The U.S. Army ATC controllers guided those C-130’s into Kontum at night
The U.S. Army ATC controllers guided those C-130’s into Kontum at night, in rain, total blackout to land on a 60’ wide airstrip often while taking fire. We that served as GCA and Tower controllers at Kontum did an exceptional job of providing safe landing guidance to those pilots. We have the Bronze stars to prove it.
Prior to the offensive really taking off I used to ask the pilots if I could give them a GCA even if it were CAVU, in order to sharpen my skills and give them confidence that I knew what I was doing. I am sure others did the same. I remember very well that we could tell them when their wheels would touch the centerline. Another interesting fact is that we had no approach controller, we would stack the planes up over Pleiku, CH 107 as I recall; and hold until we could ID them and bring them in. The pilots may just make a quick turn around kick off the pallets and boogey off for another load.
I recall one night the pilots reported taking fire at certain distances “3 miles from touchdown” etc. We realized “Charlie” was listening and trying to change the course of history. We just said we would give alternate distances or avoid the distances occasionally. It worked. This all happened 41 years ago and my memory is a little faded, I have found some cassette tapes that I was using to send messages home to my wife and would occasionally include a GCA run for her listening enjoyment. If I can locate a cassette player I will try to get some call signs.
We had a POL point on our field and often when the Huey’s landed we would take fire. However the VNAF would call in, declare a low fuel emergency and request landing clearance immediately, if we informed them we were taking rocket fire, it was normally disregarded by, “we land now”. More than once a flight of 5 or 6 would come in on emergency low fuel, and after 3 or 4 getting fuel would leave without fueling everyone. Gotta’ respect the m.p.g. of a Huey!
One beautiful sunny day a C-130 escorted by several Huey’s, gunships and a loach came into pattern and landed, without clearance as I recall. I was on duty probably with Larry “Wolf Dog” Wolfe, David “Crash” McDowell, and Bob Elliott aka, “Long Knife”. They landed, we threw a shit fit about them landing and how we could take fire at any time. A very distinguished looking fellow explained to us that we indeed would not be taking fire any time soon and that they would be leaving shortly. No uniform insignia, no markings on the aircraft and the C-130 had a boom swept back on the nose, the “James Bond pull your ass out of the Jungle tethered to a balloon looking deal”.
When they did depart, they headed West and I followed them on the radar and saw they crossed the fence and kept going west into Cambodia. Never saw them again. Interesting side note, ,when I returned to Rucker and was at a Flight Surgeon’s office for my physical I ran into a AF Captain who was at Rucker to receive Rotor Wing Training, he looked very familiar and when I asked him where we had met, he agreed I looked familiar too. Turns out this was the earlier mentioned “distinguished looking fellow”.
His mission that day took him on a prisoner snatch flying the C-130, he said the mission failed as most of the helicopters were shot down and his aircraft was hit as well. Small world! We should get the record straight, no one but a few of us gave a flip, but who knows it could be a movie someday.
Thanks, for bringing this to our attention. Never an Easter goes by I don’t think of 1972 and what a “tight spot” we were in.
Here is an additional about Larry “Wolf Dog” Wolfe. We have a bunch of great incidents that would make some interesting reading. Sadly, Larry “Wolf Dog” Wolfe from Gainesville Texas has passed on. I was on a motorcycle trip several years back and when I inquired of him was told he had died of cancer.
He and I were standing next to each other in the Tower one day when a 122 mm Rocket hit right in front of us, a piece of shrapnel came some 80’ through one of the windows and hit him in the right shoulder, 2 feet either way and it gets me or misses him. He was bleeding pretty good and as we received more Rockets I made a call to all aircraft to avoid the area until further notice and the attack stopped.
I broadcast that Wolfe Dog was hit and we would need a medevac shortly. Immediately a Huey “Chicken Man” I think, said he was landing at the base of the tower to take him away. Wolfe-dog made it to Pleiku, got a hot shower and an overnight stay and was back to work in a day or two with a Purple Heart on his chest.
I think that the pilot was “Chicken Man 22”, Mr. Kinsella.
Thanks to all of you for your service.
John C. Grange
Former Kontum Airfield NCOIC
John Grange <email@example.com>
El Dorado, Kansas USA - Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 00:09:38 (EDT)