174th Assault
Helicopter Company

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"Shark Team Lost In Laos"
Fred Thompson (Shark 7)

Below are a series of photos taken by Fred Thompson early Feb. 1971 during the opening day of Lam Son 719. Captions are Fred's quotes taken from email correspondence between Fred Thompson and Warren Hewetson in 1999. (Photos property of Fred Thompson)

"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 (Khe Sahn), 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' (Shark 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 na´ve 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." -Fred Thompson

"Sharks 161 and 170 on top of the hill. That's Yogi Reeves in bush hat."

"L-R: Ralph Carty, Mike Ackerman (on radio), Yogi Reeves and Bruce Marshall. Very concerned faces- don't you think?"

"Bruce Marshall out-standing in his field."

"Keeping guard L-R: Ralph Carty and Yogi Reeves."

"Ralph Carty dressed for South East Asian Bear"

"Landing light in the distance of Dolphin 19 to our rescue."

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