CATKILLER HISTORY, 1967:
SIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE 220TH RAC, BY DONALD E."Gene" WILSON (Continued from 1966 history):
- We lost Lloyd Rugge at Quang Ngai in January .
- A cold and very wet Monsoon season north of the Hai Van Pass — We burned a lot of cardboard box material in waste baskets so that the clerks in the orderly room, operations and supply room could use the typewriters. The mechanics in the Maintenance Hangar had to rub their hands together a lot. But the humor of "Chico" Fernandez kept us from thinking about it.
After the lull following an 81mm mortar attack that walked from south to north just behind the tails of the 131st Mohawks on the PSP between them and our Hot Spot, Carl Collins (Marine AO) and I tried to locate any mortar positions with an illumination mission that was fired by the 3rd Marine Division Artillery Officer who was on duty that morning with a "drafted volunteer" crew from a truck company — an interesting mission about which we learned the details sometime later — and also after we learned that we had taxied over, or at least very near, a "dud" mortar round on the taxi-way on our way to the active runway. We flew until first light and landed at Hue/Citadel to wait until the entire Phu Bai airfield had been swept and reopened before we could come home.
- We watched young Jerry Tastad´s hair turn gray after a series of events during (unknown to him until his return) and his coming back "home" from his R & R to Hue/Citadel.
- Since we could not get quotas for Escape, Evasion and Survival Training at the Air Force program at Clark Air Force Base, we "worked a deal& with the Navy and Marines to get most of our pilots to the Jungle Environmental Survival Training (JEST) at Cubi Point, Subic Bay, in the Philippines. Upon completion of the course, there was also time for a Mini-R and R before the return flight to Chu Lai.
During a PE of a 3rd Platoon aircraft, Joe Hamm, our Maintenance Tech, discovered a whole lot of 30 cal. shell casings in the belly among the pedal cables under the back seat. Checking things on the QT with Jim Carlin, the Plt Ldr, revealed the hand held LMG with a home-made stock that "Catkiller Provider" used to deal out punishment to VC from the back seat. Answering one urgent call on the Platoon FM radio for "Provider" resulted in the award of Silver Stars for the crew of him and Joe Hodges.
- The Hue/Citadel platoon was heavily involved in the siege of Khe Sanh.
- 3rd Marine Division (Fwd) moved to Dong Ha.
- US Army 175mm Guns moved into position at the "Rock Pile" and Gio Lin (sp?).
In the Spring of 1967, our 4th Platoon returned from "extended duty" with the 219th RAC in II Corps (since the initial deployment in 1965 due to the size and configuration of the I Corps and II Corps areas of responsibility). The platoon was assigned to Dong Ha (maintaining 4 aircraft and crews there), with the primary mission north of the DMZ with the Air Force (at that time as far north as Vinh) and adjusting the fire of the 175mm guns. An email message from Lloyd Oake, a crew chief/mechanic at Phu Bai, who volunteered to be a part of the new adventure up north, stated that except for the incoming mortar and rocket attacks — "Dong Ha was one of the best times of my life."
- Can you remember (or could you ever forget) the arrival of the US 40mm "Dusters" and truck mounted Quad—50s and their test firing (especially the night firing) at Phu Bai, before they were deployed up on the DMZ with the 175mm Guns?
- This was about the same time that we saw our first fresh "real" ICE CREAM from the Foremost "Milk Factory" that had been constructed in Danang. Then it was not long before China Beach at Danang began to look like Coney Island.
- The 101st Airborne Division then started its move into the Phu Bai area and I Corps by establishing Camp Eagle.
Jay Snell's report(s) of what appeared to be clouds of dust from heavy equipment and trucks and some kind of a road being built across the border in Laos became believed after we (Jay leading the way and me following the leader) took two Marine Colonels, the 3rd MAF G-2 and G-3, back there on a two ship mission for a look-see. They were "radio silent" for the entire flight — but I will never forget the first words when they got back on the ramp: "Well, I’ll be damned — they are building a road back there!"
Al Orth (Marine AO) and I took something that was "heavier than the usual" with several air bursts off our tail on a day BDA mission for an LZ prep and then a couple of nights later Bobbie Johnson had air bursts (confirmed by the fire balls — 37mm?) below his slightly higher "night" altitude and it appeared that we now had some kind of a new weapon that was capable of a time or VT air burst in our AO for the first time. (Nobody believed us in this report either—till later)
- We lost Bobby Jermyn at Dong Ha in May.
- In May 1967 we could "feel" that things were really "stepping up."
- We also started flying night radio relay missions over the Ashau Valley for Long Range Patrols as preparation was beginning to reenter operations in that AO.
MAJ Courtney Smith, then my 3rd CO, stood me down as a "gift" for my 33rd birthday on May 27th, a few days before I headed for Cam Ranh Bay and home, and CPT John Sutherland, the 3rd Plt Ldr, took my place in Operations. As humbling as it may have been, we were all replaceable...."
Gene Wilson, Catkiller 5/3
THIRD WILSON E-MAIL REGARDING HISTORY, APRIL 3, 2010, (1966) CONTINUED FOR 1967 HISTORY:
Carl Collins, USMC AO, probably flew more missions with us than any other of the Marine AOs at Phu Bai. He used to joke about how any bullet strikes might go through the aircraft when we went into evasive maneuvers. Fortunately we heard more than we ever felt. He also got to be pretty accurate in marking targets with smoke and dropping a few hand grenades after we had expended our rockets. I am fairly sure that these photos were taken after our last mission together up in the Dong Ha area before my DEROS (the date on the slide was June 1967 — after I got home.
These photos and notes are nothing extraordinary, but may add something for someone. In our time we were still doing some things and meeting, reporting, and reacting to new situations for the first time. Flying routine VR missions and reporting changes was not as exciting as shooting artillery and running air strikes, but a rough running engine at any time could also create an occasional anxious moment(click on photo for a larger image).
These slides depict Phu Bai after major construction of housing, circa early 1967:
Gene Wilson, Catkiller 5/3
Gene Wilson sent another overview of early life in the unit (May 23, 2010):
We just got back from the reunion of the 14th Cavalry Association at Elizabethtown/Fort Knox, and I caught your reunion guest speakers announcement and the addition of the 3rd Bde of the 82nd Abn Div to the supported units. You might also want to take a look into the history of those we supported such as the MACV Advisers (with the MACV patch) and the SF (with the Special Forces patch). In our days we also often picked up ARVN observers at out-lying airfields with a preplanned flight route and rarely exchanged much conversation in English except maybe for "Hello" and "Thank you" and/or "Good-bye". The platoons could tell you more about some of those missions which as I recall were scheduled through the local area MACV S-3 Operations and passed on to us in Operations (we always hoped that we did not actually have a VC in the back seat). Gathering the daily platoon reports and getting the mission schedules out each evening for the next day made for some long nights at times. I seem to remember that the night crew often had breakfast around noon the next day when they worked extra late. I am "gathering" that there were more platoons actually based at Phu Bai and the entire Company operations may have been more centralized in later years, particularly after the Tet Offensive. We had to operate more like a mini-battalion with quite often only limited communication with our platoon in Quang Ngai — with us and/or them having to put up a radio relay aircraft to talk with each other. At times even talking with DaNang seemed to be blocked at Hai Van Pass. And during the worst Monsoon weather, I can also recall making the "uneasy" trip to Hue via Hwy 1 as "shotgun" on the Mess truck to visit with the 2nd Platoon and the MACV folks while SSG Denoux foraged in the market place for fresh vegetables — and paying particular attention to lettuce for any slivers of glass that might have been "planted" with it.
And when I hear of a "Super Hooch"...with air conditioning yet — Com'on, guys...we didn't even have a fan except for the one in front of the airplane! Our Officer's Club (for the 6 in the HQ + any over-nighters from the platoons) was a small bar and a refrigerator in the front "vestibule" of the Hq staff tent and then the front 8' or so of the new quarters building. When I first got there, we had to drive in two shifts to the 8th Radio Research Unit (RRU) or "Rock & Roll" combined Club and Mess Hall for our meals before we gave up our separate rations allowance and were finally allowed to use our own unit mess hall. I seem to remember that we saw only a couple of Korean type USO shows during 1966-67 and Martha Raye was the only US entertainer who ever ventured north of Hai Van Pass once to visit with the 3rd Marine Division after she was told that there were American troops up our way. Any special "racey" entertainment occurred occasionally when someone came back from R & R in Bangkok with a 'choice' 8mm movie that he had picked up there and it made its rounds of the platoons in a brown envelope... War was something other than 'Hell' in those days...(and my kids would always groan when I reminded them that I had to walk a mile to catch the school bus when I was their age).
Gene Wilson, Catkiller 5/3
RAYMOND CARL and JAN SMITH, CIRCA 1967—68:
Raymond Caryl, Catkiller 32/42, sent in some interesting history and two new contacts from 1967-68 era:
I tracked Nathan G. Stackhouse as far as a winery in Michigan and then lost him [but spoke with him via phone on 7-24-09]. He had a degree in enology (wine making) from USC and used to walk around the 3rd Platoon area with a glass of wine (usually red...'el Vino Tinto') in his hand while the rest of us were tossing down beer, or in my case, Scotch. This all reminds me of three stories:
- Smitty used to REALLY piss Stackhouse off. I think it was because Stack couldn't get under Smitty's [Jan Smith, Catkiller 41] skin and Smitty COULD get under Stack's. Smitty had decided that he was going to map EVERY bunker in the Third Platoon TAOR with eight (or it might even have been 10) digit coordinates. Smitty was a man of great patience and attention to detail. I think he was more interested in doing that than hunting down bad guys and actually killing them......sort of a 'personal challenge' sort of thing. Anyway, he had a tendency to stay out waaaay past his scheduled mission time and once acrually ran out of gas (COMPLETELY) on landing at Marble Mountain. Remember, when the Bird Dog is sitting on the ground, it is tail low and there wasn't enough gas left in EITHER tank to feed the engine, so it just died on roll out......the crew chiefs had to run out to the runway and push Smitty's Bird Dog in to the ramp. Stackhouse was LIVID! Smitty just smiled that 'smile' he was known for and went about his business as though nothing had happened.
- Smitty had a pair of madras Bermuda Shorts (quite the fashion back then....and I think they are coming back).....that were split right around the crotch. He and I were room mates and he use to ambush me when I'd come in the door to our hootch by bending over and 'mooning' me.......no shorts on under the madras Bermudas.......just Smitty's [butt] in all it's grinning glory! YUK! Actually, in time, I sort of got used to it......Smitty IS a confirmed liberal, you know.
- One day, I had problems with the electrical circuit on my rockets. One of the tubes had been written up as inop so I took off with just three Willy Petes. I tried to use them several times during my mission.....I don't really remember what for, but I went through the proper proceedure each time: Arm the rocket using the covered switches on the left overhead panel, remove the pin from the 'trigger' on the stick, aim and squeeze. After the rocket fired, disarm the circuit by flipping the cover back over the switch on the left overhead and putting the pin back in the trigger. Each time I tried to fire a rocket I used this proceedure EXCEPT THE LAST TIME. Mission over, I flew back to Marble and landed.....perfect three-point touchdown on the PSP runway (they later pulled up the PSP and replaced it with asphault because the Mohawks from the 245th tore up the PSP)......just one problem......I had forgotten to flip the covered arming switch off even though I HAD put the pin back in the trigger. As luck would have it, two Marine CH-53s were climbing out toward the south just as I touched down.....FORTUNATELY, they stayed low because when the grounding wire on my landing gear touched the PSP, it completed the circuit to the 'armed' rocket and I watched in horror as one of my rockets left it's tube and headed right for the two CH-53's!
Had they not stopped their climbout and broken left when they did, I would have stuck that wayward rocket right up the upen rear cargo door of #2 CH-53! As it was, it went right over the top of them and landed in the Special Forces compound just to the south of the runway. They thought they were under attack, and I heard later that all hell broke loose down there. (An aside: Those SF guys were the ones who did the out of country missions.....SOG. They were all killers of the first order and probably would have hunted me down, had they known who did it.) Aparently nobody was injured by my rocket (God looks after fools and drunks). Stackhouse met me when I taxiied in to the rivetments and asked just one question: 'What the hell happened, Lt?' I told him (thinking that I was headed straight to a Court Martial) and he just said 's---!', turned around and walked away. I never heard another word about it! I really hope we can find him so I can thank him.
Oh, yeah, guess I have a 4th story, seeing as how I mentioned Scotch earlier.........The nite TET started, Jan 30, 1968, I was sitting in the Blackcat O Club at the bar. The bartender had just placed my FOURTH DOUBLE Scotch and water in front of me when all hell broke loose. The sound of gunfire everywhere. The club naturally emptied. I grabbed my drink, ran outside, saw and heard all the commmotion and ran (drink in hand) to the line shack. I collected my rifle and gear, quickly preflighted an airplane while one of the crewchiefs loaded rockets and one of the Marine AO's and I climbed aboard. I carefully placed my drink between my legs, fired that baby up, taxiied out and took off. I finished my drink somewhere near Hoi An, opened the window and threw the glass out, and flew 3 1/2 hours. I'm pretty sure adrenalin overwhelmed the alcohol in my system......but I WAS legally buzzed!
After 3 1/2 hours, I flew back to Marble, refueled, and took off again for another 3 1/2 hours. By then it was light, but they were still shooting out there. After I taxiied in and shut down, Cpt. Feltner, the platoon leader after Stack left, came sauntering out and said to me, 'Lt. Caryl, I'll take your aircraft, you go get some sleep.' I sorta remember doing the following, but it WAS confirmed later by my Marine AO...... I took a half-step back, put my right hand on my .45 and said the following.....'Captain, you get your own f------ airplane.....this one is mine!' Feltner didn't say a word....he just turned on his heel and walked away. Never heard another word about that one either. God, it was good to be ten feet tall and bullet proof like we were back then!
Another former CatKiller I located is Dave Latimer [now on the roster]. I was a West Point grad and realy the 'unofficial' leader in the 3rd Platoon when Stack was the Plt. Ldr. Dave was EVERYBODY'S favorite (except Stack), had a great sense of humor and was pretty darn fluent in Vietnamese. We used to stop at the Rabbit Patch by Marble Mt. on our way back from Steak Night at the Navy's Elephant Club in Da Nang.....a once a week event. Dave could 'habla' like crazy and get the girls to come out and talk to us.....none of us ever got out of the 3/4 ton truck, but Dave was good at getting the one with the HUGE hooters to lift up her top and shake 'em at us.Regards,
These are rebuttal comments by Jan Smith:
Well... Not quite. I did stay out longer than planned on one mission and there were definitely circumstances involved. A small Marine unit along the coast northwest of Marble Mtn. was under fire from a recoilless rifle in the hills just above it. Seemed that as long as an airplane was around, the rifle held its fire. I was in contact with and flying above that unit and was told that a Marine O-1C was on its way up from Marble Mtn. to relieve me and to provide cover. Apparently, he had a temporary mechanical so was running late. Assured it was finally on its way, I stayed to provide cover for the unit then headed for Marble as soon as it arrived. By then, the fuel gauges were below 1/4 full in each tank which was marked with a red NO TAKEOFF segment. I was so close to Marble for this entire time that I had no concern that I couldn't get safely back to base with the fuel I had. However, as Ray said, when the O-1 settled onto its tail, the engine stopped and the crew chiefs had to drive out with the fuel truck to put in fuel so I could taxi the airplane back to the ramp. Jose Munoz remembers it well and, I might guess, Stackhouse, too, wherever he might be.
The Bermudas were a memory treasure for a long time but my bride finally tossed them with her periodic closet cleaning.
[Liberal comments ommitted]