The Love Chronicles: A Vietnam Experience

Posted: June 21, 2013 in Life, Uncategorized
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I found some declassified documents, which gives a snapshot of our missions and just how busy we were during Linebacker 2&3. We were deployed to Cubi Point in the Philippines from Iwakuni Japan, our home base. We flew all missions out of Da Nang, but for two reasons we kept our main base of operations in the Philippines. Reason one; President Nixon had made the statement that all combat Marines had been pulled out of the Da Nang area of Viet Nam. So we were told to grow our hair and mustaches long, basically a loose form of Navy regs. We could wear any combination of Army and Marine jungles we could lay our hands on.  No dog tags, no insignia, ID card in boot, no covers.  Reason two; the NVA had put a sizable bounty on our jets because besides electronically protecting all the fighters and B52 bombers going up north to wreak havoc on their ability to wage war, we were also very good at finding SAM missile sites and directing strikes to within yards of where they were sitting. So every black pajama clad lad around Da Nang was lobbing rockets at our flight line. As a result we were not popular with our neighbors! We were not allowed liberty in Nam; we were required to stay in our operational area, no gabbing with strangers. We could go to chow in the Army Mess once a day, our choice. We could not have any barracks, chow hall, or supply, because we were not actually there! The rest of the time we ate whatever we could scrounge. If we were asked by anyone who we were we instructed to tell them we were Army truck drivers. This did not fool anyone, but the basic reason we dressed and looked like we did is so a photographer could not take a picture and slap it on the cover of Life Magazine showing Marines were indeed in Da Nang.  Our jets did have Marine in big bold letters down the side, but hey, it was the military, what can I say! Once the jets had run all the missions and hours they could handle without falling apart, we took them back to Cubi, and a new crew with fresh jets headed for Da Nang.  The crew coming back stayed on the flight line in the PI and repaired the jets they had brought back until they were ready to roll, after a good meal of course in the Navy chow hall. Then 12 hours off, then repeat. We usually had worked a 48 hour shift or better, but it was a 3 hour flight to and from Da Nang, and I would be asleep as soon as wheels up on the C130 both ways.

These jets were EA6A Grumman intruders. There were several versions of the A6, the EA version was an electronic warfare bird, very advanced back then. Everything on it was Final Secret, the other Sgt. from Avionics, Sgt. Regan, was the only other person I know of beside myself to have this clearance. We both were Sgts working out of Avionics electric shop. Except for countermeasures, radar, and the radio, we were responsible for everything else that had electrons running through it in the aircraft. All of the wiring, flight instruments, fuel systems, flight computers, visual display consoles, engine wiring, landing gear, anything that had a wire or an electric actuator or switch, and on and on. This aircraft carried no conventional weapons. Where other versions of this jet would carry extra fuel to act as an emergency refuel stations, on ours this  was a computer room. All of the skin on the top of the fuselage came off and was full of computers, huge wire looms, and signal feeds. Basically we were the first ones to check out any gripe on the aircraft, and then once we determined it was not our equipment, or the wiring or power supply going to someone else’s equipment, we could tell them to pull their equipment and repair or replace it. I had also been trained in how to test and repair the ASN-66 flight computer, but I hated sitting in an air-conditioned van with no windows fixing the same thing all day. So I was never so happy as the day I got transferred to Avionics. Much harder and more technical, but never boring, I loved my job!  By the time I was a L/Cpl I had a license for everything in the squadron with wheels. Trucks, jeeps, tractors, support equipment of all kinds, you name it I was licensed to drive it. Then I got the only one I really cared about, a seat license for the EA6A. This meant I could climb in, fire it up, and test engines, cockpit equipment, and the like. I could go to the compass rose and set the remote compass and transmitters to spec, the compass rose was a big huge plate that you took the jet to out and away form any metal buildings or other aircraft that could possible disturb the electromagnetic fields. It turned and was incremented and set for magnetic north at it’s starting point. All compass settings had to be done with all systems on and engines running to be accurate, as both the cockpit compass and flight computer used a signal from a remote compass transmitter located in the top of the tail section. I loved this part of my job. Anytime anyone fixed anything in the cockpit or anything that required the jet to be fired up to test, I got the call. I was the only tech who went to Nam and the PI to have a seat license, so I got to play a lot.

When we first got there and started combat missions, we had no support systems in place. We did however have, what was called fleet marine force priority one.  This basically meant that if any other A6 squadron on a carrier or anything that landed either in Nam or the PI, if it had anything on it that we could use, we were allowed to take it, as long as we gave them the broken piece of equipment so they could have it repaired. All A6 aircraft shared a lot of the same cockpit instrumentation. Both times the carrier Enterprise came into port on a liberty run we stripped both the aircraft and their supply depot down to the bone. The second time they came into port they refused to give me or the marines I had brought with me access to the liberty boat so that we would not be able to come aboard and wreak havoc. The result was that they received an order from the Admiral in charge of fleet marine forces in Westpac that I was to be treated as though I were he. It turned out that since we had started our electronic protection of the flights going to Haiphong harbor and other strategic places in North Vietnam they had not lost a single aircraft to SAM missiles. The month prior they had lost 21 aircraft, or so I heard. Anyway, I got all my broken junk carried on board; all the new stuff carried off and loaded in my 6×6 and the way we went! The two officers were yes sir, and no sir, and packing and carrying and yes, saluting me. I never did anything but stand by. I had on my rain hat with a Sgt. chevron in plain site on the front panel, so I was sure they knew my rank. Of course I did not know what orders they had been given, actually did not find out for months, but that was about as scared as I have ever been. You would have to be in the Corps to know why. I would rather have had to dodge rockets.

We stayed busy for months on end. I was nearing the end of my tour in Westpac when I went on the Cubi detachment and on to Da Nang. I had just picked up L/Cpl just before we left Japan, so as an incentive to extend they gave me and Regan both a meritorious promotion to Cpl. They needed us to run avionics but we had to be an NCO in order to do that. When we started getting short again, they gave us both meritorious promotions to Sgt., of course with the proviso that we extend again. So in a about a six month period I went from PFC to Sgt., a bump of three ranks!  A few months after that, or maybe less, I never knew what month it was and did not care, but the CO, Major Carlton, got orders from Command to send us home before we became unstable from being overseas so long. To late for that! We had both got in trouble, which I won’t go into, but the CO knew about it, so he just gave us open orders and we took off for Japan. Since we had open orders we did not have to report anywhere at any specified time, so we just went to dispersing, drew pay, and went out in Iwakuni and partied for a month, then we checked in, checked out, went home and took 30 days leave before checking in to our last duty stations.

Now some of this had been told in other articles I have written, but I was on a roll, so you got what you got. I am going to try to paste some pages I downloaded from the Internet, secret documents about our missions that have recently been declassified.  I will try and highlight anything I think may be of importance, but they are historically interesting, at least to me.

Keep in mind as you read the parts documenting our lost pilots that we knew our pilots intimately. In the air wing the pilots want to know who it is that will be keeping their aircraft in the sky. So they talked to us willingly and wanted to get to know our capabilities and us. So I knew both pilots who went down off the coast of North Vietnam. Because I had licenses to drive so many kinds of vehicles on base, I qualified to go to school and get a license to drive in Japan off base, which was very hard to get. As a result I was the only person, enlisted or officer, who had a car. So I was asked to pick up a lot of officers wives at the Hiroshima airport, some who had places not far from my place out in town. So I had a good cry when no one was looking.

The first two pages are our orders to Vietnam, describes our first combat missions in which I was the ranking NCO in Nam the first day of strikes. Further on down you will see mention of our MIA, our mission sorties, hours of operation and missions. Please pay specific attention to the last page of documents where I have put the brackets. When they are talking about maintenance and how well we performed, the supervision was primarily Sgt Regan and myself, however that is probably not who they meant. If you could take a snapshot of the flight line in the PI or Da Nang on any given day the highest rank you will ever see is Sgt, except for pilots of course, and the only two of those you will ever see is Regan or myself. The other Sgts rarely went in country, and in PI were too busy drinking coffee and hanging out in the Avionics hut polishing their chevrons. The support squadron that joined had Sgts that outranked both of us as we had just been made Sgts, but we were the official Sgts in charge, which pissed some of them off. However two of the Avionics techs that came with the support squadron turned out to be two of the best men we had. ImageImageImageImageImageImage

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