Force Recon Escape

It was a hot June 18, 1967 at Da Nang.  We had flown an early flight in support of Operation Beacon Torch.  Then Dave Borgman and I had the late afternoon suspected enemy positions [Trees in the Open] flight in the foothills west of Phu Bai.  We were loaded with two 2000 lb Daisy Cutter fused GP bombs, 8 Zuni rockets and 440 rounds of 20 MM cannon ammo on each Crusader.  

We launched out of Da Nang at 4:30 PM and headed north over Elephant Valley and on toward Phu Bai.  Contact was made with the Landshark Charlie DASC and they turned us over to Covey zero nine for target marking.  Covey put a Willie Peter rocket into some 300 feet high jungle canopy and cleared us to create toothpicks and axe handles.  There was no visible enemy activity so we retained our rockets and 20 Mike Mike.  We departed the target area after leveling several acres of jungle with the Daisy Cutters.  If nothing else we made some excellent helicopter landing sites.

My days in the squadron were numbered.  The Commanding Officer said I would be leaving within a month to assume a staff job somewhere in Vietnam.  Since I was now a short-timer, my UHF radio Guard Channel was always on high volume, noisy squelch to pick up all emergency transmissions in hopes of getting an award potential divert.  Covey Zero Nine gave us our BDA as we climbed to 10 thousand feet--the standard 100 percent on target with 100 percent target coverage.  We checked back in with Landshark Charlie and turned toward Da Nang.  Guard channel commenced to crackle and pop with urgent transmissions requesting strike aircraft. Two Army Birddog FAC aircraft were orbiting over a mountainous area east of A Shau Valley.  They were reporting a Marine Force Recon team in contact with enemy troops.  The eight Marines were surrounded by a large enemy force and were going to try to break away to the east down the mountainside.  I contacted the Birddogs, "Mofak flight has two crusaders with 16 Delta 8 and 800 Delta 20 with 30 minutes fuel."

"Mofak flight standby overhead until the team breaks contact.  Be ready to make your runs from north to south with a right hand pattern.  We will use your 20 Mike Mike." The Birddog was doing a great job coordinating the emergency.

"Mofak flight the recon team has broken contact.  They are running down the east side of the mountain.  They have thrown down their packs and are shedding extra gear as they try to extend separation from the Cong.  Standby to strafe west of my Willie Peter mark." The controlling Birddog was making a steep turn toward the east slope of the mountain.  "Marking rocket is on the way."  I watched a rocket stream a trail of smoke away from Birddog and saw the plume of white phosphorous rise from the jungle canopy.

"Mofak lead has your Willie Peter.  Approaching roll in from the north."

"Mofak lead, hit to the west of my mark about 20 meters.  Do not hit east of my mark.  You are cleared hot."

Dave and I made two strafing passes across the sloping ridge.  From a hundred meters right of our strafing point Green tracers were rising to meet us and passing behind and below our aircraft during the second pass.  "All right!" The Birddog sounded pleased. "Now move twenty meters east of my smoke.  You are cleared hot."  The Birddog soon advised, "The team says they are no longer taking fire from Charlie."

The Birddog worked us down the mountainside in 20-50 meter increments as we strafed the six O'clock position of the escaping Recon team.  After 30 minutes, I warned the FAC that our aircraft were at bingo fuel.  By then the Recon team was near the bottom of the ridgeline and a CH-46 was approaching from the northeast to extract them.  Dave and I strafed one last pass to the south and pointed the Crusaders at Da Nang.  The forward air controller sent thanks from the Recon team who were happy to have escaped the enemy without sustaining any casualties.

Dave and I shot straight in approaches from the north to runway 17 right and caught the morest cable at the approach end of 17.  We were in the refueling pits within ten minutes of breaking off the strafing runs.  Another rewarding mission.  Unfortunately, not dangerous enough work for an award recommendation, but very self satisfying for Dave and me.


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Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.