Secret War in Vietnam

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The book I read was titled Here There are Tigers, The Secret Air War in Laos, 1968-69. It was written by Reginald Hawthorn and is his personal experience as a Major in the Air Force. I wanted to know an Air Force pilot’s perspective since I read about so much bombing going on during the Vietnam War. He was an FAC (Forward Air Controller) and flew an O-2 single prop airplane during Vietnam from 1968-1969. Major Reginald Hathorn was an instructor at Laughlin Air Force Base when he got the call on Friday of January 1968 that he would have to leave his wife and two daughters to fight in Vietnam.

When Major Hathorn got to Vietnam, he was immediately hit by the chaos that was happening. His first night he was nearly hit by a mortar. Through the confusion he was able to make it to his duty position at Bien Hoa. He became part of the 504th Combat Support Group. Once he passed the preliminary test, he was sent as air liaison officer to the Korean element at the ROK capital, and soon Major Hathorn was looking for a new duty position. One day he ran into an old student who told him there was an announcement for an experienced pilot. Little did Major Hathorn know that he stumbled onto a top secret mission, and he was just the person they were looking for. When he got to his new duty station he was shocked at the rank around the area, as there were multiple majors and other high ranking officers. It was then that someone said, “Welcome to the Nails.”

At “The Nails” he found they have entirely different operations including better equipment and better pilots. For night strikes they had A-26’s and used the call sign of Nimrods. They also used A-1’s and used the call signs: Hobos, Firefly, and Zorro. Australian pilots also flew with Hathorn’s unit in their B-57 Canberra bombers using call sign Yellow Bird. As his peers were giving him the skinny, he was told he would be working in several areas in Laos. One of the areas was called Steel Tiger. There was also a location he would be operating in farther south, called the Tiger Hound area. The areas they were operating in were completely top secret because of the SEATO treaty. There was not supposed to be anything going on in Laos, and he found out there was also plenty they could not talk about. He was on a need to know basis. On Major Hathorn’s first mission flying with a short timer veteran, a Captain Butts, they were scouting a sector of the Ho Chi Minh Trail when Captain Butts spotted a SAM which Hathorn had not noticed. Next to the Captain, he felt insufficient and inexperienced.

Early in his time Major Hathorn was flying day missions in Cricket West, a part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He had made a mistake earlier in his time at Laos when some F-28’s boxed him in… a sin for any pilot. Major Hathorn worked Cricket West calling in a lot of fire missions. In the area of Cricket West there was a fierce place that the FAC pilots knew better than anyone, including what would happen if they were caught. If they were lucky they would just be shot, but you could also be tied to a tree, skinned, and have your head cut off and placed on a stick. The fast movers were not always aware of this, so Major Hathorn would always push for them to RTB if possible, even though they would bail out on the flick of a dime. Preparing himself for any situation, Major Hathorn used survival gear which included a 9mm Browning pistol, a 9mm Swedish K sub machine gun (I had to look for this myself it has a little folding butt stock, air cooled barrel, weight 9 ½ LBS), 300 rounds for each weapon, 4 plastic B compound hand grenades, 2 survival radios, blood chit package medicine maps, a compass, a commando dagger, and a large hunting knife. Major Hathorn understood that he and his fellow FAC pilots had a price tag on their heads of $10,000. Despite mission after mission, Cricket West was being lost.

New weapons were being tested in Laos, and other weapons, already in the United States’ arsenal were also being...
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