The First Groups In or Let’s Go South for the Summer
The Western Air Rescue Center had written, but not tested, “Ops Plan 510”, a contingency plan for deploying LBR detachments. Things were heating up in Viet Nam, but had not reached a boiling point. On 7 August 1964 at around 5PM, a call came into Capt Gene Graham, Commander of DET 2 CARC at Minot, that “the plan was to be exercised”... and we were to enact it. No one knew, or at least, was saying, if this was a test, or the “real” thing... and that included our base Operational Control Commander, Col Ben Matlick, Base/Support group Commander.
As the “old heads” will recall, the plan called for a pair of C-124s to come to the detachment being deployed, and for the Det. maintenance personnel to disassemble the H-43 to the point of removing the empennage, rotor blades and the upper pylons so that the ‘43 could be pulled up into the “belly” of the 124. Detachment members were assembled and told to come prepared with B4 bags and equipment, clothing, etc and have our personal affairs in order for an extended TDY to a classified destination. This particularly made an impact on the writer of this article as his wife was 8 months pregnant and did not even drive. Most of the detachment personnel had not even been briefed on the probable deployment and it took a sudden change in mindset, both with the airmen, as well as the spouses, to make this change. The 124s arrived, and the ‘43’s’ pretty well loaded per plan. The unofficial word at the time was pretty much, “relax, this is an exercise”. “The plan hasn’t been tested” Col Matlick had told the spouses, “Don’t worry”, Rescue just wants to see if the helicopters can be broken down and loaded in the times planned, and this done by surprise to an operational detachment, just like it would be if the plan were to be implemented”. All the required tasks were accomplished, but no one was dismissed and we were told “be ready for takeoff when the 124 crews are ready”. The unofficial word: “Don’t worry; this will just be a high speed taxi exercise, as well as a command post exercise”.... and as we broke ground in the 124s, the word continued, “Exercise(Right!!)”. To that point, none of the detachment members had been briefed on anything other than “be flexible”. Some 4+ hours later, late at night, we landed at Travis and reported to temporary lodging while the 124 crew took crew rest.
Early the next morning, we were assembled, and again boarded our Globe Master, only this time, Capt Graham had received sealed classified orders, to be read to the crew when airborne. It was then we learned we were headed to a place called DaNang (Da what?), and would arrive in about two days as we had to stop at Wake Island for fuel and crew rest. That being done, we were on our way, and in about another day of flying, landed at DaNang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. Conditions were somewhere between primitive (tent shelters on platforms for the enlisted men) to “early modern” (barracks style hooches for the officers). The base at that time had one runway, no revetments, and the aircraft on base consisted of a TDY squadron of B57s from the Niagara Falls ANG base; and a group of F-100s, some A7s, a group of C-123 “trash haulers” that had been on base for quite some time, some Army Caribous, and a couple of SA-16s that had been performing the most courageous deep penetration rescues done to date. Those guys were our heroes, and our mission, by comparison was mild, mainly LBR work. We did get tasked for some crew pickups and in one instance vividly recalled, had a role reversal south of the base at Marble Mountain when an Army Chopper was shot down. This was “Bad Indian Country” and we were tasked to go get the crew. By this time, we had improvised some “make do” armor of sorts as the “B” was totally unarmored, and we had acquired some personal weapons, including one ‘43 which had an M-60 “stinger” mounted on bungee cord and which fired out the rear where the clamshell doors had been removed. We arrived on site quickly after takeoff, and began taking ground fire which had to be silenced before going in. While putting down suppressive fire, an army Huey “Slick” arrived on scene, and while we continued shooting(an AH-43?), they made the pickup. But mostly, the role was LBR with a normal compliment of firemen, paramedics, and pilots. About 4 months into the deployment, Rescue had modified ‘43s to be more suitable to the conditions, and designated them the “F” model, and a new detachment, with new personnel, now on PCS orders, came into DaNang.
With still having approximately 2 months of legally deployable time, Rescue decided to replace the Rescue Unit at NKP with our birds and troops, so once again, we were off to a new base. NKP at the time was truly primitive, having only a 5600’ PSP runway, and the 3 Pedros were the only Jets and full time military aircraft assigned to the base. The mission at the time was classic ACR “bailed out Aircrew Rescue”, and we stood alert daily to do just that. In the meantime, as the base was “bare bones”, the detachment personnel rode 6-bys daily into town where we had taken up residence in hotels, rented houses, etc. In fact, during the first tour, evenings and nights were pretty much “tourist” time as we could go into downtown Nakon Phanom, in civilian clothes; we also wore “civvies’ in DaNang City.
Our 179 day window came to an end, and within that time, we were replaced by new ‘43 members on PCS, and we returned to the states via civilian contract airline (Continental), leaving our “birds” behind for the new guys. Arriving back at Minot, we still had a mission to support, but no aircraft, and arrangements were made for us to go get replacement 43s’. As the writer, I can’t remember where the 2nd ‘43 came from, but I recall going to Laredo and getting one of their birds, and flying back all the way to Minot with Gene Graham. An interesting cross country, to say the least.
Det 2 CARC was back in business, where it remained operational, but with personnel transfers in and out, until 25 June 1966, when it was deactivated.
Joe Leech “PEDRO 41”