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AIR TO GROUND SUPPORT

THIS PAGE IS TO RECORD THE STORIES OF THE PILOTS WHO PROVIDED OUR AIR SUPPORT.

A 'BIRD DOG' IS A MARINE'S BEST FRIEND

By Stephen Markley          

     In late November or early December of 1967 we were returning from a morning patrol, it was about 1:00 in the afternoon.  Just as we approached the main gate of Delta 4 we heard what sounded like .50 caliber fire about a click away from our position.  We looked off to the Southwest and saw tracers aimed at an F-4 Phantom that was banking toward the Northwest.  Suddenly the plane was in flames and trailing smoke.

     'Doc' John Newman had come out of the doorway of the Comm bunker to see what was happening.   We could see the pilot eject and his parachute open.  'Doc' John rushed back into the bunker and emerged with his medical bag.  As 'Doc' John ran across the compound he was joined by a few more Marines and two P. F.'s (Vietnamese Popular Forces Militiamen).  That increased the size of our Reactionary Force to eleven or twelve men, a large force for a Combined Action Platoon patrol.

     We headed West in the direction of the drifting parachute.  We saw the plane crash in a ball of flame and smoke as we started, at a dead run, down the road that led into our compound.  Highway 1 was about two miles West of us.   I was on point and trying to keep a site line on the parachute as it descended.  I was paying very little attention to the area surrounding the road.  Another P. F. who was in the local market joined us as we ran past.  We crossed Highway 1 and by then had lost site of the parachute, so we proceeded straight West down the road.  We were in the Western most area of our TAOR and an area we weren't all that familiar with. 

     All this time I had been on the radio with our Company Commander, Lt. Joe Sylvia, at our CAP Company Headquarters in Dien Ban, North of our position.  I was also carrying the radio, as I often did on our short handed daylight patrols.  Lt. Sylvia's transmissions were getting weak when he said to switch over to the air craft frequency.   By now I had come upon a large open clearing with sand dunes running all the way to a wide river.  The sky was filled with helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. 

    I could see the pilots chute hanging in a treeline West Southwest of me.  I stopped and kneeled down to take off my radio and switch frequencies and noticed I had been all alone.   It was one time being a fast runner had nearly been my undoing.  I changed the frequency and immediately heard Lt. Sylvia's voice.  "Mother 4 Bravo...Mother 4 Bravo this is Motherhood 6 Actual can you copy?"  I replied as I strapped my radio back on. 

    "Motherhood...this is Mother 4 Bravo, go." 

    Lt. Sylvia said, "Mother 4 Bravo you air contact is.."  Suddenly an older very calm voice said, "Bird Dog, Mother 4 Bravo... this is Bird Dog."

     "Bird Dog...this is Mother 4 Bravo, go!"  I was getting excited as we proceed out into the open sand dunes, in an area I really wasn't familiar with.  Then there was that calm voice again.

     "Mother 4 Bravo, what is you location?"  He must have seen me reaching for my map and checking for our coordinates.

     "Mother 4 Bravo, have you got something down there with you to mark your position?" 

     I fired back, "Bird Dog, I'll can pop a green smoke!"  The voice was back.

     "Pop it."  By now we were spread out and well out into the sand dunes.  I tossed the smoke grenade beside me and proceeded on.   I could now see a spotter plane flying slow and low just over head.  Before I could tell him the smoke was popped, his voice was back.

     "Mother 4 Bravo...got ya son."

     Suddenly from the treeline across the river we started drawing small arms fire and light mortars.  I immediately keyed my handset,  "Bird Dog, Bird Dog...be advised we are drawing small arms fire and 60 mike mikes... or maybe mike 79's!"  Everyone immediately took cover behind their individual sand dunes and the mortars were having little effect in the loose sand.  It was still disconcerting.  The voice was there again.

     "Mother 4 Bravo, have you got something with you to mark those critters position?" 

     I immediately replied, "Bird Dog...got a red pencil flare!"

     That older voice was back, "Well son, you just shoot that thing right at them critters."  I grabbed for the pencil flare hanging from my neck, screwed on a red flare, pulled the trigger mechanism back and fired it in the direction of the treeline across the river.  The spotter plane came around and flew right over the treetops across the river, he even tipped his wings for a better view.  "Mother 4 Bravo, I've got your critters spotted...gonna bring in a 'big boy' now."  His plane seem to go almost straight up and bank off to the North.  Suddenly he was back on the air, "Mother 4 Bravo, now you boys keep your heads down." 

      Seconds later and F-4 came streaking down on it's bomb run.   I had never seen a Phantom airstrike up close and personal.  So, I peeked over the sand dune just as the jet made it's bomb run, a napalm bomb run.  I saw the treeline go up in flames through me singed eye lashes.  It smelled like my Grandmother's when she dressed chicken's.  I should say I smelled like dressed chickens.  The treeline was smoldering as the spotter plane flew low and slow over it.  Then that ever calming voice said.

       "Mother 4 Bravo...Be informed your Critters...are Crispy Critters."  I had to chuckle as I responded, Crispy Critters sounded like a breakfast cereal.

     "Bird Dog...copy your last, will proceed toward the chute in the trees and try to find pilot!"

     "Mother 4 Bravo...no need, helicopters extracted pilot...he'll be fine.  You boys better get on home now.  Thanks for your help."  I thought, what help.  Unless, maybe we had drawn fire away from the pilot.  It seemed to take much longer getting back to the Delta 4 compound than it had taken us to get there.

     I thought about the cool, calm courage of that 'Bird Dog' pilot all the way back and many times since.

(First Draft - August 29, 2000.   Anyone with specific information; names, dates, etc. please e-mail me so I can revise and amend this story)

A 'Bird Dog' recently photographed at an Air Show.

STORY OF THE SPOTTER PLANE SANTA

By Stephen Markley

     In late November or early December of 1967 we were returning from a daylight patrol.  We were on the North side of our Delta 4 compound just outside the wire approaching our main gate on the perimeter's West side.  We heard the sound of an aircraft engine sputtering over head and looked up.  A Cessna 0-1 spotter plane was struggling to stay airborn as it flew over our compound.  We stopped dead in our tracks as we watched the plane cross the river and try to land in the flooded rice paddies.

     Within seconds the plane was over the river and it looked like the pilot was going to bring it down safely.  However, as soon as his plane's wheels touched the plane's nose slammed into the mud and it came to an abrupt stop.  We knew we had to get over to the plane before the enemy got to it.  'Doc' John Newman was with us on the patrol and we knew we might need him if the pilot was injured.

     A few more Marines and P. F.'s joined us as we ran past the gate of the compound.  The river was to high and the current to fast to wade across so we proceed to a boat landing a short distance from our compound.  There we found some Vietnamese fisherman who had also watch the plane go down.  In our broken Vietnamese and using sign language we commandeered a couple of fishing sanpans.  I crossed in the first sanpan and had the remaining men cover us as we crossed. 

     Once across the river we started wading through the flooded rice paddies toward the downed plane about a half a mile away.  It took some time to accomplish this in the knee deep water.  When we reached the plane its nose was deep in the mud and its tail section was sticking up at a 45 degree angle.  There was no sign of the pilot.  We proceed to a group of hooches in a treeline about 300 yards away.  We entered the ville and there in one of the first hooches was the pilot, a Captain, an old guy, probably 35 years old.  He was sitting there visiting with a Vietnamese family, completely unconcerned with the situation.

     I approached him and said, "Sir are you O.K.?"

     He looked up and calmly replied, "Oh yea, I'm O.K."

     I was amazed, he was just sitting there with only a .38 pistol in his shoulder holster.  We immediately set up a perimeter around the hooch and I said, "Sir you know...this is a kinda sh#tty neighborhood!"

     He smiled and said, "Oh, I saw you guys coming and more help is on the way."

We visited for a little while and more help did come.  Helicopters were all over the place.  His plane was lifted out by helicopter and he was flown out in a Huey.  We went back to our unit without further incident.

     After that a spotter plane would occasionally fly over Delta 4 and tip it's wings.  Then on Thanksgiving Day 1967 that spotter plane flew over and dropped green mess hall insulated canisters full of HOT STEAKS and WARM FRESHLY BAKED BREAD.  We were living on C-Ration, goodies from home and an occasional meal with the villagers.  You can imagine how good that food tasted to a bunch of kids a long way from home and hearth.

     Just before Christmas 1967 here came the spotter plane over our compound again.  That time he dropped cardboard cylinders.  One contained a small tensile Christmas Tree.  The other container held the latest issues of Playboy Magazine.

     There has never been a Christmas since 1967 that I haven't told that story to family and friends.  Every year I find myself saying I'd like to find that spotter plane pilot and send him something for Christmas, even if it was just a card.   I will never forget him and I remember his call sign was "Beechmark 4 or Benchmark 4."

(FIRST DRAFT AUGUST 29, 2000.  ANYONE WITH INFORMATION ON THIS INCIDENT AND MOST OF ALL THE PILOT'S NAME PLEASE E-MAIL ME.  I WANT TO ADD HIM TO MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING LIST.)

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