Arclights in II Corps, 1972
On my second tour of duty in Viet Nam, I was assigned to II Corps Headquarters as an advisor in January 1972. After a month or so working in the operations center in Nha Trang, I was reassigned to Pleiku. I was told to report to the Chief of Staff, who told me that II Corps was going to be receiving an increase in B52 bombing missions and a staff was going to be organized to coordinate them. I was elected.
From that point on, my official title was Air Operations Advisor, working with the G3 Air Advisor, in a small office down the hallway from the USAF Air Operations Office in the Direct Air Support Center, downhill from II Corps Headquarters. My job was to work with the G2 folks to develop B52 targets, gain necessary clearances for the strikes, and coordinate the strikes with province and unit headquarters. In addition to coordinating the B52 strikes, I would work with the Air Support Center and the Corps Tactical Operations Center in assigning priorities for all daily U.S. air bombing missions.
Typically, my day began very early. After a hurried breakfast, I would check in with the Operations Center to see what air strikes had occurred overnight, and gather bomb damage assessments. I would then receive suggested targets from G2 Targeting and work up the coordinates on some map boards of the Corps area of operations. I would then brief the Chief of Staff on the struck targets, and the proposed targets, assigning priorities. At the beginning of the job, II Corps would receive about one or two strikes a day. Later, this increased to receiving all strikes in country during the battle for Rocket Ridge and Kontum. Once getting headquarters approval, I would get the necessary target clearances from the various province headquarters. Iíd then prepare a message to the Air Force Headquarters in Saigon requesting the targets. If any were approved, they would be scheduled for about two or three days from the request.
Things really got busy in the Easter offensive. We got reports minute-by-minute of the fighting that was going on around the different camps on Rocket Ridge, and around Kontum. Using already scheduled B52 strikes and those that had to be diverted from their original planned strikes, I would develop new targets. Quickly, I had to get province clearance, then Air Force, Saigon, approval to use these strikes in support of the various battles raging north of Pleiku. Once I got approval, I would give the new target coordinates to the radar site on the hill above us so they could direct the oncoming B52ís to the targets. In many cases, this complete cycle had to be accomplished in an hour or less. I would stand at a map, sketch out the defendersí front lines, then draw a strike box as close to the front lines as possible. Most of the time I was on my own, but every now and then, the G3 or Chief of Staff would be sitting on a chair watching my action. Thatís how we planned and coordinated the B52 strikes during the battles, by the seat of our pants.
When I first started my daily briefings, I would do it with a member of the G2 staff in the Chief of Staffís office, with the G3 present. No Vietnamese would be present. Then one day, John Paul Vann wandered into the room, sat on the edge of the desk, listened to what was going on, and decided to take over the briefings. General Hill bowed out of the action. I wouldnít go into the Corps Operations Center except quickly to let them know what strikes were planned.
Later, Mr. Vann decided to include the Vietnamese command in the picture. Then I would conduct the briefings, with the G2 Targeting officer, in a room with the Corps Commander and his principal staff present. We would tell what strikes had gone in and the bomb damage assessment, if any. We then would present the proposed strikes, and the Targeting officer would explain the intelligence. A priority for targets was proposed, and approval gained.
During the Easter Offensive, many times I would brief Mr. Vann in his bedroom in the advisorsí compound. It would be late at night, because he would have been out all day looking over the battle or moving around the Corps area. The night of his death, for example, I briefed him in his room. He told me he was going to Kontum, and invited me along. I bowed out, saying that I had to prepare the message asking for the strikes. It made me feel really great because he asked me what I considered priorities for strikes to be. I differed in some cases from him or the others, and he would let me make the decision, saying that he trusted my judgment.
Once, Mr. Vann got real excited. I had diverted a B52 strike to just outside of the Kontum battle lines. It seemed that the NVA forces had used the target as a staging area. The strike hit while the enemy was there, and there were bodies everywhere. Mr. Vann was flying over the strike zone, leaning out of the helicopter, and shooting his pistol at the staggering survivors. Iíve never seen him so happy.
Chris Scudder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Harrison, Arkansas U.S. - Thursday, February 16, 2006 at 19:12:09 (PST)