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My Story Page 5 - Artillery Spotter, PSYOPS and the Night the Sky Exploded

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artillery spotter plane

E/82 Artillery Spotter plane

My assignment was to get a photo of a spotter plane with artillery shells exploding below it. Not quite as easy to set up as you might think. It took a lot of planning.
I had to be above the "Bird dog" plane in a LOH and the shells had to hit in line with me and the plane. He couldn't be too low and we couldn't be too high.

I was in radio contact with the 155 battery. "Yankee 3 this is California Flash, we're ready". They had a target so they sent us a smoke marker. The "Bird dog" pilot would fly as slow as he could in a tight circle (he came real close to stalling, so we knew that was as slow as he could go) between the target area and me in the LOH. We had to fly a wide circle outside and above the "Bird dog" as fast as the LOH would go (it was really shaking) to keep it lined up.

The first salvo of regular HE didn't show up well (black smoke against dark trees), so Yankee 3 suggested "willie peter" (White Phosphorus) this made big white puffs of smoke very visible in the photo to the left. We couldn't quite keep up with the "bird dog" so he is a little further away from the explosions than we wanted. Both pilots did a great jobs. Everyone was happy with the photo, it ran a few weeks later in the Cavalair and was released to other publications.

I photograph a defector
I am photographing a former NVA soldier while accompanied by the ARVN intelligence officer. Everyone had to carry a weapon, you can see my trusty 45.

PSYOPS and Intelligence operations

One of the more interesting jobs was photographing NVA defectors (Hoi Chanh to the Vietnamese). These photos were used on leaflets and dropped over the area where the former NVA soldier's unit was located. This was very effective in many ways. A large amount of very valuable intelligence information came from these defectors. The NVA troops were vulnerable since their living conditions were awful, they were always on the move, and if they were discovered they were pounded by artillery, gunships and air strikes causing them to take heavy casualties.
I was impressed with the ARVN military I worked with, very sharp people. In the photo to the left I am photographing a former NVA soldier while accompanied by the ARVN intelligence officer. You have to admire the courage of these defectors. Unfortunately the news media ignored these successes, sometimes it seemed like all they were interested in were American casualties.

rocket versus rubber tree

The Night the Sky Exploded

Many of the Phuoc Vinh PIO staff were bunked in the building right next to the Press/Photo office. The buildings have sandbag walls around them to protect occupants from incoming mortars and rockets, but they have corrugated metal roofs.
The relative calm in the middle of the night is broken, WHAM ! BAM ! everyone shouts "Incoming" and hits the floor, fumbling for helmets and flak jackets. Next the entire sky lit up in a tremendous flash, a big explosion, and a bunch of banging on the roof. This was real close. There were more explosions, but none were close to us. When it stopped we went out to see if anyone needed help. No one was hurt. There was debris all over the place, the rocket had hit a rubber tree next to the Press/Photo office, the roof looked like it had been hit by a huge shotgun blast. There was some shrapnel on the floor and some things were damaged, including a paperback copy of Norman Mailer's "Armies of the Night" with a jagged hole through it. That day the roof was quickly repaired (they were working on it when I took the pictures on the left).

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