From the Backseat of a Bird Dog

I was commissioned at Fort Sill, OK as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Field Artillery on the 3rd of July 1967. I turned 20 on the first of August of that year.In early 1968, I went to Vietnam by boat. Once in Vietnam, I had been in the country about a month and I was reassigned as the Battalion Ammunition Officer in a 155mm Gun Battalion in Pleiku. I had gone over with one unit and to keep that entire unit going home at the same time many of us were put in other units. My assignment in the new unit had me flying almost daily as we resupplied the Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) in DakTo. I provided air cover and artillery support for convoy back and forth from Pleiku to DakTo. That ASP had been blown up during Tet a month or so earlier.

Flying over Vietnam you could pass a lot of different kinds of villages. This is a Montagnard village in the Central Highlands. At one time they were scattered over the remote country but the US moved most of them down into areas where they could be protected from the enemy. In a regular city, the kids would stand beside the road and beg for candy and cigarettes. Near the Montagnard villages the kids would salute convoys as they passed by. The yards as we called them were a proud people that the GI's loved and the Vietnamese people thought were the product of a leper and a dog.

On the runway at Pleiku is a Mohawk ready to take off. Most of them had a lot of intelligence equipment under their wings to allow them to look for North Vietnamese men and equipment . I think this one has a pair of Side Looking radars.

What is seen here is the view out of the back seat of the OH-1 Bird Dog. Under the wing on each side were rockets that the pilot could fire to mark targets if there was a need. Under the right wing is also a small push pull valve to test the tank for water. On the runway, you can see another Bird Dog moving down the revetment runway ready for take off.

I think one of my favorite stories was the day I was flying and my cigarette lighter ran out of fluid. Being the stupid young guy I was, I pulled the insides out of the zippo, reached out of the backseat and pushed the cotton inside of my lighter up against the valve. I put everything back together, let the excess gas evaporate and dry down and made sure the valve didn't stick open. I then lit my pipe and man does that Avgas flame up in a zippo. The Pilot asked me over the headset if I smelled gas. Yep'er, just the old zippo fill trick. He was kind of pissed off but admitted that he did that from time to time. He just didn't do it while flying. AVGAS was so thin that it leaked out of the lighter and it did a chemical burn on my leg.

A lot of times when we would fly, the Pilot would trim up the plane, tell me to set up the joystick in the back seat and then go to sleep. He would tell me what altitude to fly and what heading and for how long to fly and have me wake him up when we got there. For some reason they never wanted to let me land or take off but I probably had 20 hours of stick time just boring holes in the sky en route to a new area.

Within the first month of covering the convoy of my unit, they were ambushed. We were right over the ambush site and these pretty silver and green twinkles came streaming up at us. Holy shit, those idiots are shooting at me. There was a gun battery right up the road and I returned the favor. It was a hoot to shoot fires at the enemy and move them when the A1-E skyraiders showed up to work them over. After that, the gunships came in for a few passes and then the fast movers from the Air Force. I will promise you that that stupid little North Vietnamese unit had it poured on them. What the Special Forces units cleaned up was a torn up unit with few survivors. I'm sure the Tigers cleaned up what was left. Not some unit named tigers, real damn big tigers. I'll tell that story some day.


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