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

Shooting Sharks

All of the 183rd pilots thought we were fighter pilots. Especially when we were flying an airplane with rockets and M-60 machine guns attached to the bomb pylon. The definition of flying an 0-1 Birddog in Vietnam was flying many many hours. It was dull monotony sprinkled with a few minutes of stark terror! So, one thing you could do was to shoot sharks. Cam Ramh Bay, Tuy Wa bay, as well as the shallow coastline of Vietnam, was fertile shark country. You could fly over the water and see the black image of sharks in the water. These were really BIG sharks. I can close my eyes and even today see the image of a shark in the saltwater. It was always nice to have something to shoot at with 2.75 inch, 10 pound, high explosive rockets. We would shoot at the sharks in the water the same way that a pilot would shoot at the Viet Cong. It was great to shoot at something that was not firing back. Such as Viet Cong muzzle flashes. You could see the impact on the water, both not much beyond that. It was never known if a shark was ever killed or even impacted.

We did have one story about shooting sharks? The following story is true. One day a Birddog pilot was flying over one of the inland bays and decided to fire his rockets at the sharks that he could see in the saltwater. It was never good to return to the base with any rockets. See the prior story of firing a rocket upon landing. The pilot was flying with a Vietnamese observer in the back seat. The procedure was to dive the airplane and center the bomb site on the target. In this case, the shark. After firing the rocket the pilot began pulling the stick back so as to level the altitude. Somewhere in this process the engine on the airplane ceased to operate. In other words, the engine quit! The airplane was too far to glide to the land, so the pilot had to ditch to the water. The problem was that the landing gear was NOT retractable. We used to say that the landing gear was “down and welded.”

There was never any briefing or much thought given to a forced landing in the water. I’m sure this is what happened? The pilot would treat the landing in the water, the same as landing on a runway. You would round out and bleed down the airspeed to as slow as possible. The problem was that when the wheels hit the water, the airplane would flip over on its top in the water. In the process, the wings would be torn off and the airplane would sink. That is exactly what happened. The pilot related he “bobbed to the surface. He had no floating device, but the flack vest was buoyant. We never dreamed that a flack vest would float. The pilot related to me that the first thing to do, was to dive down and try to see the airplane? It was in vain. He never did see the airplane. He then realized that his Vietnamese observer was still strapped in the airplane, and was at the bottom of the bay. I saw him at the headquarters a couple of days after the accident. He pulled out his shirt and pulled up his pant legs to show me the scars with stitches all over his body. How does anyone get thrown out of a crashing airplane and live, especially over the water? He was picked up by a Vietnamese fishing boat and taken to shore. The pilot, on that day”, had to be the ”luckiest” person on this earth?