HISTORIC FINAL FLIGHTS, 4, 5, AND 6 DECEMBER 1971
BIRDDOG TURN–IN FOR INACTIVATION
Photographs and Statements By Those Who Participated
- OPERATIONS OFFICER: CPT Thomas J. Shaver, Catkiller 3
- FLIGHT LEADER, Assistant AMO: WO1 Gordon B. Grier, Catkiller 22
- AMO: WO1 R. Brown Cabell, Catkiller 14/9
- TECHNICAL INSPECTOR: SSG Carl Bostwick
- 1LT Thomas H. Aldrich, Catkiller 13
- CW2 James C. ‘Jim’ Gaunt, Catkiller 17
- WO1 Robert W. ‘Bob’ Ferguson, Catkillert 31
- CW2 Alan R. O’Hollaren, Cakiller 01
- WO1 William W. ‘Bill’ Nunn, Catkiller 42
- WO1 James O. ‘Jim’ Sells, Catkiller 21
- WO1 Thomas W. ‘Tom’ Watson, Catkiller 33
- WO1 Richard ‘Dick’ Wells, Catkiller 48
- Others unknown
- CREW CHIEFS
- None others identified
Captain Thomas J. Shaver, Operations Officer,
untill 14 December, then Commanding Officer
During the standdown and inactivation period, Captain Thomas Shaver was the Operations Officer. He signed the following After Action Report (AAR), which details those last days of unit activity. Since his report is the last "official" document it is the most authoritative and reliable. The first page is missing from the six page document but will also be posted, if we locate the full document. A transcribed and searchable copy of six of the original pages are now available from the PDF file link below, or you can read the original document at the 1971 History Overview page:
FINAL FLIGHT PHOTOS:
I think the statute of limitations has long passed. The flight to turn in our aircraft prior to striking the colors was an eventful trip to say the least. I missed the briefing when the operations officer gave one as I was tied up getting the last of the aircraft ready to go.
There came a sudden herd of pilots onto the flight line and the word was, “Weather’s good, let’s go.” I missed any briefing we had and asked Rich Smith to insure all aircraft had a crew assigned and names written down. I talked very briefly with the crowd and we agreed on the Company FM for air–to–air, and Lead would monitor Northern when not needed for tower enroute.
I remember forming up, proceeding to Three Sisters antenna and making a large flight down the runway at Phu Bai on the way out. After about 45 minutes the flight settled down to a somewhat organized gaggle of 32 Birddogs in a not–so–tight formation. I recall us passing an ARVN Birddog later on (feet wet, apparently looking for enemy in the South China Sea) and wondered what he must have thought seeing such a large collection of Birddogs heading south.
The only stop I remember with any clarity was Quang Ngai where SSG Carl Bostwick and I entertained ourselves bleeding brakes and fixing mag drops as well as handing out oil to those in need in our fleet of “clean, one owner, never-been-abused creme puffs.” I seem to remember stopping at another RAC enroute [184th Aviation Company Nonstop] before proceeding on to Long Thanh North. I also recall when we were in our last half hour of ever flying these magnificent airplanes again, all hell broke loose and quite a few barrel rolls were observed amongst other unrecognizable aerobatics.
Upon arrival I was consumed with sword–fighting with the receiving unit and selling a slightly less than complete TO&E of soiled doves to an unsuspecting captain and his NCOIC. This is where SP6 Bostwick pulled off several sleight of hand tricks that I still find amazing. With the aid of a couple of crew chiefs moving equipment surreptitiously from one airframe to another it turns out we had the most complete TO&E yet to turn in. The ferry crews had vaporized upon arrival, and it was every man for himself to get back to Phu Bai. I had finagled a passing Huey to give the four of us maintenance swine a lift to Tan Son Nhut. We had earlier agreed to rendezvous at the Tan Son Nhut USAF Officer’s Club. And that’s where the fun/trouble began. We treated ourselves to a steak dinner, well lubricated with libations from the bar. Apparently we had grown quite raucous and attracted the attention of a table of fighter pilots who sent over a round of soda pop. We reciprocated with a round of milk and a toast to the “USAF, the finest collection of Private Pilots in the military.” And so it went into the wee hours teaching the Air Force how to sing and tap dance.
I recall rather groggily climbing aboard a PA&E Caribou the next day, with the junk and generators for a slow, but ponderous journey back to Papa Bravo.
Regarding the 1st Platoon patch seen in the photos below: I think CPT Jim Niemi designed the patch (CPT Andy Bergren might have contributed). As with all locally produced patches the less detail, the better it turned out.
R. Brown Cabell, Catkiller 14/9
An excellent aerial view of the Catkiller Birddog turn-in point at Long Thanh North Airfield (north side).
WO1 R. BROWN CABELL:
WO1 GORDON B. GRIER:
I was the Assistant Aircraft Maintenance Officer and was the unfortunate designee in charge of organizing and taking the flight of O–1s to [points south mentioned below] for refueling and then on into Long Thanh North for turn in. SSG Bostwick was in my back seat for the trip. What I remember most about that flight was my stress of trying to keep everyone somewhat together–a bunch of happy–go–lucky guys out for basically a good time. We made it okay. I think it was a double–edged sword for all of us as we walked away from those O–1s for the last time—glad it was over but sorry it was over.
I have one of those personal little black pilot logs that I religiously kept on every flight I made in Vietnam—haven’t looked at it in years. I will dig it out. I’m sure it lists Final Flight, with date and landing fields in REMARKS section.
[After checking his log] According to my private pilot log the Catkiller Final Flight left Phu Bai on 5 December 1971 to Tuy Hoa, and then on 6 December 1971 left Tuy Hoa to Long Thanh North for turn in. My log shows stops in Quang Ngai, Tuy Hoa, Phan Rang and Long Thanh North.
The weather was overcast when we left Phu Bai. Somewhat worrisome, but we broke into improving weather past Da Nang and on south. It was a good flight. I think each of us—front seat or back seat—was lost in our indiv thoughts, probably reflecting on Vietnam and all we experienced at one time or another. I know I was.
WO1 JIM SELLS:
I was a pilot on the final flight. WO1 Jim Sells, Catkiller 21. I have a few very clear memories but can't help in any areas of disagreement. I was flying next to Bill Nunn.
It was a great trip as we got out of the local area. Weather was very good. We definitely had an overnight. That is my most vivid memory. And the reason is we could go into town. We couldn't do that in Da Nang or Phu Bai so for some of us it was a really big deal! A small group of us headed into town and went "clubbing."
I'll pass on a story. I was completely undisciplined and into trouble often. The day the CO got orders to stand down I was in the Officer’s Club playing liars dice. I got into a fist fight with WO1 Robert Ferguson. He even pulled the chair next to the Battalion Commander out to hit me with. Several Officers broke it up, I’m now shirtless and Ferguson’s eye is swelling badly. I’m not sure of the Battalion Commander’s title but he’s the one that passed the word to stand down. So, he tells his exec to get their CO down here. Our CO thinks it’s a party request as he was just told the unit is standing down. So he bring all the 220th officers with him, they open the door, give out a big company yell, and come into a very somber room! Needless to say, everyone was sent back and Ferguson and I were on the carpet big time.
RICHARD P. SMITH:
Richard, although not on this flight, sent this statement from the period covered by this history document:
As Brown said, I probably did help organize the last flight of the 220th birds as unit IP and Assistant to CPT. Randy Jones (Operations Officer). However I did not partake in the flight as I was also The Crypto Officer in charge of the KY–28’s, which had to be turn in at 24th Corp in Da Nang. After that, since there was no 220th and I was about to DEROS, I was assigned to an Armed Helicopter Company in Danag, for the last month I was in VN. Sorry I canít offer any more than this. Other than that, [Cleve] McDonald was a very good aerobatic pilot and had DEROSed earlier as I took his job in operations when he departed.
Richard P. Smith Catkiller 12/21
WO1 THOMAS W. WATSON:
If I had known the info from the last flight would be this interesting in 2015 I would have documented the prep and the flight. Thanks to Brown and his photos, some memories have returned. I do remember one of the pilots attempting a barrel roll near the end of the flight and a 5–gallon GI can of av–oil in the back seat opened, while the Birddog was inverted, and there was a heck of a mess. Big laughs over that. Wish I could help with info.
WO1 RICHARD “DICK” WELLS:
Reference the ferry flight—I do recall (vaguely) going into a Vietnamese town, buying some trinkets, etc., so that must have happened on the ferry flight. Don’t recall it but we must have spent the night enroute to turn in the aircraft. Never had the opportunity to go off base at Phu Bai, Da Nang (MM) or Phu Loi. So I guess we did RON during the ferry trip.
This second photo is the original “What the Well Dressed Birddog Pilot is wearing this month with matching accessories.” Created by an anonymous pilot (I think) at the 74th RAC/Phu Loi around Jan 1972. Water color and pencil drawn on the back side of a pizza box from the O–Olub (hence torn edges [but enhanced somewhat by Don Ricks]). The third photo is of the party suit worn by Catkillers, as seen in one of Brown Cabell’s photos above and taken from my party suit.
Back to the last flight, lots of water under that bridge. Looking back I don’t recall spending the night at an enroute refueling stop. I do recall the gaggle moved at the pace of the slowest aircraft, therefore, lots of experimenting (loops, rolls, etc.) waiting for everyone to catch up. The main thing I remember was the HOT shower at Tan Son Nhut airbase. I recall how wonderful a hot shower felt and didn't want to leave. We refueled then, as best I recall, proceeded to Long Thanh North to turn in our aircraft. From there we were transported over to the BOQ at Tan Son Nhut. There were no orders that I recall. No TDY or Per Diem, etc. We were flown back to Phu Bai to await further assignment. MACV had a policy in effect that if you didn't have 6 months in country you were reassigned. With only two O–1 units left and one of them with stand-down orders (219th) the only option was the 74th RAC at Phu Loi. They were WAY over strength pilots! SO, someone at MACV reassigned us to ROTARY WING units at Da Nang—NO WRITTEN ORDERS (as I recall – I never say any)! No orders in my personnel jacket either. I was assigned to the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company (RobinHoods) at Marble Mountain. Served a very short stint as the “Assistant Maintenance Officer in charge of the 7 Allied Shops.” Being Fixed Wing qualified only the CO (Major?) didn’t know what to do with us. The Maintenance Officer gave me some stick time flying Hueys on Maintenance Test Flights.
A fellow WO1 displaced CatKiller wrote home what was happening. That started a Congressional to which MACV reacted. MACV issued the order “if you were not working in your MOS you would be sent home.” Having none of that, we were all reassigned to the 74th RAC. I was first to arrive, found a slot in the First Platoon at Lam Son and flew out of there! Shortly thereafter the 74th received stand down orders. Those living/working at Phu Loi didn't get to fly much—way over staffed. I was fortunate to fly almost daily. In fact, several years ago, a fellow RU–21 pilot, CW4 Mike Capron, told me he did research at the Warrant Officer Advance Course that uncovered I flew the last COMBAT mission for the Army in the O–1 Birddog. Something I was unaware of. As I recall my last mission was to depart Lam Son, fly a mission around Nui Ba Den meaning “Black Virgin Mountain” then deliver the aircraft to Phu Loi for turn–in. Then I waited for several weeks to receive orders home and off to the 9th RepoDet. I flew to Ft. Ord awaiting (5 days) orders to Ft. Rucker for RWQC. That’s a whole chapter in itself (no RWQC slots available). Assigned as XO of the 41st Company (training 67N crewchiefs) for 6 months!
Some aspects of those final days are still pretty vivid while most daily operations are now a blurr.
WO1 PATRICK M. SNYDER (not present during the flight):
Much to my dismay, I was not one of the pilots assigned to fly a Birddog down to Long Thanh. So I can’t comment on any of the details of that flight. I ended up going in a convoy down to Marble Mountain, where I took up residence with Bill Nunn. It was a most comfortable situation, all things considered. I rode around in Chinooks for a while.
I eventually was assigned to Long Thanh for a short while. I talked the base commander into letting me fly Birddogs around. So even though our 220th unit was inactivated, I got to put in a few more hours in our airplanes. The base commander went up with me a couple of times, and I made a few trips around to places such as Vung Tau. I have attached pictures of Doug Scherer and I from there.
With regard to the pictures submitted by Brown Caball, I am in the pictures labeled 81 and 82 [these are in Scott Cummings’ collecting located in the Catkiller Archives]. I am at the upper far right. The pilot next to me is George H. Haygood. George was a friend of mine and we went to R and R together in Taipei. I understand that he passed away last year [confirmed, DMR]. A picture of George is attached. Finally, I have attached a picture of the Mohawk remnants that Captain James Hall “Jay” Spann was flying. I had flown with him a few times before he switched over to Mohawks, and he was a highly regarded pilot. [Pat also confirmed that the Spann brother, Daryl and Jay, were in the 220th at the same time but in different platoons.]
I am sorry I couldn’t address the specific questions that you posed, except to say that in my opinion, the atmosphere [during the final flight] was professional, as always.
[Editor: Note the 3rd Platoon patch on the left pocket of Doug Scherer’s shirt and the 1st Platoon patch in similar position as worn by Pat.]
ORIGINAL 220TH GUIDON RECOVERED:While going thru stuff in the attic I found the 220th guidon! It was neatly folded in an envelope with a North Vietnam flag. I remember taking it to turn in as we stood down but apparently I kept it.
The 220th Guidon is now at Heritage Flight Museum, Burlington, Washington
What I recall is that after all the planes were flow to the turn-in point a few of us were left to dispose of other equipment and close out the unit. I was tasked to take the guidon back to the states and mail it to the US Army Center of Military History. When I returned, it remained in a footlocker, since that was a fast–paced period with all I was doing at the time, and it was never sent.
Thanks to Don Ricks, and the website, my interest was renewed, and I found the guidon stored in and that old footlocker up in my attic.
I will think more about those final days. For some reason I don't recall too many details. I do remember working with the 1st Cavalry pilots and always visiting their bar, and they coming to ours. They were the only ones allowed to wear their (CAV) hats in our bar.
We gave several vehicles to the CAV guys that were not on our hand receipt and lots of furniture and other items. After we finished closing the unit I was reassigned to the Flying Boxcars, 178th Assault Support Helicopter Company (Chinook) in Da Nang. I was not helicopter rated and they would not let me fly co-pilot because the Chinook is a two pilot aircraft. It was a strange time as there wasn't much I could do, and I out ranked the XO. No problem for me but it was weird. I did learn lots about the “s_–hook”, as it was fondly called, and really appreciated all it was capable of. I was only there a month or so before getting orders back to CONUS.
I finally went to Rotary Wing Q course on my way to MacDill AFB, Florida, to be the XO of the Army Aviation Support Element (AASE). We provided VIP and exercise support to the Readiness Command, now CENTCOM. I flew Hueys, U8s, U21s and the C12s there. It was a great assignment and it was fun flying all the different aircraft.
Tom Shaver, LTC, U. S. Army, Retired
EDITOR: Tom states that if he can recall more and will add additional photos after searching through his “archives.”