Just for the fun of it… (you pick out the parts that are true)
It wasn’t very hot that very early morning in September of 1965, a gentle breeze kept the humidity so low it was noticed by Nguyễn Van Chu and Nguyễn Van Tông. The two middle brothers of the Nguyễn family had just returned home from working most of the night. The job was the same as it always was. The same as it had been for months - even when their oldest brother was home. He was gone now, a proud member of the NVA. He was liberating land stolen after the first Indo Chinese War. Their part of the liberation was done for this day. The sun would rise in three hours or so. It would spoil the pleasant coolness of the moment. One more cigarette and time to get to bed.
Tran Lao Bao was a minor city located near the DMZ just north of the Xe Pon River, which is 3 feet deep and 100 yards wide. The river formed an impressive obstacle to the flow of materiel eastward along route nine. The valley that had been cut by the river over time was fairly steep and most of the land along the slopes was covered by bamboo and teak. The ancient groves had never been harvested. The indigenous peoples just worked around the monster trees which had seen war since they were saplings.
Chu and Tông were tasked, along with the other youth of the town, to repair the maze of bridges which spanned the river. Wooden bridges, built a foot or more under the surface, were difficult to see from the air. The bridges were built with a complex plan, resembling the Nile Delta as it works its way to the Great Sea. Bridges that couldn’t be destroyed with just one bomb, nor two. It would take ten direct hits spaced over a hundred yards along the rivers flow, to stop the trail of rice and guns so needed down south, where the eldest was serving to bring honor to the family.
That night would prove to be different from all the other nights when the brothers had slept in the family house, under the trees in the safety of the canopy.
The sound of the Phantom was not unknown to the brothers. Almost daily airstrikes had been impeding movement along the trail across the bridge at Tran Lao Bao. A lone aircraft flying over was unusual though. The straight and level path seemed odd and the pop, pop, popping noise which accompanied the whine of the jet overhead had never been heard before.
When the first flare illuminated with all its brilliance, the brothers couldn’t believe that they could suddenly see all the way down to their village. When the other five flares lit up, it was high noon in Xe Pon river valley.
Fifteen thousand feet above the river, traveling along at three hundred and fifty knots, Fuzz lead could see the flares’ light in the two rear view mirrors attached to the canopy bow.
(ed note: OK, OK, so my callsign was/is “Fuzz”. I was given the name by my drinking instructor Major Jesse Locke. Not only was I the lowest ranking front-seater in the 68th TFS, I was also one of the few, if not only, USAF 1LT flying the AC position in SEA at the time. An administrative error probably. I checked out because my AFSC in the Deuce was 1115 and someone assumed that I was, in fact, an AC. For the record, in the recounting of this fictitious mission, I have put myself in the lead and I used my very own call sign. So there! I was more often found flying two or four.)
Usually the mirrors weren’t good for much except for admiring ones’ self attired in fighter pilot garb. Tonight, however, they reflected the brilliance of the flares just released. I had to begin a climbing turn, maneuvering and accelerating to get to a perch somewhere north or south of the river below. While turning, Bill, in the back seat, was straining to see whether he could pick up the target that had been fragged for the evening. We both had to admit that this was pretty exciting. We had never done this before, either in a training environment or over hostile territory. What was new to us, was new to every flight crew member that had gone out that night.
Fuzz two was about five miles in trail a little higher than we were. They were surprised by the flares’ intensity as well. Once they figured out that they could see the valley floor and the river as if it were daylight, the search for the target began.
(Another ed. note:You may have guessed that I, now old and creepy looking, have had no long romance with those whose intellect fragged bamboo bridges. The daylight bombing of these river crossings, out in the hinterlands, was sometimes hairy enough (see “Milk Run”, same blog). Night interdiction well, you figure out what I think).
Only five hours before, we had all been sitting in the briefing room.