The Advance Party Experience
by Leigh Ogden, Shotgun 5, May 1965–June 1966
Though the 221st Aviation Company was activated officially on 24 March 1965, most of us that formed the company reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 14-15 May 1965. Ordering and gathering equipment and supplies, plus mandatory training took up the next month. By July we were ready to go to our “classified destination (Vietnam).” As the Executive Officer, I was in charge of the advance party, which included our Aircraft Repair Technician, WO Don Smith, and three others. We left Fort Bragg via commercial air on 2 July, flying to San Francisco and on to Travis AFB by bus. I remember standing out in front of the San Francisco airport that afternoon, waiting for the bus to Travis (about 50 miles northeast) and freezing in July at about 50 degrees F. I put on my field jacket as I watched thick gray layers of fog roll slowly down the nearby hillsides. It was fascinating and strange to me.
We checked in at Travis and left that evening on a World Airways charter flight, stopping briefly in Anchorage to refuel. The flight to Okinawa was about 20 hours–my longest flight ever. We refueled there and then took off for Saigon. We landed at Saigon’s Ton Son Nhut Airfield and were taken to the nearby Tent City. There I waited for transportation to the Mekong Delta, where our company was to be stationed at Soc Trang. The other members of the advance party went into Saigon with Don Smith to coordinate with MACV aircraft logistics about our incoming planes and parts.
The next day LTC Jack Mackmull, the CO of the 13th Avn Bn, the only US Army unit in the Delta, came to the airport in his helicopter and took me down to Can Tho. After a briefing at Battalion Headquarters on the plan for our company, I got a hop to Soc Trang to see our company area. A civilian contractor, with Vietnamese laborers, was building it. By the time I arrived, the cement slabs for floors were done and the sides of our buildings were going up. The construction went fast and we were soon were ready for the arrival of the company.
I got the daily milk-run shuttle C-123 to Saigon and was there, along with Don Smith, on July 14th when the first of the three C-130s bringing the company arrived. Major Modica, 19 officers, and 30 enlisted men were aboard. I saw the clamshell doors open and looked in at the most tired group of guys I have ever seen! Three days of flying is a long sit, even if there was a short rest in Hawaii. The other planes arrived in the next two days and we officially moved into Soc Trang on July 16th.