The site was chosen because we had all these forces out of Thailand that were going to bomb targets in the north when weather would move in. So here's this huge force of F-4s and F-105s streaming into North Vietnam and the targets are obscured. These guys didn't have the capability to drop bombs through the clouds. Consequently Phou Pha Thi Mountain was selected as the location for a RADAR site to give our pilots an all-weather capability. Located only 150 miles from Hanoi, it was well within range of the SkySpot RADAR system. The Army Corps of Engineers went in there, leveled the top of the mountain and brought in all of the equipment using choppers.
We were selected as members of the RADAR-bombing team. We had to go through a screening process, I imagine the "suits" who interviewed us were CIA, They made sure that we were patriotic and that we were the kind of people they wanted to do this kind of thing. We were discharged from the military (sheep-dipped) so that we could be civilians. We were hired by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. That's how we got paid.
We felt we were elite, and I still do believe that everybody up there was a special individual. We thought we were going to shorten the war because we could bomb the north during monsoon season.
I remember the first trip we made up there. Everybody was pretty jolly and joking until we crossed the river. Then we got very somber, it was like there was a curtain over Laos, and there wasn't any joking around anymore. Everybody got real serious. There were other Americans stationed at the helipad I'm pretty sure they worked for the CTA and ran the "road watchers.” They spoke the language pretty well and did keep track of what the enemy was doing.
All the missions out of Thailand came right over our site as they headed north. We usually saw them, and it was quite a site to see them swoop down after they flew over the mountain. You could stand out there and look down at this whole force flying north. It was pretty awesome watching them swoop down through the valleys.
We knew that the enemy was coming. We could see them on the other mountains around us. We could sec them through binoculars looking back at us.
On the 12th of January, two biplanes attacked us. They were dropping grenades and mortar shells; A Thai Captain was shooting at them and hit one of them just as he released a salvo of rockets. This saved us because the plain jerked up and the rockets went over our head. That aircraft staggered off and crashed. The other biplane was shot down with an AK-47 by an Air America chopper who flew along side so the crew chief could shoot at it. The most significant thing that came out of that incident was that they gave us a couple of survival vests, the kind that pilots wear when they fly, there's a little radio in them as well as flares and other survival equipment. We were also issued 10 M-16s along with a case of ammo.
The day that we were overrun my crew was on the day shift. We worked from six in the morning to six at night. Afterwards both crews sat in a meeting about the situation getting grave, and did we want get evacuated out tonight or the next morning. We decided to spend the night. We had targets for the night, so let's run them, and we'll get out first thing in the morning, Just as we were getting ready to break off, this loud explosion occurred outside the door. We found that when we ran into the bunker for protection, a rocket had made a direct hit on a corner of the bunker. Because of the condition of the bunker, we decided to hide on the reverse slope of the mountain, below the equipment.
We all grabbed whatever we could; I grabbed the survival vest off the corner of my bed and put it on. We all stayed on the side of the mountain for about three hours, until the barrage ended. Deciding to see if the RADAR was still in operation, Bill Blanton's crew found that the equipment was okay, and started making bomb runs. The rest of us decided to spend the night on the mountainside in case of another attack. Etch, Hank and I set up a portable HF radio with a battery pack and contacted our HQ at Udorn with a report of what was going on. Then we fell asleep.
We were awakened by the sound of automatic-weapons fire from the vicinity of the outpost on our inner perimeter. Hearing footsteps and voices above us, we sneaked down the mountain about twenty feet to a cave where Danny and Monk were sleeping. There were five of us in that little hole, with barely enough room for two. It wasn't the greatest spot, but it worked well for most of us.
We heard all this commotion going on above us, guns firing, grenades popping. Soon everything became still. Etch was watching the trail above and whispered, "Stan, there's people coming!" I said, "When they get close enough, shoot," So he did. Almost immediately all hell broke loose. They opened up on us from all over, throwing grenades and firing their AK-47s.
The first burst killed Hank and that's when I was wounded in my thighs. John also was wounded on the first attack. The pain was unbearable, but we just managed to fight them off. I don't recall ever looking at my watch or wondering what time it was. We were more interested in trying to stay alive, using our weapons and filing back. Grenades kept coming in; bullets fragmenting all around, I soon reached the threshold of pain where 1 just didn't feel anything anymore; I felt my body vibrating from the hits. It became just like the nuisance of standing in a heavy rainstorm. Another grenade came in but I couldn't reach it. I thought about jumping onto it, John said, "Here grab, Hank, he's dead" So I took Hank and went on top of the grenade. It blew us back, the concussion knocking me out. When I came to, pieces of Hank were all over me. But the rest of us weren't killed. I got a real big piece of it in my thigh, and saw that my hand appeared mangled, but seemed usable. But we didn't get killed by the grenade. I thought I was close to death and the thought flashed through my mind, "So this is what it's like to die. I wonder what the final feeling is like?"
I know at one time someone, I don't know who, brought up the idea that maybe we should surrender. I said I thought that was BS, because I was pretty sure that they weren't taking any prisoners. I remember turning to John and saying, "They couldn't take us anyway, you're shot in the legs and so am I. There's no way we could walk out of here"
During lulls in the fighting, using my little survival radio I contacted a C130 flare ship circling overhead, dropping parachute flares. He encouraged us to "Hang on, help's on the way," Sure enough; a pair of A-1's from NKP arrived overhead at daybreak.
Contacting them, I found they were armed with 20mm cannons and CBUs. I oriented them to make strafing runs from the TACAN building toward the RADAR equipment where I figured the enemy troops were. Each aircraft made two passes, with little effect on the enemy fire. So I asked them to drop the CBUs along the same axis of attack, saying "You might as well. We're goners anyhow, so you might as well do it." So they made their passes and dropped the bombs. It was like setting off a string of firecrackers, only a thousand times magnified. It was a horrendous noise. After a while everything was deathly still. I thought I had gone deaf after the A-1’s dropped their bombs, I couldn't hear a thing, just the ringing in my ears.
Then I heard this chopper, an Air America Huey. I got on the radio and talked to these guys, telling them where we were. The pilot asked if we had any smoke down there. I pulled it out of my vest and said, "Yeah, it's purple." I handed the flare to Etch because my hands were too bloody to pop it, and he set it off. The whole cave tilled with smoke and we sat there gagging. The pilot said, "I gotcha," and lowered a jungle penetrator to us. Etch needed help opening the leaves before we put Danny on it. After reeling him up, they dropped it down so I could be pulled up.
As they lifted me up, I swung sharply away from the mountain and the back swing crashed me back against the mountain. I was stunned as they continued to pull me up, but I remember looking down and seeing one of our guys, Willie Husband, coming around the side and waving at me - like don't forget me. I remember lying on the floor, staring at tiny particles of metal as they were getting everybody else into the chopper.
That's when they opened fire on us. I saw this little hole in the floor beside my face and thought, "Hey, that hole wasn't there a second ago. And what's that red spot? My God! It's blood. I've been hit again," Then I looked tip at Etch as he was falling out of the canvas seat above me. The bullet had gone right up through him and got him internally.
He was killed instantly. The pilot, realizing he was taking fire, went into
evasive action by slipping down to the right, away from the mountain, I kept
passing out from loss of blood, but each time I awoke, I got a cigarette from
the crew chief. And when I passed out again, he took it from me. That's all
I remember until I woke up in Udorn.