Table of Contents
1st Cruise ←
R&D Test: NADC
America West Airlines
Statistics of War
Subic & Cubi Pt.
Midway Cruise Pictures
USS Midway History
USS Midway Museum
Midway Changes VID
Red River Rats
National Vietnam-War Museum
Rocket Attack Audio
Hero or Fraud?
"JEST" lives on
Old Air Force Sarge-Blogspot Rolling Thunder
Phantoms in SEA
Vietnam War Net
Vietnam War Library
An oral history covering the 47 years of exceptional service provided by the USS Midway and her crews. Within this book, recently given to me as a gift, I was happy to learn much more specific details of some unforgettable events I witnessed and shared, from 1971-1973.
Available at Amazon.com.
"There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."
War: The 1st Cruise
Churchill's above quote was certainly appropriate in my instance.
Those who have experienced combat and enemy fire will likely understand. Those who have not had the experience will naturally have some difficultly in understanding. While the Vietnam War was certainly controversial, my nearly two years flying in combat were for the most part, two of the better years of my life.
In the spring of 1971, I had to leave and trade my rented Mission Beach ocean-front house, for the USS Midway's junior officers'
bunkroom #14 - (but it was still "ocean front" property, now wasn't it?).
Ghosts of the Past
For a former landlocked Iowa farm boy who had watched in black & white awe, every original episode of the TV series "Victory At Sea", the long passage across the Pacific was a wonderfully fulfilling experience. From the USS Midway's passage southwestward beneath and beyond San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge, a week's port call in Pearl Harbor, passing by the Mariana Islands with their historic WW-II battles and exotic names, through the important San Bernardino Straits of the Philippine Islands with echoes of Leyte Gulf, the ghosts of the great war in the Pacific 25 years earlier, were everywhere.
It was indeed a thrill to now be in the same Navy, and in the same waters that I had watched on TV, in awe and respect as a child. It was also inspiring to be in the same Pacific theater as my father's good friend, and the individual who initially stirred my interest in military aviation at a very young age – a WW-II B-24 nose gunner and role model named Hartwig. Thus it was a great source of pride to now be a part of that same great legacy.
[For this and subsequent cruises - especially in heavy seas, sometimes with water over the bow - I found I was not the only one to be humming or whistling Richard Rogers' fabulous Victory at Sea (← Click to Listen! 228kb .wav) composition.]
Unlike the one to follow a year later, this cruise would prove to be only "mild" combat. The 1968 bombing halt over North Vietnam was still in effect in 1971. That meant that except for a very occasional "protective reaction strike" north of the DMZ, our missions were confined to South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Since the North Vietnamese MiG's never ventured into the South, we as fighter pilots were denied our primary mission - one we had trained for, and actively sought - air-to-air combat with enemy MiG's.
Of the 56 missions I would fly during this cruise...
[Although on one early mission, I did once mistake some multiple and rapid flashes of sunlight that were reflecting off of water-filled bomb craters, as heavy enemy fire. The burst of veteran laughter emanating from my back seat at my naiveté, quickly highlighted my mistaken rookie observation!]
As a fast moving F-4, our risks paled in comparison to our engaged troops on the ground, or the low and slow and easily targeted flying FACs who courageously directed us in for our close air support.
Indeed, the war sometimes seemed very distant. We flew off the carrier on "Dixie Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin, laid our bombs relative to where the FAC (Forward Air Controller) had laid his targeting "smoke" and then returned to the ship for a hot meal, some paperwork, and if lucky, a short combat nap. It was often very routine and relatively, low risk. Most of what we knew of the intense and high risk, ground war that was being waged, we learned from the daily newspaper, "Stars & Stripes"*.
Little did we know then, how different - and tragic - our next cruise to the war's end would be!
"Fate whispers to the warrior, "You cannot withstand the storm."
Rocket Attack At The Red Dog Saloon
On rare occasions during a bombing mission, we would have a problem with our bomb release mechanism. One or more of our 500 lb. bombs would accidentally hang up on the F-4 and couldn't be released. With this unwanted condition of "unexpended ordnance", for safety reasons, we usually flew to Da Nang to offload the bombs rather than land aboard the ship with them.
Most flight crews welcomed this. It meant spending a little time on dry land, and was an interesting change of venue. More inviting, it offered the opportunity of having a "legal" cold beer, which of course, was 'prohibited' aboard ship.
Unlike the Air Force and Marines, the Navy had only a small detachment in Da Nang, and its facilities were very Spartan. What substituted for an officer's club was a small annex to the officers' quarters. It only contained a refrigerator, a small bar, and maybe 4 or 5 old wooden tables with chairs. We called the little place the Red Dog Saloon . . . after "Red", the Navy officer in charge of the Da Nang detachment.
One day we had to divert with hung bombs to Da Nang. Since we were in the day's last flight-operations cycle of the Midway, we therefore had to spend the night in Da Nang before returning. After dinner, my RO and I went to the Red Dog. There were only a handful of people there, including a young Vietnamese girl as barmaid.
Starting on our second beer and immersed in our own conversation of our day's events, looking up, we suddenly noticed we were now all alone in the bar. Suddenly we recalled hearing stories of whenever the Vietnamese barmaid abruptly and inexplicably disappeared, a Viet Cong (VC) rocket attack was imminent.
As the only two now left in the bar, we decided perhaps we had better go to the protection of the sandbagged bunker, just outside.
As we casually made our way outside to the safety of the bunker, we heard three loud explosions on the base . . . but thankfully some distance away.
Joining the other Red Dog Saloon patrons already huddled in the bunker, we realized we had just "survived" our first Da Nang VC rocket attack. And my RO and I vowed that next time, we would definitely always keep an eye on the young barmaid. Next time we would be the first rather than the last to make it to the safety of the bunker . . . . whenever she unexpectedly disappeared.
[And indeed, a few weeks later when she again abruptly disappeared for a bit, (thanks to our survival-driven, steep learning curve of war), we were now the first, rather than the last to rush into the relative safety of the outside sand-bagged bunker! (Good thing too; this time, the VC rockets hit a lot closer!) ]
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