Written by Randall "Bert" Bertrand, A-1 Skyraider Pilot, Naknon Phanam, Thailand, 1969-1970
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
J. David Ake/AP Photo--A visitor at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington passes early in the morning on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2013, to look at the names inscribed on the wall.
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
Your aviation history lesson for the day ......................
During the dead of winter, March 21st 1944; Miles City, Montana; local residents woke to their quaint little town being overrun and submerged by the rising frozen waters of the Yellowstone river. Ice jams were building quickly, raising the subzero river water levels over 16 feet. As the blocks of ice, slush and freezing waters flooded into the city, residents were forced to flee their homes for safer grounds.
Miles City Mayor L.S. Keye knew immediate action must be taken, and brought in explosive experts from a nearby town. Two local pilots took a small aircraft over the river and attempted to drop and detonate 50 pound homemade bombs on the Yellowstone ice jam , but unfortunately it had little effect.
Mayor L.S. Keye then decided to do the unthinkable, and placed an urgent request to the Governor’s office. His request was short, and to the point "Send in the Bombers!"
At a USAAF base in Rapid City S.D., the crew of an Army Air Force B-17 were quick to accept the unusual mission, and preparations to bomb an American city were fast underway. The crew hastily began fusing and loading 250-pound bombs into the bomb bay of their USAAF Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Shortly thereafter, the loaded bomber with her crew of eight, took to the skies in a harsh blizzard and low ceilings.
The plan was to deliver the bombs to Miles City where the load would be transferred to a waiting Dive-Bomber to execute the bomb delivery. As the lone B-17 was nearing Miles City, low clouds forced the plans to be changed. Under a blanket of 1000 foot overcast skies, the B-17 was then ordered to handle the bombing run themselves.
Originally planned to release the load at 10,000 feet, the low overcast forced the bomber crew to take their ship lower. At 1930 hours, in heavy snow, winds and cold, the bomber appeared over the river and executed two dummy bombing runs as crowds of locals watched in amazement. On the third pass, the B-17 released a test bomb that exploded precisely on target. Unsure of the effect, the crew brought their bomber around again.
Making a two more passes, releasing all six of the 250 lb. bombs. Hundreds of residents watched motionless, and none speaking a word. The entire town, their homes and their families future hung in the balance as they watched the bombs fall. Seconds later a huge plume of ice, mud and water exploded skyward from the frozen Yellowstone river.
The ice jam quickly broke apart, and the frozen waters slowly receded, saving the small town. The next morning, local residents were thrilled to watch as the water levels had dropped a full 10 feet from the day before.
That night the crew of the B-17 were welcomed by the thankful and relieved residents of Miles City Montana. The entire crew were put up at the local hotel, and each received a well-deserved steak dinner.
The next morning, the crew departed, and the B-17 made a final victory pass low over the town at 50 feet over the rooftops, rocking their wings as they flew back home to Rapid City SD... and so the story goes of the only time the continental United States was bombed.
by William M. Leary-University of Georgia
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
Edited by Dick Martin
Between December 1971 and May 1972, one of the great battles of the Vietnam War took place in northern Laos when over 20 battalions of the North Vietnamese army assaulted positions held by some 10,000 Lao, Thai, and Hmong defenders. Yet few people ever have heard of the Battle for Skyline Ridge. Press coverage of the engagement was slight, and public interest - at least in the United States - was minimal. Historians of the Vietnam War also have ignored this major battle, perhaps because it had limited impact on the outcome of the war. Still, the Battle for Skyline Ridge deserves to be remembered.
By 1971, the no-longer-secret war in Laos had been going on for more than a decade. The Geneva Agreements, which called for the removal of all foreign military personnel from Laos, resulted in the United States withdrawing 666 individuals.
When fighting broke out again in Laos in 1963 and 1964, officials in Washington considered reintroducing a sizable number of U.S. military personnel into the country to train and advise the Royal Lao Army. However, Leonard Unger, the American ambassador in Vientiane, opposed the idea. Acting upon Unger's recommendation, Washington decided to maintain the thin fiction of the Geneva Agreements - which the Communist Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese backers had ignored but never formally repudiated. The ineffective Royal Lao Army would be given a minimum of support. At the same time, the Central Intelligence Agency was assigned responsibility to train, advise, and support Hmong forces in northern Laos, and to recruit, train, advise, and support volunteer Lao troops in the southern part of the country. The CIA presence in Laos was to remain small. Consequently, only a small portion of it was actually present in Laos, and all its supporting elements were housed in Thailand, under a secret agreement with the Thais.
Between 1964 and 1967, the CIA-supported Hmong army in northern Laos, the main area of conflict, fought a highly successful guerrilla war against a mixed force of Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese troops. The high point of this phase of the war came in the summer of 1967. Royal Lao Army and Hmong units had blunted the enemy's dry season offensive of winter-spring 1966-67, causing local CIA officials to issue an optimistic appraisal of the situation in Laos. Hmong forces, a CIA Intelligence Information Cable argued, had gained the upper hand in the war. Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese recognized the danger. Beginning in January 1968, Hanoi introduced major new forces into Laos and relegated the Pathet Lao to a support role for the remainder of the war. By March, the CIA estimated that there were 35,000 North Vietnamese regular troops in Laos - and the number would continue to grow. The fighting in Laos took on a more conventional character, characterized by engagements between large units. This type of warfare took a heavy toll on the Hmong. In the first five months of 1968, the Hmong lost over 1,000 men, including many top commanders. A recruiting drive turned up only 300 replacements, and most of these were under the age of 14 or over 35. The situation only grew worse. By April 1970, the CIA acknowledged that Hmong losses had crippled the effectiveness of the tribal forces. The Hmong had fought well, a CIA estimate observed, but "they are battle weary and their losses over the past year or so have exceeded their capability to replace them."
On the eve of the Battle for Skyline Ridge, 1971-72, the CIA's presence had grown far beyond Ambassador Unger's minimalist objectives due to the expanding nature of the war, but it still remained small, especially inside Laos. The United States in 1971 was in the process of withdrawing from Vietnam. President Richard M. Nixon had proclaimed in 1969 that Asia boys should fight Asian wars. By the end of 1970, U.S. troop strength was down to 280,000 and declining rapidly. With regard to Laos - where Asia boys were fighting Asian wars - the Nixon administration adopted a defensive posture. Like Kennedy before him, Nixon wanted a neutral Laos that would serve as a buffer between pro-Western Thailand and the aggressive intentions of North Vietnam and China. However, it was clear by 1971 that Laotian neutrality would have to be achieved without a major commitment of U.S. power.
Early in 1971, the Royal Lao government ordered General Vang Pao to seize as much territory as possible, before Congressional restraints reduced available U.S. air sorties to 32 per day after July first. Vang Pao launched a major offensive in June. Effectively using his air mobility and tactical air resources, the Hmong leader captured the Plaine des Jarres (PDJ), a strategic area that had changed hands several times in the past. In order to blunt the anticipated enemy dry season offensive, which usually began in December or January, it was decided to establish five major artillery strong points on the PDJ. Manned and defended by Thai troops, these mutually supporting bases were intended to attract the enemy's attention. The NVA would assault these fixed positions - and be destroyed by artillery fire and tactical air power.
As the time neared for the expected enemy offensive, intelligence reports coming into the CIA operations center at Udorn grew ominous. Hanoi, it had learned, had appointed one of their senior army commanders, General Le Truong Tan, to direct the year's dry season offensive. Overhead photography revealed a growing number of troops and supplies moving along Route 6 toward the PDJ, including large covered trailers. Although B-52s and ''fast movers" were targeted against the road, the traffic continued.
Nonetheless, there was a general feeling of confidence that the enemy offensive could be stopped. The firebases, with·their 105mm and 155mm guns, were placed so that each base could be protected by artillery fire from two or three adjacent positions. Tactical air support was on call. December 15 and 16 saw only light ground activity on the PDJ. On December 17, smoke enveloped the area during the daylight hours, cutting short resupply flights to the Thai strong points. At 1835 hours that evening, all hell broke loose. Using, for the first time in Laos, Soviet-made long-range 130mm guns that far outranged the Thai artillery (16 miles versus 9 miles}, the NVA hit all Thai positions simultaneously. Tank-supported infantry then broke through the defensive rings around the bases. By the next morning, the northern-most position had fallen, and the other bases were under heavy pressure.
As the enemy attack continued during December 18 and 19, tactical air support - upon which the entire defensive scheme had been premised - was noticeable by its absence. With Vang Pao and the Thais screaming for air support, the CIA urged 7/13 Air Force at Udorn to supply the desperately needed sorties - all to no avail. Finally, Ambassador Godley contacted 7th Air Force headquarters in Saigon. He was told that all available U.S. aircraft were involved in search-and-rescue operations. Time ran out for the Thai defenders. By the morning of December 20, all artillery strong points had fallen. The surviving Thai troops headed south in disarray, pursued by the NVA. Continental Air Services pilot Edward Dearborn, who had been airdropping supplies to the Thai positions, reported the scene: "By 1300 local, our efforts were confined to picking up the wounded and survivors of the fire bases, a pitiful sight from two weeks before. The majority were shell shocked and most were suffering from wounds, exposure, or shock in one form or another."
The North Vietnamese pushed into the mountainous terrain south of the PDJ and headed toward Long Tieng, the last bastion between the enemy and the Mekong River. While Hmong and Thai defenders strengthened their positions along Skyline Ridge, the key terrain feature that overlooked the Long Tieng valley, tactical airstrikes, once again available, slowed but could not stop the enemy advance. At 1530 hours on December 31, 1971, North Vietnamese gunners opened fire on Long Tieng. The shelling, which included rounds from the dreaded 130mm guns, continued intermittently throughout the night, causing heavy damage to installations in the valley. The ground assault against Skyline began a few days later. An estimated 19,000 North Vietnamese troops were thrown into the battle. They were opposed by a mixed force of some 10,000 Hmong, Thai, and Lao defenders.
The NVA offensive went well at first. In hard fighting, the enemy captured several key positions along Skyline Ridge and took control of Sam Thong, the former headquarters of the USAID mission in northern Laos, which was linked to Long Tieng by a mountainous road. The CIA brought in Thai reinforcements, together with several 1,200-man units of irregular troops from southern Laos, considered to be the government's elite force.
By late January, the CIA-led Lao troops, in bitter - often hand-to-hand - fighting, had retaken Skyline Ridge from the North Vietnamese, at a cost of one-third to one-half of their effective strength. Thanks to their efforts, Long Tiena was placed at least temporarily out of the danger – if not out of range of the 130mm guns. While the Air Force hunted the well camouflaged artillery pieces and found several, the defenders of Long Tieng dug in deeper and waited for the next assault. It took nearly two months for the North Vietnamese - their supply lines harassed by B-52e, tactical air strikes, and Hmong ambushes - to bring up sufficient material to stage the offensive. Heavy fighting along Skyline Ridge continued into the last days of April, with key positions changing hands several times. Unable to obtain their objective, the NVA finally removed a division from the area and sent it to support the Easter offensive against South Vietnam. The CIA-led forces had scored an impressive victory over a capable and determined enemy.
For a time, U.S. officials believed that this military success might contribute to the creation of a neutral Laos. Unfortunately, the coalition government proved only a brief interlude. The Communists soon took control of the country. The CIA, nonetheless, remained proud of its efforts in Laos. It took manpower, it took specially-qualified manpower, it was dangerous, it was difficult. The CIA did a superb job. The Hmong suffered most, both during and after the war. In any event, the anti-communist forces in Laos won the Battle for Skyline Ridge. However, as in Vietnam, victory on the battlefield did not mean much in the end. It merely delayed the final outcome of the war,
Two weeks ago we published the Memorial Day address given by Lawrence Namminga, Junior a number of years ago. This week, as we celebrate Veteran's Day, we are publishing Daryl Heusinkveld’s Memorial Day address of a few years ago. The messages in the two addresses never get old and are worth hearing again. Consequently, a couple of weeks ago, we republished Lawrence’s Memorial Day address and this week we are publishing Daryl’s Memorial Day address. Neither claim to be great speakers, but as you can see, they both deliver profound messages.
We would like to publish more Memorial Day addresses if anyone has access to any. They don’t have to be Memorial Day addresses. They can be your ideas or messages appropriate to Memorial Day.
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
It wasn't until I had a son in harm's way, that I realized what my family went through while I was in the military and in Southeast Asia. My Dad never wanted to be away from home. Yet, my parents (Garret and Edith) left town and traveled to places they had never been to before. I thought, at the time, "This is strange, but it is good that they are finally getting out a little." I now realize that they couldn't take it anymore and had to get away. The news was TOO much. I was 23 years old and "bullet proof." They worried way more than I did. (I am sure that Don Irish who happened to be in Southeast Asia with me had similar feelings.)
As parents and family of a military member, you hang on to every word in the news and in the papers. When you hear of some bad news, there is no doubt in your mind that it's your kid, until you are reassured otherwise. Communication has improved from WWI, WW II and Vietnam. In those days, parents would wait for weeks or months no knowing. Now, email and cell phones help us stay informed, but still we are often left wondering; as not all information can be shared as security could be compromised.
Sometimes, there are things that are just as well not known. Our son Mark, an F-16 pilot, was flying in Southwest Asia. He has never been and still isn't very forthcoming with what he is doing. I had a friend in the Air Force Reserves who I pressed for information. He investigated for me and found that Mark was flying from Kuwait to Afghanistan via the Persian Gulf and Pakistan. It was 11 hours of flying non-stop with in-air refueling every hour. All this in a single seat, single engine, F-16 fighter over very unfriendly territory. I didn't sleep well after hearing this information, and I didn't tell his mother any of this until he was home safe.
Often people, who don't have close friends or family in the military, don't realize the lifelong impact of the sacrifices made. I often think of my pilot training classmate Jim Herrick from Panora, IA. He was flying in bad weather and flew into the side of a mountain in Northern Laos. For political reasons, he was declared missing in action (MIA). I talked to his brother last August. Now, over forty years later, he still has hope that his brother is still alive. I bring up this story only to show how the lives of his whole family are still affected. Six of the guys from my pilot training class never came home from Southeast Asia. Their families still suffer.
I hope that we will remember how these people sacrificed and why their sacrifices are necessary. Unlike many people in this world, we have the right to vote and have many freedoms most of the world does not. These soldiers and their families sacrificed for ALL of us, even though many don't appreciate it. I think one of the proofs of this is that of all eligible voters, less than 20% take the time or effort to vote. I think this is sad. I would hope that we could show the people that have fought and died to keep these rights would be rightly appreciated. How many times have you heard, "I support our troops"? That is easy to say, but is it really heartfelt? The next time you see a soldier out with his or her family, tell them you appreciate them. Better yet, if you are at a restaurant, pick up their ticket. They and their families have given much more.
We often hear in the news of atrocities committed by our troops. A very small number are responsible for these. Our troops are the best in the world. One of the most rewarding things I was privileged to do in my 32 years as a Captain for Delta Air Lines was to fly military charters overseas. These guys and gals were the best. They were all very disciplined and polite. When you talked to any of them, they all said "yes, sir" and "no, sir" and were very neat and professional. I'm sure many of you have traveled on international flights. You probably noted that when you arrived at your destination, the inside of the airplane was trashed. There are blankets and pillows thrown everywhere. Trash all over the airplane. Not on the military charters. These guys and gals had been on the airplane close to 24 hours. When they finally got off the airplane, it was as clean as when they got on. The blankets were neatly folded with the pillows on top. No trash anywhere. Only thing left was the occasional MRE (Made Ready to Eat, I think they are called.) I guess they liked our airline food better. I still have some MREs as souvenirs. I looked all over the airplane for some of the automatic rifles they brought on, but never found any. They took all those with them. Darn it! They probably needed them more than I did.
We flew under different rules on those military charters. We never closed the cockpit door. I welcomed everyone up front. We set records for how many we could fit into the cockpit for take-off and landings. I told them that all I needed was room to pull this yoke back to here and move these power levers up to here. We had 22 stuffed in the cockpit of a Boeing 77. What a great bunch of people and what a privilege to meet them.
I have to tell you a couple of stories about how small a world we live in, especially in the military. One of those is about my son. As a fighter pilot, he has to get special training periodically. He was attending a recurrent training class at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs. The instructor mentioned that he was from South Dakota. During a break, Mark went up to him and asked where in SD he was from. He said, "You probably haven't heard of it, but it is Springfield." After a few minutes, they discovered that their grandparents were next door neighbors. The instructor was Neal and Doris' Grandson, Ray Thomas' son, Dana. My mother was still living at the time, and she, Neal and Doris enjoyed talking about it.
Back in May of 1969 on my way to Southeast Asia, we stopped at Clark AFB in the Philippines. I was standing at the bar in the officers' club (I'm sure I was just having a Diet Coke), when I noticed a Major walking up to me. At the time, I was still a butter bar second lieutenant and was a little intimidated by a Major walking up to me. That's when I saw that it was Major (now Colonel), Don Irish from Springfield, SD. What are the odds? Two people 8000 miles from home meeting like that.
In closing: Everyone talks about how they would like to win the lottery.....I always say that I have won several lotteries in my life. One, is marrying a girl from Stickney, South Dakota, my wife Karen. Two, having two great kids. My son Mark, the fighter pilot, and my daughter Kari who just started her practice as a medical doctor in San Marcos, TX. And of course, the one that made all this possible was being born in this great country, the United States of America and in the great State of South Dakota.
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
The following video is of A-1 Skyraider pilot Dieter Dengler’s capture, imprisonment, and escape from a POW camp in Vietnam. The viewer should be cautioned that the video is very emotional as Dieter relates his experiences as a POW. As a side, we would like to inform the viewer that Dieter flew in the same model of plane and in the part of Southeast Asia as Springfield native Daryl Heusinkveld. Dick Martin
Submitted by Daryl Heusinveld
You may have already seen this site. I had not.
*First click on a state.
*When it opens, scroll down to the city where you went to high school and look at the names.
*Click on the name and it will give details of the person's death, a picture or at least their bio and medals.
This really is an amazing web site. Someone spent a lot of time and effort to create it. I hope that everyone who receives this appreciates what those who served in Vietnam sacrificed. Pass the link on to others, as many knew wonderful people whose names are listed.
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
Academy Award-nominated documentary, which shows the 21st Bombing Command and its role in the B-29 bombing of Japan and the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Either click on the link below or copy and paste in your browser.
Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=17