7:28 | Forward air controller Mike Leonard went up to Ban Me Thuot to help out for a few days. The first night, as he settled in with a cold beer, the radio crackled with pleas for help from a nearby special forces camp. They were under siege. Part 1 of 3.
Keywords : Mike Leonard pilot Forward Air Controller (FAC) Vietnam Gia Nghia George Lattin Ban Me Thuot Bao Dai Ed Bullard Duc Lap Ted Nagy
When he was a kid, Mike Leonard had a neighbor who was a Marine and drilled the neighborhood boys with wooden rifles. Between that and going to a military high school, the seeds of a military career were planted.
New Air Force lieutenant Mike Leonard was assigned as a weapons officer at a ground radar site. When he found out that the same job paid more flying in the back of a Lockheed Constellation, he signed up for that. At first, he was flying off the California coast but it wasn't long before he was flying missions in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The Lockheed Constellation would fly at about 50 feet above the water just out of Haiphong harbor. In the back, weapons controller Mike Leonard noticed that enemy radar was attempting to lock on. It turned out there was an anti-aircraft battery on a small island.
He wanted more money. Mike Leonard had been a crew member in the back of Lockheed Constellations and, when he found out how much flight pay for pilots was, he had to become one. He was accepted and headed off to flight school.
During flight school, Mike Leonard was on a check ride in the T-38 trainer. He was demonstrating recovering from different situations when he managed to have a flame out on both engines. This was a real situation.
After flight school, Mike Leonard returned to the crew of a Lockheed Constellation, this time as a pilot. Based in Cape Cod and for a while in Iceland, he flew active air defense missions, no matter the weather.
Mike Leonard was an Air Force pilot but he also had a growing family to support. When he met a forward air controller and heard all about flying the O-1 Bird dog in Vietnam, he signed up for that just to get the raise in pay. He got through FAC school just fine but he ran into a little trouble in survival school.
On his way to jungle survival school in the Philippines, Mike Leonard, along with a rowdy plane full of pilots, nearly was detained by the base commander at a refueling stop. The hijinks didn't stop until they were all out in the jungle trying to hide. At least, some of them were trying.
On his first tour of Vietnam, pilot Mike Leonard lived in relative luxury in Saigon, enjoying barbecues and water skiing. His second tour was shaping up to be very different. This time he was flying a Cessna Bird Dog as a forward air controller at a forward operating base.
Bird Dog Pilot Mike Leonard wound up in a small village near the Cambodian border. It was a tight knit group of pilots and the head of the unit would take new guys up for an orientation flight. On one of these, they got a little too close to the border and the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries.
Long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror. That was the life of a forward air controller flying in a small Cessna over Vietnam. FAC Mike Leonard describes these missions and the array of communications gear he used for different purposes. He also describes what it was like to coordinate a defoliation mission.
You couldn't call in jet fighters to help the besieged camp because of the cloud cover. Forward air controller Mike Leonard was in the air trying to help the Americans below. Two helicopter gunships made it to the action and the pilots proceeded to ignore his instructions. When one was shot down, he used his smoke rockets as weapons and even leaned out the window of the Cessna and fired his carbine. Part 2 of 3.
It had been a long fight and the Bird Dog had been in the air past it's rated aloft time. Pilot Mike Leonard used every trick he knew to nurse the plane home. He had been at an action in which a downed helicopter crew had been rescued and, decades later, he got a surprising phone call that, once again, brought the incident to the forefront. Part 3 of 3.
Air Force pilot and FAC Mike Leonard offers his thoughts on the debate over the justification of the Vietnam war. His experiences in his combat tours, especially one incident in which he helped rescue some downed airmen, led him to write his book, An American Combat Bird Dog Pilot: From the Battlefield of Vietnam and Beyond.
Frank Heiny describes his last days in Vietnam, from an experience with an inconvenient water buffalo to a less than welcoming homecoming. His time in the war definitely had an impact on him, so much so he didn’t use a camera in the decade that followed.
Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
When Gen. Westmoreland decided to move around and reinforce certain units in Operation Checkers, Captain Ron Christmas found himself just outside of the city of Hue in a camp where hostiles owned the high ground.
Upon leading the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Myron Harrington had to help conduct an attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam. This is the story of how he and his men charged the tower, which took longer to accomplish than expected.
Frank Heiny received his specialized training at the Defense Information School where he’d learn to produce media from within Vietnam. Beyond learning the ins and outs of photojournalism, he also had to be prepared for what could go wrong in the jungle.
Captain Paul Jacobs served seven tours in Vietnam waters and the first time he returned home, he was welcomed. By the last time, he and his men were suffering the typical abusive homecoming remembered by veterans of that war. This despite the fact that they had just completed a miraculous refugee rescue operation which saved thousands.
There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.
Frank Heiny came from a hard working, military family in Indiana. He had been interested in journalism as a career, but when college proved to be too expensive, an opportunity to attend the Defense Information School and serve in the Army seemed like a great fit for him.
It was a classic L-shaped ambush that decimated several companies on the march to LZ Albany. George Forrest's company had fared better, but instead of heading to a Thanksgiving dinner like some, they went straight to another battle at Bong Son. He observes that you can go through hell and come out better for it and his company was stronger for the experience. Decades later, he gained an appreciation for the way the opposition must have felt. Part 4 of 4.
Like many soldiers in Vietnam, Frank Heiny got around country by helicopter. He recalls one assignment where the LZ turned out to be a minefield, unbeknownst to the first few men to disembark.
"The Story of Captain Barry McCaffrey and the men of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, Vietnam" In this compilation, men of the 2nd Battalion discuss being rescued from a dire situation by McCaffrey, and then discuss his incredible leadership.
The activity in his area was picking up. Every time Rody Conway, and the South Vietnamese troops he was advising, went out on sweeps, they would find something. When they could not budge the enemy from a bunker, his solution was nearly comic.
Going to Vietnam, Frank Heiny left out of San Francisco, just like his father before him. There would be no delay from when he landed in Vietnam to when he got his first glimpse of incoming fire. Within days, he was in the field creating media for the Army.