A Vietnam Retrospective
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Well, I believe we were part of a big "daisy chain" of guns that did a couple of the initial
moves into Laos, before they realized that we were not getting much resistance from the NVA.
We got diverted to handle other individual assaults, as many of the guns would be.
It was on this first diversion, after refueling at Kilo Sierra, that we were boring holes in
the sky in a holding pattern when we became disoriented from the maps and found ourselves very
much alone. As it turned out, we had drifted considerably south of QL-9, while waiting for
our next escort, but we didn't know that at the time.
I was flying with Bruce Marshall in the "Surfer" (161) and we were the wingman to Cpt Ackerman
and Gary Harter in the Ace of Spades (170). My first indication that we were possibly
in trouble was when Ackerman called us on the Shark's "victor" and asked: "Hey 12, you got us
on the map?" Bruce looked at me and I just looked back at him. I didn't even have the map
or opened. This place was all new to us. We were the wing guys. Kinda like just "follow
the leader." This in itself almost proved fatal for our team. We would learn a powerful
lesson this first day (almost our last) into Laos.
I whipped open the map and began the crosscheck, desperately trying to locate a familiar(?)
terrain feature. I'm sure Ackerman and Harter were doing the same. The panic would compound
by the weather, which was gray and drizzly, with a very low ceiling.
We were rapidly getting low on fuel. The alternatives were quite frightening. We could head
east, and hopefully if we were south of QL-9 we could get back the the some-what familiar
territory of Khe Sahn. If we had drifted somehow north of QL-9, and headed east, we might
find ourselves over North Vietnam.
Ackerman, being the leader he was, contacted one of our standby slicks and appraised him (I
think it was Neal Varner, Dolphin 19) of our situation. The problem was, our rescuer was
homing in on us from Vandergrif and it would be an unknown amount of time before he would
The only alternative was to find a some-what secure spot, land, shut down to conserve fuel
and wait. That was the decision.
We put the aircraft down on two small bluffs that had only about two or three feet of grass
covering them. We took up defensive positions about the aircraft and, being the naïve
knucklehead I've always been, I took some pictures.
We were only on the ground maybe 15 minutes, but at the time it seemed like hours. We started
hearing birdcalls, yet we saw no birds. It made my skin crawl and I was sure I could hear
my own heart beating like a drum.
Well, like any good fairytale, the prince (in the form of Dolphin 19) flew in with that welcome
landing light glowing, and we followed them back to Khe Sahn for fuel. Here it was, the first
damn day of the Laos Invasion, and according to Congress we'd already broken the law by setting
foot in Laos.* We’ll sneak in a couple of photos here, but you can view the account and
photos in it’s entirety on the 1971 History Page:
"Lost in Laos".
Above left: l-r Ralph Carty, Mike Ackerman, Yogi Reaves and
Above right: Ralph Carty
Above left: Bruce Marshall. Above right: Dolphin 19 to our rescue
We continued covering the CA's the rest of the day. It was in the early evening that we
learned that Dolphin Bob Gentry (Left) had been killed flying out of LZ Hotel. (see 1970 History
Page: "WO1 Robert B. Gentry"). Those of us who knew him were in a
very lonely shock.
Gentry was flying with WO Steve Burch and a crew of Lee Fairchild and Pat Wade. Wade at the
time was a Shark gunner but like many of our crews, flew both slicks and guns due to personnel
shortages. Wade got up in front with Burch to assist with the flying as Gentry, eventually,
died in Fairchild's arms. We could only imagine what his family was about to go through and
wondered if ours would face the same fate.
The excitement surrounding this romeo-foxtrot was immediately gone and the reality
became all too terrifying. That night, there was a brief memorial service held in
Bob's honor in a loaned, 101st canvas chapel. I stood around helplessly as Bob's bunkmates
inventoried and packed up what stuff he had there in Quang Tri. I think it was Cpt
Bill Early who drafted the letter.
note: Gentry and Thompson both arrived to the Unit at the same time. They were inseperable
when not flying.The image to the right is a song written by Lee Faircild in 1972- in Memory
of Bob Gentry. Gentry died in Fairchild's arms. Song, photos and etching (Vietnam Memorial); property of Lee Faircild.
The next day, February 9th, I flew about four-and-half-hours of CA's into Laos. We took 2
hits from a .30 caliber and we did some shooting of our own, returning the favor. I saw my
first Russian made vehicle, about the size of a deuce-and-a-half.
On the 10th of February we logged 6 hours in and out of Laos and I found out via AFVN radio
that there'd been an earthquake in Sylmar, California on the 8th of February. My Mom lived
just 7 miles south of the epicenter. There was no way to get in contact with her at that
time, so I had to just grin and bare it. We were not getting any mail and had no way of
knowing if ours was even getting sent out. We heard news of three more aircraft being shot
down that day, while we were refueling at Khe Sahn, but received no information on the status
of those crews.
On Thursday, February 11th, we had two teams working all day on hot CA's around the Rock Pile
and a real nasty hilltop called LZ Scotch. It was a one-ship LZ with a couple of dinks and
their very annoying mortar tube, and a few more with .51's that kept everybody real nervous.
We worked it in a daisy chain style as the slicks came in and out.
One team would do fuel and a quick re-arm at Vandy before hustling back to relieve the
expending team. It was on one such cross over that we heard only the briefest of screams
over the Shark victor and came to find out that Greg Manuel, while on a rocket run, had a
rocket explode outside his door. The intensity of the enemy fire was such that one round
struck the warhead as it was leaving the tube and another entered the aircraft and got him
in the foot. He was flying 170, "Ace of Spades" with Bob Hackett, and I managed to snap a few
pictures of the burned pilot's door after they'd medivac'ed Manny to Quang Tri
(Three of them below. The other two Photos- just prior to the incident). He was scheduled
to DEROS in just three more days!
This would be the last day I was to fly with Cpt Ackerman. We were in Shark 140, which carried the 19 shot pods. We fired nearly 250 rockets that day. It was definitely his swan song as he silenced two .51 cal positions. We got word that the Blue Ghosts lost two OH-58's and a slick. That night, while re-fueling at My Loc, enroute to Quang Tri, we heard that an F-4 got taken down by a radar-guided 37mm. This was the hottest day, thus far.
On Friday, February 12th, we left our tent homes before sunrise and flew the nearly 40 minute ride to Khe Sahn. Because of the density altitude and our slow airspeeds (compared to both the slicks and the newer Cobras), the role of the slow charlie-models was reduced to dustoff escort and the engagement of identified targets. We covered one dustoff at Ranger North and witnessed the enemy mortars impacting all around the rescuing H-model. We engaged several possible tube locations in the tree lines to the west and north. The mortars continued to fall, but without a visual on enemy location, we merely followed dust off out of the LZ and back to Khe Sahn.
We shut down and were almost immediately assigned a VIP escort of a C-123. We picked up the aircraft at about Vandy and flew considerably below it up to Khe Sahn. It circled the area for about five minutes and returned to the east. We were to learn later that it had been Gen. Abrams. We joked among ourselves that Abrams and his crew were probably flying out to write themselves up for DFC's or Silver Stars.
In many cases, that wasn't a joke.
*Assistant Webmaster note: The below eighteen photos by Fred were all taken
within or near Laos during
Lam Son 719 in February of 1971. The captions below are from old notes from Fred. If you see errors, please
feel free to correct us at the website.
Above left: Laos. "The Road" (QL9) and "The
leading west to Tchepone.
Above right: "The Yellow Brick Road" to the "Rockpile" and "Emerald
Above left: A combat assault by 4th Btn/ 3rd
Infantry near LZ Scotch.
"Dustoff" of downed helicopter in Laos (see the crash just above the "rescue's" main rotor
"hunkered down" ARVNs in crater top right).
Above left: Enemy rockets "incoming" from the
center peak (near Laos).
Above right: Cobra gunship down in Laos.
Above left: A combat assault by the 4/3 near "Emerald
City". Above right: In the
center of this photo (just below QL9) is an old French Jail in Laos.
Above left: Approach to Vandergrift
from the west.
Above right: LZ at Ranger North (or South).
Above left: Aerial view (from the east) of
The ARVN 1st Amoured at QL9 and Xe Pon River heading west, near LZ Alpha, in Laos. Above right: Eastern
approach to Khe Sanh
Above left: An disabled/abandoned Soviet T-54 tank on
route 9. Above right: F-4 "Fast Mover" airstrike on the river in Laos near Lang Vei.
Above left: A rare time when
a gunship (Shark UH-1C 65-09540 "Grim Reaper") would make an "extraction". Seems an Infantry
Officer fell in a bamboo trap and broke his leg. Our "fire team" was the closest/fastest
transport (near Vandy). Above right: Another shot of the 1st ARVN moving west on route 9, near LZ Alpha,
Above left: NVA "spider holes" in Laos.
Above right: Five or six ship "pick-up zone" at a bridge detour on Rt. 9, just below ARVN LZ Bravo.
End of Part 13 of 20 Parts.
Click on the beacon to go to Part 14