This little “war story” took place in late 1969, in Kontum province, RVN. I was a young 1st Lt. O-1 jockey assigned to the 219th Aviation Company. My callsign was Headhunter two-one. I was with the 2nd platoon based at Kontum. My mission at the time was to fly recon and other missions in support of MACV. You know, fly around looking for anything “suspicious” that might be confirmed as a target, and then find some resources with which to kill it.
On this particular afternoon, I was flying a single ship mission at 1500 feet AGL (out of small arms range), and maybe 20 miles north of Kontum. My AO that afternoon was in remote, hilly country with hardly any population, and in a free-fire zone (no approval required from a MACV muckey-muck in order to engage a target). I looked down and spotted a small, cultivated field, which was surrounded by jungle. I felt this was a bit out of place in that area. Near the north edge of the field, I saw what appeared to be an AA site. An AA site looks like a “doughnut” in reverse from the air. The center pedestal is where a gun is mounted, and the trench is dug around the pedestal so the gunner can fire from 360 degrees and get suitable elevation on his gun. The trench appeared to be empty, so I did a wingover and went down for a closer look. From the lower altitude, I got a glimpse of what I thought might be a 23 mm gun, uncovered, and mounted on the pedestal. As I circled the field back to the south, my eye caught movement. One person was running from the west tree line toward the doughnut. As I climbed for altitude, I looked over my shoulder and saw the person jump into the trench and get behind the gun. By that time, I was creating distance between my aircraft and the gun. To the toy soldier in the doughnut, I may have appeared to be leaving the area. But, aahhhh. I had other plans… A target had presented itself!
I knew there was 175mm artillery battery on the MACV compound at Kontum, and I was already experienced at adjusting artillery by virtue of my pre-OCS training with an artillery unit at Ft. Sill, OK. At last, an opportunity to work some big guns, bracket my target, fire for effect, and all of that cool stuff. So, I quickly got on the radio, contacted the Fire Direction Control center (FDC), and ordered up a Fire Mission. I carefully checked my map and communicated the nature of the target and the coordinates back to the FDC. When the FDC acknowledged that they were ready, I circled back and flew a couple hundred meters east of the target, off the line of trajectory, and back on a northerly heading, as if I had not noticed the gun. In straight & level flight and within easy range for the 23 mm gun, the slow moving Bird Dog must have presented a tasty looking target. The barrel of that gun swung towards me as I called for the the first round to be fired from the 175 battery. I held my breath and my heading. The gunner below at my 10 o’clock had not yet squeezed off a single round.
A 175mm gun can punch a 147 pound high explosive round out to targets up to 20 miles away. My target was at the outer limits of range for the big gun. I waited a few seconds for impact and mentally rehearsed my game plan for the remainder of the fire mission.
The 175 is not known for pinpoint accuracy at a 20 mile range, but that first round landed directly on the target. As I banked the O-1 back toward the doughnut, I looked down in utter amazement. The AA site, one soldier, and one gun had disappeared in a cloud of red dust and smoke. There was no angry gunner trying to make holes in my airplane, no jinking around the sky to avoid getting hit, no bracketing of the target, and no firing for effect. That was it! Checkmate! Game over! There was a silence from the FDC when I announced on the radio the end of mission and destruction of the target. Were they as stunned as I was? I was proud of my work, disappointed with the brevity of the event, and a bit amused all at the same time. I dropped down to treetop level to confirm a body count of one, or what might be left of one, had a good laugh with the guy on the radio at the FDC, and resumed my recon mission. Pretty exciting, eh?
Well, it was at least an amusing war story to embellish at the MACV O-Club that evening. As the flaming hookers were downed and the story passed along to others at the bar, chances are good the little O-1 and the highly skilled pilot barely escaped destruction as the barrel of the 23mm was a-blazin’ and the hail of “golf balls with vapor trails” filled the afternoon sky. I wonder what cool story was passed around by the guys in the FDC and the crew manning the 175mm gun?