History of the 114th Aviation Company Birddogs
Before the 220th arrived in Vietnam
Front Row, Left to Right
Captain Gene Boyle and CWO William “Bill” Craven
Standing Second Row:
CWO Bennie Benefleld, CWO Terry Luther
CWO Jerry Lee, CWO Gary Pravden
Vinh Long Airfield, South Vietnam, 1964–1965.
Some time ago, I was asked to provide some background on the 73rd Reconnaissance Airplane Company (RAC) (Provisional). I’m sure some members of our Association are curious as to how O–1F “Bird Dogs” ever became a part of the 114th Aviation Company (Air Mobile Light). I can only provide you with my personal viewpoint and how I wound up being a Bird Dog pilot assigned to the 114th AVN CO (AML).
I believe the 73rd RAC deployed to South Viet Nam in the spring of 1963. As I recall, one platoon of approximately 8 aircraft each was stationed in each of the four Corps Tactical Zones. I know that the company headquarters was located in NHA Trang (II Corps), one platoon was in Danang (I Corps), one in Bien Hoa (III Corps), and the other was in IV Corps. Various RAC sections were assigned out to other operational areas, most in direct support of the MAAG Advisory elements. There were three sections of six aircraft each in IV Corps assigned to the Delta Aviation Battalion (later re–designated as the 13th Aviation Battalion [Combat]). One section was at Bac Lieu supporting the 21st ARVN Division Advisors; one section was located at My Tho supporting the 7th ARVN Division Advisors; and the section that eventually wound up being a part of the 114th AVN CO (AML) was at Vinh Long supporting the MAAG Advisors to the 9th ARVN Division.
I was initially assigned to the 73rd RAC on August 19, 1964 when I in–processed at MAAG Headquarters in Saigon. After about three days, I was directed to check in at the 18th Aviation Company (U–1 “Otter”, Low, Slow, and Reliable) operations at Tan Son Nhut and hitch a ride to Nha Trang for further in–processing, in–country checkout and further assignment somewhere in one of the four Corps AO’s.
Three days later and 7 hours into my 10 hour in–country checkout, I was directed to go to Bien Hoa with an O–1F and augment the section located there for a “special” mission. This “special” mission consisted of flying as a continuous nighttime airborne radio relay platform maintaining radio contact with three elements; a communications center (“STARCOM”), a POL site on the Saigon river (“TANK FARM”), and an aviation company operations center located at Tan Son Nhut. Their gunship platoon (Playboys?) was on call should STARCOM or TANK FARM come under attack. Seven days and 40 plus nighttime hours later I was directed to return to Nha Trang for further assignment.
Somewhere in the July–September, 1964 time frame, inactivation plans for the 73rd RAC was in progress although I was not aware of this action until later.
Three days after returning to Nha Trang, I was assigned to the platoon and section located in Danang and hitched a ride there on an Air Force C–123. I settled in at Gia Long, where our platoon personnel were quartered. I received my Laotian border and DMZ area check–out and was cleared to start regular support of the Advisors in the area. About a week after arriving in Danang, a typhoon hit and blew out every windowpane in our quarters at 9 Gia Long. Several of us went to the airfield expecting to find our Bird Dogs scattered about, but fortunately they were still secure in their tie–downs. We managed to get the airplanes in a big hanger and, as we were congratulating ourselves on a job well done, the typhoon main strength came ashore. The wind started peeling sheets of corrugated steel roofing and siding off the hanger akin to scaling a fish with a sharp knife in front of a big floor fan. We all sought shelter under the wings of the Bird Dogs and watched the steel roofing and siding sail into C–123, C–130, C–46, C–47 and various other airplanes parked on the ramp.
Sometime around the middle of September or early October 1964, the inactivation of the 73rd RAC was announced and company personnel and assets were either assigned or attached to the Provisional Aviation Battalions located in each of the four Corps Tactical Zones.
Being one of the new guys in the unit, I was a prime candidate to be sent to the “boondocks” as some of the company headquarters personnel opted to re–locate to the big city of Danang . Needless to say, I was on the road again, hitching another ride on a C–123 from Danang to Saigon . I was met by CPT Lou West, Platoon Leader of the IV Corps area 73rd RAC, who delivered me to Vinh Long. I had been assigned to the Delta Aviation Battalion and further attached to the 114th AVN CO (AML), Major George Young, Commanding.
I don’t recall exactly when the 73rd RAC was inactivated. I believe it was some time in late September or maybe even October, 1964. It could have been a few weeks later and at about the same time or shortly thereafter when the Delta Aviation Battalion (Provisional) was re–designated the 13th Aviation Battalion (Combat).
When I arrived at Vinh Long, enlisted crew chiefs were quartered at the airfield and the 73rd RAC pilots lived downtown in the Vinh Long MAAG house with some of the Advisors. There were three 73rd RAC Warrants flying Bird Dogs in addition to CPT Lou West. They were CWO Terry Luther, CWO Jerry Lee, and CWO Gary Pravden.
Sometime around the middle of October 1964, quarters became available and we fixed–wing aviators re–located from the MAAG house to the airfield. I believe it was at this time that we all became officially assigned to the 114th AVN CO (AML). CPT Lou West joined one of the 114th slick platoons and I became the 114th AVN CO (AML) O–1F Section Leader. Similar restructuring took place in My Tho and Bac Lieu with the other 73rd RAC personnel and aircraft. Later on, CWO William “Bill” Craven and CWO Bennie Benefield were assigned to the section. CWO Craven brought with him a wealth of experience. He flew B–24 Liberator Bombers in the Pacific during W.W.II and had several thousand hours as a civilian Bird Dog IP. Also Lt. Bill Rades, 96th Signal Detachment Commander at Vinh Long, quite frequently flew Bird Dog missions with us.
From October, 1964 until about June–July, 1965 the 114th AVN CO (AML) O–1F Section flew a variety of missions, primarily in direct support of the MAAG Advisors assigned to the 9th ARVN Division. We also supported the Regional Force–Popular Force (RUFF–PUFFs), Sub–Sector Advisors, and the 23rd Riverine Assault Group (RAG) Navy Advisors. Typical missions included reconnaissance, artillery fire adjustment, Forward Air Control (FAC), Naval gunfire adjustment, PSYOP “Litterbug” missions dropping leaflets, radio relay, re–supply via bundle drops, calling for and coordinating med–evacs with DUSTOFF, and several other “services” for our Advisors such as airdropping mail, clean laundry, cold beer secured in a .50 cal. ammo can, and marking targets and friendly front line traces for close air support provided by high performance aircraft and helicopter gunships (Bob Molinelli and “Pete” Kendrick were the 114th Gunship Platoon Leaders (Call sign Cobra) during my tour). In the spring of ‘65, a 114th crew med–evaced one of Major Oscar M. Padgetts 9th ARVN DIV 13th Regiment Advisors, Lt. Dennis Reimer, who suffered shrapnel wounds in the stomach during a nearby operation. Dennis later became the Army Chief of Staff. We could also provide illumination for up to 45–48 continuous minutes as the Bird Dog could carry and drop up to four Mark–45 flares per sortie.
Probably the most important role played by the Bird Dog and the pilot was in the support to the advisors as their direct link to the outside world. On board were a VHF radio, one UHF radio, and two FM radios. From this aerial platform the pilot became the extended eyes, ears and voice of the advisor on the ground. When they needed something, be it artillery fire support, close air support, med–evac coordination, radio relay, reconnaissance, re–supply (cold six–pack) or whatever may crop up, they could get it from and through the O–1F Bird Dog. Four of the six 114th Bird Dogs in my section were armed with four 2.75 Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFARs) each and could provide limited aerial fire support until the Cobra Platoon gunships or fighter aircraft arrived on the scene. The smoke and WP rockets were old and unreliable so we used the HE munitions.
Sometime in the June–July, 1965 time frame the 74th RAC was activated and three additional RACs arrived in country. I believe they were the 219th, 220th, and 221st RAC. One RAC was assigned to each Corps Tactical Zone and the remaining original 73rd RAC personnel and Bird Dog assets were absorbed by these new O–1F companies. I think the 221st RAC (Shotguns) were stationed at Soc Trang. I know we provided some of their crews a ten (10) hour in–country check out when they were assigned to operate out of Vinh Long. I was so close to my DEROS (August 18, 1965) that I remained assigned to the 114th until o/a August 11, 1965 when the company commander, Major George Derrick, flew me to Saigon and dropped me off at a helipad at Tan Son Nhut.
The 73rd Aviation Company was reactivated at Vung Tau sometime between December, 1964 and August, 1965 as an OV–1 “Mohawk” unit.
The crew chiefs assigned to the O–1F section did a magnificent job of maintaining the assigned Bird Dogs. Although a few of the airplanes sustained some minor battle damage, none were ever lost due to mechanical failure or faulty maintenance while assigned to the 114th. The aircraft engines had to be replaced at the 900 hour level. The crews were making these changes about every six or seven months on each airplane. This should give the reader an idea as to the flight requirements levied on the O–1F Bird Dog Section. Specialist Herbert Silver, Specialist Fyffe, PFC's Frank Gaeben, Irvine Matsuda and several others did an outstanding job under sometimes very difficult circumstances. Any achievements and or accolades earned by this section would not have been possible without the enlisted crew contribution and dedication.
I trust you find this account of how a small group of fixed–wing aviators and crew chiefs from the 73rd RAC (Call Sign “BACKSPIN”) wound up assigned to the 114th Aviation Company (AML) to be somewhat interesting. If you find it worthy of publication in a future newsletter, please feel free to edit and correct any dates and/or assignment data as you see fit.
Clarence E. (Gene) Boyle
Fixed Wing Section Leader
114th Aviation Company
1964 – 1965
Used by permission of the author.
Mister Boyle, I just want to ask you a specific question: Were your assets and pilots actually assigned to the 114th Aviation Company (AML)? If not, specifically, were you always assigned to the 73rd?
Yours is a very interesting story and history. Wish we had more photos to post with it.
Donald M. Ricks
Webmaster, 220th Aviation Company
I will try to answer your question first. Yes, the assets and the pilots were actually assigned to the 114th Aviation Company (AML). The personnel I mentioned in my article for the 114th Knights Letter, Lou West, Terry Luther, Jerry Lee and Gary Provden and myself were members of the 73rd RAC when it was inactivated. Assets and personnel were initially attached and or assigned to the 13th Aviation Battalion (Combat) and further attached to the 114th for admin and logistics. Shortly after the 73rd inactivation, we were officially assigned to the 114th Aviation Company (AML). I recently began downsizing all my "stuff" and found orders that assigned me to the 114th. As I mentioned in the article it was in the late spring or early summer of 1965 when the 74th RAC was activated and the other three Bird Dog companies arrived in Vietnam. Due to my DEROS which was in August, I remained with the 114th until I departed.
When I arrived in Vinh Long, all the Bird Dogs had the 73d RAC LOGO on the rudder. Soon after we were assigned to the 114th, we had to change the LOGO on the rudder to reflect the 114th Knights of the Air.
Since I received the e-mail from Terry Dell regards this subject, I read up on the history of the 73rd and my information seems to track pretty good with dates, times, events etc. Mind you, I wrote the article some 30 years after the fact so allow me a little slack.
Today I sent Terry Dell a copy of the original letter I sent to George Young, who was the commander when I arrived at Vinh Long. George had asked me to write a short piece for the 114th Knight Letter when we held the 114th reunion here in Williamsburg in 1995. I tweaked it a little to correct some spelling and a few other things but for the most part it is the same one I wrote nearly 20 years ago.
I have attached a copy for you.
Hope this information is what you are looking for and is helpful.
Gene Boyle [email on file]