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Vietnam HeaderAfter graduation from UPT we each went on to train in the aircraft to which we were assigned. For me it was off to England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana, the mosquito capital of the western world.

England was then the headquarters of what is now Air Force Special Operations, but back then it was known as the First Air Commando Wing, a name that sounds more romantic than it was. The base was right out of the Twilight Zone. There was not an aircraft on the base that was not propeller-driven, except for "Pedro," the rescue chopper that was turbine powered, for the rest of the aircraft most were of World War II origin. I was assigned to the ancient EC-47 aircraft; Douglas named it the "Skytrain," but generations of Air Force pilots called it the "Gooneybird," or "Goon." The name no doubt came from the way the aircraft landed, just like the original gooney bird, it was a messy landing even when you knew what you wereEC-47Q doing.

Most of the fleet of Goons were acquired by USAF from various worldwide users, which accounted for no two airplanes having the same switches in the same place. A part of the pre-flight back then was to sit in the cockpit, looking up at the switch panels and figuring where everything was. They were particularly good at hiding the Master Switch. They were originally built from 1936 to around 1949, and it was a major disappointment for we young pilots who had, just weeks before, been flying the supersonic "Sportscar" of the Air Force, the T-38. At the time I had no appreciation for flying a piece of aviation history, as the C-47 (DC-3) was the first really profitable commercial airliner. Damned things are still flying, don't ask me how. This is a picture of an EC-47 parked on PSP or "pierced steel plating" which is exactly that, steel planks with drain holes in them that fit together to pave taxiways, etc. You have not had a challenge to balancing until you try to walk on that stuff when it is wet with rain, which is what it did in Vietnam most of the time. More excellent military planning. The Goons leaked, from everywhere, when it rained. You could watch rainwater drip down the screen of the retro-fitted weather radar, and it was a good sign to not touch the switches as you would get a near harmful shock. We covered our aviation charts in clear plastic so we could keep them on our laps as we flew since the top hatch leaked like a sieve.

After England AFB, we went to Alaska for survival training, no idea why we went there, we were heading for the jungle. So of course we went to "Snake School," or PACAF Jungle Survival Training in the Philippines. That was at Clark AFB in Angeles City in the Philippines. The base was another Twilight Zone. You could not get on the tennis courts unless you were dressed in tennis whites, for one thing. For another, the O Club had performing on the main dance floor a 40s style swing orchestra that played the full Glenn Miller repertoire. The leader was a guy named Pacifico Young, or PY. Seems during War2, when MacArthur and most of the troops retreated from the Philippines, PY stayed at the club leading the band and spying on the Japanese. When MacArthur got back he told PY that he would always have a gig at the O Club (not sure Doug used the word "gig").Pool at Clark

Bingo, Bonk and I were in classroom study for survival training for about a week, then they counted off however many from the front rows and they went off into the bush while the rest of us hung out at the pool or otherwise did nothing. Recognizing this pattern, I told Bonk and Bingo to come with me to the back of the room and to just keep taking the class and we would avoid going into the jungle and shipping out to Vietnam. That worked for about three weeks until the instructor recognized us in the back and sent us off into the jungle. One of the most notable events that happened at Clark was when we first got there, avoided the newcomer briefing and got ourselves in trouble with locals. Who knew there was a safe taxi line and an outlaw one? I guess the guys who went to the briefing. Well, we didn't know, so we get into a Jeep cab, covered in decorative swastikas, and tell the driver we wanted to go and see the mountain. It was the predominant volcanic mountain in the area, and would ultimately be the one that buried Angeles City and Clark AB.Huk Mountain Who knew it was called "Huk Mountain," as in the Communist Philippine outlaws, the Huks. Well we must have made the two guys who came with the Jeep outstandingly happy as we were asking them to deliver us to the Communist guerillas who, I recall, were paying around $5000 for an American pilot. We truly were that dumb.

Bingo and Me and JeepHere Bingo and I posed in front of the Jeep on the way to Huk Mountain. To make a long story less long, we continued on, but I got a feeling we were off to not a good place and in the face of Bingo and Bonk objecting I instructed the driver to return us to the base. In fact, Bingo and Bonk were Second Lieutenants at the time and I was a First Lieutenant. The old saying, Rank among lieutenants is like virtue among whores did not keep me from pulling rank.

I heard the driver talking to his compadre in Tagalog and I did not like not knowing what is happening. On the way back I did not know the way to the base but I was sure we were heading someplace else. Driver tells us we will stop for a drink on the way back, I say Absolutely not. Bingo and Bonk give me the "Aw, come on ..." so we stop at a native bar for drinks. I am really not just feeling, but knowing things are going to shit in the cantina when, in that totally empty place all of a sudden we are mobbed by really UGLY women. I almost had to drag everyone to the Jeep, but we get going again. This time we have some of the ugly women with us, they are all over Bingo and Bonk and I am like the chaperone, watching everything go to shit from the back seat.

The driver finally pulls into the driveway of a house and uglies take off and are replaced by about 30 Philippine men carrying knives and guns, and they swarm into the Jeep. I see Bingo giving up his wallet in the front seat, and I have a couple in the back with me. I do not know how I did it, but I wrapped my camera strap around my left wrist and put my thumb in the front pocket and the other fingers in the back pocket to protect my watch and wallet because the bastards had the watch bracelet open, but I kept it from coming off.

Finally, unbelievable as this may sound, with a guy waving a long knife in my face, I yell, "Hey, who's the boss here? Who is the boss?" It gets quiet and about five guys say they are the boss. Then one guy says he is the boss, everyone's attention goes to this guy, and I see that there is nobody between me and back door, and I bolt out of the Jeep into the street, where, and you cannot tell me this is not the Lord's doing, the USAF Town Patrol is driving down in a van filled with Security Police. I wave them down and the Philippinos have evaporated.

So the troops go into the house and after a short time they recover Bingo and Bonk's wallets and take us back to the base. At a debriefing, they tell us these guys are really bad. They call themselves the Ziggy-Ziggy Commandos and their leader is a murderer named Tom Garcia, and he is the one that was waving a bolo knife in my face when I called for order.

Ah, the Philippines, you can keep them. Here is a slide show from the countryside; it also linked to the picture of Huk Mountain.

Jungle CookingJungle Survival

One of the more interesting parts of jungle training was how you can live off the land; of course, it helps if you have been there most of your life and can recognize the stuff that is good to eat and the stuff that will kill you. Part of that latter category are some things that are poisonous if eaten raw, but good if cooked. I do not know anything in our world that is like that.

Linked to this picture is a slide show of cooking in the jungle, using bamboo for the pots and plates. Remarkable.

Ultimately, we went on to Saigon where we separated. I recall sleeping on the floor of the "old passenger terminal" in Saigon and being woken up by explosions. An Army lieutenant also lying on the floor tells me not to worry, it is outgoing. I ask him how can you tell outgoing from incoming? He tells me that the incoming blows up in your face. Okay, so I go back to trying to sleep.

Linked here is another slide show of pictures from the 362 Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, or 362TEWS, in PleikuAntique Airlines.

I am not sure if the "Old Tiger" patch was specific to the 362nd TEWS, or was made representative of the many War2 and Korean vintage aircraft that were used in Vietnam. The theory of using ancient aircraft was, I think, that they had good loiter time over target, good performance at slow speed for ground support, and if you lost a few of them, who cares? Cheaper to have them shot down than to store them at Davis Monthan.

Our squadron, the 362nd, was a tenant at Pleiku Air Base, among the other squadrons was a squadron of "Sandys," or A1H propeller driven fighters from the Korean War or earlier. I would have liked to have flown an A1, would have been a kick, I think.

The only turbine powered (jet) aircraft on the base was "Pedro," the rescue chopper. On a sign over the door to the Pedro pilots' hooch was a sign that read, "PEDRO, the only jet jocks on the base."

Yep, that about said it.

Our squadron had awful morale problems to the extent that we actually went through six squadron commanders in a 7 month period. PACAF (7th Air Force, what an awful

Anyhow, there was this guy Colonel Marston. He was a nice guy and about #6 in the Squadron Commander Contest. He had been working in some USAF materials research lab as a metallurgist, and they sucked him into the TEWS. (We had 18 Lieutenant Colonels whose job was just to be squadron pilots. Seems USAF needed pilots checked out in Goons, and about all of them were WWII pilots waiting to retire. Hah! Surprise to them.)

HA1He used to tell us, over and over again, how his proudest moment was, in World War II, when he had made a machete out of a Jeep spring. Yep, that was it. Anyhow, after he becomes the latest made man, we are having a morning mission briefing and Mother Marston (his nickname), comes into the room. So somebody dutifully calls the room to attention and - you got it - Marston snaps to attention with the rest of us. It had to be near 30 seconds before somebody said, "They called 'attention' for you, sir." Yep, that was the TEWS.

I went through survival school in Alaska with one of our better squadron COs, Bob Dowling. We nicknamed him "The Duke," because his longtime affliction with hemorrhoids made him walk like the Duke, also he was 6'3". The Duke was a good guy, his wartime story was that he was part of the first USAAC (US Army Air Corps) fighter mission over occupied France, and he was the first guy to get shot down and spent the next five years in a German Luft Stalag. Poor Duke, all he got out of fighters was hemorrhoids. He would get drunk and tell us about his queer son, and that we all better get out of the Air Force as soon as possible or we could spend our last days waiting for retirement in some shithole, like Pleiku. I took that advice, but did not take his matrimonial advice - he said he would not allow me to marry the POS I was about to marry; I told him I did not need his permission, it was not War2.

Should have followed that advice and ignored the get out of town advice, but that's me.After Attack

This picture was taken right after we were rocketed by the VC. It is of, left to right, "Splash," the dink who kept the latrine (that building) clean. He got the nickname "Splash" because his preferred method of cleaning was to bring in a hose and blast the urinals, sinks and toilets. Ultimately the Security Police grabbed Splash because he was a VC Lieutenant Colonel (another one!) and a spy. So after the Splash incident, it was decided that having the flying schedule in detail in the latrine was allowing the enemy access to information that they could use against us. So they posted the flying schedule with no details other than crew IDs; no takeoff times, no areas, just crews. After one day of getting no aircraft launched on time they went back to the full schedule.

Next to Splash is Skip Hamilton, a friend. One day in the briefing I got an episode of deja vu. No kidding, the full thing. I panicked and told my crew, "I'm not flying, I'm going to the flight surgeon, I'm sick." Figured I was going to die if I flew. So, Skip was the standby pilot and he flew my mission. They got stuck in Hue overnight because it seems getting out of the aircraft on a stopover, Skip slipped on the PSP and broke his leg. After that every time we had a rocket attack he would hobble over to my hooch and tell me I had to protect him because if it was not for me he would not have broken his leg.

Next to Skip is Paul Nakrosis and his roomie, Ted Calabrese. Paul got a great photo from his wife, she was holding a drink, leaning on the piano. Ted and I notice there is another drink on top of the piano. So we asked Paul, "Hey, whose drink you figure that is?" He did not know, and from a recent email, he tells me he still does not know as he never asked his wife and she passed on a few years ago.

The last guy on the right (his left) is Tommy Farnum, a good guy about whom I knew nothing then and less now, but he was a nice guy. 

I had managed to get a 7 man life raft from supply, and we inflated it outside my hootch and had a swimming club.Raft Pool Clabrese and Nakrosis (we called him Neurosis) lived in the hooch to the right, mine is the one with the sandbags. We used to have water skiing contests in the "pool." Worked this way: You stood on a piece of plywood leaning against the left hand side of the pool holding a rope, then four or five of us would take a running start and yank the rope and you. If you managed to stay on the plywood you were water skiing.

One night the Duke came by and told us he had heard of our water skiing and could he see it done. My recollection is that he got involved in the rope pull and LtCol Ed Aherne ("Equitable Ed") was the skier. We were all drunk most of the time, who else would water ski in a life raft?.

We thought the Lieutenant Colonels were old farts and we named the hootch that they all lived in "Menopause Manner." Truth is, in 1969 they were a lot younger than we are now, but age is also a relative thing, I think. We referred to their days in the pre-USAF Army Air Corps as the "brown shoe days." (Their uniform was brown shoes, they were cooler than our uniforms.) Old Farts, we referred to them as "Oscar Foxtrots" because it is not nice or respectful to call an Old Fart an Old Fart.

In the background you can see my chaise - a stretcher supported by four cinder blocks with a sandbag for a pillow.

The picture below is Dick Burkhead on an air mattress in the pool - guys actually sent home to request pool toys. Of course, with a name like that we nicknamed him "Burk Dickhead."

Burk, oops, Dick, was nice guy, one of the good guys; most of us were.

We did a lot of partying in the RMK, that was what our housing area was called, The RMK. Nobody I asked ever knew what RMK stood for, but that is where we lived, until Dick Burkheadthe end of my tour, and then the squadron was moved in the anonymous housing.DelMac's Party One of the hooches, the one with the Japanese helmet on the roof, was converted into the Squadron Bar, Del-Mac's. We had a lot of parties at Del-Mac's unfortunately, usually without women.

There was the time Dennis Necker, another guy and me borrowed Drs.Gus & Wes's Japanese ambulance and borrowed some nurses from the 71st MedEvac, which was over the wire, across the minefield, etc. I think Necker told them we were a highly classified squadron of flying gynecologists. Half of that was true.

That's me with the hot dog and my AC, Barry Crider with the shades.

The Japanese helmet was found near PKU in the jungle buy some of the guys. We had two flight surgeons who lived at the RMK and we nicknamed them "Gus and Wes" from "Catch 22." They had an Del Mac'sold Japanese ambulance that we would often steal.

Not sure who is showing off his tan there, but it is not me. He is wearing my old leather helmet my brother sent me, but I am in a blue swimming suit. He's probably a nav.

We had a big blow-out for the Typhoon Tess Party, when the base got hit by a real typhoon that wrecked a couple of aircraft. I managed to get a case of hot dogs from the Mess Hall, and buns, etc. Mike Laine was the Mess Officer and he complimented us on the hot dogs, asking where we got them. He was not happy when someone told him they came from his mess hall.

That's me holding the spoon, always ready to eat, next to me is Mike Laine, then there is one of our many lieutenant colonels, drunk, and I think the other guy is one of the two Harwoods we had in the TEWS.

We also had a hard boiled egg eating contest, with Mike Laine's eggs, and any number of other parties. There was not a lot of interest in the missions we flew, so we found what to do when we were not flying. Most everyone who was in the TEWS got out of USAF, it was that kind of a thing, I guess.

 

 

 

 



Typhoon Tess

©Steve Sohn