Two Cherry Boys over Dong Hoi
John A. (Amos the Famous) Parker, LtCol, USAF, ret
First Fire: It was early October 1968, Jim and I had been flying combat for about 60 days. Most of the missions were in Steel Tiger (Laotian Panhandle) and Route Pack One (Southern extreme of NVN) and we weren't sure if we were being shot at. There were no SAMs this far south of Hanoi or in Laos (at this time) and small arms fire is not particularly easy to see on a clear day, particularly if there are no tracers. A couple of times we thought the gomers were using 37mm on us but the white puffs looked a lot like small white clouds and were at least a thousand feet below us. We felt like we were being shot at, but couldn't see it.
Then we started flying nights. I'm here to tell you that flying combat at night, whether or not your being shot at, is not only scary as hell, but is down right unnatural. As a result the night time FNGs were treated to lots of suggestions and help by the old timers (The guys that had ten or twenty night missions logged). In fact the old guys took on the appearance of mother hens, with the FNGs as the chicks. Our first night target was a strip about 3 miles long and about 20 miles west north west of Dong Hoi. It was a ferry route (Ron ferry?) and would require at least 5 photo flash carts to get the strip. It was an easy target to find because of the land water contrast that would show on the radar, but it was a target that would present lots of opposition because of its length and the AAA in the immediate area. The mother hens gathered around and the general opinion was "Everyone takes this target going east to west. From feet wet towards Laos." Being the rebel I was, and because repetition could get you killed, I said "Jim, lets take it from west to east, headed from Laos towards feet wet. If we get hit, I'd rather go into the gulf than the mountains." Jim agreed and that's the way we did it. I think we used seven carts, we got the target and did not have a single round fired at us, that we could see.To say the least we were both feeling a bit cocky, and the second night our target was a point target of a ferry crossing about 30 miles west south west of Dong Hoi. Again the mother hens gathered and again the advice was "Every one takes this target using the Co Ta Roun as an IP (Initial Point) gong south to north." Unfortunately there was no other good way to take the target because there seemed to be no other adequate radar returns to use as an IP. Well, at least we would only have to use three photo flash carts. That night was a real revelation. When the first cart went off the whole world lit up with ZPU, 37mm and 57mm and at least a dozen BB guns shooting tracers. It was if the whole world had exploded. Jim immediately said "Their shooting at us!". I was so damned scared all I could do was answer him "Press on" and stick my head back in the radar scope (under the theory that what you can't see, can't hurt you). As soon as the third cart went off (about three hours later), Jim went full AB and started a climbing turn towards home. About five minutes later we were level at 25,000 over Magia Pass and headed home. Neither Jim nor I had said anything since the target run and I finally got my breath back and said "Jim, those S.O.B.s were really shooting at us!" Jim said "SHOOTING AT US !!!!" and threw the aircraft into a right slice. As soon as I caught my breath I told him "I meant back at the target." and we leveled off and came home. On every single mission after that, we saw ground fire, even during clear days over Laos, and never again doubted that we were being shot at.