174th Assault
Helicopter Company


DOLPHINS & SHARKS

Biography of

Fred Thompson
Shark 7



A Vietnam Retrospective
PART 13

Click on the blue cube to go back to Part 12

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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 out 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 reach us.

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 nave 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.* Well sneak in a couple of photos here, but you can view the account and photos in its entirety on the 1971 History Page: "Lost in Laos".




Above left: l-r Ralph Carty, Mike Ackerman, Yogi Reaves and Bruce Marshall.
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.



*Assistant Webmaster 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 River"(Xe Pon) leading west to Tchepone.
Above right: "The Yellow Brick Road" to the "Rockpile" and "Emerald City".


Above left: A combat assault by 4th Btn/ 3rd Infantry near LZ Scotch. Above right: "Dustoff" of downed helicopter in Laos (see the crash just above the "rescue's" main rotor and notice
"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, Laos.


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.



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