God, you guys were good!
Jim's recollections of picking up Tim Conry are an amazing, well-told story! There is not much I could add about Jim's rescue of Tim, except to enhance the sheer beauty and grace (if those are appropriate words) of the combined effort.
The flying that late evening of 9 May 1972 was awesome. Observing it from the ground, it looked as if a carefully, long-planned operation; thoroughly rehearsed, was being carried out before our eyes. The split second, precision flying by the Cobras as they daisy-chained to put down suppressing fire, and the precise, delicate hovering of Jim's LOH as he swept in at grass level from the north west to pick up Tim. Fantastic! To learn now that the whole effort was a hastily thrown together, come-as-you-are gunfight, with ad hoc elements, speaks highly of the training and professionalism of the pilots and crews involved. God, you guys were good! Glad you were on our side.
I would like to reinforce, though, the feeling that something spiritual, maybe even down right spooky, was afoot that evening and the soft light of dusk simply added to the overall dream-like quality of the event.
Bob Sparks and I watched Jim's LOH as he came in low --just like a dragonfly skittering over the surface of a pond. We saw the observer get out, grab Tim and assist him into the aircraft, and I swear, it looked to us like Tim still had some life and movement left in him at that time. We were overjoyed that he had been picked up alive. The Covey FAC flying over-head, observed both Tim and Bill signaling with their mirrors right up until the light faded (I remember COVEY saying they were only about two hundred yards apart). For that doctor at the 67th in Pleiku to say Tim had been dead for hours, just doesn't wash with what we saw. But then, we're talking Ben Het here, and that place was just a little creepy even on a bight, sunny, quiet day.
A couple more "stray shots," in answer to Jim's question about the names of the advisors at Polei Kleng. I don't know who the two American advisors were that you pulled out of Polei Kleng, but they weren't from MR II Ranger Command. Ranger Command had removed its two advisors back in January 1972, in the name of Vietnamization. In April, ' 72, when the NVA started using the border camps for serious target practice, two new American advisors popped up there. They could have been from MR II Ranger Group (separate, distinct entity from Ranger Command), but I seem to recall they had come directly from Mr. Vann's headquarters entourage. Our communications with them was only iffy at best--we could usually hear them on our ANCR-46, but they could not always hear our reply.
I recall Bob and I monitoring their radio traffic one evening and heard them, ah, urging haste for their evacuation from Polei Kleng. (As you said Jim, Vann wanted his advisors back). Bob and I just sort of looked at each other, poured ourselves another scotch, and tried to wash away the "Alamo" feeling that was beginning to settle around us. No one had extended the offer of evacuation to us, and we hadn't asked.
There was an ironic twist here--in mid-April I had returned from a six day R & R in Bangkok. Our commander, LTC Rose, told me he wasn't sure he was going to send me back to Ben Het; he said I was a bit of a screw up. A couple of days later though, he told me to get my stuff together and be ready to fly out to Ben Het within the hour; I have no idea how he came to that decision. At the appointed time, I walked out to the heli-pad, accompanied by our team medic "Doc" (what else?). I had just thrown my gear onto the chopper when Doc handed me a bottle of Johnny Walker and shook my hand. Then Doc looked down at his boots and said, "I overheard Rose talking to _____ this morning. Rose said he didn't expect you and Sparks to come back from this one. Just thought you should know." (Thank you very much, Doc, and LTC Rose)
A note about FAC units...
I can only speak about those FAC's that flew in support of Ben Het. Most of the time, COVEY FAC was flying in our AO, from Da Nang I believe. Alas, I only remember their numbers--027, 029, 033, Triple-Nickel, etc. Mostly they flew Cessna O-2's, though frequently they'd kite in with an old tail-dragging Bird Dog, some gray, some OD. Great bunch of guys though and crazy as shit-house rats. We even made up a song about them; used to sing it for them, to the tune of "Car 54 Where Are You." Are you ready? Ana one, ana two...
"We've got rockets to our north, we've got mortars to our south;
Our friendlies are in contact and the outcome is in doubt.
Our bunker's under fire,
We've got VC in the wire---!
Oh, Covey FAC where arrrrre you?"
All right--didn't win a Grammy back then either, but did get a couple of laughs.
Well, that's about all I can add now. The more I read on your memories page, Jack, the more the old memory is churned. We'll see what surfaces tomorrow and maybe I can add something else.
Take care - Mark
Mark Truhan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
USA - Thursday, August 07, 2003 at 14:58:38 (PDT)