I don't want any Routine missions,
They have no glory for me.
so frag me an Emergency mission,
and award me a Dee-Eff-Cee.
I don't need a Priority scramble,
they only count at the bar.
so frag me a Mandatory scramble,
and write me up a Silver Star!
Death Angels like Norm Marshall and Ted Berwald did not need "mandatory" inserted before the word mission in a fragmentary order on the flight schedule. To them, the word mandatory was redundant! Apparently, the REMF's (Rear Echelon) must have determined in their infinite wisdom that a mandatory designation was necessary to insure a super important mission would be flown. Norm had demonstrated many times that he would unhesitatingly throw his body on a grenade. One night, I discovered that Ted was also fearless.
Ted and I had the F-8 close air support hot pad at Da Nang on the dark night of July 4, 1967. Ted was an IFGO (Ignorant Group Officer). He volunteered for the Death Angel hot pad for combat time. Ted had a thousand hours in crusaders but very little time in the F8E. We preflighted the birds, started our engines and performed the checklists except for pulling the safety pins. Our helmets and masks were left connected and ready to put on. We shut down the engines and entered the alert van. The CAS hot pad ordnance was eight 250 LB snake-eye bombs, 8 zuni rockets, and 440 rounds of 20 mike mike per crusader. We briefed the low drag/high drag delivery options and the dive angles and patterns with Flare Ships. In May, I had used a tank spotlight to pinpoint the location of Charlie when no other means were available. Finally tired of briefing, we flopped down on our bunks clad in launch flight gear, including leg restraints, in search of forty winks. The alarm bell clanged loudly just after 2 AM. We bounced off walls floundering around between dreamland and the adrenaline surging scramble alert. I grabbed the red phone and started writing, "...Emergency mission. An Hoa under mortar and rocket attack. Twenty miles southwest of Da Nang. Contact Landshark Bravo on Green..." Ted was already halfway to his revetment. I ran to my plane, climbed up the side and dropped into the ejection seat. I gave the signal to crank the engine while strapping in. I rapped the igniters at start RPM and brought the throttle around the horn to the idle position. Plane Captains Swift Caulkins and Hans were running while pulling gear pins, removing chocks and unhooking air and electrical connections. Upon reaching idle RPM, I was taxiing out of the revetment. Ted came up on the radio, "Mofak, I had a wet start! I gotta blow the fuel out of the pipe and try again." I responded, "Dash two, contact me on FAC frequency when airborne. I'm heading for An Hoa." A crusader wet start was very rare.
At 0215 I launched to the South and climbed to seven thousand feet. Landshark Bravo was waiting on Channel Green and cleared me directly to the FAC. Within eight minutes of the alert I was overhead the Fire Support Base. I watched several red baseballs floating up into the black night and then arcing down until impacting inside the base perimeter with a bright flash and then looking like a red fountain as hot metal sprayed out for 75 meters. The FAC was on the ground at An Hoa. He put a white phosphorous round into the abandoned village where I saw the enemy rounds originate. The location was across the river and about two miles west of An Hoa. The FAC cleared me to fire, saying, "No friendlies within 2000 meters. Make runs from south to north and pull out left. Consider the target hot. No flare support is available. You are cleared hot."
I selected the middle of the source of enemy rounds and rolled in on a 45 degree dive to drop the banded snakes. I pickled once and was out of the run by 1000 feet. Winking muzzle flashes were visible at several points in the village. I stepped the aim point 50 meters north and west on each run until four of the snakes had leveled several hootches and created two secondary fires.
Dash two came up on the air, "Hey Mofak, This bitch still won't start! You got any ideas on how I can get airborne and help you?" I answered, "Ted, do you really want to come down here?" Ted quickly responded, "That's affirmative! What can I do?" I said, "Place the Alternate Ignition toggle switch on the left console from Norm to Alternate. That will give you ignition for one start. You won't have any ignition left for an airborne flameout." Ted sounded elated at finding a way to join the battle. "Roger, Mofak! Who needs ignition for a restart below ten thousand?" I thought, "In Indian country--everyone does!"
A few minutes later, Ted entered the pattern behind me. It was good to have someone calling, "Dash two in hot!"
We bombed and strafed for nearly an hour, leveling and burning hootches, until all our ordnance was expended. The FAC and the Base Commander thanked us by radio for stopping the enemy attack. The CO said, "Thanks for answering our call. The troops will sleep peacefully for the remainder of the night."
We returned to Da Nang by executing straight in approaches to the North. We shut down in the fuel pits and used our flashlights to check for holes in the crusaders. While walking in from the fuel pits, we saw the hot pad was reconstituted and two replacement pilots were in the F-8 cockpits running checklists. Just another day in the Marine Corps People to Pieces Program. How about some mandatory sleep?
The following morning the Air Group received a message that our scramble attack in support of An Hoa had destroyed several mortar positions. Ten Viet Cong bodies were found at the sites. The Regimental Commander said he had suffered 50 Marine casualties prior to our suppression of the enemy incoming rounds. It was good to learn our Death Angel dark night scramble mission was a success.
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.