron building and were no longer sharing our space with two other squadrons. The colonel had decided to build a bar in the squadron building and had most of the pilots involved in the construction. We were so busy appropriating material and putting things together, that no one questioned the necessity of the bar (we never drank on duty, had use of the officers club bar and knew we would have a bar in our new quarters [called hootches; I have no idea of the genesis of the word]). It took some time for me to figure out that the colonel was just keeping us occupied.


 

The colonel also decided that he wanted an oil-on-velvet reclining nude female painting behind the bar. A couple of pilots were put to "work" looking through Playboy magazines for a suitable pose. When one was found, Colonel Miles directed that the painting would not have the view-obscuring pillow located in front of her pelvis. He also directed that horns be painted on her head and a forked tail would curve over her thigh (we were, after all, the Lucky Devils).


 

Two young pilots, headed for two days of R&R in Hong Kong, were told to bring back the painting without fail. The night before they left, I heard them complaining that they would be spending all their time looking for an artist.


 

Some years before, I had taken a trip from Misawa AB, Japan to Hong Kong. While seated in the hotel bar, a little Chinese man tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card that read, "I AM A DEAF MUTE. I AM AN ARTIST, WOULD YOU LIKE TO LOOK AT MY WORK?" I nodded, and he showed me several small oils on velvet. I selected two night boat scenes and they are hanging on the wall in my home. They are over 30 years old at this writing in the mid 1990s.


 

When the two young pilots returned they had the painting. While they were unrolling it in the in-work squadron bar, someone asked how they got the painting.


 

One said, "We arrived at our hotel and went to our rooms and cleaned up. We went back down to the bar and as we were having a drink, a little Chinese guy tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a card that read, "I AM A DEAF MUTE. I AM AN ARTIST, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY WORK?" We grabbed him and wouldn't let go. He got kinda scared until we finally made him understand we wanted a large painting made. Hell, we even went back to his apartment and brought him his meals while he painted."


 

The painting was exactly what the colonel wanted and was framed and placed behind the bar. When I arrived back at Phan Rang for my next tour two years later, the painting was still there with a slight tear in one corner. A Viet Cong mortar round had came through the roof and exploded in the bar, causing major room damage but only tearing the painting slightly. No one was injured.


 

When the Hope troupe arrived, they were quartered in our hootch. Somehow Colonel Miles got word to them that their quarters were compliments of the Lucky Devils. He also told them we would be dedicating our squadron bar on Christmas Eve and the troupe was invited to the opening, which they accepted. Actually, the bar had been operational for a month, but what Hope didn't know would be more apt to gain his attendance.


 

Christmas Eve, we were all in the squadron. There was a shaky truce with the Viet Cong so we had no missions to fly although two not-so-lucky Lucky Devils were on the Alert Pad. Before the troupe arrived, several of us were in the crew briefing room watching porn flicks, probably picked up in Hong Kong. Colonel Miles came in, saw what we were doing and said, "no guys, not in my squadron; not on Christmas Eve." We shut down the projector, somehow feeling we had really disappointed our commander.


 

I wandered into the bar where a food service sergeant was setting up a huge tray of cold cuts, cheeses and bread. He had appropriated the food in return for an invitation to the party. Other squadron members were making sure the room was squared away when suddenly the room went totally quiet. I looked around and there was a person dressed in black pajamas and a conical hat pulled low over his face, the typical dress of the Viet Cong (and the typical Vietnamese peasant). It was past sundown and we all knew that every Vietnamese had to be off base by sunset--no exceptions.


 

Vietnamese who worked on base were body searched before they could come on base and before they could depart the base. American Security Policemen searched the men and trusted Vietnamese women searched the women. From the Officers Club terrace, there was an excellent view of the sheds where the base workers were queued up in long lines waiting their turns to be searched. The women who searched other women were not at all popular and were escorted by our military policemen while on base and by Vietnamese policemen off base. I've often wondered how many black market triangles existed between the female searchers, the searchees and the Vietnamese police.


 

Because of the Sundown policy, we were all shocked to see an apparent Vietnamese, especially when he displayed a broom and started to sweep his way into the room. Vietnamese brooms were short; resembling wheat sheaves and for that reason, he was hunkered over, further obscuring his face. Stunned, we all just watched. When he was in the center of the room, he whipped off his hat and for Christ's sake, it was Matt Wallace, one of our pilots, dicking around. Most of us made like we knew it was Matt all along, but now I can admit that the thought of a suicidal Viet Cong had mesmerized me.


 

Word of the party had leaked out and by the time Hope and his crew arrived, the party was swinging.


 

A cheer went up and I expected to see Hope, but it was Raquel Welch who was absolutely magnificent in hot pants. Someone shoved a large bowl of unidentified liquor into her hands and demanded that she have a drink.

"But I don't drink," she pleaded.

"Gotta have a drink!" roared the crowd, so she took a tiny sip.


 

Bob had entered the room without fanfare and was surrounded by people listening to him crack jokes. I heard him say that he liked Phan Rang so much, he was thinking about buying some property.


 

I spotted Hope's bandleader, Les Brown and went over to him and stuck out my hand. "Les Frazier," I said.

"Les Brown," he said as we shook hands "Is it Leslie or Lester," I asked.

"It's Leslie," he replied, "why do you ask?"

"Oh, I've always preferred Leslie to Lester and was just wondering."

"Did you know Bob's real first name is Leslie?" He asked.

"You're kidding. Why does he go by Bob?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it's more in line with being a comedian."


 

We chatted for a while and I found that Les Brown was an easy person to know. He was interested in our mission and asked several questions about what we did for a living.


 

In 1967, small battery operated recorders were becoming popular and several pilots had them and were trying to get the celebrities to speak into them. Phil Crosby was trying to sing into one but was so drunk he wasn't making much sense. He had disgusted the recorder's owner who jerked it away, leaving Phil standing there. Phil said something like, "I'd sure like to speak to dad" to no one in particular. Dad, of course, was Bing Crosby.

"Where is he?" I asked, "Maybe we can call him."

"He's on the ranch in (Elko) Nevada," slurred Phil as he fumbled in his wallet.


 

He produced a phone number and I took it to a phone and called the local MARS (Military Amateur Radio Services) station.


 

"Can you get through to Bing Crosby?" I asked, knowing my request would get priority attention. I gave the operator the phone number and while I waited the operator bounced a radio signal off the ionosphere onto a civilian ham radio operator's antenna somewhere in the states. The ham operator called Bing at his own expense. I knew we had the right number because Bing answered the phone and I recognized his voice having seen about one thousand of his movies. I identified myself, wished him a Merry Christmas and told him there was someone who wanted to talk to him. He thanked me, returned the greeting and I handed the phone to Phil.


 

The bar had become quite crowded. Not only did we have well known personalities, but the stage hands, hair dressers, band members and other members of the troupe were all there. Barbara McNair, a popular singer of the day, was singing and recording messages into the mini-recorders. I heard her tell one recorder that the owner "looked like he's in good shape; I don't see no bullet wounds or nothing."


 

Miss World of 1967, a tiny and delicate knockout from Peru was dancing with half of the squadron. She told us she really liked pilots and that her brother was attending language school at Lackland AFB, Texas in preparation for flying school.


 

When she returned home to Lima, Peru and was part of a parade, her countrymen threw eggs at her for entertaining American servicemen.


 

My flight commander told one guy in the troupe that he was going to sneak into Raquel's bedroom, steal her sheets, cut them into one inch squares and sell the squares for $5.00 a piece. The guy didn't share my flight commander's humor. Turned out he was Raquel's husband and pretty much an asshole.


 

In the meanwhile, Phil Crosby, was getting so drunk Colonel Miles asked Jim Kelm, one of my best friends and a squadron pilot, and me to take Phil to the hootch. We drove him up in the commander's pickup. The hootch area was crawling with Security Police, mostly volunteers. We got Phil into his room and stripped him down to his underwear and put him in his bed and left. We stopped to have a cigarette with the guards, turned around and found that Phil had followed us out in his underwear. We put him to bed again, only to have him follow us outside again. The third time we put him to bed he stayed put and we told the guards to look in on him to make sure he didn't throw up and drown in his own vomit. We returned to the party, which was still in full swing.


 

The troupe stayed around for several days and although I didn't see any personalities other than Miss World and Barbara McNair in our bar, several of the band members came around in the evenings for a drink.

Another truce was declared over New Year's and Chuck Shaheen and I drew night alert duty on 1 January, 1968.


 

Chuck had a olive complexion with a shock of black hair, piercing black eyes and a dapper mustache. Sometimes squadron members would call him the "Squadron Arab," and when I asked him why, he told me he was of Lebanese descent. I had thought Shaheen was an Irish name.


 

On night alert, we usually slept in our flying suits to cut down the scramble time, but since we had a truce, Chuck and I took off our clothes when we went to bed. At 0115, 2 January 1968, we were shouted awake and told to scramble. We dressed, threw on our survival vests, G-suits, life preservers, boots and side arm; dashed to our planes and fired them up. Once in idle, I checked Chuck on CP frequency and asked what was going on. The CP told us that the Viet Cong had broken the truce and were attacking a fire support base in War Zone "C." War zone C was northwest of Saigon in heavy jungle. Nothing we hadn't done before, but the assholes had ruined a good night's sleep and the appropriate lesson could be taught with the wall to wall napalm we both carried.


 

"Channel two, lets taxi," I radioed to Chuck.


 

After checking Chuck in on frequency, I called ground control. "Phan Rang ground, Blade Zero One, scramble two."


 

"Ah, roger Blade, you're cleared to scramble to runway two two." He gave the winds and the altimeter setting and as I fed in power, I looked up at the tower, as we were parked directly below it, and waved. The tower personnel were gathered at the glass facing our revetments, and as they always did during a scramble, they waved back and jumped up and down, whirling around, doing a sort of Indian war dance.


 

Even though it was the middle of the night, the flight line was always busy. The ground crews would leave their work and run up close to our airplane as we taxied by and wave, give the "OK" signal or a thumbs up. No one gave the "V" sign as it was only used by war protestors in the late 60's.


 

As we taxied rapidly to the takeoff end of the runway and left the lighted area, it became apparent that the night was as black as the inside of a cow (Balladeers sing of the brightness of tropical moons without realizing that the reason tropical moons are so bright is because tropical nights are so dark). During the taxi we rechecked all pretakeoff items as many times as we could. Having been scrambled from dreamless sleep to maximum activity in less than five minutes, an important step could easily be left out.


 

We swung onto the runway and as I braked to a stop on my half of the runway, I pushed the throttle to full military thrust. Chuck pulled up almost line abeam as I checked my instruments. I turned down the rear view mirror so I wouldn't be detracted by the afterburner (AB) just as Chuck called, "Two's ready."


 

Without further words, I released the brakes and selected afterburner at same time. The afterburner eyelids opened and the AB lit off with a surge. I steered towards the middle of the runway checking my line speed as I accelerated past one thousand feet. Chuck gave me a courtesy call, "Two's rolling," when I was 15 seconds into my roll. What he was really saying was, "if you have a problem and have to abort, don't forget I'm also using the runway now and would appreciate knowing about your problem." I clicked the mike button twice to let him know I heard him. He had to deal with the bright flame of my AB and I didn't envy him on such a dark night.


 

I lifted off at about 185 knots, brought up the gear and held 220 knots until 2,000 feet above the ground (to get out of the small arms envelope) and raised the flaps. Then I lowered the nose and accelerated to 300 knots and shut down the AB and pulled the throttle back so Chuck could catch me. From lift off, I was on total instruments.


 

Since the take off direction was in about the same direction as our target area, it wasn't necessary to make any turns. A night straight ahead join-up is the most difficult to make and I kept a close eye on Chuck as he came aboard. When he called, "dim-steady," I knew he was comfortable with the join up as he was telling me to dim my position lights. Not that the position lights illuminated the airplane because they didn't. One had to use the size of the small red, green and white lights and their relation to one another on dark nights to join and fly close formation. In close, the number two man could sometimes use his own position lights, positioned on bright-flash, to illuminate the leader. Had any of my lights been out, we would have changed lead.


 

Ordinarily, number two remained in close formation until each airplane could be checked for anomalies, then leader would yaw his airplane indicating for the wingman to move it out, get comfortable and look around. Chuck joined in close, then moved it out without my signal, silently informing me that it was too dark to see any problems I might have. I could only see his position lights and the dull red glow of his cockpit lights, cockpit lights that we would gradually turn down as our vision became more night adapted (I never liked red cockpit lighting. It made me think I was in a submarine being depth charged).


 

Passing 5,000 feet I transmitted the word "lanyard" and received two clicks from Chuck indicating that he had disconnected the snap hook from his parachute D-ring. The snap hook on the D-ring was routed to the seat belt and would deploy the parachute immediately on pilot/seat separation in case of ejection. Failure to secure the snap could cause catastrophic failure of parachute panels and human bones at the airspeeds used above 5,000 feet.


 

We leveled off at 14,500 feet with a solid overcast well above us. Knowing better, I dug out my metal band-aid can, which I used as an ash tray, shielded my lighter, squeezed my eyes closed and lit up a cigarette. I kept the power up as we were only going 150 nautical miles and high engine power coupled with our low altitude would insure our drop tanks feeding out about the time we arrived over target. We did not like to expend ordnance with drop tank fuel sloshing around and adding gravity to the airfame during dive recoveries and we wanted to go to work immediately.


 

While still some distance from the target area, I could see major activity taking place with white flares igniting and further north, deep red artillery and mortar fire arcing back and forth, spitting sparks and exploding in quick orange flashes that winked out abruptly. Yellow tracer fire drew horizontal lines so suddenly, it was impossible to tell the muzzle from the target. In fact, as we drew closer, there was no way for us to determine who was where or break out enemy fire from friendly fire. I wondered why the flares, which were being dropped from an airplane, was some distance to the south of the action.


 

Chuck called, "drops empty" and I responded with "go trail" (get behind me) and called him over to the FAC frequency.


 

I checked in with the FAC, gave him our ordnance and told him we were there to "float like a butterfly; sting like a bee--if you have a target for me." He told us to stand by, making me feel like a bloody fool for screwing around on the radio. He obviously was trying to get things sorted out on the ground and we could help him by remaining silent. But after a few minutes, other fighter flights started checking in and calling the FAC. After perhaps five minutes, at least six flights had checked in and by their call signs, we could tell every In-Country F-100 unit was involved. Finally, the FAC came back and said he had targets and would take flights in order of low fuel state. Oh Christ, I thought, it'll be a matter of who is the biggest liar and the first one he asks won't have a chance. And we were the first ones he asked.


 

Rather than answer, I told him since we were first on scene, we should be the first to expend and that if anyone had a fuel problem, let them land at Bien Hoa, just a few miles away. The FAC didn't have a problem with my suggestion and evidently neither did any of the other fighters, silent in their agreement.


 

The FAC apologized for the delay; that his flare ship had not shown up and that the battle zone was so confusing, trying to find a ground reference point common to him and to the friendlies on the ground was proving very difficult indeed.


 

Since he said he had it sorted out and Chuck and I would be the first to expend, he gave us the current altimeter, the target elevation and the safest place to bail out (Bien Hoa) and that he wanted our napalm delivered singly from north to south. FACs always tell the fighters where the closest friendlies are and that information turned out to be, "close, really fucking close." We could see the glow of the lights of Saigon, so he told us to call the glow due south, and any changes in ordnance delivery points would be locked in by the glow reference.


 

The FAC then transmitted that he was rolling in to mark the target and I called Chuck to "set 'em up hot" and received his double mike click. After a few seconds, I transmitted, "recheck depression, Bomb Single and Arm Nose/Tail." Again, the mike clicks.

"OK Blade, I want your nape 100 meters southwest of my smoke."

"Smoke, what smoke?" I asked, searching desperately for the billowing white cloud that would mark our target. "Two, do you have his smoke?" If Chuck could see it, he would attack and I would follow.

"Negative."

"Ah, Delco Zero One, we don't see your smoke."

"Well, oh shit, everything looks different tonight and the flare ship is about five klicks south of where he should be. I've been trying to get him up here, but I haven't had any luck. Let me call him again."


 

While the FAC was talking to the flare ship, I estimated a five kilometer line from where the flares were swinging in their chutes. The line intersected the battle area and then I could dimly see the FAC's smoke. I had been expecting the smoke to be under the flares.


 

"OK, Delco, Blade has your smoke but there isn't much illumination. Two, do you have the smoke, low at my 10 o'clock?"


 

Again, Chuck transmitted a negative.


 

"If you can see to drop," transmitted the FAC, "you are cleared in. For Christ's sake, don't drop north of my smoke." Obviously where the nearest friendlies were located.


 

Turning off my position lights, I rolled in, swinging around from north to south. It felt like the trees were reaching up, trying to snag me as I descended into black oblivion and accelerated to my drop speed of 400 knots, trying to maintain a 15 degree dive angle and watch for my release altitude to come up as I kept one eye on the smoke. When everything came together, I pickled off a can, felt the satisfying "thump" as it was ejected from by left outboard station by a 10 gage shotgun shell, yawing the airplane slightly. I immediately hauled back on the stick, putting six "G's" on the airfame and grunting to keep from graying out as it was important to look for helicopters. Helicopters were to an air strike as buzzards are to a dead possum. It seemed like every chopper In-Country had a requirement to figure out where a jet was going to make his pull out, then whack over there and get in the way. Seeing no choppers, I made a climbing turn back to the north as Chuck Called, "Two's in." Since we had our position lights out, I couldn't see him, so I looked down to where my nape had entered the jungle. Some residual fire could be seen and it appeared my nape was further south than the FAC wanted it.


 

"Blade two, bring your nape about 100 meters north of Lead's hit," confirming my analyses.


 

When Chuck's napalm exploded, it looked to be well south of where the FAC wanted it and being courteous, he suggested the nape had hung up during release.


 

"Delco Zero One, if that flare ship doesn't come up here where we can see what we're doing, we're not going to be able to do you much good." My observation was as much as an excuse for the fighter flights silently circling above us as it was for our poor aim. "I'm trying," responded the FAC, "I don't know who the guy is. He just won't come up where the fighting is. It isn't Puff, but Puff's on the way out of Saigon."


 

We tightened up the pattern, mindful of the fighters waiting their turn, burning their fuel. My last three cans of napalm exploded where the FAC wanted them but Chuck was throwing his nape all over South Viet Nam. I had flown with Chuck on several occasions and he was an excellent pilot and I wondered why he was so erratic on this night. His eyesight was excellent and didn't need glasses as I did. Some of the pilots did wear glasses but were sensitive about it and would duck their heads in the cockpit, put them on and pull down the smoked visor before raising their heads. Those of us who did wear glasses kept an extra set in our G-suit pocket (contacts were not worn as "G" forces would drag them down from the eye's cornea).


 

The FAC told us he didn't have any BDA (battle damage assessment) for us and said good night just as Puff checked in on his frequency. Bad timing for us. Puff would put the flares where they were needed for the other flights.


 

Turning for home, I turned my position lights back on and asked Chuck if he had me in sight. He said no, so I stroked the burner and he picked me up.


 

Usually at night, we would climb to 19,500 feet and make a jet penetration to a GCA (ground controlled approach). As we leveled off at 19,500 feet, we changed to our CP frequency and I was surprised to hear Colonel Miles checking in; he wasn't even on alert duty. Evidently, the War Zone C attack was requiring all of our assets. I called the CP with our airplane status and they immediately asked if we were able to go again. When I told them that we could, Chuck asked me if he could lead the next mission. An odd request, but he was a flight leader and we had thoroughly discussed procedures prior to assuming alert, so I told him he could lead.


 

Since we were needed again, we descended and landed VFR (visual flight rules: looking out the window, using the lighted base as a visual reference).


 

We dearmed our guns and taxied rapidly to the refueling pits. After shutting down, the Line Chief took me to my next airplane, also loaded with napalm, and I made a hurried preflight, climbed in and fired it up. At no time did I see Chuck and my next contact with him was when he checked me in on the CP frequency.


 

The second mission was as dark as the first and the flight to the target area was a repeat. When we arrived over the target area, several flares swung in their 'chutes and there was a smoky haze throughout the area with various fires burning on the ground, but no artillery nor mortar duels. A different FAC was on station and took our lineup after a flight of F-4s had cleared his frequency.


 

"OK Blade, we've broken the back of the attack and the slopes are moving out of the area. I'm going to put you in where I think they might be. Hang on a minute." He evidently wanted to confer with the ground commander and reposition Puff, who commenced to drop flares in the general neighborhood of the ground fires.


 

During this tour, F-100s did not have the capability to carry flares (when I returned in 1970, we did have the capability). As previously mentioned, Puff usually dropped flares for us. When Puff wasn't available, other airplanes would drop them as occurred on the first sortie we flew on 2 January 1968. I never found out who was dropping the flares so far from the target area; probably because it was fait accompli and just didn't matter after the fact.


 

The flares were ejected from about 5,000 feet above the ground and would descend under a 16 foot parachute canopy. The flare light, while blue/white bright, had a surreal aspect as they swung back and forth during decent. The swinging motion gave absolutely everything: clouds, trees, hills, etc., a shadow that also swung back and forth. Multiple flares caused multiple shadows and the effect was that the entire world was moving back and forth. The flares only lighted the area in their immediate vicinity, so an attack might start in pure blackness, blast into the moving world of light and immediately return to an even blacker black during an attack recovery that was primarily on instruments.


 

Sometimes a flare wouldn't ignite. Because the unlighted flare did not heat the parachute and make it more buoyant, the "ghosts" as we called them, descended faster and were impossible to see. On a few occasions, a ghost has whipped by out of the corner of my eye. The cannisters were about two feet long and six inches in diameter.


 

We had exchanged all the necessary information with the FAC and were ready to attack on his smoke mark.

"Fac's in to mark," he transmitted and I watched him fire the smoke rocket and pull off to the east. "Hit my smoke."

"Blade Lead doesn't have the smoke," Chuck transmitted. Jesus Christ Chuck, it's right off your left wingtip! Are you blind? I thought. But I radioed, "Two has the smoke."

"Two, you're cleared to drop. Lead, remain high and dry 'till you have the target."


 

I called, "Two's in hot from the north." My pattern was what we called a "parabolic curve," constantly descending, turning and accelerating, rolling wings level just prior to release, pickling off the napalm and jinking one way and then the other coming off the target (parabolic was later changed to "curvelinear approach" because NASA was using the word "parabolic curve" as a C-135 zero "G" maneuver to acquaint Astronauts with weightlessness. Not that it mattered; both terms generally mean "curve").


 

The FAC was pleased with my hit and told Chuck, who saw my napalm splash, to put his in the same place. Again, Chuck's napalm was out of the park.


 

If there had been any danger of Chuck hitting friendlies, I (or the FAC) would have had him safe up his switches and orbit high and dry, but his napalm had been going long all night-not short where the friendlies were located. This seemed to be a dichotomy as when I could see him make an attack, his patterns looked high and flat-both contributing to ordnance falling short. But since night flares provide such poor illumination, my perception of his patterns could have been entirely wrong. Since the FAC really didn't know the exact location of the enemy, a long splash might just as well find them as an on-smoke hit.


 

After we expended our napalm, the FAC marked another area and asked for gun attacks in the thick three-tiered jungle, with the tallest trees reaching about 300 feet. Gun attacks had to be steep in order to penetrate to ground level. We flogged around, tearing up the general area, but only the VC will ever know if we hit anything.


 

As expected, the FAC had no BDA for us, so we safed up our switches, rejoined and headed back to Phan Rang. The sun was beginning to rise over the South China Sea as we approached the base and Chuck decided to make another VFR decent and landing. This was fine with me as the missions had been extremely tiring.


 

Chuck taxied into the dearming area and I followed him, pulling up line abeam on his right. As we sat there, the CP called and told us that on our first mission we had dropped the first ordnance in all of SEA for 1968.


 

The dearming crew, as they had done after the first mission, removed the gun bay doors and electrically disconnected the guns and inserted ground safety pins into the wing pylons.


 

It was fully light and I idly glanced over at Chuck who had his oxygen mask off, hinged to his helmet on the left. Although I knew it was Chuck sitting in that airplane, I didn't recognize his profile. Something was seriously wrong with his face.

"Turn this way and face me, Chuck," I transmitted.


 

When he turned, I did not see a face, but huge knots with one eye peering out from under a large lump (I cannot watch the movie, "Elephant Man" without thinking of the instant when Chuck turned and faced me).

"Holy shit!!" I exclaimed, "What's wrong with your face?"

"Got hives," he replied.

"Good Lord buddy, is your left eye closed?" He nodded and gave me a double click on the radio.

"When did it close?"

"On the first mission."

"Before the first nape drop?" I asked. Another nod and double click.

"Well," I said, "you'd better not taxi back to the (refueling) pits. Shut it down and I'll call for wheels."

"Naw, if I got this far, I can make it to the pits."

"OK, Chuck, but you better go straight to the Flight Surgeon." A double click.


 

A double click really doesn't mean anything more than "I hear and understand you." As far as I know, Chuck never visited the doctor. Hives were not that uncommon. The stress of combat seemed to bring them on. Of the two or three cases I knew about, each pilot had had hives of the feet. With swollen feet and unable to pull on flight boots, the pilot was declared DNIF and would be assigned ground duties wearing shower clogs. But facial hives? I had never heard of them. Any pilot will confirm both eyes are needed to fly an airplane. There is little to no depth perception with one eye and although one-eyed pilots can gain some small degree of depth perception by focusing on an object and moving their heads from side to side, to attack defended hostile emplacements with dive maneuvers in the middle of the blackest night with only one operational eye might, in some quarters, be termed foolish.


 

But such is the nature of the Warrior class. When the CP told us that a Fire Base in War Zone C was under attack, Chuck committed himself; there was, in his mind, no turning back. He knew Americans were getting killed and he simply could not allow that to happen even though he developed a physiological condition that could have easily killed him. This does not imply that Chuck was noble or without fear. It was his duty to fly and every warrior feels failure to act will bring censure from fellow warriors; a situation that must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to develop. Chuck Shaheen was a Warrior of the First Order.


 

And the Tet Offensive of 1968 was still 28 days away.


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