Have you ever been eavesdropping at the bar (in the soda shop) while a Truth teller of Unquestionable Repute weaves his word tapestry in a manner which should be spellbinding the audience? But there is a glimmer of skepticism from at least one of the listeners. He (she) has heard enough sea stories (lines) in his (her) time to KNOW that there may be some damage being done to the strictest definition of TRUTH as the story unfolds. The skeptic does not yet have enough sea time to have learned that there is usually a little truth in each of them (the sea stories, that is, there is no truth in the standard line). You can't believe the skepticism! After all, you are fascinated because you know this story to be The Truth; you were there! Imagine my surprise when I was allowed to read an advance copy of the "Great Chicken Chase" (See preceding article by Captain Marty Twite, CO of HA(L)-3). There was an ongoing veracity check as one reader pantomimed rolling up his trouser legs.
But it is a true story! I was there! I flew that mission!
There I was...... while the pigeon was getting the VIP treatment in Saigon, we Seawolves actually did spend some time trying to stalk some of the local flying fowl. You take your entertainment where you can find it when in a combat zone. The birds were not amused. They resorted to time honored evasive maneuvers known to all types of birds, proven techniques known among them as the Wright Split. This maneuver was developed by the sea gulls, who were residents at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, after their raucous laughter at Wilbur's first solo subsided. It has been passed down to other avian species as a public service when it became apparent that the Wright Brothers would not be denied. Although called the Wright Split, the maneuver, as most aviators will attest, is a left break, folding wing autorotation, accompanied with a burst of "chaff", evidence of which can be sometimes found on the windscreen. We rapidly tired of being reminded by the birds of exactly how limited we humans were in the realm of flight, and went back to harassing water buffalo, a species to which we were clearly superior when it came to powered flight. We solemnly referred to the Skipper's order with the time honored signal to start number one applied to the side of the head muttering the phrase "dinky dao." (VN for crazy)
Imagine our surprise when our det was pulled in to the home base at Binh Thuy to begin practice with homing on the FM signal which would be attached to the Chieu Hoi (turncoat) Pigeon. We worked on tracking riverine force patrol boats dashing up and down the river with the homer onboard. It was like flying a very squirrelly UHF-DF.
Nobody had much confidence in our ability to track for long, and we were really skeptical about being able to track the pigeon to touchdown with enough accuracy and speed for a successful surprise SEAL insert.
The SEALS were the most skeptical of all. They were victims of their own reputation as "P Hour" approached. The popular picture at the time of them dropping in, guns blazing, among the chosen victims, was far from the preferred method of operational employment, had anyone from the Saigon headquarters consulted the SEALS themselves. They would rather slip in completely covert, do their thing, and be quickly extracted. Failing that, they wanted to hit a known target in a carefully planned insert.
By this time in the war, intelligence in the Delta, where we operated, was sufficiently developed that we were conducting numerous helicopter inserts of SEAL teams into occupied LZ's, looking for POW compounds, VC hospitals, VCI (VC Infrastructure, i.e. headquarters containing their intelligence people and political officers), and VC weddings. (Yes we actually inserted SEALS to crash a wedding for some local VC. Good party and reception, bad pooh-poohs, no honeymoon. According to the hosts, the SEALS were obnoxious, rowdy, and showed no respect for the traditions and customs of the locals at the solemn occasion. But that's another sea story). These inserts were organized; with good charts and photos, planned helicopter approaches to minimize early detection and provide best cover, and landing zones located to control the area without SEALs getting in each others line of fire, or the line of fire for the supporting helicopters. This plan had none of these.
Nobody knew where the LZ would be, or what the enemy strength was. We didn't even know if there would BE an LZ. The Saigon Commandos were not exactly working overtime thinking this one through. Came the day and it went as the Skipper related. The radio transmitter may have naturally failed; after all, we were dealing with the state of the art in technology, (if not intelligence) weren't we? Weren't we? There is also the possibility that party or parties unknown may have caused the transmitter, or transmitter-pigeon interface unit, to malfunction at a critical time.
The SEALS really didn't like this operation. The "Chieu Hoi" Pigeon may have merely turned chicken. Whatever the true facts, once airborne the transmitter went off the air and the pigeon apparently executed a smart Wright Break (use of "chaff" during the evasion is problematical, unsupported by any visible evidence or excrescence.)
We returned to base and proceeded to join up with the SEALs and search for a wedding to crash. We found no wedding as I recall, but that did not prevent a combined SEALs-Seawolves insert into the Army Engineer Officers Club adjacent to the squadron base at Binh Thuy, and adjacent to the Third Surgical Hospital, which explains the popularity of the club. It had round-eye female nurses in regular attendance, the good news. It also had lots of rear echelon Army officers trying to monopolize the only round-eyed women in sight, the bad news. They had to be shown the folly of their ways, and the nurses had to be shown the TRUE WAY. No contest. The SEALs were obnoxious, rowdy, and showed no respect for the traditions and customs of the local Army officers. We, on the other hand, being Naval Aviators, were perfect gentlemen. But that's another sea story too.
The Indestructible Monster! (The Other Sea Story)
Have you ever been sitting at the bar (the sushi bar) eavesdropping on the SEA STORY being spun near you in a separate private conversation which has gone semi-public as the teller captivates (or corners) his audience? And you realize that you have a similar story, one that goes hand-in-hand with the established theme for the Sea Story Session in progress. You can't wait to find a way to join in..... Now that you have heard about the Great Chicken Chase, let me tell you a second-hand sea story related to it.
Our heroes, the Saigon Commandos, returned dejectedly to the drawing board after the defection of the pigeon and the failure of the plan to successfully terminate the war on terms acceptable to the allies. But not for long. They were needed. It seems there was a problem with pilfering of office equipment from the vast complex of administrative supply warehouses, which was threatening to cause the Termination of the war on terms acceptable to the enemy. if this critical leakage of war support equipment was not curbed soon, the entire administrative apparatus of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, the complex system of administration, which drove every operational decision, controlling every aspect of the war, might grind to a halt. This, of course, would set up conditions which could lead to one of two results; failure of the war effort and defeat for allied forces, or a renewed surge of initiative and combat effectiveness resulting in swift tactical victories and capitulation of the North.
To catch the thieves, a typewriter was bugged with the same type radio transmitter used for Operation Born Free. The plan was to track the typewriter to the location of the thief, apprehend the monster, and conduct swift and merciless NJP. The typewriter vanished in accordance with the plan. Search aircraft were launched to localize the emitter, and the MP's were alerted. After a few days, the aircraft were able to successfully localize the emitter as planned. Unfortunately for the MP's, they were not able to make the arrest. The location was deep in the U Minh Forest, a triple canopy swamp in the Delta, which was, and had been, a haven for the VC since the beginning of the insurrection. It was impassable by any ground vehicle, which meant that the MP's, brave as they were, could not go, they being virtually helpless without their jeeps (the targets of numerous Seawolf search and snatch missions throughout the HA(L)-3 operational and liberty area. But that's another sea story). Surmising, perhaps correctly, that the typewriter was probably located in a headquarters area (it takes one to know one), the staff decided to attack, rather than make it easier for the VC to steal more typewriters, Xerox machines, file cabinets, safes, and desks with comfortable chairs.
Any officer with operational experience, who is also a student of history, cannot help but be irresistibly drawn to what I firmly believe to have been a critical turning point in the history of the war. Had cooler heads prevailed, the VC stooges and their Communist Masters from the North could have been drawn into a war which they had neither the manpower nor the administrative experience to win. More and more administrative equipment might have been funneled to the VC, clogging up their chain of command, creating immense demands on their limited combat manpower, forcing them to resort to air conditioning, and tying them down to the complex supply system necessary to provide vital Xerox fluid, whiteout, bonded paper in multi colors, etc. etc. (Remember children, this was before the advent of desk-top computers implemented to reduce the administrative burden we labor under. You HAVE noticed that the reduced administrative burden since the introduction of the desk-top computer in large numbers, haven't you?) Had we succeeded in forcing the enemy to play OUR game instead of us playing theirs, we might have reduced the number of combat soldiers arrayed against us to the same percentage of military manpower that we employ ourselves, cutting their combat forces to a mere tenth of their former strength. And the remaining warriors would have been reduced to having available only the same amount of non-administrative time as we have. This would have constituted a tremendous victory, changing the balance of combat effectiveness irrevocably in our favor. This alternative plan is still believed by most Vietnam combat veterans to have been a bloodless method to have Successfully Terminating the War on Terms Favorable to the Allies. But, alas, it was not to be. No combat man was consulted. The clear and present danger was there.
The rear echelon acted with uncharacteristic speed. In an incredibly short time, a record for this phase of the war, a B-52 "ARCLIGHT" strike was organized and flown against the coordinates of the typewriter. An ARCLIGHT strike, if ever seen, is never to be forgotten. A formation of "Buffs", flying so high that they cannot be seen by the other units in country, drops a concentrated load of high explosives, scientifically weaponeered by the warriors back in Guam, to be the most destructive for the existing conditions. Having been within a mile of this phenomena one day, at an altitude of 1000 feet, I will never forget it. The world blew up. A concentrated area simply disappeared in a hurricane of smoke and dirt, and tree parts, rising almost to our altitude (including the tree parts). It seems to happen in slow motion, just like the movies. We could see the shock waves racing across the tree tops towards us from a mile away, and feel them buffet us as they passed. It defies the imagination how anything could have survived that attack, since the altitude of the BUFFs was so high that no warning could have been received until the bombs started going off.
But survive they did, at least the typewriter did. Flying in after the strike, the homing aircraft discovered that the typewriter was still emitting and had moved to another area of the forest. A Second ARCLIGHT strike was launched. The typewriter survived again, an indestructible monster. In a frenzy of initiative and perseverance, matched only by a dispersing clerk clearing a travel claim, for a third time, the Buffs rained destruction on the U Minh Forest. No further signal was received from the typewriter. Did they get it? The evidence is clear. The fledgling monster was dead. There was no development by the VC or the North Vietnamese of the huge administrative apparatus deemed vital by our Defense Department to the prosecution of a modern war against a sophisticated enemy. The rest, as they say, is history. We lost. For a brief shining moment in time, however, the opportunity to win the war was at hand. But the brilliant mind required to see the opportunity, seize the moment, and make history, was not there. On the other hand, maybe he was, he just couldn't get his request approved through the chop chain before it was too late. Or maybe he had tried to fight the monster before, on less important matters without success, until he became dulled by it all, was molded in the image of the monster itself, and quit trying. One final lesson should be taken from this true story.
It took three concentrated strikes to exterminate even this tiny flicker of an administrative bureaucracy. Combat forces in the area would have been obliterated with the first mission. Anyone who has ever tried to reduce the size of the administrative chain of command, or even reduce the amount of required paper work demanded by this network, can attest to the truth of the invulnerability of the monstrous system. Those who have tried have been run over by it with nary a noticeable bump. Worse, they are consumed by it, and end up feeding it. No amount of ordnance, short of nuclear holocaust itself can destroy it. It feeds on peace, but war only serves to temporarily curb it. You are warned.