I spent 18 August 1972 - 15 August 1973 as Chief, Briefing
Branch, Wing Intelligence Division,
56th Special Operations Wing, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.
Again, because of the nature of our work there are no indoor
shots to post here, but I'll try to post
some of my shots and some "borrowed" shots to keep things illustrated.
Nakhon Phanom (or NKP) appears in the top center of this map
where the Mekong River bulges into Laos.
We were about 9 miles from the war and closer to Hanoi than to Saigon. This made
us a handy base for doing
"special" things to the enemy. Our proximity to the DMZ between North and South
Vietnam had originally made
NKP the home of Task Force Alpha, the collection and reporting station for
Robert Strange McNamara's
electronic wall of sensors to keep the North from infiltrating troops and
supplies into the South. This later evolved
into simply a means of detecting and counting the truck traffic on the Ho Chi
Various units wore patches like this or incorporated the
phrase into their own squadron patch. Their job was
to patrol the Ho Chi Minh Trail and "kill" trucks using bombs or guns or various
weapons. A number of units
had been stationed at NKP over the years, in 72-73 when I was there, the truck
killers were the 1st and 18th SOS,
The 1st SOS flew the A-1, an old Korean-war vintage former-US
Navy fighter aircraft that had found its
ideal role as a counter-insurgency fighter-bomber. It could carry a heavy load
of many different weapons,
loiter in a target area as long as the FAC needed him, and could absorb a lot of
damage and keep flying.
The 18th SOS flew the old Korean-war vintage "Flying Boxcar" but with stingers.
These planes were known
as AC-119Ks because they had 20mm Gatling guns firing out of the left side of
the plane, and they had a
pair of jet engines mounted on the wings to help them get around faster than the
If you're detecting a trend here, you're right. NKP had OLD
Including World War 2 vintage birds that had been converted to
EC-47s to eavesdrop on enemy radio traffic.
I think I first heard of NKP through a Jake Schuffert cartoon.
He was the Poet Laureate of cartoonists for the
Air Force from the Berlin Airlift Until the end of Vietnam. He showed a couple
of F-4 crew-dogs cruising along
at mach something and observing a biplane off in the distance and commenting:
"Must be some of them boys
NKP's collection of old and slow and unusual aircraft all had
special missions and required special Intelligence,
I really wanted to work there. Anyone could work in a go-fast F-4 wing, but it
took some one special to be a
Special Ops guy. I knew I had it and wanted to prove it.
The 23rd TASS (call sign Nail) flew the turboprop powered and highly
maneuverable OV-10. It was
capable of carrying guns and bombs, but the Nail FACs carried only white
rockets for marking targets. Some of the aircraft (PAVENAILs) were equipped with
designator to mark targets for fighters which were dropping laser guided bombs.
enjoyed seeing the code word for this ordinance in the frag order: PAX. If you
know any Latin
The HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant, flown by the 40th ARRS, was used for rescuing
airmen shot down in hostile territory. The similar
lookingCH-53 (call sign Knife)
was flown by the 21st SOS and used to insert or extract friendly troops in
Other aircraft had come before and after, but this was the inventory during
most of my tour from Aug 72 -Aug 73. These helicopters were targets the size of
greyhound bus, they weren't very fast, and they had to go into high threat areas
complete their missions. They needed to know where the gomers were, what weapons
they had, and where there were holes in the defenses that they could slip
One nice thing about NKP in my eyes was that there was no Higher
Headquarters on the base
my last two bases had had that, complete with staff officers looking over your
inspecting everything you did for compliance with AFR-whatever. Here we had a
secret base fighting a secret war 9 miles from Laos. The staff weenies stayed
because they didn't know that we were here or they didn't want to get this close
to the war.
NKP was a vest-pocket base, with everything concentrated in walking distance
flashlight at night) and snakes have the right-of-way.
The Wing Intelligence
Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC), the head sergeant, came down to the
to meet the new captain who was arriving. I had left Vietnam with a head cold,
and was arriving in Thailand with another.
(Perhaps I was allergic to the war?) A charter airliner had flown us from San
Francisco to the Philippines. Then we were
picked up by a "klong bird" a C-141 that made a continuous loop from the
Philippines to all of the bases in Thailand.
Before it reached NKP it had landed and taken off from Bangkok, Korat, Thakli,
and Udorn. So my ears were completely
plugged due to the cold and I had no sense of equilibrium. To make matters
worse, we were sitting in crash-safety
rear-facing seats on the C-141 looking at the rear loading ramp which sat at a
45 degree up angle when closed and
was very disorienting for someone in my condition. I staggered off the plane
with a red nose and deaf to meet the
NCOIC and I'm quite sure the first thought that went through his mind was where
did they find THIS captain?
He took me to my assigned BOQ room,
gave me a quick briefing and told me that a couple of lieutenants would
be coming by after I had a chance to get settled. I was unpacking when I heard a
loud boom, and saw a column
of smoke rising just off the corner of the base where my BOQ was located. I
found out a few hours later that I had
just seen my first casualty from the wing. A QU-22 malfunctioned on
take-off, spun in, and killed the pilot.
The "Q" meant that it had originally been meant to be a robot plane. Its
role was to pick
up signals from probes
on the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" and relayed the signals back to a "Secret"
organization at NKP called Task
Alpha, which had once been part of McNamara's electronic fence and was now just
tracking traffic on the
The robot planes never worked very well as robots, so they were flown by pilots.
Shortly after this crash they
grounded the planes altogether. A few months after that, they closed Task Force
Alpha. Robert Strange McNamara
was out of office, so I guess no one cared anymore about it.
The lieutenants showed up on
schedule and took me to the "TUOC" the Tactical Unit Operations Center,
where Intelligence, the command post, the rescue coordination center, and some
other stuff was located.
Intelligence owned a good sized corner of the building since we had large scale
map coverage on the walls
for briefing the slow-moving special operations aircraft and we had a lot of
area to cover in Vietnam and Laos.
The first thing you saw approaching the TUOC was the high fence topped by barbed
wire and the narrow gate
manned by an armed security policeman. Inside the gate was a surprise:
A pair of captured communist weapons presented to the wing in gratitude by
Laotian General Vang Pao.
A .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun to the right of the door and a 37mm
anti-aircraft artillery cannon
captured somewhere in Laos to the left. That was the first time I had seen these weapons
outside a book.
Inside Intel, I was introduced to the people on
duty at the moment and briefed about the rotating shifts.
I was assigned to a shared desk and taught the importance of the shift log and
shown where to pick up
the incoming messages, etc. Then I was introduced to the NCOs in Defense
Analysis who kept our
briefing boards up to date with the latest enemy gun and missile fire at
friendly forces, and I was taught
how to post the locations of friendly ground units based on debriefs of our
pilot's conversations with them.
Then I was assigned as a Barrel Roll briefer and was given the task of
memorizing every Lima Site (dirt runway)
and road junction in that geographical area so I could put my finger on anyone
of them instantly.
This small map shows some of the major features in Barrel Roll, but there were
Lima Sites (dirt airfields) and road junctions and geographic points to know
like the back
of your hand. Then too, you needed to know the history and significance of the
ones, and where the good guys and the "gomers" were concentrated.
Just like pilots, Intel had a system for easing new guys into the system. It
worked well I can testify to that as
a graduate of the system. After all of the training above, I spent several
shift-days shadowing an experienced
briefer, helping to write the briefing, standing in the back of the room while
the briefing was delivered and
discussing points about the briefing afterward. Then it was my turn to write a
briefing with the experienced
briefer watching, to present the briefing with the teacher in the back of the
room, and to go through a critique
of the briefing. After a few of these it was time to "solo", but we still ran
checks on each other now and then,
sitting in to be sure that there was standardization in our briefing product and
that all the critical items were
being covered. Even though I was a captain at the time and officially in charge
of all the lieutenants in the
briefing branch, I shared the duty schedule, including the rotating shift work,
and requested the lieutenants
to critique my briefings without regard to my being the boss. I had a good bunch
of lieutenants, and I almost
got the impression that they enjoyed nit-picking the boss.
Operations kept coming up with secret code words that represented
requests for specific
types of ordinance
to be dropped around a survivor on the ground, and secret
code letters for survivors
to display by stomping
down grass or something. - Who else to brief secret stuff but intel. The
Lt Col Chief of Intelligence drew the line
when Operations suggested that Intel should keep track of, and brief where the
Arclite boxes were for the day.
Something else we had in Barrel
Roll and Steel Tiger (basically Northern and Southern Laos) was the
Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) an EC-130 with a bunch
of ops and intel
guys crammed in a pod in the back who tried to coordinate the war. There was one
of these birds in the
air 24 hours per day, one in the North and one in the South, on 12 hour shifts.
Their call signs were
Cricket, Alleycat, Hillsboro and Moonbeam
The way things worked was that any fighter bombers that did not have a
pre-planned target, checked in
with ABCCC and announced their availability. Then, any Nail or Rustic or Raven
FAC needing some
bombers would call ABCCC and request them, and ABCCC would send the most
fighter-bombers to the FAC. Sometimes he had nothing to send or he had nobody
with the right weapons
loaded - for example anti-personnel bomblets would just scar the paint on a
tank, but would not kill it.
There is one story of a FAC who
kept calling ABCCC for someone to hit a truck moving down the trail.
The FAC was following the truck but could not get a fighter or a gunship to kill
it. Finally, in sheer frustration,
the FAC fired the only weapons he had, his white phosphorous smoke marker
rockets at the truck.
By chance, one of the unguided rockets landed in the back of the military truck
and began to smolder.
The driver saw what was going on and pulled to the side of the road and ran from
the truck just as the
contents of the truck began to blow up in multiple explosions, each one larger
than the other. The FAC
had been lucky enough to hit a truck load of ammunition or explosives and scored
the coveted debrief
phrase "numerous secondary explosions".
Transportation - the "TUOC Trolley"
Getting around the base was
simple enough. It was a small base, and for us Intelligence folks, life revolved
your home hooch, the mail room, the O'club for meals and drinks, and TUOC where
we worked. One could walk to
all of these, but in the wet season you would arrive wet, of course. But in the
dry season you would also arrive wet
(and smelly) because of the heat and humidity. There were Thai kamikazes driving
little Datsun taxis on base for one
baht per trip, but most of us chose to catch the TUOC Trolley
Officially it was called the Base Shuttle Bus but we had our own names for every
thing. It usually
wasn't a bus anyway but a step van or "bread truck" of the type used to ferry an
aircrew and their
equipment out to their airplane. It was usually driven by a Thai national who
didn't speak English
very well, so unless you were a good mime, it helped to learn the Thai phrases
for "stop here please"
and "thank you very much". I figured it was their country and I might as well
learn a little of their
culture and language anyway. It was a completely different experience than
Vietnam had been.
Back to the Thai language though: it's a tonal language where the same sound can
different meanings depending on the tone - I hope when I was asking him to stop
the truck that
I wasn't saying anything nasty about his mother.
My Hootch Room(s)
My hootch was located in the upper right corner edge of the map (above) it
looked like all the other
hootches, it was elevated above the mud and snakes, had a corrugated tin roof
and was painted
brown. It was real easy to get lost, especially after a couple of beers, because
every hootch on the
base looked the same.
You can sort of see in this shot that the buildings were "H" shaped, with a latrine
and shower room
in the crossbar. The rooms were much larger than my 8x8 at Tan Son Nhut, but you
room with a room-mate. I moved out of my initial assigned room after a couple of
I had a chance to share a room with another guy from the intel shop. Then I
moved again about
6 weeks later when a guy went home to the states and sold me the equity in his
and air-conditioned room, a true luxury in the hot, humid climate. All of these
moves made it hard
for the house girl to keep up with where my clothing belonged. The marking on my
24. I figured that was reasonable and necessary, but I was a little surprised
when I got
a new shirt from the BX and found the laundry mark on it was
My room-mate and I had metal GI bunk-beds in room 24. The walls of the room were
plywood on the inside covering the original screen and slanted slats of the open
air type room.
(The plywood had been self-help to seal up the room for air-conditioning.) The
floor was tile over
beams and plywood. My room-mate had the upper bunk, and when I would drift off
to sleep on
whatever shift I was on, I could hear the sound of someone munching celery. One
day I took an
Air Force survival knife (similar to a Boy Scout knife) and probed the 2x4 near
my head at the
bed. It crumbled to dust and exposed tunnels and cavities and lots of big
termites. I got civil
engineers or someone to come spray something on the beam and figured that was
the end of it.
Several days later, the termites got even by
eating away the plywood under one of the legs at the
top of the bed. My room-mate and I woke up as the bed slowly sank through the
piece of tile and
the weakened plywood and began to capsize.
Breakfast at the Officers Club
recall that there was any variety in the meals at the club, but there were
for each meal that you could get a balanced and non-boring diet. The ordering
system from the
menu was unusual. Breakfast for example didn't consist of meals number 1, 2, 3,
etc, they were
numbered according to their content and expressed as 4 character codes. AH1G
might be two
eggs over easy with two slices of buttered toast. I always said that you could
sit down and say a
random US Army helicopter number and get a pretty good breakfast.
The Lt Col Chief of Intelligence used to join us junior officers for breakfast
fairly often. One morning
he sat with us and asked the little Thai waitress for "just a blueberry muffin".
She said in a sad voice
"I so sorry sir, we no hab blueberry muffin today". "Okay, just bring me an
English muffin" he said.
To which she answered " I sorry sir, we no hab Engrish muffin too". At this
point the colonel said
"okay then, just bring me a goddam doughnut". She replied "I sorry sir, we no
doughnuts, only have chocolate doughnuts".
Tell Me Something I Can't Read in Stars and Stripes
One of my Lieutenants had the special clearances beyond Top Secret needed to
raw intelligence sources and gather hot intel that was not otherwise available.
He would then
"sanitize" the intel so that it could be presented to people with a Top Secret
without the special clearances. Every few days he would brief the Wing Commander
staff with this "hot" intelligence. We were all amazed one morning when the
blurted out: "Tell me something I can't read in the Stars and Stripes." Now that
his primary source of intelligence, there was less incentive to go through all
the effort to
present him with "hot" intel.
A few days later a C-47 crashed
on takeoff and Higher Headquarters decided that he had
exceeded his quota of non-combat losses and invited him to retire.
This grainy picture shows the front door to the NKP officer's club, where we
usually ate 3 meals per day and pushed the
limits of the human liver. It was more-or-less the social center of the base.
About once per month each flying squadron
would have a "Sawadee Party" from the Thai word for hello/goodbye. Where they
would welcome the newcomers and
say goodbye to those who had completed their tour. One of the unique things
about flying squadron parties in Thailand
was the "Party Suit" There were good tailor shops all over Thailand so they
could produce clothing and patches to order
the pilots took advantage of this to obtain suits similar to flight suits but in
flashy squadron colors and decorated liberally
with patches of varying degrees of taste.
About all I remember
of them is that the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron, the "Jolly Green
Giants" had a bright
green flight suit type of party suit with patches all over, I don't really
remember most of the other squadrons. But for sheer
class, you couldn't beat the guys who flew the old EC-47s. Their party suit was
an exact copy of the US Army Air Forces
World War II Class A Pinks and Greens, hat, blouse, trousers. Very Impressive.
But what else would an antique C-47
Apologies for the photo of the doofus in the cavalry uniform. I
wanted to illustrate "pinks and greens" and this is all I could find.
The EC-47 crews had perfect US Army Air Forces uniforms, hats and all. I don't
know how they did it.
non-pre-planned party would break out in a squadron's hootch area. We non-rated
would usually realize that a party was going on when we heard the cannon fire or
the raucous laughter.
The cannon was a length of pipe which was primed with some type of explosive and
stuffed with a
cantaloupe-sized Thai watermelon. The elevation and azimuth would then be
carefully plotted, but the
results were almost always unpredictable, and the watermelon left the cannon
more in the fashion of
a shotgun charge than a cannonball.
Eventually the party would
move on to "carrier landings". This involved lining up 7-8 picnic tables in a
row and covering them with plastic table cloths. These were then liberally
covered with some lubricant
such as laundry soap and water, cheap beer, or whatever came to hand. Then two
took position at about the 2nd last table and stretched a rope across and above
the table. The
participants then entered the landing pattern by running full speed at the first
table and doing a
belly flop onto the table. The objective was to stay on the line of tables,
raise your heels and snag
the arresting cable and come to a stop. Many intrepid aviators went off the side
of the deck or
missed the arresting cable.
One night resulted in so many minor
injuries that the Wing Commander forbade any more
"carrier landings". At the next party it was called "short field landings".
No Such Agency and a Certain Interesting Agency
We worked with both of these. I guess it's not much of a secret anymore. I don't
have anything more to say
about it except that I've seen several movies that depicted them fairly
accurately. Some of them did some
genuinely heroic stuff and some of them were just strange people.
The Ravens were a deep dark secret back in those days. They were FAC pilots who
had "resigned" from
the Air Force and gone to work for someone else who assigned them to a secret
base in Northern Laos.
From there, they flew missions and put US Air Force and US Navy fighter-bombers
on targets in support
of Major General Vang Pao, the Hmong Leader in Northern Laos who we were
supporting in the fight against
the communist Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army.
After a tour with the Ravens, they would "unresign" from the Air Force and be
If you look at the side of my old 56 SOW hat, you see that we listed our tours
in SEAsia on the side
of the hat. I had 69-70 Vietnam, 72-73 Thailand. Well, one of our Nail FACs, a
former Raven, got a
little too specific on his hat and had the dates he was at "LS-20A". The Chief
of Intel saw it one day,
nearly had a heart-attack about the breach of security, took away the hat and
had it destroyed as
A note about hats - in the Air Commando days all the 56Air Commando Wing People
used to wear
a Commando hat, kind of a bush hat, probably pretty practical for keeping the
sun and the rain out of
your face, but impractical to carry around and find a place to put it while
indoors. I liked my dusty old
baseball cap, when indoors, I'd just stuff it in a pocket and never lose it.
Search and Rescue (SAR)
Of all the flying outfits at NKP, I think I became most attached to the Sandies
and the Jollies. They were the
rescue force when someone was shot down. Typically, the survivor's wingman tried
to get a good fix on
where he landed on the ground, and stayed in the area as long as his fuel
permitted. He'd go to the tanker
over friendly territory and come back to the survivor if he could. If all worked
well, two Jollies and 4-6 Sandies
had scrambled and followed the wingman back to the survivor. The A-1 was a
perfect escort for the HH-53,
it moved at about the same speed, carried every kind of weapon ever built and
carried enough gas to stay
over the survivor all day. The big pipe sticking out of the front of the Jolly
is a refueling boom, an HC-130
launched from another base and carried a Navy style basket refueling system that
the Jolly plugged into.
Sandy01 was the "On-Scene-Commander" he was in charge of tactics, timing,
judging when it was safe
to bring the big, lumbering helicopter in to pick up the survivor, etc. There
were 2 Jollies which would be
identified by their tail number, e.g. Jolly23 and Jolly67. One was the "Low
bird" which would make the
pick up, the other was the "High bird" which would stay high and away from the
action to avoid battle
damage, in case it needed to take the place of a damaged or shot-down "Low
bird". The HC-130's
call sign was "King" and he stayed high and away from the fight to provide
refueling for the Jollies
and radio-relay for the SAR force. Sometimes a Nail FAC joined the package to
help put fast fighters
on the targets around the survivor.
The Intel person(s) involved in the SAR would dash back and forth between DOI
(Intel) at one end of
TUOC and the Rescue Coordination Center (call sign: "Jack") at the other end of
TUOC to get fresh
maps and intel on the target area and provide everything we knew about what was
there that could
threaten the SAR force. We'd also get on the secure phone with the downed
aviator's home wing
intel section to get his personal authenticator information for the Jollies to
ask to be sure they were
not being drawn into a flak trap.
The Sandies protect the Jollies if
necessary, but their main job is to protect the survivor on the ground.
They can take out guns set up as a flak trap to get the rescue force, or they
can take out troops approaching
the survivor. They can do this over and over with the load they carry. The load
shown above is "antipersonnel"
the "broomstick" fuse extenders make the bombs go off above the ground
level and sweep the area, rather
than blow a crater in the ground. The "bomb" with the yellow ring behind the
nose near the pilot is a CBU
dispenser. When dropped from the aircraft, the casing will split on the visible
seam, and several hundred
baseball size bomblets will disperse out and head for the ground, arming as they
Should the Sandies take any battle damage or begin to run low
weapons or fuel, a
call back to NKP
brings a fresh pair of Sandies with a full load. Eventually
when the area has been
"sanitized", the "low"
Jolly will dash in and lower a cable with a collapsible
on the end of it, the survivor
will climb on, strap in, and get a ride up to
If the survivor is unable
to aid himself, a "PJ" or Pararescueman will ride down on the seat and assist
PJs are a remarkable breed within the air force - their training takes
about 2 years,
they are qualified in
scuba diving, orienteering, paramedic, close combat, etc. PJs won a
disproportionate share of Air Force Crosses
and Silver Stars for their actions during combat
rescues. Many of the medals
were awarded post-humously.
"That others may live"
PJ Airman Third Class Arthur N. Black was awarded the Air Force
Cross for actions during the recovery of a downed pilot under extremely
hazardous conditions in North Vietnam on 20 September, 1965.
PJ Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross
posthumously for his actions during the Vietnam War. His medal was later
upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
PJ Tech Sergeant Wayne L. Fisk earned a Silver Star for his role in the Son Tay
Prison raid in November 1970, and another Silver Star for participating in the
SS Mayaguez rescue in May 1975. During the Mayaguez rescue, Fisk was the last
U.S. serviceman to personally engage the enemy in Southeast Asia. Other medals
earned during his five tours in Vietnam include the Defense Superior Service
Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf
cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, and the Air Medal
with 17 oak leaf clusters.
PJ Airman Second Class Duane D. Hackney was awarded the Air Force Cross for
actions while recovering a downed pilot in North Vietnam, on 6 February 1967.
PJ Sergeant Larry W. Maysey was awarded the Air Force Cross for actions in a
night recovery of an infiltration team in which several recovery aircraft -
including his own - were shot down in Southeast Asia on 9 November 1967.
PJ Sergeant Thomas A. Newman was awarded the Air Force Cross for actions during
the recovery of a downed pilot in Southeast Asia, on 30 May 1968.
PJ Airman First Class Joel E. Talley was awarded the Air Force Cross for actions
during the recovery of a downed pilot under extraordinary ground fire in
Southeast Asia on 2 July 1968.
PJ Airman First Class Charles D. King was awarded the Air Force Cross for
actions in sacrificing himself so that an injured pilot might be evacuated
safely in Southeast Asia on 25 December 1968.
PJ Sergeant Michael E. Fish was awarded the Air Force Cross for actions during
the two-day recovery of a downed and trapped pilot in the Republic of Vietnam,
on 18 and 19 February 1969.
PJ Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for
actions during the recovery of a downed pilot and subsequent actions after his
own aircraft was downed in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969.
PJ Sergeant Charles D. McGrath was awarded the Air Force Cross for actions
during the recovery of a downed pilot in North Vietnam on 27 June 1972.
pilots were not to be trifled with either. One famous rescue in the spring of
1972 had a
survivor on the ground on the Northern outskirts of Hanoi, the Capitol of North
Vietnam. The Jollies
and Sandies went after him as if it were a routine pickup. Along with all of the
guns and missiles
that were filling the air, a MiG came boring in, planning to get a helicopter.
Sandy 01 in his old slow
A-1 went after the MiG and scored enough hits on him to drive him out of the
fight. The survivor was
successfully picked up, and Sandy 01 and the Jolly Pilot each got the Air Force
One person who always showed up
at "Jack" to monitor a rescue in progress was "Doc", the Hospital
Commander, a colonel. He was also known to suit up complete with a survival vest
and weapon and
fly training missions with the Jollies. During one hot and hairy SAR on the
border between North Vietnam
and Laos when the good guys and the bad guys were both expending a lot of steel
and lead at each other,
someone noticed that "Doc" was not in "Jack". After saying "you don't suppose
he's..." the rescue controller
picked up the microphone - (he couldn't very well ask in the clear if there was
a colonel on one of the helicopters,)
so he thought for a second and called "King, this is Jack, request you determine
if Super-PJ is on-board one
of the Jollies". King thought he had misheard such a weird sounding statement
and asked for a "say-again"
to which he got the same request, and rogered it. After a pause during which
King was talking to the Jollies,
out-of-range of our radio, we got our answer from a confused King. "Ah, Jack,
this is King confirming that
Super-PJ is on-board Jolly29."
Doc came back from that mission
and reported to intel debrief with the rest of the crew, all of them hot and
sweaty and still wearing their flight suits, vests and weapons. Doc looked like
a Super-PJ and that became
his nickname for the rest of his tour.
He returned to the
states for a new assignment a few months later and seemed to be genuinely
for the first time in his career as a doctor, his patients would be unable to
argue with him. He was going to be
We worked long and
unpredictable hours in the intel shop, but the workload usually fell into the
same 3 basic overlapping
"shifts" in the Intelligence Briefing Branch: Day shift starting at 0600
briefed the Jollies and Sandies going on alert for the day, then ran to another
room and briefed
a Hobo 4 x (A-1) fighter-bomber mission, then ran back to the desk where a
FAC was waiting
for a briefing off of the map on the desk and the wall beside it. That 0600
rush got more interesting when you had dysentery and had to stop in the restroom
briefings and still try to give them all at 0600. After that
rush, the morning continued
at a slower pace with more Hobo and Nail FAC briefings. Then things got quiet
until the FACs began
to come back in to debrief, unless there was an emergency such as a shoot down
and a scramble
of the Jollies and Sandies.
The Jollies and Sandies briefed together, 2 Jolly crews and 4 Sandies.
The Hoboes, 4 A-1s on a pre-planned bomb mission briefed together.
The OV-10 Nails briefed right at our desks where the desktop was covered with a
classified map of their area of operations
and the adjacent wall had some more maps. We also had some photography from
sensitive sources which we could
use to point them to targets that might be worth examining and hitting.
Throughout the day you kept the log
current with whatever the next briefer needed to know, and you
continued to keep the briefing notes updated with the latest intel from message
traffic and debriefs.
The Evening shift involved briefing several EC-47 Barons, who went out to orbit
specific areas all night
and listen-in on bad-guy communications. Also in the evening, we briefed all the
who would go truck hunting on the trail that night.
After the last of the
evening briefings we were in what we called the Midnight shift. There were
no briefings on this shift but it was one of the most important, in terms of
preparing for the next day.
This is when all the Intelligence message traffic would come in and all the
debriefs from other units.
The Mid-shift Intel person was responsible for writing up the base briefing for
tomorrow, and taking
any special requirements.
I was Mid-shift intel weenie one night,
sitting back in my chair writing up tomorrow's Intel
when a foreign national came dashing into the
room, about 0500, followed closely
by the Wing Director of Operations.
The foreigner turned out to be Major General Vang Pao, the Lao/Hmong leader of
the good guys that we
were trying to help in Northern Laos. He wanted a quick briefing on how his
troops were doing in their
latest operation on the southern edge of the Plain of Jars. I gave him the quick
brief, he asked a few
questions, shook my hand and then left. Of all the people who spent a year or
more in Thailand and/or
Laos, flying and fighting, and supporting the Hmong and Vang Pao, I wonder how
many got to talk with
him and shake his hand?
(The Following was taken from
Wikipedia, it looks accurate.)
Vang Pao was born in 1931,
in Central Xiangkhoang Province, in Northeastern Laos. He began his early life
as a farmer until the Secret War began. Vang Pao decided to join the French
Military to help the Hmong from danger when he was 30+ yrs old and he there
started his military career
Vang's military career began during World War II, when he fought in the
resistance against Japanese forces in Indochina. French authorities later
recruited him as an officer during the First Indochina War to combat the Viet
Minh. Although French forces lost the war, Vang remained in the army of the
newly independent Kingdom of Laos. During the 1960s and 1970s Vang commanded the
Secret Army, a highly-effective CIA-trained and supported force that fought
against the Pathet Lao and People's Army of Vietnam. Several people involved in
the Laotian war have since alleged that Vang used the opium trade to finance his
operations, transporting opium on aircraft leased from Air America. (CIA
Vang fled to the United States after the communists seized power in Laos in
1975. He remains widely respected by Hmong who experienced the war or the
reprisals that followed. Though he is somewhat less influential among younger
Hmong-Americans who have grown up primarily in the United States, he has
generally been considered the primary leader of U.S.-based Hmong, enjoying great
loyalty for his position of leadership and respect for his military
Since his exile in the U.S., Vang has earned an elevated status in the United
States among his fellow Hmong, with his allies continuing to view the government
of Laos, along with the governments of Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea, as one of
the world's few remaining bastions of communism.
In the past, he was known for his opposition to the human rights violations
conducted by the communist government of Laos, but in 2001 he began publicly
advocating normalization of US-Laos relations if human rights concerns were
On June 4, 2007, following a lengthy federal investigation labeled "Operation
Flawed Eagle," warrants were issued by U.S. federal courts ordering the arrest
of Vang Pao and nine others for plotting to overthrow the government of Laos in
violation of the federal Neutrality Acts. The federal charges allege that
members of the group inspected weapons, including AK-47s, smoke grenades, and
Stinger missiles, with the intent of purchasing them and smuggling them into
Thailand. The one non-Hmong person of the nine arrested, Harrison Jack, a 1968
West Point graduate and retired Army infantry officer, allegedly attempted to
recruit Special Operations veterans to act as mercenaries in an invasion of
(So there you have it - the U S Government wants to
jail a 77 year old refugee war-hero just because he wants to try to save his
extermination by the North Vietnamese invaders.)
Vang Pao, Hmong Leader And General Who Led
Secret War In Laos, Has Died
Former Hmong Gen. Vang Pao (right) in May 2000 during a wreath-laying ceremony
at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
|"Gen. Vang Pao, an iconic figure in the Hmong community and a
key U.S. ally during the Vietnam War, died Thursday afternoon in
Clovis [Calif.] after spending days in the hospital with pneumonia
and a heart problem," The Fresno Bee writes this morning. He was 81.
As the Bee adds: "Over 100 people crowded into the outpatient care
center at Clovis Community Medical Center to grieve the loss of a
beloved leader, who some saw as the George Washington of the Hmong."
Sawadee General. Rest In Peace.
The Great Banana Tree Slaughter
In November of 72, the brass in Saigon or Washington or someplace where people
don't think straight, gave
all the A-1s of the 1st SOS and all the AC-119Ks of the 18th SOS to the
Vietnamese Air Force. This left us
with no Hoboes, No Sandies, No Stingers, and a lot of suddenly unemployed,
gung-ho, young men. One night,
fueled by alcohol and damaged pride they declared war on the base's banana
tree's. No one ever knew what
the banana trees had done to incite their wrath, and there was a rumor that
their strikes were aided/marked by
FACs of the 23rd TASS, but come morning the Bomb Damage Assessment counted over
100 banana trees
stomped flat/confirmed destroyed, with negative friendly casualties.
The Wing Commander had his staff busy finding new assignments back in the states
for those pilots who had
nearly completed a year's tour, or finding new assignments in SEAsia for those
who were qualified in another
aircraft and had a while to go to complete their year. Meanwhile, what to do
with these overqualified warriors?
We found out when teams of 3 began wandering around the base with clipboard and
tape measure to take the
dimensions of every desk on base.
The A-7 'Sandy'
If ever there was a stupid idea that came home to roost it was giving away the
A-1s. They were the perfect escort for the
HH-53 Jolly Green Giants, similar airspeed, plenty of weapons, long loiter
time, etc. Now that they were gone, their
replacement was the A-7. They couldn't even fly out of NKP with a combat load
because we only had an 8000 foot
runway, so they didn't get the same briefing the Jollies got, they flew faster
than the Jollies so they had to S turn all
over the sky to stay with them, and when they got to the survivor they ran out
of weapons and gas real quick and had
to go home for the day. - Totally useless.
During late 1972, the news was full of "Peace is at Hand" like there was going
to be an announcement just
any minute now. Then North Vietnam reneged on some terms. LBJ would have bombed
the DMZ as a
"signal" of his displeasure and America's military might. Richard Nixon bombed
downtown Hanoi. And
he bombed it for 11 days. B-52s by night, F-4s by day, F-111s around the clock.
Richard Nixon bombed Hanoi until the North Vietnamese Surrendered and agreed to
sign peace terms
at that point we WON the Vietnam War in my eyes. It wasn't until April 1975 that
the war was lost, and
just remember that Richard Nixon and a lot of good military people were not
involved in that loss. The
US Congress in the Ford administration did a time shift back to the Johnson
years, ignored Nixon's
victory, decided too much money had been flushed down the drain and pulled the
rug out from under
the feet of our "allies" in SEAsia - that's when the war was lost and it should
be an example to all
present and future "allies".
We had a nice little outdoor theater at NKP that was made up of park benches
facing a white painted plywood wall.
A half-dozen lieutenants and I were sitting watching some movie on the night of
20 Dec 72 when someone looked
up and spotted a very low, slow, shooting star and we all realized it was a
burning B-52 and headed for TUOC. He
had been hit coming off the target in North Vietnam by at least one SAM, lost
most of his starboard engines and
all of his electronics. The gunner was using his SAR radio to call Mayday and
the Pilot was trying to nurse it past
Laos to friendly territory and aiming for NKP. They started bailing out as soon
as they got across the Mekong into
Thailand, and our rescue forces went out after them. The next morning in Intel
on the "Saves" scoreboard it read that
the 6 man crew had been saved thusly: 2 by Pedro (the HH-43) that normally did
on-base crash rescue work, 1 by
Jolly Green, 2 by Knife (a CH-53 that flew around the perimeter of the base at
night with flare kickers and heavily
armed security policemen on board), and the EWO rescued himself by flagging down
the baht bus and catching
a ride to the front gate of the base.
The next night another BUFF in trouble, aimed for, and came
down near NKP. A few of us began to get antsy about
what would happen if one landed ON us. But after the first few nights the SAC
Pilots adopted some Tactical type
post target maneuvers and/or the gomers began to run out of missiles, and the
B-52s pretty much enjoyed air
superiority over Hanoi.
So then they signed the papers at the
end of January, everyone got out of Saigon, All(?) of our POWs
were released, and the war ended. Except for Laos and except for Cambodia.
The War Across the River
continued in Laos and Cambodia as the Pathet Lao attempted to grab and hold as
as they could before the ceasefire that would eventually come. No ceasefire was
on the horizon in
Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge simply wanted to take over the country, as they
eventually did, and
slaughter everyone who had opposed them or had any education. Meanwhile, we used
to take the
"baht bus" from NKP base 9 miles to NKP town on the Mekong and sit in
riverside restaurants or
bars and watch the war in Thakek, the Laotian town across the river that was
under siege by the
Pathet Lao. Royal Laotian Air Force T-28s would bomb troop concentrations around
the town and
RLAF AC-47s would hose down the perimeter with their gatling guns.
At night, we had continuous coverage of the NKP base perimeter by at least one
(call sign: Knife) from the 21st SOS. They had flares and heavily armed security
policemen on board
and continuously cruised our fence and the area outside it. Northeastern
Thailand had been a home
years back for many North Vietnamese refugees and we were not sure where
One night I was working the Midnight shift, and
between writing up reports, I was sitting in "Teepee",
the wing command post, keeping company with the duty controller. Around this
time. the airborne
Knife, I forget his call sign but say it was "Knife-21". Decided to take a quick
trip across the river to
see what was up over there. Suddenly the command post radio blared: "Teepee,
be advised I am taking ground fire from Thakek perimeter". The controller keyed
his microphone and
said "Knife, Teepee recommends you leave that area". Knife-21 responded: "No
The CH-53s of the 21st SOS, call sign "Knife" used to have one special mission
that we called a DOZ after
an office symbol in 7th AF or somewhere. This involved going somewhere to pick
troops and hauling them to where the action was. Typically up to a dozen or so
helicopters would fly
the mission, and a couple of intel people would be up all night preparing maps,
target materials, etc
for the mission which would brief around 0400. The Knives would leave NKP around
0500, pick up
the friendlies by 0530, and deliver them to their target by 0630, depending on
distances and tactical
considerations. Many Intel people including me have worked on many missions
including DOZs, and
never known any more about them until after the debrief.
Now, at this time, after the ceasefire in Vietnam, both side in Laos knew that a
ceasefire there was
eminent, so they were trying to grab and hold as much territory as possible. We
actually had a full
scale siege going in the town of Thakek, a ferryboat ride across the Mekong from
NKP. I was amazed to
find myself working one night on a DOZ to reinforce the defenses of Thakek. I
drew up all the maps and
materials, got the briefing together, delivered the briefing, waited until I got
off duty at 0600 and dashed
downtown to a riverfront restaurant. I got there just in time to watch the dozen
knives thunder overhead at low
level, skim across the river and deposit their loads of troops in Thakek. That
was the one and only time
in my intelligence career that I got to plan and brief a mission and then watch
it execute. I asked a Thai
waitress what was going on and she said "Oh, is Thai helicopters! Numbah One!"
Now that things were closed down in North Vietnam and winding down in "Barrel
Roll" (Northern Laos)
I was finding myself with a lot of expertise and nothing to do with it. Before I
attacked the banana trees
the Chief of Intel decided I needed to go TDY to Ubon. That was a base to the
South of us, closer to
Cambodia, where a detachment of our 23rd TASS was stationed. - They were an
unit named the Rustics and as far as Intel went, they pretty much took care of
their own needs because
Ubon was famous as home of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, "The Wolfpack".
Fast mover F-4 intel
is very different from the intel requirements of the slow movers. We had the
Rustics down there, we had
our Nail FACs from the 23rd TASS augmenting them, and we had our Jollies going
on alert at Ubon now.
My people needed our kind of intel, so off I went.
Getting to Ubon wasn't hard, I caught a ride in one of our Jollies going down
there to go on alert.
This picture, by the way is an MH-53J a Special Operations descendant of the
Jolly Green Giant. You can see the turbine engines (3), the cable for hauling up
the right side (minus the jungle penetrator seat or whatever might be used), you
can see the
extendible refueling boom on the right side (Pilot sits on the right side on
helicopters). You can't
see the electric mini-guns at the left and right windows and on the back ramp
for defense. Back
at NKP we had The CH-53 Knives of the 21st SOS and the HH-53 Super Jolly Green
of the 40th ARRS. At a quick glance the only difference between the two aircraft
then was the boom
for refueling on the Jolly. All of those SEAsia green lizard machines have been
modified to become MH-53J airframes and painted black to go with their new
Back to 1973 - we had an uneventful trip to Ubon even though they had me
scanning for traffic out the
right side of the aircraft. - Here comes an F-4, do we have the right of way?
When I found the Intel shop at Ubon and the little corner office they had
assigned to our
detachment of the 56 SOW, I was very pleased to see that a defense analysis NCO
arrived before me and set up all the maps and posted them with the ground fire
events. That allowed me to concentrate on getting the briefings together and
giving the guys
exactly the right intel they needed. The Rustics were a likeable bunch. I'm just
that I had a small part in their start up - when I met my old pilot training
buddy on R&R and
he was so enthusiastic about my Cambodian map coverage at 12 RITS. - He was one of
founders of the Rustics.
I stayed at Ubon for a month. Nothing
really sticks out in my memory except the day we lost
one of the Rustic FACs. He was from New York City and that day was his birthday.
him a briefing all about the area he was assigned to fly in, but while he was in
picking up his parachute and survival vest he talked another FAC into swapping
areas as a
"birthday present". He was putting in smoke rockets to mark a target for some
"the golden BB" (a lucky small arms shot) pierced his canopy and struck him in
killing him instantly.
Preparing for Peace
Meanwhile, back at 56 SOW/DOI they had set up an Intel plans shop and an Intel
Most of the original gang of hardcore briefers were gone home, there were no
briefings to be briefed. I felt lost - this was just another US Air Force base,
but in a hot and
humid place. 7th Air Force had left Saigon and moved into the old Task Force
as the "United States Support Activity Group", so you even had to watch out on
the streets and
salute staff cars.
(One of the first plans the intel plans shop worked on was called "Eagle Pull".)
derided it as "turkey jerk". It was executed on 12 April 1975 and got a couple
and Cambodians out of Phnom Penh just before the Khmer Rouge took over the city.
later Operation "Frequent Wind" evacuated Saigon as the North Vietnamese Army
occupied the city.
Last Day of Cambodia Bombing
I received a "rollback" in my Thai tour - instead of 365 days I only served 362,
they sent me home
on 15 August 73 instead of 18 August. Whether that has anything to do with the
official end of
the war, I don't know; but noon on 15 Aug was the curfew for the last US
aircraft to get out of
Cambodia. (He was one of our Nail FACs)
Some folks from the Intel shop
escorted me down to the terminal around noon on 15 Aug
(just about the time the war officially ended, really appropriate). Someone
traditional Thai "Sawadee Lei" around my neck. It was noon so I was sober, and I
did not have a head cold, so it differed from my departure from Vietnam. It also
differed because the war was over and I would never be coming back again.
Someone had analyzed the "saves"
tally board and figured out that I was involved in
102 successful rescues of downed aviators during my tour. I found out about that
they read the "citation to accompany" a fancy medal. I've always been proud of
medal, not because it was a big shot medal, but because it represented my part
helping to SAVE 102 people when everyone else in that part of the world was
to kill each other. I've always wondered why Hollywood hasn't made a movie about
the Jollies and the Sandies. Have heroes gone out of style?
Laos is now the Lao People's
Democratic Republic. The Hmong tribesmen in Northern Laos who
were our allies have been persecuted, exterminated or driven into exile.
The country that was once the
Khmer Empire which ruled all of Southeast Asia in the 11th - 14th
centuries and built such treasures as Ankhor Wat. Has now become famous as the
after all literate, educated citizens were rounded up and exterminated by the
Nakhon Phanom RTAFB has now become
Nakhon Phanom Regional Airport with a few
flights in and out per day. They built a terminal on part of the flight line,
the rest of the base which has now reverted to jungle, as if it had never been.
always remember NKP and the days when I was young and we were winning the war.