Tall Tales From Vietnam - 1968


Contributed by Michael Crow

“And there I was…”  Tall Tales From Vietnam 1968

I was the senior medical corpsman attached to VP-45 when we deployed to Southeast Asia in December 1968; I worked under the squadron Flight Surgeon, Lt. Cox. 

When we arrived at Sangley Point, Philippine Islands, half of the squadron (and I) went on to Utapo, Thailand.  Thailand was a beautiful country but there was not much to do after work. There was an outdoor theater at the beach at the end of the airstrip but with the B-52 taking off you kind of lost the sound every thirty minutes are so.  Another choice was the EM club where the beer was ten cents a can and mixed drinks were twenty five cents; Happy Hour was 2-for-1 so the mixed drinks became 12.5 cents and a beer was a nickel.  Several good shows and performances were put on each month. Bob Hope was there with the “Gold Diggers” for a Christmas show and the “Red Dart” VP-45 Banner was hanging on the stage for all to see.

As the squadron Corpsman, I was not required to fly; but the CO allowed anyone that wanted to make a flight as an observer, to catch a hop. This entitled us to combat pay for the month since we were flying recon off the coast of Vietnam. It also allowed us tax free pay for that month, so I tried to make a flight each month.  In fact, I had 18 flights while there for my four month tour.

I worked my sick call and aid station on day shift and would fly the night missions whenever I could. Three short stories come to mind and stand out in my memory:

 1.) We would fly darken ship when flying over Vietnam, going from Thailand to the coast of Vietnam and back.  Of course, that means that there were no lights on the outside of the aircraft and all curtains pulled tight over the windows. I was sitting in the flight engineers seat behind the pilot/copilot while the engineer was in the head. We were half way across the Thailand when the pilot said, “What is that ahead of us in the distance?” By the time he finished saying that, a jet aircraft roared past our left wing tip at full throttle, almost taking us out of the sky, it seemed. We watched as he circled and came right for us again. The conversation in the cockpit went wild and the consensus was that he had his radar on gun control looking for a target and that he had not even been aware that we were around. Our pilot immediately ordered that all curtains be pulled back and he lit every light on the P-3 that we had. This included the search light under the right wing (that lit up the world). There was no way that fighter (turned out to be a US F-14) was not going to see us from that moment on. We proceeded to our station without incident and remained fully lit until we got to the coast. That Tomcat was really moving!   How lucky we were that night.

2.) As I said earlier, I would fly as an observer so I really had no assigned duties on the flights. I would sleep a lot since I had to work sick call the next day. One night, I was in a sound sleep by the emergencyexit door over the left wing when I was nudged but the flight engineer to wake up. Seems the HF radio antenna wire that ran from the cockpit to the tail had broken off or come loose from the tail. It was banging against the side of the fuselage and there was a fear that the wind would whip it out into one of the propellers and do real damage. The solution? We slowed to 120/140 mph and dropped to 50 feet above the ocean. The flight engineer put on a May West jacket, tied a rope around his waist and grabbed a blanket to protect his arms and hands from the wire. We opened the over-wing hatch and he took a blanket with him as he got out on the wing. Leaning against the side of the fuselage, he raised his arms as high as he could (with the blanket) and caught the antenna. Coming back inside, he pulled the wire in behind him and shut the door on it. What we do as young men and women in the service and never think about it !  (Note from WebMaster: Confirmation from another source is required for this sea story to be deemed “true.”)

3.) Finally, and I mean finally, because this was my last flight; we were flying over country one night when the fire control lock-on alarm sounded. A SAM had locked on to our fuselage and the alarm is one that I will never forget.  Of course panic shot though the ship and the pilot squawked over the headset, “Somebody find it and tell me where it is.”  I was sitting by the starboard aft window and like everyone else I searched the sky and ground. I saw it! It was a faint orange glow leaving the ground. The light was so faint but without question it was a fire from the tail of a missile. We had already started evasive action by full throttle at what seemed to me as a 75 or 80 degree pitch straight up. As a ‘ground pounder’ I don’t know the angle but it was steep. The ceiling for the SAM was 10,000 feet and we just had to out run it to that ceiling. I yelled out that it was off starboard and behind us. Of course, I was able to watch it make it’s maximum arch and fall back to the earth. That was the last flight I made as a volunteer observer. I have several other war stories about that short four months but since space is limited I’ll stop at three. It was an exciting part of my life but one that I don’t want to do again.

HMC Michael Crow, USN (ret) served with VP45 from July 1968 until April 1969

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