Three 221st Stories
by Bob Preble, Crew Chief for Shotgun 34 (Tauno Wirkki,
Fritz Guenther, and Gary Varner in Go Cong Province) 1965-1967
I spent most of my 22-month tour stationed at Go Gong Province as Crew Chief for Shotgun 34. I really loved the job, and thus extended my tour twice.
Lieutenant Tauno Wirkki was my first pilot. We became fast friends and remain that way today. I ended up moving to his home town, Salem, NY. Since the Go Cong days he and I have shared many adventures, hunting, sailing, and flying, and we’ve owned several airplanes over the years. However, we’ll go back to Go Cong.
Tauno knew of my desire to fly, as I’d been rejected from flight school because of a very minor eye problem. He did a great job of teaching me how to fly from the back seat. I later went on to solo from the front seat (without anyone’s knowledge at the time).
Who is Flying?
One morning we were taking off from the strip at Go Cong with the usual crosswind. I was at the controls and got a bit behind on the rudder, resulting in over control. I felt Tauno kick the rudder and straighten things out. We climbed out a bit, he put the flaps up and we started in to a dive toward the ground. As we often flew low to avoid small arms fire, I thought nothing of it. At about 100 ft. Tauno leveled off and started to climb again. He apologized for taking over, and suggested we were getting a bit low. I had let go of the controls about half way down the runway and thought he was flying! He assumed I was flying! After that, and to this day, we always make sure we know who is flying.
Fast Jeep, Dented Wing
We flew air cover for anyone from the Advisory Team that was driving the roads. This day we were providing cover for Major Henesy, the Advisory Team Leader. On one section of the road known to have VC roadblocks, Tauno decided we should check it out from a lower altitude. We were cruising along with our wheels brushing the rice paddy while watching the elevated road on the dike. The road looked good and up ahead was the Major in his jeep. As we went by we shortened up his whip antenna by about two feet. Later he said that the radio actually worked better, but that if the only way out of Go Cong was in Tauno Wirkki’s Birddog, he’d take his chances and walk out!
A week or two later we went down to Soc Trang for a 100-hour inspection. The head inspector, whose name I don’t remember (ask Fritz, he knows), was a very thorough person. All the crew chiefs dreaded him. He immediately spotted the dent in the leading edge of the wing with resulting crease on top, and questioned me as to what had happened. Not wanting to get Tauno in trouble, I told him a jeep drove under the wing at the air strip. He quickly calculated that the jeep had to be going at least 120 mph. I told him that indeed it was the fasted jeep I’d ever seen!
More Fire Power
Our quest for more weaponry was never ending. Four rockets and my fully auto M-14 firing out the back window were not enough. (Lord, please make this thing an A-10). I had some friends at Vinh Long that flew gunships, so I told Tauno I would make a call. A few days later a chopper showed up with two pods that held seven rockets each. I beefed up the shackles and figured out how to wire them up. We progressively loaded them up and discovered we could get off the ground with fourteen rockets armed with the smaller 6 lb. warheads. We must have been 1,000 lbs. over gross, but I guess Cessna knew how to build airplanes.
Our first mission with our newly constructed light fighter-bomber was a VC Tax Collection Station a few clicks north of town. We would try to blow it up with our four rockets expecting that they would jump out of their fox holes and start shooting at us. We had a surprise for them this time. Tauno started the rocket run much higher. We shot off three on the first run, then came in again and shot the fourth rocket. They came out of their hiding places and started shooting as we quickly let off ten more shots. I am not sure what the results were, but the Tax Station had relocated to a less obvious place the next day.
Word quickly spread about our rocket pod conversion that, to my knowledge, was the first one in the 221st. I figured I would probably be court marshaled for this unauthorized modification of government property; however, it wasn’t long before they were being hung “officially” on several other birddogs.