Wowser. What a year so far. I just had the ultimate letdown. I saw my Cardio doctor Monday for an annual checkup. I shared with him that I’d had a hard time swearing off bacon in the last year or two since the Congestive Heart Failure gig. But, to my credit, I had switched over to low sodium bacon. I wasn’t terribly interested on how they got the salt down to a dull roar and still made it taste so good but then I’m not a baconologist. Turns out the bacon manufacturers merely slice it thinner so you’re getting less salt. Shut the front door. Dr. Cardio told me to cease and desist or go to unsalted turkey ‘bacon’. Right. Tell your momma to eat that crap. I’m sticking with my low sodium diet.
I get a Google™ news feed in the morning and it’s saturated with Vet articles (naturally). These days there are more and more articles about Vietnam War Vets and their untold stories. Shoot, there are probably fewer of us true RVN Vets than there are Korean Vets. A lot of us have chaffed under nondisclosure agreements for the last 50 years. Some of the TS/Crypto guys or the big Intel weenies with read-and-burn clearances are doing 70 years penance. That pretty much hushes their mouths until death done do them parted. My NDA expired about two months ago- September 21, 2020- fifty years from the day I departed that country to the north of Thailand that rhymes with “mouse”. It’s an easy date to remember. About a week later, I left horizontally to return to Udorn.
I still cringe at the idea discussing these things out of rigid habit. We used to have a standard reply if someone asked us why we were getting out of aircraft over on the AirAm parking apron (across the highway)on the Waterpump flightline in loud Hawaiian shirts and blue jeans with .357s in shoulder holsters. “If I tell you, I gotta kill you”. To be free of it now is like getting out of jail and not wanting to go back any time soon. Imagine flying with guys named Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin A. Franklin. I’m dead serious. My most frequent pilot was Jack C. Smith- or J.C. As my superior and a PIC (Pilot in Charge), I addressed him as Mr. Smith. Behind his back we called him JFC as in Jesus F__king Christ. He invariably arrived at takeoff and never did a walk around. Preflight consisted of 3 minutes of pure oxygen at the AOC and then “#1 Mag is hot. Pull the chocks. Engine set to lean. Clear Prop and get that f–king fire extinguisher out of my way!” Warm up occurred enroute to the end of the runway for takeoff. One day ol’ Jack was so late we used the taxiway for takeoff. You could do that in a Porter-even with a hangover- but not legally. Of course, in the absence of any control tower and VFR, who was going to call you on it? But one day that nasty hangover of his caught up with us…
We called this “lumbering in” as in ‘to land in an arborous setting’. It’s not for the faint of heart. I woke up over to the left of the prop where the gentleman is standing on the side door of the A/C. 65 kts. to zero in 10 feet.
Veterans Day is for all of us who are alive. It’s a recollection (in my era of Vets) of “I’ll have a double tour to go and supersize the testosterone.” I had to add that parenthesed codicil to
squelch assuage any women combat pilots nowadays. When I flew down to Saigon to 7th TACC (Tactical Air Combat Control) to “volunteer” for Project 404 in July 1970, I asked a lot of questions which no one would answer. Everything was hush hush. All I got was this hot off the TTY and a rush clearance on the next bird to Saigon:
“Why do I have to be fluent in French?” Just sign here and I’ll brief you in, Graham.
“Where will I be stationed?” ” ”
Why are you taking my wallet? ” ”
“Do I get combat pay?” ” ”
“Is this going to be dangerous?” ” ”
“What’s the casualty rate?” Well, to be ahhh truthful? About 40%…
“Sounds pretty cool. That means 60% survive, right? Where do I sign?”
To give you an idea of what 40% meant, it was brutal. Below is a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) I saw one morning on the bulletin board in our “Air Operations Center”.
If you got shot down, it was an aircraft “accident”. The “customer” referred to above was our titular head- Consolidated International Airlines (CIA). Our actual boss was called the “Controlled American Source” or CAS. Well, actually he was called a number of things I don’t need to repeat here. CAS was his title. Our airpatch was LS 20 Alternate-Long Tieng (or Long Chieng). Most called it Alternate so you could mention it in mixed company down country without divulging the location over the fence.
Those two karsts sticking up at the end of the runway were referred to as the Titty Karsts or the Vertical Speedbrake. Some referred to this as the One-Way Runway. Long Tieng was also referred to as the ‘Extreme Westerly Terminus of the DMZ’. Here’s a map. We were conservatively 75 miles from the Ho Chi Minh trail to the east and about 20 miles due south of the Plain des Jarres (PDJ). Just over the other side of those titty karsts to the right was Lima Site 20 Ban San Tong or Sam Thong as we referred to it. In addition to a small aircraft repair facility, Air America had a pleasant 12-bed infirmary there just off the active runway for those of us unfortunate to encounter minor cases of lead poisoning.
It feels strange divulging things like this after fifty years. I’m sure Cupcake doesn’t even believe half of what I tell her of this time in my life. I find it hard to believe myself in retrospect. If the primary targets were obscured by weather, a lot of pilots dumped their ordnance here to avoid having to land with it. I hope they don’t come after us some day for bombing a World Heritage site back into the Stone age. Folks are getting sooooo woke these days.
Here’s one of the O-1 Chariots I GIB‘d in while out sightseeing over the PDJ.
You may now understand why I have the Erawan (Three-headed Elephant) on my wallpaper. It was the Royal Laotian Air Force (RLAF) insignia. Of course, just as often we had AirAm logo plastered on them- or none whatsoever.
Life is good. I’ve burned up six of my nine lives so far and I’m still fogging up a mirror. I never expected to get out of Dodge alive back then and gave it little thought at the time. I don’t consider my service unique-just interesting. My heroes are on that Black Wall in DC-the ones that drew the short straw. But that’s a story for Memorial Day. Here’s a couple of great period songs my dad gave me. He was in country from ’66 to ’68. We’d hear snippets of these ditties being sung by the fast movers we were directing.
Happy Veterans Day to all of you who were so selfless as to serve America knowing full well you might end up flying a Silver Submarine home and get a hero’s welcome at Dover AFB, Delaware. I salute you all today. That “Thank you for your service” blurb makes me absolutely barf. It should be retired permanently from the Veterans lexicon..