The night before I left Viet Nam, I was in the bar at the officer's club drinking with a FAC. I told him that I would love to go on a bombing run just once before I went home. He told me that he couldn't take passengers on a scheduled strike but if he got an on call mission, he couldn't very well take a passenger home first. He told me to meet him the next morning at the airfield. The plane was an OV 2, a twin tailed craft with a pusher and a puller prop. Just before we taxied to the runway the pilot told me to hold my hands in the air. When we did the ground crew armed the planes target marking rockets. After that the crew saluted and we took off.
We went to Vung Tau on the South China Sea Coast. I remem bered my in-country R&R there a few months or was it years ago. Our job was to fly high cover over hunter killer teams that were operating in the mountains above Vung Tau. If they drew fire our job was to call in the big boys. It was really beautiful. The sky and sea were gorgeous shades of blue. I could see the ship that had run aground some years ago. It was an ugly shade of rust and marred the otherwise beeutiful tableau. The beaches were brilliant white and, of course, the jungle was green.
The pilot said that he had run out of map and told me to fly the plane while he rummaged through his maps. I'm sure it was a set up but I could hardly complain. It would have been easy if we were flying in a straight line but we were flying in a circle abovethe mountains. I couldn't believe how hard the damn thing was to steer. The pilot was turned around in his seat and seemed to be oblivious to my plight. I got the nose too high to see over and I kept over compensating on the altitude. I'm sure that I left my finger prints on the wheel. After what seemed like a few hours the pilot faced forward and asked me if I would like to continue flying the plane. I thanked him but said that I was happy to be a passenger. We never did have any action but I felt good because I had tempted fate just one more time.
The next day I went to 90th Replacement. I was to catch a "freedom Bird" at Bien Hoa AFB the following day. That night I got drunk at the club and listened to a Filipino group butcher the Beatles. One of my strongest images of the war happened there. The band ended the evening with their version of God Bless America. Everybody got up and joined in. Everybody except one guy who had passed out at his table. His buddies grabbed him on each side and jerked him to his feet. The held him up for the entire song. When it was over they dropped him back onto his chair. I could really feel the love of country that came through even through the drunken haze.
I staggered to bed and immediately fell asleep. The next day I got up and showered. While I was putting my boots on I heard the sound of distant explosions. I figured that they were aiming at the USARV headquarters complex, several miles away. For us to be hit so close to the perimeter would be incredibly bad shooting on the part of the communists, incredibly bad luck for us and extremely unlikely. A combat soldier only gets excited when they are in or close to the impact area.
The next thing I knew people were hollering "Rocket Attack!!! Get into the bunkers!!! Pull matteresses over you!!!" There seemed to be a touch of hysteria in the air. Another combat type was getting dressed and he seemed to react like me. We decided to ignore the fools. We finished dressing and headed to breakfast. The mess hall was empty and the cash collection sheet just lay there unsecured. It was great. All the bacon I could eat.
Later that day we got on a plane at Binh Hoa and began the long flight home. We were a fairly subdued lot but when the pilot announced that we were leaving Vietnamese airspace, we started cheering. The next thing I knew I was in San Francisco Airport. I went right to San Francisco from Travis and didn't have to go through the zoo at the Okland Army Depot. My mother had sent a green uniform to the airport Holiday Inn so I wouldn't freeze in my khakis. I changed and went to the restaurant to eat a good steak. I automatically reached into my back pocket and snapped open my Buck knife with one hand to cut my steak. The sound of the knife opening echoed through the room and everone looked at me with my knife in the air. I really felt like a fool.