Son Tay Raider Association
the Saturday night of 20 November, 1970 a C-130 picked us up from Takhli
where we had been housed in the CIA compound since deploying from Eglin.
The NKP flight line was blacked out, even the tower people had been
relieved and was empty. The C-130
landed, without any lights on it or the runway and ramp, and taxied to the
ramp. It had
lowered the rear ramp and when it came to almost a stop ten of us ran out,
2 pilots for each of the five Fat faces we were taking. It then continued
on, pulling up the ramp, taxied out and took off. It had other people to
deliver to other locations.
out and about were the crew chiefs and us. Of course the Wing Commander
met us and followed me around like a puppy dog asking question after
question. None of which I could answer. He got rather pissed as I recall.
Picking up our flight gear we went straight to the birds, cranked up and
taxied out. No
runway or aircraft lights were used and no radio either, total silence.
(The radio was
not to be
used till over the camp.)
Taking off at the exact second we did a 360 over the base to join up. A
C-130, Talon was to rendezvous with us there and lead us on. Timing was
everything. It wasn't there. We did two more 360's and couldn't wait any
longer. We were, by that time, about ten minutes behind schedule.
plan was to navigate ourselves to Son Tay, following the planned route and
at the appointed time, 0200 local Sunday, 21 November. No way Jose. We had
among ourselves earlier that that was not a viable plan. We would fly the
got lost, which we knew we would, and then head straight for Hanoi. Hold
the IP, which was the Black River straight west of the camp, and do our
(Time Over Target) The route was NKP, straight to Ventiane, straight north
out of there and then drop to low level and weave through the karst and
valleys all the rest of the way. Impossible at night for A-1's. A back up
rendezvous with the Talon was over Ventiane at the appointed minute but
because we had made an extra 360 over NKP waiting we were running late. We
had been unable to make up all the lost time, some of it but not all. We
hit Ventiane a few minutes late, maybe five, no Talon. We turned north and
Ventiane passed behind there were no lights, anywhere, ink black. And then
worst nightmare loomed up. A cloud bank. Being lead I wasn't worried about
being hit but the rest of the flight exploded like a covey of quail,
everyone in god only knows what
Pushing it up I climbed straight ahead and soon popped out on top. Not an
in sight and no hope of joining up again without lights or radio. We were
all on our own.
After a short time we noticed a speck of light far ahead. A star? After
watching it a while
sure it was below the horizon and no Lao in his right mind would have a
to be something else. Heading straight for it, it took some time to catch.
A-1 is no speed demon.
Sure enough, there was our Talon with a teeny-weeny white light on the top
fuselage and a dim bluish glow coming from the open ramp in the rear.
Couldn't see the
glow until you were only few meters from it. There were already two A-1's
each wing. We moved up and the left one moved out and we took our place on
tip. A few minutes later the other two A-1's slowly pulled up and once we
place the little white light went out, the bluish glow went out and the
into the black. From there on it was hold on tight as it bobbed and weaved
the hills and valleys.
The Talon driver was top notch. His power applications during climbs and
banking allowed our heavy A-1 to hang right in there. The three day
we had for this operation provided good night vis. With one exception.
we drove through were so deep that mountains, karst, trees or whatever
When that happened it was like diving into an inkwell. You could make out
few feet of wing tip and that was only because of our own exhaust flame.
ups and downs occurred at those times it was tough.
As we emerged from the back country out over the Red River Valley it was
over Iowa farm country with Omaha/Council Bluffs up ahead. (Hanoi) Lights
Soon there after the Talon started climbing and we knew the IP was coming
had a controlled altitude over the IP. The choppers, with their Talon,
under us coming in from a different direction. They should have been
of us but
one couldn't be sure everyone was on time. The control time was over the
times were adjusted for the different speeds.
Then the Talon transmitted the code word. First of anything we heard on
the radio all night. I can't remember the word but it was to be picked up
by a high orbiting EC-135 over northern Laos and relayed back to wherever.
It meant we had crossed the IP. (We were two seconds off. The best anyone
had done during practice was ten minutes. Of course we didn't have Talons
for the practice.) The Talon then accelerated out and up like a shot and
disappeared in the night. The heading to the camp was 091 and trying to
reset our DG by a jiggly whiskey compass was an effort in futility. You
remember the high tech, latest hardware we had on board. Good thing all
the towns, cities and roads were lit up. With the target study we had done
it was like being in your own back yard.
Next number 5 pealed off to the right. He was backup in case anyone was
shot down and
orbit a large hill just south of course until called in. As it turned out
the hill was an Army artillery practice range and it wasn't long before
they started taking a few rounds. They moved off to somewhere else,
probably closer to the camp, don't know where. Just another example of the
brilliant Intel we had.
3 & 4 pealed off to the left to hold just short of the camp till
called in. The plan was to call them in when we had expended 50% of our
ordnance. Then they would do the
us, each time expending 50% of what you had left. That way, if someone
there would always be aircraft in the air that had some ordnance left for
2 dropped back so we could set up a two aircraft Daisy Chain around the
was like a precision ballet, a computer simulation would not have been
as I rolled into a bank along side the camp two flares popped right over
released from one of the Talons. At the same time Banana (HH-3 with Blue
team aboard.) crashed landed inside the camp compound and the first Apple
opened up with mini-guns on the watch towers and the guard quarters. The
towers either blew apart or caught fire as did the guard quarters. We
didn't want the big fire consuming the two story quarters, attracts
attention, but it was too late.
At that time we had nothing to do except to make sure no one approached
the camp. No
We could see the sparkles from a Fire Fight Simulator dropped by one of
the other side of town as a distraction and soon a large explosion and
fire where another Talon dumped napalm on an infantry base armory a few
klicks to the South.
Then the shit hit the fan. Gear Box (The Command and Control team.)
started yelling about losing Axle. Axle was Col. (Bull) Simons personal
call sign. "We've lost Axle" he kept yelling. "God damn,
Simons has been killed, we're all in deep shit."
At this point I'd like to say that I think the Universe will collapse in
upon itself in the Big Crunch before the Army and Air Force will ever be
able to talk to each other on a
have each other understand what's going on. He wasn't lost like being dead
AF jargon, they just didn't know where he was, couldn't find him.
the radio erupted with chatter from everywhere. The second Apple carrying
force and Bull Simons, had landed the troops in the wrong place. There
one degree off coming in from the IP. (Whether pilot or equipment error I
Placing them several hundred meters south of the camp. When the time ran
a building that didn't quite look like the guard quarters but it was the
around, so landed. That's where the infamous "Fire Fight at The
called it a school because it looked like a school, regardless of what it
couldn't just keep referring to it as the white building south of the
of buildings south of the camp. Everything had to have a name.
knows what you're talking about. The liberal media, though, had a small
Field Day with that name. I remember some time later a female TV reporter
asking Col. Simons if he had killed anyone at The School. He said
something to the effect "I was approached by a big fella, I had a
tracer as every third round in my M-16 and saw three go through his
middle." The reporter didn't have a follow up question.
The troops in the wrong place were screaming, Gear Box was screaming and
were screaming. The FM and VHF radios were almost impossible to read let
anything in of your own. (The UHF was kept for AF use to call the MIG Cap
if needed or to talk among ourselves.) The Apple that had dumped the guys
place was the closest so did a 180 and went in to pick them up. All the
headed for the School as well just in case. No one has figured out yet why
The troops at the school were in a fierce fire fight the whole time they
were on the
Right after they landed people came pouring out of the building. Most were
stature for Vietnamese. The guess was Chinese or Russian but no one had
The estimated kill was between one and two hundred and again, no one had
time to count.
Bull Simons and the rest of the assault force made it back to the camp
without a casualty.
whole incident only lasted a few minutes but it put the entire ground
The two parameter teams, Red Wine and Green Leaf, headed out to do their
Blue Boy, the assault team inside the prison compound, had already
the prison. As soon as Simons got on the radio he asked Blue Boy for a
The answer was "No Packages so far, still searching". (A Package
was the code word for a prisoner.) Simons then told us to take out the
foot bridge to the Citadel.
We called a group of building surrounded by a small moat the Citadel. It
was a few
meters southeast of the Camp and had a small foot bridge over the moat on
side. Intel told us it was a military cadet training facility and probably
had a small
for small arms. We didn't want anyone coming across that bridge armed and
rifle range of the camp.
Jerry and I put two WP bombs on it and when 2 came in saw the bridge was
dropped short to get anyone that might have already come across. In the
out a few blocks of a housing area between the camp and the citadel. WP
number on wooden structures, the fire storm was not small.
this time the sequence of events gets all jumbled up. I have no idea what
second and so forth. About the time Simons and the troops got back to the
took off. You cannot miss a SAM launch at night. It's like a mini Shuttle
lights up an area for miles in all directions. The first few were called
"SAM, SAM, DIVE, DIVE" but that soon became silly. There were so
many launches that you couldn't call them. There seemed to be about four
launch sites within a few miles of the camp on the West side of Hanoi. The
rest were further east and we didn't think they were a threat to us. Most
of the SAM's went high, after the MIG cap, Weasels and the Navy's two
hundred plane faint coming in from the East. The idea was to make them
think there was a major raid on Hanoi and not bother with a few planes on
the West side. It worked, NSA told us later that the Air Defense Commander
screamed "Fire at Will", shut down the net and went off the air.
We were at our briefed 3 thousand feet until the SAM's started coming our
way. Intel told
wouldn't have any trouble with SAM's at that altitude. A lot some pencil
knows. We all hit the deck and kept an eye on the launch sites close to us
someone decided to try for the guys to the West, us. The site closest to
us, just a
to the Northeast launched one that never got to the horizon. I watched it
almost immediately it leveled off. Then the thing stopped moving on the
know what that means, collision course. We dove into the Red River and
Jerry was flying and I was turned around keeping an eye on the damn thing
at us over my right shoulder. I kept bumping the stick forward saying
Jerry kept bumping the stick back saying "We're going to hit the
rocket plume on the thing seemed as big as the A-1 I yelled break left. We
the river bank, about fifty feet, and leveled off at phone poll height
going straight south.
We never saw the thing again. It either hadnít had time to arm or buried
itself in the
so deep that the flash of detonation was masked. That's another thing you
can't miss at night. The detonation of a SAM. It's a lightening bright
flash, quite large. They were going off over us constantly and when you
got used to them you didn't even bother to look up. For about a thirty
minute period there were no less then three SAM's airborne at any one time
and other times so many you couldn't count them. I've never heard an
estimate of the number fired that night but it has to be in the hundreds.
All the SAM misses would self detonate, either at a pre set altitude or
motor burn out, I don't know which.
Like I said, you wouldn't look up at a SAM detonation because they were so
something was different. Then there was something different. The flash was
instead of bright white. Looking up there was a large fire ball with
falling from it. "Damn, someone got nailed." Then suddenly there
was a flaming dash across the sky heading southwest, then another and
another. Three dashes were all I saw, couldn't spend any more time looking
Later we learned that a SAM had detonated close to a Weasel and filled his
Fuel was streaming out and his AB was igniting it in dashes across the
sky. Since he was losing all his fuel anyway he left it in AB till he ran
out. He got to the southern PDJ before bailing out.
About this time Blue Boy calls Axle and says "Search complete,
then Simons asks for a repeat. "Search complete, negative packages,
packages." More silence.
know what anyone else was thinking then but for me it was setup,
we'd already been there twenty minutes and they'd have sprung it by then.
So then it
"What the hell are we doing here?" And "How the hell are we
going to get our
of here intact?" Simons must have been thinking the same thing. He
called for the parameter teams to pull back and the Apples to come in for
pickup. Then he told us to take out the Big Bridge.
All sounds very simple but it sure wasn't. First of all we had no hard
ordnance and couldn't take out the Big Bridge. We had no more WP bombs and
that was the only thing that would have damaged a wooden bridge. The
bridge was Red Wines objective and were supposed to blow it but because of
their late start hadn't reached it before the pull back order.
little poop about the Big Bridge. The bridge was a few hundred meters
northeast of the
the road that ran in front of it. It was about a hundred feet long,
and could carry any vehicle up to a tank, we were told. Red Wine was
to blow it and hold the road while Green Leaf went southeast and held the
During training the engineers said twelve pounds of C-4 would take out the
to be sure they were going to double it and use twenty-four pounds. Col.
said that he wanted to be doubly sure and doubled that to forty-eight
that two people would carry forty-eight pounds each making it ninety-six
pounds of C-4. I would have liked to see what ninety-six pounds of C-4 did
to that bridge but it
made things worse was that the out bound and pull back routes for the
were different. Since each team out bound had to take out any possible
want to retrace their steps and possibly run into someone they missed. He
have been one pissed off gomer. There was a lot of housing just outside
said it was for the camp commander, married officers and maybe some camp
The teams outbound went house to house making sure no one was going to be
It was a slow process so between starting out late and an early pull back
of reaching their goal.
Since they hadn't got to the end of the outbound route there was no way
they could follow
back route. The radios went bananas again. "There's part of Red
Wine's team in
Leaf's area of responsibility and part of Green Leaf's team in Red Wines
without identification." This was repeated over and over again. So
much so that
couldn't get in to acknowledge. They were so out of breath that they
one word between two or three panting breaths. It wasn't fun to listen to.
Some time during all this we had expended 50% of our ordnance and called
in 3 and 4.
had done the same and called us back. We dumped the Rockeyes on the
is a Navy fast mover ordnance we had to certify the A-1 to carry while in
training at Eglin. It's a multi-munitions thing with gobs of little shaped
charges to take out vehicles, even tanks I guess. Not very good for
bridges. We put a lot of holes in it though. After that we laid down
continuos strafe till everyone was in the Apples and on their way.
I might add we never saw any vehicles or people moving anywhere near the
a lot of traffic on the East west road along the Red River, about a klick
out of Hanoi but no one turned toward the camp. Also about this time, the
were slowing down but the MIG calls were increasing. Roughly twenty
the forty minutes this took we started picking up MIG calls. Intel told us
they had no
qualified pilots so we would have no trouble with MIG's. Right.
There was one call of an air to air missile firing. Said it zoomed right
past his plane. I don't know who it was and never saw any myself. That was
the only call of a firing I remember hearing. But the MIG warning calls
from Collage Eye or whoever makes those things were coming regularly.
Once the Jollies were off and running we putted along above and behind
they were since it was dark and no one could see each other. Everyone was
outbound. One by one we heard the calls, thank god. Then we hear this
out?" "Who are you?" "This is Apple something or
other." "Where are you?"
back at the holding point waiting to be sure everyone got out okay."
We told him to get his ass airborne and head for the IP as fast as his
take him. He acknowledged. By this time we had nearly reached the IP
Jerry and I looked at each other and said "We don't have a
choice." With possible MIG's
lonely Jolly all by himself makes for a pretty good target. We turned
to a nice MIG target altitude, three or four thousand, and went Christmas
light we had was turned on and we slowly drove back to Hanoi. With MIG
every few minutes I was sweating profusely. Don't know if it was hot, I
just pooped out but I was soaked. It seemed an eternity but as the camp
of Hanoi was slipping under the nose we heard the IP call. Lights out and
We beat feet west for the IP on the deck.
Getting away from the river valley and into the dark country side we
climbed to a safe
to clear the mountains en-route to Udorn. Then started to take care of
had used up the left stub tank getting there and most of the right. We
over the target and used the centerline while holding. Time to clean up
right stub ran out almost right away, just a couple minutes were left in
it. Time to jettison. That's when the longest two seconds of my life
I hit the button but instead of falling away it pitched up, slammed back
against the leading edge making it into a vee shape and came bouncing
along the leading edge of the wing toward the fuselage. I can see it to
this day, making four bounces and then falling away under the wing. It all
happened in one or two seconds, didn't even have time to say "Ohshit."
I sometimes wonder what would have happened to the right horizontal
stabilizer if it had decided to pass up and over the wing instead of
under. I don't dwell on it though, too scary.
The five Jollies, three
carrying the assault force and two empty because of no prisoners,
together having had to hit a tanker in order to make it back. The A-1's
out who knew where but still in radio contact. As we crossed the PDJ we
beeper of the downed Weasels and soon made voice contact. They were both
was cool but #2 was a little panicky. Not because he was being threatened
he was all alone, in the dark, in the woods, in Laos. I didn't blame him
Then we made contact with four Sandy's launched out of NKP in answer to
They didn't know who we were because of the call signs. Took a hell of a
while to convince them that Peach and Apple really meant Sandy and Jolly.
The call sign battle had been long and arduous but in the end we lost.
I'll never forgive the Air Force for either picking them or allowing them
to be forced on us. At least the Army had call signs that if not macho
were at least neutral. Blue Boy, Red Wine, Green leaf, Gear Box and Axle.
What did the whimpy Air Force come up with? A-1's Peach, Jollies Apple,
the HH-3 that crash landed in the compound Banana, Talons Cherry and the
C-130 tanker Lime. A damn fruit salad. It was embarrassing, down right
humiliating. I'll never forgive those pencil pushing Air Force pukes for
Anyway, it was decided that the two empty Jollies would hang around with
and make a first light pick up. From what I understand it was uncontested
much a piece of cake.
Landing at Udorn we were all rushed to debriefing, a building right on the
flight line. As I walked in I was met by a group of Intel people with wide
grins across their faces and
higher then kites. I thought they were lunatics. They asked "How many
I said "None, the camp was empty." The grins disappeared and
pale. "What?" I repeated it and thought they were going to pass
had happened was after leaving the target area the Army did a head count
and got it
screwed up. For a while they thought someone might have been left behind.
For several minutes over the radio we could hear the chatter between the
Jollies. "I've got thirty-three, I've got thirty-five, I've got
thirty-two, I've got thirty-one." Seemed to go on forever. Finally
they got it right and no one was left behind. The high orbiting EC-135
must have been relaying all that back to Udorn and it was interpreted by
the Intel people as a prisoner count. They all though we had rescued
thirty some prisoners.
Once that got squared away debriefing fell apart. People running every
which way. I don't remember ever being debriefed and don't think anyone
ever was. What preparations
made to receive prisoners I don't know but they had to be considerable
were all down the tubes. It was almost a state of panic.
Col. Simons, Jerry Rhine, Dick Meadows and maybe others were whisked off
Leroy Manor at Monkey Mountain, Da Nang. The rest of us were left in the
forgotten about. The sun was coming up by then and we all wandered out
Sat down on the cement cross legged, indian style, in circles of about
ten. Us in
reeking sweat soaked flight suits and the grunts with their blackened
and what-have-you hanging off them. They were bleeding from every square
exposed skin from dozens of cuts, scrapes and bruises. We
all just sat
to each other. No stories were being told. We had all just done it, seen
and knew what had happened.
Then someone came out and handed a bottle to each of the circles. Everyone
took a sip
passed it around and around and around, till it was empty. All of us still
just mumbling to ourselves and each other. I can't attest to what was
going on at the other circles but there wasn't a dry eye at ours. A tear
running down every cheek. A gallant effort with nothing to show. To hell
and back for naught.
John Waresh, USAF, Ret.