Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Gunfighter 08

By Doug Jenkins

On 17 January 1969, while stationed at Da Nang AB, Vietnam with the 480th TFS, my assigned backseater Vince Scott and I were pulling alert as Gunfighter 08. My flight Commander Major Creamer was Gunfighter 07. We were scrambled twice, first to a target just 10 nautical miles south of Da Nang supporting friendly troop in contact with VC. That mission ended successfully and we returned to base. Just as we were settling back into our easy chairs in the alert facility, we were scrambled again, this time to support a Search & Rescue (SAR) over Tchepone. Tchepone was nothing more than a confluence of trails comprising the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos just about due west of Da Nang. It was heavily defended with enemy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). The crew of Stormy 02, an F-4 fast FAC from the 390th TFS, had been shot down earlier that day.

Just a very small cog in a huge wheel of airplanes, our job was to suppress enemy AAA in the area so that the Jolly Green rescue helicopters could move in and pick up the downed aircrew members. We got there late in the day, in fact, just as night was falling. Gunfighter 07 & 08 set up weapons delivery passes designed to knock out a couple of known 37 mm positions and got hosed ourselves. On the roll-in for our first pass, the gunners started tracking us and really let the bullets fly. The tracers coming straight up at us would have been spectacular if they hadn’t been so frightening. They were literally zinging past us within inches of the cockpit as we dove toward the position, our own 20 mm Gatling gun blazing.

Despite a sky full of tracers, Vince stayed on task, keeping his cool, calling out the weapons delivery checklist items, maintaining situational awareness and generally doing his job in superb fashion. We silenced those guns that evening, but it was too late to get the downed aircrew members out. I still remember the SAR Commander informing the downed aircrew that they would have to spend the night in “downtown Tchepone,” and the crew pleading with the SAR Commander to make just one more attempt at extraction.

During the return to base, Vince and I talked about what it must have been like to left overnight in downtown Tchepone. “There, but for the grace of God go we,” he said. The return to base was a quiet one with each of us contemplating the unthinkable. After a long and scary night for all concerned, the aircrews were successfully recovered the next morning and returned to Da Nang for a joyous celebration.

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