VIETNAM CHRONICLES

CAPTAIN RICHARD L. KLOPPENBURG

SHORT STORIES FROM 1966-1967 IN VIETNAM

BELOW ARE SOME TRUE BUT UNTOLD STORIES
VIETNAM WAS THE GREAT ADVENTURE OF MY GENERATION

B-52 Airstrike


The year was 1967, in about January of that year. I was a U. S. Army Captain and a U.S. Army Aviator. I was flying my Cessna 0-1 in the vicinity of Phan Thiet, Vietnam. I was flying solo. The 0-1 Birddog was manufactured by Cessna, in 1951, for use by the U. S. Army and the U. S. Air Force for visual reconnaissance. Otherwise, know as a FAC or forward air controller missions. The airframe is like a Cessna 182, with the front and rear of the seat. It has a Continental O-470 engine. That engine is large for that airframe. The airplane had 4 2.75” rockets. Two smoke rockets for marking the target and two were 10 pound high explosive rockets.

North of Phan Thiet was a jungle that was extremely dense. It was called the Le Hong Fong forest. The French fought there, with mixed results. The Viet Minh was the enemy at the time. They were the predecessor of the Viet Cong. The Viet Minh was a formative foe. The Americans had mixed results in that area. It was considered a stronghold for the Viet Cong. The Americans designated the entire forest a “free fire” area. In other words, we could shoot anything without asking for permission. We were always taking small arms fire.

We were given coordinates for missions in the forest, but it seems that when we arrived, the Viet Cong had disappeared. We determined that the Phan Thiet Vietnamese Army passed the mission information to the Viet Cong. As a result missions were scheduled without telling anyone, including all of the Forward Air Controller (FAC) pilots.

On a day in January of 1967, a B-52 (ArcLight) strike was scheduled without telling anyone. On that day I was conducting visual reconnaissance in the area of the Le Hong Fong forest. Without any notice, 500-pound bombs began to explode directly next to my position. I was flying at 1500 feet over the jungle. The next thing I know fireballs and explosions appeared almost directly below me. The bombs were landing on the right side of the aircraft and continuing in the direction of my flight path. To be able to see the 1st bomb explosion, I had to lean to the right in the cockpit and look almost directly down. I could see fireballs and pieces of trees, and other jungle parts, flying upward toward my aircraft. I began to fly thru some of the dust from the explosions. The explosions were so intent, that they severely rocked the wings on my aircraft. Initially, I had no idea what was happening. More bombs continued to explode in a rectangular pattern in the direction of my flight.
IT WAS QUITE A SHOW, MAYBE NEVER TO BE REPEATED AND EXPERIENCED BY ANY VIETNAM PILOT.

This picture was obtained on the internet portraying a B-52 strike. I was so close that fireballs were evident almost directly below me. I was at the level of the smoke in the above picture.

I looked skyward to see if I could see NO aircraft. Not only could I see NO aircraft but I could see NO bombs dropping. All I could see was extreme fireballs with dust beginning to come up from the bomb blasts. I actually visually experienced a large amount of debris flying upward toward my aircraft. I do not remember flying away from the explosions, because I was stunned and it all happened so quickly. I assume that the speed of a B-52 to be at least 3 times the speed of my Cessna 0-1 Birddog.

When I looked skyward, I expected to see SOME aircraft at altitude. But nothing was visible. I expected to see some aircraft like the above B-52 dropping bombs. This picture was obtained from the internet.

This picture was the actual picture of the bomb craters. I took this picture the next day from my airplane.

This picture was the extent of the B-52 bombing mission. Notice the rectangular pattern of the bombs. I took this picture the next day from my airplane.

This picture is that of a U. S. Air Force, F4C airstrike. This picture was taken on another day in the Phan Thiet area. Picture for comparison to the B-52 bomb craters. Notice the small number of bomb craters. The black areas were caused by napalm. In some cases, the napalm did not burn all the way to the ground because of the jungle canopy. Sometimes the jungle had a triple canopy. If you are interested in viewing airstrikes from Vietnam copy this address to your computer address bar: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBFBZb-B3Vo

This was another day to count my lucky stars to be alive.

Stay tuned for the next segment of the Vietnam chronicles.