It's 135 miles from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base to Tchepone Laos, as the crow flies. You can see from the map at the right, the Ho Chi Minh trail came out of North Viet Nam, into Laos and paralleled the South Viet Nam border all the way down to Cambodia and beyond."It linked North and South Vietnam via the Laotian panhandle, and it was an indispensable source of supplies for communist forces operating below the 17thparallel in the 1960s and early 1970s. Air interdiction and special operations forces slowed but never stopped the flow of matériel. President Lyndon Johnson, primarily for political considerations, would not approve air strikes around Hanoi and Haiphong, which might have been more successful in the overall effort to disrupt enemy activities. Initially opened to support Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was nothing more than a skein of rustic traces through the wilderness in the late 1950s. Dedicated men, women, boys, and girls trudged down its paths bent bandy-legged beneath heavy loads, all but ignored by senior officials in Washington and Saigon because the invoices were unimpressive: a little rice, pitted handguns captured from the French, homemade weapons pieced together like so many Rube Goldberg inventions. The tempo, however, gradually picked up and the consignments increasingly included items such as radios, pharmaceuticals, plastic explosives, recoilless rifles, and repair parts. Ammunition requirements multiplied exponentially after U.S. combat forces hit North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars head on in 1965." (from Autumn/Winter 1997–98 / JFQ)
On 16 November 1965, Willie Wells and his flight of four phantoms took about thirty minutes to get to Tchepone. Flight lead contacted the FAC (Forward Air Controller) and began to get final instructions for the mission we had briefed.
It always seems simple enough. The idea is to cut the highway or destroy the bridge serving the highway. The enemy was clever. The "bridges" were built so that they were about two feet under the surface of the water and the road usually divided into a web of roads leading up to the river, and there was another web on the other side.
You really never knew where the bridge was.