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Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Air travel. Memories of Vietnam

I was posted to Master Station at Van Kiep. One always travelled by air. I was to travel by road a lot later. Things were very simple. One just went out onto the airfield and went around trying to find a pilot heading in the same direction. Sometimes it was a fixed wing aircraft or often a chopper. The fixed wing were mostly C130 Hercules or C123 Providers. I always felt safe in the Hercules but utterly loathed the Providers which were twin engined but with twin jet boosters to help them take off. I always felt they had a hard time getting up in the air. Crowded in with material, soldiers, guard dogs and whatever one imagined the mess if they did not make it. There was a delightful Canadian aircraft, I believe it was the Caribou (thank you John for your email reminder of the name), it was twin engined with a high tail. It seemed to fly with the grace of a swan.When I was in a press agency one day I saw a photo of one cut in two in the air by friendly artillery. I believe the photographer was a Japanese. He trod on a mine a few weeks later. Such are the fortunes of war. There were usually no seats. Straps on the floor to stop one falling about and the rear cargo door open. Australian pilots often flew at tree top height. The choppers often didn't have any doors either and flying at tree top height in them was an experience.
Our own major had a round come up through the floor and between his skull and helmet. Knocked unconscious, the co-pilot, our Decca manager took over. The major survived. We lost one of our Decca flight instructors, Jerry Degnan, in a chopper when it was shot down. The mystery of his disappearance was not cleared up until after the war due to a mix up in bodies. I knew another one from the Bahamas. He had spent time in the Isle of Pines prison in Cuba for gun running to counter- revolutionaries. He was going to be shot but was released at the time of the tractor deal with the United States. These instructors were a breed apart.
I had learnt to fly in the Bahamas . We did a lot of flying to the out islands and I didn't like the idea of sitting next to a pilot who conked out on me, and I thought one at least needed to know how to land the thing. I never took a license though.
I am not by nature a man who prays often but I did an awful lot of praying during the many hours of flying I did there. I believe the United States lost something like 10,000 aircraft of all types and through all causes during the war. Most of the chopper pilots were young; I think about 19 years old.

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