4:55 | When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
Keywords : David Farthing pilot Australian William Westmoreland Walter D. Aexander Creighton Abrams rocket attack helicopter (chopper) Vietnam
David Farthing was born in Brisbane but, in 1942, civilians were moved south because of the war. After growing up near Melbourne, he entered the Naval College at fifteen years old. After he became an established officer, he jumped at the chance to go to flight school, where he learned to fly both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
A career officer and pilot in the Australian Navy, David Farthing was an instructor for a time, then it was his turn for a Vietnam tour. He would command the Australian component of a combined US/Australian helicopter company. A team of good young pilots was assembled and his wife commented years later, they were like the guys in Top Gun.
It was an assault helicopter company composed of US and Australian personnel. David Farthing was the leader of the Australian contingent and he had to go over the head of the American commander when an unqualified pilot arrived as an instructor. The outcome of that incident tragically confirmed his opinion of the man.
Helicopter pilot David Farthing had forgotten the incident for years, like so much of the Vietnam War forgotten by so many of its veterans. It was years later that it came to him how close he was to dying on his very first combat mission.
There was a cocky young pilot in David Farthing's company who came back from a mission with greenery on his skids. His explanation was surprising. Another pilot wanted to marry a Vietnamese woman who worked at the base but there were some obstacles to overcome.
It was difficult to return home to Australia from Vietnam. The war was unpopular and the veterans were shunned. David Farthing was a career Navy officer and continued a very good career, but he was not immune to this sentiment.
He was a mariner and a pilot but David Farthing felt that he needed a more academic skill, so he went to law school while still serving as an Australian Navy officer. That allowed him to have a very nice second career when he left the service.
Launching reconnaissance drones was a tricky business. C-130 pilot Roland Guidry flew these top secret missions in which he released drones off the North Vietnamese coast. The first problem was going undetected. Then, the release had to be precise for the drone's programming to get it to the right area.
The next shell would hit his boat, for sure. That's what it looked like to Walt Lineberger, but it never came. The next move was to go help some troops who were on the river bank and taking recoilless rifle fire. For his actions during this rescue, he would be awarded the Bronze Star. Part 3 of 3.
Forward Air Controller Tom Fleming had a very unusual mission which convinced him we had nuked Laos. He was paired with a C-130 but the pilot in the other plane would not divulge what was going on. Then he saw a large object with a parachute being pushed out the back of the big plane.
Donald Singleton already knew he wanted to be a paratrooper but when he wasn't taken in the draft, he left home and went to work. Three years later, he went home to visit and his father tried to get him to go back to work with him in the turpentine woods. Time to enlist.
Was the war in Vietnam a mistake? Tom Fleming was there and he believes it was important to show the large communist powers that we would not let their efforts around the world go unchecked. There were massive problems with the management of that war, for sure, but we needed to be there and could have easily had a different outcome.
When Donald Singleton enlisted in the Army, he didn't know anything about Vietnam. The first thing he learned when he stepped off the plane is that it's hotter than anywhere, and he grew up in Georgia. Before going to his unit, he went to a short school on booby traps. Then, it was on to the front area at Tuy Hoa.
With his Riverine boats, Walt Lineberger escorted some Army howitzers on pontoons up river. Then he had to listen to the deafening sound as they immediately began pounding the enemy. This went on for three days and led to an embarrassing incident for the young officer.
They drew lots at the Air Force Academy to pick your training base. Tom Fleming got a lousy number and was left with a new, obscure base in Mississippi. No one had wanted it but it turned out to be an ideal location. Like everyone, he wanted to be a fighter pilot, and after learning to fly a succession of trainers, he angled for a slot.
In what down time there was, you could play ball or drink beer or go to the town and the local restaurants and clubs. There was Stars and Stripes and mail from home. If you got food, you had to share. That was OK with Donald Singleton. They all had each others' back.
After a short stop in the Philippines for survival training, Tom Fleming flew to Cam Ranh Bay to get his assignment as a forward air controller. He found out he would be based in Thailand and flying missions over Laos. The goal was to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
It was The Temptations and Otis Redding playing on the reel to reel tape players back in Vietnam. That's what Donald Singleton remembers and he wants the younger generation to remember something, too. He wants them to remember and care for all veterans. They aren't getting any younger.
With his sea bag over his shoulder, Walt Lineberger came to the Mobile Riverine Force and was sent out right away. He didn't even have time to find his bunk. The Mekong and the Bassac rivers were huge rivers, like the Mississippi, and the delta they formed was his area of operations.
With one eye on the space race and one eye on Vietnam, Tom Fleming started his military career as the battalion commander of his high school ROTC. He got an appointment to the Air Force Academy, where he earned a private pilots license in between the hazing.
It was bad enough that you could get blown away any second, but there were also snakes. Lots of them. Some, very poisonous. For Donald Singleton, another big problem was telling friend from foe. You could not tell the difference. Two things he was sure of, the peaches in the C-rations and his trusty P-38 can opener.
When the men were on an operation, morale was fine. It was when they were on down time in the rear that the problems started. Walt Lineberger had to deal with that and it was no fun but neither were the VC out there on the river banks. There was an operation to catch a large formation of the enemy in a pincer movement using infantry and Riverine boats and it was during this that he saw a recoilless rifle round coming right for his head. Part 1 of 3.
There was Home Boy and Preacherman and a guy from the Virgin Islands. Donald Singleton describes some of the characters in his platoon. Years later, a chance meeting in a parking lot led to a reunion with one of them.
Riverine unit leader Walt Lineberger was engaged in a firefight with an NVA unit on a riverbank when he got shot in the arm. Once he was patched up and on the move again, he noticed that the artillery fire, which was supposed to be clearing out the enemy ahead, was walking right toward his boat. Part 2 of 3.
He got shot at a lot. On night missions the tracers revealed what weapons were targeting FAC Tom Fleming. He was based in Thailand and his missions were over Laos, where the objective was to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The anti-aircraft fire wasn't his greatest fear. It was friendly fire and collisions with other US aircraft.
It was during mail call, which was always a great time for the men, opening and sharing treats from home. It was raining, naturally, and there was a fire going in a steel drum. Suddenly, there was an explosion. It was years later that Donald Singleton learned why it happened.
Analysis of photo-reconnaissance showed that American POW's were being held at a compound in Son Tay. C-130 pilot Roland Guidry flew top secret missions releasing drones that captured intelligence over North Vietnam and he explains how none of the pilots knew who was responsible for the discovery. A task force was formed and a rescue mission launched but it was too late.
His MOS had changed to cook at the end of his Vietnam tour. After that, Donald Singleton went to the 82nd Airborne and continued as a cook. Cooks had it made, there. He fondly remembers certain C-rations, though, which were his favorites. Know where he can get any?
Ray Porter had a radio operator who was kind of a character. He could bring comic relief to a dire situation, including passages from the Batman TV show. Porter showed imagination as well when he tricked some VC to come out in the open.
If the photo-reconnaissance drone had a successful flight, it's program would return it to the water off Da Nang. Pilot Roland Guidry describes the recovery system for the film, which was basically the same as the one used to retrieve film from satellites. It was developed and analyzed in Saigon, then sent to the US for deeper scrutiny.
Midway through his second tour, Keith Nightingale was moved from the field to division HQ where he became the G-2 operations officer. This meant that he was responsible for managing intelligence from the sensor program and developing targets for B-52 strikes. This was his first exposure to intelligence work and he liked it.
Roland Guidry explains that the drone missions he was flying were not limited to Vietnam but included China and North Korea as well. A special, longer range drone had to be developed for the missions in China. When he rotated back to the States, the Air Force sent him to graduate school in astronautics.
Ray Porter tried to pass on the values he learned as a Marine to his children and grandchildren and it must have worked. They went into the military as well, including a granddaughter who flies F-18's. Looking back on a time when he was in charge of training Marines, he had someone on his staff who was quite a character, Oliver North.