Editors Note: While cruising a sister Web Site (Jolly Greens) I ran across John Morse’s Research Page. John is writing a book on the history of Air Rescue at Nakon Phanom RTAFB. Of course we all know who the founding fathers were. With that, I present the following :
As it was in the beginning
Recollections and comments by Leonard Fialko and Ken Franzel
First from Len: The
36 ARsq (we were the Air Rescue Service/Squadron in those days) provided two
pilots to augment the 33 ARSq HH-43B unit at
I arrived at
I remember the living and operating conditions best. We had always had support units which provided meals, quarters and specialized maintenance. NKP was, when we arrived, just a PSP runway.
There were three tin roofed huts and an outhouse, which the SeaBees left when they built the runway. Someone had dumped some cases of C rations, some bunks and 55 gal drums of JP-4 on the ramp.
We were on our own for everything else.
Shortly after we arrived, two
communications NCOs were sent to set up a mobile radio station. This was our
only link to the rest of the world. All traffic had to be manually coded and
decoded, so we learned to use words sparingly. Operational control was provided
by the Command Post at
No one in the unit had any combat experience [from WWII or the Korean War], nor did we receive any briefing on what to expect. We did a lot of guessing and hoped the bad guys were as dumb as we were. Fortunately, we had no rescue missions while I was there.
We did, however, make some modifications to the aircraft. Much of the area we were to cover was at the maximum range of the HH-43 and at high altitude. We removed all doors for weight and carried 2 - 55 gal drums of JP-4 in a wood rack in the cabin. I believe we intended to land and hand pump the fuel into the aircraft tank.
We also traded for two BAR's which we mounted on ropes firing aft from the cabin.
We were replaced by another TDY crew in the middle of [August?] I believe they were from the States, and they stayed until a PCS crew arrived.
The only other name that I
can remember is then-Captain Michael C. Tennery. He stayed a month or so longer
than I did and came from
Next, Ken Franzel's
to see some recognition of Air Rescue
and the HH-43B's in the
early days of the
My part in Air Rescue
in SEA actually began when I was
assigned to Det 4, 36 ARS in
After a month or more
Upon arrival in
An aside - a couple of interesting incidents as we were prepared for what, we knew not? During briefing a list of personal items required for the deployment was read. One item was the radiation dosimeter (the cold war item for detecting an individual's radiation exposure). I raised my hand and said I didn't have one. The briefer (who was not being deployed) took his off from around his neck, tossed it to me and said "now you can go". Another item was the issue of weapons. Aircrews were issued the 38 revolver and shoulder holster and all were issued the AR-15. The only AR-15s on base had arrived for the APs. These were transferred to the 33rd and in turn to us. The AR-15s were still in plastic bags with the factory operating manual. None of us had ever seen one before!.
The teardown of the HH-43Bs started that night. It must have been at least 24 hours later when the C-130s were loaded and ready to go.
We first landed at
After a short flight over jungle terrain our C-130 made a short field landing on a PSP runway, which turned out to be Nakhon Phanom. Welcome to Naked Fanny! 6000 ft. of PSP runway, a PSP ramp and a couple of old Thai-occupied metal buildings left over from when the USN SeaBees constructed the base sometime earlier.
The C-130 crew would not shut down the engines for offload as they were unsure of the security of the airfield. On the ramp were stacks of metal cots, mattresses, bedding, C rations and 55 gallon drums of JP-4. That was the beginning! We offloaded except for the helicopters and some of the pilots went back onboard for the flight to Udorn. As I remember one C-130 with helicopters and mechanics had gone directly from DaNang to Udorn to off-load and begin assembly of the HH-43s.
Leaving a skeleton crew composed of a couple of pilots, the unit CO and mostly medics behind the other pilots including myself and mechanics left for Udorn. Note: we started out with medics, not PJs.
When we arrived at Udorn the other C-130 had been offloaded. We
off-loaded the pieces, etc., from our C-130 and it departed. Udorn was a busy Air
This was not to be as the mechanics had already had little sleep since the teardown began. It was evident we had to have more time. After the mechanics had tried for two hours to put one blade attaching bolt in place (normally a few minute job) we had to call it a day.
In the meantime the Air
indication a lot of people, including our unit, was really not aware of what we
were getting into). Air
After assembling the 43s and test flying them we took off on a dark night, with virtually no aids other than a compass, across the jungle, low level, for NKP. While we were assembling the 43s in Udorn a 2nd MOB (communications) had arrived at NKP. They had a vehicle with a rotating beacon on top. This we used as guidance as we neared NKP. With our arrival "Rescue 2" was born. Rescue 1 was a Marine chopper unit which was based at DaNang but stayed daily near the North-South border.
Our mission early on was to cover US
Navy flights over
It readily became apparent that we were ill prepared for combat operations; the day-glo paint was only the beginning. We developed flying tactics consisting of flying two 43s in formation, in clouds as much as possible to reduce visual contact by ground forces. Perhaps one of the best known early problems was the hoist cable length of 100 ft. In a jungle of 300 ft. trees the hoist was useless. This was solved by adding 150 ft. of rope with a weight and collar onto the cable. A weight was necessary as the rope would fly around in the rotor was without it. Now with hover in the treetops we could reach ground but it was still necessary to leave the victim hanging 150 ft. below while flying to a safe landing are. It was still difficult for the flight mechanic/hoist operator to thread the collar through the jungle growth. The forest penetrator was later developed to reduce the problem. The 43s had no armor plate or protection of any kind for either the crew or critical aircraft components.
(FE)SSGt Chuck Severns wearing Flack Suit
We did have WW II vintage flak vests and hip protectors. The hip protectors were folded and placed under the seat cushions; the vest was worn over a T shirt, with locally custom made fatigue pants (individually purchased). Flight suits were unbearably hot. Helmets were bright white (good targets) which one by one were getting hand-painted black or green. The 43 was also not armed. This was partially solved by each crew member carrying his AR-15 and 38 aboard. In a trading deal with a classified unit in the area (I'm still not sure who they were) we were able to trade a case of insect repellent for a case of hand grenades, two BARs (Browning Automatic Rifle) and ammo. The grenades were to drop from the 43 by putting the grenade in a glass jar (after pulling the pin) and dropping from a safe altitude. The BAR was tied in the 43 with ropes (clamshell doors were removed). There was of course nothing to keep one from shooting the tail off!
(PJ) Dan Gaulde with BAR
EDITOR’S NOTE: It was actually SSGt Chuck Severns who
obtained the BARs from the Chief of Maintenance for Air
The operating range of
the 43 was always a problem, however, since our original task was covering
[a mission delay of hours or days could result]. The HU-16 not only provided control but was our source of mail and personal supplies. We would put in a BX order with Center or HU-16 by radio then on their next mission they would drop our order in with a spotter chute.
Back to the facilities: The first few days we spent living under an open shed. We then took over a couple of the former SeaBee's metal buildings which had been Thai occupied. One we used for officer barracks, the other for enlisted. A field kitchen was sent in after weeks of C rations.
An outside shower was built using 55 gallon drums (solar water heating). Drinking water was brought in from NKP, treated and tested by our medics. Latrine facilities were field outhouse type.
After some time of this type of living we were able to contract for quarters in NKP. The quarters were known as The Civilized Motel and were not much of an improvement but at least it had running water and no, or at least fewer, snakes and scorpions. It was later learned that the motel was supposedly operated by North Vietnamese VC sympathizers.
We had many of our original group return for later SEA assignments. Two of these that I know of, a Sgt Black and one of our pilots, were captured on later assignments. Sgt. Black was a POW for 6+ years and I think the pilot for 5+ years. Our CO's first name was Dave and he was a captain. He kept a daily log at NKP which would really help the NKP story.
Note for our readers: Can you add details ;Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Forward to 1968 - I (Morse) clearly recall the attitude of a number of the troops about NKP. Not too complimentary, but it sure beat 1964! The PSP runway was still there when I arrived in June 1968 but was replaced during the dry season. No big deal for the Jollys, but the others appreciated the change.
A final footnote - During my second tour (May 71-72), after the HH-53C's of the 40ARRSq had moved from Udorn to NKP, the Pedro's returned - to support the F-4's on strip alert at NKP.
DetProv.3 Nakon Phanom RTAFB 20
DetCO (P) Capt. Robert W. Davis 33ARS
(P) Capt Lucian A. Gunter III 33ARS
(P) Capt Leonard Fialko
[augment from DET1 36ARS
(P) 1Lt Michael C. Tennery 33ARS
(P) 1Lt Kenneth Franzel [augment from DET4 36ARS
NCOIC (FE) SSGt Albert B. Parker 33ARS
(FE) SSGt Charles D. Severns 33ARS
(FE) A1C Fred D. Scott 33ARS
(FE) A1C James W. Burns [augment 31 ARS
(EM) SSGt John Willcox Jr. 33ARS
(MT) SSGt David H. Blouin [51st USAF Dispensary]
(MT) SSGt Donald L. Watson [51st USAF Dispensary]
(MT) A1C David C. Black [51st USAF Dispensary]
(MT) A1C Morris Johnson Jr. [51st USAF Dispensary]
Links to other related stories:
SEA STORIES Jan 2003 Pedro News Inaugural Edition 01-2003
SEA STORIES Apr 2003 Pedro News 04-2003
OLD GUARD Jan 2004 Pedro News 01-2004
SEA STORIES Jul 2004 Pedro News 07-2004
SEA STORIES Jan 2005 Pedro News 12-2005
SEA STORIES Apr 2005 Pedro News 04-2005
OUR PEDROS Talking Proud