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The Battle at Hua Cu
11 October 1967, II Corps
This page is dedicated to the memory of
Dick "Dusty" Coyner, Herb 13,
who died on November 14, 2003
Farewell, brother, and thank you for a job well done.
The following narrative by FAC Dick "Dusty" Coyner describes a close air support mission he flew in II Corps (central South Vietnam) in 1967.
Captain Coyner was based at Qui Nhon in support of the 3rd Battalion, 22th Infantry Brigade, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN 3/22th) in Binh Dinh Province.
Definitions of some terms and abbreviations have been added in brackets "[ ]." Otherwise, the words are his.
The bold areas of the text introduce actual radio transmissions recorded by Coyner during this mission.
October of 1967 found things back to normal, but all of us were flying too many missions. There were a lot of the bad guys out in the boonies, and between visual recon, scheduled air strikes, and being in the field with and flying support for the ARVN Infantry, the Ruff Puffs [Regional Forces and Popular Forces: local militia units], and the Special Ops folks, the frag order was very long and very dirty. We had rumors and unconfirmed intel reports that a NVA battalion (the 3/242th), complete with 14.5 mm anti-aircraft weapons, had come across the fence and was now working in and around the province. Nightly rocket attacks were occurring at many of our firebases, and the Special Forces base camps were literally under siege.
On the 11th of the month, I was scheduled to fly a late afternoon sortie, the one hundred and sixty-first combat mission of my tour. The area was about twenty klicks north of Qui Nhon, where a force of three RPF companies were involved in an armed reconnaissance sweep. As this was my second mission of the day, I was not overly thrilled, but somebody had to do it, and it was my turn in the barrel.
My earlier mission had been a four and a half hour morning ass buster, flying cover for a very slow truck convoy, Qui Nhon to An Khe. I had only been scheduled to be overhead for a couple of hours, but Herb 22, out of Cheo Reo, had airplane problems, so I had to cover the vehicles all the way up Route 19, through the An Khe pass to the high plateau where I handed over the task to a Rash FAC.
Takeoff was set for 1745 hours local with sunset about 1830. The mission was scheduled for one hour, to furnish cover for the force as they withdrew from their area of operations. The Ruff Puffs fought a commuter style of war, not staying in the field overnight and insisting on having air cover as they marched back to the waiting trucks to return to their barracks. They were accompanied by five US Army troops: a captain, a lieutenant and three sergeants, all assigned to Advisory Team 22.
After takeoff, I climbed out to 800 feet and ran through the usual checks. My Bird Dog, Snoopy II, was purring like a kitten. Old #917 was my favorite of the three planes in the detachment. She was always comfortable and solid, like an old shoe. My call sign this mission was Herb Thirteen, and the ranking American advisor on the ground was Rosebud Six Actual, a young Captain whom I had played poker with a couple of nights before. Like all missions, this one started with a call to my control. The radio transcriptions are from a cockpit tape recorder.
H13 [Herb 13]: "Carbon Outlaw One Four, Herbie Thirteen airborne at four four."
CO14 [Carbon Outlaw One Four,
tactical air control party radio operator]:
"Roger, Thirteen. Just got a call from Rosebud. Their operation is in heavy contact at Bravo Romeo 945374 [near the abandoned village of Hua Cu], and they need a FAC ASAP. Contact Rosebud Six on Fox Mike 45.8."
Mission area in central II Corps
(Map image courtesy of Jim Henthorn)
H13: "Roger. I'm about fifteen klicks [kilometers] South. Call DASC [Direct Air Support Center] and see if they have any fighters, and then check on the availability of arty [artillery]. Better get another FAC airborne. That is one bad area, and I got a feeling we'll need him."
CO14: "Wilco. Outlaw One Four clear".
I pulled my beat up 1-to-50 [map] out of the map case, glanced at the coordinates and pointed Snoopy II in the general direction of the action, pushing her up to 90 knots, just about the Bird Dog's maximum air speed.
When I was close, I called:
H13: "Rosebud Six, Rosebud Six, Herbie Thirteen."
After a ten second pause, I repeated the call.
H13: "Rosebud Six, Rosebud Six, Herbie Thirteen on Fox Mike. Do you read?"
RB5 [Rosebud Five, US advisor to Vietnamese forces]: "Herb Thirteen, this is Rosebud Five Actual. Got bad guys on three sides, my damn Ruff Puffs [RF/PF, Regional & Popular Forces = Sounth Vietnamese home guard] are thinking about running, my counterpart [Vietnamese commander] is missing, and we have 4 KIA [killed in action] and 8 WIA [wounded in action]. Rosebud Six Actual has been hit. I need Dust Off [medical evacuation helicopter], but I don't have a secure LZ [landing zone]. We can hold, but it's going to be close."
H13: "Be at your coordinates in about two minutes. You got panels [orange fluorescent cloth panels used to mark locations] out?"
RB5: "Negative, no panels available. Popping smoke now."
In the fading light of the late afternoon sun, I made out a plume of yellow smoke as it rose into the air.
H13: "I have yellow."
RB5: "Roger, yellow."
H13: "Got you in sight...Ah.. where's your incoming fire coming from?"
RB5: "We're taking small arms and mortar fire from the line of trees to our north and east, and machine gun, automatic weapon and mortar fire from the abandoned village west of the tree line. We're dug in on the back side of the dike and in the brush just to the north of our smoke.
I flew out to the west and then made a flyby on what I hoped was a parallel track to the line of battle.
An automatic weapon has a tendency to ruin any FAC's day, so I really jinked hard passing next to the vil.
The damn VC gunner still gave me a burst. It was getting darker, and I could see the rising tracers clearly.
I spotted the friendlies hugging the ground behind a paddy dike, but I couldn't see the bad guys in the tree line,
so I continued out to the east, then made a big loop around to the north and made a second run from behind them heading due south.
This time I found them.
H13: "Rosebud Five, I have the bad guys in sight. Hate to tell you this, old buddy, but they're wearing uniforms, and those tracers are coming from a fourteen five [14.5 mm heavy machine gun], so they are regular NVA, not Charlie."
RB5: "Shit, if the Ruff Puffs hear that, they'll bug out sure as hell."
H13: "Ah ... OK, I'm switching channels ....... be back soon. (switched channels)
"Carbon Outlaw, Carbon Outlaw, Herb Thirteen."
CO14: "Go ahead Thirteen".
H13: "I need a Dust Off. I have American wounded, I say again, American wounded, total of eight WIA. The friendlies are taking heavy small arms and mortar fire, and I got a damn fourteen five shooting at me. How you coming on fighters?
CO14: "Nothing yet, boss. I'll up channel the American wounded med evac info and see if that helps.
Be advised that Herb Twelve and Eleven are en route to the field and will be airborne in about ten.
Where do you want him?"
H13: "Ah.... have him orbit at base plus two, ten klicks south and call me when he's in position. Contact me on FAC common.... Ah... It's going to be about sunset when they get here.
Can you get me a Spook [AC-47 gunship] or Moonbeam [search light aircraft]?
We're going to have to illuminate this son of a bitch."
CO14: "Already checked. DASC said as of now all Spooks and Moonbeams are committed.
There will be a scheduled Moonbeam in the area at 1915 for an illumination mission near Phu Cat village and they will divert him to us at that time.
They have stuff breaking out all over the map."
H13: "Ah ... OK. Oh, yeah... tell Intel I know where that missing battalion of the 242nd NVA is located.... They're shooting at me!"
This was rapidly becoming a Delta Sierra situation. Outgunned militia forces on the ground were facing a regular NVA battalion. A 14.5 mm gun was effectively covering the area behind the good guys, creating a hot LZ, and it was getting dark with no flare ship available for an hour. Definitely, we were in the middle of one high pucker factor mission. Carbon Outlaw called:
CO14: "Herb Thirteen, Outlaw One Four. Got fighters for you. They're scrambling the strip alert from Phu Cat. Call sign is Blade, and they'll contact you on Uniform, button eight. DASC won't commit a Dust Off until you get a secure LZ."
H13: "Roger that. I see fighters breaking ground at the Cat now. See if you can get me some more, maybe Phantoms [F-4s] or Hobos [A-1s] for night work, and I'll be back in five."
Phu Cat Air Base was only about ten klicks to the northwest, and I could easily see the F-100 [Super Sabre fighter] afterburners in the dusk. Changed to FM frequency, and went back to Rosebud.
H13: "Rosebud, still there?"
RB5: "Still here."
H13: "Hang in there, Babe... Have fighters en route. Working on the Dust Off."
RB5: "Roger. Now have 12 WIA. Probably have a couple more KIA that I don't know about. Be advised, I don't think Six Actual's going to make it."
A few minutes later, in my headset on UHF: "Blade Zero One, Blade flight, check in," followed in rapid succession with , "Two, Three, Four."
B01 [Blade 01, F-100 flight leader]: "Herb Thirteen, Blade Zero One on Uniform".
H13: "Hello, Blade Zero One. Herbie Thirteen here..... Glad to have your help tonight. I have troops in contact, American wounded, and the bad guys are suspected regular NVA. ....... I am on the 336 at 22 from channel 81 [Qui Nhon TACAN] at angels one point two. I am orbiting over a horseshoe bend in the river. Lineup please"
B01: "Rog... Ah.. flight of four Huns [F-100 Super Sabre fighters]. Mission number Sierra dash three eight four four. Each has two
Mark 82 slicks [500-lb bombs],
and two nape [napalm tanks].
We all have three hundred rounds of twenty mike mike [20 mm cannon]. Be advised we're heavy and will have to dump fuel, so won't be ready to roll in for about five".
H13: "Copied all. Your targets are dug in troops, I say again, dug in troops, with automatic weapon emplacements in and around an abandoned village and along a tree line running to the east. Target elevation is twenty-three feet, altimeter is three zero zero two, wind is zero niner zero at six knots. Initial attack headings will be west to east. Friendly forces will be at your three o'clock one hundred and fifty meters south of target. Your emergency bailout heading is one eight zero degrees. Closest emergency field is the Cat. I want nape on the village on the first pass. We have at least one fourteen five, a mortar, and probably one company of troops dug in there. Anticipate heavy enemy fire. I will be orbiting south of target at angels one point five. Do you have me in sight?? How copied?"
B01: "Copied all. Altimeter thirty oh two. Don't have you in sight yet. Give me your beacon ..... Ah ..... Tally. There it is.... Blade flight, turn em on, set em up, get em hot ..... Wagon wheel left ...... Blade's ready when you are, Herb."
H12: (FM) "Herbie Thirteen, Herb Twelve in position with Eleven as the GIB [Guy In Backseat]. A Dust Off is en route, and I'll have a flight of Hobos in about 20."
H13: (FM) "Welcome to the party, Jim. ....Ah... You handle the inbounds... Stack them South and hang loose... This one is a real bastard. We've got at least three companies of regulars with heavy automatic weapons and at least two mortars. Keep bugging the DASC about additional fighters. I don't think Blade and Hobo flights are going to be enough. And you're sure as hell going to need illumination. I'm rolling in to mark now."
H13: "Rosebud, keep your head down, incoming," (UHF) "Blade flight, Herb Thirteen in with smoke now."
I put the target area off my left wing, pulled the power back and the nose up to kill my speed to fifty knots. I pushed the carb heat on full. I didn't want carburetor icing costing me power when I hit the throttle coming off my firing run. I then reached up and turn master arm switch on, station one selector switch on, and rolled into a 60 degree left bank. I let the nose swing down until it covered the target, rolled the wings level, and when the center of the village came into the grease pencil circle on the windscreen, stabilized, pulled the trigger, and number one rocket ignited and heads toward target.
Damn!!!! Now there are two guns firing at me!! The red balls float toward me from both sides as I slam the power forward, take the bird down fast.... jink left, then right... tracers still reaching out for me. I feel the tail slue violently back and forth as I make a series of hard rudder skids, then a three G pull to the left, level off just off the deck and immediately use the excess airspeed for a zoom climb. The rocket impacts and a white plume of Willie Pete [WP: white phosphorous] blossoms from the west side of the village. Sierra Hotel!! On target!!!
H13: "Blade, watch it, I just found out the hard way there are two guns down there. Hit my smoke!"
B01: "Roger, have the smoke. One's in hot from the west. FAC in sight."
I watch the F-100 as it goes into a 30 degree dive. At an altitude of 750 feet two canisters, one off each wing, drop and tumble into the cluster of buildings. With a roar, the jellied gasoline explodes and the ball of fire slides and spreads along the ground igniting everything in it's path. I watch a string of tracers reach for the F-100 as Blade 01 jinked hard off target.
B01: "Lead's off left."
H13: "Roger Lead, you were taking fire from your nine. Two, you have a hot target. Drop 50 [meters] left of Lead's impact".
B02: "Roger, FAC in sight. Two's in hot from the west".
Again, two deadly cylinders break loose from a plane and impact the ground in the area where the tracers had originated. The majority of the village is now ablaze.
H13: "Blade flight, hold dry. I'm going to mark guys in the tree line. I think you wasted the guns."
B01: "Roger, Blade flight, holding dry."
Blade flight acknowledges: "Two", "Three", "Four"
I once again go through the marking procedure, this time firing the right outboard rocket through the gathering darkness into the tree line.
H13: "Blade Zero One, the bad guys are 20 meters north of my smoke along a 200 meter front. If you have me in sight, you are cleared in hot".
B01: "Negative Herb. Do not have your smoke. It's dark as hell from up here. Do we have a flare ship available?"
H13: "Negative illumination... Ah.... stand by, let me think this out."
H12: (FM) "Thirteen, just got a call. Moonbeam won't be on station for another 20 minutes. And there is no arty available for illumination rounds."
RB5: (FM) "Herb, we are still taking heavy small arms and mortar fire from the east tree line and the edge of the village."
H13: (FM) "Roger, I can see muzzle flashes." (UHF) Blade Zero One, do you still have my beacon in sight?"
H13: "Ah ... Unless someone has a better idea, I'm going to make a run from west to east. The tree line is approximately three hundred meters due east of the burning village. I'll hit my landing lights when directly over the target area, and do a right 360 at eight hundred feet. Charlie seems a tad aggressive tonight, so hopefully I'll piss him off, and he'll take a couple of shots, then you can use his tracers and muzzle flashes for your aiming point. If not, drop directly under me. If you have me in sight, you're cleared in hot when ready.
B01: "Roger Herb, .... good luck .... hope you're wearing an armored jock. Remember, bomb fragments travel fourteen hundred foot a second. Blade flight, Zero One will be in west to east under Herb. Blade Two, stay tight and keep an eyeball on the FAC."
I slid out to the West and dropped down to eight hundred feet. By now I could barely make out the tree line in the darkness. I started my run, and when over the target area, hit my landing light switch and started a tight 360 degree turn. A 12.7 mm machine gun had been laying in the weeds. I watched the glowing white tracers reach out, but before they settled on Snoopy II, I saw the shadow of Blade Zero One flash by underneath me, and almost immediately two Mark 82's exploded on the gun site. I was pulling hard to clear the area to the South and was pushed violently by the shock wave from the twin explosions. I took a deep breath and turned off my lights.
H13: "Sierra Hotel, One!! Blade Two, you're cleared in hot. Move them about twenty five [meters] east from those fires Blade one started."
B02: "Roger, FAC in sight. Two's in hot west to east."
From my figure eight orbit, I watched two more five hundred pound HE explosions impact into the tree line.
H13: "Three, put your nape in fifty east of Two. You are cleared in hot".
B03: "Rog.... FAC in sight. Three's in hot from the west"
The attack continued for another four minutes until all weapons had been expended on target.
B01: "Herb Thirteen, Blade is winchester [out of ordnance]. Still have twenty mike mike".
H13: "Roger, Blade Zero One. I want to make a pass east to west down the tree line for a look see and I'd appreciate you making a gun run in front of me with Two covering our ass."
B01: "Roger, Herb. Got you faded. Zero One in east to west with guns".
B02: "Two copied".
I dropped down to three hundred feet and rolled in behind the F-100 as he made his strafing pass, knowing that in thirty seconds Zero Two would be sliding into the slot behind me in case we needed backup. A quick look showed that the eight bombs and eight cans of napalm had apparently done their job. I saw some movement, but received no enemy fire.
H13: "Blade flight hold dry. Your BDA [Bomb Damage Assessment] is one hundred percent weapons on target, destruction of three heavy machine guns, two mortars, twelve military structures, and unofficially, you ruined the day for a one and a half companies of NVA. We'll try to have an eyeball body count for you by tomorrow. You go-fast guys do good work in the dark."
B01: "Our pleasure, Herb. Nice job yourself. See ya next time. Blade flight, go button ten."
H13: (FM) "Rosebud, Herb Thirteen. Looks like the bad guys have been slowed down. Dust Off will be at your LZ in about five. He requests you contact him on 47.5. Herb Twelve is on this freq with a flight of A-1's and a Moonbeam, and they will be over the top of you for the rest of the evening. Suggest you di di mau [Vietnamese: "go fast"] home before it gets any darker."
RB5: "Thanks Herbie. We're still taking some heavy fire, but the pucker factor has definitely dropped. Be advised, Rosebud Six Actual died ten minutes ago. The medic said he wouldn't have made it in any case".
H13: "Shit! Herb Twelve, it's all yours. I'm heading for the barn."
As I climbed on out I heard Herb Twelve check in with Rosebud. I headed south toward the lights of Home Plate. It hurt every time we lost one of our own, but I couldn't even remember his last name. We were just lucky we didn't lose more.
H13: "Carbon Outlaw, Herb Thirteen on final. Close me out at 1935."
CO14: "Roger Thirteen. Welcome back."
On post flight I found a large hole in the rudder that had just missed the upper support bracket that held it together. During the Intel debrief, I went directly to the big bottle of mission whiskey.
I didn't stop shaking for hours. Three weeks later, I was informed I had been awarded my second DFC for the action.
Close Air Support
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