A-37 in Vietnam

by Captain Richard Fulton


I was doing some looking around the site, which will continue, but the very first article that caught my eye was the A-37. I had a flight on one of them, hitting bunkers in III Corps, aboard an aircraft based at Bien Hoa. It was a two ship sortie and I remember it well because it was the only jet ride I ever had. Better do some explaining.

I went to Vietnam from Korea in 1967 and was assigned to 7th Air Force Directorate of Information, first to the internal information branch and then after Tet to the Combat News Branch. Combat News was headed by Lt Col Billy Vaughn. MSgt (Master Sergeant) Bob Need had been the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) but was wounded by rocket fire in February 1968 and sent home. He was replaced by another great NCO, MSgt Harvey Inouye, who was a cousin of the US Senator (Hawaii). We had a couple photographers on loan from 600 Photo Squadron and there were five or six gents like me, meaning information specialists in the E-4 and E-5 range. Most of what we did was write feature stories about the air war, all of which had to be cleared by MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) and most of which went downtown to JUSPAO (Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office). We also did some work supporting Tan Son Nhut at large because there was not a base IO shop there, though all the other air bases had one and usually had an OIC (Officer In Charge), NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge), photographer and couple of writers, with their work being sent south to the DXI for edit, clearance and distribution. In fact, how I got into Combat News was that the 366th TFW at DaNang IO shop had lost all its people except the lieutenant colonel. Our colonel, 7AF Director of Information Al Lynn, sent me up TDY (Temporary Duty) to lend a hand because of all that was going on in I Corps (Hue, Khe Sanh, Leatherneck Square, Dong Ha) and of course the Ashau Valley. So I had an exciting couple of months, and got in the habit of photographing as much as writing.

I should tell you about Colonel Lynn. He was on his third tour. Previous jobs had included pilot/AC of a Canberra bomber. The colonel had been around and did not like a staff job with weenies flying desks. He knew the gents in combat news were scrounging rides after normal duty so he got all of us on non crew member flight pay, had us issued flight suits and vests with all the goodies, and told us not to get killed, then grinned the famous “Black Cat” call sign and sent us forth to conquer. Getting rides was always easy. During my TDY (temporary duty) to I Corps, I got my Yankee Air Pirate patch for a run in an O-2 PSYOP north of the DMZ. I did six or seven flights on AC-47s based at DaNang, did C-123 and C-130 runs, and rides aboard US Army, Marine, and 41st VNAF Wing helicopters, UH-1s, H-19s, and a C-7A flight hauling VNAF (South Vietnam Air Force?) gathered refugee camp supplies into Hue city strip, the first fixed wing to land after the Tet attack. In fact some folks were still shooting that day. We took a couple rounds from somewhere but just into the PSP (Personal support program) and not into people. Later I got sent to Pleiku for a similar TDY and did another handful of Spooky flights in II Corps. Back at Tan Son Nhut we all had the opportunity to fly more gunships, but out of Bien Hoa. Later on there was a flight of AC-119 Shadows based at TSN (Tan Son Nhut?) and flown by Indiana Air National Guardsmen who were always happy for strap hangers to help hump ammo cans and pass flares. We had to turn our quarterly hours in, to get the flight pay, but this was never a big deal. All the gunship stuff was at night, usually the early birds before midnight. Once I was flying with an AC-47 crew out of Bien Hoa and it was unusual because we were fragged out on the late bird after midnight. Spookies (propeller driven aircraft) had to be ground or FAC (forward air control) controlled. Shadows were given box grids to work. Usually it was a lot of firing with little feedback, though once in I Corps we had been ground controlled by some SEALs on a river bank and hit a sampan barge sort of thing and got some good secondaries. That was very visual and of course all things being even I did not get a picture because of humping ammo cans Pilot ACs did the actual button pushing from the cockpit, gunners just kept the mini guns loaded in the back or worked getting flares out on command.

Anyway this sortie was after midnight, flown from Bien Hoa and had a hot target to work. We came back empty on ammo. It had been a busy night. On these gunship runs folks wore parachute harnesses for front packs that were kept in a bin by the door. It was very hot back there and you walked around more like a Gorilla and not normal because of the harness. Anyway, landing at Bien Hoa as the sun came up, the Bien Hoa IO shop had found an open seat on an A-37 that was going back to hit the area we had been working. I took with me a twin lens deuce and a quarter with all of 12 shots per roll and I had one reload. They got me all strapped in the right hand seat as I recall. We taxied to the arming area, the ejection seat pin got pulled, and off we went, a pair of A-37s, one very excited USAF SSgt journalist, two very laid back pilots and then we joined up with an O-1 FAC (forward air controller). He said he had some bunkers spotted for us to hit and we were to fly the X on what he marked, one aircraft to drop napalm and the other to come in and hit who ever might be running with cluster bombs which were in tubes operated by a kind of ram air pushing them out once the caps were fired off (it sounded like automatic shotgun blasts).

I did okay the first run. We dropped napalm, too excited to worry about the air sickness bag that had somehow gotten lost. Then it was our turn to fly the X with the CBUs (Cluster Bomb Units). I was to try and help spot for any tracer or any movements. We went in, the caps went off, the CBUs came out because the pilot rapidly put us in a climb. My stomach was left at the bottom of the X. I knew what was going to happen but I couldn’t get the mask off in time. Air sickness bag? Forget it! I did continue trying to work the camera and, eventually did get some decent shots as we flew back to Bien Hoa, but on landing I had to put my own ejection seat pin in to save it, and that seemed to take hours, plus I was of course majorly embarrassed for having upchucked. That was a fairly normal kind of A-37 mission for the pilots but I will never forget it. Most of our flights were on planes with props. I always wanted to get an F-100F counter but it never happened. We flew a lot in those days, our little group, and we all cranked a lot of stories out as was our task to do, but being in the Air Force and then being able to fly on combat runs was a special experience.

Just remembering.

Rick


What did America learn from the Vietnam War? By Captain Richard Fulton

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Awards earned by Captain Richard Fulton

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Decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service

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