I arrived "in country" in late February, 1968 and was assigned to the 119th Recon Airplane Company, "Pterodactyl" (0-1 Birddog) Headquartered at Ban Me Thuat, about halfway between Kontum and Saigon. Russ Walker (SPAF-2) was my best friend, roommate and flight school classmate. Walker transferred to FOB2 after a brief stay at Ban Me Thuat.
About 30 days after Walker left for FOB2, our CO called me in and said he needed to send a pilot to FOB2 to replace one that had packed up his belongings and returned to Ban Me Thuat, saying he "refused to fly more SPAF missions" he "did not care if they took his wings or brought charges against him". "Anyone had to be crazy to fly up there with the SF".
The C.O. must have figured that I was crazy enough, my best friend was there, plus our compound at Ban Me Thuat had not missed a single night without a mortar or an 81mm rocket attack since I had arrived. In fact we dug our bunkers so deep, we were next to desertion. I volunteered to go to FOB2.
Pete Johnston (SPAF-4), has already pointed out the special relationship shared with the SF Recon Teams. One day in early January 1969,Tex (my SF rider) and I were conducting a routine Aerial recon west of the Bra, when I spotted a bamboo watchtower under the jungle canopy next to where the Ho Chi Minh Trail crosses the river, near the border of Laos and Cambodia. I decided to take the tower out with a Willy Pete Rocket (White Phosphorus 2.75" FFAR)
I rolled in for a low-altitude rocket run in order to get a
better shot under the canopy. The instant I fired the rocket, the jungle floor
erupted with AK-47's. 51-cal. machine-guns and even a 37mm AAA. Tex summed it up
well in just two words, "OH SHIT !!" The 37mm caught the tip of the horizontal
stabilizer, which seemed to bring the aircraft to a complete stop in mid air.
Applying full throttle, at treetop or lower altitude, we gained just enough
airspeed to maintain flight. I, in my cool, calm manner, put out a Mayday Call
while attempting to keep the bird airborne. The next thing I remember was
hearing the voice of Tex, saying "You have told me, now tell someone else".
Looking up at my radio selector switch, I realized I had put the Mayday call out
over the intercom to no one other than Tex in the back seat, who of course,
already was aware of our dire situation. Switching to the SF Ops frequency, I
put out "MAYDAY ! MAYDAY !" and "SPAF- ONE GOING DOWN IN TREE LINE ON THE BRA."
SPAF-2(Russ Walker) who was overseeing an insertion, just a few miles north of the Bra, immediately aborted that mission and within minutes, was on my wing along with 4 Hueys and 4 gunships, ready to pick us up as soon as we crashed. We managed to drag our damaged bird on into Dak To airstrip for an anticlimactic landing. Tex (a large, strong man) had to help with the rudder pedals, because the airplane was so far out of trim I was experiencing leg cramps, just trying to hold it straight and level.
When I called the incident in, to Company HQ at Pleiku (by now 219th Headhunters), the C.O. just could not understand why I would leave the aircraft unsecured at Dak To, instead of bringing it back to Pleiku to be repaired at the unit maintenance facility. I was a little short of tact by this time and I told him "he or any one else was welcome to come fly it back. I was headed to the club for a cool one." After making a trip to Dak To, he decided it might be best to leave it there and post guards for the night.
Tex and I were rehashing the day's events at the bar. Instead of counting our blessings, we were counting beers. Tex (I wish I could remember his name (a massive cerebral hemorrhage (12-1-96) does not help ones' memory)), anyway Tex looked over at me in a glassy eyed stupor and proclaimed, "If it were not for the 37mm, we would still be talking about the 51 cal. holes in the wings". All I could think was, "this is no way to treat a short-timer". I was due to rotate back to the states the next week. Instead I voluntarily extended for another 12 months of an all expense paid vacation in sunny Southeast Asia. It took all the courage I could muster to climb back into the pilot's seat again, after this incident