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Vietnam plus 33

Hué 1968 California 2002
Hué Citadel Airfield, RVN - August 1968 Zamperini Field, Torrance, CA - June 2002
Click images for larger view

  In June 2002 I had an unusual reunion with a "buddy" from Vietnam.   The "buddy" was one of the O-2s I had flown as a FAC at Hué during 1968-69.   The best part was, I actually got a chance to fly her again.

As so many stories go today, we met on the Internet.   Actually, her current owner found me from this Web site.

In February 2002 I received an e-mail from a man in California who told me how much he enjoyed this site.   What particularly fascinated him, however, was the airplane pictured at the top of the O-2 page.   "I'm the current owner of that aircraft!" he told me.   He purchased the plane in 1999 and was doing a Web search for the tail number (67-21309) to learn more about its history when he stumbled onto my site.   I do not remember why I even bothered to add the tail number to that photo when I started the site in 2001, but what an incredible stroke of luck it turned out to be.  

The airplane was based at Zamperini Field in Torrance, CA, and the owner, Mitch Taylor, invited me out to fly with him sometime.   In June 2002 I took him up on the offer.

It was a real thrill just to see the airplane again;   flying it was off the scale!  
Mitch Taylor, Tom Pilsch
Mitch Taylor, Tom Pilsch
(Click for larger image)
It is in almost mint condition with all the original radios and other equipment.   Mitch even has two pods with wooden rockets that he hangs on the wings for air shows, but he is understandably a little nervous about flying around with them over a major metropolitan area in light of heightened security concerns.   [Note: This was written in the aftermath of 9/11.]   I was surprised at how good an O-2 looks when it is clean and with a glossy paint job - not the typical SEA forward operating location look!   The current picture (above) does not do justice to how good it looks.   And, yes, I know the airplane has held up better over the years than I have, but then it has had both engines rebuilt, new props, and major cosmetic surgery (including bullet hole patches).   I am still on the original equipment all around!

The day of the flight was a sunny Southern California afternoon.   We flew out and around Santa Catalina Island and then down the coast to San Clemente and back.   A great experience!   The O-2 was never known for its blistering performance, but I was surprised at how much more nimble it was without the rocket pods and a full load of gas, even with two non-standard weight pilots aboard.

In checking my logbook prior to the trip to California, I was struck by the number of memorable missions I had flown in this particular airplane.   Some were humorous, others deadly serious but all brought back poignant memories of what was a pivotal experience in all our lives.   It also brought thoughts of our brothers who did not return from Southeast Asia and the unanswerable question of why was I so lucky.

My thanks to Mitch Taylor and people like him who help keep the memories of those heroes alive.

Click here for a full article on this reunion.

Click here for more on the post-war history of 309.

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