DA NANG-From the Beginning..

I often go a wandering--around Da Nang Air Base,
and where ever I go--you'll hear me say,
"I hate this flocking place!"
Flock Da Nang! Flock Da Nang!
Flock, flock, flock, flock, flock Da Nang!
I hate this flocking place!


All good things must end they say and saying "Sayonara" to Japan fit the adage.  

The Death Angels flew non stop from Japan to Cubi Point in the Phillipines. 

We used in-flight refueling by Marine KC-130 aircraft at selected points along the route of flight.  From Cubi Point, it was an hour and a half to Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam. 

The coast of "I" Corps South Vietnam was a beautiful sight from nearly forty-thousand feet and one hundred miles out. With our Tacans on Da Nang, we were watching the DME decrease at over nine miles per minute. Our squadron of Crusaders began a descent. We watched the beige terrain change in color to various hues of green as we passed through fifteen thousand feet. Black smoke spiraled upward from dozens of locations up and down the coast and inward for twenty-five miles. I thought the Marine base camps had been mortared overnight until after landing and being told the smoke was from burning JP-5 and shit from the Marine outhouses.

The 18 VMF(AW)-235 Death Angels F-8 Crusader aircraft landed and taxied to the squadron parking apron where a squadron of F-4 Phantoms were manned with engines running. They were waiting for the newcomers to shut down so they could then leave Vietnam in the ridiculous ritual required by the total force agreement. Plane Captain Keith "Swift" Caulkins climbed up the side of my aircraft and shouted "Colonel Moose wants you at his plane!" I climbed down and jogged up to the No. 1 phantom. I scrambled up the ladder of the idling jet. Moose Campo grabbed my hand in his huge fist and shouted, "Mofak, there is not a target over here worth your life! Don't take any unnecessary risks. Stay alive Mofak!" I hugged Moose around the helmet and said, "Thanks, Moose!" I tossed him a salute. Moose taxied out as leader of the fourteen phantoms. Moments later the J-79's were shrieking and squalling. We called them converters. The phantoms converted JP-5 into noise.

Following Moose's advice was extremely difficult. Pilots got caught up in the excitement of combat. We had trained all our careers for this chance and we loved every trigger pull and bomb pickle. I was my own worst enemy.  The hairiest delivery for me was low altitude, 500 knot strafing. Three times I tried to destroy my Crusader while strafing various targets. Each time I had scrambled from the Hot Pad without a wingman. The first time was south of Hoi An. An airborne FAC put me on three VC running up a road in the open. He gave me their position on the road and I strafed the location. The FAC said "50 meters at 12" I strafed the position. The FAC said, "Charlie is running hard. Your hits are short." I had just finished a burst from the guns when I spotted the 3 VC. I pushed the nose over and fired. Suddenly I was among them. I felt a thump on the right wing that was banked lower as I pulled the nose away from the road. The FAC shouted, "Three KBA! Are you OK?" I didn't say anything. I was checking gages. The FAC said, "I saw your plane merge with your shadow! I thought you were a goner!" A "head" dent was found on the leading edge of the right outer wing panel on post flight inspection.

The most regretful moment was pulling out late with a bamboo grove at 12 O' Clock high on April 7, 1967.  That close call occurred when I was strafing a footbridge across a chasm at the edge of mountains about 25 miles west of An Hoa. I almost took the bridge out with the nose of the crusader. 

A FAC assured me that the long foot bridge was there but all I could see was bamboo groves towering over a small stream.  The O-1 (L-19) FAC shot a WP (White Phosphorus) 2.75 in. diameter rocket into the bamboo jungle for an aiming point for my 20 MM cannons. 


I flipped the gun switch to "upper" and raised the Master Arm toggle switch to "ON." The "Lower" gun position saved 220 rounds for Rescue and other emergency action.  Roll in on the strafing run was about 5000 ft AGL in a 30 degree dive. Airspeed was kept around 500 knots because of probable ground fire but was too fast for walking rounds into the foot bridge that was not visible to me.  After firing a burst about where the Willie Peter hit the bamboo canopy, I banked into a climbing left turn pattern for a second run.  The FAC reported that he did not see the rounds hit the narrow footbridge.   FAC wanted another firing pass.  He got it as I carried the strafing run lower toward the bamboo tops.  Spotting what looked like the footbridge below the drooping tops of the Bamboo I fired a quick burst and yanked back on the stick as I released the trigger. Above me was a large bamboo growth. The scene looked to me like a huge green cobra with its hood rising over me. The Cobra’s mouth was open and two drooping bamboo limbs looked like fangs. Suddenly, I was in the Cobra’s mouth. The plane went "GAVOOOM!" as I entered the green leaves.  The ominous sound was either the engine "chugging" or the noise of the plane hitting the bamboo. The plane quickly punched out of the green cloud.

The Crusader was climbing straight up. The J-57 still roared nicely. I was pinned to the right side of the cockpit and pushed hard on the right rudder to stop the skid. The Yaw and Roll Stabilizer lights were all on. I cycled the switches. The Yaw stabs had to be recycled several times.

It was only ten minutes flight time to Da Nang. I landed the F-8, rolled out to the end of the runway where I parked on the apron and raised my hands out of the cockpit. Ordnance de-armed the guns. I bypassed refueling and taxied directly to the revetment nearest our hangar. That slot was for down birds. The plane captain climbed up the left side of the cockpit.  It was Hans.  "Go get Gunny Vernime (my Aircraft Maintenance Control Chief) and SSgt Lara." I said.  They came out and Gunny Vernime asked, "Where did you get all the green paint?"

Juan Lara had been my Chief Metalsmith in 451 when I was the Maintenance Officer.  "Get the leaves and debris out of the skin, check the engine and fuselage over carefully and get the plane operational right away!" I did not want to lose my wings as a Major for flying through a bamboo grove at 500 kts.

Gunny Vernime put a small envelope of bamboo in my logbook with the following note on a 3x5 card, "Found on DB-7 at 1230 pm on April 7, 1967. Analyzed as Copusdenti Bamboo." That reminder is still in my logbook.

In Vietnam, no target was worth the loss of your life or your aircraft through taking extraordinary risks unless your actions were in support of friendlies in trouble.

TINS Correction Note::  Review of released declassified documents reveal that the bamboo damage on April 7, 1967 was the result of hitting bamboo tops when attacking the footbridge west of An Hoa and not in Ashau Valley.

Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.