Ray H. Janes Jr.
USAF FAC Phuoc Vinh 1969
In early 1969 I completed my in country training in the OV-10 and was assigned as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) to the 1st Air Cavalry Division. I was further assigned as the Air Liaison Officer (ALO) and FAC to the 1/9th Air Cavalry Sq. When I reported I spent some time flying the O-2 because the OV-10s hadnt been assigned to the Division which was good thing since I would be flying over the entire CAV Area of Operations (AO) supporting all three Brigades/Troops. A few days later the OV-10s started arriving and we had another orientation ride and were sent to our organizations. For me that was Phouc Vinh which was the Division/Squadron/C Troop headquarters.
The Division ALO took me to meet Lt. Col. Peterson, the squadron CO, and the Exec, Fred Olson. When I was finally ready to work Fred became a mentor to me and advised me to fly in the helicopters with the Squadron as well as the OV-10. Peterson took me around in his UH-1 and introduced me to the Brigade Commanders and the Troop Commanders and we stopped at a new firebase on the Song Be River. They had just been inserted the day before, dug some holes, strung some wire and been attacked by the VC their first night. The rock filled cans did their job and warned them in time to mount a defense and there were six dead VC found tangled in the wire. They had been armed with satchel charges made out of the burlap that was used to hold the rice they had for rations. The holes were about a foot across and about six inches deep. That convinced me that we were fighting a determined enemy primed to sacrifice his life to try to attack us with even primitive weapons.
During the tour I decided that I would spend my time flying with each Troop and I would do that by flying an OV-10 for the Brigade FACs to use while I flew the helicopters. I would also fly any scheduled OV-10 missions. I wound up often flying helicopters in the morning and the OV-10 in the afternoon and reversing it the next day. When I was at Quan Loi and Tay Ninh I would fly the helicopters a couple of days and then take the OV-10 back to Phouc Vinh.
My first experience was with B Troop at Quan Loi. I first flew in the AH-1 with Troy Colley and learned how to handle the maps, the radios, fire the turret and use the minimum controls in the front seat I also learned they operated as a Pink Team with the AH-1 covering an OH-6 LOH Scout helicopter, called a Loach, operating at tree top level looking for the enemy. When they were found whatever forces were needed were provided to attack. I must have done OK because he offered to let me fly as Aircraft Commander in the back seat and fire the rocket armament. I looked at the minimum controls and declined because I knew I wasnt near qualified to handle an emergency.
The next day I flew two OH-6 Scout missions. The morning one was with a 1st Lt., the Scout Platoon CO Cavalier White, and I was really impressed with his flying skill and more impressed with his and the M-60 armed Crew Chiefs ability to track the enemy along the trails we followed. It was my job to cover area opposite from the direction they were working as they flew in a crabbed direction with my CAR-15. In the afternoon I flew with a young Warrant Officer in command and was also very impressed with his and his Crew Chiefs abilities to do the same thing. He couldnt have been more than between 19 and 21 years old with the Crew Chief perhaps even younger.
When I returned to Phouc Vinh I decided to spend a day in the Squadron Tactical Operations Center to see how things were coordinated. The NCO in charge greeted me and told me that he was glad to meet me and pointed to an old lawn chair that he said was reserved for the Sq. FAC. There had been an O-1 FAC that sat there every day and when a call came in he would run outside and jump in his 0-1 and do his job. When he didnt have an aircraft the Squadron would provide him with a UH-1. I dont know if he flew it or just rode in it but it seemed to work pretty well. My radio operator, Charlie Daniel, was glad to have me there too. I wouldnt have an aircraft assigned for my use so I wouldnt be able to operate that way. I would only be able to fly when I was assigned a mission and would check in with them any time I was in the air to provide support or make sure another FAC did if I was busy with my own action.
As I sat there pondering how I would operate for the rest of my tour and listening to the chatter on the radio from the various troops suddenly the volume on one channel was turned up so everyone could listen. The Loach was investigating a stone plantation house when suddenly there was withering fire from every window and the OH-6 went down just a few yards from the front of the house. The gunship immediately attacked and called for help and another Pink Team came. The two gunships circled and the second Loach tried to determine if the crew of the downed bird was still alive. He had just radioed that he saw movement of the downed crew and smoke was beginning to float upward when the fire opened up again and the second OH-6 was hit. He managed to get out of the area and unfortunately both gunships started to follow him to a safe area to sit down to wait for rescue.
When they turned away a VC ran out of the house with a pistol in his hand and shot both crewmen on the Loach in the head. A gunship killed the VC with the turret before he got back to the house so no one will ever know whether he executed them or was just trying to prevent them from burning to death. It didnt make any difference because they were all dead. The smoke eventually stopped.
About that time Rash 31, Art Mahon, checked in with some fighters he had been controlling and began putting bombs on the house after a short briefing. After two more air strikes had expended their ordinance Art declared the firing had ceased and he recommended no more air strikes. The B Troop Commander, Troy Colley, came on the radio said, Rash 31 I am the on scene commander and those are my men down there. I say there is still fire coming from the house and they are probably hiding in the basement while your bombs are falling. I dont want one stone left on top of another at that house so get as many airstrikes as you can to finish the mission. Rash 31 immediately requested further air strikes and the house was destroyed. 2
Troy agreed the house was destroyed and told Art to bomb the helicopter, in a shocked voice Art refused and Troy said, It will be dark before we can get anybody out here and there is classified equipment on board and since both crewmen are dead it needs to be destroyed. Saber 6 came on the radio and agreed so Art ordered the fighters to hit the helicopter. They protested but eventually squarely hit the helicopter with the last bomb which blew it up with both bodies inside. I was shocked to learn that the dead crew was the young Warrant, his Crew Chief I had just flown with a few days before plus an Observer who was a Crew Chief in training. That action convinced me that I didnt need to sit in a lawn chair in the TOC and listen to crewmen being killed and I never did. I spent all the time I could in the air either controlling airstrikes or fighting from a 1/9th helicopter. The second Loach crew was rescued and the helicopter was slung out to be repaired and fight again.