DANANG UNTO TET
Copyright 2003 -- Donald S. Pepe
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The Third platoon was located next to the 212th Aviation Battalion
headquarters at the Marble Mountain air facility just outside of
Danang on the South China Sea. The 212th Aviation Battalion was the
parent unit of of the 220th Aviation Company. The third platoon was
considred the plushest duty in the company, the R & R (Rest & Recuperation) platoon.
Danang was the big city. There were many clubs and many PX's to
chose from. There was actual night life and there were even a few
(precious few) American females around. The Marine in-country R&R
Center named China Beach was located on the north side of Marble
Mountain. The Battallion area was paved. The hootches were nicer.
The food was better. Even the weather was clearer. There was a paved
basketball court just outside the platoon headquarters (but it was
But the best reason to consider yourself lucky for being sent to
third platoon was that you did not get shot at as much. In terms of
hostile fire, the Fourth platoon which covered the DMZ was far and
away the most dangerous assignment, and provided the fewest creature
comforts. At Phu Bai you could tell which were the DMZ pilots
returning from a an overnight at Dong Ha. They were the ones covered
with dust. Also their fatigues looked like they had been slept in,
mainly because they had been. Even in the days before North Vietnam
was an official company mission, Catkiller airplanes and pilots of
the DMZ platoon were getting shot at and shot up with a frquency
many times that of any other Army Bird Dog unit in Vietnam. In that
first December I spent at Phu Bai one pilot was killed, another
plane was shot down with the crew rescued, and a pilot was presented
a Distiguished Flying Cross--all from the DMZ platoon. The war story
sessions at the club were dominated by DMZ platoon pilots though
there were only about 6-8 of them at any one time (in a company of
The second platoon which flew out of HUE, just north of Phu Bai, was
next in risk, though far behind the fourth. Their most dangerous
missions were covering the Ashau Valley far to the west, near the
the Laotian border. At times prior the Ashau was the hottest action
in Vietnam. But it was relatively quiet by the time I arrived in
country. The two southernmost platoons, the third at Marble Mountain
near Danang and the first at Quan Ngai, were the least likely to
take hostile fire, though they still recorded a higher incidence
than most other Army Bird Dog units.
One reason Catkillers as a whole were more likely to draw fire is
that they actually ran airstrikes. This made them unique among Army
pilots. Normally airstrikes would be controlled either by Air Force
pilots with the designation of Forward Air Controller (FAC) or by
Marine pilots designated as Tactical Aircraft Controller Airborne
(TACA). The other Army Bird Dog companies in Vietnam were restricted
to visual reconnaisance and directing artillery. If they came up
with a hot target, they would have to call a FAC to come in and run
the strike. It was a stupid kind of a turf thing. Catkillers got to
control airstrikes because of their connection with the Marines.
They flew Marine observers who were TACA qualified in support of
Marine units. They were essentially filling in for Marine pilots and
they were conferred with the TACA designation to qualify them for
the work they had to do. Later on Army units moved into the area and
the Catkillers started flying fewer missions for the Marines. But by
then they were already established as the primary airstrike controllers
in northernmost I-Corps. Pilots continued to receive the TACA
designation, apparently in recognition of that reality.
But I digress. For many reasons I was very glad to be assigned to
the third platoon and to fly out of Danang. I would have been quite
content to kick back and enjoy life there for the remainder of my
year in Vietnam. But within a month of my arrival at Marble Mountain
two events would occur that would completely change the organization
of the 220th Aviation Company, the nature of my Vietnam experience,
and the complexion of the entire war. Those two events were Khe Sahn
Life at Marble Mountain was as good as life at Phu Bai had been bad.
I now had a call sign, Catkiller 30. I was somebody. I was welcomed
by my fellow pilots and got along well with all of them, better in
fact than some of them got along with each other. There was a
definite deep south flavor to the platoon. Lloyd Patterson was from
Alabama; Henry Milam and Jimmy Wall were both from South Carolina.
Ray Caryl was from Washington state and Bob Domine was from Detroit.
I don't remember where Jan Smith was from, but he went to college at
Stetson University (that's in in Florida). He seemed to emphasize
that a lot. Me being from Indiana, I just sort of fit right in the
middle. Though none of them drank as heavily as I did, only Lloyd
was a teetotaler and he was so gregarious a sort that you could
hardly tell. The platoon leader was a Captain Denny Felton. I don't
remember where Denny was from or much else about him though I liked
him as a platoon leader. He seemed to handle the administration and
scheduling of the unit but otherwise stayed out of the way. I always
liked that in a commander.
Third platoon flew observers from 1st Marine Division (the ones
flying out of Phu Bai were from the Third Marine Division). The
observers in Danang were all easy to get along with, but one of them
stood out from the others in my eyes. Rod Chastant was a short,
blond-haired, easy-going, slow-talking, very bright Marine
lieutenant from Louisiana. He was as professional and dedicated to
his mission as anyone I ever flew with. But at the personal level,
he refused to take himself too seriously and used his dry humor to
deflate anyone who did, though never in a challenging way. He had
gone to Tulane and he told me a story about the great chasm in his
fraternity that developed over Red Beans and Rice (RB&R). It seems
some of the more progressive members regarded the traditional
Louisiana dish bad for the image and bad for the palate. They wanted
it banned from the menu. Needless to say, Rod was on the side
championing the beans. More than anyone I had met so far I liked the
the way this guy's mind worked. I tried to get him as an observer
whenever I could.
Initially I was given the the easiest and least risky missions in
the platoon which were the north and south coastals. The observer
was from the US Navy. We flew along the coast north or south of
Danang, did some visual reconnaisance, and dropped mail bags at a
couple of of Navy outposts. We sometimes landed at a navigation
radio installation on Cu La Ree Island, a small piece of land just
off the coast a few miles south of Danang. The airstrip was a
pasture. You made one low pass to scare away the cows before
circling around to land. The guys manning the station wore cutoffs instead of
uniforms and they all had good tans. War was hell, but somebody had
to do it.
I really enjoyed the maildrops. I was good with package drops in
flight school, and I never missed hitting the compound on a mission.
If a pilot did not time his drop right the mail could end up in the
water, or in the minefield that surrounded the camp. That would
always piss off the troops.
Our other missions included visual reconnaisance of the jungle
covered moutains and valleys west of Danang. These were two ship
missions. One plane flew low and did most of the looking; the
cover ship flew high and kept track of both plane's location. I soon
began flying the high ship on these missions. Most of the excitement
on these missions was provided by the aircraft themselves. There was
a sparkplug shortage at the time, and rare was the mission when one
or more did not foul out. It was a little disconcerting to be
out miles from civilization in jungle and mountainous terrain with a
rough running engine. Probably half of our missions were cut short
for that reason. Otherwise the the only memorable thing from those
missions was landing at Thun Duc special forces camp in the extreme
boondocks and having coffee with the guys there. Ray Caryl liked to
do that a lot when I was covering him. I personally never felt all
that comfortable on the ground that far away from anyone who could
help me out in a big way.
The most serious missions we flew were in direct support of Marine
combat operations in the flat areas around Danang. These were
called the TAOR missions. TAOR stood for Tactical Area Of
Responsibility. After a couple of weeks I began to fly the TAORs,
always scheduled with an experienced AO. On these missions I was
exposed to my first troops in contact, my first airstrike, my first
hostile fire, and my first sight of a Marine body washed up on a
sandbar in the middle of a stream.
On the ground life was good. I shot a lot of basketball. At least
twice in the week we would get a jeep and drive into town for a
dinner, usually at the White Elephant Air Force Officers Club or the
China Beach Marine club. There was steak and lobster and shrimp and
lots of booze and the prices were cheap. On at least one other night
in the week someone would have a steak cookout in the Batallion
area. Everyone pretty much got along. No one in the whole company
had been killed or wounded in almost two months. It was too good to
last, and it didn't.
In the wee hours of 21 January, 1968, NVA troops which had been
massing for weeks launched an attack on Khe San, a remote Marine
base next to the Laotian border just south of the DMZ. It began a
bloody siege that lasted 77 days.
One of the worst sights for a combat pilot is to walk by
headquarters and see a group of men including the CO huddled around
a two-way radio with concerned looks on their faces. They weren't
listening for baseball scores. It almost always meant that an
aircraft was down or lost. On 21 January, 1968 in the northern half
of I-Corps there were a lot of men huddled around two-way radios.
The 282nd Helicopter Company, callsign Black Cats, were the
next-door neighbors of the Catkillers at Marble Mountain. We
actually ate at their mess hall, and their pilots held a lot of the
cookouts we went to. They were an Army unit pulled into the action
around Khe San that day. One of their helicopters was shot down. A
pilot and crewman were killed. The other pilot and crewman managed
to get away, evaded the enemy for the night, and walked into Khe San
the next morning.
On that same day, Catkiller 11, WO William Kimsey was last heard
from about seven clicks north of the DMZ. He should not have been
there. At that time the Catkillers were not authorized north of the
Ben Hai (the river border separating North and South Vietnam). His
observer was Captain Ramsay, the red-haired leatherneck who sat
across from me in the helicopter on my intial trip to Phu Bai. He
had also been the observer with Lou Keevin, the pilot who was killed
about the time I signed in to the 220th. This time there was no
bringing the plane back. Everyone who had an opinion blamed Ramsay.
Thirty four years later Mr Kimsey's remains were identified and
returned to the states. Two former Catkillers, Bob Cortner and John
Kovach met with his family and attended his memorial service in
Arlington, Virginia in May, 2002.
21 January, 1968 was not a good day In I-Corps.
The Marines moved resources from their other operations in I-Corps
Vietnam to the defense of Khe San. Those resources included many O-1
Bird Dogs and pilots that had been flying missions in the same
general areas the Catkillers flew. The Catkiller units, from Danang
to Dong Ha, picked up some of their missions. In Danang those
included dusk to dawn mortar watches which we took turns covering.
Other than that things were little changed for us for the next week
or so. On the ground the living and the food was still good. On the
29th a new basketball I ordered from home my first day in the
platoon finally arrived. On the same day the guy I shared my hooch
with, Ray Caryl, got the word that he was being moved to Phu Bai to
fly in the DMZ platoon. My new roommate was Henry Milam from Ninety
Six, South Carolina.
Then on January 30th things changed a lot, for the company and for
the war. The Tet Offensive erupted everywhere in Vietnam at the same
time. For us it started that morning around 3 a.m. We got hit by a
mortar attack. I thought it was just artillery outgoing, and slept
thru the whole thing. About 4:30 I decided to go out and look at
the fireworks. I had thought all along that it was ARVN's shooting
off illumination rounds, raising hell on Tet. There were armed
choppers circling and blasting the shit out of an area just west of
the field. People were all standing around, some on the tops of
hootches watching the show. I went back to bed and still didn't know
what had happened. Next morning I found out.
Several of the mortars found their mark. The Black Cats, 282nd
Helicopter Company, had only two helicopters flyable. The
Batallion's Beaver got blasted all to hell by shrapnel. We had two
of our Bird Dogs damaged too bad to fly. Most everyone else in the
batallion had spent the night in the bunkers.
Our regular schedule was, of course, no longer valid. Troops in
contact had first priority and there were far more troops in contact
than we had airplanes. Some posts had been overrun. The third
Marine Division Headquarter's perimeter had been breached but
the assault was beaten back. And there was a fierce fire fight at
I-Corps Headquarters. Da Nang Main airport had been
hit. It was all happening at once.
Jimmy Wall took fire just west of the field and got a round thru the
cockpit. He got a small scratch above his lip from a piece of
broken plexiglas. I made sure I kept my altitude all day. It was
impossible to get artillery shut off. We just dodged around the area
hoping nothing would hit us. I once spotted about 10-15 V.C.
scrambling into a tree line, but that wasn't a significant enough
target on that day. They wanted the bird dog back, so I just dropped
a smoke grenade on them and left.
The next night we knew we were going to get hit again. Henry and I
brought our weapons down to the room with us. I slept on top of the
blanket with my clothes on. I had my M-16 flack vest and steel pot
beside me on the table.
They hit about 3:45. Rockets this time. The first one woke
everybody up, it sounded like it was just outside the door. They
were much louder and sounded closer than the night before. Some of
them were. Three landed on the east edge of the Mohawk ramp right
behind our hootch. Henry and I were scared shitless. We scurried
under the beds. It only lasted a few minutes I guess, but it seemed
like hours. I did not like it. After the rockets stopped we went
out to the bunker. Everyone was there. Lloyd and Jimmy were in
their jockey shorts. There was some ground firing that sounded
pretty close. I went and got my M-16. Around 5:00 I came back and
went to bed, though the alert was still on.
The enemy was clearly on the move. In Hue the walled main portion of
the city, referred to as the Citadel, was occupied. The 220th's
second platoon was based out of Hue. The seven airplanes it had on
the Hue airstrip which was located inside the Citadel were all
destroyed in the first hour of Tet--satchel charged. Fortunately at
the moment when Tet kicked off all of the pilots and crew were
safely in the MACV compound which was located across the Perfume
river from the Citadel. Unfortunately the compound itself was
surrounded and under siege. The pilots were having to help man the
perimeter. We heard there was only a 700 foot ceiling and that
the NVA was shooting down aircraft left and right. Couldn't have
been any of ours. They were already destroyed. Phu Bai had been
rocketed but no one was hurt and none of our planes there were
The Embassy in Saigon had been temporarily occupied. An ammo dump
was hit at Chu Lai almost leveling the place. Nha Trang and Quin
Nhon were surrounded. We were getting all kinds of information, but
we had no way of knowing which was the accurate kind. The safest
thing seemed to be to assume the worst and plan accordingly.
On the next day the flying was still chaotic, but there was not
the sheer pandemonium that had prevailed the day before.
That night I had the mortar watch mission to 1:30 in the morning.
Visual reconnaisance at night did not work all that well. You had to
actually see the muzzle flash to spot a gun or tube. And with no
visual ground reference you still couldn't determine the map
coordinates to use in returning the fire. At one point I was flying
along straight and level looking out my left window at Da Nang Main
Airport when I saw three rounds impact, in a line. The third one hit
a fuel dump; a huge fireball erupted. The attack continued for
another 25 or so rounds. I frantically scanned the darkness looking
for muzzle flash, but saw none. We were useless.
For the next two nights we did not get rocketed. And by the third
night the Air Force took over our dusk to dawn night flights. Our
schedule regained a semblance of its pre-Tet look. For the next
few days most of my flights were mountain missions and most of them
were cancelled due to weather.
Tet closed down all of the PX's in the area. By the 3rd of February
the platoon refrigerator was out of beer and soft drinks. Things
were desparate. Imagine my delight on the afternoon of the 4th when
I discovered the fridge again fully stocked--from where I have no
idea. Things were like that in Vietnam. Beer always found a way. I
paid my tab for January--$8.00. Beer was 12 cents, cokes 11 cents.
We were not sleeping in the bunkers, but we were sleeping with our
clothes on and all of our gear, including gas masks, at the ready. I
never slept well in the bunkers, and I tried to avoid them even when
we were on alert. I took to sleeping under my bed around which I had
put sandbags. That way, when they did a bed check to make sure
everyone was in the bunkers, I would pass it.
It was during this brief lull in the action that a new pilot showed
up for the 220th. The third platoon basically hosted anyone in the
company travelling into or out of the country via Danang airport.
This included all of the R&R traffic, those just arriving in
country, and those leaving for good.
This was the first new pilot in the company since my arrival almost
two months before. After my miserable introduction to the Catkiller
organization, I vowed I would do everything in my power to make
those who came behind me feel accepted. This was my first chance.
The pilot's name was Terry Bozarth, fresh out of flight school and
married less than a year. Quiet, polite, very young looking, almost
baby faced, but with this single twist of gray hair at the front of
his hairline that looked way out of place.
I stuck out a hand in welcome and said,"let me tell you some
things". I spent the evening orienting him to the people and
places he would be encountering. I gave him some maps I had put
together when I was at Phu Bai. I did everything I could to make him
feel like he was already one of us. The experience probably helped
me more than it did him. It helped to diminish the latent bitterness
I still held from the shabby treatment I got when I first came to
the company. The best way to overcome something negative is to to do
something positive. I continued to make new guys feel welcome
throughout my Vietnam service, but none so deliberately as this
first chance I had with Terry.
Life for us in the third platoon was close to normal in the days
right after Tet. The same could not be said for the second platoon
which was trapped in the MACV compound in HUE. Helicopters could
make it into and out of the compound, but the military commander
would let no one leave without a replacement. Warm bodies were
needed to defend the camp. The pilots and crew chiefs were manning
the perimeter with their M16s. It was over a week until all of the
220th personnel could be replaced with regular combat troops. Never
again would Catkillers live in Hue or fly out of the Hue airfield.
The second platoon moved permanently to Phu Bai.
The battle to drive the NVA from Hue was an incredibly bloody ordeal
that lasted twenty six days. It was primarily a Marine operation--
block by block, building by building, room by room. Most of the city
was demolished. Not a single roof remained at battle's end.
Back in Danang the widespread hostilities on the ground provided me
an opportunity to demonstrate my combat abilities in the air, and
then to hone them. Prior to Tet I had always flown with an
experienced observer who actually ran the airstrikes. This wasn't
unusual at that time. Even though I was the only third platoon pilot
who was not TACA qualified, the Marine observers usually ran the
air, particularly in tight situations.
About a week after Tet began the accumulated scheduling disruptions
resulted in an inexperienced pilot (me) and an inexperienced
observer, a good guy and and good basketball player named Tom Givins, flying together on a TAOR mission. The
TAOR missions were the ones in the flatlands around Danang, places
where a lot of fighting was going on.
Well we took off to cover a sweep a few miles south of Danang. Some
action broke out in a nearby ville and the friendlies were pinned
down. We got a call from Carstairs, the aircraft controlling agency
for the Danang area, to go over and help them out. They asked if we
wanted some air, and I told them yes. I requested two flights of
Delta 1 Alphas (250lb bombs) and Delta 9s (napalm). I had listened
to the observers enough on prior flights that I knew the drill for
this type of situation. I suspected my observer probably would not
want to control the strike, and I was right. Tom wasn't TACA
qualified yet; he asked me to do it probably assuming I was. I wan't, but
given the situation I figured it would serve no good purpose to inform
him of that.
Carstairs called back to advise that they didn't have anything on
the hot pad. We got over the target and established contact with the
ground troops. There was a lot of confusion on where everyone was
located. After about 20 minutes we got two flights. They were both
diverts; diverts were flights that had been scrambled for another
mission but were either called off of their original target or had
hit it and still had some ordnance left. All these planes had to
give me were 2Omm cannon (heavy machine gun) and Delta 7 rockets,
and both flights were low on fuel. Rather than send one away, I ran
all four planes in one pattern, a tricky manuver even for an
experienced controller. And all the while we were getting a lot of
static from the ground troops who called for target changes during
the attack. A little later I got one more divert, a single aircraft
with 9 Delta 2s (500lb bombs) and some more 20mm.
Our hand-me-down air offensive worked. The NVA broke contact and
the friendlies were able to regroup. When it was all over I was on a
high. I was good at this stuff. I knew I would be.
Lloyd Patterson, the platoon operations office, shook his head at
what had happened. He acknowledged that I had gotten some troops out
of a spot, but said he would be sure to see that we didn't have any
more such scheduling slipups. That's not the way it worked out. From
that point on I was as likely to fly with an inexperienced observer
as an experienced one, and when I did I ran the airstrikes. I was
now a full-service combat pilot. The paperwork could catch up later.
The next day after my airstrikes Captain Felton called a full
platoon meeting and had some heavy words for us. Intelligence was
expecting the NVA to make their big push sometime in the next three
days. It would have three objectives: Danang Main, Marble Mountain
and a bridge that was located on the route between them. We were
given an evacuation plan. Each pilot was assigned a plane and a crew
chief. In the event of a major attack we were to take off and fly to
Chu Lai, which they considered secure. There was a similar order for
every aircraft at Marble mountain. Now this was a scary prospect.
Helicopters would be in relatively good shape; they need very little
horizontal distance in which to take off. But fixed wing aircraft
need to travel a long way to break ground; they need a runway. And
Marble Mountain had only one runway. I could just see every airplane
on the base trying to take off at the same time. You could assume
the enemy would be directing rockets and mortars onto the runway and
would attempt to knock out the control tower early on. I regarded my
chances of successfully getting off the ground under this scenario
as somewhere between very slim and none.
I went out to the ramp where the Bird Dogs were parked and paced
it off. We did not need as much runway as the larger planes to
take off. Would the ramp be long enough? Not really. But it was
close. If there was a little bit of wind blowing in from the Ocean,
I might could do it.
I walked back to the hooch wondering what I was actually going to do
if the attack took place. I wanted to have a plan ready before the
shit hit the fan. My roommate Henry Milam was up when I got back to
the hooch. I asked him. "Henry, have you and your crew chief decided
how you're going to try to get out of here." A big smile broke out
under his handle bar mustache as he exclaimed in his deep South
Carolina accent, "Yeah, I done told my crew chief that if we come
under attack and he wants to get out of here, then he better get
himself on the first helicopter pullin' pitch. Cause that's where
he's gonna find me." Now that sounded like a plan.
Fortunately, the all out attack never came and we were never faced
with the perils of mass evacuation. The enemy was obviously too
much engaged in other pusuits. Heavy fighting continued throughout
our area for the entire month of February. I was confronted with a
variety of different combat situations including troops in close
contact and hostile fire. In three weeks I gained as much experience
and confidence as I would have in three months of my pre-Tet
missions. It was very good preparation.
On the 22nd of February there were again men huddled around the
radio. Catkiller 29 had gone in at Hue. "Catkiller 29? Who's that?"
No one knew anyone with that call sign. Then someone figured it out.
"It's the new guy." Terry Bozarth, the new guy I had taken under
wing, was dead. Low ceiling, rocket run. Shot in the head, died
instantly. He was killed with less time in country than it had taken
me to check out.
Two days later on the 24th at 1800 hours five of us piled into a
jeep and went over for dinner and a show at the Stone Elephant. The
food, the booze, and the company was good. The floor show was not
and was 45 minutes late getting started. When we finally got back
to Marble Mountain, we could not get back in the gate. They were on
a class 1 alert. No one could enter or leave. We were pissed. We
drove over to China beach and lucked out on some beds for the night.
The next morning we made it back to Marble and got the news.
We had gotten rocketed. Only 10 rounds hit, but the box score was
impressive. The 212th Battalion headquarters was blown away,
leveled, a shambles. The battalion Huey was totalled. A Mohawk on
the 245th ramp was totalled, nothing but a charred heap left.
The transient enlisted men's hootch was hit. One man was killed and
7 were med-evaced. The man killed was Sp4 Roulette of the
220th, down from Phu Bai on his way to R&R.
One of the rounds had landed 50 meters from my hootch. Inside all
the stuff from my shelves had been thrown on the floor. The
flourescent light bulbs had shaken loose from their sockets and were
smashed on the floor. Man, were we glad they did not let us in that
Then two days after that we got the word that another 220th DMZ
pilot, Rick Billings, had been hit and med-evaced to Danang. A group
of us went over to the hospital to visit and found him in good
spirits. Rick was sort of a loud, sarcastic guy that took some
getting used to, opposite end of the scale from Rod Chastant. But he
now had a a true story that would be topped few if any times
regardless of how often he might repeat it over his lifetime.
Seems he was straight and level at 1100 feet just south of the DMZ. A
single 50 caliber round came through the cockpit, shattered the
handle of the control stick, continued through his flack vest, and
up into his chest just above his heart. He lost consciousness for a
few seconds and and woke up in a screaming dive at around 200 ft. He
pulled it out and managed to fly the plane back to Dong Ha. He
managed to make a good landing and got it off onto the ramp before
cutting the switch.
John Kovach was on the ground. He ran to the plane and opened the
door. The right side of Rick's face was peppered from plastic and
metal fragments coming off the smashed control stick. John pulled
back the flack vest and saw a bloody hole in the top part of his
chest, above the lungs. At the same time something fell onto Rick's
leg, bounced and dropped to the floor of the plane. John reached in
and picked it up. It was a bent 50 caliber round. It had traveled
through just enough airplane, control stick, and flack vest that
the pilot could continue to live.
Rick walked to the ambulance under his own power. He would fully
recover, but he had flown his last Catkiller mission. He had a
topper of a story for the rest of his life. There aren't very many
people who have been hit in the chest by 50 Caliber machine gun
round who are around to tell how it happened.
After we got back from the hospital we began a painting project for
the office. It was starting to look a little shabby. I spent all of
my non-flying daylight hours in the next two days scraping and
painting while listening to Joan Baez on an open reel tape deck. It
seemed an odd kind of war.
We finished up the painting on the 28th of February. At 4:30 that
afternoon while cleaning our paintbrushes we got the rumor. At 6:00
it was confirmed. At 7:00 the affected parties were designated.
The 21st Airplane Company, the bird dog unit which had moved into
Quang Ngai when our first platoon relocated to Phu Bai, was now
moving a full platoon into Marble Mountain. We Catkillers were
sending 3 planes and 3 pilots and 3 crew chiefs from Marble to Phu
Bai. The 220th was being squeezed north.
Lloyd Patterson, Henry Milan, and myself were the lucky winners. We
packed up most of our shit and left it in the freshly painted office
to be carried up by the Company Beaver the next morning. On that next day,
the 29th, we made one last PX run, then took off from Marble about
1 in the afternoon. My plane had two mag drops (fouled plugs) before
we could take off and the radios didn't work. I fell in behind Lloyd
and he got the tower to flash me a green light to land at Phu Bai.
Henry and Lloyd got assigned to the second platoon. I was assigned
to the first, one of the two DMZ platoons (along with the fourth).
My platoon leader was John Kovach, the other guy who came into the
company when I did. My new call sign was Catkiller 15 (One-Five).
The first and fourth platoons flew the DMZ exclusively. Every third
or fourth night I would be RON (Remain OverNight) at the Marine
base at Dong Ha. Dong Ha was the northernmost airstrip in South
Vietnam. I could travel no more deeply into this war. My odyssey had
ended. My work was just beginning.