Vietnam U.S. Marine Air Bases


Da Nang Air Base was the first major airfield used by the Marines in 1965.

Chu Lai Air Base became operational on 1 June 1965 and remained in use by Marine aviation units until September 1970.
Looking North at Chu Lai, Vietnam before March 21, 1969. The dual 10,000 foot runways running North / South are visable on picture's west side. The barracks are located along the beach near the top of the picture. Next to the barracks are two small runways used by a Navy OV-10 squadron and an Army helicoper squadron. The Americal Division starts near the top of the picture. Vietnam Highway 1 is to the left of the long runways.
United States Marine Corps photograph from Dave Seaney

Bien Hoa Air Base was used by the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF). The United States used it as a major base from 1961 through 1973; U.S. Army, U.S Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine units were stationed there.

Marine Skyhawk Units Based Ashore in Vietnam and aboard ship in the Tonkin Gulf.

Da Nang Air Base: MAG-11, H&MS-11, MALS-11 with VMA-211, VMA-311, VMA-331.

Chu Lai Air Base: MAG-12 with VMA-121, VMA-211,VMA-214, VMA-223, VMA-224, VMA-225, VMA-311, VMA-331, H&MS-13, H&MS-17.

Bien Hoa Air Base: MAG-12, H&MS-12, VMA-211, VMA311, VMA-331.

CVS-12 CVSG-57: 01 MAY 1968 to 09 NOV 1968: MAG-15, H&MS-15


1963-1965: MAG-11 NAF Atsugi, Japan.

OCT65: The VMA-225 "Fighting Eagles" were rotated to Japan.

DEC65: The VMA-311 "Tomcats" were rotated to Japan.

FEB66: The VMA-214 "Black Sheep" were rotated to Japan.

APR66: VMA-224 Bengals were rotated to Japan.

JUL66: VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers were rotated to Japan.

NOV66: VMA-224 Bengals rotated to Japan.

DEC66: VMA-223 Bulldogs rotated to Japan.MAR67: VMA-214 Black Sheep rotated to Japan.

MAR67: VMA-311 Tomcats rotated to Japan.

SEP67: VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers rotated to Japan.

OCT68: VMA-121 Green Knights departed Chu Lai, Vietnam to Japan.

FEB70: MAG-12 departed Chu Lai, Vietnam and relocated in Japan.

FEB70: VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers accompanied MAG-12 to Japan.

FEB70: VMA-311 Tomcats accompanied MAG-12 to Japan.

FEB70: VMA-223 Bulldogs departed Chu Lai, Vietnam and returned to CONUS.

01FEB73: Mag-12 Outlaws with VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers and VMA-311 Tomcats departed Vietnam for Iwakuni, Japan on January 30 and 31, 1973.


MAR65: First Marine Division mud Marines waded ashore at Da Nang.

Da Nang was the first Marine air base in South Vietnam. Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) would direct most operations assigned Da Nang aircraft that flew north of the base and over the DMZ and southern North Vietnam.

April 1965 to February 1971, aircraft squadrons which comprised MAG 11 were Marine Fighter (All Weather) 232, Marine Fighter (All Weather) 235, Marine Fighter (All Weather) 312, Marine Fighter Attack 115, Marine Fighter Attack 122, Marine Fighter Attack 314, Marine Fighter Attack 323, Marine Fighter Attack 334, Marine Fighter Attack 513, Marine Fighter Attack 531, Marine Fighter Attack 542, Marine Attack (All Weather) 225, Marine Attack (All Weather) 242, Marine Attack 311, Marine Observation 2, Marine Composite Reconnaissance 1, and Headquarters and Maintenance 11.

APR65: A second airfield was sorely needed. Chu Lai located about 50 miles south of Da Nang was chosen. The field was an aluminum plank SATS (short airfield for tactical support) "tinfoil strip" 4,000-foot runway. A catapult and arresting gear was installed for Skyhawks to use the field.

Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) was assigned to Chu Lai to direct most Skyhawk operations in South Vietnam. The plan was to rotate Skyhawk squadrons to and from Chu Lai and Japan to conduct combat operations.

HMS-12 and HMS-13 at ChuLai along with HMS-11 at Da nang introduced the TA-4F to combat operations.

1965 to 1971: MAG-11 Da Nang Republic of Vietnam.

01JUN65: VMA-225 arrived Chu Lai in several groups.

02JUN65 - OCT65: VMA-311 arrived Chu Lai in several groups.

28JUN65 - FEB66: VMA-214 at Chu Lai.

APR66 - MAR67: VMA-214 at Chu Lai.

15OCT65 - JUL66: VMA21 at Chu Lai. (October 15, 1965 - July 1966; November 1966 - September 1967; December 1967 - February 1970; May 1972 - February 1973).

OCT65: VMA-224 "Bengals" (tail code WK) arrived bringing twenty A-4E and VMA-225 "Fighting Eagles" were rotated to Japan.

DEC65: The VMA-223 "Bulldogs" (tail code WP) arrived bringing twenty A-4E Skyhawks to Chu Lai. (December 1965 - December 1966; March 1967 - December 1967; April 1968 - January 1970).

FEB66: The VMA-311 "Tomcats" arrived with twenty A-4E Skyhawks (tail code WL) to Chu Lai. (June 1, 1965 - October 1965; February 1966 - March 1967; June 1967 - February 1970; May 1972 - January 1973).

APR66: VMA-214 Black Sheep arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam. VMA-224 Bengals were rotated to Japan.

JUL66: VMA-224 Bengals arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam. VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers were rotated to Japan.

NOV66: VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam. VMA-224 Bengals rotated to Japan.

DEC66: VMA-121 "Green Knights" (tail code VK) arrived bringing twenty A-4C Skyhawks to Chu Lai, (December 1966 - October 1968). VMA-223 Bulldogs rotated to Japan.

MAR67: VMA-223 Bulldogs arrived Chu Lai, Vietnam. VMA-214 Black Sheep rotated to Japan. VMA-311 Tomcats rotated to Japan.

JUN67: VMA-311 Tomcats arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam.

DEC67: VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam.

APR68: MAG-12 VMA-223 Bulldogs arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam.

FEB70: MAG-12 departed Chu Lai, Vietnam and relocated in Japan.

The VMA-311 Tomcats moved to Da Nang under the operational control of MAG-11, continuing to support the ongoing war in Laos and Cambodia.

03SEP70: Marine Base Chu Lai was transfered to the United States Army; the last Marine (VMA-311 Tomcat) sorties were flown from Chu Lai on September 11, 1970.

17MAY71: Two Marine Skyhawk squadrons, VMA-311 and VMA-211, arrived from Japan at the recently reactivated base at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam.

30MAR72: MAG-12 comprised of H&MS-12 Outlaws, VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers & VMA-311 Tomcats flew into Bien Hoa, Republic of Vietnam (near Saigon) from Iwakuni, Japan.

01FEB73: Mag-12 Outlaws with VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers and VMA-311 Tomcats departed Vietnam for Iwakuni, Japan on January 30 and 31, 1973.

To the family of Dave Pospisil: I was on active duty with Dave and we flew together in the late 60s and 70s.
When I reported to DaNang in ‘69, Dave was one of the pilots who trained the new guys to fly the 2-seat A-4 in the assigned reconnaissance mission. So for about 25 hours he and I would alternate flying in the front seat while the guy
in the back would be looking for the enemy. These missions were flown in daylight, over Laos, at about 200 feet above the ground, and were flown as fast at the A-4 could go, somewhere around 350 kts at military power. They were grueling, zig-zag flight patterns and always pulling ‘G’, and with enough hostile fire to maintain an interest, and always over 125 miles from friendly areas or the ocean. When a target was located we radioed for attack aircraft and then controlled the aircraft on the target.
Anyway, one day we were zooming along when he spotted something, I forget what it was, and he said: “It’s at the southeast corner of that intersection of the dirt roads. circle it.” Soooo, at very low altitude, high bank, and high ‘G’, he circles the road trying to point it out. I’m looking straight down at four identical road parts, then glancing back in the cockpit to try to see which way was north, and east, and so forth, then looking outside. Well, with all the ‘G’, turning, and direction-changing, I finally told him to climb...he did. rocket up to several thousand feet. Like a I was still dizzy five minutes later. He was the only one in twenty three years of flying who gave me visual vertigo. We laughed about that incident later while we were in VMT-103, the Skyhawk training squadron in Yuma.
That flying was hazardous. One day he was very low and very fast when his plane was hit with enemy small arms fire.
It hit the wing, in an area of the fuel tank, which was not of the self sealing type. (When it rained, it poured) The bullet blasted an access plate apart, and instead of draining fuel, it was like flushing a toilet - gone in 30 seconds. That left him with 545 pounds of fuel, at 200’ and 130 miles to any airstrip. He declared an emergency, pickled the external ordnance and empty external tanks, climbed to 25,000 feet and started an idle letdown into Da Nang, now with about 200 pounds of fuel. (Without an operating engine, the A-4 has the flight characteristics of a Coke machine).
He safely landed his machine, with a very pale new guy in the back, as the engine flamed out. He saved the aircraft.
Yuma. That’s where Dave saved my life. Like most returning pilots, we had done about every exciting and dangerous thing in an aircraft, and what was ‘normal’ in Vietnam could be considered crazy in the States. He was the aviation safety officer and I was going through a re-fam training to become an instructor. He saw the untamed side of my aviation skills and after a particular hop he, in his quiet way, mentioned how different it was back in the States, and in order to prepare the next generation of fliers, we had to always demonstrate the absolute restraint and professional flying which would be emulated by the new guys. It sunk in, and I changed my flight behavior because of that talk.
I have used that turning point many times over the years, and his counsel then remains good today. We flew together in Yuma as fellow instructor-pilots. One day after we landed, the Group Commander, Col. Gerry Fink, met us at the plane with a set of ‘orders’. Our orders were for us to immediately report to a helicopter that was standing by to take us out to the desert for a survival exercise. We weren’t told for how long or where we were going, and we were given a part of
an old parachute to simulate that we had just ejected in a remote place. We were to survive until rescued. It wasn’t a big deal, and we had a chance to talk and stir our campfire until ‘rescue’. He was a good Marine, and pilot, a devoted family man, and a man of his word. May it be of some solace to his family to know that I share in their loss.

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The OA-4Ms were in service with the H&MS squadrons starting in mid 70s- I think H&MS 32 got their first bird in '75 or '76. They came to Iwakuni in '81. Reman'd TA-4Fs with better radio suites and ECM. But they were a switchology nitemare. Regarding the original LGB employments, China Lake has a background flick about an amazingly short period (hours, days?) in '72 when the Navy dropped 28 (I think) bridges with just about as many LGBs in NVN. It was all hand held designation and required a fairly permissive environment. The Air Force was doing something very similar. Jigger
I have to revise my timeline due to CRS- I think my first encounter with an OA-4M was April, 1979, not the mid 70s- I was in a TA-4J from China Lake for the MAG-31 CoC at Beaufort (the other seat was occupied by Lee Madera, former CO of MAG-31) and Jim Orr, 2nd MAW CoS at the time, drove in with the OA-4M prototype (I think)- I asked for a quick look and he said do anything you want but don't touch the @$%@!! comm switches!!! Apparently, he had already gone NORDO by leaving rear switches in wrong positions, etc- great system!!! In 80/81, we transitioned the TA-4Fs in Iwakuni to OA-4Ms- didn't have any impact on WESTPAC XCs!! Jigger (Bill Egan)

I was the XO of H&M-32 when we got them. I liked how we were limited to 2.5 Gs at first until the engineers decided the original calculations for the TA-4F were so conservative that all the added weight, etc. made no difference, so go ahead and use the TA-4F envelope. I got to meet Everett Alvarez at NAVAIR at a conference there on the OA-4M at that time. Switches were interesting indeed. Mark Williams.

"I was qualified as a FastFac in the OA-4M before I left active duty in 82/83 and H&MS-32 still had them for a while after I left. Jigger is right about the switchology. My log book indicates that jet was not with us at that time. I was in line to be recalled to active duty in late 83, early 84 as there was a harebrained scheme of basing the jets in the Med (Cyprus) to call in Naval Gunfire on the eastern side of the Shouf Mountains in Lebanon. Nothing materialized as the New Jersey and other forces on the scene were able to manage the situation." Blade.

Who Were Those Guys?

The Playboys

By Larry Adkinson

A Playboy Skyhawk

4 Winter 2005 • Skyhawk Association

They were fighter pilots, scooter drivers, RIOs and RSOs. They were Marines doing their jobs as best they could.

In August 1967, the 1st Marine Air Wing introduced the two-seat TA-4F Skyhawks to the three fixed-wing air groups in South Vietnam. With its good low-level fuel specs, FM radio and excellent rear seat visibility, the aircraft proved a superb vehicle for Visual Reconnaissance/Tactical Air Coordination (Airborne) (VR/TACA). commonly called FastFAC operations. The TA-4Fs were armed with two pods of 5-inch Zuni rockets, half smoke and half high explosive and full 20mm ammunition for the guns. Aviators from the Marine Aircraft Groups (MAGs) at Danang (MAG 11), Chu Lai East (MAG 12) and Chu Lai West (MAG 13) flew daily FastFAC missions in 1967-68. These included such demanding missions as coordinating the dozens of aircraft stacked up overhead the besieged garrison at Khe Sanh, finding truck convoys on the North Vietnam and Laotian trails and adjusting fire for the 16-inch guns of the USS New Jersey BB-61 in North Vietnam’s lower route packages When President Lyndon Johnson halted the bombing of North Vietnam on 1 November 1968, our mud-Marines in I Corps had to face an increasingly large and better-equipped enemy force supplied from North Vietnam through Laos. To help fix this, in January 1969, Marines consolidated the FastFAC effort and all of the TA-4Fs in MAG-11’s Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 11 (H&MS-11) aboard Danang AB.

This article is a brief history of the operations of that consolidated effort from Danang using the official call sign “Playboy.”

Pilots from MAG 12—Larry Adkinson, Jim Buffington, Bob Clapp, Doug Isaly, Dutch McCleskey, Roy Moore, Steve Sewell and Bob Miecznikowski—joined the small group of A-4 pilots in MAG 11. This group quickly expanded to include several pilots from MAG 11’s VMFA-542, including their CO, LtCol Keith Smith, as well as two of his key staff, Fritz Menning and Duane Wills. They flew almost daily TA-4F missions in addition to their F-4B sorties. An immediate result of the centralization of effort at Danang was the increase in deep air support to the the Marine Regiment, which was heavily engaged with North Vietnamese regulars in Operation DEWEY CANYON along the Laotian border. Working in close coordination with Air Force F-100F “Misty” Fast FACs, the TA-4F aviators helped identify and destroy enemy supply areas and heavy mortar and rocket positions in Laos. We also provided a badly needed communications link because we could mix UHF and via FM radio traffic to maintain common situation awareness for both the ground forces and jet aircraft.

By the spring of 1969, the TA-4F operations had a routine of 200 sorties monthly in order to provide continuous daylight coverage of the “Steel Tiger East” area in Laos (see map). In June 1969, Lt.Col Dick Hebert, took over the TA-4F mission and changed the unit callsign to Playboy, after the F-4U Corsair FastFACs in the Korean War. With a streamlined operation and solid liaison lines with other air units operating in the Steel Tiger area, Playboy began an in-country” exchange program with the “Misty” FastFACs to swap a pilot for 5-7 days between Phu Cat and Danang. This provided a minimum of five flights for Marines in the F-100F and a comparable exchange in the TA-4F for F-l00F pilots. The exchange, which continued through the summer of 1969, improved the performance of both services “on the trail.” And, as a relevant footnote, all of the USAF aviators seemed to prefer the TA-4F for the mission. The normal missions had a two-cycle sortie, with one tanker refueling in the middle, for an average sortie length of about three hours. Time available for strike control and reconnaissance normally ran about 45-50 minutes per cycle. The bulk of the missions were VR that developed information and passed it to the airborne command post (Hillsboro). If we found fleeting, lucrative targets, Hillsboro would divert ordnance fl ights to us in the target area. When a strike fi ghter was shot down anywhere in the area, the fast FAC with the most fuel would take charge of the RESCAP until the arrival of an A-1 Hobo or Sandy aircraft. Slow FACs, such as Nail or Raven, would often participate by operating at a higher altitude to observe and act as a radio relay while strike aircraft provided ordnance delivery as required. Two Playboys benefited from this in July 1969, when Capt Jim Buffi ngton and Maj Bob Miecznikowski had to eject in Laos. A Jolly Green from Thailand successfully rescued them after nearly six hours on the ground. Jolly Greens would rescue two more Playboy crews during the next year.

Name with PB# ********** Name with PB#

Adkinson, J.L 32 ********** Moore, E.R. 39

Buckley, J.E. 27 ********** Mills, W.W. 13

Buffi ngton, J.C 30 ********** Miecznikowski, R.S. 71

Chapman, P.W. 37 ********** Nelson, T.S. 90

Clapp, R.G. 77 ********** Ostermann, G.A. 50

Connolly, R.P. 22 **********Page, D.D. 35

Crouch, K.L. 09 ********** Pospisil, D.L. 99

DeFries, C.F. 20 **********Rasmussen, R.T. 45

Gagen, J.A. 08 **********Richardson, M.L. 21

Garske, E.W. 88 **********Reid, R.D. 26

Gering, M.S. 05 **********Robinson, L.W. 70

Griggs III, T.W. 48 **********Schwab, W.F. 34

Green, M.P. 65 **********Seder, T.D. 33

Grissom, E.D. 75 ********** Sewell, S.J. 61

Hanle, R.L. 04 ********** Shea, S.F. 15

Hauptfuher, H.B. 43 ********** Smith, J.T. Unk

Hickerson, R. 26 ********** Smith, K.A. 03

Higgins, D.G. 17 ********** Smith, W.R. 41

Hearney, R.D. 57 ********** Spindler, D.D. 79

Henrich, C.R. 44 ********** Stowers, R.M. 69

Hebert, R.F. 01 ********** Swaby, D.R. 24

Isaly, D.K. 66 ********** Van Esselstyn, N.K. 37

Jones, P.J. 62 ********** Ward, G.W. 12

Jupp, W.A. 02 ********** Weber, D.J. 06

Kane, J.J. 15 ********** Wilson, W.B. 77

Light, B.R. 25 ********** Wilmarth, J.M. 55

Lewis, F.E. 61 ********** Wills, D.A. 23

McCleskey, W.R. 58 ********** Wood, L.A. 68

Playboy’s standard operating procedure (SOP) entailed flying at whatever altitude was necessary to accomplish the mission. Contrary to some earlier beliefs that flying at very low altitude was foolhardy, the Playboys demonstrated its prudence. Aircrews studied their maps and operated in the same area every day so they were able to effectively navigate at 200-500 feet and 380-400 knots. And, since the environment was characterized by non-radar, visually acquired, manually tracked antiaircraft weapons fire, moving at nearly 400 knots while smoothly maneuvering in three dimensions almost completely negated visual tracking solutions by enemy gunners. Our Skyhawks were in and out of a gunner’s envelope almost before he could react, so we were seldom fired on with any accuracy, and almost never hit. This low altitude energy maneuvering was made easier in August 1969, as J-52P-8 engines with an additional 700 pounds of thrust were installed in all the TA-4Fs.
We divided the crew duties so that the rear-seater observed the road while the front-seater navigated and avoided terrain or weather. Although the enemy threat dictated most of our low altitude maneuvers, we did our best to maintain the field of vision for the rear-seater. These low altitude tactics were effective, safely manageable, and produced results. For example, on 7 July 1969, operating at very low altitudes, Playboy spotted/ adjusted for a flight of A-6As flying radar offset-aim-point delivery tactics in overcast (600-foot ceiling) conditions. This resulted in destruction of an enemy truck convoy that was moving under concealment of the low cloud cover, a fact clearly demonstrated by the 35mm photos taken by the Playboys. This tactic became commonplace as the heavily loaded A-6s orbited above the clouds while the Playboys would penetrate through a hole in the cover and, using knowledge of the local terrain to navigate at very low altitude, locate targets for destruction.
In the summer of 1969, several Fleet carrier pilots came into Danang and flew missions with us. This program paid off as Navy pilots, A-4 and A-7 alike,returned to their carriers with a better understanding of the intelligence behind their “tree-busting” missions. Ironically,these orientation flights helped us man the TA-4Fs during a critical pilot shortage when some Playboys flew three missions and logged 100-flight-hour months in July and August of 1969. In order to fill the ranks of Playboy, we got volunteers from A-4, F-4, and A-6 communities in MAG-12 and MAG-13, including Naval Flight Officers (NFOs) from the Danang squadrons. Once designated by the wing, each Playboy—pilot and NFO alike—had a unique number assigned (see table above). Egos and traditional roles disappeared. Everyone< focused on efficient VR and effective strike control that required two people working at peak efficiency.

During September 1969, Playboy developed a night deep air support (DAS) tactical package in response to an enemy situation. We positively established that enemy gunfire was most intense at sunset in areas where active nightly road repair and heavy supply movement was going to occur. Under these twilight conditions, enemy gunners could silhouette aircraft against the sky while the ground was already darkened, thus complicating exact identification of the source of gunfire. Also, enemy road repair crews could work almost unobserved in the twilight and supply trucks could be on the move before the arrival of the nightly swarm of aircraft specifically configured for night detections and attack. To counter this, we put together the “hammer” package. This involved sending the TA-4Fs to an area where such activity was predicted. The Playboy would come through the target area at maximum speed, minimum altitude, using his knowledge of the terrain to locate the exact spot and achieve surprise. When gunfire erupted behind the TA-4F, he would pull up, reverse course and drop a series of flares while continuing to climb up to a “perch” from which he could locate the target. He then pulled over the top, put marks on/near the target with 5-inch “Zuni” smoke rockets. A flight of two F-4B strike aircraft escorting the TA-4F at a much higher, undetected altitude would then roll-in on the flared and marked target with gun,cluster ordnance and heavier high explosive bombs to destroy trucks and crater the road.

At left, author Larry Adkinson poses with CG 1st MAW, MajGen “Smoke” Spanjer and Playboy One, LtCol Dick Hebert. Picture was taken following Adkinson’s 500th combat mission, flown with Gen Spanjer.

The fourth member of this hammer flight was a photo aircraft (RF-4B) that made a high-speed photo pass within a couple of minutes after the ordnance exploded. This photography was often startling in terms of confirmed bomb damage assessment, and most important to the FACs, reduced the number of guns and gunners in the operating area. The hammer tactic remained in the inventory and was used during different periods as need dictated.

The dry season in central Laos lasts from October to April. In 1969- 70, this resulted in massive enemy efforts to move supplies over dry Laotian roads. Playboy flew nearly 700 combat missions during October, November, and December, including control of some 350 strikes and participation in 25 rescue operations. Some Playboy aircraft sustained hits, yet all but one returned safely to base. On 27 December, Maj Rick Lewis and 1Lt Paul Phillips were forced to eject in central Laos, just south of Sepone. They were recovered 23 hours later after an intensive antiaircraft artillery suppression effort enabled Jolly Greens to make a successful pickup. On 5 January 1970, Maj Larry Robinson was killed in action while escorting a Playboy TA-4F on a modified (daylight) hammer tactic. “Robbie” was flying an F-4B and was rolling in on an active gun position that 1Lt Bud Garske had marked. He took barrage fire from multiple 37mm antiaircraft guns in the area, sustaining a direct hit in the cockpit area. Apparently neither he nor his backseater attempted ejection. In nearly one year of sustained operations in Laos, which included hundreds of enemy fire incidents, the loss of Larry Robinson (Playboy 70) was the first, and he was not flying the TA-4F.

Operation GRAND CANYON was another Playboy interdiction operation. Beginning on 2 February 1970, it targeted Marine Corps strike aircraft to interdict enemy infiltration routes west of Hue City along the Laotian border. Playboys provided dawn-to-dusk strike control of 1 MAW A-4, F-4, and A-6 aircraft, totaling 150 sorties. The operation was an unqualified success as they completely closed choke-points and facilitated heavy BDA by B-52 strikes on the vehicles stopped behind these interdiction points.

In early March 1970, while on a VR/TAC(A) mission, LtCol George Ward was killed by a single enemy bullet that entered the front cockpit. 1Lt Duncan Higgins, an A-4 pilot in the rear seat, flew the aircraft back to Danang. LtCol Ward was designated to relieve Dick Hebert as H&MS-11 CO. He and Larry Robinson were the only Playboys killed in action, although two others were wounded on missions. Maj Dorsie Page was forced to land his TA-4F with bullet wounds in both legs. He had an NFO in the rear seat. Capt Don Swaby had a 19.2mm round pierce his windscreen and the resulting shrapnel severed his oxygen hose, shattered his visor, and sent Plexiglas into his eyes. Several fragments penetrated his mask and shattered his microphone, but he was able to clear his eyes, spit out the fragments, and safely return to Danang thus becoming a Marine who REALLY spits bullets.

In April, Dick Hebert was relieved as commanding offi cer of H&MS-11 by LtCol Speed Shea. During his tenure as CO, Dick Hebert grew the Playboys into a highly effective operational unit. His enthusiasm and intrinsic leadership qualities engendered great personal loyalty from his aviators and men. They would always know him as "Playboy One."

The Playboy effort transitioned from deep support missions in Laos to a more traditional Marine Corps role in close support of the ground forces engaged in I Corps. This period also saw the loss of the third (and last) aircraft as Capt R.T. Rasmussen and 1stLt Chip Mills ejected from their TA-4F in the A Shau Valley in the summer of 1970. A Jolly Green helicopter crew, sustaining some 15 hits, picked them up in a heroic rescue action. Their six-hour effort was punctuated by a running gun battle between the enemy, the Sandy A-1 RESCAP aircraft, and the Jolly Green door gunners.

The end came on 14 September 1970, when the Playboy mission was canceled. The crews experienced the bittersweet emotions of pride in a job well done, while retaining the ache of a job they were not allowed to finish. Who were those guys? They were Marines (see Table 1) doing their jobs as best they could. Little has been said or written of them, but many of the dedicated TA-4F crewmen who passed through the Playboy rolls went on to become squadron commanders and more. Others returned to pursue civilian careers after their tours in Vietnam. Regardless of what they went on to do, all counted their experiences on the trail in Laos as second to none.

Ed. Note: The author, Col Larry Adkinson retired from the Marine Corps in 1988 after serving in several A-4 and F-8 squadrons, including two combat tours in Vietnam and a tour as CO, VMA-331 in 1981-83. A longer version of this article won the prestigious Geiger Award in 1986 for its significant contribution to USMC aviation history. Col Adkinson is currently employed as Director of the Synthesis Center, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Quantico, VA.

In 1969 Major Robert H. Melville Sr. was flying a duty test hop in a Tomcat A-4E Scooter. Experiencing cockpit pressurization difficulties Bob descended to a low altitude on his way back to Chu Lai. Major Melville felt he was flying over an area that was free of Slope heavy weapons. Alas, he managed to find a Soviet 23mm anti-aircraft site while trolling through the weeds. Bob was unscathed even though the hits were in close proximity to the cockpit.
Looking aft from the cockpit toward the tail. The inspection cover is blown away displaying some of the twisted rubble. Notice the shell holes stitching the top of the port air intake area. Notice the fuel tank filler cap and the close proximity of the fuel tank to the shell holes under the missing cockpit fairing. The next day aerial recon found a well concealed 23 mm AA unit in a nearby area. Immediately thereafter, Bob and three other Marine Tomcat Skyhawks launched with napalm and attacked the AAA site. A later check of the AAA site displayed no signs of activity and the mission was judged "well done".
United States Marine Corps photograph from Robert H. Melville, Jr.




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