TET was supposed to begin at midnight on January 31, 1968, but it seems the NVA/VC in I–Corps misread their calendars and pulled the trigger a day early. My flight records reflect 7.5 hours, 5.0 night, on Jan 30, and 4.0 day on Jan 31. Here´s how my story went:
(Or how NOT to talk to your Platoon Leader)
By Raymond Caryl, Catkiller 32/42
My initial assignment after arriving at the 220th RAC in July, 1967 was to the 3rd Platoon (The Country Club) at Marble Mountain. Late evening, January 30, 1968 I was at the bar in the little 282nd AHC "Black Cats" O–Club, listening to Gary Puckett and The Union Gap sing YOUNG GIRL for the umpteenth time. The bartender had just placed my 4th double scotch and water in front of me when the sound of explosions, automatic gunfire and general mayhem outside suddenly inundated us. Naturally, the club emptied in a matter of seconds, along with yours truly (after grabbing my double scotch and water, of course). Tracers were arcing across the sky as people were yelling that we were under attack and to head for the bunkers.
Now I don’t mind saying that one of the reasons I joined the Army and wound up flying instead of joining the Navy and volunteering for submarine duty is because I DO NOT like confined spaces—like a bunker where all one can do is hunker down and pray that a sapper doesn’t choose your bunker in which to toss a satchel charge. Therefore, I immediately put plan B into action. I walked briskly (careful not to spill any scotch) to our line shack, grabbed my flight gear, CAR-15 and canvas bag of bullets and strode to one of the trusty Bird Dogs that one of our crew chiefs (José Munoz, I think) was quickly arming with rockets and making ready for flight.
Let me stop right here and state unequivocally that our crew chiefs were the unsung heroes of the 220th RAC!
About that time one of our Marine AOs appeared (forgive me, I cannot remember his name; but to a man, they were all the finest of professionals) and calmly wanted to know if we could go flying.
I couldn’t wait to get off the ground and into the sky where it was SAFE. A quick preflight, a "thank you" to José and we climbed in. After carefully placing my still nearly full glass of scotch and water between my legs, I strapped in, fired that Doggie up and scrambled into the dark sky above.
We droned around south of Marble Mountain watching the tracers fly back and forth—the red ones going down from the top of Marble Mountain as well as the flash of the 106 recoilless rifle the Marines had up there and the green tracers going back up. We tried to run some artillery and I think lobbed some rounds in the general direction of where the bad guys had fired several 122mm rockets. Somewhere over Hoi An, I opened my side window and tossed out my empty scotch glass, hopefully nailing some VC on the head. Admittedly, I should NOT have been at the controls of an aircraft, but I am convinced that I was so pumped on adrenalin that any alcohol in my system (and there was a bunch) was rendered null and void.
Three and a half hours or so later we landed back at Marble, taxied in, refueled, re–armed (I had fired rockets in the general direction of the origin of green tracers) and up we went again. They were still shooting, and I wasn´t going to sit in a bunker. Another three and a half hours and we landed again. Now it was just daylight but folks were still shooting, so we did the refuel/re–arm thing again and were just getting ready to climb back into our aircraft when up strode a "certain" Captain. This is where it gets a bit sticky, but I´m pretty sure the Statute of Limitations will protect me. The "certain" Captain loudly announced, "Lieutenant Caryl, I´ll take your airplane—you go get some sleep." A couple of things occurred simultaneously:
1. I took a half step back with my right foot (I´m right handed) and placed my right hand on the handgrip of my Colt .45 (actually, I didn’t realize that I was making this openly hostile gesture at the time, but my AO told me later —laughing—that I had).The "certain" Captain didn´t say a word. He just turned around and walked away. Once again my AO and I saddled up and went hunting. It was on this flight that I encountered "Go–GO NINER"—another, rather humorous tale, soon to follow. Three and a half hours later we landed, both of us done for the day. The adrenalin had definitely worn off and the shooting had completely died out so my AO and I called it quits. I know that I hit the rack and didn´t stir for most of the day. TET had officially started in I-Corps and the fun was about to begin.
2. I said in a clear, unwavering voice, "Captain, you go get your own [expletive deleted] airplane, this one is MINE!"
The outcome of all this, you ask? Not a word. Strangely, though, the next day I was transferred to the Fourth Platoon and flew the DMZ for the second half of my tour. Although I didn´t realize it at the time, it WAS time and I was ready for the increased action that the DMZ provided. Good things come to those who wait—and I guess, drink scotch.
Ray Caryl, CatKiller 32/42