The Laotian Highway Patrol
When Bombing in A Shau
one night that was black,
I lost my poor wingman
while taking some flak.
Now flying is pleasure,
but dying is grief.
and a sharp shooting Commie
will make your life brief.
So come all you flyboys
and listen to me.
Be wary in A Shau
and up in Mu Gia.
Your plane may get shot down
and a pilot may die.
or end up in Hanoi town
Never more to fly.
June 1967 was a very busy combat month for the VMF(AW)-235 Death Angels in Da Nang, RVN. I flew 49 missions in June and that was probably close to average. I logged four missions on June 8th and four on June 29th. July would be my last month in the squadron. Short timers like me had made most combat related mistakes. By transfer time, having cheated death, we had perfected our roles as professional killers. The FNGs could listen to us or learn it out in the combat world of hard knocks.
The rules of engagement were almost identical to the rules governing the use of force by a cop on a beat in any city in the US. The big difference was—Vietnam was a War Zone!
The rules for engaging the enemy required clearance from a Forward Air Controller (FAC) or a Tactical Air Coordinator Airborne (TACA) before attacking a target or returning enemy fire. The flight leaders tried to quickly get a TACA designation. Instead of turning away from a AAA battery, they could then engage gun positions, trucks and other enemy sightings.
Mel Vos had a TACA check scheduled with me on a road interdiction flight just north of the northwest end of A Shau Valley on the border with Laos. We carried 750 LB bombs, although the ordnance we normally used for road cuts on Ho’s freeway were 2000 LB and 500 LB general purpose bombs.
Mel Vos was a very capable Crusader pilot. He had an infectious smile and a quick wit that kept most of the pilots grinning when he was around. Mel brought sunshine into the ready room on a gloomy day. It was a real pleasure to fly with Mel. I was chase as dash two
It was midmorning when Mel took off on Runway 17R. We turned north, flew over Da Nang Bay and then by Elephant Valley.
When west of Phu Bai, Mel checked in with Landshark Charlie. We were cleared to the FAC orbiting at the north end of A Shau Valley. The road segment we were to strike was 270 degrees, 35 miles from Phu Bai Tacan Channel 69. Mel checked in with the FAC. “Falcon zero nine, Mofak flight is 15 miles west of Ch 69, two crusaders inbound with four 750 LB bombs and 800 twenty mike mike.”
The FAC answered, “Roger Mofak. We have a piece of road running north and south along a ridgeline. We want your bombs on that road. We have been taking small arms fire from around the target area. We have some gun positions on both sides of the road. You can make only one run with your ordnance if you want. Call overhead the target.”
Mel called when the target was in sight. “Mofak flight is overhead the target. We have you in sight.” The Birddog was in a left hand orbit at about two thousand feet above the terrain which ran about four thousand feet above sea level.
“Roger Mofak. I will mark the road segment with Willy Peter. Set up your pattern to make runs from the south to north and pull out left or right as you desire. There are friendlies over the ridges to the east.”
A white smoke blossomed close to the pockmarked section of road that snaked around and between craters. A few seconds later, a white smoke puffed up in a valley a couple of clicks north.
Mel called. “I have your mark on the road, but I also have a Willy Peter fire in heavy jungle canopy north of your mark.”
“Roger,” Falcon nine replied. “That is not our smoke. After you hit the road, we will put your 20 mike mike on the other smoke.”
Mel called rolling in, “Dash one is in hot.”
“You’re cleared hot, Lead.” Falcon zero nine answered.
I kept thinking about the smoke to the north and the FAC saying he wanted us to hit Charlie’s smoke. Why should we strike where Charlie wants us to hit? I decided we would not hit Charlie’s smoke. We made four drops on the road. I called after the last bomb run. “Dash two off.”
“Roger two.” Answered the FAC. “Lead, I’ll give your BDA after we hit the smoke over in the valley.”
Before Mel could answer, I interjected, “We will take our 20 mike mike home unless you have a lucrative target.”
“Wait one minute. I’ll fly down and see if there’s any enemy activity around. If we observe ground fire, I’ll put you on the target.”
“Skip it, Falcon zero nine.” I called. “We hit our fragged target. We have a heavy schedule. Give us our BDA.”
“Roger Mofak flight. Your target coordinates are Yankee Delta 245 084. One hundred percent on target. You had two beautiful road cuts. You are cleared to Landshark Charlie on chartreuse.”
Approaching Phu Bai, we overheard a 232 Red Devil F-8 flight being transferred by Landshark to Falcon zero nine. I recognized Herb Jellander’s call sign. I called, “Jellybean this is mofak. Falcon zero nine may try to put you on a target in a valley one click north of the target road. We turned down the offer because Charlie marked the target for us. It could be a flak trap. Be careful.”
Herb responded, “Thanks Mofak.”
Mel flew directly back to Da Nang. He broke sharply overhead runway 17 left.
We de-armed and parked at the refueling pits. After walking around the F-8s and checking for holes and leaks, we proceeded to the line shack. Mel said, “Mofak, I was going to tell the FAC to skip it. It seemed an obvious trick to me.”
“That’s good, Mel!” I said, “I would have hit it every time some months back. But it makes no sense. Forgive me for butting in on your lead.”
Two hours later I met Herb heading for the MAG Eleven Club. He grabbed me by the arm and said, “Mofak. That FAC popped a smoke in the valley you told me about. He said that was our target. I told him we would give him one run. We took more flak on one pass than on any mission I have flown. It was one big trap! Luckily we weren’t hit! Thanks for the warning!”
“No sweat.” I said. “Another day in the Laotian Highway Patrol.”
“Come on in the bar.” Herb offered. “I’ll buy you a drink!”.
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.