PM: Dave, what all have you been doing since leaving the Marine Corps?
DM: I got out of the USMC in 68, finished college and grad school in 71, then went to USAF OCS and Pilot Training. I became an Aircraft Commander on the C-141, and went back to VN many times.
On April 28 1975, I was sitting on the ground in Saigon, watching artillery rounds fall on the airfield, and thinking I'd really screwed up for sure now. A C-130 took a 122 rocket hit on the runway and I had to load up 317 Vietnamese, who had no seats, and who had to sit on the floor. See photo bottom of this page.
I then had to take off on the taxiway as tracer rounds were flying all over the place just at the SW end of the field. It's not well known, but the division we fought at Khe Sanh, the 325C, was the unit that "liberated" Saigon on 30 April 1975. They were considered to be the best division in the NVA with the best combat record, so they were given the honor. It was a strange feeling looking at the situation map at Clark AFB and seeing all those NVA divisions we had fought, that were then ringing Saigon. A lot of strange things went on in those last few days of the war.
PM: So what type aircraft did you fly?
DM: I flew the C141 see photo. I have some interesting recollection, but I'm not much of a writer. Did you know we had a nuclear reactor in Viet Nam? We did, it was at DaLat. I know, because in March 1975 I got tasked to fly a team of nuclear experts from Clark AFB into Ban Me Thuot airport, so they could remove the reactor core before the NVA got it.
I got involved in this because I had a top Secret clearance, and because my squadron was one of two in the USAF that flew nuclear weapons around, so I was conversant in the handling of radioactive materials.
Talk about a hairy deal. About 3 NVA divisions were deployed in the vicinity North of the airport, which had no electric power. We flew into the airstrip after dark. There were no runway lights, just 6 special forces troops on the ground, who parked their vehicle at the end of the blacked out strip and flashed a strobe at me so I could find them, and they also lit the runway with their headlights. I found them, managed to land, and the Special Forces guys drove up, we offloaded the truck/trailer we had on the plane, and the nuclear experts and the special forces guys drove off into the night. This was about 9 pm.
We were told to shut down, black out the plane and wait. All of this while the shit's hitting the fan everywhere you looked off in the distance. There we sat on the runway most of the night in the middle of half the gook army.
Finally about 5 am the truck drove up with this big lead lined container it had strapped on the trailer. We loaded the truck/trailer up, loaded the Special forces vehicle on board, along with the SF guys, and took off into the darkness. The SF Captain told me they had been flown in a couple of days before in a CH 47, and they had been hiding out and dodging the NVA all that time. Those guys had to have some brass balls. I later on found out that the NVA rolled into DaLat that day. They were that close.
PM: I'll fly in a plane as long as I can keep one foot on the ground, did you ever feel comfortable flying?
DM: Ah, flying's something you get used to, no big deal. I made quite a few routine trips into VN, and was in Thailand even more. Those last days of the war were crazy. I could write a book about my experiences.
Sure the war was won, it was won in 1968 after Tet, but since Water Cronkite said the war was lost, chicken-shit LBJ lost his nerve. The way we conducted the (lack of) support of the Vietnamese after the Americans left was criminal. We let them starve for modern weapons, then when the war was lost , finally did something.
In the period when the NVA was encircling Saigon, there was a major battle N. of the city involving division size forces. The NVA were right out in the open for once, and in major numbers, so we (the Americans) finally decided to provide the SVN forces with some serious weapons.
I personally hauled into Saigon 70,000 lbs of bombs that had the following nomenclature "CBU-55, bomb, FAE" They were cluster bomb units with fuel-air explosives. These are nasty devices that spread gas canisters all over that spray out the gas (ethylene oxide), then ignite it. Anything in the blast area or near it, gets killed --and I do mean everyone, there's no WIAs. I understand from info I got from the intelligence section at Clark AFB that whole battalions and regiments of NVA ceased to exist after they were bombed with CBU 55s. The strangest thing of all is that I am not aware that this information has ever been known to the public. I know for a fact they had these weapons, because I hauled the first load into Saigon.
PM: Did anything go on that we never heard about?
DM: All kinds of things went on in the last days of the war that have never seen the light of day. Here's a for example.
The day Saigon fell 4/30/75, I was in Thailand making the rounds of all the Thai USAF fighter bases. The major ones were Korat, Ubon and Udorn. At every one of these bases long lines of fighter/bombers were waiting to take off, and they all had full racks of bombs. Now a plane can't land with bombs on the racks, so they had to do something with them. I found out from a Major at base ops in Udorn that they were bombing the USAF air bases in SVN to keep the North Vietnamese from using them. Not a word about this has ever been printed, but I saw it with my own eyes.
PM: That was pretty wild.
DM: It was the wildest 2 or 3 weeks that you could imagine.
There was another interesting facet of that day I was in Thailand (4/30/75) when all the planes were taking off loaded with bombs. Let me give you a brief explanation of how the flight I was on operated.
It was called the Thai shuttle, and basically it was the freedom bird for all the people assigned to any one of the various USAF (and Marine) bases in Thailand. I left Clark AFB on the morning of the 29th and flew to U Tapao AFB (B-52 base) (3.5 -4 hrs) and got off the plane, then a crew that had flew the same flight into U Tapao on the 28th picked up my plane and operated the in-country pickups, then went to Clark, where commercial carriers would take guys home.
Then on the morning of the 30th, I picked up the incoming plane from Clark to operate the in-country pickups. Well, when I got to base ops around 7 am, all hell was breaking loose. You see, U-Tapao happened to be the closest American base to Southern Viet Nam, so what had happened was that on the day Viet Nam fell to the communists, every pilot in the S Vietnam AF had loaded up wife, family and relatives, if the plane was big enough, and flew to U-Tapao. It was complete chaos on that airstrip, let me tell you.
Planes were landing on the only runway at the same time, but going in opposite directions. Planes were landing on the taxi-ways, planes were landing on the grass next to the runway. In the roughly one hour they had been coming in before I got there, almost 100 planes had arrived at U-Tapao, and were parked all over the place.
Every plane type in the VNAF was there, from C-130s to F-5s. I saw a man, his wife and 3 kids get out of the single seat cockpit of an F-5. How he did it, I don't know, but it was complete desperation in full view. One thing that I observed that day was the good old ingenuity and get up and go of the American serviceman. Planes were taxiing up and shutting down engines, and literally as soon as the passengers were gone, Airmen were out there with ladders, painting over the VNAF markings and numbers, and painting on USAF numbers and putting on USAF decals. It was hilarious. They also set up field kitchens and tents to feed and house the refugees. These guys literally had minutes to act after the planes started arriving, and within an hour they had a refugee and plane reclamation operation going.
By the time I was ready to leave, about 2 hrs after I got there, another 50 planes had arrived. The funniest part of the day was when I was ready to leave.
The way an airplane operates is that you start engines and taxi to the runway on ground control, then when you go on the runway tower control has you, then after takeoff, you talk to departure control. This is the same everywhere, even with the airlines.
So I arrived at the end of the runway and contacted the tower to request takeoff clearance. The tower guy said "MAC------ unable to issue any takeoff clearances, we have numerous unidentified radar targets all quadrants." I said "Hey, we have to get out of here, we have a schedule to meet. " So the tower guy said "MAC------ U Tapao tower is off the air" and he turned off his radio. The reason he did this was to let me go ahead and go, but I was going to have to go without his blessing.
I told everyone to clear the area REAL well so we don't hit anyone, and I pulled out on the runway and took off as quickly as I could under visual flight rules. Just as we got airborne, an A-37 went right by us about 200 feet away going the opposite direction. That day we went to Korat, Ubon, Udorn and Nakhon Phanom. The first 3 are fighter bases and NKP was a special ops base that conducted cross border ops in Laos. It was right on the Mekong river in Northern Thailand, across from Laos. It was at the first 3 bases where I saw all the planes taking off.
The story isn't over yet. I came back to U-Tapao on the 2nd of May, and by that time the new Viet Nam government had filed a protest with the Thais demanding the return of "their" aircraft.
It was absolutlely amazing what had gone on in just 2 days. Almost all the decent planes were already gone. What happened was that the USAF put out an emergency call for anyone in the theater who could fly an airplane, even if they were in a desk job, to report to U-Tapao, to get the planes out of Thailand.
They brought in plane loads of pilots from all over the area. Any planes large enough, or with enough range, or air refueling capability went to Clark, but the other fighters and short range planes were still there.
That day after I arrived, I stayed out on the flight line to watch the action. U Tapao is right on the water, and off in the distance about 5 miles offshore, the Navy had brought in the carrier Hancock, which could be seen easily.
There was a Marine H-53 unit on board. My guess is that these were some of the same H-53s that helped to evacuate Saigon on the 30th. Anyway, the Marines were picking up all the planes in sling hoists, and lifting them out onto the Hancock. (they couldn't fly them out, because they had no tailhooks)
By the time I left the next morning, there was nothing left on the airport but a few decrepit old propeller planes. A couple of days later, the Thais agreed to return all the planes to Viet Nam, and the Americans said "sure, tell them to come and get them, they can have any plane on Thai soil that was in the VNAF".
Of course there wasn't crap still there. It was outstanding, kind of a final "fuck you" to the North Vietnamese. The skill, speed and ingenuity of the whole operation was amazing. Turn the American GI loose, and he'll get it done.
PM: Talk about being in the right place at the right time, or maybe it was the right place at the wrong time?
DM: You know, Paul, it was strange. Just by sheer chance, I ended up being in the middle of many of the major happenings of the day. I was heavily involved in the Israeli airlift of Oct 1973, making many flights into Israel carrying weapons of all kinds. My first flight of the airlift was to go to Savannah, GA to pick up a mobile air defense radar. It seems that in the early moments of the Egyptian attack on Sinai, they knocked out the Israelis air defense radar with a missile, and that's one reason why the war went so badly for them in the early days, because they couldn't control their fighters or pick up incoming Egyptian planes. We got the radar to Israel, but there's a lot more to tell about the whole mission.
I was also involved in one of the truly unique situations in which the American military have ever been involved. In 1978 some Angolan based rebels who belonged to the Lunda tribe that had been thrown out of the Congo in the 50s and 60s, invaded Zaire and took over the mining town of Kolwezi.
They slaughtered many European men women and children, as well as a bunch of locals. It was a mess. The mines in and around that town are some of the richest and most strategic in the world, mostly in Copper, but Cobalt, Titanium and Diamonds also come out of there.
The French were asked for help by President Mobutu, and they were going to send the Foreign Legion, based in Corsica, but they had a problem, they had no way to get the Legion there as fast as they needed them there to stop the killing.
So the French President called Jimmy Carter for help, and he authorized the USAF to move the Foreign Legion into the battle zone. I just happened to be at McGuire AFB NJ on an unrelated mission when they started looking for spare crews and planes. It's not that easy to supply a bunch of personnel and aircraft to a spur of the moment deal, because the USAF airlift assets tend to be pretty fully employed.
A major thing like what they were committing us to was also hard to put together overnight. We were also being sent into an area that had ZERO maintenance and logistics support, so we'd have to be able to do our own repairs. That was one of the smart things the USAF did when staffing the enlisted men on the flight crews. The flight engineers were required to have an aircraft mechanic background, and they were all at least E-5s and most were E-6s and above. These guys were real professionals.
They loaded our planes with extra engine oil, hydraulic fluid and some key spare parts. Another problem was that within Zaire, in some instances, we could not expect to be able to find a place we could eat, or somewhere we could sleep.
Before we left McGuire, all the crews that had been grabbed for the mission were gathered in an auditorium and the commanding general (Two star) of 21st AF gave a briefing. (In the Military Airlift Command, the world was split into 21st AF and 22nd AF. Basically the eastern hemisphere, beginning in the middle of the USA was controlled by 21st AF, and the Western hemisphere was controlled by 22nd AF) It was the most extraordinary briefing I ever got as a USAF officer.
He basically detailed where we were going, and what we would be doing. Then he said something I thought I'd never hear. He said, "Because you will be flying long days into locations that are as yet unknown, under minimal conditions, I am waiving all USAF flight regulations. Gentlemen, you will be completely on your own, so just get it done." At this point, some idiot asked the obvious question. He said "general, does that also mean the no drinking alcohol before flying regulation" He said "Captain it means what I said --ALL regulations, but don't be an idiot and fly these planes drunk, Captain, that's just common sense".
So that day they launched a bunch of planes and crews. Some went to Corsica to pick up the legion, but I went non-stop 9 hours to Dakar, Senegal. At this place it wasn't too bad. We stayed at a nice French hotel on the beach and ate decent food.
The next morning we were alerted for our first mission into the combat zone, and the very first thing I saw when I got into the cockpit of the plane we'd be flying was 6 cases of #^#^@%%@ C-rations. All I could say was FUCK!!!
My copilot asked me what was wrong. I said that I'd sworn I'd never eat another C Rat the rest of my life. He said, "what's wrong with C Rations?' I said "Look Lt., when you have to eat these things for months on end, you develop a dislike for them, and you'd understand that if you were me, trust me on this." I also said, "I hope you like Ham and Limas , because I'm not eating any."
The details of the mission are lengthy, and I'll get into that later, but it was an extraordinary experience, to say the least. Again what this mission illustrated (like at U Tapao 3 years before), was the unbelievable ability of the American GI to move mountains under difficult circumstances.
One thing you find out, if you didn't know it before, is that Africa is a huge continent. Zaire is also a very large country. The flight into the combat zone from Dakar took a total of over 10 hours in the air, about 8.5 hours to Kinshasa, and then 2 or more hours into either Lubambashi or Kamina. I think this was the first and only time US aircraft have ever been used to fly foreign troops into combat.
We were in Africa for 3 weeks, and more than one day we slept on the airplane. There is absolutely no way this mission could have been done by any other military in the world. The Russians tried on several occasions to mount a strategic long range airlift, but they always failed, because their air crews and planes were always unable to operate independently without support and direction from headquarters. The beauty of the 141 was that you could operate it without any flight line support.
There was a ladder and a tool kit on the plane, so we could open up the cowlings to service the engines. It had an auxilary power unit that you could hand start, if the hydraulic accumulator pressure went down.
You wanted to minimize doing this though, because it took 460 minimum strokes with a hand crank on the hydraulic accumulators to get up to 2000 psi pressure. The APU was a small jet engine in the left wheel well that had a generator attached, and it also put out air to spin up the engines. Once you got it started, you were home free. Let me tell you though, after cranking that hand pump 460 times, when the flight engineer flipped the APU start switch, everyone had their fingers crossed. The APU usually started, but sometimes it didn't , and that led to some pissed off crew members.
PM: During the war, we all know that the Russians were in North Vietnam. After we pulled out, did you see any Russians filling into Saigon? or maybe other countrys?
DM: That reminds me of another story about one of my trips to Viet Nam.
In December 1973, I was a First Lt., still a copilot, and was in Saigon bringing in military supplies to the ARVN. Shortly after we parked, a Russian TU-154 with Hungarian Airline markings on it taxied in, and parked just next to us. It turns out they were bringing in a Hungarian Army contingent to help monitor the ceasefire dictated by the Paris peace accords.
As I watched, about a company of Hungarian troops filed off the plane, and lined up in formation beside it. I was standing outside my 141, and this Hungarian officer came walking over, and struck up a conversation in perfect English. I always try to be polite, and I did so in this case, but this Hungarian Captain rapidly started getting on my nerves.
He was obviously trying to provoke me. He was saying things like "You Americans are breaking the Paris peace agreement and we were a bunch of warmongers, etc". I can't remember everything he said, but it was uncalled for, and I was shocked that he would go out of his way to be so obnoxious.
I finally had enough of it and said. "Yeah you Hungarian cocksucker, we Americans are warmongers. Matter of fact I'm one of the biggest warmongers of all, and I 'm ready to start a war right here with you if you don't keep your fucking mouth shut about my
He kept up his tirade, and I then said, "Asshole, if you want to start WW III , then lets get it going right here, otherwise shut the fuck up and get back on that airplane." I was one heartbeat away from punching this guys lights out, when my Aircraft Commander sensed a pending international incident, and came over and got me disengaged.
As I walked away, I couldn't resist one parting shot. "Hey asshole, my country may not be perfect, but at least it doesn't have 30 Russian divisions camped out in it". My A/C said "Geez David, that should help to cool things down." That made me laugh. I promise you, I was ready to go to war right there, even with 150 of this guy's men 200 feet
away. To this day I'm puzzled as to why that guy would come over and pick a fight like that.
PM: I feel that Hungarian would of had second thoughts of even approaching you if you still had on your Eagle Globe & Anchor instead of the Airforce blues? I'm not knocking the AirForce, but lets face it, civilians and other branches, countrys, think twice about pissing off a Marine. How about operations in other countrys?
DM: The Yom Kippur airlift Oct 1973
In October 1973, the Egyptians invaded the Sinai at the same time the Syrians invaded the Golan Heights. The Israelis were in a bad way for the first few days of the war. One reason, as I mentioned before, was the fact that, with an anti-radiation missile, the Egyptians, in the
early minutes of the war, had knocked out the main Israeli GCI (ground controlled intercept) radar in the Sinai.
After that the Israeli AF was tactically blind, and it came close to causing their defeat. I was
launched from Norton AFB ca to Charleston AFB SC to await our first mission. We were tasked to go to Savannah Ga airport to pick up cargo unknown. On takeoff from Charleston we had the worst and most nearly fatal incident of all my flying years. Luckily, we were very light, or else we would have crashed. What happened was that shortly after breaking ground, the #1 engine (left outboard) went into full reverse thrust. I won't go into the reasons why it happened , but it was a one in a million screwup that caused it. Anyway it happened just as the flaps were coming up, and they way we violently rolled and yawed left, I thought the left flap had come off. The aircraft commander managed to get the plane somewhat under control, and we began a positive climb out. I don't know how close we came to the ground but it couldn't have been more than a few feet. Like I told one of my buddies, "I never saw so much brown in the windshield of an airplane."
We got to a safe altitude and the A/C sent back an engineer to look over the plane, and
he said "Captain, # 1 thrust reverser is out". The other engineer closed an open circuit breaker that was part of what caused the problem, and the reverser came in.We were by this time in a return mode to the airport, and I called the command post to say we were returning to base because of an in flight emergency.
The plane was then flying OK, but you never know how much damage may have been caused. The controller said "standby MAC-----" He came back in a couple of minutes, and this is verbatim what he said :" By direct order of the President of the United States, you are to proceed to Savannah, and load cargo as directed" .
About that time I knew we were on a high priority mission.
Savannah is just a few minutes from Charleston, and we arrived OK, and waiting at the end of the runway were two cargo loaders with some large olive drab modules on them . The Army guy who was escorting them said we were loading the current state of the art GCI radar, and there were only a few in existence. It was labeled, radar TPS-43.
We got it on the plane and took off for Lajes in the Azores. That was about 8 hours in the air. We landed, refueled and continued on to Israel, that was another 8 hour flight, then we unloaded and returned to the Azores.
That was one of the longest crew duty days I ever flew. We were 5 ours into our crew day when we took off for Lajes, then 8 hrs enroute, then 2 hrs on the ground, then 8 hrs to Israel and 8hrs back. We were in the air 31 hours before we got to crew rest at Lajes. It sounds bad, but it really wasn't, because on special missions like this we always carried an
augmented flight crew, which consisted of 3 pilots. So one or two pilots
could always be catching some sleep.
Once we were at Lajes, we entered what the USAF called a staging operation. A plane would come in from an ammunition loading point in the states, then we'd get on the plane and fly to Israel and back. Then the next day we'd pick up an empty plane coming back from Israel, and fly to the states to pick up munitions (mostly from Little Rock Arsenal in Arkansas), and go back to Lajes.
This went on around the clock every day, and the planes kept moving all the time, just changing crews once a day. Before each flight in the staging operation into Israel, we had to
get an intel briefing.
One of the major problems we were encountering was that the French were refusing USAF aircraft entrance into French controlled airspace. As usual, the French proved that they ARE NOT our friends once more. Of course they were sucking up to the Arabs. The way the flights into Tel Aviv were set up, we'd leave the Azores and fly directly through the middle of the Straits of Gibraltar. Then we'd fly directly down the middle of the Mediterranean all the way to Israel.
One of the first flight identification regions when you enter the Med is Marseilles Control. We were told to be polite when we talked to the French, but to not follow their directions. We were also told that the Navy had aircraft carriers covering us if we needed help, and we were given their call signs and frequencies.
During my second trip into Israel, when passing through French airspace, the controllers were giving US aircraft trouble as usual, and when I reported my position to them the guy said "American aircraft, proceed immediately to Marseilles and land, we are launching fighters to escort you".
I was sort of speechless, wondering what to say, when this cool and calm American Navy guy came up on the same frequency. He said, "MAC---- this is Red Crown (USS Enterprise), you go ahead and fly your mission, and don't sweat the frogs, we'll take care of them" . To this day I smile when I think of that moment. Talk about giving you a secure feeling that you're in good hands.
That same trip I gained a real appreciation of the spirit and dedication of the Israelis. When we landed , the officers went into El Al operations to file flight plans etc, and the Israelis also gave us meals to take back and they had a little snack bar set up that served coffee, pastries etc. Some very attractive El Al flight attendants were serving.
While there, I noticed that one of the girls seemed a bit sad. I asked another girl if she was
OK. She said, "Her husband, father, and a brother have all been killed this week". The spirit and dedication of that girl was unbelievable, to be able to still do her duty, even in a situation of extreme personal pain. That's typical of the Israelis, though.
On one of my later missions, after unloading a full plane load of Maverick anti-tank missiles, I was talking to the Israeli colonel who supervised the unloading. I asked him where they were taking the missiles. He said "Lieutenant, in one hour they will be killing Arabs".
Those Israelis weren't screwing around. He also told me that when the first loads of American munitions began arriving that they had less than a half day's supply of arms left. We truly saved the state of Israel.
Once when I was on the ground between flights at Lajes , I was wandering around base ops, and the duty officer, who I had gotten to know pretty well, asked me if I wanted to see something cool. I said "sure". Parked just outside of base ops was a C-5A that was refueling. We boarded the plane, and in it were two complete Soviet SA-6 mobile missile batteries. The Israelis captured them in the Sinai, hauled them to Te Aviv, and gave them to us. At the time, the SA-6 was a very advanced air defense missile system, and it was a real coup to get our hands on it. I was told that a number of C-5s went back to the states loaded with captured Soviet hardware.
In the latter stages of the airlift, after the tides of war had turned in Israel's favor, it started getting a little hairy, because the Soviets got more involved in trying to save their Arab pals. Some of this information is not generally known, but we came close to going to war with the Soviet Union during this airlift.
At our preflight intel briefings we were kept up on what was going on. At one point, the
Soviets moved 50,000 paratroops into a forward area (Bulgaria, I think) and were preparing to drop them into Israel. They also moved nuclear warheads into Egypt and displayed them in plain view on Egyptian air bases, so our satellites could see them. Some real high stakes poker was going on, and I was nervous. At one point, it was thought that the shooting war was imminent, and the Soviet paratroops were on their way.
About this time, we went to Def Con 2. Def Con 1 is war. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the Israelis didn't defeat Egypt completely, and allowed them and their Russian buddies to save a little face. That was the one time in my USAF career I thought I might not see my family again.
In a strange twist, after the end of the airlift, in December 73, I went to Jakarta Indonesia as a United Nations flight, and picked up the Indonesian Peacekeeping force that was assigned to Egypt. We got them to Cairo OK, and while there, an Egyptian Major boarded the plane. Talk about feeling nervous, but he was polite, and I scrupulously avoided telling that I had been heavily involved in the Yom Kippur airlift. That would have been dumb, and he might not have been too pleased. Sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut.
PM: Thanks Dave ......
DM: In the interest of providing some background info about the operation, I decided to try to find some info on the internet. I did and I now find out we USAF) had nothing to do with it. Fucking Frenchmen are unbelievable.
The unit that did the fighting was the 2nd parachute regiment of the Legion. Here's a little brief history of the unit and a mention of the Zaire op.
Do you notice any mention of the USAF's part in the Zaire op? I found another article about the operation, and in it the author discloses that the French called it Operation Leopard. The asshole who wrote the article was wrong about nearly every part of the operation. He mentioned not one thing about the fact that the Legion operation was made possible because of the USAF. 141s went into Corsica and picked up nearly all their equipment and some of the troops. We took all of them into the forward staging locations at Kamina and Lubambashi. When I write the description of the op, you all will know more about what happened than anyone.
DM: There's nothing like being there to know what goes on.
The 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (French: 2e Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes, 2e REP) is an Airborne regiment in the French Foreign Legion. It is a part of the 11e Brigade Parachutiste and the spearhead of the French Rapid reaction force. As such, it fills what could typically be described as a special forces role for the French Foreign Legion.
As a consequence of the successes of the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er BEP) in the First Indochina War, the 2eme Battalion Étranger de Parachutistes or 2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion (2e BEP) was formed on 9 October 1948, at Legion's main cantonment at Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria. The battalion was deployed to Indochina in January 1949, where they served as 'sector troops' from February to November.
In 1950, the battalion became a part of the General Reserve in Indochina. Following the French defeat on Route Coloniale 4 in October 1950, the battalion was transported by ship to North Vietnam. The battalion took part in several battles, including the first battle of Nghia Lo (October 1951), the Black River (November-December 1951), and the fight for Route Coloniale 6 (January-February 1952) during the Battle of Hoa Binh.
The battalion made a parachute drop on Dien Bien Phu as reinforcement during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (March-May 1954). Fighting without reinforcements, remnants of the 1er and 2e BEP were overwhelmed after a final assault by Viet Minh forces; fewer than 100 legionnaires of the 2e BEP were taken prisoner.
On 1 December 1954, after the surviving members of the battalion had returned from captivity after the Armistice, the 2e BEP was later reconstituted with replacements, and returned by ship to French Algeria.
On 5 June 1956, the 2e BEP was enlarged to a full regiment, and was redesignated the 2e Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes (2e REP), or 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment.
In May 1978, a force of gendarmes katangais entered the Katanga province of Zaire from Angola and occupied the mining town of Kolwezi. They began to loot the town and kill government soldiers and civilians (including several Belgian and French employees of a mining company). At the request of the government of Zaire, 2 REP was airlifted to Kinshasa and dropped on Kolwezi. The operation was a success and the town was quickly recaptured with minor casualties in the ranks of the paratroopers. Some 120 civilian hostages died in the occupation.
I almost forgot another incident of interest that happened during the last days of the war. At some point a few days before the fall of Saigon, President Thieu had left Saigon in his private DC 7, and had landed at Clark AFB. I wasn't on the flight line when he arrived, but one morning when I was on the flight line, I noticed the plane parked on the grass between the runway and taxiway, and asked the duty officer whose plane it was.
He told me that it was President Thieu's. A day or two after this on 26 April, I got a call in the BOQ to report to the Airlift command post in Base Ops. I did so and the duty officer told me that I had been tasked with a special high priority and sensitive mission. He said to report in an hour with my full crew, and that I was to get the plane ready to fly, and to then stand by in the aircraft, and be prepared to depart within 15 minutes of being told to do so.
Now this was a situation totally out of the ordinary. Normally the command post alerted you in you quarters 3 hours and 15 minutes from scheduled departure time. You then had an hour to report, and 2 hrs and 15 minutes for the flight engineers to preflight the plane's systems and coordinate maintenance support, for the loadmaster to find out what his load was, and its weight, and to prepare the aircraft weight and balance papers, and for the pilots to get flight briefings, flight plans, weather briefings, and to file the flight plan. Everyone had a job to do prior to launching a flight.
n all cases you knew what you were doing and where you were going. However, this situation was new and different to me. When I got my mission briefing from the duty officer, I was naturally curious about what was going on, so I asked him about it. He
said, "it's secret and high priority mission for which your crew was specially picked" I said "Why us"? He said "you and your whole crew have top secret clearances".
It was normal in the USAF for flight crews in MAC to have secret clearances. As I said before in a previous discussion, in two squadrons in the Military Airlift Command all aircrew personnel had to have top secret clearances. Mine was one of them. I
tried to pump the guy for information, and all he said was "go get your
plane ready to fly, and all I can tell you is that if you fly, you will
be going to Ton Son Nhut"
So I went out to the plane as puzzled as ever about what was going on. As in all cases, if you wanted to find out the real story, you asked the enlisted crew members. They always have a grapevine, and know what's going on. Sure enough the enlisted guys already had it figured out. The Loadmaster said "Captain, our cargo is 38,000 pounds on just two
pallets, so whatever it is, it's heavy as hell". The senior engineer said he had talked to a couple of buddies in the aerial port squadron, and they had told him that the cargo was Thieu's gold, which he had amassed during his years of corruption, when he was President.
The first thing I thought was "what an asshole, we grunts were getting our asses shot off keeping him in office and he was getting rich". Frankly, I was not at all surprised by the fact that Thieu was a crook. I also was VERY conflicted about how I felt about removing his loot.
The next thought that occurred to me was that the North Viets had to know what was going on, since they had spies in the South Viet government at all levels. Then it also occurred to me that they would probably do whatever they could to stop the plane that came to get the gold.
Did that make me nervous? Absolutely. At that point, the NVA had occupied Bien Hoa airbase, and that was no more than 10 or 15 miles from Ton Son Nhut. They had batteries of SA2 missiles there, and could easily shoot down any plane taking off from Ton Son Nhut if they wanted to do so. Whatever the case, I was prepared to do my duty and take out the gold if I was sent to do it.
We ended up waiting all of our alloted crew duty time (which was usually 15 hours and 15 minutes after being alerted in quarters. ) sitting out in the plane in the heat. We never did get alerted to pick up the loot. It turned out that the South Vietnamese treasury secretary was a communist mole, and he successfully held up the transfer of the gold with various bureaucratic delays, until it was too late to remove it. I had been waiting for the official clearance from the treasury to fly in to remove the gold, but it never came, and now I
I also understand that the South Viet treasury official got the highest award for merit the North Viets gave out. I guess this qualifies as an "almost" unique mission, but it was nonetheless an interesting experience.
Photo below of the plane (60185) ready to fly at Clark AFB, taken while
we were waiting for orders to Saigon.