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Combat air controller 5

This is the fifth installation of a promised series of articles on what veterans have endured. This series deals with life as a radar flight controller in Vietnam. Again I ask my readers to compare this one individual’s experience with those of bureaucrats who did not have their retirement benefits cut. Readers should note that the civilians that I am talking about do not feel that their retirement benefits are generous. 1967 was just a daily repeat of these kinds of events. Our losses over the North became heavier. This war sucked! I hated Johnson and McNamara. In the autumn of 1966, I was working the flight follow scope on a night shift. This is when the “Blue Tree” Frag Order missions were being conducted by the RF 101’s stationed at Tan Son Nhut and the RF-4’s stationed at Udorn, Thailand. These unlucky slobs got to fly from the Chinese border straight down the northwest, or northeast railroads into Hanoi and Haiphong, and then south towards South Vietnam. They were recce aircraft and would snap photos all the way. These flights were conducted at treetop level to some concealment protection and surprise against North Vietnamese AAA and SAM attacks. If their terrain guidance radars became inoperable, they would have to climb to higher altitudes, which placed them in extreme danger of being shot down. A little know fact was that these missions did not need to be flown at all. We had satellite coverage that provided us with detailed BDA. The civilian leadership did not want the Soviets and Chinese to realize that we had such a strategic reconnaissance capability in place. So these poor slobs flew down these corridors like ducks passing in a county fair shooting gallery. I had been flight following one RF-101 pilot for a couple of night ops and we recognized each other’s voices. He informed me that he was going to fly the next night also and he would identify himself as “Grandmother 10” so we could continue with our private chatter, which was against regulations and proper radio communications procedures. The next evening I came on duty at 17:00 hours and saw that we had one aircraft down in the North. It was an RF-101 out of Saigon. I briefed the other weapons controllers to look out for “Grandmother 10”. That night no one called in with that cover name. Throughout my tour in Vietnam, I asked every RF-101 pilot that I ever controlled if he was “Grandmother 10”. No one knew what I meant. This war sucked! Why were we fighting this war this pathetic way? Our senior military officers were forbidden to effectively fight the war they were directed to fight. We were all cannon fodder for the whims of politicians and failed General Motor’s executives. During my tour, Lieutenant Charlie L. and I were sent up to Dong Ha, a charming little spot on the DMZ separating North and South Vietnam. We flew up there on an AC-47 “Spooky” gunship. This is where I learned that I possessed a repressed sixth sense. It was something very primitive and had never been tapped. We were to man a small Forward Air Control Post, call sign “Water boy”. When we disembarked the plane, I sensed intuitively that this was a most unhealthy place to reside. It looked peaceful enough. There was a light breeze the distant mountains toward Laos looked pleasant, but imminent danger and doom was a reality for me. I rushed over to the canvas covered radar darkroom and viewed the plotting board. On the board the friendly artillery fire was drawn to show where the artillery firing fans were located and what altitudes the artillery went up to. Our radar site was surrounded 360 degrees by firing batteries and all of them were firing in-bound toward our station. My gut instinct was correct. That very night an NVA regiment passed between our nothing little radar post and the runway, which was only 300 meters from us. Thank God, the NVA was not interested in some little radar site and they passed by without incident. Some of the first big battles in northern I Corps were beginning to take place in this area. Our fine US Marines were valiantly fighting against a well-equipped and armed enemy. We were starting to have high mortality rates on Hills with eight hundred numbers (meaning their height in meters). The bodies of these young men were being brought to Dong Ha so that C-123 “Provider” cargo transports could ferry them to DaNang, or Saigon for shipment home. We had a couple of refrigerator vans to keep the corpses in, but there were so many KIA that we had no means to preserve them. Eventually, we even ran out of body bags and they were being stacked like cordwood. I was horrified as I watched personal letters blow out of unbuttoned pockets of jungles fatigues. This was truly a horror movie! I hoped that a miracle would take place and I would be sent back to Monkey Mountain. An act of God took place and Charlie and I were sent back in the nick of time. We flew back to DaNang on a USMC C-130 Hercules. The aircraft commander was a USMC E-9, one of the last enlisted pilots in the military. Shortly after we returned to Monkey Mountain, the NVA blew that place away. Artillery and mortars leveled our little Quonset huts at Dong Ha. Back at Monkey Mountain, the “Rolling Thunder” and the “Barrel Roll/Steel Tiger” operations were keeping our two shifts extremely busy. Our fighters were going down in the North and over Laos like clockwork. I assisted in controlling numerous rescue operations over North Vietnam, Laos, and the South China Sea. I remember 2 December 1966 and the demise of Commando 01 over Channel 72 in Laos that was a real “dog and pony show”. Years later, I learned who Commando 01 was. He was then Colonel Heinie Aderholt, later Brigadier General Harry C. Aderholt, and the famous Air Commando. An Air America pilot under my control rescued Heinie and another crewmember. A passenger (an O-6) was not recovered because he did not have a personal locator beacon with him. They were brought down by NVA “Triple A” around Channel 72, which was a TACAN navigation site located on a remote mountain peak in Laos. Air America, Byrd and Sons, and Continental Airlines all flew CIA missions for the US in the secret war in Laos. They would be given $6,000 for every rescued airman that they could retrieve. This was an unbelievably daring rescue and this pilot had some big brass ones to do what he did! Eastern and Western Air Rescue squabbled over whose responsibility it was to conduct this emergency rescue. They would not even scramble their A1E “Spad” fighters to provide CAP and suppression fire for these special operators down in Laos. I had to beg to get the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing to scramble some F-4 fighters to provide combat air patrol for these men in harm’s way. Time was of the essence and if it had not been for the courage of this Air America pilot, all three of these men would have been sacrificed forever.