by Tauno K. Wirkki, Shotgun 34, 1965-1966
Being a Birddog pilot in Vietnam in 1965-1966 seemed a little like being at a country club. We had a “house-boy” who cleaned our room, changed the linens, did the laundry, polished our boots, etc. Other than the occasional mortar attack, or the small arms fire that came close enough to sound like popcorn popping around you, it hardly seemed like a war zone. That being the case, I felt sorry for the advisors who went in the field with the RVN on operations in the hot, humid rice paddies. Thus, on a particularly hot day when the advisors had left on an operation at o-dark-thirty and had been in the field all day, we boxed up several beers in ice and proceeded to drop the package with the aid of a flare parachute. Needless to say, we were the heroes of the day!
We all know how the VC liked to block the roads looking to set up ambushes that made it difficult to travel to the Sector Headquarters. This made mail delivery sporadic at best, so being the nice guys Birddoggers were, we proceeded to deliver the mail with the aid of the same flare parachutes as used in the beer delivery. On this given day, my crew chief, Robert Preble, was in the back seat of my Birddog and on my order, dropped the mail package from a relatively low altitude to the sub-sector in the Coconut Grove. It landed well in the confines of the compound, but in a place that could not be duplicated in a million years. The mail went down the vent pipe of the out-house! Talk about crappy news!
Keeping with the theme of “crappy,” one morning early, my Crew Chief, Robert, got a call to report to the flight line at Vinh Long to refuel Lieutenant Werner (Wimpy Werner). Werner had been flying over his sector for several hours during a mortar attack. As he was rushing to the maintenance shack with the fuel truck, he heard a loud woosh! As the Birddog landed beside him, Wimpy had forgotten to disarm his rockets and as he pulled back on the stick on landing, he fired off a rocket. The rocket exploded in an out-house in downtown Vinh Long! Fortunately no one was in the crapper. Wimpy was a good friend who talked me into interviewing with Pan Am once we got out of the Army. Much to his chagrin, I ended up ten numbers senior to him as he was hired in San Francisco and I in New York. Tragically, he was killed in an accident just a few years into what promised to be a great career for with the airlines.